Reaching back (Or, thoughts on old games when new games are released)

I’m a geek. I’m a geek about a lot of things.

Gaming, sports (I’m aware it’s a contradiction in terms to be a geek about sports, but work with me), writing, and more recently, anything where I or someone else is behind a mic and I can analyze it (listen to me critique Dan Shaugnessy’s passable, but wooden performance on PTI this week). This time, I’m looking specifically at games- those of you not into that should,  like last time, exit quietly out the right stage.

Blizzard makes good games for the PC. Ever since Mom invested in Warcraft 1 and 2 as a Christmas gift for Dennis and I all those years ago, Dennis and I have bought their games with regular precision, in every series. From the orcs-and-humans-strategy Warcraft to the ships-and-aliens-but-still-strategy Starcarft to the more gothic, darker Diablo series.

Diablo was the one that was not like the others. It was simpler- in it’s basic form, a point and click fighting/adventure game. You did quests, explored large dungeons, gained items and weapons- it was much simpler than the other two to pick up, even if the depth of strategy you could delve into was incredible.

Then World of Warcraft was released- termed by many to be a more complex Diablo skin on the Warcraft franchise. It was the single player action/adventure, with a much deeper world, and in the Warcraft universe. As an MMORPG, they could charge monthly for this game- which they couldn’t reasonably do with Diablo. I remember playing it, and thinking, “How can they do another Diablo, now that they’ve gone and skinned it onto another universe?”

So my initial reaction to the announcement that Blizzard was making Diablo 3 was, “That’s great, but…” with that caveat in mind. But I didn’t want to be cynical. I was someone who’d given up WoW, mostly because of the monthly charges (and that I didn’t play enough to justify said charges, nor did I want to). Even if D3 was just a stripped down WoW in the Diablo universe, I would enjoy it- I like simplicity, the depth of WoW occasionally drowned me sometimes. But the question I came back to was: “What does Diablo 3 do that WoW doesn’t do better?”

In an attempt to predict the future- and dispel this cynicism that settled over me- I went back to the past. I re-installed Diablo 2, and have been playing some this week.

It was no surprise to me that Dennis and I came up with this same idea on our own separately, as that happens a lot (though I doubt his motivations were quite the same as mine, D3 had something to do with it in his case as well). We’ve been playing together, and added more people to the mix who seemed to get the same motivation. And I’ve re-discovered what Diablo brings to the table.

It IS simpler to pick up and play, but the depth of it is still great for someone like Dennis who likes to analyze and build and think about what he’s doing (he had an excellent sequence yesterday where he debated the merits of a particular build with himself- I wish I’d gotten a screenshot) whereas I tend to pick the ‘click-and-smash’ characters who run into the fray and smack things with their weapons until they’re dead.

I’d almost completely forgotten about the Diablo story universe, easily the darkest of the bunch, though we’ll have to see what the upcoming Starcraft sequel does to that. Warcraft was fantasy textbook orcs-and-humans for mostly all ages, and Starcraft took the same strategy principles and skinned them onto only a slightly rougher space universe. Diablo has demons and ghosts and curses, and is very gothic and medieval in it’s setting- even if Warcraft was medieval as well, Diablo was always grittier, and a little more grounded.

I’m not sure what my other conclusions are just yet. I’ll have to play some more to find out.


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