Diablo III Madness – 140 Hours And Counting

This Diablo III madness has no end.  140 hours have passed and I don’t even feel it.  It is like that one scene in Twilight whereby Bella sits by the window observing the change of seasons in one minute.  There are four levels of difficulty in this video game.  It takes me 140 hours to clear the second difficulty level – Nightmare – for all my five classes.  My next milestone is to complete the third difficulty level – Hell – and call it a day.  Inferno difficulty could well be too brutal for me.

Or maybe not.  We shall see.

Heavens burn as we cast the Prime Evil into oblivion.

I will not repeat what has already been said in my last post “Diablo III – First 80 Hours“.  What I said back then is still valid today.  Instead, I will share my experience with the game as I progress through different difficulty levels.  And a short recap on news surrounding the Diablo community from launch till now.

At launch, Diablo III smashed records, sold more than 6 millions copies excluding the 1 million World of Warcraft annual pass subscribers who got the game free.  Due to this unexpected sales record, a game that requires constant connection to the servers became unplayable as the servers were brought down time and time again by the surge in demand.  Onto then second week, when the US servers finally gained stability, reports started to come in as players’ accounts were compromised, in-game progress was lost.  The solution is to use a physical or mobile authenticator that provides an extra layer of protection like how Internet Banking tackles security.  On top of that, Blizzard gives us an option to enable SMS alert whenever account information is modified.  I do not know of any video gaming company that goes into this level of security to protect our accounts.  That could be due to the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) that I will talk about in just a bit.  Back to the first month after launch, the ride was bumpy.

Meanwhile, while the US region cried about the rumored hacks, Blizzard‘s office in Korea responsible in hosting the Asia servers was raided by the local government that sought evidence against Blizzard in their denial of refund requests.  Asia region has its own controversy.  Koreans were given more quotas in accessing the Asian game servers while other locations such as China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong needed to queue for hours just to get into the game.  In-game exploitation also ran wild in the Asian servers causing long extended maintenance that denied people from playing the game.  Players in Asia were as unhappy as the US counterparts.  I have no idea how the European players were coping.  I suspect they would have faced similar issues.

RMAH was launched in June.  Those who had high end in-game items made profits due to the initial craze.  One item could be sold for US$250 up.  While minority made money out of playing a game, the community overall appeared to view RMAH as the unnecessary evil.  Couple that with the fact that the game had been exploited by some and the economy imbalance that persists till today, RMAH has become a messy business.  However, if we are to take a step back, with or without RMAH, people trade items – items that they do not create – using real money.  While RMAH provides a safer environment for trading, it also encourages those who would not have traded trade.

To add onto this drama, Blizzard has decided that one of the gear attribute – attack speed – was too high.  Balancing the game means that all in-game items – past and future – have to be adjusted.  To compensate, Blizzard also makes Diablo III‘s inferno difficulty more manageable.  The net result was that those who have spend hundreds of dollars buying gears from RMAH suddenly woke up to the new reality that their gears were less powerful than before.  This seems to have put a brake to RMAH sales.  Are you willing to buy in-game items using real money only to find that one day, the items may be no longer what you wanted them to be?

Tricky situation.

If you read the online professional reviews, Diablo III has done pretty well.  If you crosscheck the scores with user reviews, the two do not tally.  User reviews from Metacritic to Amazon slam down the score to the lowest possible.  Some players from US demanded a full refund after beating the game and strangely, Blizzard has granted their requests.  Official forums continue to be on fire citing Diablo III as the worst game Blizzard has ever produced.  Participation in public games seems to dwindle.  The community seems to thin out.  Perhaps the end game is not quite there yet as we are still waiting for a future patch to address this issue.  Or perhaps action hack-and-slash genre is not something some would enjoy doing for hours.

What about me?

This is the secret level, “pony land”. Rainbow and all. Colorful but deadly.

