4 days remain until Diablo 3 is launched, my friends! If you haven't already, pre-order the game on Battle.net and play the moment the servers go live on May 15th!
Diablo 3, for me, is one of (if not THE) biggest gaming release of this year. On May 15th, I'll be curled up here with some snackfood, energy drinks, my TwitchTV channel, and whoever would like to join me, as we start exploring what's truly going down in the war between the High Heavens and Burning Hells in Sanctuary. It's a very rare treat anymore to see such a long wait between sequels, and with a franchise as landmark and fondly talked about as Diablo, it's a treat I'm glad to share with all of you.
For such a major release, I thought it'd be fun to do a little countdown 'retrospective' feature, mainly concerning my past with Blizzard games, why I'm really so excited for the release of Diablo 3, and even a retrospective of events in the lore of Diablo. Come, traveler, and let me tell you a tale of how I fell in love with Blizzard!
I remember the very first Blizzard game I ever bought, and even where I bought it. It was 1999, and my father was on leave for New Years, meaning that he wasn't stationed overseas or on duty for the Navy, as it were, and we would always make a monthly trip to Sam's Club to stock up on bulk items like meat, non-perishable food items, and various other odds-and-ends. I always loved Sam's Club, though, because of their extensive electronics section (which is now a sad shadow of its former glory). I remember walking through the PC Games aisle, eyeballing the newest releases (which at the time were things like Heavy Gear 2, Freespace 2, Homeworld, System Shock 2, Planescape: Torment, Everquest, Mechwarrior 3....good lord, 1999 was a ridiculous year), when one of the product stockers noticed my eyes glazing over.
'Into PC gaming, man?' he asked.
I was 13 at the time, and was pretty initimidated by random social interaction, so I replied pretty sharply 'Yeah. I just don't know what to buy!'
'Oh man, I'm playing Warcraft 2 right now, it's pretty awesome, you're these orcs called the Horde and you fight the Alliance, and..' he continued to talk about flying airships, war cries, and chopping enough wood to build bases. Being an Age of Empires fan, this caught my attention. I was sold. Being 13 years old that year, and the Warcraft 2: Battle.net Edition being rated T, I was off to the races, my parents scornful of their son buying a "war game with green guys on the box".
I was hooked. The feeling of control I had while fighting the dreaded Horde army was empowering, and used my slow-but-true PC gaming reflexes to their fullest potential. I was also in trouble quite a bit for being on the computer for too long, a trait I would find in other Blizzard titles, as well. From the music, the lore, the gameplay, it was settled: I was in love. I continued to play Warcraft 2 off-and-on in a LAN setting with some of my good friends from Middle School, until I moved to a new town for high school in the start of 2000. Once I arrived to my new home in rural Oklahoma, I was a bit of an outcast, but not in the bad way: There weren't very many PC gamers in the town, and not for any fault of their own, but they were brought up in a different walk of life: consoles.
There was a huge amount of hype surrounding the release of the Playstation 2, so any 'gaming-centric talk' that was had, was probably about Sony's upcoming juggernaut. While it was great that my peers were so passionate about gaming, it was just a bit upsetting that I couldn't relate to them that PC gaming had the same excitement. That is, until a senior and his little brother came up to me after school.
'Heard about Diablo 2?', they asked.
I'd seen screenshots and read the normal PC Gamer/Computer Gaming World coverage of it, so I could pass off like I knew a bit in standard conversation with my friends. Little did I know that Diablo 2 would become a defining game of my teenage years, and the game I hold most highly responsible for my interest in this industry in a deeper context. It's always been hilariously dramatic to call a piece of entertainment 'life changing', but in this case, it may have been truer than I thought.
Let's get one thing out on the table: I played Diablo 2 for such a long amount of time during my summer break of 2000, I became physically ill. Now, I'm not sure whether I say this with a little bit of pride (I do), or alot of shame (I do), but no other game, before or since, has taken ahold of me the same way Diablo 2 did.
Albert Einstein has this saying of 'If you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough", and while I agree to a certain extent, there's something to be said for context. I tried to think if any game I would've played that summer would have had the same effect as Diablo, as if it were the planets being aligned, the change of scenery, the start of a 'new high school career', or what-have-you, but looking back on it, and playing Diablo 2 multiple times a year since 2000, I can safely say: Nope, it was Diablo 2's quality that made me an addict. It's just that fucking good. I played for so long, so much, I actually made it to the top 80 on the USEast Realm Hardcore Hell ladder.
What made the game so good, though? I loved Warcraft 2 because of the interaction, the attention to detail, and the lore. With Diablo 2, Blizzard seemed to have taken those aspects, blended them up, and sprinkled a little bit of 'instant gratification' in the mix. No matter what you did in Diablo 2, you were progressing, whether it be leveling up, gearing up, or learning your way around the always-random terrain laid out before you. Sure, the game got a bad wrap for 'click-click-click' game mechanics, but the sense of action, cause and effect, and empowerment from killing random mobs, grabbing better loot, and killing better mobs was something that would prime Blizzard into ruling the world with World of Warcraft in 2004.
I still boot up Diablo 2 a few times a year, and even though other titles have come and gone (Titan Quest, Torchlight), nothing recaptures the magic of Diablo 2. I've played Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft, the various expansions, Starcraft 2, and am eagerly awaiting Mists of Panderia, Heart of the Swarm, and of course, Diablo 3. That being said, though, I don't think there will ever be anything that captures the same magic as that summer of 2000, my eyes bloodshot from the PC screen, my fingers exhausted for the hours of continuous clicking, my body running purely on adrenaline, caffeine, and simple sugars. I'm at a different place in my life now: I have a family, a job, a fantastic website with a great community, meals that consist of primarily non-glucose related ingredients, and a full load of other responsibilities on my plate. My gaming tastes have stayed relatively similar, but I'm able to look at releases with a more critical eye, and dissect things I like and don't like with more ease.
That being said, though, I secretly hope that Diablo never changes. Yes, the mechanics are different, skill points are gone, always-on B.net 2.0 is causing a ruckus, but at the end of the day, Diablo is making a return, the same Diablo that made 'click-click-click' a genre, the same Diablo that enveloped my high school years, and the same Diablo that's made me the gamer I am today. It's been nearly 9 years since the release of a new Diablo-centric title, and I'm finally feeling that feeling, the one that took over so many years ago.
I guess if I ever see that Sam's Club employee again, I should shake his hand. Something tells me, though, that I may find him on Battle.net, slaying demons with the best of us.
Join me tomorrow in our Countdown To Diablo 3, as I'll discuss Battle.net 2.0, why it's such a sour topic for some gamers, why I feel it's a crucial, needed development addition for Blizzard, and why I think it'll actually be a better game because of it.