D3 Beta Woes or Why Borderlands Is Now King

So I just got to the end of the open beta portion of the game and I feel like weighing in on why I think Diablo 3 is not the evolution of Hack and Slash Lootfest RPGS that it should, or perhaps could, have been. I’ve got a lot of gripes, some of them are just “this isn’t Diablo 2!!! QQ”, but a few are genuine upsets and why I’m not picking up the game in May.

Foremost of them is that there is no flexibility in builds. Seriously, you learn skills when the game wants you to, in the order the game wants you to. I mean, yeah, there’s some neat customization stuff going on with the runes, but its frustrating that I can’t power up the skills I’m using because the game insists that I need to learn this other skill. I can’t just put points into Spell A and unlock its runes, I have to wait for a revolving level cap to gain each new piece.

Case in point, Wizard pre-level ten has two Left mouse skills. One is essentially fireball, a linear missile that explodes on the first enemy and does damage. It feels good to use and looks cool no matter what weapon you’re using. The other is Charged Bolt, which for those not familiar with D2 was one of the worse active spells in the game. It casts 3-5 balls of electricity in front of you that move out for a few feet in random directions. For those who know what Charged Bolt is, yes those beetles in Act 2 were fugging annoying and having “cast charged bolt on being hit” was a preety good defensive buff, but it wasn’t the best spell to fight things with is all I’m saying.  I’d rather not ever waste a point in charged bolt beyond the one I need to get lightning. But the game was all, “oh hey, you have this other spell now.” “Oh great game, thanks, but I’ll pass. Can I use the skill point for something else?” “No. /trollface” On top of that, you four core stats are automatically decided for you.

Another case in point is that One class is completely dependent on one class of items. Demon hunter ONLY uses bows. “What happens if i equip a sword, game? Do I just melee attack” “No. You just stand there while I complain about your skills not being compatible with the weapon you’re holding /trollface” Even the mage, who can spell cast regardless of what she’s holding, completely ingores the weapon in her hand. It doesn’t buff the Left mouse spell, it doesn’t add on-hit effects like poison or even extra magic–although it does seem to proc spell effects like kills give life and gain hp back for each hit so I’m super confused about that.
Strike One

Next, so far as I can tell the maps aren’t randomly generated. Granted yes, in this day and age of mandatory grinding and farming, random maps are more of a detriment to a game than a benefit, but it ruins much of the replay value. I walked through the same crypts as both Hunter and Wizard. I knew where all the traps were the second time, where all the epic enemies would be. It was…lame. But I’m willing to hang this one up, so Ball I suppose.

I know this has to be the umpteenth time you’ve heard this, but games like to hold your hand now a days. D3 was no different. That in and of itself wouldn’t be a strike except that every single quest point was not only well documented, but kept on the screen AT ALL TIMES. Whatever happened to “Go to the Den Of Evil and Kill All the Monsters” being in a quest log that you can check when you feel like going along with the plot instead of just wandering around slaughtering zombies? Worse yet, was the fact that it would put markers on the map, even through the fog, to let me know when I was getting close to whatever I was looking for. In a game about finding things. Really.
Strike Two.

Beyond the game holding my hand and making sure I didn’t get lost, I didn’t feel challenged at all. Enemies drop free health along with potions. Your resource to cast spells/use skills regenerates stupid fast. Even when faced with big bruiser bosses, I never got below half health. Either because I had a pile of Potions that I’d picked up on the way there and not used because I stayed at full HP thanks to the free heals or because I had a skill that absorbed attack damage. No I’m not joking. Wizards second defensive spell made me invulnerable for 5 seconds, every 15. By time I was to the end of the beta, I was only level ten and could just wade into waves of enemies and blow them up. Maybe the real game will be harder, I certainly hope so, but I’ll probably never know because I’m out after this lukewarm experience.
Ball Two.

Now we come to my final point. With the focus on skills instead of basic attacks, you’d think switching between them would be easy, right? Well you’d be wrong. Swapping skills is an unnecessary hassle. I couldn’t find any way to map skills to keys so I could swap them. Instead, I had to stop. Open a menu that blocked out the whole screen. Hope that nothing showed up. Pick a skill and then wait for it to load. WTF? No seriously. What. the. Frack? I don’t have a basic attack and I must use skills to do anything, so why the immersion breaking system? What happened to the quick menu on either side? The F-key maps? Even scroll wheeling through skills? To further this frustration, the game doesn’t save the rune you were using to the skill. So each time you reequip it, you have to repick the rune as well. And if you forget? You have to wait for the skill to load. Just to wait for it to load again. Unsufferable and game breaking, this is the worst strike of them all.
Strike Three. I’m no longer interested.

