Sunday, May 20, 2012

World of Diablo? Diablocraft? By Any Name, The Perfect Game

So, I've been playing Diablo IIV. You may know someone else who is also playing the game. I would say it's popular, but only insofar as the ubiquitous crack-cocaine is popular. It's a niche market, but the fanboys and fangirls swear by it.

I've never played a Diablo-brand game before this. That might seem surprising, but in actuality, I'm not much of a gamer at all. I'm fond of saying that I went from Nintendo as a kid to World of Warcraft as an adult. That isn't strictly true...I loved the original Prince of Persia and I played a MUD (multi-user dungeon, text version of World of Warcraft) or two or three in between. But it is true in spirit...I just haven't spent much time on video games between my original fixation on them as a child and my latest fixation on World of Warcraft.

So the Diablo games simply passed me by in my non-video-game-playing existence. I'm still not much of a gamer outside of World of Warcraft, but now I'm dabbling in Diablo IIV because I got it free as part of the annual pass thing that Blizzard offered for World of Warcraft. 

So How Are you Enjoying It? 

Actually, I find it enthralling. I've been playing two characters so far...a monk in co-op mode with a friend of mine and, as a solo exploit, a wizardess (it's a word, I insist, and I refuse to use the word "wizard," which evokes the image of an old man with a long beard...I'm not playing Deckard Cain, he of the quavering voice).

The first thing I should mention is that game is beautiful. Drop-dead gorgeous. Stunning to the max. It makes just exploring a joy, because it's fun to see all the wonders of the world. Killing monsters is simple and zen...left click, left click, right click, maybe use 1-2-3-4 once in a while, maybe quaff a health potion once in a while. I'm not the first to think of this comparison (as I've discovered) but it's like a Roguelike game with stunning graphics and a gripping story. Those Roguelike games were ASCII art adventures that put the emphasis on exploration, killing monsters and loot, in partially or fully randomized dungeon maps. Hello, Diablo! Diablo's story is quite enjoyable, though. And the better graphics are important...I never really understood the point to "exploring" one room of text symbols after another (but some people really get into those games). Exploring a game with the lovely visuals of Diablo IIV, however, is great fun.

Also, it's extremely satisfying to wade into an army of demons and undead and unleash Hell (so to speak). The premise of these Diablo games seems to be that you play a hero...from the start. You're not a peasant working your way up toward hero status (you don't start off by killing chickens and bats, ala World of Warcraft). You start off by holding off hordes of undead and your tasks pretty much stay in that vein: be a one-person army, single-handedly destroying all evil in the world. Unless you do co-op, in which case you're two to four one-person armies. The spell effects are great...never has slaughter been so visually appealing. I am not a violent person, but I can't help being uplifted by getting a commendation for killing sixty to seventy monsters in a spray of magic and blood.

But World Of Warcraft Is Cool, Too, Right? 

Yes, yes it is. Boss fights are fun in Diablo IIV, but possess several orders of magnitude less complexity than the mechanics that raid bosses bring to the table in World of Warcraft. For good reason, as Diablo IIV is meant to be a "pick up and play for however many minutes or hours you have" type of game, while raiding in World of Warcraft is meant to be a "clear your night, this is serious business" type of endeavor.

I love the focus and effort and teamwork required for raiding. I like spending hours refining strategy and trying to play better to down a raid boss in World of Warcraft. I like it better than hack-and-slashing through Diablo IIVX (though I enjoy that too, see above). 

I've often felt that there are two things I enjoy in World of Warcraft: creating a character and raiding; everything in between is just busywork. That might be a little extreme (sometimes I enjoy a moment or two of the in-between part, especially the first time I leveled up a character), but it does get at the spirit of my feelings for the game. It's fun to start a new character, with new abilities and a new character image in your head (my priest has such a different personality from my hunter or my mage, you just wouldn't believe!). Then you stare at its back for several thousand quests (or endless trash packs, if you go the level-through-dungeons route) before getting to the big payoff.

