A Question of Difficulty

I have been watching the new HBO series, Westworld, with great interest. I am not a huge fan of the original book, but I like where the series seems to be headed so far. One of the ideas that they have flirted with in the show is the difficulty that people want with their gaming experiences. So far the show has not delved too deeply into it, but it is an interesting discussion, and worthy of our time.

How challenging should a piece of entertainment be?

This question applies to both gaming and writing. It is not a matter of quality in my mind; often a more accessible book or game is better polished and better made than one that is incredibly difficult or dense. Something too simple can lack any real depth.

The best answer that I can give is that it depends on the target audience of the work. An introductory or broad audience work is less difficult than one that is meant for experts.

What I see out there, however, especially in games and large publishing companies is very different from this view. The tendency not toward challenging the reader/player, but rather to create a work that appeals to as broad a base as possible. The idea behind this view is that a game or book that appeals to more people will sell more, just like any other product. This is largely born out over the short term, but questionable in building a long term audience for a property.

To illustrate my point I am going to talk about two games, Path of Exile and Diablo III. I have reviewed and discussed both at length on this blog, and I like using them because they both have similar pedigree in that they were made with the success of Diablo II in mind.

Diablo III is a commercial juggernaut. It might not be the top of Blizzard’s list, but it certainly rakes in a decent amount of money. It is far more accessible than Diablo II in many ways and is designed to appeal to newcomers and old players alike, but many veteran players found it too simplistic and repetitive and far, far too easy. Despite some glaring design flaws, I do like D3. It is not a difficult game at all, although Blizzard does offer some modes and endgame content that offer more challenge in an attempt to carve out as large a swath of players as possible.

Path of Exile is a more difficult game because it is aimed at a seasoned audience that is looking for a greater challenge. Death in POE is punishing at higher levels, even outside of hardcore modes. More interestingly, players are expected to make informed choices about how they advance their character: in POE it is possible to make characters that are sub-optimal and hard to fix them without substantial effort. The flip side to this is that a veteran can create very powerful characters and even search out unique/unusual builds.

In examining these two games it is obvious that Blizzard has come up with a winning sales strategy, but might have hurt the brand. I feel the same way about some elder scrolls games which lose nuance (I’m looking at you fallout 4 conversation system) as they are simplified for wider audiences. Path of Exile on the other hand has a smaller audience, but they are fanatically supportive of the game and the company that makes it.

Recently, difficulty has made something of a comeback, I think. As people have become more and more familiar with genre fiction and games their appetites have deepened. There will always be a need for introductory works with broad appeal, but those are likely to be dominated by companies with deep pockets. On the other hand a challenging work, if of sufficient quality, can help build loyal fans.

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Big News in Gaming: Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop Part Ways.

Rumours have been circulating in gaming circles for some time now. Games Workshop, the dominant company in miniatures gaming for decades. Lately GW has been a favourite subject of my ruminations, especially in regard to their treatment of The Old World, the most popular grimdark fantasy setting in gaming.

Fantasy Flight is a relative newcomer to the field. It was started in 1995 by Christian T. Peterson and rose steadily in prominence over the last decade or so, often through clever use of licensed IPs, including Warhammer and other GW properties. After a merger with Asmodée in 2014, Fantasy Flight has arrived at the pinnacle of the tabletop gaming industry.

Fantasy flight knocked Warhammer 40k, GWs most reliable miniatures line out of the top spot in the coveted US market in 2015.  This is kind of a big deal, especially after GW has dropped Warhammer Fantasy Battles in an effort to retool their fantasy lines to greater profit.Leveraging the Star Wars license is just the latest and most successful foray for FF Ginto the miniatures space. For years their boxed sets have been fantastic collections of figures while GW charges 40+$ for a single space marine captain.

It seemed inevitable that as FFG rose, its relationship with GW would change. GW has met with success in its re-opened specialist games division, boardgame-like products that it has abandoned for years, that compete with FFG. Then at Gencon 2016 Fantasy Flight announced Rune Wars, a tabletop miniatures that moves directly into the space vacated by GW’s defunct Warhammer Fantasy Battles. This signals that the parting of ways is less than amicable (Though not necessarily sour) and that the two former allies will now be competing directly for market share.

