The last week or so, I’ve been splitting my time between my usual work and convalescing from having four of my teeth cut out of my head. With, you know, knives and drills and such.
Seriously, it was some shit. I haven’t been put under for any sort of medical deal since I was 8, so it’s been two decades. In the intervening time the most medical action I’ve gotten was stitches, twice.
A combination of my groaning a lot about the holes in my head and my first ever experience with real painkillers has left me ample time to play video games. My innate hunger for variety combined with that to have me jumping into a number of games I haven’t touched in ages.
I haven’t touched D3 in months, not since I used to roll with the Diabros (which turns out to be a name used elsewhere, which certainly bummed me out when I learned it wasn’t just a personal stroke of genius). My time with the game is a small core of happy memories wrapped in a rocky shell of disappointment…kind of like fighting Rammus.
The failings (or alleged failings, depending on your attitude) of D3 have been discussed on the net enough I’m not even going to link around–other than to note that the Bdawgs themselves mea’d some culpas). Similarly, comparisons between D3 and Torchlight 2, generally favoring the latter, are low-hanging, voluptuous, callipygian fruits.
But what strongly struck me just today was how even Guild Wars 2 better accomplishes the kind of genre switchover that I think D3 was trying to achieve.
Diablo 3’s Multiplayer Aspirations
Diablo 3 seemed predicated on the assumption that player hunger for a multiplayer experience (and the allure of not just an auction house, but one that could earn you sweet ducats) would be the primary forces driving its users. I’m sure they anticipated some rejection of the always-on DRM element that was nested in the game; it’s not like they were unaware of Ubisoft’s “successes” in that area.
I was prepared for the existence of the DRM, or at least aware of it. I didn’t think it would be an issue, given that I’ve played many an MMO over the last several years. Playing online, with other people, is certainly not how I play (or generally want to play) Diablo, but it is how I love playing just about any other action rpg.
Unfortunately, the other thing that both I and Blizzard thought we had anticipated was how fucking broken all the things would be for an entirely asinine period of time. I know that, on my end, I didn’t anticipate the long period(s!) of unplayability because I’d been waiting for the game almost twelve years. I’m not entirely sure what Blizzard’s excuse was, because “we couldn’t anticipate the demand,” seems…frankly unprofessional. Going into the game, I spend hours explaining to my wife how Blizzard is this incredibly beloved company who only releases a few properties, and never swiftly, but do such a good job that no one ever complains.
Again, it’s not that I didn’t have fun running through the game with friends, particularly since I’ve moved around so much that (and this was even more true at the time) most of my friends are not in this town, or this state, or anywhere adjacent to this state, or in this time zone. As the challenges we faced increased, and our builds and equipment morphed and solidified into specific roles, it began to feel like a fun little guild with just four people. When I swapped out powers on the fly, that was fun too; even though recent patches have indicated Blizzard recognizes that certain powers eclipsed others in terms of utility, even to the point of becoming requisites.
But I mostly wanted to log in with characters I made, on my own. Characters I created entirely unnecessary backstories for, who’d run through the game for a couple of hours before (usually) I realized they were untenable at higher levels. While some of the D3 class mechanics made this hard already (there’s never much reason to maintain more than one character of a particular class, unless you want to see different genders and hear different voices), the sheer shitstorm I dealt with trying to play the game I bought for the first several months was the greatest icewater bath for that wee little peekaboo. While I love myself a loot treadmill, and always will, I’ve never been a player remotely fascinated by the “endgame.” It’s not reaching the maximum level that I enjoy, but the journey that leads there, and the experiences I have along the way.
The open multiplayer would have been cool, except this, and others like this. Now, Blizzard maintained that hacks had nothing to do with playing open multiplayer games, or with spoofing some sort of log-in info off of “recently played with” lists. But of the 8 or so people I regularly talked to playing D3, I think three ended up getting hacked at some point, and that was the only thing they could point to as why. So whether it was true or a rumor, it had the same effect: I shut off any access strangers would have to my duderoo.
Plus, the games I did PUG included what you get from PUGs: “Go go go;” Guys who logged in and then never moved; and folks with builds so twinked I really didn’t need to be in the game. Borderlands 1 provided a multiplayer experience closer to what I wanted, where I could find games with friends but play unfettered on my own.
Guild Wars 2’s Single Player Option
By contrast, I was dicking around in GW2 today (having sunk many, many hours into it previously), leveling my Asura Mesmer (a cloth-wearing caster class who generates clones of himself and can inexplicably wield a greatsword–which is awesome). I popped in mostly to get a respite from my soldiers being chewed up in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, as I’ve finally unlocked the big-ass alien ship (if you’re not there, and you think you’ve unlocked a big-ass alien ship, you haven’t yet unlocked a big-ass alien ship). The Mesmer was around level 12 when I logged in, and I meant to just jog around a bit.
Ended up leveling twice, barely noticing, because of how Guild Wars handles its open, online world.