I love it.  My friends seem to love it too.  Day in day out, I play with my friends online, overcoming challenges.  The contents may be the same.  It is Act One through Act Four.  The story is linear.  But different classes play differently.  Different difficulty levels play differently.  After we have cleared Nightmare difficulty (the second level), Hell plays like a whole new different game.  The challenge requires me to pay attention to mechanics I may have overlooked in the previous difficulty levels.  To me, Diablo III is like Tetris.  The framework and the pieces do not change over different levels.  But the fun stacks up as the pace increases.

How long will I stay with this game?  I am not too sure.  Maybe till the new World of Warcraft expansion Mists of Pandaria is out?

Diablo III – First 80 Hours

What a blast!  20 days into Diablo III and I have clocked in 80 played hours.  On top of that, Ihave finally defeated the ultimate evil for one of my five characters.  One down.  Four more characters to go.  And then onto the next difficulty level.

Note: Did you know the Diablo III runs in both PC and Mac platform?  Once you purchase a game key, you can download and install the game to either platform as many times as you wish.  Do check minimal system requirement though.  To purchase the game, click here to create an account and head to Blizzard Store.  If you are a Android or iPhone user, don’t forget to download the free  Battle.net Mobile Authenticator app (or you can purchase a physical one online at Blizzard Store).  Also, you may wish to turn on the SMS verification feature in your account management for extra security.

“You dare to judge me?!”

Games are certainly more fun played with friends.  In general, that is true – physical and virtual world alike.  So I have played with Cynthia mostly, when she is online.  Sanctuary seems less lonely that way, and less scary for sure.  She can go head-to-head with the mobs at the frontline while I, well, I heroically shoot the enemies from a safe distance.  Now you know who wear the pants at our home.  We have played with our real life friends too.  It is mindless zerging, destroying all things that move, all things that don’t.  It is an insane fun, in a therapeutic kind of way.  Though at times I wonder if we are holding our friends up by too obsessively exploring every corner of the map and smashing every jar we see (there is an achievement for 1,000 jars destroyed for the OCD ones, like me).  At times, we join the public games just to repeat some of the memorable boss fights.  Getting a random group is super fast compares to, say, World of Warcraft.  In that online game, we could end up waiting for up to half an hour or more for a group to be assembled.  In Diablo III, it is instant.  As our party size increases (up to four), so is the strength of our foes.  When one is leaving, no problem.  Our foes will scale down accordingly.  I like this dynamic aspect.  It keeps the encounters challenging and from the social interaction point of view, the more the merrier.  Almost always.

The game in Normal setting does not require 30 hours to beat, which we eventually did.  Typically, it can be done in 20 hours, or even less.  Cynthia and I are the thorough ones.  We enjoy opening up unexplored areas to hunt for treasure and face the seemingly formidable foes.  I take one step further that drives Cynthia nuts.  I listen to all the dialog, again and again.  My only complain with the public games is that most random players would choose to skip the cut scenes and dialog.  That is totally understandable.  But as for me, I am in for the full experience.  Discovering the little stories my in-game companions have to tell, pieces of lore, trivial dialog that keeps the game alive, and more.  To that end, I solo the contents as well.

Scoundrel (my rogue companion in-game when I have no one to group with): Sometimes I wish that when we’d met, you’d taken one look at me and fallen desperately in love.  But then I think of all the gold I’ve gotten with you.

Kasumi (my demon huntress): You know that that it won’t end that way, right?

Scoundrel: Right.

Upon completion of Normal difficulty setting, characters are typically around level 30.  After which, the entire game play can be repeated in a higher difficulty setting called Nightmare.  That boosts character level from 30 to 50.  To reach the level cap of 60, Hell difficulty awaits.  Beyond that is Inferno setting that is tailored for those who demand the ultimate challenge.  If you are seeking for a deeper thrill and a sense of purpose, Diablo III offers a Hardcore mode whereby all deaths are permanent.  That is pretty hardcore.  It is like play Tetris with one life and you want to see how far you can go before getting beaten.  My goal is to reach the level cap for all my 5 characters covering all 5 different classes.  Inferno is likely not my cup of tea.  If and when I reach there, I would love to take a holiday for a well deserved break.  Hawaii would be nice.  How many times must we save Heavens and Sanctuary?  As many times as we defend Azeroth from Deathwing I suppose.

