This week, Zero Punctiaion reviews Blizzard's latest click-fest Diablo 3.
Saving the world is to the life of a video gamer what removing Lego bricks from nasal cavities is to the life of a kindergarten teacher. But tell me, did you ever spare a thought for what happened in the games you never got around to finishing? Are Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine now forgotten piles of mulch at the bottom of the sea because I couldn't be arsed to finish the final boss? Do blistered peasants still crawl around the smoking crater that used to be Skyrim making banal, unsolicited conversation with passing crabs? Did the protagonists of Final Fantasy XIII fail in whatever the fuck they were supposed to be doing? It's even worse if you get really far in the game before giving up. I picture all those NPCs shackled to the grinding wheel in the underground slave pit, and then someone brings up that hero guy who represented the last best hope for salvation and mysteriously stopped moving on his way into the demon king's lair, and everyone goes quiet and looks at the floor. But the point is, Diablo has probably conquered whatever the world of Diablo III is called by now, and I say, "Enjoy, asshole! 'Cause I can't figure out what you see in it."
Not that I stopped playing Diablo III because it got too hard. New(ish) Blizzard games seem to have this thing where you need to have been shoving Lego bricks up your nose with industrial aplomb to be killed early on, because they want to suck you in before they ramp the challenge up at all. But having worked with the user base of World of Warcraft for so long, largely consisting of the kids who were held back a school year until they figured out how to colour inside the lines properly, Blizzard made Diablo III's initial suckering-in period drag on for about half the fucking game. That was roughly the point when I had to drink a health potion to survive a fight for the first time in the entire campaign, which hadn't stopped the game loading me down with the fucking things all the way up to that point along with seemingly limitless quantities of inferior pants. But this is the nature of the dungeon crawler genre. Apparently this is what people like about it - explore labyrinths to acquire huge piles of second-hand trousers to keep the odd actually decent pair and flog the rest. It's like if Oxfam ran an ore refinery.
Not having played through the first two Diablos, I did do some preparatory research, by which I mean I read their Wikipedia articles. And what struck me about the plot synopses was that they seemed to be recounting the actions of every character in the game except the player, which is very telling of your role in life being some kind of highly efficient tag-along whose main job is to kill whatever big motherfucker is left over when everyone else has been killed or turned evil, motivated apparently solely by the promise of a veritable cornucopia of old pants.
Of the classes available in Diablo III, I opted for witch doctor, it being the only class that seemed to get away from the bloody typical fighter/mage/rogue/healer template. And that turned out to be a warlocky, necromancery, summoning monsters to do the legwork while you reap the trouser harvest sort of role. One of your early attacks is the ability to throw spiders at people - seems rather juvenile. Maybe next we get the ability to put caterpillars down the back of their dress. I'm not saying summoning spiders isn't kind of kick-ass, but I can't for the life of me think why'd you make it a primary attack bound to the left mouse button, especially when it upgrades from throwing little spider hairdressers to summoning one big, burly spider dock worker. Seems like a primary attack should be something a little more direct than speed-dialling your bigger mates. Like a melee attack, for example. I started with a melee attack, but because at that stage I only had two buttons, it was replaced the moment I learned a second spell. Which strikes me as missing the forest for the trees somewhat, especially since I could still equip melee weapons even though I'd only be holding them to scratch my black ass.
Unlike WoW, whose quick-select bars swiftly turn into fucking piano keyboards, there are only two mouse buttons and four keys used for attack, and each is assigned only a specific category of attacks, limiting what can be equipped simultaneously. I quite like a streamlined approach. Early on, when only mouse button attacks were unlocked, I appreciated having a hand free which with to drink heavily. But after a while, I had to use the keyboard as well, and my hand got all sweaty from the heat coming off my faithful old laptop as it endeavoured to run the game at full resolution without exploding into flames.
The abilities within each category can be so arbitrarily different that switching them up can mean completely altering your gameplay style. Which sounds good, but Diablo III is a game about settling into a routine. It's like data entry, in that and many other respects. I relied heavily on one ability to summon a pack of zombie dogs and another to make them all explode. Fair weather friend, that's me. By far my most devastating attack, because with three puppies strategically humping legs throughout the enemy crowd, this is pretty much groin-focused carpet bombing. But it made a lot of other skills real useless real fast. One of the alternatives to the summon zombie dogs spell, for instance, was making enemies really scared and run around for a bit. Not tempted, unless in their terror they bite their own arse off and spontaneously combust.
This is why I didn't play a lot of multiplayer, because between me, increasingly numerous baddies, the kamikaze triplets, a big zombie called Nigel and a giant spider with a flat cap and a pipe wrench, the action was quite enough of an incomprehensible clusterfuck without some other yahoo running around nicking all the good trousers. "Single-player, is it?" says Diablo III. "Mind if we force you to play online anyway in case you change your mind?" Kind of do, as it happens, Diablo III, 'cause I'm not big on latency issues that make me teleport twenty feet in a random direction while trying to avoid that bullshit area-of-effect spam attack the Act II boss threw around. "Sorry, can't hear you over the sound of all my moneeeeeey!"
You know, if any game company is likely to be secretly headed by a James Bond villain, it's Blizzard, because all their games put me into a fucking hypnotic trance and levelling starts to carry this mindlessly-addictive quality into which they could easily insert some subliminal instruction to raid the nearest plutonium storage facility. Ultimately, I confess I still don't get the appeal of dungeon crawlers. Seems like I could recreate the essential experience by opening Microsoft Excel, scrolling down ten thousand pages with the down cursor key, and then typing, "The Most Splendid Trousers of Them All!"
What I really don't get is the appeal of randomly-generated dungeons. Surely that could only possibly pay off during a second playthrough when/if the player realizes that this small handful of barren rooms maniacally copy-pasted and then arbitrarily stapled together seems to have been arbitrarily stapled together slightly different to before. If a book randomly rearranged its chapters with every read, then every chapter would have its characters doing fuck-all, because the plot wouldn't make sense otherwise. So the end result will always be a fucking boring book. It's not just, "missing the forest for the trees" as, "missing the forest for the trees in another, completely different forest."
- Now knows that you can reassign the primary attack so don't write in: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Actually it ran pretty well on my laptop, I guess you free up a lot of processor power when you don't have to render the ceiling
- You'd think after a while they'd just *give* you their trousers
Extra: Escapist Expo
So me and a bunch of my Escapist chums are attending a bit of a get-together this year we're calling "the first Escapist Expo". September 14 to 16 in Durham, North Carolina, Check the website for more details. Hope to see you there! Yes, you! No, not you, the pretty one.