I've waited years for diablo 3. Since they announced it in 2008 I've been following its development with growing interest. I've watched community websites, participated in the beta, even made a few small web tools that were re-used by a few random Russian websites. I bought the Diablo 3 strategy guide three days before the game came out and read it all. I also played a metric ton of Diablo 2. And some Diablo 1 back in the day. I also enjoy Torchlight, Titan Quest, even Darkspore. I'm looking forward to Grim Dawn and Path of Exile. I really love Action RPGS. Make items drop, add numbers when I hit things and give me multiple levels of progressions to look forward to and I'll be hooked. With that in mind...
Diablo 3 is a great ARPG that does good things differently.
Not to say that it's perfect but D3 does some things really well. I'm going to dissect the thing it doesn't do well in a few paragraphs but I wanted to start with the things I love about the game. First of all, they removed the stats system. If you've read my Torchlight 2 review, you know what I think about them. Having to decide where points should go is often a zero-sum game: Either you know where they go or you don't and there aren't that many possible viable options. Diablo 3 removes that whole system by placing stats automatically (Not unlike World of Warcraft) for your hero when you level up. You still can add to your stats by equipping different items but you don't have points to maul over. Not to say that there are no stats in D3. There are tons, critical hit chance/damage, melee damage reduction, life per hit, life per kill, life steal, magic find... Everything is surfaced to the player this time around, in Diablo 2 you barely knew what your magic find was.
The skill system is also done without using the points mechanic. You unlock all of your skills in the 1-30 range and then you unlock runes to customize the effects of your attacks. This can go from adding damage too increased range or splitting projectiles, freezing meteors, poison hydras and you can change almost at anytime what your skills are. A 30-seconds cooldown here, a removal of a magic find/gold find buff there, it's all very well implemented. You can try pretty much every build you want, no need for special items to make any of this work like some things did in Diablo 2.
Tons of other little things like Nephelem Valor, the Paragon system and the newly added quests where you defeat tough bosses to get nice items can't really be covered here because they're part of future patches and I haven't played much with that content. Needless to say, they're nice ideas and I look forward to future patches.
The stats are maybe too superficial.
Since you can't place points directly into stats, your equipment defines how you're customizing your character. The problem is different in which there is no confusion or no situation where you know or don't, but instead you need to get the items that increase your core (DPS, HP, Defense to some extent) values. It's not a bad thing by itself, but what's the point of there being Intelligence, Dexterity, Strength, Vitality when all I'm going to get are Vitality/Intelligence items with my witch doctor or Vitality/Dexterity with my monk? The classes are well rounded and diverse, but they are all using the same stats. Vitality for everyone. Then Strength for barbarians, dexterity for demon hunter/monks and intelligence for witch doctors/wizards. In no situation will you find an item that lowers your core values but nets you ton of a useless stat (Let's say you have 100 intelligence and find a useless item that gives you 900) that you will want to equip. Needless to say, this is not a critical issue since you can give your items to other characters.
How I would fix this
Give good reasons for any stats to be there. Maybe there could be passives that turn unused stats into viable additions to any build. Maybe strength could be the stat to boost your summoned creatures as a Witch Doctor, maybe a wizard's armor skills could be improved by dexterity. Not to say that all stats should change whole systems for each character, but adding some reasons why someone would want strength that badly on a hand crossbow.
And the items, too random.
I love loot games, I love finding random stuff all the time. I remember in D2, I found a unique mace once from a physical immune swarm of bugs in act 2. I also crafted myself a nice runeword armor. I found many set pieces in diablo 2 as well! I've now played Diablo 3 for more than D2 I'm sure, and I've found nothing. Not a single piece of legendary equipment, not a single set item. Diablo 3 is skewed towards the end-game. Anything below level 60 isn't probably worth it (A friend of mine found legendary level 3 boots, while neat in theory, they would be useful for 4-5 levels) and even if you find anything remotely rare, if the stats aren't great, it won't be useful to anyone. Itemization in diablo 3 is not perfect right now, most of the legendary items are basically a huge list of random possibilities, some are good and some aren't. I suppose Diablo 2 didn't have all of the crazy stuff at launch, but I hope we'll see truly unique legendaries with interesting properties. I also hope the new Paragon system will help me find good items randomly in the world. You can also find items that are plainly useless. Mage helms with bonuses to monk skills and the like.