“Cartoon-ish? Perhaps. But the level of detail is astonishing.”

Some asked me if this game is any good.  It is an incredibly easy game to pick up.  In the initial stage of the game, you can simply hack and slash your way using the two mouse buttons.  As you progress, you can use the four extended skills that are mapped to the numeric keys 1 to 4.  6 buttons are all you need to master this game.  You get to choose 6 active skills from a total of 22 at any time of your game play.  Each skill can be augmented with one of the 5 different runes (6 if you count the no rune option).  That in turn changes how the skill works.  On top of that, you get to pick 3 passive skills from an array of 15.  You can do the mathematics and work out the potential number of combinations.  It is rare to see two players picking up the same configuration.  Individual build shapes one’s play style.  Coupled that with the individual’s gear stats preference, there is much depth in Diablo III.  Now, while I cannot vouch for what happens in the Inferno setting, I am pretty sure that it is Blizzard’s interest to avoid cookie-cutting builds that make everyone alike.

If you are into or open to hack-and-slash role playing games, Diablo III is the benchmark.  The game play is fluid.  The artwork and soundtrack is beautiful.  Each time you level, you feel more powerful as more skill options are available at your disposal.  Within the virtual world of Diablo III, you are always gold hungry, loot hungry.  All items’ stats are randomly generated making it unlikely that two gears are identical.  Blizzard, unlike other developers, continues to improve the game based on community feedback.  Other developers more often than not de-prioritize the fixing of their games after they have taken your money.  Instead, their first priority is to build new DLC (downloadable contents) and new expansions.  Not Blizzard.

In this new era, no man is an island.  Collaboration and trading for mutual benefits trump working on your own.  You may hate the concept of the in-game Auction House that facilitates the trading of game items using either in-game currency or real currency.  But it is a good way to help each other in order to fasten the pace and overcome challenges.  Items that you no longer need can be offloaded into the Auction House so that someone else may find a use of it.  Or you may pick up an item from the Auction House that others do not need.  If you are not the type who spends real currency to acquire virtual items, you can stick with the in-game currency.  If you do, Blizzard provides a safe environment for real money trading to occur.  Is Blizzard charging too much as a middle man?  I do not have a benchmark for comparison.  Besides, I hope Blizzard can continue to make money somewhere so that the servers can be funded – free of charge for us folks – for many months or even years to come.

Any downside?  Sure.  It is called weekly scheduled maintenance that happens during our prime evening hours.  Something some of us have been bearing since the launch of World of Warcraft.  It is worse than Error 37 if you were to ask me.

To continue reading my adventure of 140 hours with the game, click here.

“You still haunt my sleep.”

Evil Is Back: Nine Things To Get You Ready For Diablo III

Update: You can start to install the digital download on May 14 11.01pm GMT+8 and the server live date is May 15 3.01pm GMT+8.

For some, this has been a wait more than a decade long.  It gets more excruciating as we approach May 15.  Diablo III is featured on our local paper today.  One couple has postponed their honeymoon to next year in anticipation of the game’s release.  That is some kind of commitment!  I am unsure if I would love Diablo III that much.  Not even sure if Cynthia who gets the game free thanks to WoW annual pass would enjoy playing this game with me.  I have faith in Blizzard.  They make good games.  And to my readers, here are nine things you should consider doing in getting yourself ready for this upcoming epic gaming journey.

