Everyone knows the story of the Wizard of Oz. Girl gets tornadoed, witch gets housed, girl gets bling’d, witch gets pail’d, girl gets teleported. Sure, there are a lot of details in between, but the gist of it? Dorothy learns after a long journey that she had the courage she needed to return home all along.
In the real technicolor world of the present, we’re seeing an eerily similar story play out. Blizzard’s Diablo 3 crash landed on its fans, crushing their expectations. As time passed, the Emerald City seemed farther and farther away. Could Blizzard ever find its way back to an enjoyable ARPG?
Well, sure it could. In fact, it had the power the whole time.
All Blizzard needed to do was tap its shoes together and give the fucking fans Diablo 2.
If they only had a brain
You’d think it wouldn’t be hard to put together, really. Diablo sold tons of copies, and Diablo 2 sold more tons of copies. Hell, the game had pretty much become synonymous with addictive PC gameplay (at least, before MMOs latched onto players’ souls). And as Diablo 3 loomed closer and closer to release, fans worldwide bit their lips in nervous anticipation. Would the (assumed) end of the trilogy live up to the expectations set by the second in the series?
It should have come as no surprise, really. In the time since Diablo 2, so much had changed. Blizzard North, the studio behind the iconic mouse-melting games, was gone. Activision, the studio behind satan worship and everything wrong with gaming, was now tied to Blizzard through Vivendi. And, as a minor note, it was decided during Diablo 3 development that everything people liked about Diablo 2 would be taken out back, beaten, and shot in the head.
- Unique items were no longer unique, nor obtainable
- Direct interaction between players was discouraged
- There’s no offline mode because fuck you, that’s why
- Low max level meant progress = paying at the RMAH
- Dark, sparse story was replaced with Power Rangers
Of course, none of the reasoning behind these changes made much sense. It was all Scarecrow logic, except instead of hay, our idiotic overlords were stuffed with cash.
Just tap your Marrowwalks together
It would be easy to dismiss these accusations as merely my opinion, but it turns out my opinion is/always was right. How can I say that with so much confidence?
Easy: Blizzard is admitting it themselves with their plans for Diablo 3 patch 1.04. Explained in great detail on the official Diablo 3 blog, the developers chronicle the upcoming, sweeping changes with phrases like:
“In many ways the Legendary items that we released with the game were just Rares with flavor text. You called us on it.”
“In the case of Grenades, the skill has some minor mechanical and control issues… Unfortunately, we haven’t found a great solution yet.”
“We promise we’re not idiots, we did it because Kotick said if we made enough money, he’d let our children live.”
The long and short of it? Blizzard’s reducing gear grind, giving players more “levels” to earn, balancing stupid skills, and making Legendary items more legendary. But despite all these improvements, I’m not particularly impressed. Sure, I’m happy to see a team of arrogant dicks get their just rewards and be forced to give players the game they wanted from the start… but my question is how was none of this brought up during testing?
Were Diablo 3’s beta players fans of the game’s terrible, terrible dialog and copy/paste lore? Did the developers enjoy having no means to progress in the game other than participating in faceless, ruthless online auctions? Was anyone at Blizzard skipping with joy at the prospect of finding Legendary items with boring, substandard attributes?
This might have been excusable for a first-run title, but all of this shit worked just fine in Diablo 2. In other words, Blizzard broke a system that worked, resisted feedback from their fans to revert it, then came crawling back months later, asking for a second date. Sorry, Blizzard, you don’t get a second date. Not after you take my money, fail to put out, then puke all over the inside of my beautiful vintage sports car.*
Pay no attention to the expansion behind the curtain
When all is said and done, my whining won’t stop Diablo 3 sales. It won’t stop sales of the expansion, and it won’t slow down purchases on the auction house.
No, no… Diablo 3 will be its own undoing.
Blizzard had something special, something that got bigger than they imagined. It was vivid, full of promise and magic. Then they unceremoniously dropped a goddamn house on it. Fansite forums are steadily losing their userbases, and all the Paragon valor in the world won’t bring back players who were stung in the heart/wallet by the game’s greedy, impersonal “trading” system.
It’s probably too late for Diablo 3, but it’s not too late to learn one lesson from the game’s ill-planned mistakes:
When it comes to good game design, there’s no place like home.
* I don’t know what this analogy has to do with the Wizard of Oz, just go with it.