Powers as reward – the enduring appeal of Diablo 3


By Neil Merrett

Diablo 3 Eternal Collection, released in 2018 on Nintendo Switch, Developed by Blizzard Entertainment

Pity those with power, yet lacking the experience to use it wisely. Perhaps a key appeal of Blizzard’s long running action-RPG series is understanding something rather fundamental about what it means to earn and understand incredible talent and abilities

Ride a flaming steed, smash things with a magical axe or throw a load of man eating spiders at someone. Videogames, really are a bit of a lark sometimes.

Diablo 3, for all its fantasy theatrics and tales of heroic self sacrifice, fallen angelic warriors and grotesque demonic possession, is arguably best when played as a game of choice – a game about continuous trial and error.

Do you select the shaman-like figure with its ability to summon hordes of demon dogs and shoot flame bats at the touch of a button, or opt to be a long range hunter with automatic bow and arrow attacks that are more machine gun than Robin Hood.

The player can engage themselves with the game’s lore, developed over the best part of the last decade, or play the whole thing as a semi-mindless, satisfying hack ’n’ slash adventure with superpowers.

diablo3 main

The choice of character is one thing, but even when the player has decided whether to play as a demon hunter, a witch doctor or some more generic fantasy staples such as a monk – then comes the choice of which powers to assign.

As an adventure, Diablo 3 leaves you to wrestle with deciding upon the optimum combination of abilities that can be strung together to best amuse or suit your style of play, whether as an individual or a group of players.

Failure to get this right by switching to some other ability can result in an underwhelming sense of being underpowered against the world of monsters and Ne’er-do-wells that populate the dungeons, swamps and desert ruins of the game’s world.

Eventually every button on the controller can be mapped and customised to a different powerful ability that can be combined and stacked for maximum damage or to incapacitate a literal army of baddies.

It’s fair to argue that clobbering a range of demons and treasure elfs across these worlds for a huge number of hours does risk becoming somewhat samey. Yet, the game has been a massive success across a range of platforms from high end consoles, portable devices and personal computers, perhaps because its appeal is not just based on being overwhelmed by Hell’s hordes. Actually, it is about the appeal and drive of getting that little bit better, more efficient and powerful.

From a slow start, the more experience the player gets, the more the game delves out powers and a greater array of abilities.

Progress is defined in this slow unlocking and drip feed of new abilities and powers. It is arguably those brief moments when a new ability can be satisfyingly pared to combine magic elemental attacks with explosions and brute force that can border on the instinctive.

This is the satisfaction of suddenly finding some previously unlocked or unappreciated ability that has a satisfying sound, feel and sense of damage in the game world.

After starting the game as a witch doctor – a stereotype of questionable taste at the time of the game’s original release and certainly more so in the current landscape – a character with a single solitary ability such as a blow pipe, the build up of new powers is somewhat thrilling.

From here, a huge element of risk and reward is realised in the decision of whether to swap out an ability you have relied on for hours in place of some new combination of abilities.  These may not be as fun as hurling a load of acid spiders on the frozen bodies of your opponents, but they could be more effective.

For the impatient, of course, it is entirely possible to gain a whole host of abilities at a much faster pace by letting a more advanced player battle through higher level hordes with a new character that would be hopelessly outmatched on their own.

Over tens of minutes, dozens if not hundreds of different variations of the game’s abilities, whether spider-man armies or a giant summonable golem to fight alongside you, are opened up and made available.

Yet without the context of playing through and experimenting via gameplay – the satisfaction of getting such powers are lost. Without switching in and understanding how each of these abilities work together and can be effective or underwhelming in some hard fought, sometimes laborious grind through a dungeon – an important part of the game’s appeal is lost in translation.

Diablo 3 is not so much about having a ludicrous amount of ridiculous attacks and powers, but amassing them and understanding their value in context.

Were the player given all these powers immediately from the start of their quest, this sense of progress might seem at best overwhelming, and at worst, pointless.

The game’s powers, and forcing the player to consider whether to settle and when to switch out from your comfort zone are both Diablo’s 3 fundamental challenge and reward for play and perseverance, whether upon its initial PC release over half a decade ago, or playing in handheld mode with internet strangers in 2019.

In the in-game world of Sanctuary, much as like other complicated realms, powers are taken for granted at your own peril. Underestimate or under appreciate them, and you might just miss something important along the way.

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