Reviewing My Questions for 2012 December 18, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in blog thing, Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, PlanetSide 2, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Torchlight II.
Tags: Lord British
At the beginning of each new year I have a special post. Sometimes if it predictions. Some times it is demands. Last year I decided it should be questions.
I asked 12 questions of the new year. 12 questions for the year 2012.
I think it is time to see if I received any clear answers.
1. What fate awaits the Old Republic?
Love it, hate it, see it as a revolution in MMOs or as a symbol of that all is wrong, Star Wars the Old Republic is now a force to be reckoned with on the MMO landscape. It has everybody’s attention for good or ill. Where will it lead us?
That was the position at the beginning of the year.
Unfortunately, the answer since then seems to be “Over a cliff.” That cliff was described by the chart showing ongoing drops in total subscribers every quarter after launch.
Apparently story and voice acting will only keep people interested for so long. That works for a single player game. For a subscription game, not so much. And so the Tortanic began to sink, and it was heralded as the death of the subscription model for MMOs. They did announce an expansion, so they will have some content to sell along side action bars and raid access. But there do not seem to be clear blue skies on the horizon for SWTOR yet.
2. Can Blizzard stem the World of Warcraft subscription trend?
Sort of. The annual pass option, which got you a shiny mount and a free copy of Diablo III, kept at least a million people locked into their subscriptions. And while numbers still fell, they rebounded some with the release of the Mists of Pandaria expansion. The peak of “over 12 million” appears to be in the past, but 10 million isn’t so bad.
And, of course, WoW still rakes in cash like no other MMO out there. Reports of the death of the subscription model may be a bit premature.
3. Will Free to Play continue to be the gold mine/panacea for subscription games?
Panacea? It certainly seems so. SOE has thrown in fully for the free model, bringing all their titles save the original PlanetSide into the fold. And certainly SWTOR is looking to that model to rescue it and revive their fortunes.
Is it a gold mine though? Early reports from the LOTRO transition to F2P seemed to indicate that there was indeed gold to be had. However, since then, there appears to have been some iron pyrite mixed in with the real thing, leading companies to try and cast an ever wider net to get players to buy their RMT currency and then turn around and spend it in their cash shop.
LOTRO, which at least lets you earn their RMT cash in-game, went towards the odious prize boxes and started suggesting things like the hobby horse mount.
SOE screwed up their RMT currency so badly with heavy discounts that they had to stop selling premium memberships and expansions in Station Cash.
And reports I have read indicate that SWTOR might not have figured out the magic formula for F2P success quite yet either.
So there appears to be a lot more work to be done on the F2P front. Merely being F2P is no longer enough, as there are a lot of choices out there.
Companies keep bringing their games to the F2P altar, but that alone is no longer enough.
4. Who will really win the “Just Like Diablo” battle of 2012?
It depends on what you value.
I started to write a full post about it with the objective of declaring Diablo III the winner, but only on technicalities. Basically, it does more to capture the atmosphere of Diablo II, while at the same time doing the most to destroy the game. It just feels more like Diablo II, if you ignore the auction house, the always online aspect, the need to play through the game repeatedly in order to get to the most challenging game play, and a few other things.
That said, I think Torchlight II is, overall, a better game if you take the “heir to Diablo II” aspect out of the picture. It doesn’t get anywhere close on story or atmosphere compared to Diablo II, but it managed to avoid the manifold mistakes of Diablo III while being light, fun, and full of options denied the players of Diablo III.
Basically, the answer for me is that neither game really wins the “Just Like Diablo” crown, mostly because it just isn’t the year 2000 any more, so neither game could really have the same impact.
5. When will we lose a game to hacking?
We seem to be safe from this still, at least on the MMO front. Lots of security breaches, but I haven’t read about a game completely brought down and destroyed, never to run again because of hacking.
So the only answer here I suppose was, “Not yet.”
6. Will SOE remain the only player in the MMO nostalgia game?
This stems from the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server, about which I have posted often.
And my answer up until last week would have been “Yes.” SOE is the only purveyor of MMO nostalgia. I even got impatient by mid-year and went after the issue in a blog post.