It is hard to speculate exactly what precipitated the parting of the ways, but it is very interesting news.

Here are some of my thoughts on this.

  • Fantasy Flight will ‘win’ this confrontation, at least in the short term. FFG has a good market strategy and holds the upper hand with the star wars license. The real winners will be gamers I think, because both companies will step up under increased competition. GW, in particular, is going to have to take a serious look at the price point of their miniatures — FFG offers much better cost per figure than they do (although Cool Mini or Not
  • The real downside to these two companies parting ways is that some very good games will just disappear. These include Chaos in the Old World by the amazing Eric Lang, one of my personal favourites as well as an extensive list of Board Games and RPGs.
  • Rune Wars is not an especially strong entry into the field (The IP is underdeveloped and pretty generic), but it comes at a time when few companies, none of them with clout comparable to FFG are in the space of making big class of armies miniatures games. Their timing is good here, people are excited, and if they capitalize on early successes and release new content intelligently they will still dominate for a while.
    • FFG is hit and miss on innovative mechanics. They love custom dice, cards, dials, and movement templates and Rune Wars has them all. Sometimes these work such as the Star Wars games or the Star Wars RPG, and sometimes they fall flat. I’m leaning toward functional.
  • Talisman is returning to GW. I preferred the old characters to the new, generic take on the game so I am looking forward to a new release.

That’s all I have to say on the matter now, but it is very interesting.

RPG Building: Runepunk #2

A few weeks back I decided to work on a new homebrew RPG to replace my Shadowrun game. The first post set forth my goals.

In this post I want to focus on attributes. I want attributes to be the basis for character creation and advancement.

  • Attributes are the most descriptive terminology for a character. While we tend to concentrate of vocation in the modern day, if someone stands out as strong, smart, or agile that is the first thing that we think of them. Meanwhile if someone is exceptionally skilled at something, it does not always leap to mind when we thing of that person.
  • For a relatively simple system it is easier to center the mechanics of play around a handful of attributes rather than a comprehensive skill list.

I have been toying with the idea of a triumvirate of active attributes based around how the player approaches a problem.

  1. POWER: The attribute for direct action. Power represents strength, will, and presence. Emphasizes brute effect.
  2. FINESSE: The attribute for subtle, circular action action. Finesse represents agility, unconventional intellect, and charm. Emphasizes critical.
  3. CUNNING: The attribute for trickery. Cunning that represents deception, cheating, exploitation, and manipulation. Emphasizes side effects.

With these active attribute the player can choose how to approach a specific problem. Let us take a melee attack as an example. A character can use POWER to batter their way through an opponent’s defences with brute strength and unrelenting aggression, FINESSE to make a swift, graceful attack that slips through the targets defences, or CUNNING to trick the opponent into reacting with a feint and then hitting them.

So what’s the point? If the player can choose what attribute to choose in any situation, what is to stop them from going top-heavy into a single stat and focusing on that? The idea is that different stats are opposed by different defences/difficulties which allows a versatile player to tune their actions. My goal here is to give players tool to approach problems in the game from different angles, rewarding versatile characters without punishing specialists.

More on this later.

 

 

Game Review: X-Com 2, sequels, rebellions, the rule of cool, & verisimilitude (guest starring: BACON)

This week I actually found time to finish X-COM 2! I will scribble some thoughts here, which will serve as my review.

XCOM 2 header

But first. This week I came to a realization. Bacon is becoming ubiquitous. I see it as a donut garnish, marmalade, as burgers flavoured with three types of bacon with a bacon-maple sauce. As I stood in the supermarket staring at bacon flavoured breath-mints, I realized that this saturation level has made it less of a treat, less special, and somehow offensive. I still love bacon, but enough is enough.

X-COM 2 is the second installment of the modern reboot. It was released on Feb 4 and has already sold 750,000 copies on Steam alone. It departs from the familiar tropes of the older games and the first game of the reboot in that instead of encountering, then fighting an alien invasion, the aliens have already won and the player is leading the resistance. They do a decent job of connecting the story and update the game-play with some interesting elements. Overall I enjoyed the game, but I found that it did not correct all of the flaws of the previous version, nor do I think that all of the changes will appeal to fans of the first reboot. With that in mind I will start with the cons.