I popped into the character in a fairly tired area, one that I’ve been stuck in with that character mostly because it’s got convenient access to crafting centers. I ran through the same swamp I’ve been through a few times, aiming to advance my story quest.
Then, these uppity frog-men were under attack because they’d attacked an allied supply depot. So I popped in there to help out, and shot some frogs with mind-beams from my greatsword. I was excited mostly because it was a quest I hadn’t managed to complete previously, due to a bug preventing anyone from resurrecting a key NPC. Bugs exist in all games, and I accept this. This run, however, I was able to get the ratman back on his feet and go to town on the village. By the time I finished with that quest I felt pretty good about things, so I kept playing long enough to unlock a new waypoint.
Of course, unlocking that waypoint required that I handle a couple of other dynamic events, with a few PCs drifting in and out. Some eyeballs needed to be gathered, and then there were these robots and that was a thing. I made it to my waypoint, which was at a fort, just in time for the aforementioned uppity frog-men (as opposed to the friendly frog-men, who are a slightly different color and okay, all of which is a completely different conversation) to launch a raid on the supplies held there.
This is, it’s worth noting, the exact same raid I had been punishing the frog-men for earlier. That temporal inconsistency and the repetition it engendered might have worn on me, but I’d done so many other things between logging in and getting in on this raid (plus I’d never seen this part of the quest before) so it felt new and exciting. As well, I was the only PC at the fort, so I knew that my leaving would result in these people–total strangers who were also computer-controlled–all dying and failing in their task.
So I massacred some more froggos, eventually getting help from another random player. Then, that quest led into another dynamic quest, which the same player also joined in on. We had to escort a ratman (the same one I’d resurrected during the aforementioned village raid) to the people who would launch the raid. Did I feel a bit like a diminutive, sword-wielding Doctor Who? Yes. Did that make me essentially David Tennant’s Doctor right after regeneration? No! As it turns out, despite him somehow projecting a wee-ity that is endearing, D-Tox (get it, ’cause DT…anyway) is 6’1″!
So Randomo and I ran this Skritt back to the village I’d logged in at, which took probably 20, 30 minutes; he’d periodically give in to his ratman ADHD and grab things, which invariably spawned groups of monsters. When we showed up at the outpost, the sneering deputy agreed to launch a raid against the Hylek village, and so I participated in that from the start.
After we razed the village and killed the ensuing chieftain, I waypointed back to the fort and opened another couple points. That meant I ran into the Inquest, the Asura equivalent of the Sons of Svanir for Norn or Charr’s Flame Legion. I love killing the Inquest, who yell out Doctor Who callbacks and are generally just dicks (at least thus far; maybe I’ll eventually learn they have a giant heart and mean wonderful things). Then I ran into some robots and another dynamic event, and then I saw another player in need of some help so I ran into the room he was in and did some murders. This was fulfilling one of the open-world hearts that drive the whole GW2 experience, so I kept the killing up alongside this stranger. We got into the heart of the building and had a couple tough fights, but one of them was resolved by a party of two other players running back the opposite direction. After filling the heart I left the building, only to check my map and realize that the Skill Challenge (another element of each GW2 map, which gives you build points for doing shit that’s generally pretty hard) was inside the building. I ran back through, killing a few mobs with random PC as we passed each other.
Then I found the skill challenge, which took me perhaps 10 minutes to defeat solo. I dropped to near-dead at least three times, but each time was able to pull and shank an add in order to get back in the fight. The weapon-switching mechanic let me pop between a damage-heavy ranged greatsword build (because, yeah, Mesmers use greatswords as ranged weapons. Why not?!) and a much more defensive dual-sword build. That let me move the fight around and survive the heavy AoE the skill challenge robot dropped. My illusions drew aggro and let me get enough healing in once I dropped to let my cooldowns pop.
It was around this point that my wife arrived, and we left to get on top of some Old Chicago deepdish. Can’t say how long I would have played otherwise, but the 20 or so minutes I’d intended to sink into GW2 ate up two+ hours; contrasted with the last time I played D3, earlier this week, which involved me struggling to pay attention to a part of Zoltan Kulle’s dungeon long enough to open one of the locks solely so I wouldn’t have to checkpoint back to it if I ever logged in again.
See what I’m talking about, here? In GW2, I could start a game planning on minor solo action, get sucked into a dynamic world, fade in and out of multiplayer experiences, and go back to a solo-focused, difficult challenge empowered by the experiences I’d had up to that point.
Both games cost the same, upfront and upkeep alike. Both games have similar themes, and even similar class mechanics. Both sport similar innovations. But one gave people who expected a single-player experience a ton of hoops to jump through to get it, while the other gives people who expect to deal with PUGs and other online detritus the opportunity to successfully and profitably engage in single-player adventure, plus the other joys of MMOs; crafting, exploration, big raids (if that’s your thing).