After all, it seems like WoW could make a bundle with a similar scheme. There are literally dozens of private WoW servers out there trying to recreate the “old” WoW, that being anywhere from day one to before Cataclysm. I spent a bit of time on the Emerald Dream server and can vouch for the cathartic effect of playing an old-school version of the game.
But no such official venture looks to be forthcoming.
And then Turbine showed up with Asheron’s Call 2, fresh from the crypt, electrodes bolted on firmly in an attempt to create life where there was none.
I am not sure if it is quite the same thing, but it is something. And it is nostalgic.
So SOE does not own the MMO nostalgia market completely.
7. Will Guild Wars 2 be the game changer in the MMO market in 2012?
Well, a lot was promised for Guild Wars 2. But did it really change anything?
I have seen a number of GW2 fans lauding The Secret World for adopting the GW2 revenue plan, conveniently ignoring all the details that prove that they did no such thing. Yes, there is the “buy the box” aspect for a free to play game that sure sounds a lot like GW2. But what about the continuing monthly subscription model that unlocks things and hands out RMT currency as a reward? That sounds a lot like an SOE game, doesn’t it?
I suspect that the “buy the box” aspect was a requirement only because they admitted they did not make their sales numbers, so it is either throw away all those boxes or find a way to keep selling them.
And, if we’re honest with ourselves, the “buy the box” plan was from Guild Wars, not GW2, so rationalize harder please.
Anyway, I think it is too early to tell. GW2 only launched at the end of August, which didn’t leave a lot of time for anybody to react to anything they did in 2012, conspiracy theories not withstanding.
Maybe next year?
8. Will CCP ever be anything but the company that makes EVE Online?
Of course, they also helped make Lazy Town, right? Next question.
Okay, yes, DUST 514. It looms. It seems like it could be something some day. But that day was not this year. So I can only say, “We shall see.”
Call me when DUST 514 is a thing and maybe I will be able to build enough enthusiasm to download it.
9. What will the earth shattering MMO announcements be in 2012?
Oh, and that 38 Studios fiasco. An MMO that never was will never be.
10. Will MMOs get redefined in new and interesting (or bad and annoying) ways?
No, nothing new here, move along.
Okay, maybe PlanetSide 2 moved the ball a few inches down field with a really massive online shooter. But what else was there really?
11. Are we every going to get another decent MMO news podcast?
12. What will Lord British do next?
So those are my questions and the answers as I see them. I am sure somebody will remind me of a few items I missed… or will want to argue about Diablo III vs. Torchlight II. But that is about it for me.
Now to consider next year’s post.
Time Magazine Sounds Off On The Best Video Games November 15, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, entertainment, EverQuest, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Adventure, Lists, Time Magazine
I still love lists, so I am going to keep talking about lists.
Last week we had a rather controversial list of the 50 Best PC Games of All Time. EVE Online made the top spot there.
This week Time Magazine has a list of the All-TIME 100 Video Games, which includes consoles and arcade machines.
I have to say, it is much easier for me to get behind this list than last week’s list.
Some of the games you have to take in the context of their time, like Pong.
Others are just great regardless of when you set them.
Of course I had that screen shot sitting around.
Games I can totally support being on the list.
- Castle Wolfenstein (the original)
- Diablo II
- Lode Runner
- Half-Life 2
- World of Warcraft
Honestly, there are too many good games on that list for me to call out.
Hunt the Wumpus! I played freakin’ Hunt the Wumpus back in the day!
Okay, I’ll stop.
There are games on the list that I am not a big fan of. But the only one I am dubious of is Leisure Suit Larry. I always felt that people liked the idea of that game much more than they liked the game itself. I think it is there by legend alone. But that might just be me.
So how is this list? Is this a better list than last week’s list?
It almost makes me wish I didn’t cancel my Time subscription last week. Almost.
Torchlight II – First Night September 21, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, Torchlight II.
Of course I got home last night and the first thing I did was get into Steam to see if Torchlight II was ready.
It was available, it just wasn’t quite ready yet.
