I really didn’t intend for this to be a gaming blog, but it’s all I want to talk about at the moment. Life is rough recently, so escapism is always on my mind =P.
I played D2 when I was in high school. I played it to death. Single player and on realms. I played it vanilla, LoD, and then, over the subsequent decade, I played it a number of times on the higher (1.10 – 1.13) patches with my wife because it was an easy game to play on laptops on wireless and have a blast.
It’s no secret that I was excited for Diablo 3. I had it pre-ordered, I followed the news on /r/diablo for months before release. I tried every trick in the book to get into the beta, and participated gladly in the open beta weekend. I ate it up. I leveled every class, tried for every achievement.
Two months out I feel disappointed like so many gamers out there. Everyone from D2 wanted D3 to be a lifestyle rather than just a game (as one redditor put it). We wanted a game that we could dump hours into and be rewarded handsomely with that great feeling of finding a truly awesome item. We wanted that feeling of being decked out in the best gear and after such a struggle, cakewalking through the hardest difficulty or the toughest PvPers.
I was frothing at the mouth because I remember having so much fun with D2, but it was a different time for me and for gaming in general. AAA titles, indie games, mobile gaming, lo-fi hits mean that there is a steady stream of fun games out there that we don’t need to rely on mindless repetition to continue to have fun.
In 2000 there were a large number of really great games, AAA titles like Baldur’s Gate 2, Thief 2, and my absolute favorite game of all time Deus Ex. But these were finite affairs to me, you played them, you beat them (sometimes multiple times) and none of them were very multiplayer friendly (DX multiplayer added later notwithstanding). D2 was a strong game in its own right and its repetitive although rewarding formula with PvP and a real economy were perfect to fill the gaps. 5 character classes, 99 character levels, three difficulties and, to top it off a major expansion almost exactly a year later. This combined with the fact that I was 14, with a whole summer stretching out before me, no car and few friends meant that I could not only plow through the other titles, but also dump hours and hours in to D2 to fill the time. It was the perfect storm.
Fast forward 12 years. I’ve got a wife, a kid, a job, a mountain of bills and I still manage to put in more hours on gaming than the average 9-5er. But the difference isn’t just age, or means, the difference is that there are no longer any gaps. As gamers our attention is highly sought after. For reference, look at the wikipedia page for 2000 in videogaming versus the page for 2011. The criteria for inclusion on this list isn’t clear but if we condense the multi-platform titles and use them as a list of notable releases, it’s obvious that there are at least twice as many notable titles vying for our attention and that’s ignoring the vast amount of cheap but fun indie games that would further weight 2011 in comparison. The point is that now, in 2012, no gamer can honestly complain about having nothing to play. AAA titles abound. $2-$5 fun games show up on Steam every day and don’t even require decent PCs to play. Free to play MMORPGs are everywhere. That’s not even counting the huge backlog of video games from the past decade that you can pick up for a song (although in 2000 you had the entire 90s canon to fallback on too). Together with the fact we’re all older and have less time, there’s no need for a Diablo game to fill in your time between releases because there is no time between releases anymore
Without the need for an endless game to return to there is one thing that would hold a player’s attention in this cascade of games and that’s community. The reason that MMOs are so popular and have such a devoted player base is that you join and play with hundreds of other people, form guilds/factions/organizations as well as digital friendships. The same applies for FPS games with their clans. This social aspect is what makes players consider returning even after getting tempted away to another game for awhile. Ironically, social features – the very thing that might’ve redeemed D3 in face of a rocky start and its many other problems – are practically non-existent. The entire experience is isolating and many player actually complain that working with a group makes the game more of a boring grind rather than less because of the tendency for public players to be undergeared and uncoordinated. MMOs are now where people go to socialize, meet up, quest and battle. D3 offers none of those things compellingly. In fact, the lack of social features blows a hole in the end game that’s larger than just poor itemization. Without the ability to show off, get ranked, or PvP, what’s the point in continuing to optimize your gear? After all, you beat all of the story content before you even hit the half-way mark to level 60. Even if you want to beat it on the highest difficulty, that doesn’t take the best items with the best rolls in the game. Nobody grinds for hours and hours solely to beat end mobs just a little bit faster.
So, stripped of the role as a fallback game (because we don’t need them anymore), and stripped of the social features that entice players to return, what’s left? The answer is a pretty mediocre game. The gameplay and graphics are brilliant, but the story is a joke and the auction house has replaced the greatest feeling in Diablo (finding a great item) with the chore of gathering gold and going shopping.