Will I buy Diablo III? Yes. Will I play Diablo III? Yes.
Will I play Diablo III more than once? Maybe.
Will it matter how I build my character? No.
From what I've read--and correct me if I'm wrong—if two players have max-level barbarians side-by-side in Diablo III, items and names aside, there will be zero difference between our characters. We will have access to the same base stat build and access to the same selection of skills and runes.
Welcome to the 'stupidification' of Diablo, where build skill no longer matters. If I didn't care about character build and only wanted to find items, I'd rather put 80 hours into Final Fantasy.
Differentiation between characters was what made my Diablo II characters unique, not the items I had. Why can't I make a unique stat-heavy ranged barbarian or a melee wizard? Well, that seems impossible in DIII.
‘Leveling' the playing field reduces replayability and the customization we've come to expect and love in Diablo II. I want my characters to be tweaked how I want and not some cookie-cutter build.
There's some evidence that character builds, player-defined stats, and fixed skill trees lead to great games, especially within the Blizzard family. This was the case in Diablo and Diablo II obviously. But what about the introduction of heroes in Warcraft III (both Reign of Chaos and the Frozen Throne), where proper hero skill placement and attribute calculations could mean the difference of a ladder spot, or more importantly victory or defeat? And what about the long-lasting playability of Defense of the Ancients (DotA), a wildly popular mod to Warcraft III, which has evolved into its own genre. In each of these games, efficient skill placement and calculating attributes was not only critical, but it made playing and replaying the game fun. I'm pretty sure if you nerfed or removed the skill tree and attributes in these games or allowed unlimited skill ‘respecing,' replayability would suffer.
If I didn't care about character build and only wanted to find items, I'd rather put 80 hours into Final Fantasy.
If I'm Blizzard, I want "replayability" built into my game. I want players coming back for more. I want them building and rebuilding characters over and over. I want the difference between newbs and players to be more than items and reaction time. Right now, I'm only going to play this game five times until I max out each character class and then... well really, what's the point?
I remember spending hours calculating optimal builds and skill placement in D2. I remember doing math on the fly about MF% ‘magic find' or CtB% ‘chance to block' or HP to MP ratios for the perfect PvP mana-shield sorceress. Teach the next generation of Diablo players how to do math instead of doing it for them.
So Blizzard, give us back the power to allocate stats, let me build unique characters built for rushing, magic finding, and low level PVP. Or at least make it an option for the non-lazy stupid players—you could call it "Hardcore Mode."
UPDATE (following reader feedback): This was simply my opinion based on how much I enjoyed the stat and skill tree in Diablo II, which was also a core feature of Diablo. Some of you agreed and some disagreed — we're all likely going to play Diablo III regardless. And that's a good thing.
Of the links I've seen in the comments, this discussion in the Battle.net forum was the most thorough and well-reasoned. And while I don't agree completely with his or her breakdown, only time will tell whether it enriches or takes away from the game.
None of us in the beta got to see how the game will play out much past early character development. I do agree with the Dontinquire's conclusion that "[s]tat point allocation has not disappeared, it has transferred... [to] something that you may buy on the auction house. Crafting systems exist to transfer player customization into a marketable form... The real bitterness may come from the fact that many hardcore players just do not want the choice to exist in its current iteration."
Perhaps, fundamentally, I just believe stat and attribute customization should be made on the base character level rather than primarily materializing as enhancers from items, gems, etc... At the base level neither player has to customize anything. We both can go into the auction and buy the same items and allocate our skills the same way at any point. You don't get penalized for making any decisions along the way as long as you put in the hours. At any point, if you're like, 'OOOH he has a cool equipped character with these skills,' I can just go buy the same items and switch my skills and it makes no difference what decisions I made along the way which is fine—but its a sharp departure from DII."
Obviously, as many have pointed out, moving towards item-focused gameplay is better for Blizzard's bottom line from the transaction fees we'll all incur in the auction house. To all the commenters, I hope to see you all in 'hell' in a few days.
Jesse (@jessema) is on the Legal Team at Gawker Media and has been an avid gamer since Contra.