The game was now unlocked, but Steam had to download some additional… something… that apparently wasn’t installed with the pre-load packages. This was hindered by Train Simulator, which just released its 2013 update, and which was hogging bandwidth. I paused that, which somehow also paused the Torchlight download, which I didn’t notice immediately. All told, something that was estimated at about 2 minutes of download time took nearly 20 minutes.
I suspect the popularity of the game was also hindering the download a bit, even on the might Steam.
Meanwhile, the other sign of launch day popularity was that the Torchlight II site was completely overwhelmed. You couldn’t get there, much less create an account for online play. Even this morning, while you can now reach the site, it has been configured as a special “low bandwidth” version to facilitate the masses. This is the extent of the site:
And, because I couldn’t get to their site online, I had to just sit there getting the same error 37 over and over again.
Ha ha! Of course not. I just chose a local game and ran off and played.
I went back to the same class, the berserker, as I did back in May when they had their beta weekend. A berserker with a ferret pet because… OMFG it is too cute it has little goggles!
And it was good.
I cannot compare the May version side by side with the release version, but my gut and my fragmented memory say that the last few months were well spent on the game, as it feels tight and well put together.
There are still bits that annoy me. I hate that you cannot click on the action bars to use them, that they respond to keyboard commands only. You click on them to associate them with a skill, spell, scroll, or potion. And I know in a click to kill game, your cursor should stay on the bad guys, not the hot bar, but every once in a while I’ll need a scroll and I’ll click on the hot bar by mistake and get the associate options rather than my option to identify an item.
And I keep pressing “M” for map, which toggles through all the map/mini map on-screen configurations. Bleh.
Fishing is also a bit odd. I don’t really like the way it dominates the whole screen. But my pet likes the fish.
The skill tree is, at least, something of an improvement over the Diablo/Diablo II raw trees.
It isn’t as on-the-fly flexible as Diablo III’s skills, but it also has more depth and you can respect your last three points spent if you make a mistake. That won’t fix things if you decide you want to go another route, but it is better that the Diablo II “one free respec and you are stuck.”
Minor complaints aside, and I see those all as minor, the game is fun and draws you in with a “I’ll just go a little bit farther” that is completely parallel to the Civilization “just one more turn” and suddenly it is 2am addiction.
I ran around for a couple of hours, finding every corner of the overland maps, which as Gnome said in the comments of yesterday’s post, gives the game a much bigger feeling that the never ending dungeon crawl of the original Torchlight. Dungeons are spread out amongst the open areas.
Dungeons are good, even if they are well lit. (Cue my atmosphere rant with accompanying Diablo II video clip.) The ways are constricted but well designed. There are plenty of urns to break (the Torchlight version of Diablo barrels) and occasional not-all-that-well-hidden secret rooms to find.
And, in a parallel to Diablo III, big bosses always have their own room in dungeons it seems, so if you die you can spawn again just outside to try again. I had to do that when I went in and realized I only had to health potions. I had to send Snoogums back for more potions before I tried again.
My daughter watched me run around for a bit and was very keen to play. This enthusiasm doubled when I told her it was multiplayer and we could play together. She made me hand over the controls so she could look at the character options. She decided that an Outlander with a puma pet would suit here. She was quite excited about the prospect and it was tough getting her off to bed.
This lead to the big disappointment of the night. After my daughter went to bed, I went to get a copy of the game for her only to find that the Macintosh version is not out yet.
Spoiled again by Blizzard and their simultaneous Mac OS/Windows releases.
Thinking back, this is how it went for the original Torchlight as well, but for some reason that slipped my mind. So I will have to break the news to her tonight that we won’t be able to play together for a while yet.
I am probably going to have to let her play on my computer for a bit. Hopefully the Mac version will show up by Christmas.
On Talent Trees and Skill Points May 24, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, MMO Design, polls, Rift, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Irrational Hate, talent points, Talent Trees
When I was writing yesterday’s post comparing aspects of Diablo III and Torchlight II, I was somewhat dreading the possible comments, and all the more so when Massively linked to the post. (Thanks, by the way.)
My fear was that there would be a parade of Hulk-like “Me smash always online DRM single player game!” comments. That seemed to be the primary focus of Diablo III hate at launch, at least when the servers were down.
