The fall is usually a time for people plow through the latest and greatest games. This year, however, I’ve also been revisiting an old friend of sorts in Diablo III. But as I work my way through the game anew on my PS4, a big problem has flared up once again: something about its difficulty still feels…off.
Diablo III’s difficulty has been a point of contention ever since the game first launched for PC in its original form way back in 2012. Part of the problem that fans and critics have had assessing its impact on the game is that there are a number of different problems, the roots of which aren’t precisely clear. So let my start here by identifying my three main grievances.
First, the game is often far too easy—especially when I’m playing with friends. Second, it can be crushingly difficult at other times, in a way that makes the game feel unfair or simply not very much fun to play. Thirdly, and most importantly: Diablo III continues to be an inappropriately rigid game when it comes to letting its players choose between different difficulty levels, and do so in a relatively painless manner. I took me a while to appreciate this after revisiting the game on my PS4, because like many players, I’d settled into my own habits with the PC version of the game previously.
My experience playing Diablo III one recent Sunday shows how all of these different problems can manifest themselves over the course of a few hours. I started the day (Diablo-wise, at least) in the early afternoon. Not seeing any friends online at first, I decided to play on “Normal” difficulty while listening to a podcast—my go-to autopilot mode for playing Diablo III when I’m feeling meditative or hungover rather than competitive. This felt like too much a cakewalk, so I switched over to “Hard” after a few minutes and settled into a decent groove.
Jumping all the way to “Expert” could have made Diablo III feel meatier in certain ways, but I’d already found that playing it in single player just ended up adding a lot of time to the game. As far as I can tell, the biggest change that occurs when jumping between difficulty levels is that monsters hit points shoot up. Going all the way to “Expert” or beyond when playing on my own therefore leaves me stuck in many spots. Moments or entire passages where I’ve already figured out how to defeat a bad guy, but I still have to spend what feels like another five to ten minutes slowly chipping away at the bright red health bar above his or her head. It’s routine and familiar, though rarely in a good way.
Diablo III Still Has A Difficulty Problem
An hour or so after I started playing Diablo III on “Hard,” a friend showed up and dropped into my game. We both noticed that we were breezing through things with little to no legitimate resistance, so we dialed the game up to “Expert,” the highest of the three difficulty settings you can access before you need to start unlocking stuff in the game. Once again, we settled into a comfortable groove. It still felt like “a game that’s a bit on the easy side,” as Mike Fahey noted in our original review back in 2012, but we both knew Diablo well enough to expect that at this point. Also: it was still a lazy Sunday.
I hope Blizzard keeps experimenting with new ideas like the Nemesis system. Because as much as I love Diablo III, I’m becoming more and more aware of the fact that I still haven’t bothered to finish its campaign on my PS4. The game just hasn’t given me a compelling enough reason to jump through this hoop once again.
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