Cons: What I did not like, or thought needed improving.

  • The Scamper System (major): The scamper system where when an enemy or group of enemies sees the player and gets a free action to seek cover is back from X-COM: Enemy Unknown. This is, by far, the weakest mechanic in the new series: it leads to a style of play where the best tactic is always to advance slowly so as to only activate one enemy pod at a time, kill it, rinse and repeat. Enemies in the first few versions of X-COM seemed to activate in a more organic fashion, open to a variety of tactics. In X-COM 2 they patch the holes in the scamper system by adding timers to many missions, forcing the player to move at a faster pace (this is mostly illusory, I rarely ever triggered more than one pod, save through my own stupidity) and reinforcements which drop enemies in the midst of the players with a turn of warning. They also allows players to scout with a concealment/stealth mechanic. While these patches do make the scamper system more interesting, it is still polishing a turd. I feel that the game would be better served by removing it entirely because the right thing to do is always to move forward as cautiously as you can, given mission parameters.
    • I contend that the scamper system could be used for rooms in a dungeon game, but for triggering larger encounters instead of single pods.
  • The Resistance & Verisimilitude (minor): In X-COM 2 the players are guerrilla fighters waging a shadow war against a victorious enemy, at least on paper. In reality the game does not really play like that, save for a few conceits and mission types. There is very little defense, stealth, and scavenging and far too much insurgency and attack. In the end the way the game plays is very much at odds with the idea of a beleaguered resistance. Weapons and armour are a good example, with the player able to research and manufacture their own superior weapons over time. The idea guerrilla force with the ability to manufacture experimental high tech weapons… just breaks verisimilitude. I would have preferred a more low tech response like customizing old tech and salvaging higher tech weapons directly from fallen aliens. Examples like this are why it does not feel like a resistance and steps on verisimilitude.
    • Guerrilla factions spend a lot of time fighting for hearts and minds. This is obvious from modern warfare as well as successful guerrilla insurgencies in the past. This is not well represented in the game. People just kind of rise up at the appropriate moment. It was a waste of the advent speaker character, as well — why make the guy if I can’t counter his propaganda.
    • Guerrilla resistances spread slowly from specific locations, relying on local relationships. The resistance in X-COM 2 is nomadic and wants to spread as quickly as possible for income and bonuses.
    • Smallest insurgency ever.
  • Small Squads (Minor): I may be in the minority here, but with 5 basic classes with 2 specialties each and many different enemy types I felt that squads of 4-6 were just too damn small. I would prefer to see bigger player squads and bigger enemy pods, just to make use of more of the options available.

Pros: What I loved

  • Variety of enemies (Major): The variety of enemies in X-COM 2 is perfect. Enemies are divided into two types: Advent forces which are the augmented humans and robots who are the face of the alien invasion trying to pass as the future of humanity and the aliens themselves. The advent forces are the baseline grunts and elites specialists who stay similar throughout the game and lend the enemy a kind of uniform feel. Their look and their totalitarian feel lend the game a gravitas far beyond what I was expecting. The aliens themselves are all unique, special snowflakes with powers and abilities that make fighting each one different. Together these two forces give the game both a shifting variety of enemies without losing the sense that you are fighting a single, monumental force. Even the look and feel of each enemy type was above my expectations. Loved the enemies in this game.
  • Turn Based Combat (Major): I love turn based combat. The Combat is X-COM 2 is fundamentally sound, with all of the basics from the first and a few nice improvements like concealment and better sets of character abilities. As long as you do not mind RNG and cover and flank firefights you should enjoy it. That said, the tactical depth is stunted a fair bit by the scamper system.
  • Better Research Trees (Major): setting aside the idea that an insurgency has a better research and manufacturing arm than the people they are fighting, the research trees are the best I have ever seen. Scientists and engineers are greatly desire and the end-game tech opens up a large number of tactical possibilities (some of which are arguably overwhelming powerful like mimic beacons and mines, but that’s what higher difficulties are for). It was nice to see some serious variety in armour types and equipment load-outs in the end-game, even if some options are very much superior on paper and small squads limited experimenting.
  • Hacking and Drones (Minor): The hacking system is interesting and I am pleased to see a nod to futuristic tactics with drones being used for healing, buffing, ranged hacking, and even some nasty attacks.
  • Character Variety (Minor): Crazy amount of customization options for your characters. I also enjoyed the ability of each character to learn a single random ability from another class tree as they advanced. These two things combined to give my squad lots of personality, although I tended toward uniforms.
  • Story (Trivial): Although verisimilitude does take some hits in that the campaign does not feel like a resistance insurgency, the story for X-COM 2 is better than any of the previous iterations. I enjoyed the characters despite the occasional repetitiveness of the dialogue.

