So long time readers will remember that about four years back, I posted a diatribe entitled "Repeat after me: Games are supposed to be fun" that basically railed against the realization that a lot of the new games floating around weren't actually all that fun to play. Well today we are going to revisit that topic, freshly inspired by the time I've been spending with both Diablo 2: Resurrected and Minecraft: Dungeons.
Anybody who has been paying attention has realized by now that my taste in games has been in a transitional state for quite awhile now. When I originally stated my gaming career at the tender age of six on my beloved Apple II, I was clearly an adventure gamer as it was "Below the Root" that originally hooked me. Since then my tastes have varied widely. Adventure games practically died as a genre at some point so I naturally transitioned to RPG games, as they at least attempted to provide some sort of interesting story and character development from time to time. And while I still do play RPGs, especially on my PS5, my absolute dedication to the genre has started to wane a bit.
Why? Everybody needs a change of pace from time to time. That having been said, I still love interactive forms of story-telling, but I have decided that games don't always have to tell great and epic tales in order to be deserving of my time. There is more to a great gaming experience than a great story line.
This of course brings me to the last two weeks in which I purchased two aRPGs (Action RPGs). One was a remastered version of an absolute classic, Diablo 2: Resurrected. It's basically the same game as 20 years ago with a total visual overhaul. Every other aspect of the game has been left untouched. The second is a much newer game that came out in the last couple years for the Switch and recently made it's way to Steam and runs on Linux via Proton: Minecraft: Dungeons.
I started first with Diablo 2. Mind you I spent many many hours playing this game in the early 2000s when it was brand new and originally available. Back then I loved it. Or at least I thought I did. As my 20 hours of time with the game proved, not only did it not age well, but half the game experience requires you to do battle with the mechanics of the game itself. For example, inventory management in the game is a total nightmare. So many aRPGs since then, even those directly modeled on the example set by Diablo 2, have gone to great lengths to overcome the stupidity of it's inventory system. But being that Diablo 2 is a fresh coat of paint on the same exact game from 20 years, it has made no effort here. So in effect you end up spending half your time with the game rearranging items in the idiotic grid based inventory system and traveling back forth between the actual game and the town so you can sell items for profit.
It's not just the inventory system either. The actual game is immensely punishing and basically requires you to follow a guide online for which character skills you should focus on because you only get one opportunity to respec for free. After that you have to go to immense lengths to be able to respec a subsequent time. Combine that with a system that goes out of its way to severely punish you when you die (massive gold loss, classic corpse run to get your stuff back, the whole nine yards) and it quickly becomes tiring.
But hey don't get me wrong, the story is great. The remastered cutscenes are to die for. Watching Tyrael hunt down Marius in the newly remastered version of the opening clip was amazing and was a huge nostalgia rush. But are those and the fresh coat of paint everywhere else really enough for me to commit to playing this game for dozens of more hours?
Well while I'm leaning towards no, the jury is technically still out on that question. Nevertheless, the experience has been a let down, mostly because I was content to forget all of the things about Diablo 2 that I disliked and that subsequent so-called clones like the Torchlight series and Path of Exile spent so much time trying to fix.
So a few days ago I purchased Minecraft: Dungeons on Steam because I still had the aRPG itch, but I was leery of jumping back into bed with Diablo 2. Lo and behold this ended up being a great decision because Minecraft: Dungeons is an absolutely phenomenal game. For starters, I don't have to manage my inventory until I'm done with a mission. I am allowed to completely ignore that aspect of the game unless I really want to check out a new item I snatched. This is great because I'm not having to interrupt the action with inventory management sessions or trips back to won every few minutes.
Secondly the game is willing to let you make some mistakes. And given that in terms of gamer years I'm a full-fledged boomer at this point, I think that's fucking great. Each time you go to an area, you get three lives and you have the option of cutting lose at anytime if things are too rough. You have full control over how difficult each area is via a wonderful difficulty slider which can be used to make things much easier and much harder though the quality of loot varies accordingly as well.
Finally the game doesn't punish respecs, but rather encourages them. Your skills are tied to your actual items and your skill points are actually called enchantment points in this game and applied to the equipment. When you are done with a piece of equipment and salvage it, you get back all the enchantment points you poured into it which is awesome. This of course means that you are constantly respeccing and trying new things in the game based on the quality of the gear you are picking up and I think this is awesome. It keeps things fresh and it keeps things varied.
So yeah obviously I'm a huge fan of this game and that's really saying something as it's made by Microsoft. I loved the original Minecraft of course and this game plays on some of that by incorporating a lot of the classic visuals and sounds from it which was an insanely smart decision. But they've also created a tight and awesome aRPG experience that makes for a way more fun and entertaining game than Diablo 2.
But here is the real tragedy. 20 years from now we'll still be talking about Diablo 2 as a classic and we'll likely have completely forgotten about Minecraft: Dungeons. While I clearly don't agree with that outcome, I understand why. Timing is everything. Diablo 2 came out at the right time for what it was and it successfully seered itself into our collective gaming consciousness in a way that Minecraft: Dungeons just isn't able to do because nowadays there are a million aRPGs out there of varying quality. That's without even mentioning the fact that it's very direct association with a gaming series (ala Minecraft) increasingly seen as more oriented towards children (I also disagree with this) probably immediately turns off most so-called hardcore gamers.
All of this is a shame. Minecraft: Dungeons deserves more credit. Just like Torchlight and Torchlight 2 deserved more credit. All three of these games are better than Diablo 2 and yet here we are. In this particular universe, Diablo 2 reigns supreme and casts a shadow over everything else out there, whether we like it or not.
But hey do me and the hardworking non-Blizzard game devs a favor and give some of these other aRPGs a shot. I promise you that they are worth your time.