Diablo III and Potato Chips

Diablo III is exactly like eating a giant bag of potato chips. Are they filling? No! Are they even actually delicious? Probably not. But, I am compelled to eat that fusion of grease and salt every once and a while…

Diablo III remains a curious case for me. I can say rather definitively that I did not like its Real Money Auction House version immediately upon launch. The gear curve scaled towards this, and the only way to obtain items at a certain point meant spending money on the auction house – not exactly an ideal situation. While people accept this kind of system on mobile platforms, the same could not be said for the personal computing crowd. Blizzard then, with the introduction of the expansion Reaper of Souls, introduced the Loot 2.0 system which brought the game back to its loot-hoarding roots.

Furthermore, I’ve never been one who took a fancy to the whole “action role-playing game” genre, or whatever genre Diablo fits. Role-playing games, at least in their current form, still seem very number reliant for the most part; get the right gear and you win, no dexterity or other skills required. After playing the console version, however, I find that Diablo III fits (for me) much better as a Gauntlet-esque dungeon crawler than a straight-forward roleplaying game. I imagine that’s just a part of my console origins, and my disdain for tons of clicking (distracting, to say the least!), but I’m really enjoying the console version far more than the PC version.

31742-gauntlet-nes-screenshot-trapped-in-a-corners

And maybe more than NES Gauntlet, not sure!

Even so, does any of this make Diablo III a genuinely good game? Frankly, I’m torn by this. Just because I enjoy it thoroughly does not mean that the game actually presents a great experience, interesting mechanics, or anything else. On some level, the game consists of hitting all your ability buttons and making sure you don’t die via rolling or fast movement skills like Teleport. Or, at least that’s true for up to the arbitrary difficulty cap for your first few times through the game. I don’t like that feature very much;  more than likely, the gear curve doesn’t support that kind of skill, and the scaling of monster health and abilities would make you fall behind quickly.

Even so, all the abilities of every character class work on the same basic level of God of War‘s combat; each hit and magical explosion brings with it a strange sense of human satisfaction, almost as if designed to take advantage of human psychological impulses. At the same time, the combat and exploration feel quite satisfying on an almost primal gamer level. Killing all the things, gathering all the gold and equipment, and plumbing into the dark depths of cave, cellars, and other dark, randomly generated places of the world delights me to no end (even as things get repetitive). The unlocking of skills, both active and passive, metes out just enough incentive to see what new, weird ability your character will receive next. That’s similar to World of WarCraft in more ways than one, except the journey to the level cap here feels far more like instant fun and less like grinding. But do the aesthetics and trappings here merely mask what is, at its most reduced level, the same old thing over and over again?

Diablo III Console Coop

Well…yes.

Blizzard nailed something quite simple and fundamental to game design here. At base, I think Diablo III does no more and no less than present something incredibly simple very well. I dare say that this particular entry in the series reaches right over the substance for all of the flash, drawing video gamers into its clutches through a small set of principles. It doesn’t add too much or too little in the video game department; the graphics, “gamefeel”, pacing, and other elements contribute to the three basic principles:

1. Kill things

2. Get loot

3. Repeat

“But Zach”, you might say, “doesn’t the novelty of the game’s core systems wear off at a point?” My answer: yes, I imagine the novelty of Diablo III will wear off. That’s probably why I am playing this both single player and cooperatively. Any game designed in this particular way begs to be played with friends or family, instantly enhancing the game with zero further effort from the developers. I can say, having played with some of my fellow Theology Gaming contributors, that the game really lends itself to mindless play and conversations, at least on Normal. Probably this deserves some further scrutiny, since higher difficulty settings may prove me wrong, but no game I’ve played facilitates conversations quite as well. It’s intense enough to keep your interest, but not enough to prevent fun (also, no shared loot online has its advantages!).

Still, at the end of the day, I cannot make a real judgment on Diablo III. Since I didn’t play any of its predecessors in any real fashion, nor most other games that derive off the same isometric dungeon crawling, there’s nothing more I can say about the game other than that it is “fun”, and that’s really all I can say. Other games in this realm might prove much better than it (from most reports, Path of Exile is probably a far better game, as is Diablo II), but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with Diablo III. After all, I recognize its flaws, like in many games, and yet I still feel a compulsion to kill things, get loot, and repeating the process over and over again. Whether this will prove an empty venture or not will come down to personal preference (and whether or not the game decides it wants to kill my character at some point).

From a critical perspective, I just can’t recommend Diablo III. What I can say, however, is that it provided me with many hours of enjoyment, and sometimes that’s all that matters. In the grand scheme of things, a simplistic video game isn’t going to be the worst thing you ever do in your life, and the stakes are very low! You can at LEAST try it! Just like potato chips, a little compulsive junk food once and a while can sometimes hit the spot.

14 There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility. 15 So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 8

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.