Bonus Commentary: The Rule of Cool versus Verisimilitude & Unique Identity

Remember when I mentioned Bacon at the beginning of this wall of text? This is why.

Gunslingers and Ninjas with big swords are cool. I am not sure, however, that adding them to the X-COM universe is a great idea. The idea of the rule of cool is that people are more willing to accept offences against verisimilitude if they are really fun or just plain awesome. Think of it like bacon. If people put bits of chicken on your maple donut it would leave you wondering, but if they put bacon on it you will accept that because bacon is awesome (obviously not everyone loves bacon, but you get the idea). So when X-COM 2 gives their rangers kick ass fusion swords and their snipers awesome plasma revolvers that make them (deadly) space gunslingers it is definitely cool, even if the idea of bringing a sword to a gun fight is kind of stupid when you analyze it (a fusion bayonet/knife would be better).

But while I thought it was cool initially, I felt that something was lost in the way that X-COM 2 gave in to the rule of cool. Honestly if you put ninjas and gunslingers (and vikings, and zombies, and jedi etc) in every game they not only cease to be special, but they have a real chance of overpowering the already established aesthetic elements that made your world-building unique and interesting. X-COM was always had kind of a 80s military movie meets 90s x-files feel to it and this got lost when sword-wielding ninja rangers and I-can-fire-faster-than-an-automatic-weapon gunslingers get thrown into the mix. They may be cool, but for me they detract from the already established feel of X-COM.

Simply put: sometimes subtle, original flavours are better off without your favourite garnish. Would you ruin a perfectly good french vanilla ice cream by loading it with bacon? It might be tasty, but the bacon overpowers the vanilla. Really at that point, maybe you should just admit that you just want to eat more bacon and go cook yourself some goddamned bacon instead of inventing new ways of injecting it into everything.

In all seriousness, I do think that including all of the cool stuff in every game has started to make many games feel very samey and detracts from the unique charms of many properties. (And this from a guy who writes about magical superhero gladiators wielding rune weapons and fighting every monster under the sun.)

Ruminations on Intellectual Property: The Great Warhammer Diaspora

Today, I was struck by the realization that the two computer games in my current play rotation and one of the two that are on my release radar so far this year are all based on Games Workshop’s Warhammer fantasy universe.

The first of these is Mordheim, City of the Damned, a turn based strategy game based on the old Mordheim boardgame from what I see as the golden age of GW creativity. The computer game tried to remain as faithful as possible to the rules and spirit of the original while making concessions to modern play styles. It is a decent game, with a fun advancement system, but I wish they had dropped some features of the original altogether in favour of a tighter game. Still, I enjoy it quite a bit and hope it does well so that the studio can branch out on its next effort.

The second of the Warhammer Games I am currently playing is Vermintide. This one is not based at all on a Games Workshop product, but rather lifts the world-building and setting popularized by Warhammer Fantasy and marries it to Left 4 Dead style gameplay. Instead of a modern land overrun by Zombies, you have an ancient city overrun by Skaven. It is one of the few multiplayer games that I am actually willing to tolerate, and makes great use of the IP.

