Revisit: Diablo III

For the people who believe truly and deeply in getting their money’s worth, then Diablo III is the game for them. It never ends, and apparently, unlike hell (which purportedly has only nine levels), there’s always one more (difficulty) level to complete: in this case, Torment X. And yet, returning to Diablo III nearly eighteen months after reviewing it for Slant, the non-addict looking in at all the devout fanatics, I can only wonder (as Peggy Lee once did): is that all there is?

I mean, let’s face it: the game is basically a glorified button-clicker, with lulls between frenzied clicking for better optimization. But the basic hook, especially after you’ve cleared the story and entered the full-on Adventure Mode, is nothing more than gaining incrementally better gear so that you can gain incrementally better gear. It’s more repetitious than Destiny: The Taken King, which at least has the benefit of requiring precise aim and cooperative teamwork to make it through its end-game content, to say nothing of all those cryptic secrets to uncover. Diablo III has cool tilesets, but they’re randomly generated, which means that the special events and dungeons lack a real sense of presence. There’s no strategy here, even to the biggest bosses–you just whack away at hordes of monsters, trusting in your skills and items to do all the work for you. (Sure, there are some few achievements to be gained for dispatching enemies in specific ways, but that’s still largely a matter of customization.)

Two days of playing Diablo III and I’m already tired of it. After grinding through Act I with a newly minted character for Season 5 (a clever way of getting people to start fresh, this time with an eye toward optimizing how quickly they can clear the game), I turned to power-leveling, which is actually kind of fun, as it removes all that pesky clicking and instead forces you to play the game almost like a bullet-hell shooter, using evasive skills to dodge every enemy and projectile, given that they’ll all kill you in a single shot. The downside, of course, is that once you’ve hit Level 70, you’ve maxed out all of your skills, and there are optimal builds for each character, especially if you’re trying to grind through for additional gear. (Tanks and healers aren’t desired here.) You can keep leveling for “paragon points,” but I don’t know that they denote “excellence” so much as “excess time” to spend clicking through a game. As a mindless task that I could accomplish while watching, say, The Blacklist, this wasn’t exactly unenjoyable, but as my finger began to ache and I realized I’d been using the same strategy for roughly six hours, unable to remember a single memorable encounter, enemy, or location, I recoiled in horror.

This, perhaps, was closer to hell than gaming for me. All the gems I’d acquired were simply there to be fused into more complex gems, like nesting dolls in reverse. I hardly even had to earn gear after a certain part, either: I could just use existing materials to craft them, and then add slots, reroll properties ad infinitum, and then just transmogrify the weapon to look like something else. After all the trials and tribulations, was the real game hiding behind Diablo III‘s very pretty curtain just an item simulator? I almost wished that this was some sort of F2P resource-management game on mobile, where I could send out minions to acquire the gems that I’d need to fuse together to make the more advanced jewels–I didn’t really see the point in ever clicking a single thing again. I didn’t want to have to run rift dungeons by the dozen to properly infuse the most complex of my precious stones, I didn’t want to play that game of margins. After all, the click-to-damage ratio was always going to be just out of reach unless I dropped back down to the unchallenging tedium of Normal, in which *I* could one-hit everything. How like a god, I thought, giddily. And then: how like a god, I thought, depressed.

Let’s be clear: I’m glad that Diablo III exists. On its most basic level, it’s engaging. I only wish that engagement didn’t give way to shallowness in the need to cater to the Neverending Gamers. After all, the thing most transparent to me, coming back to the game with fresh eyes, is that there isn’t really anything new–it’s just the same old content dressed up in new ways. (To be really critical, there’s a reason some people still play Diablo II.) I wish that there were more variety, instead of endlessly identical checklists, or that there were some deeper meaning and achievement behind all the time-filling grinding. But not all games are for everyone, especially this far down the rabbit hole, and while I’ll bid adieu, I wish only the best to those sticking with it. I’ll try to recommend some good games to them, should they ever come up for air.

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