“It’s just clicking,” they harp, they being the collective mind called The Internet. It’s not true, of course, at least not strictly speaking, as there is plenty of tapping the 1, 2, 3, and 4 keys, and sometimes even Q. If we’re not speaking strictly, then yes, it’s very true. Diablo III, like the Diablo games before it, is really just a lot of clicking. Click. Click. Click.
In Sonic games, players just hold right and press the jump button from time to time. Call of Duty games are no more than a rhythmic cycle of firing triggers, tapping duck buttons, and pushing analog sticks forward. Even more highbrow works like Flower sound tiresome when distilled to their inputs: tilting the Sixaxis, sometimes pressing a button. So why forgive these games yet chastise Diablo for its simplicity?
Is it because The Internet feels shunned by Diablo? That may seem strange to ask about a game that’s been in hype mode for the last forever, but
strictly speaking it may be so. Now is the time when people make a game, and then The Internet sits down, plays the game, and carps about how much it hates it. So the game-making people make another game like the last one, but with all the things The Internet asked for. Then the Internet sits down, plays the game, and carps about how much it hates it.
But Diablo isn’t from this time. Diablo is from a time when people bought the kinds of games they liked and didn’t buy the kinds of games they disliked. Nay, it’s not just Diablo, but the game-making people behind it, Blizzard. The absurdly flush oligarch of the MMO prides itself on refinement over revolution. Before punching out, members of the World of Warcraft team sit at their agarwood desks and pat their backs over all the miniscule tweaks they’ve made to their game that day. Every single tweak can be traced all the way back to roots laid down nearly 18 years ago when Warcraft: Orcs & Humans was released.
Diablo III is the same game I played a decade ago, but is newer, brighter, neater, more accessible, more about co-op, less classic, more automated, less flexible, more involved – a bunch of comparatives that muddle together into a key, and the key overlays the familiar fanfare that is the essence of what came before. The changes are there, and I notice them. I welcome some of them, less so others, and I know some people care very much about them. Nonetheless, it’s just a different key to me. The fanfare sounds faintly different, but the essence is what comes through. The essence, though, is not the clicking. The clicking is just my instrument in the orchestra. The essence is in a personal kind of satisfaction.
Diablo III gives me a character and I craft her into a hero who I feel like I’ve built – a hero who is mine. I found her armor, I chose her skills, I chose her runes, and I chose which gems of hers to craft. At first, Diablo III eases me into her build. Then it gets me to find what combinations of her active skills, passive talents, weapons, and armor work for me. Over time I build a connection with my hero. The connection turns into an understanding. And then the understanding turns simply into being, and that’s when the game transcends clicking.
Given how I’ve built her to draw enemies in before unleashing area attacks, my wizard can sometimes be overwhelmed when her arcane resources drop low. When that happens I’m forced to rely on the ethereal blade she produces by slicing her hands by each other. After 10, 20, 30, 40 hours, so furious are my left clicks that I am all but the one violently thrusting my arms in to generate the magic. When her arcane regenerates and I disperse the horde with a magic explosion, there’s more than just the physical energy in my right click. There’s relief, calm, muscle, power, exuberance, and fire, all in that little click.
What first draws me into Diablo III is the same thing that draws me into every loot-happy action RPG: the loot. I’m not sure Diablo III does loot any better than other games of its ilk, but there’s something in the action itself, in the booming music, in the dramatic lighting, in the way the enemies rush me like the zombies from 28 Days Later, and in the godlike powers I’m given that stirs something once I’m drawn in. Maybe it’s as simple as speaking to a familiar past. Maybe it’s easier to re-connect than to connect in the first place.
Diablo III wasn’t built for The Internet. I connect with it because it doesn’t just feel like it was built for people, like me, who can see beyond the game as a marathon clicker and who remember all the hours they’ve put into games just like it, but because, at its best, it feels like it was built for me, specifically.
Review based on PC release.