The final game, the one that I am considering pre-ordering (I know, shame on me) is Total War: Warhammer. I love the Total War series, but the modern age has not been kind to it. Rome II was a botched mess that bored me to tears and tried to sell me DLC instead of fixing bugs, and Total War: Attila was not enough to regain lost glory, especially with more DLC shenanigans. While there is a controversy over the Chaos faction pre-order bonus in Total War: Warhammer, the game looks good and the combination of two old franchises could lead to a real revitalization here. I am willing to bet that this one could be a beautiful match.

The other game I am looking forward to in 2016 is the new X-Com, but that has little to do with this topic.

After my little revelation, I realized that the fact that I am knee deep in Warhammer based computer games is not an accident. There are a lot of them on steam and may of them are new. It used to be that Games Workshop was very selective in allowing the use of its beloved intellectual property and consequently we were starved for Warhammer based computer games in my youth. Now, it seems the floodgates are open and I am drowning in options.

Why?

The simple answer seems to be that Games Workshop is a recognizable and valued IP that has been built up over 25+ years and can reach a broad audience, but that the core game is doing poorly. Warhammer has faced strong competition in the US from Warmachine/Hordes over the last decade and from other games in other places. Then as profits began to sag, they blinked. They ran an enormous campaign to hype the players up and they destroyed the Old World, their setting for eight editions in a climactic battle. The thought was that they would reboot with a new setting in the same world a few decade or centuries afterward… instead, GW replaced Warhammer Fantasy Battles with Age of Sigmar.

Age of Sigmar barely resembles the old Warhammer game. It is fair to say that quite a few of those who loved the old games hated the new version, or just found it unrecognizable. Of course, others loved it, but the problem remains that all of that juicy old IP is wasted… or not.

It seems that since Age of Sigmar is the main focus right now, Games Workshop has been allowing much more freedom in farming out that old IP. No doubt they see it as a way to shore up their finances. While GW might not be interested in the Old World, other companies see real value in the IP that they spurn, and thus tons of new players can experience a rich, meaty setting built up through years of lore (including quite a few novels) and play in these new games. The Old World has escaped its masters, for now, and it will be very interesting to see where this great IP diaspora leads…

 

 

Teaser Tuesday: Leagues in The Domains of the Chosen

This week’s teaser is from Bloodlust: Will to Power. As usual, it will be up for free this Friday on Amazon.

bloodlust_wtp_cover2

The Cover for Bloodlust: Will to Power

As a Canadian I have always been fascinated by the idea of sport’s leagues. I first became aware of this when my grandfather was discussing the differences between the rules of the CFL and the NFL. Now, I don’t follow sports directly, but the passionate discussion of minutiae and how a simple rules change can impact a game falls directly into my love of anything game related. It stuck with me, and when time came to write the Domains series, I remembered those discussions.

There are numerous Leagues in the Arenas of the Krassian Empire. The Faction Leagues, the games put on by popular political parties, are the most widespread and influential. But there are others…

“I see,” he said. “You’re both Gladiators, ranked six… Faction Champions, albeit from a small town in the south… Decent records… Still in good standing with the Reds. I see no problems here, honoured Gladiators. Do you wish to join the Free Leagues?”

“We do,” Gavin answered, cutting off any chance for Ravius to exercise his wit. They had, after all, stood outside in the rain and mud for several hours for this very reason, but the clerk still needed their official acquiescence.

“Agreed,” said Ravius.

They both touched their thumbs to the clerk’s link device to finalize their agreement.

“Very well,” said the clerk after a few more minutes of fiddling with his link. “The trials are tomorrow. It will count as a regular match for your career ranking purposes. We will be taking the best two fighters from each trial, win or lose. I have entered you both in the trials appropriate to your training class. Please feel free to browse through the trial rules on your way out.”

Ravius smiled brightly at the clerk, but his expression quickly darkened after they stepped outside.

“Champions of a small town?” he grumbled. “That’s more than he’ll ever be. I’ve been poisoned, cut, set on fire, stabbed, and stepped on by a giant. I’m damn proud of what we have accomplished!”

“You can get your revenge by winning, my friend,” said Gavin.

