Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On T2 and D3: In this corner, we have Diablo III

at 6:50 PM
Arnold's greatest role
Yes, T2, the Judgment Day, rarely, and perhaps fairly so, compared to the third film of the Mighty Ducks franchise, where I believe they all went to college or some such. Terminator 2 is better, it's like a million times better, it's definitely the best Terminator movie and perhaps Arnold's greatest role (who cares?).

Now that I'm done paying lip service to a joke that I wrote last week, because that's what comedy is, let's talk turkey: Terminator whoa lol typo IRL I mean Torchlight II, Diablo III's biggest mainstream competitor. Torchlight II is a relatively sudden sequel (it's <2-year dev-cycle cowering beneath D3's 11 years in the pipe) capitalizing on the unexpected success of the first game. Torchlight itself was an action-RPG descended from Diablo and rightly so, as the creative personnel from the former Blizzard North were responsible for its development (including the composer - love those tunes).

Torchlight was, well, fucking fun, simple, and cheap. Didn't even have multiplayer. Torchlight II "corrects" that last bit by bringing to the table that element so craved by mindless e-junkies, but otherwise its improvements on the first game are sparse. The visuals are fairly identical, the classes more reshuffled than new, and the levels... as randomized as ever. So hey, it's more SNK's idea of a sequel than what we have today, but it still feels more refined than the first game (at least from the first act). Because I'm lazy and because both games are generational contemporaries of D3, I'm going to refer from here on to "Torchlight" as a single entity encompassing both games. Also because you can get BOTH Torchlights for barely half the price of D3.
Somehow, Torchlight ends up looking the more WoWy of the games, despite the outcry of so many Diablo fans that III looked more like WarCraft than Diablo
Diablo III is far more striking than Torchlight. It grabbed me and made an immediate impression - both the Voodoo Guy and Monk classes gave me familiar but refreshing gameplay from the geckos. By comparison, I played the first few quests with three of Torchlight II's four classes, all of whom immediately fell into recognizable roles: the summoner, the ranged (amazon/hunter/whatever), and the brute. It feels old; comfortable, but dated. This is exacerbated by Torchlight's such closely timed releases, which left little room to do anything unexpected. The immediate experience, those first few clicks, certainly put me in D3's corner. Maybe Torchlight was a fun stopgap, but now Diablo was BACK.

A few hours into each (aren't demos fucking great? Helping you make decisions and all? Thanks, consoles!), that impression had been largely inverted. Yeah, the snappy and visceral melee crunching makes D3 quickly rewarding, but it suffers hugely from the aforecomplainedabout skill system, on two fronts. Strategically, because Blizzard has done everything they can to simplify combat - the way they've limited slots and dropped hot-swapping feels like consolification (funny, since of the two games, Torchlight is the one available on consoles). What it comes down to is that you essentially pick one skill to be your mainstay, put that on the left mouse button, and click away. There's no encouragement toward or room for experimentation in the early game - as I discussed before, every new skill requires an old one to be swapped out, so at low levels when you only have access to two or three of those slots, it's an extremely rigid experience.

The simplified skill development has also resulted in a de-RPGing of the game. Every character is the same and all new skill upgrades come at fixed levels. Beyond the loss of customization, this is a pretty powerful deterrent to level progress. In these hacking RPGs, one of the biggest things that keeps you going is the urge to get "just one more" level up, one more skill point to put just where you want, giving X spell that extra status effect you've been waiting on or earning a new summon for your reanimated army. Take build determination out of the player's hand, and all of a sudden that determination wanes. If I'm playing a fire-centric caster at level 13, and D3 has decided for me that there isn't a new fireball boost until level 17, that pretty significantly moves back the goalposts, and maybe soon they vanish from view altogether.

After the [period of time it takes me to regain the energy to make a post], I'll talk about what Torchlight II does in contrast to these missteps, and also some of what fucks it up.

Hey, this post kind of was a Judgment Day! Thanks T2 for being as timely and accurate as ever!

1 comment:

  1. man i used the stupid term "lip service" for the second time in like two days