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Page 4 of 4Diablo II was a bit different in its focus. Aside from the greater emphasis on Battle.net and more refined and expansive gameplay all around, Diablo II brought in magic finding, "boss drops", more varieties of items (rares, sets, etc.), and so on. Rather than leveling and item acquisition being more about getting to the end of the story and building the best character, instead, it became an end in and of itself. With crafting via the Horadric Cube and the "runeword" items introduced in the expansion pack Lord of Destruction, that need for more and better loot was solidified even more, even though that actually legitimately obtaining the best of this loot was almost impossible without an absurd time investment... or a degree of luck which would quite literally see you win the lottery before your prized Zod Rune. And of course, the rarity of all these items also opened it up to more organized forms of exploitation: hacking, botting, gold farming, phishing, scamming, and so on ended up nearly dominating Diablo II, to the point where finding a legitimate version of an item to trade for was extremely difficult, and finding a chat channel without advertising spam was an impossible feat.
Suffice is to say, I wasn't particularly happy with this direction Diablo II took, both because I felt it took away from the real fun of actually just playing the game, and because all of the baggage that focus on a digital economy brought. Unfortunately, I don't think Diablo III is any better than Diablo II in this respect; in fact, given that now the ability to exchange in-game items for real money is included, with Blizzard themselves taking a cut, to me it just seems that the heart of the game has been lost. What's more, with the Auction House open 24/7, trading becomes impersonal - you don't have to talk to people and get to know people, interact with them... it's all very anti-social in what should be a very social game. Even if Diablo II is overrun with hackers, at least you'll need to actually speak with them to make an exchange, and that's more that can be said of Diablo III, and when you add real money into the mix, that adds a certain level of danger and risk to relationships that wasn't there before.
As to whether or not Diablo III is going to place the story more squarely on the loot than the story and gameplay remains to be seen, of course. Certainly, it's also a valid critique that a game is what you make of it, and that players have free choice in how they want to play the game - if you don't like playing online, don't play with other people. Still, given how much emphasis Blizzard seem to be putting on that side of the game, as well as the inevitable bevy of microtransactions (cosmetic or otherwise) that will no doubt creep into the game in the future, I am, at least at this stage, inclined to believe that Diablo III just isn't the game for me, but rather is aimed at an entirely different type of player than the types who in many cases quite literally grew up with the series. I'm comfortable with that, but I can't help but feel just a little bit sad about the direction Blizzard have decided to take the series.
Obviously, Diablo III still looks poised to sell a million billion copies, and it will no doubt be a beautiful, playable and enjoyable game, as Blizzard titles categorically are. I have no question of that, and neither is it my goal with this piece to tell anyone that Diablo is somehow "dead", or that Blizzard have come under control of the devil himself, or to instruct people as to what they should find enjoyable. However, thinking about it lately, I've come to the realization that Diablo, once instrumental in defining my perceptions of PC gaming, has begun to move away from its roots - and it's doing so in ways which may not be beneficial to players overall, aren't necessarily very competitive with the dozens of RPGs we already have to play, and, in my personal opinion, embody some of the most negative trends dominating the games industry lately.
They say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and for all it's worth, I wish Blizzard the best in finishing up Diablo III's development and unleashing it onto an eager gaming populace. While it may end up as one of 2011's best titles, Diablo III seems as if it may be casting aside its legacy, only to find itself upon a slowly-crumbling throne.
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