Why Diablo sucked

Not long ago, I watched a speedrun of Diablo on the YouTube archives of Awesome Games Done quick, and as the runner got into the lowest floors, I suddenly realized that I had never finished the game with any character. I saw it was only ten euros on Battle.Net, so I figured I would fire it back up to sort out why I stopped playing.

I could nitpick on all the game’s flaws. No, check that. I will do that anyway, but the sum of all its flaws can be condensed down to one damning statement: accounting isn’t fun.

Spending ten minutes in every session trying to sort out whether to call a financial loss on a run by casting a portal or lose twenty minutes walking back to town is not fun. Being financially penalized for wanting to hold onto items is not fun. Even when the game is almost starting to feel fun, here’s a room filled with thirty enemies who will deplete my carefully budgeted supply of potions while dropping no gold or items to sell back in town, and I’m right back to having no fun.

I’m on the eleventh floor with the warrior, who I’m sure was Blizzard’s intended way to play because he seems blessed to have more gear and gold drop, and because he can tank up with heavy armor and a shield that will block a lot of hits. The sorcerer and rogue both have to played far more cautiously, with constant awareness of where doors are to run back and create choke points. Because the moment they are surrounded, I might as well hit Load Game to try again. But even once I got them deeper into the dungeons, loot and gold don’t drop nearly as frequently for them.

In town, every single citizen has their hand out, waiting for payment. Deckard Cain wants one hundred gold to identify magic items, and easily half the time, those items are trolls, like a bow that removes ten vitality and ten dexterity. So it’s only worth one gold, meaning I lost 99 gold just to have Cain tell me, “Ooh, tough break! Better luck next time, sucker.”

With both the sorcerer and rogue, I found spells that might help them deal with the swarming horde problem, but neither yet had the magic points to read the books. So they had to take up space in my inventory, making every run even less profitable. All the developers had to do was add a freaking travel trunk back in town so I could hold onto a few items. But no, that level of convenience would compromise their “vision.”

With the rogue, I had to use a bow that cuts off ten vitality because Griswold the town blacksmith has only one magic bow for sale, and he wants seventeen thousand gold for it. I’m on floor six and have thirteen thousand. But all it takes is one wrong decision to cost me another thousand gold, and then I’ll be back on a low incentive grind for the one weapon that might make all this feel less painful.

Meanwhile, Griswold is offering the warrior five different bows, all of which would aid the rogue, and all at far more reasonable prices.

Then there’s the sorcerer, who at the end of every run must walk first to Pepin the healer to buy full health potions, and then walk all the way to the other side of town to buy full mana potions and scrolls of town portal, and then walk all the way back to the latest shortcut entrance or to their portal. There is a spell to cast town portal, but as mana doesn’t regenerate, any cast of that will require drinking a full mana potion just to get back in fighting shape.

Ah, and don’t forget to recharge his staves, which will be one half of the upkeep charges if I was forced to also use it as a melee weapon. Then I have to walk into town to have Griswold repair it. Since it’s a magic item, that’ll cost extra. Then I can go to Adria the witch and get it recharged. Another seven to eight hundred gold lost, so that whole run was a financial loss. Gee, what fun.

Adding to this frustration, I ended up deleting and restarting three different sorcerer runs because I’d each time reached a point where I couldn’t press on with no mana and damn near broken equipment, but I also couldn’t afford to restock and repair. It didn’t occur to the developers to respawn enemies, giving players a chance to recover funds on less difficult enemies before pressing deeper into more difficult biomes.

Even with the warrior, the intended way to play, shit can get ugly fast. On floor ten, I ran into a mob that swarmed him, and between their melee attacks and the flood of arrows raining in from six different directions, the warrior got stun-locked and couldn’t do anything but die. I struggled with this for a half an hour before finding the one pixel I was allowed to use as a choke point. When it was all over, I realized that the incoming damage had destroyed my shield. So I took a portal back to town, only to discover Griswold, the fucking weapon blacksmith, didn’t feel like stocking shields, mundane or magical, ever again. I had to tank two floors of mobs just to wait for a shield to drop.

And I repeat, what fun.

So, here’s the thing: I set that grind aside, and I played a few newer fantasy games, and they all seemed to have learned their lessons about fun in games. They all have more storage space, both on my character and with some kind of trunk or closet back at my camp to store the stuff I can’t use yet. The prices of their economies are such that near the middle of the games, I will have the funds to buy one or two premium items and still afford health potions, new spells and what not. And all of them balance their enemy placements so that the players will always feel challenged without feeling overwhelmed. On and those enemies drop loot far more frequently, so returning to town means that even if some of the loot is crap, at least I turn a profit and it wasn’t a total crap run.

Hell, Sierra even put out an expansion for Diablo, Hellfire, against Blizzard’s wishes, and it set out to fix some of Diablo’s worst traits. It included the ability to jog, more frequent and more varied loots drops, and a room to transfer loot from one character who doesn’t need it to another that does. Blizzard didn’t want any of that. They got mad at Sierra for fixing their shitty game.

And now I’ll close out by talking about Diablo IV, which I still haven’t finished because it’s an always online game, and I frequently log in to discover I can’t have a stable connection. Graphically, it’s a gorgeous game, and the few times I’ve got to fight the biggest, nastiest demons in the game, man, that is some great stuff.

But a lot of the game is fighting the same six dungeon bosses in different palette swaps, most of  whom combine massive health bars, spamming the screen with area attacks, and spawning unlimited minions to distract me from the fact that they’re really kind of pathetic. I do that repeatedly in the name of collecting meager ability boosts that I have to grind legendary loot to break down and make the materials to pay for upgrades through a different flavor of accounting. If I want “guaranteed” legendary gear, I have to grind World Events to collect Obols, a separate currency meant expressly for gambling on loot boxes, and those World Events mean fighting the same copy-pasted mobs with different palette swaps instead of just fighting Lilith and the Lesser Lords of Hell. You know, the actual fun part of the game.

It just feels like Blizzard never learned anything about what made Diablo II great, or what made Diablo suck.

In fact, looking at how they’ve handled so many of their games, with all due respect to the fans who embraced them and found their own joy in a game’s grinding loops, I don’t feel like Blizzard deserves half the reverence they cultivated through Diablo II, WoW, and Starcraft. They’re just another big publisher looking at ways to exploit their player base and their own staff, all in the name of squeezing out another profitable quarter.

So it’s no surprise that the people at the top think Accounting Simulator: Tristram Edition is fun as a game. But they never really seem to ask what would be fun for us, the people buying their games.