1. Watch the Cinematic Trailer

Here is a little crash course for you.  Mortals have been using Soulstones to trap the three Prime Evils from Hell.  The bad guy you see in the video below is Azmodan, the Lord of Sin, who is also one of the four Lesser Evils.  According to Book of Cain (which I will cover later), the Lord of Sin is a clever manipulator who trades in vice and coruption.  He is passionate and plotting – both to very dangerous degrees.  He is by far the most charismatic and seductive of all the Evils.

Little has been revealed about Azmodan, yet it is hinted that he is looking for a promotion to be a Prime.  I suppose Diablo III may tell a deeper story on this Lesser Evil, who is by no means less evil.

2. Read Book of Cain

When I played Diablo II eons ago, I did not really get into the story.  In fact, I did not complete the game.  I have participated in the closed beta.  It was a pleasant experience, with voice acting and etc.  Still, I could not quite get the story.  What I missed was the lore.

To fully enjoy Diablo III, you have to read the lore.  There is one such book that fits the bill.  It is Diablo III: Book of Cain.  148 pages only, with tons of artistic illustrations.  The book tells the story of the beginning of time, before Heaven and Hell were created.  It is a book of mythology that defines the universe of Diablo.  In this realm, mortals as products of angels and demons are not powerless.  That’s why we get to trap the Evils inside the Soulstones in previous episodes.

Evil is back in this third episode.  Get acquainted with the lore today!

3. Pre-order the Game

Unlike Starcraft II, there will be no price difference between getting a local physical copy or downloading the game online via Battle.net.  Either way, after online registration, you will be able to download the game client to any machine – PC or Mac – in the future.  Getting a physical copy saves you the hassle of spending 6 to 12 hours downloading the game.  Getting a virtual copy saves the environment (sort of), with one less packaging, and you get to download the game client in this very moment.  The choice is yours.

Local copy of the game is marketed and distributed by Asiasoft here in Singapore.  For pre-order information and more, visit this link.

4. Attend the Launch Party

Like all Blizzard games, there will be a launch party at Funan DigitaLife Mall and it is held on May 15, 2012 from 9am to 9pm.  For those who have pre-ordered the game, you may collect it from 3pm onwards.  Marc Messenger, the lead developer of this game will be there.  There will be cosplays, hourly giveaways, and lucky draw.

I wonder if the local cosplays standard will be as close as Tasha and Miyuko who are featured in the official Diablo site (see picture below).  What do you think?

5. Create a Battle Tag

You will need a Battle Tag in order to play Diablo III.  It is a name that represent you in Battle.net.  So, choose wisely.  Since it may take time for you to dream of a handle, start dreaming now.

From my experience, a short Battle Tag is much desired.  You may wish to call yourself Iamawesome1337.  Unfortunately there is a space constraint in the game interface.  To others (and even to you), your portrait may show Iamawe… instead.  This may frustrate you.  Think of something short.  It doesn’t have to be unique.  Because Blizzard will tag a 4-digit random code behind your tag.

Diablo III is meant to be played with your friends online.  It is built that way.  Enemies scale up as more join the party.  So, start socializing with your friends and sharing your Battle Tag.  Mine is Lace#1115.  See you in the game!

To create a Battle Tag, you will need to first create a Battle.net account.  Head to http://battle.net for more information.

6. Pick a Class

At launch, there are five classes to choose from: barbarian, wizard, demon hunter, witch doctor, and monk.  You will need to pick one to start your journey.  The question is: Which one will you pick?

I have participated in the closed beta.  I enjoy all five classes.  With ten character slots and a shared stash for you to pass the items around, you are free to experiment what works for you.

Barbarian and monk are melee classes.  You get to face the enemies up close.  Barbarian is the traditional warrior class.  You jump into the battle faster than any other classes.  And you hack and slash your foes away, right to their faces.

Monk on the other hand is a nimble melee class.  You get to jump in and out of the scene and to think how to deal damage without taking too much of it.