There’s also a litany of other small things that annoyed me. Items were worth nearly nothing. 2GP per is not the way a lootfest works. Chests didn’t feel rewarding because, even though rare, they hardly ever had anything in them worth more than the gold I was tripping over left and right. Your character, regardless of class can cast identify, scroll free. You get Town Portal for almost no reason and casting it sends you back to town instantly instead of acting as a impromptu way point. I guess they felt the game having check points was the same thing. There is no LAN and no single player. The game is always on-line, always connected. Even your own private game is just a closed B.net session. I mean, it’s supposedly F2P, so that’s something, but there are times where I’d like to play the game I paid for when I’m not online.

So instead of picking up the game I’ve been eagerly awaiting for years, I will be picking up Borderlands 2 in September and enjoy my skill trees, my useful feeling gear, my looting, and my local/LAN play.

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About Trevor Gulley

Trevor Gulley is a writer, cartoonist, and gamer. He works full time in the IT industry and judges Magic most weekends.

Posted on 04/21/2012, in Gaming, Rants and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Letting the waiting game begin for borderlands!

  2. The skill/ stat placements in D2 only give the illusion of choice and customization. Beyond putting points into str to equip your gear, or dex to increase block chance (the only thing it is useful for, everything else became negligible like the extra damage from str or not having to use as many blue pots from eng) it is always more -efficient- to put the rest into vitality. This has always been truth in D2. Skill points were the same way. You would spend 80 or more levels just to max out a certain skill build. Either you would have fewer stronger spells or you would have a wider variety of spells that are all weaker. So, where is the choice and customization in that? You either built what was most efficient or suffered the consequences.

    I apologize if you don’t like chain lightning, as I think it’s a pretty awesome spell. Sure, in D2 it was lackluster but you are forgetting in D3 just because a spell is available early does not mean it is less powerful than something unlocked later. The core design behind taking stat points/ skill allocation away is in fact giving the player a wider variety of choice, to play what they choose without being burdened by not having an optimal build.

    You are incorrect about mages ignoring the weapon in their hand. Unless I’m just misinterpreting what you’re saying. Spell damage works off the % of your equipped weapon, which actually means having a weapon is never irrelevant like in the past with D2. For instance WD’s poison dart was something like 200% weapon damage over a few seconds (don’t quote me on that, it’s probably wrong. Just giving an example)

    Once you run out of mana/resources clicking on your skill will cause your character to auto attack. Also, in the beta this is not really anything, because you are granted increased resource generation for the most part (confirmed at least for WD who’s mana regeneration options are only unlocked after the beta)

    I like how fast the other resources generate, at lot more than I would like to have to go back to the days of carrying around mana pots again.

    I also hear and have seen that the beta is pretty easy. That’s true, but also in a blizzcon video they specifically explained that the beta=tutorial. Why should a tutorial be challenging? The starting area of D2 was exactly the same difficulty. From starting point to Skeleton King = Rogue Camp to Blood Raven. You are jumping to a conclusion that shouldn’t be made, based on beta. We don’t know how hard the game is going to be. Though I’m certainly confident with the addition of inferno it’s not going to be a cakewalk 😉 And just like D2 the later difficulties always get progressively harder regardless of difficulty setting.

    Skill swapping is not a hassle unless you try to do it in the middle of a fight (which there are obvious hampers to doing this in the form of the cd after you swap skills) It’s not ‘loading’ the skill persay. It is harder to get used to compared to f1-8 but it’s by no means game breaking. The fact that you can change skills on the fly, could be considered gamebreaking which was to some point the reason why the system is the way it is. (Also to further discourage this you will lose nephalem buff in inferno if you swap out skills frequently)

    The lack of an identifying medium does hurt the experience a little. I would have been happy to at least go to Deckard Cain again. Town portal is not that bad though I agree the presentation is worse than before. Always online sucks especially when you have to rely on a fidgety connection but the reason why is to prevent hackers, botters, and dupers from becoming too much of a problem. Offline mode would make it easier to flood the AH with dupes.

    Some of your points I agree with, I don’t like that the monk skill animations don’t pertain to his weapons (he holsters his weapon to use them, ???) but others I think you are coming to a sudden conclusion based on a 30 minute beta. Most of the game’s downfalls still can’t prevent me from picking up the sequel to one of my most beloved games ever. You are right, it’s not Diablo 2 and that can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. I’ll reserve my judgements on the game after I have played it fully though as it’s core as a hack and slash loot grab still appeals to me.

    • Thanks for the big response! I’ll try to respond in order so I don’t miss any of your points.

      I’ll disagree about your assertion that builds in d2 were only illusions of customization. Picking and choosing what stats and skill I want and building a custom character is, by definition, customization. While yes, Min/Max gameplay forces people who want to be competitive to stick to a particular path, that’s a choice they are making–the game isn’t deciding things for them. Even with the Min/Max mentality, there were nine competitive Sorc builds when I was active on the ladder back in 1.10b. If I want to be good at Hydra, Meteor, and that’s it, then I won’t waste skill points on Frost Nova or Charged Bolt–and I certainly don’t want the game to make that decision for me.

