More Diablo than Diablo

A genre-defining game like Diablo II is tough to follow, and the demands of gamers can’t make that any easier.

We nerds decided that is not enough for an action RPG (or as a dear friend likes to call them, “Smash Quests”) to be a mere duplicate of that classic sequel. If so, then a game like Dungeon Siege would easily be twice as popular even if, as a clone, it lost attributes like a gripping setting and compelling archetypes.

A true successor must instead do everything the original got right as well as perform a few new tricks for our amusement. The long list of Diablo clones and also-runs demonstrates the surprising difficulty of duplicating a game I’ve heard described as “left-click; repeat.” Demonstates, that is, unless there’s any die-hard Darkstone or Nox fans that would like to debate me.

You would imagine then that the man behind Diablo II would know how to best it. Unfortunately for Bill Roper and Flagship Studios however, that’s just not the case. Hellgate: London does manage a few innovations (mainly to items and crafting), but as I mentioned we gamers are a prickly, demanding bunch.

We need new classics to be everything from the past and more. When I was fighting torpid, isolated enemies in endless ruined streets and tube tunnels, it was clear that this otherwise decent game was still far short of the mark.

This isn’t really about Bill Roper & Hellgate however; if you want more on that, he’s done so many interviews at this point that you can probably flip over your breakfast cereal to see a few choice words from the man.

Instead, I want to know this: Who really does get it? Who understands how to surpass Diablo II at what it does so very, very well? The answer, beyond possibly the City of Heroes team (which I’ll talk about another time), seems to be Surreal Games’ Patrick Lipo.

The proof is not just in Lipo’s inspired X-Men Legends game he helmed, but also in a very thought-provoking analysis of Diablo II.

It’s a thoroughly fascinating read. In it you can see just how carefully he must have considered this classic before working on Legends. It’s a stark contrast when Flagship’s summation of Diablo II seems to have been just the word “loot” written a few times on a whiteboard.

While Lipo has a fair bit of praise for his subject, he also takes the game to task for static environments. It’s an criticism you can see he definitely had in mind when creating X-Men Legends. While your Amazon or your Barbarian in Diablo 2 was known only by their trail of dead, the typical Legends level would end with an absolutely battered and immensely satisfying husk of a map behind you.

But enough of my rambling, go read it yourself. It’s a rare opportunity to get inside the mind of a careful, deliberate designer. This document serves as a brilliant reminder that there is still so much untapped promise in this genre, whatever you may think of the current Stuff Questing it-game.