Witch doctor, demon hunter, and wizard destroy enemies from a distance.  Witch doctor summon pets to assist you.  Damage over time is the key strategy.  Contrast to wizard, wizard deals direct damage.  Initially I thought wizard would be boring to play, but it is not.  As for demon hunter, first, know that this class does not come with a pet (somehow WoW players associate the word ‘hunter’ with pets).  Second, this class gets to carry two bows that do some really funky stuffs.  It is probably the most interesting class in this genre.

In short, pick your first based on your play style or even artistic preference.  However, I suspect you will get to play all eventually, in different difficulty settings.

Still need more inspiration on which class is for you?  Head to PC Gamer site and read how game developers may pick as their first.

Oh, when you first start the game, make sure you pick the correct geographical region.  You are allowed to switch between the three regions.  The game is not region locked like Starcraft II.  However, characters created in different regions are not connected.

7. Know Your Resources

This may sound obvious.  Official forum is the best place to get up-to-date information, contributed by the community as well as the developers.  There will be discussion and sharing on how to play your classes better.

Character profiles will be available for the tracking of your and your friends’ progress.  There is a skill calculator for those who enjoy fine tuning their characters’ abilities based on play style.  Have you ever wondered what Diablo III is?  The video below will have the answers for you.

8. Watch the Wrath Animation

For those who enjoy watching animation, this close to 7 minutes video clip depicting the conflict of High Heavens and Burning Hells is not to be missed.  It is created by Blizzard Entertainment teamed up with renowned director Peter Chung and acclaimed animation studio Titmouse.  This video does make more sense if you have read Book of Cain as recommended earlier.

9. What’s Your Excuse?

Come this May 15, you may find your colleagues disappear, your loved one disappear.  Try to think of the annual Great Singapore Sale, or the upcoming Euro Cup.  People do disappear for various reasons.  Be sympathetic.  Chances are, your friends are busy fighting demons in the Burning Hells.

If you are finding it hard to come up an excuse for your colleagues, or your loved ones, here is a fan-made website http://www.sorryformay15.com that may just do the job for you!

Diablo III Beta – Part 1: First Impression

I am grateful, to say the least, when I received a beta key from Asiasoft, the new distributor of Blizzard Entertainment games in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.  Thank you Asiasoft!  I tried to ask when the Collector’s Edition of Diablo III will arrive in Singapore and they said Soon™.  It’s OK.  I am a patience man.  I have been anticipating this game since 2008 when Blizzard first put up a site for Diablo III.  Apparently, I was too optimistic back then to think that the wait was over.  The wait is still going on.

For this beta testing (patch 5), we are free to choose any of the five available classes and play through one satisfying mission.  I picked a female monk because she is likely to be the hottest character in Diablo.  Besides, in the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, a new monk class will be introduced.  I am all hyped up for the year of the monks.

“Picture speaks a 1,000 words”

I have played Diablo II.  That was back in 2000.  If you love Diablo II, it is without a doubt that you would love this sequel.  The familiarity is overwhelming.  But yet, there are enough improvements to impress.  It  is like Starcraft II.  The game still plays like the original version, despite the fact that so much have changed in a positive way.

Diablo III is a third person role play game.  Interaction with in-game characters (or non-player classes) are fully voice animated.  There is no need to read the quest texts.  You can engage a two-way conversation with humans you see (in the Universe of Diablo, non-humans are bad).  Or as you get closer to people, you may overhear a conversation.  Now that we are on the topic of music and sound, the soundtrack matches with the mood of the game too.  You can always make out if there is danger ahead, or an upcoming plot to be revealed as the music transits to a new theme.  If you pay attention, you can always hear something luring in the background you even them.  Fortunately, at a low level, these monsters are quite a push over.  These ‘warning’ messages build up my anticipation rather than fear.

