If you’re an Android Police reader, you may not know it, but I’m a fairly seasoned gamer. From the time I was 5, I partook in every gaming medium I could get my hands on, spending hours with Sonic and early iterations of Madden on my Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64 with Mario Kart, Zelda, and Starfox, the odd year or two with Gamecube, and even a brief stint with Xbox. And yes, there were some dark Pokemon Gamboy years in elementary school thrown in there. During most of that time, I was also a devout PC gamer.
My first real addiction on the PC was probably Duke Nukem (I was a bit late to the game for Wolfestein 3D / Quake), but I quickly graduated to a wide variety of titles as PC gaming entered its “golden age.” Half-Life (plus Counter-Strike, Day Of Defeat, etc.), Age of Empires 2, Diablo I and II (the latter having been quite an addiction), Medal of Honor, Call of Duty (the first time I got into true competitive gaming) 1 and 2, Battlefield 1942 (how I miss that game), Warcraft III, Company of Heroes, and finally World of Warcraft – the crescendo of my time as a gamer.
Dozens of other titles can be chocked into that list as fleeting interests (Rome: Total War) or poor purchase decisions (ugh, STALKER: Shadows of Chernobyl). But in the last few years, my relationship with PC gaming has dwindled into much more of an off-and-on fling.
While I long ago admitted that I am no match for the young, raised-with-a-Sixaxis-in-hand FPS junkies, I do still dabble in modern titles when I’m in the mood. Borderlands was a magnificent, if sometimes tedious, piece of art. Fallout 3 was The Elder Scrolls with guns – and actual entertainment value. Aside from the hyper-modern FPSs such as whatever the newest Call of Duty / Crysis / Battlefield DLC-fest is, I like to think I’ve kept up with what’s going on in the industry. On the occasion I visit my family, I’ll even pick up the Xbox gauntlet and dick around with Forza.
So, when Diablo III’s release loomed imminent, I took interest. Diablo II consumed two solid years of my mid-teens, and I loved almost every minute of it (aside from the acne and social ostracization). I remember with fondness the longing I felt for particular “dupes” (rare items duplicated using exploits before Blizzard fixed those glitches), and all the Perfect Skulls I traded for my Amazon’s ultra-rare sapphired Raven Cry (or something like that) bow on the US West server. That was the joy of Diablo II: a logical, if imperfect, proto-MMO economy added infinite replay value to the game. At least until the Lord of Destruction expansion pack, which promptly turned it on its head.
Anyway, recently I began to read reviews of Diablo III, the server-snafu-panic having finally died down to some degree, and I found myself confused. The game is clearly massively popular, and yet literally every major outlet review I read (most of them being very positive) had negative comments posted seemingly into perpetuity. There were more upbeat ones sprinkled throughout, but 90% of the feedback was what I’d call “burning hatred.” While some were still complaining about DRM and technical issues, the vast majority were substantive complaints. Complaints that were surprisingly absent from critics’ reviews.
For a casual gamer, a review from an outlet like Gamespot may be useful, but it’s clear that real “hardcore gamers” were almost universally disappointed with the methodology reviewers used to evaluate the game. I was honestly taken aback – with a MetaScore of 8.9, Diablo III is absolutely slam-dunking it with the media. And yet an extremely vocal group of players have basically exposed gaping flaws in the game.
The auction house system has essentially neutered the loot system that was so loved in Diablo II. In order to advanced the most difficult portions of the game, you are essentially forced to buy items from the auction house. There really is no other way, unless you literally have no life other than sitting on your ass playing Diablo III for 14 hours a day, 5 days a week. The “real money” auction house is also luring those with deep pockets, creating class-warfare of sorts between the “hardcore” base that has traditionally been so key to Diablo’s success, and the impulsive and free-spending “casual” gamers that publishers are increasingly trying to target.
The game itself has also apparently been “dumbed down,” requiring less careful customization of characters (if any), and is far more forgiving in regard to re-tuning skillsets with basically no penalty.
In my mind, this goes against my core belief about online games: they should be fun for everyone, regardless of effort or wealth (as is practically possible), and they should reward experience and strategy in such a way that the benefits of “cheating the system” are marginalized. Should people be playing video games 14 hours a day? Or 50 hours a week? Probably not – but Blizzard knows that it’s those people who are out there prosthelytizing the virtues of their games to their friends, families, and random people on the internet. When you upset them, you start risking becoming irrelevant.
Some of these people have claimed that Blizzard has “World of Wacraft-ed” the Diablo franchise, but I think that couldn’t be further from the truth. In World of Warcraft, Blizzard carefully built a balanced economy and actively cracks down on exploiters (though gray market currency is readily available). It also made the game such that the most desirable items (at least when I played last) were only attainable through extremely difficult, group-based dungeons or insane acts of devotion and dedication. The inability to transfer many of those items made this economy much more stable, and kept the game fun. And Blizzard did this on the condition that you gave them around $150 a year – issuing patches regularly, adding content, providing good customer service, and keeping the hardest of the hardcore entertained, while making sure the game was still accessible to beginners. World of Warcraft will probably be remembered as Blizzard’s crowning achievement.
Diablo III has seen World of Warcraft’s auction economy bastardized and made central to end-game activity, which is just absurd. Adding real money into the equation just sullies the reputation of the company (that, until recently, could do no wrong in the eyes of its fans) even more. Blizzard is now treading a dangerous line: appealing to the casual gamers of today at the expense of its most loyal fanbase tomorrow. It’s a risk many game developers are taking, and it puts them at the mercy of a massive market whose whims can alter in an instant.
Perhaps Diablo is destined to become Blizzard’s “casual franchise” from here on out, while Warcraft will remain free of such taint. But I’m not keeping my hopes up, and I’m certainly not buying Diablo III.
In fact, I’ve already pre-ordered Torchlight 2