You ever have that kind of relationship with someone where you can lose touch with them for months or even years at a time, yet whenever you get back together it’s like no time has elapsed whatsoever and you find yourself slipping happily and easily back into the same roles you each had back in high school? Well, that happened to me this weekend – I recaptured something I haven’t felt in nearly sixteen years: pure, unmitigated joy of clicking my mouse until a digital pinata exploded on my computer screen.
That’s right; I played the Diablo III open beta this weekend.
Before you start rolling your eyes, you have to understand: I was 18 years old when the first Diablo came out for PC. I played through the original game more times than I can count, and the first time I watched that grainy, low-resolution ending cinematic I didn’t know what the hell was going on because my sound card had died the night before (damn you, Ad Lib!). Not only that, but old my spit-and-bailing-wire 486 could barely run the game at all, which made all the demons and skeletons and other bad guys in the game sort of lumber at my character in slow motion instead of the full-tilt charge that they were supposed to, so the entire experience playing that game from start to finish was like the 13th labor of Hercules, but I still played the hell out of Diablo.
Not only that, but that game was legitimately the first multiplayer PC game I ever played (and time spent in the old AOL RP chat rooms doesn’t count) and certainly the first LAN game I ever played. My first LAN party ever involved two or three of my friends dragging their giant tan computer cases over to my parents’ place, where we set up an IPX/SPX network in the basement – using coaxial cables. Took us all night, but we figured it out. We also ran up my parents’ electric bill to ridiculous proportions.
Needless to say that me and the Lord of Terror go way back. I was thrilled when Diablo II came out, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into it in the same depth that I did with the first one; sure, it was flashier, the production value was higher, and the game was much wider in scope and depth than its predecessor, but the charm was gone for me, and I never felt that same drive to finish it like I did with the inaugural outing back in ’96.
Fast forward to 2012, and 34 year old me discovering that Diablo III, which goes on sale next month, was performing a stress test beta over the weekend and had opened its servers to all and sundry to try the game out. I decided to treat myself – it was my birthday weekend after all – and I downloaded the client, expecting to have a nice diversion for an hour or two.
Instead, it was like coming home.
The game recaptures everything that make the first one great, but at the same time updates the gameplay elements in order keep up with the evolution of gaming. It had all the stuff I remembered but just made things much less tedious. I was sad to see scrolls of Identify and Town Potal gone, as now magic items drop pre-identified and you simply gain the ability to open a portal back to town halfway through Act I, but at the same time, carrying around all those goddamn scrolls and constantly having to re-fill them at the vendor was a pain in the neck; I felt a brief stab of nostalgia upon breaking a library shelf in the beta, seeing a cascade of red and blue tagged scrolls come tumbling down to the ground, and discovering that they were just non-interactive set dressing, but I didn’t have to worry about wrangling my inventory space to make sure I had at least two little grid boxes open for scrolls.
Not only that, but the inventory system has been tweaked. While I kind of came to like the Tetris-style shenanigans that I had to pull with my inventory in order to get all my loot back to town – kind of like how a hostage slowly begins to identify with their captor – the fact that every item now either takes up just one block or two vertical blocks made me breathe a sigh of relief. I still found myself running out of room and having to play with my inventory, but it happened a lot less often, and when it did happen it wasn’t nearly as tedious as it used to be.
However, there was one real glaring problem that I ran into while playing the open beta – the game, which supports both single-player and multiplayer, will not let you play the single-player campaign unless you’re connected to the internet. You’ve got to be logged in to battle.net in order to play at all, no matter if you’re playing with your friends or just going it alone, and this rankled me – especially since, during the stress test, the servers would go down every 20 minutes or so as Blizzard messed with its settings to find the best balance. Now, I’m not being unrealistic here – I understood that it was a beta, and that there were going to be all sorts of problems like that – but what about once the game ships? You’re telling me I have to be online in order to play by myself? Battle.net notoriously goes down pretty damn often, as anyone who’s played World of Warcraft can tell you; you’re telling me that even if I pay my $60 and the multiplayer servers are down for maintenance, I can’t play the single player campaign while I wait out the downtime? How is that fair? What if my internet goes out because there’s a bad storm nearby pr if I wanted to load the game onto my laptop and go on vacation with it somewhere there isn’t any internet? I’m not allowed to play the single-player version of the game because of it? It seems patently unfair to me.
I can understand the rationale behind the decision – Blizzard wants to make sure nobody’s pirating their game, and implementing an always-on digital rights management check is the best way to institute this – but they’re penalizing those players who, like me, see no need to have to be tied to an online state when we want to play the game strictly offline.
Maybe I’m just showing my age here, but I remember a time when you didn’t have to be connected 24/7 to the internet. Yeah, it’s great to be able to check my email whenever I want, but my computer doesn’t shut down whenever Google Chrome can’t access my Facebook page. Instituting an always-on DRM requirement in order to play Diablo III offline is obnoxious and insulting, and smells more like a corporate decision made by the kind of blowhard bobbleheads that watch Fox News religiously and tell the 99 percent to “go get a job.”
Still, the CEOs of the world can’t take away the fun I had back in ’96, and I won’t let them take away the pleasantly nostalgic memories this weekend brought up in me, either. This always-on bullshit might stop me from buying a copy of Diablo III when it comes out, but to be honest what will probably stop me the most is the fact that my video card does not get along with it.
On that note, does anyone know if there are any known issues with a GeForce 9800 GTX+ running on Windows 7?