But I actually did not get any of that. The joys of a small readership. Or maybe I successfully deflected them all to Straw Fellow. Evil plan achieved.
I was, however, a bit surprised to find, both here and over at Massively, that the presence of talent trees and skill points was being pushed as a big pro-Torchlight II differentiating factor. It was sometimes hidden under “character customization,” but it was there and oft mentioned.
And I found this a bit odd because I do not like talent trees. I see them as having proven their flawed nature over the last 15 years to such an extent that I wonder how anybody can promote them as a positive feature with a straight face.
We have talent trees, and we are sure we have succeeded where literally everybody else has failed in the past!
In theory, talent trees are great and represent a way to create a unique and special snowflake of a character. I get that. Lots of things seem great in theory.
In practice, there is usually one “right” build for whatever role you are seeking to fill and every other alternative is sub-optimal.
So talent trees become less about character customization and more about finding the “correct” answer. In the end, I think that most of want our characters to be good at their chosen roles, right? I know there will always be somebody who will view playing with a sub-optimal spec as a challenge, but I have to believe that is the exception and not the rule.
And because the talent tree allows us to make bad choices, the band-aid of the talent respec came into being. At first it was grudging… Diablo II got patched to give you ONE respec… or expensive… recall the mounting respec bills in WoW way back when. But eventually the devs threw their hands in the air in more recent games and gave us respecs that were cheap and plentiful while they went off to try and find that elusive “many good choices” talent tree formula.
Even EVE Online gives you a stat respec up front for free, and another one yearly. And that is for five stats that really only impact the rate at which your character can learn skills.
But respecs are, in my view, an admission of failure. They seem to be saying that the devs have copped to the fact that they cannot create a talent tree system with many good choices, so when you realize you have made a mistake, here is your out.
And even cheap and easy respecs were not enough in some cases. Rift, whose big feature was the soul system, which could be viewed either as the best character customization ever or the talent tree from hell depending on your point of view, caved in and as much as admitted that the whole thing was too vast for the average player and gave us some templates to help curb the rash of bad builds.
This is, of course, my view of the world. It is based on history, but also on the fact that I don’t really want to play the talent point game. And that is clearly an opinion. Even as I was preparing to publish this, I saw that Syp over a Bio Break has a post up asking why we don’t have MORE talents and stats and such to tinker with in games. To me it is like asking that we ignore the last 15 years or so of MMO development. But we all play these games for different reasons.
Anyway, from my point of view, the choice made by Blizzard in Diablo III seems like a clear win, and improvement over the past.
Instead of constraining character development by making me spent points in a tree system… and running to a vendor to get a respec when I make the inevitable errors… Diablo III just opens up new skills as you level up and constrains your character development by making you choose which of those skills you want to use. With elective mode [boobies] in the options, you can build up a set of six abilities from your choices as you see fit and never have to spend a talent point or get a respec.
Of course, the system is not perfect. As Keen points out, some of the Diablo III skills are sub-optimal. Hey, you can still make bad choices. But it still seems like a step forward to me.
As I said, the idea that this is a step forward is clearly not held by some. So today I will let you validate your opinion with a poll. Numbers always add value to opinions!
And, of course, you can post your anti/pro talent tree manifesto in the comments.
Diablo III vs. Torchlight II – A Matter of Details May 23, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, Torchlight II.
Tags: A lot of opinions, Poorly Organized Thoughts, You are expecting me to choose aren't you
[Note to Massively readers: The "no-holds-barred Thunderdome deathmatch" was cancelled, the honeybadger called in sick. We're having a tea party instead. If you are looking for a post complaining about Diablo III requiring you to be online to play, go read this.]
Runic Games had a Torchlight II beta event this past weekend. A beta event during the first weekend after Diablo III launched. Crazy, right?
Maybe, and maybe not.
Certainly there is a lot of anti-Blizzard ire in the air after the rocky launch day made error 37 the banner around which those angry about the always “connected nature” of Diablo III could rally. Torchlight II, as detailed in this comparo chart, offers up online, LAN, and offline modes of play. The latter seemed pretty attractive last week.
