Diablo 3: Co-op is a lonely road

For many PC gamers, including me, some of our favourite memories include playing co-op with friends in Diablo 1 and 2. Therefore, I was excited when I heard that one of the Diablo III team’s key design concepts was “do no harm to co-op”. Lots of the decisions that have been announced, and that we have seen in the beta, seem to be reinforcing this concept:

  • Individualised loot drops (each player sees a different set of loot on the ground)
  • No more world PvP (no PK switch – PvP in arena only)
  • Battle.Net 2.0’s friends-list features (cross-game RealID, battletags, etc)
  • In-game ‘banners’ to instantly teleport to party members in the world
  • All players in the game are automatically on the same quest and objectives
  • Maximum players reduced from 8 to 4
  • “Matchmaking” public games to easily hook up with other players on the same quest

OK, this all looks good. Maybe not everyone will be happy with the reduced party size, but given how many spell effects and loot explosions there are, even at the low levels we have in the beta, it does seem like 8 players would be far too many for a c14oherent experience.

But there’s something new, something different between D2 and D3 that’s not visible in these bullet points. Even in a party of 4, you never really feel that you’re working together, or even in the same game. It’s kinda like playing with ghosts. You’re in the same place, but you never interact.

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: if you’ve got friends who play Diablo III, you’re going to have a blast in co-op, no matter what. The core game’s mechanics are fun. Fire up Ventrilo or Teamspeak, laugh at your inside jokes, and you’re all set.

Fury and Spirit

Monk needs Spirit, badly!

I hope this is just a beta issue, but right now, because of their resource mechanics, it can be hard for the Monk and Barbarian to work with the other classes. The Monk is the worst. Let’s look at an example.

The Monk doesn’t gain Spirit by himself. The only way to gain Spirit (aside from class-specific items) is to hit monsters with one of the Spirit Generator attacks (which are all melee-range). Normally this isn’t an issue – use a quick Dashing Strike (cost 15) to get to melee range, then after 2 or 3 Generator attacks (gain 6 spirit), and the Dashing Strike has paid for itself. Seems fine.

Now, let’s add a friendly Wizard in behind the Monk in co-op mode. This Wizard loves Disintegrate. Suddenly, the equation has changed: you Dashing Strike to get into range and kill one mob, and meanwhile, Disintegrate has killed everything else in that pack. Thanks to the Wizard regaining Arcane Power automatically and quickly, this scenario will repeat itself every time, and the Monk will now end up Spirit-starved , permanently.

The Barbarian has a similar problem with Fury, but at least they have an out: they can smash destructible objects to gain fury, so you always have a way to gain resource in an emergency. Spirit doesn’t work like that.

I don’t want to draw conclusions based on just the beta. In later parts of the game, monster density will likely be a lot higher, and monster health will also be higher relative to player DPS, so hopefully there will always be something around for the Monk to hit.

 

Co-op play via Public Games

Public Game interface

Here we go. I’m going to talk about the Public Game co-op system. For those that are unaware, it’s pretty simple: you select your character & quest as normal (you can select any quest you’ve previously completed or are currently on), then click on “Public Games”. A new window will pop up, showing the number of games currently online in the quest that you’re on. Click on “Join Game” and you’ll quickly be matched up into a game on the specified quest.

Here’s where the real issue arises. There’s no need to talk to the other players. Ever. You don’t need to talk about what quest you’re on (you’re all on the same one), you don’t need to talk about loot (everyone sees separate loot), you don’t need to talk about getting to the boss fight (event invites automatically pop up), you don’t need to talk about trades (there’s an auction house now).

This is evident in the beta: to quote from the battle.net forums – “everyone in the beta is a bunch of mute, Leoric-seeking robots” – and it’s really true. In a public game I have *never* seen anyone talk, and I have played through at least a dozen public games. This includes when I try and start a conversation! You don’t need to stick together either: in fact everyone just splits up, all the time, to try and find the stairs to the next level. And as soon as someone finds it, everyone else teleports to them, then they split up again.

This lack-of-interaction happens even before the game starts. Let’s say you want to do something “non-standard” (a common example in the beta is running the Skeleton King without wearing any gear, to increase the challenge). You can’t name public games, so there is *no way* to communicate this and get interested people to join. The only way to do it is to go to a forum or website, share your BattleTag, and wait 2 hours for people to read it online and make contact.

None of this stuff makes the gameplay less than it is in single-player. The problem is, it doesn’t add anything either. You may as well be playing by yourself.

Forced co-operation

There’s one potential saving grace here: difficulty. From what Blizzard have said, once you get to Nightmare, the game starts to get hard. To the point where, if you don’t stick together, you should expect to be quickly killed. Here’s Bashiok on what happens if some players go back to town, while others don’t:

Q: I am not going to “wait up” for someone.

A:  Then you will die. You’re going to have to stick together to survive, and that’s going to force groups to stop together. It’s a lot better for everyone if that stopping point is in-town, for the aforementioned reason that not everyone takes the same amount of time to complete the same tasks, and there’s more things that can be accomplished in town. Not to mention it’s safer if you need to grab some more Cactus Cooler or take a bio break.

This could save the public co-op experience. If the game is hard enough to *force* players to work together, then communication will happen as a necessity, and from there, the co-op magic can begin.

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