Diablo III and the Road to Hell

11 Oct 2011

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Blizzard Entertainment
Developer:Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date:2012-05-15
Genre:
  • Role-Playing,Action
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
The elephant of the room about this, of course, is that Diablo III will be an online-only game. Every player will need to have an active Internet connection to play, even if they want to play by themselves, and speaking from experience, I know that there are quite a few people who do indeed play Diablo as a single-player title as well as a multiplayer one. Of course, while Blizzard can attach a bunch of new features to Battle.net to help mitigate the requirement, there's no mistaking that this is a form of DRM, and one of the most restrictive kinds to boot. Admittedly, staying plugged into Battle.net may sound like a good idea for a lot of people, and they might well go along happily with it. At the same time, it's important to understand what's been lost in this transition.

The first and most glaring issue is that mods are now no longer permitted, at all. In fact, it will get your account banned, no matter how innocuous or innocent that mod is. Diablo and Diablo II never had the biggest mod communities, granted, but there were certainly plenty available that would add new gameplay, character classes, items, areas to explore, quests, and so on. Even basic interface improvements, like larger inventories and higher screen resolutions, could help make Diablo II more playable for some people. Most importantly, many of these mods were cross-compatible with one another and could even be played over TCP/IP and Open Battle.net (a version of Battle.net where characters are stored locally, rather than on Blizzard's servers). I speak from experience when I say that some of my most fun with Diablo II came from playing with mods installed, and now, in Diablo III, that will be impossible.

There are a number of smaller problems that come along with the requirement to stay logged into Battle.net, as well. As of the open beta, you can't pause the game when playing alone, which I think most who have hectic schedules, or families to take care of, will agree is a glaring omission. You won't be able to edit your player character to experiment with the game and its mechanics, for instance, and if you run into a bug or a broken quest, your character save file won't be open for alteration to fix that problem. Since all changes are saved to the Battle.net server, too, if you have an untimely and unwanted death, lose an item you wanted to hold on to, accidentally augment a weapon or skill you didn't want to, etc., you won't be able to roll back to a previous save file you've backed up, either. Some of Diablo III's design decisions do mitigate this somewhat (skills are no longer bought with points, for instance, but instead unlocked automatically as you level up), but the fundamental issue remains that you won't have full control over your characters, or how to play the game.

Is Diablo III For You?

My final bit of discussion here concerns something that might be considered a little bit esoteric by some. For a long time, Diablo has held the throne of the ultimate in point-and-click action-RPGs, if not so much in quality, then at the very least in terms of sheer sales numbers and market-defining scope. However, one thing I've begun to notice the more and more Diablo III coverage I read and watch is that, frankly, it's not looking much like the Diablo I remember anymore.

No, this isn't going to be another resurrection of the debate about the game's artwork because, frankly, whether or not you agree with the direction Blizzard has taken, I think it's safe to say that Diablo III looks great and has a very definitive style. Rather, this concerns the game's mechanics and focus. The original Diablo was in many ways a defining game for me. It was one of the first games that I played online extensively, and in many ways it shaped a lot of what I feel makes for good and compelling gameplay mechanics even to this day: risk versus reward, character advancement with both upsides and drawbacks, and that insatiable "just one more dungeon level" urge that causes you to lose your sense of time as you're pulled into the game. These things are for the most part present in Diablo III, but a lot of the individual details leave me scratching my head and wondering just whether or not this new game is really in the same vein as its predecessors, especially the first one.

The original Diablo was very much a game, strangely enough, driven by story. We tend to think of Diablo as all about leveling up, killing monsters, and gaining loot, and that was certainly true of the first Diablo, but it had much more in common with a traditional CRPG. The fighting monsters and leveling wasn't so much an end in itself as it was a means to an end - it was often a point of pride to be able to finish the game quickly on the hardest difficulty setting, and it was working towards the big bad Diablo himself that kept the game moving forward, not the promise of greater riches.

On top of that, while the game didn't have randomly-generated quests to speak of, it did, at the beginning, select a handful of side-quests to build the game's dungeons around. The Butcher, King Leoric, Archbishop Lazarus - some of the most iconic and memorable characters and quests from Diablo were all things that a player might not even see getting through the game the first time. On a similar note, loot, while still random, was actually predetermined upon starting a new character, so often you would end up finding completely different gear each time you played the game, and it would actually feel unique to your journey, rather than yet another "unique" item that you'd already seen a half-dozen times before. This "what are you going to get this time?" feeling really added a sense of unpredictability to Diablo that worked along with its randomly-generated dungeons, and improved its replay value exponentially.