Friday, October 12, 2012

On D2 and D3: Which is better?

at 12:29 AM
For about a year when I was 16, then again when I was 20 or so, I suffered under a powerful malady. That affliction is known to the wider gaming public as D2: The Mighty Ducks. A gripping film brimming with love, triumph, defeat, black people playing hockey (?), and Queen's "We Are the Champions", Disney's D2 has spent the two decades since 1994 pulling at the heartstrings of America's youths and adults alike. Sadly, those who took "D2" above to refer to this age-old tragicomedy will be sorely disappointed to learn that I meant Diablo II.

Yes, just about every review of Diablo III started with the writer giving a long-winded story about how he/she "spent many long nights" in the thrall of 2000's Diablo II, perhaps losing a girlfriend, house, homework assignment, or dog over it. I don't think my tale is quite as pathetic, mostly because (in my original run) I was playing on a shared family PC that sat in our living room, significantly limiting and publicizing the amount of time I spent online. I still of course loved the game (as did just about anyone who let it sink its claws in deeper than level 5 or 6) and spent more hours with it than I care to calculate, so it's no mystery how anxious I was to get my hands on Diablo III.

The trick with these addictive types of games is that "once you pop, you can't stop", as Dave Pringles famously said - but if you don't start [pop] at all, you probably won't get the fuss. So when my machine (a 2010 laptop with integrated graphics) failed a quick Can You Run It lookup for D3, I said "whatever" and moved on. What I learned from this is twofold: A.) don't trust anything Can You Run It says about integrated video because it's probably wrong and B.) always try the demo. On my way to play StarCraft II today I decided to give the Diablo III "Starter Kit" (i.e. demo) a spin, and lo and behold, it ran fine. I didn't even look at the graphics settings -  whatever it auto-adjusted to (I'm guessing the lowest levels) ran as smooth as you could want (well, like, probably 30 fps or so - fast enough that there was no visible lag).

Man again my boring stories take up way more space in a post than I expect. You'd think you were reading some asshole's blog and not a professional video game journalism site. But that's what everyone thinks, here at IGN.

Diablo III's skill system is stupid, that's what I'm here for you to learn. It's not exactly awful, but why they decided to take such a step back from D2 is beyond me (or is at this point in the post beyond me - later we'll learn that I know exactly why and I'm just being a good storyteller, you're welcome). I can see why Blizzard thought it was time to shake up the old skill-tree paradigm which has been languishing since the '90s, that every RPG and its brother, and its brother-in-law, has done to death. But uh, just completely dropping custom leveling for fixed unlocks seems a bit backwards. The system is quite simple to explain: at fixed levels, you unlock a predetermined skill which can then be swapped into a categorized slot. Unlike D2, you can't assign any skill to any slot - instead, you have Primary, Secondary, Defense, etc. skills and one slot for each, so at any given time you can only have one of each equipped. That means that every time you level up and gain a new skill, you have to sacrifice an old one if you want to equip it. 

There are no "skill points" to be allotted; once a skill is unlocked, its strength is determined solely by your gear. That means the only point of customization is equipment - stripped down, every level 67 Barbarian is identical to every other, meaning there are only ten characters you can ever make: male and female (superficial difference) of each of the five classes. The game clearly knows this, as there are only ten save slots.

According to Blizzard and fans, this system is to allow a player to alternate styles at any given time, without needing to create a new character (or hack to "respec" their old one). According to me, this system means that unless you intend to max level every character you play, certain skills will always be locked away from you. Forgive me for being a "casual" player, but I don't necessarily pick up a game with the intention to pour hundreds of hours into it, nor expect to have to do so to access all its content. Even with a dungeon-hack like this, I lose a significant amount of steam once I've been through the story - even as much as I loved D2 (see above), I never came even close to maxing out a character, so I certainly don't intend to this time.

What Blizzard is doing, and you can hardly blame them for it, is catering solely to hardcore fans ("gamers") - the people who KNOW as soon as they purchase the game, "I WILL spend 500 hours on this". Those are the only ones who are going to appreciate this new skill system, and who are dedicated enough to grinding for gear to customize their avatar. That uh, fucking sucks for us who have jobs and bills.
Blizzard: A once-great developer now making games for this guy (girl?) instead of the rest of us

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