Diablo 3 Beta Review: Your Mouse is F*cked
Level design has always been one notable exception to Diablo’s repeatable rule. If there’s a corollary to the fact that the right short tasks performed over and over again lead to fun, it’s the fact that long tasks performed more than once are nothing short of excruciating. From the beginning, therefore, Diablo’s levels have been procedurally generated, and fully randomized.
This randomization appears again in Diablo 3, though the level design has been extensively augmented. 3D graphics give a better sense of the subterranean depths your hero is exploring. Enemies make unexpected, terrifying entrances, climbing over balconies and bursting through doors or out of dusty tombs. For all the early hand-wringing about the game’s color palette, the atmosphere is as gothic and oppressive as ever, established by lush textures, imaginative design, and eerie lighting. The latter does furnish the game’s levels with one repeatable thrill: dropping a physics-powered chandelier on a group of enemies never really gets old.
The series’ randomization also applies to its items. Repetition, though diverting, is not its own reward, and Blizzard realized early that they could keep people playing by providing a limitless supply of procedurally generated loot. In the latter stages of the first two games, this loot was collected via endless, repeated farming runs of the bosses most likely to drop valuable items, proving once again that gamers will repeat pretty much any action infinitely as long as it is sufficiently fun.
Laden down with equipment that gave a bonus to their “magic find,” advanced Diablo II players eventually began to evoke industrial equipment, harvesting items out the game’s dungeons with the machine-like efficiency of a combine. Instead of attempting to hinder this process, Blizzard have embraced it.
First and foremost, the developers provide each character with separate loot. Even when you’re in a party with other people, be they friends or enemies, all the items you see belong to you. That means no more frantic, competitive clicking to reap your just reward from a treasure-laden boss.
This change — simple and seismic though it is — is only the beginning. Early on in the game, players are given two items, the Cauldron of Jordan and the Nephalem Cube. The former allows you to sell any item instantaneously, straight out of your inventory. No more trips back to town. No cute pets running errands, a la Torchlight. Just simple, hyper-efficient extraction.
The power of the Nephalem Cube is even more profound. The device enables players to reverse engineer magical items, turning unwanted gear into raw materials. These materials can be combined to form new items with randomized properties, according to recipes that can also be found out in the gameworld. In Diablo 3, every bad item has the potential to form part of some unknown good item. The concept of “vendor trash” is wiped away in one fell swoop.