Crafting is also painful, you spend materials and money to create random items with random properties. With all the stats in this game, it's not hard to make a level 60 armor with 5 things on it that are completely useless. With the prices related to this process, selling the items on the auction house instead of breaking them down into materials then taking the money to buy better items seems like the way to go if you want better equipment. You also need to find higher-level recipes and I have found none of them either.
To make matters worse, in my opinion, everything is going on at the auction house. You can buy legendaries for insanely low sums. I took half of the gold I had and bought all legendaries for my character. What does this mean? Some people play much more than I do? They're luckier? They use bots? How can there be so many legendary items on the auction house while I've found nothing? Otherwise, I'm not a fan of auction house-type systems, so I'm staying away. I sincerely hope the game isn't balanced around level 60 players buying items from other players. Then again, I'm still not sure around what diablo 2 was balanced.
How I would fix this.
Add the enchanters from Torchlight or the system in World of Warcraft where you can transform your stats into something else. If I found a really good weapon that gave strength as a wizard, I could transform the strength into intelligence. Or remove that magic modifier and re-roll it. As I understand it, the difference between an average item and a really good one is most of the time because of one sub-par modifier. As for the items themselves, I would add more legendaries and set items of all levels and make them drop a bit more, maybe. I have nothing bad to say about the auction house, it's a neat experiment if anything else, just don't balance the game around the idea people will play forever and get enough gold to buy everything they need.
Some lost potential with the enemies
Enemies in Diablo 3 are interesting. They come in all sizes and varieties with their own inherent abilities. Then you have champions and elites that come with 1, 2, 3 or 4 modifiers such as molten (Fire burns where they walk and then they explode), avenger (When they die, all other enemies become stronger) and missile dampening (All your projectiles are slowed in time then kill the monster instantly) and you have unique enemies with some special powers, then bosses. The challenge ramps up pretty quickly in Inferno because the enemy's stats outmatch your own by a fair margin. I have nothing against the normal enemies and the bread-and-butter nature of action rpgs, what I have some beef with are the bosses. I remember being disappointed the second I looked in the D3 strategy guide, days before the game launch.
All bosses are like you see in that picture. Their HP and XP (And other stats I'm sure) increase at each difficulties but their attacks and other special characteristics never change. It's true for the first and last boss of the game. Why then, surface that they do the same thing at all difficulties? Was it planned at some point that bosses would do different things later on? I remember in diablo 2 on nightmare difficulty, Andariel was green! That's different, right? There's so much variety in D3 and they couldn't make the bosses tougher besides obvious numerical increases of their stats?
How I would fix this
Adding modifiers to the bosses could be funny but maybe some custom tailored new attacks would be the way to go. Nothing prevents the skeleton king from summoning ghosts or zombies or whirlwinding for much longer or teleporting differently on higher difficulties. I understand the desire to not add resistances - and immunities - because there's no such thing as a "fire" wizard versus an "ice" or "lighting" one, but adding variety would make replayability that much enjoyable. As a side note, I've read that the special quest to get the good item faces player against tougher versions of the bosses, I'm looking forward to that.
The story is taking away from the game.
Normally I wouldn't maul over the story because in terms of game design, whatever you tell is fine as long as the game plays well. I just feel that stories in ARPGs should be as small and unnoticeable as possible, they shouldn't span through big cutscenes that pop in your face and full-screen videos of your character telling you how they defeated the demons. Blizzard has always relied on the same tropes - corruption, betrayal, cow levels, staying a while and listening - so I'm not going to kick dirt their way for making the story kinda bad and unbelievable at best. In diablo 2 the story was told through text bubbles that you could close instantly. You can also close them quickly in D3 but they still break the momentum a bit.
How I would fix this
Easy, add an option to automatically skip all cutscenes and speeches after you beat the game. I know what the story is now after I've beat it once, I don't want to watch it again, I just want to click-click-click-click.