Sunday 21 May 2023

Fail worse again

I’ve somehow managed to go through a life of PC gaming without playing two of its biggest franchises – Diablo or The Sims – until recently. Both popped up on the radar, Diablo IV holding a “Server Slam” test event and the Epic Games Store giving away some packs of stuff for The Sims 4 (the main game having gone free to play a while back), so I figured I’d give them a look.

In the ongoing War of Adages (where Too Many Cooks are locked in an eternal struggle with Many Hands over how much effort is required for a quality broth) the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is beset on all sides by proverbs extolling the virtues of perseverance. Though I’d never played a Diablo game, missing out on the first couple as I preferred my RPGs a bit more Baldur’s Gate-y at the time, I’ve dabbled with a few similar releases like Titan Quest and Torchlight over the years. None of them seriously hooked me, being fun enough to start with but clicky-clicky combat never entirely… clicked. Rather ironic. At a loose end when Blizzard were asking for their Diablo IV servers to be slammed (matron) I thought I’d try again and see if there might be a different result.

The infrastructure stood up well, I don’t know how much of a slamming was anticipated or transpired but I never experienced queues, disconnections or other technical issues. Character design is top notch, I spent a good while picking facial features and tattoos. The world is impressively realised, it looks spectacular if not exactly inviting; cutscenes introduce the antagonist with an (un)healthy dollop of body horror and the starting area confirms Sanctuary as unlikely to appear in glossy travel supplements as a ‘must visit’ destination, unless you’re particularly keen on freezing to death while being swarmed by hordes of the undead.

Gameplay-wise it doesn’t deviate too far from the tried and tested formula, plenty of clicking with some extra skills on keys. Sometime back in the early middle ages (2012) I wrote about The Secret World with its seven active and seven passive abilities, a welcome change from having 40+ skills and consumables obscuring half the screen in layer upon layer of hotbars, but perhaps just a touch restrictive if you had a few abilities on long cooldowns. Diablo IV is similar with two skills on mouse buttons and another four on keys; plenty to tinker with in a few hours of beta testing but there’s a risk of things calcifying as you find a build that works, either through experimentation or standing on the forum posts of giants with a mass of theory behind them. Combat was generally fine, especially mowing through hordes of minions with a collection of traps and AoE attacks. Boss fights got a little frenetic in a Benny Hill/”hit ‘im with a bucket!” kind of way, especially with a lot on screen increasing the likelihood of clicking resulting in an attack rather than movement or vice versa (perhaps I should have tinkered with the option to separate attacking and movement).

Overall I find myself with something of a dilemma. I could’ve happily kept going after the test finished – mechanics were still new and interesting, there were the other classes to try, plentiful piles of loot, a story to unwrap – but if previous ARPGs are any guide that honeymoon period didn’t last long, and Diablo IV has a pretty hefty price tag if it does end up gathering virtual dust.

The Sims hasn’t posed quite such a dilemma, I lasted about eleven minutes. Not a terribly fair crack of the whip but then it had never really seemed my thing, and there wasn’t anything in the brief time I spent to convince me otherwise. I never did well in open sandboxes, after all.

Faced with such a monumental decision, let’s see if there’s a deep and meaningful quote that might help. Here we go: “If at first you don’t succeed at getting into ARPGs, try, try, again, but not right at launch, give it a bit until it’s on sale. It might even go free to play, though that wouldn’t be a good sign for the long term monetisation model.”

Well that settles it. Thanks, Oscar Wilde.