While I had seen updates from Runic about the beta, I was not planning to join in on it. You know… first weekend of Diablo III and all that. But they sent me a key for the event, and the download was pretty painless at 750 MB… versus 7GB for Diablo III… which is a little over an hour of file transfer with my internet connection.
The download went while we ate dinner, and when the time finally came, I was able to sit down and launch into Torchlight II.
I logged in (the beta is online mode only, so just like D3), made a character (berserker, the melee class), picked my pet (wolf), got into the game, and spent about 10 minutes running around.
At that point I was a bit dismayed with the graphical style so logged off and went off and played Diablo III for the next three hours. And D3 was glorious. I got through most of Act II, played with another friend for a while, and had a great time.
In the light of the next morning though, I felt that I had, perhaps, given Torchlight short shrift. So I went back and played it for a couple of hours, just to be sure I got it. And it was a good thing I did, as Torchlight II really has much to recommend it.
The key difference between the two games is what each team decided was important to continue the legacy of Diablo II.
After the break, a long discussion of how they differ, which I attempted to organize. I did not do a very good job.
Quote of the Day – The Settings of Diablo III May 18, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment.
Tags: Quote of the Day
It’s tough to understand why Diablo III recycled the settings of its predecessors when there are dozens of new alternatives, unless we frame Diablo III as an installment in a series that now has its own genre conventions. It’s the rough equivalent of a Metroid game having a lava area and an ice area—it’s just the way things are done.
The question of setting choices came to my mind last night as I finished up Act I and headed to Act II, only to find myself taking a caravan from Tristram to the desert just as I did in Diablo II. We’ll see if I end up searching for tombs again.
Not that the repeat of settings is a bad thing, just like naming a street “Market Street” or some running water “Deer Creek” are not bad things. But with a whole world of possibilities, you might wonder why the team didn’t seek to inject something new in the scenery.
My hope is that this was the knee-jerk reaction of a new team taking over somebody else’s legacy and wanting to maintain the association with the previous versions. Maybe we will see new places when the first expansion comes along.
Of course, that brings up the whole topic of Blizzard and expansions. Will this be in the old Blizzard model, where we’ll get just one expansion, but it will show up in a year? Or will we see a few expansions, but have no idea when they will show up?
Tags: complaining for the sake of complaining, Woe is me in this imperfect world
The headline hints at my initial impression of Diablo III.
It is certainly, from my perspective, a mix of good and ill.
The first two installments of the Diablo series pre-date World of Warcraft by a few years and did, in fact, influence the design of Blizzard’s first MMO. Certainly not in lore nor in the graphic style, but the mechanics of the game show Diablo’s hand clearly if you care to look close enough.
More than a decade later, the shoe is clearly on the other foot. WoW dominates Blizzard as sure as the sun dominates our solar system. There is no escaping it. It intrudes everywhere.
Like everything else, this can be viewed as good or bad depending on your own baggage. I tend to like WoW, but I still find some of the intrusions annoying.
Anyway, in order to put some structure around my first night impressions, I will divide them, like Gaul, into three parts, which, because they are long and meandering, you will find below the cut.
Diablo III – Hey, This Might Ship on May 15 March 19, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment.
1 comment so far
One of the big announcements last week was that Diablo III was slated to be released on May 15, 2012.
There were lots of re-broadcasts of that announcement. It was big news. I think one of my favorites was from the team over at Runic Games, who are making Torchlight II, clearly a Diablo III competitor. Their message makes clear what most of us know, that there is room for more than one game in any genre. I am on board for both games.
In fact I have been checking my Battle.net account every so often to see if I have been let into the Diablo III beta. Not that I want to test, or even need some help on deciding if I want to buy it or not… I am already committed via the WoW 1 year subscription deal… but just because I want to play the game already.
I won’t say I have been waiting for this for 10 years… I was a long time enjoying Diablo II and its expansion… but clearly there has been some need for it for the last 5-7 years. How long has it been since 800×600 was an acceptable maximum resolution for a game? That wasn’t so bad when we all had analog CRT monitors, but in the age of LCD displays which really, really want to display in their native resolution, it has gotten tiresome.