So, Two Different Things For Two Different Purposes, Then 

Yes, that certainly makes sense and works. However, I can't help but think that the perfect game would blend the two types of fun. My view is that the leveling process and pre-raid gearing-up process in World of Warcraft is just grinding. Grinding quests, grinding mobs, grinding dungeons. Doing lots and lots of often very repetitive tasks. Grinding isn't fun.

Except when it is. After all, Diablo IIVX is nothing but grinding when you come right down to it. You hit one scenario or dungeon after another, slaughter your way through and collect your loots. There's obviously some strategy in building your character via the skills and runes you can mix and match, but the meat of the game is the grind. The glorious grind.

And it is glorious. In every way that World of Warcraft's grinds are tedious (to me), Diablo IIVX's grinds are great fun. Gripping, even. You're not running around a 20 yard square area killing a specific type of quest boar, hoping that you'll find nine of them that possess working hearts. You're exploring fairly large swatches of dangerous territory, all lushly and interestingly detailed. And you never know when you'll run into elites or named monsters, which are always more fun than the rare, named gnoll in World of Warcraft that maybe you'll happen to kill by accident while killing all the other gnolls in his 20 yard vicinity.

I purposely explore more than I need to in Diablo's world. It's not at all a unique strategy (I started doing it because a couple of people mentioned it as a tip) but I try to unfog the entire map before I move to the next step. This means purposely running around and killing a lot more than I would otherwise need to. I would never even consider doing this when questing in World of Warcraft. In World of Warcraft, I want to get the quest done as quickly as possible...and I know I'm not alone, because I can see how many people are annoyed when quest mobs take forever to drop enough unicorn horns to complete the criterion. 

Shotgun Weddings Are So Romantic 

So put Diablo IIVX and World of Warcraft in a room and force them to breed. For science. It's ethical when it's for science.

I'm not literally saying that Blizzard should merge these two games. They're both established and separate. Shoehorning the one into the other would probably not work. However, I can dream of a game that combined the best elements of both.

You'd level up in a style of play like, such as, for instance, Diablo IIVX. Leveling is a grind and Diablo makes grinding fun. Check and check.

Then you reach level cap and you run some fancier scenarios, still in the Diablo IIVX style, but maybe requiring co-op play. Whatever, needing co-op play isn't an important detail to me. You run those for your pre-raid gear. 

Then you raid, all World of Warcraft style. And start Diabloing up an alt.

It doesn't have to be so cut-and-dried separate. Maybe you can also run dungeons, World of Warcraft style, while leveling up. As a break from the Diabloesque hacking and slashing, and to learn the fundaments of group play so that you're not confused when you begin raiding. Maybe the co-op play of the Diabloesque leveling process can include more "holy trinity" elements than Diablo IIVX has.

It's all negotiable. I'm just envisioning a game that largely allows the fun of Diablo grinding to replace the tedium of World of Warcraft grinding while not losing the excellent (in my opinion) World of Warcraft end game. 

Conclusion, In Which I Realize I'm Not The Only Person On Earth

You may have noticed that my enthusing over what makes each game fun and/or tedious is a bit opinion-based. Not everyone would agree with me that World of Warcraft questing is boring and repetitive. Not everyone would like to replace the run-one-hundred-heroics-to-be-raid-ready process. Not everyone likes Diablo IIVXXXXL's playstyle. Not everyone wants to raid.

So, obviously, I'm creating a game for myself. The perfect game for me. I'm sure there's at least a small band of people who value things in each game as I do, so it would be a perfect game for me and those people. How large that group of people is, I don't know. Maybe one day, though, we'll get this game. And, hopefully, the people who like completely different things will get the game they like.

And maybe it'll be the same uber-game that all of humanity plays when they're not eating cleverly-concealed human remains. Did I just blow your mind?

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