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Diablo III feels like an old shoe that’s been polished. It’s comfortable and clean but still a bit smelly.
The faint aroma comes from the biggest problem plaguing the game: the Internet. Its requirement of a constant online connection means that even if you’re not solving the mysteries of Sanctuary and its new demon roommates (who are total assholes and leave their trash all over the place), you have to be connected to Battle.net in order to play.
Blizzard's reasoning for this is sound. In order to stop piracy and exploitation (where you modify the game to your own advantage), you have to be connected to Battle.net at all times. It’s simple. It’s straightforward. It makes sense. A developer wouldn’t want its experience to break and wouldn’t want you getting it for free — no matter how entitled you think you are to it. So, in order for you to not break the game, Blizzard broke it for you.
Since Diablo III’s release, Battle.net has been plagued with downtimes. Both World of Warcraft and Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, which are incredibly large multiplayer games in their own accord, have also suffered the wrath of Diablo’s fury. And for me, that’s one of the biggest problems. Blizzard owns and maintains one of the largest (if not the largest) online games in history. More than any other company, it should understand what millions and millions of users logging into a game at the same time does to a server. But with every expansion pack and release, we see the same problems, enough so that the biggest argument anyone has to support Blizzard is “Were you not expecting this?”
Forcing people to play a single-player game online is silly and just adds extra stress to servers. The fact that it’s expected from a company shouldn’t be a logical defense used by sympathizers. Instead, it should be a harsh criticism. Blizzard should offer a way to play the game without the use of an Internet connection. Sure, you can gimp it in some way (limited activation, no updates, etc.), but it would still allow players to actually get some value out of the title they purchased. Blizzard can still require people to authenticate their copies (beyond just a CD key if need be, although that method still seems to work), but it should allow customers to enjoy what they’ve paid for when they want to. In other words, piracy is inevitable. Loyal customers who actually pay for their games shouldn't be punished because of it.
Even worse, Blizzard has encountered and overcome this problem before. Like Diablo, Starcraft II is a single-player game with multiplayer components. But, while it also required an active Internet connection like its more demonic brother, Blizzard offered an offline mode that it mysteriously left out of Diablo III. The mode allowed you to play while your Internet was down or when you just didn’t feel like being connected to Battle.net. You didn’t get achievements, and you had to go back online in order to grab updates. But you did get to play offline.
And doing this didn’t seem to hurt the sales of Starcraft II. According to Blizzard, it was one of the fastest-selling strategy games of all time. Adding an offline mode didn’t kill Starcraft II, so why not do the same thing for other releases?
What do you think? Is there another way Blizzard could have handled this, or were we doomed from the start? Better yet, would an offline mode have destroyed the fragile ecosystem of Sanctuary?