Quick Reviews: Diablo Clones

Do we have a term like “MOBA” for Diablo clones yet? “Action RPG” feels too broad. I think we’ve settled on “Diablo clones,” even if that is a bit pejorative. There are quite a few games like Titan Quest, Torchlight, or Marvel Heroes that are Diablo II plus or minus x percent. Personally, after Diablo II and Torchlight I, I feel tired of the genre. I have tried others and seen improvements to the formula, but the difference is not enough to give me anything that feels new or fresh, so I guess I’m comfortable with “Diablo clone.” Despite that, I tried a couple that looked promising this week. One thumbs up, one thumbs down.

Path of Exile is best known for its talent tree, “a vast web of 1350 skills that provide passive bonuses to your character.” Customization, great! Starting out felt very Diablo II, except everything looked darker. The graphic were better than they were back in 2000, but the game is clearly a Diablo clone. When I got to start on that talent tree, all I could see was the prospect of grinding for hours on a loot and level treadmill, plus the expected effects of having a cash shop, plus the community that comes with a F2P game. I played a few zones and uninstalled. This is not so much a fair review as a reasonable expectation of grinding and grinding, one 3% passive improvement at a time. I did like the use of scrolls as a standard currency.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing was another Humble Bundle acquisition, the first in a while that I would recommend. It bought a lot of benefit of the doubt by not having those same expectations. It is a small scale Diablo clone, a single player game where you buy the box. It has on the order of 10 hours of gameplay for 100% completion of the base story (I have not tried anything else in it), so it has little of the fake longevity garbage you have come to expect from Diablo clones. It is more of a Torchlight clone for its “remove the annoying bits” take on the formula. You start with your “pet,” a sassy ghost who can tank or shoot, can be specced to fight or buff you, and who will even do the Torchlight “go sell my trash loot” trick. “Town Portal” and “Identify” are not scrolls but rather skills you start with. I’m spending most of my time here talking about what Van Helsing isn’t, because that is what was so refreshing to me: not having the things that annoy me about Diablo clones. The Quarter to Three review is pretty fair (there have been some improvements since initial release), except that most things he counts as negatives about the game, I count as positives. No, I don’t want to play through Nightmare 10 times to try to complete a set. And oh look, I completed three sets during one playthrough of Van Helsing.

So what is TIAoVan Helsing? Diablo clone, leaning Torchlight in its details, in a steampunk setting. It mixes dark and humor. Katarina, your ghost assistant, is one of the better bits of that; the final boss leans a bit silly for my taste. You do all the standard things of fighting/stabbing monsters and running quests from people with exclamation points over their heads. The game rewards a bit of exploration with non-obvious quests that announce themselves as you stumble upon them or gradually assemble them over the course of the game. The gameplay is a bit easy, particularly with the practically no death penalty (outside the hardcore mode). The gameplay is on the good side of standard. It borrows liberally from other games, from the Torchlight bits above (including a fame rank for defeating champion enemies) and a “glory” system like Borderlands 2’s badass points. The content is not quite varied enough for its length; you will notice maps repeating, including one particularly egregious re-use of a large map. Still, it rarely pretends to be what it is not, and I strongly prefer a game that does pretty well in 10 hours what most games stretch to painfulness over 40.

: Zubon

Useful Loading Screens

Most loading screens I see have tips these days, occasionally trivia. These are generally useful for your first few weeks, then you have seen them all or already know everything in them, then you start tuning them out or mocking them. Until then, they can be quite helpful in highlighting non-obvious things, like a game mechanic or a subtle menu option.

Customization could make these more useful. Add some variables to your canned responses, then tune them for the character or player. Torchlight 2 has a great example: the “spend your level-up points” indicator is subtle, but when you zone, the top of the loading screen explicitly says how many points you have to spend. Team Fortress 2 has standard tips on its loading screens, but its death screens have friendly congratulations about how you did that life.

The game does or can track lots of things. Plug those into your loading screens. Continue reading Useful Loading Screens

[TL2] Removed Functionality

Last night, I decided I was done with my first Torchlight 2 character. I had beaten the game, messed around with the Mapworks a bit, and I was ready to retire and start a new character. I had started on “normal” difficulty, and as Tycho says, that is not a satisfying fight. “Right click to kill the five nearest monsters.”

The retirement system from Torchlight 1 has been replaced by New Game Plus in Torchlight 2. That is surely documented somewhere, but it had not even occurred to me to look for it. I liked retirement, I thought it was a good system (cash in your current character for a small boost to your next one, cumulative across generations), and it did not strike me that leaving it out was an option. This usually happens at some point when you upgrade systems and/or programs, but it is always a disappointing moment when a tool you occasionally deployed is no longer in the toolbox.

I wonder if a mod will bring it back.

: Zubon

Defying the Sophomore Slump

Our blogging world has adopted Guild Wars 2 en masse. Orcs Must Die! 2 was an unexpected treat earlier this summer. Torchlight 2 will be out later this month, and I preferred waiting for Torchlight 2 to playing Diablo 3. Borderlands 2 is coming. Team Fortress 2 remains my go-to FPS, and it added PvE content earlier this year.

