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The Mistake That is Inferno and the Auction House
When talking about the best game of the last two generations, Demons' Souls, I often get into conversations regarding difficulty, the nature of it, and what makes it fair versus cheap. In my estimation, Demons' Souls is the epitome fair difficulty. Every time I die, I know it was my fault. I forgot about the ledge behind me and rolled off of it. I reacted too slowly to the incoming attack. I got overzealous and attacked one too many times, leaving myself open to the counter attack. Ninja Gaiden, on the other hand - the original XBox one (and the arcade one, actually) - is a classic example of cheesy difficulty. It takes the cheap and easy approach to making things difficult: give the enemies more life, give the enemies more damage, and, optionally, add temporary invincibility, unavoidable attacks, and take control out of the players' hands with repeated stuns and the like. Terrible. Not fun. Hard, but not in a fair way at all.

For the most part - and for most users - Diablo 3 gets it right. The game up through the end of Hell difficulty is a good time, well balanced, and fair. There are difficulty jumps, and things change a bit, but it remains largely a positive experience. Champion bosses come with more life, granted, but they also come with new randomly assigned abilities that alter the way you play. Kiting becomes a bit risky against guys with mortar. Standing still and nuking while your friend tanks isn't so great against arcane sentry. You'll need to get better gear, and you'll need to level up, and you'll die a lot, but there's generally a sense of forward progress and, most importantly, fun.

All of this changes when you reach Inferno difficulty - and not for the better.

Act 1 of Inferno is almost like Act 5 of Hell. There's a spike in difficulty, but it's still manageable. It's not ridiculous. Act 2 on Inferno, however, is where everything falls apart. Despite building plenty of survivability, my character was killed in one hit by pretty much any enemy in the Act. Many of these enemies have instant gap closers that render them invisible, invincible, or both during that movement. All of the sudden there is an enemy right next to you, and you are dead. Does that sound fun? No, it does not. It is the cheapest, easiest, laziest way possible to make something "hard".

It is also compounded by a few aspects of the game that were annoying but mostly unnoticeable up until that point. First, if you click in the lower left corner to run away from an enemy, but there is, say, a barrel down there, you will not run, but will instead stop and attack that barrel (provided you're long range, like I am). On Inferno, that means that if you try to run away and, in the mayhem of the game, click on something other than empty space (not hard), you will instantly die. Awesome. On top of that, D3 takes a WoW-esque approach to attacks. If a huge, slow, sloth-like enemy wanders up to you and begins to wind up for the attack, you can run away. You can run fifteen hundred miles away, cross state borders, and legally change your name and place of residence while said enemy takes thirteen years to wind up their attack animation. When they finally attack, though, they will kill you. They dice have already been rolled, the numbers have been generated, and your fate has been decided, quite apart from the visual indications and supposed physics of the world you are in. I cannot tell you how many times I have been killed by the melee attacks of enemies that are half the screen away from me. Then there's always server lag, and all those times where I swear to fucking god I hit my damn escape ability, but it didn't happen, and now I am dead.

If Blizzard ever fixed the compounding factors - which I'm sure they won't - I might be okay with the stupid difficulty. I might. I don't want the entire game to be easy. I don't want people to have finished everything in two days. It's Inferno, after all - it should be hard. I'll take that to some extent. It's still stupid, and easy, and lazy, but I'll put up with it.

Except for the fact that I cannot get the gear that I need to able to handle Inferno.

The last act of the game I can handle - Act 1 on Inferno - as far as I understand, at present, does not have any chance of dropping the best loot in the game. 0%. In order to be able to hang on Act 2 Inferno, I need to be wearing the gear that I can only get... on Act 2 Inferno. Or even Act 3 Inferno. It is cyclical. I know that some people managed to break that cycle in the first place, but they are crazy motherfuckers who are willing to put up with a level of pain that I am not, or they are crazy motherfuckers that find joy in pain. For the rest of us, there is one answer and one answer only to getting the gear we need to make any progress on Act 2 of Inferno, and it is the same answer that is already fucking up many other aspects of the game, as I have mentioned before: the Auction House.

