Garwulf’s Corner #32: Real Sticks and Stones

Before I begin today, I have a bit of important administrivia: I will be at the Ad Astra convention in Toronto from February 8-10, the Guthbreoht sword at my side. With luck, I’ll be doing a reading from Demonsbane and the latest installment of Garwulf’s Corner. More information (along with registration forms) can be found at If you’re coming, pre-register soon; the deadline is January 26.

Also, for readers in Malaysia, I am pleased to announce the launch of my new monthly column in Prodi-G. The magazine should be on sale around the time that you read this, so keep an eye out for it. The title of the column is A Voice from the Ether, and it will run along similar lines to Garwulf’s Corner (although not limited to things Diablo). That being said, on with the show…

I shudder to think of what a story completely true to Diablo II would be like. I mean one with all the silliness of gameplay. I can just see it now:

“Argh!” Teflon screamed, shaking his barbaric fist in the air. “Now I have to wander halfway out into the desert to get my corpse back!”

The near-invulnerability of most characters does lead to a certain amount of silliness when it comes to the gameplay itself. After all, why worry too much about tactics when you are essentially immortal? Even if the monster kills and eats you, you’ll be back, like a sequel to a bad action movie.

(Mind you, I’m the one to talk about this. I mastered the art of opening the door and finding the room filled with monsters carrying repeating crossbows…)

But, as everybody knows, there is a mode of play that allows a character only one life. I think everyone has tried out a hardcore character at least once; I’ve personally managed to get one or two of mine killed. It makes for a much different game. When you’re playing hardcore, dashing into that large group of monsters and hoping that your breath will take out at least half of them generally ISN’T a good idea.

It’s difficult to say which style of play is better. Certainly, the usual style, with characters that can be blown into tiny pieces and still come back looking for their armor is probably best for most casual players. A standard character doesn’t have to worry too much about slowly creeping forward and hoping that an ambush isn’t around the corner.

(Well, he does, but at least death is about as permanent as a Hollywood marriage for him.)

On the other hand, a hardcore character is great for serious players, as it forces them to learn the nuances of the game. It makes the player cross the line between an action game and serious role-playing. Try it sometime, if you haven’t already. You won’t regret it.

However, the place that hardcore play would truly shine is not any game in the Diablo series, but rather in a place that could have used it ages ago: Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs.

As of yet I have only seen one game that even advertised a hardcore system: Sierra’s Middle Earth (which seems to have been canceled or put on permanent hold). When I first read about it, I thought it was a Godsend; finally, a place where one can truly role-play online! Where your character only gets to die once, and then that is it!

Sadly, I have yet to hear of a single other MMORPG that is willing to take the plunge. I’m not quite certain why that is. After all, it would be an improvement. Unlike Diablo II, which is primarily an action game, games such as Everquest and Ultima Online are meant to be serious role-playing. Character immortality detracts, rather than adds, to the experience.

Take Counter-Strike or Rainbow Six, for example. One of the things that made these games head-and-shoulders above any other first-person shooters out there was that you only got to die once. Quake deathmatch was fun, but Counter-Strike was absolutely thrilling. Even now, I prefer the latter style of play to the former.

But still, no matter what the game, the massive multiplayer online community seems to be made out of characters tougher than most gods. Maim ‘em, butcher ‘em, they always come back. No doubt there are a bunch of monsters that have spent a fortune on psychiatrists. It is the sort of catering to the lowest common denominator that has made Hollywood synonymous for bad movies. Why give serious players something to write home about when you can snare all the casual players and make more money?

I would like to see at least one MMORPG designed for serious players. Let’s see Sierra finish up Middle Earth, just as they promised so long ago. One life per character, and that’s it. Give serious players a game they can truly sink their teeth into.

But, I’m not holding my breath. In the end, the game companies are there to make money, and the larger they get, the less innovation they’ll have.

(Think I’m kidding? Look at what happened to Sierra Online, which used to be one of the most innovative companies out there. Even Blizzard seems to have fallen into a cycle of making sequels.)

At least Diablo II gives players the choice. When all is said and done, that is something to be thankful for.

Next installment: One Film to Rule Them All, in which your vainglorious author examines the effects that The Fellowship of the Ring may have on fantasy.

Tagged As: | Categories: Retired Columns


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