Like TF2, some games reached their defining points only in their sequels: Master of Orion 2, Diablo 2, Street Fighter 2, WarCraft 2. Second try’s a charm?

: Zubon

Languished Thoughts

I am withering away waiting for the next Guild Wars 2 beta event. I have dreams of a dagger-charged necromancer or elementalist that I can’t wait to realize. Yet, the gaming world seems to be darkening as the light of the last Guild Wars 2 beta weekend event is receding. I am trying to shake the feeling as best as I can with Steam sales, and the like. Then I hear what is going on in the news.

Scarlet “MMO”

Except for the aforesaid exception, the MMO genre seems to be bleakening. With a gracious nod to Beau Hindman, I would say that this only seems to be the case for so-called “AAA” titles as F2P titles seem to flood across the land like a scute mob. Continue reading Languished Thoughts

Newb Boon

You do not need a comparative advantage to be the best at something [FTFY] to enjoy the benefits of trade, nor does your trading partner. Even if you can do absolutely everything better and more efficiently than I can, it will still benefit you to trade with me because you do not have the option of doing everything at once. I may shovel well, but if I am also a pretty good obstetrician, it will probably be more productive for me to pay someone with fewer high-value options to dig.

If you were to start playing World of Warcraft right now, you could make decent money farming copper. The enemies are not gray to you, so you would not be the most efficient farmer, but people who earn lots of gold per hour are happy to give you a bit of it on the auction house. On a non-trade example, when I went back to Asheron’s Call with a fresh account, I financed several dozen levels by hopping a portal to a high-level hunting zone and scavenging a pack of trash loot that players left in their wake. If I had thought of it, I could have made a service of being the town-visiting pet from Torchlight, if anyone would trust a new character with their stuff/money.

The past weekend was Canthan New Year in Guild Wars. This is an amazing source of money for a new player. Offering to sell Lunar Tokens for 200g and Fortunes for 600g, I was deluged with buyers. There were quests that rewarded 25 Tokens, and the established players had run them in previous years; they were effectively level 5 quests that awarded 5 platinum. I financed my first set of prestige armor off those. If you could get your newb to Lion’s Arch, you could convert Tokens to Fortunes profitably (if slowly) playing Rock-Paper-Scissors.

An economy that is orders of magnitude above where you are can be daunting, but if you can get involved in it at all, the profits to be reaped are huge.

: Zubon

Unintended Behavior (of developers)

Thanks, it feels really good to read this article and you’re exactly on the ball. I don’t think people on this forum realize how hard we at Trendy work to make this game for you guys. Many of us have never personally been paid and have been living off of our own savings (of which are almost nothing, since we’re so young) to make this game. We often put in over 70-80 hours a week and more. Yes we make mistakes (that much is clear), but we are not setting out to nor are we setting out to take anyone’s money.

And I can’t comment about our financial issue, but I’d implore everyone to remember… Steam, Epic, D3, Reverb, Contractors, Investors, et. all get cuts from the game and its DLC. We’re putting in all this extra work and putting out all this extra content and patches because we want to and we want to have a product you enjoy playing. Dungeon Defenders was never intended to be a game that people played as much as you all have played it (especially not as much as an MMO) and we’re working really hard to get you more content and more gameplay out of the content you have.
Pmasher, Trendy Entertainment

What I’m wondering is how the game came to be one that encouraged and supported playing that much. (I’m not sure much “that much” is, but you can imagine it’s pretty high for forum-dwellers, presumably 100-200 hours already for people playing it at an MMO rate.) It seems easier just not to support the development direction they took, with many patches and ongoing development. You need some ongoing development if you want to sell DLC, but I never heard anyone complain about Orcs Must Die! for not being an MMO. (Although I have not heard more than 2 or 3 sentences about Orcs Must Die!, so either it is not getting much buzz or I’m just reading the wrong things. Active development does fuel ongoing discussion.) I think of Runic Games, which seems to have taken suggestions and plugged them into Torchlight 2 rather than extending Torchlight 1. Once development stops, you can love or hate the game for what it is, rather than what you still might wish it to become.

I can see several reasons why development is continuing post-release, but the patches are increasingly supporting long-term, heavily dedicated play. You could take it in a different direction, one where you say, “You beat the game. Congratulations!” and move on, maybe visiting every couple of months to check out DLC. (Add a player notification option there, some way to call people back.) Instead, the direction seems to be one that is putting increasing demands on Trendy without generating a lot more revenue. Maybe future DLC will add some revenue, say release another four-pack of maps every two months for $5-$10 with an “ongoing story,” although the story is not “going” much to start.

Runic also took the path of encouraging modding, rather than running an official server. That reduces control but limits the unending commitment to maintaining a service after you have sold the game. I have no idea how much effort TrendyNet involves, but there are still enough hardcore Diablo II players to support gold- and item-selling sites for that today. If the fanbase is unpleasable now, imagine if the official server goes away.

: Zubon