      I loved Chain Lightning, I hated Charged Bolt. CL was one of the best spells in the Electricity Tree next to Teleport.

      You assert that being handed skills at a regular interval gives me more choice with which to outfit myself and I’ll agree that having a host of skills to pick from certainly makes late game look more enjoyable, it gimps early game. I can understand why Blizzard would want the first pass through the game to highlight all the options you have, but when I pick up a second character I get all the same skills over again, even if I wanted to just focus on being really good at Magic Missle as early as possible. Under the new system, both Frenzy Barb and Shouts Barb would be the same game from 1-24 and I don’t get how that’s appealing.

      If weapons affected my spells as wizard, I’d like to know that. Either in the tool-tip for the spell or in feedback from the game. I had three different weapons with on-hit effects and unless I happened to run out of resource and get in a melee attack I never saw the effect trigger. I had a sword that dealt poison damage and the one time I managed to melee they turned green when I hit them, none that I hit with Magic Missle ever did. The life leech and gain effects seemed to trigger just fine, but it didn’t seem like my weapon had any bearing on my spells. Every weapon I used cast Magic Missile at the same speed and it always took 1-2 missiles to kill something.

      Part of playing is balancing resources and power. If you have near infinite resources, the resource is redundant really as there’s virtually no cost to you using spells or playing badly. Which I can understand from a design standpoint. People like feeling heroic and using lots of skills and doing tons of damage makes them feel that way. But being at that level from the get go means you never really get to experience those clutch moments where you start shouting. As such, I don’t like that I can’t just auto attack. The fact that both the auto attack and the spell are tied to the same button is frustrating because I can’t both auto-attack AND wait for my Mana to come back. Instead as soon as I have enough to cast Right Button, it fires. Even then, there’s no reason not to just spam Left Mouse instead while I wait since I’ve got another skill I can cast for free forever. There is no detriment to playing hyper aggressive, no penalty for being stupid with my attacks, nothing to overcome. Its just soulless grinding where I click on things and they die.

      If the beta is the tutorial, then the tutorial is way too long. The Den of Evil takes five minutes to clear from start game to last zombie and if you can’t grasp the basics of left click enemies to kill them and right click to cast spells in that time, then maybe you should play a different game or play with friends who know what to do. Why shouldn’t a tutorial be challenging to a beginner? The first level of Sonic is challenging to a beginner. The first level of Megaman X is challenging to a beginner. The first level of Mass Effect is challenging to a beginner. If I’ve never played a genre of a game and I’m rocking from the start and keep doing so, I’ll put it down. What point is there in playing where there’s no challenge? Besides, I’ve died before on my way to Blood Raven. I know to not to dive into a horde of Dark Rogues as a Nercomancer, I learned and got better at the game because of its challenge.

      Also, what’s with this argument I keep getting about. “Well, Nightmare will be harder and they added a forth difficulty so it’ll be really hard!” So what? I have to play the whole game with training wheels to get to the real game? Not interested. I’ve got games that will challenge me from moment one that I can play.

      Not being able to swap skills is a big kill for me, especially looking at the way they’re doing skills here and how much focus they get. From just what I played with in the beta, taking the runes into account you’ll have hundreds of skills to play with. Unless I’m just going to use the same skill all the time, not being able to even set a quick menu of your preferences is upsetting and game breaking for me. Being punished for it is even more galling. “I’m sorry you’re adjusting to our game too much so you loose this buff?” What. The. Frack. How can you even defend that? Having to stop what I’m doing and be pulled out the experience to adjust my tactics is not a positive and is not a way to adjust a system people felt was broken. It’s like taking tires off a car because they go flat on occasion.

      If I don’t like a game after 30 minutes, what’s to keep me playing? What incentive do I have to invest hours and hours or my time into it? That’s like saying “oh hey, the first five minutes of this movie are terrible and the plot drags in the middle, but the ending is really good.” Cool. I’m glad the ending is awesome, I’m not interested. I can watch a movie from the same genre that doesn’t fail at being a movie and enjoy it with my friends.

      Maybe if I hadn’t played Borderlands and Demon’s Souls had bought into World Of Warcraft instead of Raganarok Online and Phantasy Star Online, I might be more comfortable with the direction Blizzard is taking Diablo in, but those things didn’t happen. I played games that built on the formula that made Diablo 2 enjoyable and addictive for me and avoided a game that I have never found enjoyable or engaging. I’ll admit I’ve become a very jaded gamer and that I came into the Beta with high expectations, but I know a game I’ll enjoy when I see it and Diablo 3 isn’t one.

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