My honest first thought on playing World of Warcraft was, “Why wasn’t this ‘World of Diablo?’” (Of course, if you look past the graphics and the lore, a lot of WoW was borrowed from Diablo, but that is another story.)
Anyway, when I checked Battle.net this past weekend, I found that I was still not in the beta. Oh well.
However, my account was active for certain aspects of Diablo III. I could download the installer and I could set up parental controls. I went for the installer, which seemed like a better idea than trying to download SWTOR for a free day of play, and which was an overnight download as well.
And so there it is, the installer splash screen. But that is about all there is to it at this point. If I try to install, all I get is this message.
But at least the installer is there and waiting for me. Only two months left before I can start patching and playing.
Back when the Activision-Blizzard quarterly report said that Diablo III was slated for Q2 2012, I assumed the usual Blizzard math, which requires you advance by one unit whatever estimate they give you unless they give you the actual launch day.
This time though, they look to be on track. Granted they had to pull PvP from the game, but my response to that was pretty much, “PvP?”
Twelve Questions for 2012 January 1, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Lord British, Torchlight II
2012 is now upon us, a new year with new possibilities, a time for fresh optimism.
With the new year comes the time for looking forward and predicting what will come to pass. And we seem to have so many predictions this year. I am not sure if this is driven by a bright outlook for 2012, a foreboding that we know what is coming, or, like the team at Massively, and editor that made you do it. (They are even trolling for predictions over at Massively. Must be some new AOL directive along the lines of “sites must increase outrageous predictions by 37%.”).)
Anyway, the prediction list includes Keen, Spinks, Eliot, Beau, Bree, Brendan, Jef, Jeremy, Justin, Shawn, Green Armadillo, Heartless_, Gazimoff, Stanziel, MMOCrunch, and probably many more I missed, but I will try to fill those in as I spot them.
However, this year I do not seem to have any predictions… or demands… in me.
This year I can only come up with questions. So here, after the cut, are the twelve questions I have for 2012.
The Essence of Diablo II December 14, 2011Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment.
Hey, a post about neither Star Wars: The Old Republic nor Lord British! (He hasn’t done another interview today, has he?)
Anyway, as I mentioned in my November month in review, I hauled out Diablo II again to get back to why I loved the game in the first place. One of those Paul Barnett quotes (I think it was him) that I really liked was about nostalgia for great old games from people who cannot be bothered to play those games any more being BS. Citation needed and all that, but I think it is telling when somebody goes on about how great a game was that they don’t actually play any more, something I know I have been guilty of myself.
And having tooled around in the game for over a month now, I thought it was time to make a list of the key things that really made the Diablo games good in the past, things which I hope those working on Diablo III haven’t lost sight of.
I did not actually load up the original Diablo… I couldn’t find the disk… to do this post. So this is more Diablo II focused with some memories of Diablo thrown in.
I have gone back and forth on what those are, and have narrowed it down to two things, atmosphere and simplicity. Ironically, simplicity is a bit complicated, but I will get to that.
This is a huge part of the game, and one thing that gets veterans of the game all worked up when they see a lot of color in screen shots from Diablo III in progress.
And certainly, a lot of the dungeons were dark places with little color. But there were also deserts that were bright and full of color.
But beyond that, what made the past Diablo games so good went far beyond a color palette choice.
The music helps set the tone in the game. The Diablo games are one of the few games that I have to play with the sound on at all times. The music is often quite simple, but it always transmits a mood
The lighting is also great. It isn’t just that you are in a dark dungeon, but that you are often just in a small circle of light unless you are near a torch or other fire.
Atmosphere is so important, to my mind, and yet is hard to describe. All I have is this quick video clip of one of my characters walking through the Tomb of Tal Rasha. The way the light and shadows work, the darkness at the edge of the circle of light, the pools of light left by the torches, the music, the architecture… well, watch the video. It is only 14 seconds long.
It just works, and does so throughout the game, through a variety of different environments. And that is a 10+ year old game. Looks darn good… at least in tiny YouTube vision. Running it at its maximum 800×600 resolution on a 1600×1200 monitor spoils it a bit.
