Everyone has a Diablo story.
Mine is pretty straightforward. When Diablo II came out in June of 2000, I plopped down on a computer chair in the attic and camped up there for months, ganging up with Internet friends to defeat Mephisto over and over again in hopes that he'd drop something gold and that I could click fast enough to get it. I revisited the game again when Blizzard released the expansion pack. (That's what we used to call DLC. It didn't come on the disc.) I would play it again and again over the coming months and years in intervals of varying length and intensity. For a very long time, Diablo II took over my life. It had a certain charm. A certain... magic.
Next week, a whole new generation of gamers will write their own Diablo stories as Blizzard finally releases the third game in its action-RPG series. For a lot of longtime series fans, that's totally surreal. We thought this would happen ten years ago. And it leaves us asking a tough question.
Can Diablo III capture the magic of its predecessor?
Don't get me wrong: I have no doubt that Diablo III will be a wonderful experience. I'm sure it will be stuffed with addictive loot drops and entertaining plot twists. Diablo will be nasty and Cain will be wise and the skills will be crunchy and it will be genuine fun all around. I can't wait to play through it.
But there's a lot working against Diablo III's magic-inducing abilities. For one, I don't have the time I did 12 years ago. Maybe you can relate. Us cranky, ancient Diablo addicts who are now in our 20s and 30s just don't have the freedom to spend hours and hours gaming like we did when we were in school. We have wives and boyfriends and dogs and kids and mortgages and car payments to worry about. We might be able to get away with plugging in a few hours of Mass Effect a week or delving into some Persona 3 Portable on the bus home from work, but we can no longer commit to endless magic-find runs or Baal-crawling sessions. Not anymore.
(Just the thought of Diablo's hardcore mode—an optional setting that permanently wipes out your character if you die even once—is giving me involuntary finger spasms.)
It's not just old fans, here. Today's gaming landscape looks much different than it did 12 years ago. The industry is more cluttered than its ever been. Our attention spans are constantly being yanked in a hundred different directions, all as flashy as a Vegas nightshow. Assassin's Creed here. Zelda there. Words With Friends everywhere.
(Don't believe me? Just look at Diablo III's release date, May 15. Also out on May 15: Max Payne 3, Game of Thrones, Battleship, and PixelJunk 4AM. Too many options!)
Perhaps Diablo III's biggest obstacle is that today, our primal need to deck out characters in shiny loot is being met elsewhere. Star Wars: The Old Republic just came out. The Secret World, Guild Wars 2, and The Elder Scrolls Online are all en route. Games like the upcoming Torchlight II and Grim Dawn could be worthy competitors.
And of course there is the Big Kahuna, the MMORPG of all MMORPGs, the game forever synonymous with "addiction," World of Warcraft. Blizzard's biggest competitor in the ever-evolving war for your time and attention is a beast of its own creation. Ironically enough, World of Warcraft made its way to the top by stepping on Diablo II's shoulders, drawing inspiration from just about everything Blizzard's earlier game had brought to the table. The interface. The spells. The neatly color-coded equipment.
In many ways, World of Warcraft took Diablo II and made it into a better game. It combined Diablo's addictive hack-slash-dungeon-loot-repeat formula with a persistent, thriving, story-filled world and some truly excellent lore. The results were spectacular. (Some 10 million people now play the MMORPG.) But in the wake of World of Warcraft's success, is there still room for a game that is, at its core, nothing but dungeon crawling and loot hunting? Is there still room for yet another online action-RPG without a persistent, ever-evolving world? Is there still room for Diablo III?
Maybe Blizzard's next offering will inspire an old generation of Diablo fans to shake off our carpal tunnel and jump back into the loot-hunting carnage. Maybe we'll be asking "u giev soj?" and accusing our friends of maphacking just like old times. Maybe Diablo III will recapture the magic it created so many years ago. I just don't think it will, no matter how well it's crafted.
Hope I'm wrong.