So Diablo III is online only. We know this already. For some this is a terrible betrayal, for others it's a minor inconvenience, and for others it's just the natural evolution of things. Still, it's worth looking at what "online only" really means, and how it will impact your experience.
The Escapist was nice enough to hook me up with the Diablo III beta. I've put more than a few hours into it, and this game is exactly what I expected: gorgeous, polished, interesting, and gratifying to play. I've also gotten a feel for how this "online single player" idea is supposed to work.
You'll Need an Always On Connection to Play
Duh. Obviously. I'm only listing this here so people won't accuse me of forgetting to mention it. People with capricious connections will have a frustrating time as the game comes to a halt when you disconnect. If you travel a lot, Diablo III is not going to be a game you'll be able to enjoy on the road.
You Can't Pause the Game
There really is no way to quickly suspend the on-screen action. Did the phone ring during a boss fight? Did one of your kids fall in the middle of a dungeon crawl? Did the smoke alarm go off? Someone at the door? Spill hot coffee all over your desk? Having a bathroom emergency? Does the pet need to be let out? Did your significant other just storm into the room with something urgent? Well, you can either be irresponsible or you can let your character die.
This doesn't encourage healthy gaming habits, and it means you should probably choose a different game if you think you might be interrupted.
You Need to Type In Your Name and Password Every Time
Does this seem petty? Given the difficulty in moving the game from one machine to another and the problems with playing on the road, it's likely that most people will be playing this game on their home PC. Despite this, Blizzard wants you to treat your home PC like a public terminal by refusing to remember your login credentials. I only type in my Gmail password once a month, but I need to enter my Blizzard password every time I play the game.
Of course, they do this because hacked accounts are their biggest support issue. Just remember, you're going through extra hassle to save them extra hassle.
During the beta, I got my wizard a little too close to the action and began taking a beating. I know how squishy casters tend to be, and quickly retreated. When I was about ten paces away, a bad guy took a swing at the spot where I'd been standing a few seconds earlier and hit my character anyway.
What was that? Lag? A bug? Or is this the game's way of discouraging hit-and-run tactics from wizards? I couldn't tell. You normally don't have to think about lag in the context of a game being played in solitude. Now you do. And now you can enjoy the frustration and pain of lag death.
I never dabbled in the Diablo II mod scene, but apparently it was a pretty big deal. New items, new skill trees, total conversions - there were many ambitious mods to extend the game and give it even more replay value.
The online only nature of Diablo III makes gameplay altering mods impossible. (And a TOS violation if you do figure out a way around this, akin to joining a pirate World of Warcraft server.)
Blizzard pointed out that some players didn't like it when they started a single player character and then had to start over if they decided they wanted to play online, so this online only idea is being offered as a way to avoid that fate.
This seems like a lot of convenience, freedom, and features to give up in exchange for not being able to make a decision that might come back to bite you later.
One final note is that I'm noticing this odd trend where online games are offering more solo-friendly content and single player games are adding more online features. This suggests a future where the line between "free-to-play online" and "single player game" is one of marketing, not functionality.