<>

Here is a rundown on the leagues:

  • The Faction Leagues: in the Faction Leagues, each Gladiator fights for a particular faction in various challenges. Gladiators earn points for their faction in each challenge, which are tallied at the end of the season to see which Faction ‘wins’ a particular arena. The Faction Challenge system is so complex and strategic that it requires an additional layer of management, but this only seems to endear it to modern fans. Factions are essentially political parties with massive sports franchises and are based on the old Chariot Racing and Gladiatorial factions (which also used colours, as in red faction, whote faction etc) from our own history. The Faction Leagues have their own feeder leagues and are the primary goal for any Gladiator who wants to make a name for themselves.
  • Independent Arenas: Independent Arena Masters are not required to host any League.
  • The Free Leagues: The Free Leagues were created as a no-nonsense League free of any of the restrictions and complications. Any Gladiator can join the Free Leagues, as long as they can pass a trial. Free Leagues Gladiators choose their own matches and can fight for a faction if they desire.
  • The Death Leagues: In the Death leagues every match is a Deathmatch. The Death Leagues hearken back to when the games were pure, or so they would have you believe. Gladiators who survive here gain influential backing which can get them into the Grand Championships.
  • The Skyclad League/The Skin Leagues: In the Skyclad Leagues the Gladiators are required to wear more revealing armour. Even the Heaviest armoured Gladiators must bared their face, chest, genitals, and buttocks in this Leagues. This new League is popular, for obvious reasons, but most fighters and ‘true fans’ look down upon as mere titillation. The monsters often have a sexual theme as well and more than a few detractors call this league by darker names.
  • The Master’s League: The Masters Leagues is reserved for Gladiators of Master Rank. In practice only former grand champions and popular masters really get to fight in it.
  • The Heretic’s League: This League is reserved for Heretics seeking to redeem themselves and gain citizenship.

The Two Diablos: D&D, Game Mechanics, and Design Philosophy PART FOUR

The first two articles in this series dealt with the differences between Diablo II and Diablo III, two of my favourite computer Action RPGs. The third post discussed how the systems clash between the Damage and Primary Attribute systems and the Itemization system and how Blizzard had to work hard to fix the gameplay contract, namely a game based exciting loot drops that provide the primary means of customization.

In this post I talk about another gameplay contract: namely that of the sequel. D3 is the sequel to D2 in the franchise, but many players point to other games as spiritual successors, and some even feel that the story line in D3 does not mesh at all with D2. But that is jumping ahead of myself. There is an even more basic question that must be answered here:

How much does a sequel owe to the original?

I will admit that I was pissed off that D2 did not have the same classes as the first iteration of the game. My initial complaints, however, were drowned in a Tsunami of awesome new features, combined with reverence for the original game that I knew and loved. D2 was more or less everything I loved about D1, but with better systems and a sweet skill tree to boot. Once I understood the new classes, I saw why they did away with the old. It was pure evolution.

Many people feel that a sequel to a beloved game should stick to improvements on existing systems and save the real innovation for new things (like the skill trees, set items, and sockets added in D2) and not rock the boat too much.

Others are obsessed with originality, and feel that every iteration of a game, even a sequel should strive to be new and different. These critics fear the stagnation that comes with sticking to a tried and true formula.

Both sides have a point, of course. If a sequel strays too far from the original it risks offending fans, on the other hand stagnation seems to be the order of the day with AAA games like Call of Duty and Assassins Creed turning out very, very similar games at a yearly rate.

In the end, a sequel should strive to stay true to the original but it must also try to make improvements in the series.

Is Diablo III a true sequel to Diablo II and why do I keep referencing D&D?

While I love D3, it is not a true sequel to D2, and I feel it breaks the gameplay contract by straying too far afield. D3 changed too many core systems and has an entirely different feel to character creation, leveling, story, and even the role that items play. While it doesn’t bother me, I can see why it upset a large number of people who loved the older games.

I am a huge fan of Dungeons and Dragons. I don’t play the game much anymore, I prefer homebrew systems, although I still own books from every edition. Nonetheless, D&D opened up the world of role-playing games for me, and kindled my interest in fantasy, so I love the game. (For the record, I think 5th ed D&D is a great edition for new players and nostalgia driven fans, but that is a different tale.)

