The Call of Diablo

Courtesy Blizzard

It’s been a week now, and so far I’ve resisted the call of Diablo.

Diablo III continues to make headlines, and not always in a positive way. I’ve been trying to curb my extraneous spending a bit since PAX, both to recover from that phenomenal trip and to save for the upcoming move. But I can’t deny I’ve noticed just how many people I know are playing the latest action-RPG from Blizzard and Activision. I can definitely understand why, as I’ve played more than my share of its predecessor and the expansion.

The gameplay is the right mix of mindless leveling-and-looting catharsis fresh from the most basic of D&D campaigns and interesting storytelling in a fascinating setting. Seriously, Diablo tends to nail the ‘dark gothic’ atmosphere other games strive for. The Witcher also does this well, while Dragon Age and Kingdoms of Amalur just feel like more regular fantasy settings with extra blood spattered on. It also helps that the story itself is rather nuanced, with interesting characters and prevailing themes of power, betrayal, deception, and the struggle against hopelessness. Diablo III looks to very much carry on all of these traditions.

So why aren’t I playing it?

The first indicator that something was off in Diablo III came from the character designs. For the most part, they’re fine, good examples of Blizzard’s art direction, but the Witch Doctor gave me pause. A character basing their attacks on hexes and summoning minions, not unlike Diablo II‘s Necromancer, and the best design Blizzard could come up with was a half-naked dark-skinned man with a bone in his nose? I’m sure they wanted to differentiate the class from the others in the game as well as the Necromancer, but there’s no law saying characters like this have to look a certain way. I mean, consider Dr. Facilier from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog:

Courtesy Disney

Back in Diablo II the character of color was the stalwart, righteous paladin, a role usually given to generically handsome white men. To do the stereotypical Witch Doctor thing felt like a step backwards, and gave me a measure of pause.

That said, I did try the beta for a few hours and found the gameplay to be just fine. I could see myself playing it for hours, to experience the story and collect loot, but my next problem came up in the form of the always-online aspect.

I know that Diablo has a very heavy and lively multiplayer scene. It makes sense that you’d want to have an Internet connection to be a part of it. Requiring said connection for single-player, however, puzzled me. While logging achievements and downloading patches are part and parcel of gaming these days, requiring a constant connection to a remote server to play a game by yourself that you’ve purchased strikes me as somewhat silly. This was confirmed for me on launch, when the Blizzard servers collapsed under the onslaught of people wanting to play their new game and kept everyone from playing it. People paid $60 US or more for the privilege of playing Diablo III, and the very developers of the game said “Nope, sorry, you can’t play it now, not even in single player, no matter how much money you’ve already paid us. We’ll fix it… eventually. But hey, you don’t have to worry about those nasty pirates right now!” Of course when people did manage to get connected, many found their accounts had already been phished, hacked, or otherwise compromised. This probably could have been at least somewhat mitigated if people could play single player without the constant connection.

Finally, there’s the real-money auction house. Now, I’m not above making more than one contribution to a game I enjoy playing. I’ve bought points for skins in League of Legends and gold for items in Tribes: Ascend. However, the monetization of an in-game auction house feels a bit sketchy to me. Asking people to perhaps invest in some cosmetic character changes or a hot new item by purchasing them directly from the developer is one thing. Taking a cut directly from the cash made by players as they exchange items is quite another. As far as I know, the RMAH isn’t active yet, and I know it’s an optional thing that I wouldn’t have to get involved with, but just knowing it’s there makes me uncomfortable.

Put it all together, and you have the reasons why I’ve resisted the call of Diablo. It’s a shame, because from the beta, I could see the potential for the game to be fun. I played a Monk for a few hours and punching minions so hard they explode was very satisfying. However, between the design decisions, the idiotic always-connected aspect, and the rather seedy RMAH, I can say I won’t be playing Diablo III.

2 Comments

  1. Seriously, grow up neckbeard

  2. I think, in a weak defence of the stereotype witch doctor, that all the characters are fairly stereotypical, according to their class. As you said, the paladin role is usually a burly, white handsome man. And summoning/wizard roles tend to either go to weak old men, or frail intellectual/female types. And the woman is hot, and big boobed and skimpy. Very by the numbers.

    It would be nice to see a Chinese paladin for once, but Diablo always seemed to me to be an especially derivative and generic in story telling and characterisation. People playing it don’t seem to expect any different, present company excluded of course. It’s a shame that it took them 12 years to only trot out the same cliches, but judging from the sales, people seem happy with that.

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