I am extremely irritated with Diablo 3. In my last four sessions, I’ve died as a result of being bad at playing the game precisely zero times. From lag, however, I have died at least two dozen times – and that’s in single player mode. I haven’t dared attempt multiplayer.
I’m almost at the point where I’ve stopped caring about whether the game’s any good or not. I’ve stopped asking myself whether its click-slash-click-slash template is an elegant system tapping directly into the pleasure centres of my central nervous system, or an atrophied experience unfit for the modern world. I’ve stopped worrying about where my next shiny crossbow is coming from… well, almost.
Instead I’m furious. I’m furious about all those times the game has frozen mid-biff, while I’ve been neck-deep in a huge cluster of suddenly stationary baddies, only to unfreeze in an infuriating burst of all-at-once aggro, leaving me dead, again, from network instability. It’s name is lag. And it’s ruining my entirely legitimate desire to play the single player mode of a game designed for online play.
The lag doesn’t always kill me. Often it just lets me run around a deserted map like I’m in limbo, unable to find any enemies, destruct any scenery or talk to NPCs. Sometimes I can be ghosting around for minutes at a time before I’m dragged back in time and forced to repeat myself, this time (hopefully) in the company of monsters I can bash. Other times I become a heavily armed rubber band, flickering back and forward as the game jams up and refuses to let me progress more than two steps without having to do it hundreds of times over. Once or twice, I’ve had to do a dungeon more than once. But mostly, lag kills me, all of a sudden and all at once.
Now my connection isn’t the strongest. My download speeds are not enormous. But my Internet has supported at least one hardcore MMO addiction. That’s had a little lag too, but I can allow that. MMOs are big games which have to constantly map the locations of hundreds and thousands of players all at once, as well as all their abilities, and their constant need to dye their clothes. MMOs, moreover, do not have a single player mode. And single player modes do not have lag.
And yet, Blizzard in their infinite wisdom have decided that what Diablo 3’s single player mode needs is an always-on internet connection, with all the maths that happens when you smack demons happening server-side. And it is bloody well unacceptable. They claim it will stop hackers, item dupers and pirates – two constituencies which have historically plagued previous Diablo games, but it’s a hammer to crack nuts; my nuts, and I’m seething about it.
Look, the daft thing about all this is that it is fundamentally a very addictive game. I am – or I would be were LAG in SINGLE-PLAYER absent – enjoying it a huge amount. It’s heartily addictive, well set and beautifully presented. The mechanics might be shallow and the gameplay somewhat slight, but despite all the reservations I have, I’m playing it and playing it and playing it.
There are problems with skill balance, difficulty curves at the highest levels and fair itemisation across different players’ games, but those will be patched to perfection in subsequent months. Despite all its current faults, Diablo 3 has a rock-solid base on which to build, and there’ll be vibrant community for years to come. They’ll probably even sort out the lag, but I may well not be there to witness that.
In case you want to hear some critical analysis aside from rants about lag, here’s what you need to know. Everything about Diablo 3 has been streamlined and refined in comparison to its peers and predecessors: health management, gems, itemisation, skill progression, you name it.
Some of these efficiencies are clever – you don’t have to manually pick up gold, which now flows satisfyingly up at you from the ground, a past niggle corrected. Some of them, though, really detract from the classic action RPG experience.
You don’t have a skill tree any more. Instead, skill progression is static; no longer is each character unique – now every level 37 monk will have the same access to skills as every other level 37 monk. You can ascribe different skills to different slots, and modify these skills to a limited extent, but that is the only thing that separates one character for another, and it feels hollow.
Health changes are a real slap in the face. There are still health potions, but they’re on a substantial cool-down, so you can only neck one every 30 seconds or so. Instead, enemies drop health globes, which you can grab like gold. I’m sure it’s meant to be a sleek new way of going about things, but in practice, it leads to desperate chases with you hammering the potion button while your stupid character coolly informs you that they don’t think having another drink would really suit them at that time, even though they’re nearly dead.
The story is hackneyed to the point of pastiche, and the less said the better.
These problems are minor, in the main. Like I say, the game is compelling in all the right ways, a veritable loot treadmill that would be all but impossible to get off were it not for the lag. The same lag which I’ll suffer through for hours more tonight, and for many more over the next few months.
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Activision Blizzard