3 days left! Tomfoolery is about to be afoot! Equip your Godly Plate of the Whale and join me in the wait!
Okay, so I'm a little excited for Diablo 3. The internet is a free country, and that's my right! However, quite a bit of the internet is a bit 'sour grapes' on the changes that Diablo 3 has made, and while I can see the points on a few things, I think many people are missing a bigger picture. Today, I think I'll explore the biggest components of Diablo 3 that are causing a stir in the community, and why I think they're more of a positive, then a negative: Battle.net 2.0, the 'always online' DRM, the Real Money Auction House, and cross-game chat.
Battle.net 2.0 is the latest 'social community tool' that Blizzard uses in their games. The term "Battle.net" was started as their free multiplayer service for Warcraft 2: B.net Edition and Starcraft (and the expansion, Brood War). In order to see why people are upset, let's take a look at the Diablo 2 Battle.net experience, to better relate the changes to the service, and why people are up-in-arms.
In Diablo 2, you would select 'Multiplayer' from the main menu, select which realm (server) you wanted to create a character on, and you would select or create a character. Once you logged into Battle.net, you were taken to a main chat area which displayed your character in a row alongside other players in the same chat room. On the right-hand side, you could select to join a lobby, create a lobby, or jump to a community chatroom (which usually had GMs available to answer questions). You could also create your own chatroom, which was primarily used to meet up with a player who had a trade, or a group that wanted to start a private game. All around, it was a fairly bare-bones way to do business, but it was effective, and simple.
Once in a game, players could send you private messages that displayed in your chatbox area in-game, in the lower left hand corner of the screen. Sadly, this was also a way for gold-spammers to pester you, if you left a lobby open for any player to join.
With Battle.net 2.0, there's a complete overhaul of featuresets, yet there's an odd amount of omissions from the very basic Battle.net as it appeared in Starcraft/Diablo 2. Currently, there are no public chatrooms planned for Diablo 3. There isn't a way to see what a random player has, as far as gear, or what they have to trade at a quick glance. Also, there doesn't seem to be a way to easily create a lobby that others can join, as Battle.net 2.0 is clearly geared towards 'friends playing with friends', and leaving PUGing (a 'pick-up group') to a minimum. While it's definitely an odd change, many players feel this takes away from the 'Diablo' feel, and is taking the bragging rights out of having a decked out character. I personally know of many nights to where I logged into Diablo 2 not to play, but to chat while showing off my new purple gear, random players private-messaging me asking what I was wearing. It was a weird Joan Rivers-esque fashion show, but it kept the incentive there to log in, and find something better that Baron McGrizzleBeef, to show him up next time you were in public chat together.
Changing this fundamental community-driven aspect of the Diablo franchise started a whirlwind of backlash, aimed solely against the Battle.net 2.0 service. In order to cover them all in detail, I'll make a quick bullet-point list, bringing up a common complaint, and "answering" by giving my take on the situation, and whether it's a benefit or hinderance to the experience.
- Battle.net 2.0 requiring to always have an internet connection takes away from player choice, and the ability to lose connection during a single-player game and being 'logged out' of my session will deeply impact the enjoyment of Diablo 3
I actually see this as being completely overblown, although the ability to be 'signed out' of a single player game does leave a sour taste in my mouth. The reason I think this complaint is bizarre, is this - how many people actually experienced Diablo 2 strictly singleplayer? Sure, this treads into 'you can't speak for everyone' territory, but playing Diablo 2 offline was very much a self-fulfilling prospect, akin to playing Everquest without other players, in my opinion. The Diablo series is a series completely enveloped in bragging, or finding things that nobody else would find: Drops were always randomized, as were environments, so any progress you were doing was solely shared by you in single-player. Now, did I play single player? Sure, maybe 10% of the time, and made my way to Act 2, got bored, and created a Battle.net character. The community was always ready to help slay that tough-to-conquer boss, or help be an item mule in exchange for a few Mephisto runs.
Plus, aren't a majority of these 'I hate always-on DRM' guys posting on message boards? Internet message boards? Hell, Facebook and Twitter have the same requirement, but I never see complaints. Sure, it's an apples-to-oranges example, but in what situation will you be without internet, but with your gaming computer, and have enough time to really dig in to the Diablo experience? Odds are, if you're without internet, your plans for the day probably aren't 'play Diablo' anyway.
- Battle.net 2.0 not allowing mods, or any third-party pieces of software, is once again hindering the options of players. Blizzard is locking the paying customer out of options.
Not to be 'that guy', but never once did I have the want, or need, to download any modifications or add-ons for Diablo 2. The game was just too good by itself, as whenever I had a 'Diablo craving', guess what I would play? Diablo. It was a pretty good Diablo game on it's own, guys. Mods were never necessary, or hell, any good, from what I remember.
- The Real Money Auction House is going to make the game more of a job, then a joy. Plus, I don't want to spend real money on gear that I'll just be replacing in 10 levels anyways.
For me, the Real Money Auction House is actually the most interesting idea they're implementing in Diablo 3. It's sole purpose is to cut out the black market used to sell gold, items, and duped elixirs through shady gray-market websites. Blizzard can now control supply-and-demand, and the game will blossom with a dynamic, ever-changing economy because of it. I remember when World of Warcraft was released, and the auction house was a wild frontier of opportunities. The game's economy boomed, the gear was always exotic, and the deals were sometimes too good to pass up, unless you were in a guild with 'connections', of course. Once more expansions came out, more gold-sinks were implemented into the game (mounts, monthly special events), and updated professions came into play, the Auction House started settling down a little bit. Still, it was a good way for Blizzard to find what to balance, what to change, what drop-rates to tinker, and what supply-and-demand was happening in Azeroth. The same is going to happen to Diablo 3, and I think the Real Money Auction House will come into play just as much as beta testing and bug reporting, in balancing the game over the next few years. Also, the fact that I may be able to find a nice Witch Doctor weapon, and sell it for actual PayPal money to pay for the Beardcast hosting? Sign me up.
- Not having the public chat channel to show off my gear to strangers is kind of a bum deal, man!
Yeah....yeah that's kind of poopy. However, with the addition of banners, tabards, and achievement points, you'll have many other ways to brag to your friends. I mean, impressing your friends is really the only thing that matters, right?
Sure, there's some backlash for Diablo 3 before release, and some of the changes they made are a bit odd to say the least, but I think Blizzard's making strides to give a solid, very specific product to consumers: A follow-up to a gaming legacy, with the new security features (always-on DRM) implemented to bring you the best, most balanced trading system (Real Money Auction House) they can deliver. Yes, no single player can be a knock against it, but with the community features (cross-game chat, instant joining of friends' games, achievements) they've implemented, why would you want to play by yourself?
Do I think some of these changes are for the better? Absolutely. Do I think they'll fundamentally change what made Diablo such a good series in the first place? Not at all. Sure, for those that are all about LAN, offline play, and mods, Torchlight 2 should cure what ails you, and with games like Path of Exile and Grim Dawn coming down the pipeline, it's not like there will be a shortage of 'click click click' hack-n-slash games for you to enjoy on PC, but after playing the beta extensively, and seeing what all Blizzard has done with these changes, if you're not going to experience the game based on some holier-than-thou principal of what 'true Diablo fans would want', then you're missing out.
Join me tomorrow in the Countdown To Diablo 3, in which we'll take a look at the character classes, a few sneak-peeks at some items, and the controversy behind Blizzard's decision to drop the skill points system entirely. Until then, adventurers!