Atmosphere is direct and all pervasive, but hard to quantify. You know it when it is working. When it is not, you might not notice except for a feeling that things just are not drawing you into the game.
Simplicity also pervades the game, but is more easily divided up into categories.
Simplicity of Controls
In the vein of the whole, “Easy to learn, difficult to master” idea, there is not much you need to tell people about the mechanics of playing Diablo after they have done it for five minutes. This not much in the way of controls.
The game, if you haven’t played it, is click to move, click to attack. You can map an ability to either mouse button, but these are usually just your basic attack and then a special attack, depending on your class.
Simplicity of Story
When you get down to it, there really isn’t a lot to the Diablo story. In the original a bad guy, Diablo, was causing problems and, in the end, you had to kill him. It just took a while to get to him.
In Diablo II, Diablo is back with his brothers Mephisto and Baal and are up to unholy hijinks yet again. The story unfolds a little more slowly that in Diablo, and it occurs across four acts in four different locations, and you get a little more exposition from NPCs.
But the story remains simple, there are some bad guys doing bad things and they have to be stopped. There is progression, you level up, you learn new skills, you find new gear, but this is not a voyage of personal discovery. This is a chance to fight some bad guys.
Simplicity of Quests
This is one of those things you might wonder about in the context of MMORPGs. The first three acts in Diablo II have only six quests each, and act IV only has three if I recall right. (I’m only on act III) The quest log literally only has places for six quests total.
The quests are driven by the story and are not a source of experience or equipment. You are given a task, usually either to find something or kill someone, though once in a while it is to investigate some place, though that usually turns into killing someone. The adventure, and any experience and loot, come from getting to the appointed place and acquiring the item or slaying the boss in question.
After having gotten, for example, the achievement for having done 130 quests in Dragonblight in World of Warcraft, I have to wonder if there isn’t something from this that current games could learn.
Okay, the environments are different. In Diablo II it is just you and, if you are doing multi-player, your party alone in the world while in WoW you may have to share any given area with other people on the same task. So unless you have a Guild Wars type of world, where all adventures are instanced, that is tough to pull off. Still, I envy the simplicity.
Simplicity of Just About Everything Else
Really, the simplicity theme could just keep going. There are those nice little checkpoints in the story so you can digest it in short play sessions.
Vendors are simple. The overlay map is a wonder of elegance and simplicity. Equipment is simple, if overly plentiful at times. There is practically a mini-game in comparing drops with what you are wearing to see if it is an upgrade or not. The talent points are simple, relative to WoW for example, and are all pretty clear on what you get if you invest. And I have usually been able to balance out focus in one area, like offensive auras on my paladin, with equipment to cover poison or frost resistance.
The game feels like they spent a lot of time honing and polishing simple features until they worked smoothly rather than going for more depth or complexity.
So these are the two thing I hope the team developing Diablo III has not lost sight of. I get anxious when I see quotes from the Diablo III dev team about not wanting to make “Diablo 2.5,” (forgot where I read that, citation needed again) because it implies they want to leave their own stamp on the franchise. That isn’t a bad thing, but it is any easy thing to mess up. Being different is not the same as being better.
And frankly, if it meant keeping the simplicity and atmosphere intact, I would happily take Diablo 2.5. I mean I still cannot fathom how they have let the Diablo franchise sit for a decade. Back until Xfire stopped doing monthly summaries a couple years back, Diablo II was always on the top 10 list in the “other” category. Usually behind Solitaire, which had huge numbers. Lots of people would have bought another expansion with a new story, especially if it upped the graphics resolution or put in some better support for mods.
And other pretenders to the Diablo throne, games like Titan Quest and Torchlight, never stuck with me the way Diablo II did. Not that they were not good games. Torchlight was especially a lot of fun, but its atmosphere never gripped me the way Diablo II does even today. I enjoyed Torchlight while I played it, but I have no urge to go back to it again the way I do with Diablo II.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on what made Diablo II.
What do you think? What did I miss?
And what will make or break Diablo III?