Given that I cannot get the items I want any way other than through the Auction House, I am reduced to farming gold in hopes of hitting "Buyout" on an item I have searched for through an interface. You might argue that farming gold isn't much different from farming items, but I'd argue that is entirely different. The joy of the kill and the joy of the drop are gone. There's no thrill when you kill a boss. There's no thrill when you see a rare of the proper type drop. You know it's going to suck. You just vacuum up all the gold and items and dump them on the nearest vendor.

That's not even the worst of it. The worst of it is getting on virtual (or is that virtual virtual?) eBay, entering the parameters for the type of gear that you want, hitting search, scanning the list, and hitting Buyout. That is the new way to get loot in Diablo 3. Might as well play Microsoft Fucking Excel. Put in some parameters, crunch some numbers, compare benefit to cost, and then press buy or keep scanning the pages and pages of results. I would have a difficult imaging a more hollow, uninteresting task. The game is gone. Most anyone playing the end-game in Diablo 3 has been reduced to a gold farmer (which was something of a slur in WoW, I might add) who takes the profits from their joyless, repetitive task to a glorified spreadsheet and hits a few buttons to improve their characters by leaps and bounds.

Of course, you could always bypass the gold farming aspect of things by using the real money auction house! I'm sure Blizzard won't mind you helping their bottom line in such a fashion.

To be fair, there are supposedly plans to give the highest level items an incredibly small chance to drop in Act 1 of Inferno. For me, personally, it will probably be a case of too little, too late. Inferno has sucked virtually all of the joy out of the game for me. I also don't really want to start a new characters and play through the game again, particularly knowing that the same end waits me. I want to keep progressing with my character. I want to get good loot myself. But practically speaking, that's not an option.

I am forced to wonder two things with regards to Diablo 3: first, how much the advent of the real money auction house has completely fucked the decision making processes involved in design for Blizzard. I am quite certain that they will never admit to it being a factor in the design process, so it will never really be more than speculation that the notion of a second income stream has fucked up Diablo 3. I also wonder where this game will be in three months, six months, and a year. Once you have five characters at 60, there's no reason to start a new one, really. There presumably will not be new content coming out on a regular basis, as with an MMORPG. The auction houses let you see the best loot possible, and let you purchase it, as well, which takes a lot of the fun and mystery out of the game. Diablo 2 is perhaps the strongest game ever made, as it has been played rabidly for over a decade. I have a hard time seeing people muster that kind of enthusiasm for Diablo 3 six months down the road, let alone ten years. I'm already finding mine dwindling to nothing.

Diablo 2 - Still Going After Seven Years

I've been hitting Diablo 2 again, some seven years after its initial release. There's something to be said for a game that can claim that. Quite a bit, in fact. Even more impressive, however, is that fact that there are still tens of thousands of people playing on Battle.net. I don't know that Dawn of War ever had as many people playing online as Diablo 2 has right now. It's kind of frightening, really.

I've played quite a few D2 clones, and the one thing D2 gets right that they all get wrong is the skill tree. Take, for example, the paladin class. In the combat skills tree (one of three skill trees), there are ten separate skills, each of which is essentially a build unto itself - and almost all remarkably different, with a distinct set of pros and cons. And the paladin class is actually pretty limited in that regard; the majority of the sorceress's thirty skills in three separates trees could be the basis of a build. That's a big part of what makes the game fun. Plotting out a build and playing through those fast first thirty levels it takes to see the build start to come together.

The other half of the fun is the loot generator, a feat of design yet to be matched - even in part - by any other game, including Blizzard's own World of Warcraft. There are so many possibilities for any given item that it's rather staggering. There are plenty of times when weapon A is not really better than weapon B, it's just different. Like the skill tree, there are so many interesting possibilities that it becomes a game unto itself.

Given that the Diablo series is one of the best selling PC games ever, I suspect that most people have played it by now, but if you haven't, shit are you ever missing out. Any game that can hold the kind of fanbase Diablo 2 has even seven years after its release is pretty fucking awesome.

Recent additions

Ni no Kuni - Worst. Demo. Ever.

Tales of Graces - Why Must JRPGs Have Such Dumb Writing?

Xenoblade Chronicles - Why Must JRPGs Have Such Dumb Writing?

The Mistake That is Inferno and the Auction House

Diablo 3 - Improvements, Changes, and Problems

Glen Cook - Chronicles of the Black Company

Dark Souls

Death Cab For Cutie - Codes and Keys

Okkervil River - I Am Very Far

Explosions in the Sky - Live 4/11/11