Most of the editions of D&D follow a very similar evolutionary pattern, with relatively changes with each new version of the system. Obviously some players preferred the older editions, but as a whole each one felt like a natural progression from the last; even if you did not like where that progression went, you could still see where it came from.

Not so with 4th edition D&D. 4th was a major departure, leaving behind tried and true systems in favour of radical new ideas like encounter and daily powers, healing surges, and so on. Gone were the days when the fighter was defined by being the guy with the high attack value and multiple swings. Interestingly 4th ed also introduced the idea of each class having a primary attribute that mattered more than anything else on all their powers.

Sound familiar? There is no direct connection between D3 and D&D 4th but the design philosophy is very similar. Let me break it down:

  1. Fear of sub-optimal character builds: Both D&D 4th and D3 are afraid that a player might gimp their character by building it wrong. This is where the primary attribute and damage mechanics prevalent in these games come from: they are meant to prevent a player from playing a barbarian who puts all his points in charisma and is not as effective as a strength based barbarian.
  2. A desire for “smooth” gameplay experience and power curves: the statistical analysis that goes into both game is pretty impressive — it has to be because bucking the curve in either one results in a character that is either too weak or game-breakingly powerful. In D3 this is handled by allowing the player to shift difficulties, while in D&D 4th it is up to the DM to be aware of it. Because these systems are so tightly wound around having a certain character efficiency at a certain level they require special systems to cope with outliers. A good example is in D&D 4th where campaigns without magic items must compensate characters with special bonuses to hit and damage so that they can keep up with the expected curve. In D3 they replaced the old normal/nightmare/hell difficulty progression with player selected difficulty, which gives an entirely different feel to the game. When I say replaced, I mean it: D3 originally had a normal/nightmare/hell progression system (with a new level, inferno tacked on… badly) but it scrapped this in favour of a player controlled system, partly to compensate for outliers. In D2 players who bucked the power curve could simply progress at their own pace, but this is a less effective control in a game where DPS is so rigidly defined.
  3. Rigidity of Design: This is the real kicker. Both D&D 4th and D3 are rigidly designed games. Their basic systems are not flexible at all. In creating a polished, balanced experience they have filed off some rough edges that actually had real design purpose in their predecessors. A good example of this is levels in D2 versus levels in D3. In D3 Levels mostly act as a control — unlocking new powers and determining what level of gear you can equip. In D2 Levels were a core framework, directly determining how powerful a character was by offering precious skill levels and attribute points. As a core system levels advanced beyond the difficult of most areas in the game, allowing even the most casual of players to eventually conquer a difficult area by leveling up. A corresponding example would be hit chances in D&D 4th. Prior to 4th the fighter classes enjoyed a much higher attack bonus than other classes, allowing them to reliably land melee attacks, even on higher level creatures. Mages and Rogues were compensated with other abilities such as massive damage spells or exceptional skills and positional attacks. In 4th everyone has very similar damage potentials, hit chances, skill levels, and the general utility of spells just disappears. Most of the flavour and a lot of the flexibility are ground off in order to satisfy design goals of smooth play, balance, and safe builds.

The Gameplay Contract of Sequels

Ultimately a player expects a sequel to be faithful to the original. IP aside, D3 is as guilty of being unfaithful to the original design as 4th edition is. Both games are good in their own right (yes, some people like 4th, get over it), but just play differently than their predecessors. The design philosophy is simply too different. Both D&D 4th edition and Diablo III were influenced by the reigning king of fantasy games at the time: World of Warcraft which needs the systems that they embrace (builds, smoothness, rigidity) to handle the needs of a very different player base.

D2 and D3 are both Isometric Action RPGs with cool randomized loot, but that basically describes the genre that Diablo built. Many games that have been created since are evolutions of D2 while if I took away the name and the visuals I doubt you would recognize D3’s pedigree. The game’s systems are radically different and thus it is easy to see why some people who truly love D2 just feel betrayed by the sequel, even though it is a really fun game. It just isn’t faithful to the original, is it?