“It is often peace in town”

For the first 10 levels, I can practically play it through using only two mouse buttons.  I enjoy the simplicity.  Left click anywhere on the ground moves the character.  At a low level, I can map two abilities to the two mouse buttons.  At the highest level, the number of abilities I can bring to the battlefield is six out of a total of twenty.  Hence, all we really need is two mouse buttons and a keypad of one to four.

You may say: This really seems too easy!  Quite rightly so.  It appears to me that deep within the core of Diablo is still pretty much a hack-and-slash type of game.  However, because the different combinations of abilities we have, the play style can be different.  For example, I can pick a main ability (as a monk), to hit the enemies from afar.  More like a combo style as in each subsequent hit increases the distance required of the next attack.  And as for the ability that consumes my monk’s resource – spirit – I could pick an area of effect by knocking back the enemies, keeping them close but not that close.  Or even a decoy that has an area of effect explosion after a few good seconds of taunting the enemies onto it.  For the third ability, I could pick a buff or mantras that increases the chance of dodge for my party and I.  And if balanced type of combat is not your cup of tea, you could mix the combinations and go for a more offensive approach.

Since Diablo III is a co-op type of game capable of putting four players into a single party, it will come a time whereby you would want to pick abilities or classes that compliment each other.  That is when the complexity kicks in, I suppose.

“Choose wisely!”

I will not be able to cover all aspects of Diablo III Beta in one post.  I intend to share with you more as I dive deeper into the beta testing.  One last topic I would like to cover is crafting.  Looting and crafting is a main feature of the Diablo franchise.  I can’t exactly recall the inventory management system of Diablo II.  But I suspect it is somewhat like you loot and loot and eventually your inventory is full.  You then have to open a portal, return to your home town, clear some space in your inventory, and then return to where you were via a portal.  Diablo III has that facility too.  But it also allows you to savage your unwanted loots on the fly into components that stack.  And then you can use these components to craft items.  Simply put, if the god of RNG (random number generator) hates you, you still have a good chance to get what you want.

I have put up a small photo album in Google+.  You can view the screenshot here.  Patch 6 is out this morning.  Stay tuned for more sharing!

 “So I crafted a pair of fist items for my monk (who is now vanished as the new patch arrives)”

It is Diablo III – So the Wait is Over?

I seldom blog about video gaming but this one is big.  The Diablo franchise has a new installment, and from one video I have watched, it’s a quantum leap.  The graphic is jaw dropping and we can now realistically interact with the environment such as the collapse of the structures as we battle.  The control for the battle seems engaging.  Check out one boss fight and I bet you have not quit seen something of that scale before.

I always try to seek a balance when I blog, a little something for everybody.  From the business point of view, Blizzard Entertainment – a division of French Vivendi Games – is one gaming company that I admire deeply.  Why?  They don’t have many games and they only have three major franchises – Starcraft, Warcraft, and Diablo.  They are not inventive but they enhance and implement the genre so well that all that they create are legendary, a huge gap for the rest of the companies to close.  Starcraft is a 10 years old game and it is still played today.  Recently, it is announced that Starcraft II is on its way.  Warcraft has gone through a cycle of 3 installments and the MMORPG spin off (massively multi-player online role playing game) is a worldwide success taking the genre to a height that never has seen before.  10 million worldwide subscribers (Cynthia and I included) and it is a four years old game still going strong.

Another great thing I admire about Blizzard Entertainment is that unlike other gaming companies that are pressurized to release games even when the games are not ready for the shelves, Blizzard has the reputation of non-committing release dates.  They will only release the games when they are ready.  On top of that, they are not hesitate to can a project (like the venturing into the console gaming platform) if it doesn’t turn out right.

There is a pending merge of Vivendi Games (1 billion in revenue) with yet another giant Activision (3 billion in revenue) and the new entity is going to be called Activision Blizzard Inc.  Now, I do want to own some of their shares.

Below is the cinematic teaser and if you like what you see, don’t miss the video that demonstrates the actual game play (click here and then click onto “Play Gameplay Vidoe” on the right).