An article on Gamespy argues a point we kicked around extensively during Diablo III’s development; if there isn’t any real character customization or permanence, can the game rightly be called an RPG?

    Diablo 3, however, does none of this. As we play, we do earn experience points and level up to unlock new abilities, but we’re given no choice in the matter — reaching a new level simply opens up a new equippable option when we reach a predetermined point in the level progression, much like earning a new gun in a shooter. The result is that my level 55 Monk is identical to every other level 55 Monk on the planet. Sure, I can select which powers I want equipped, but that’s no different from a shooter that lets you pick what guns to put in your hands from an inventory. If your character can do everything my character can do, then they are by definition the same character. This Monk doesn’t belong to me.

    That leaves only gear to distinguish a Diablo 3 character — gear that is either randomly doled out by drops or purchased on the Auction House, and everything that makes my character unique can be transferred to yours in a trade window. So the only real choice is which gear to keep and equip and which to sell or throw into the wood chipper for crafting materials. I’d argue that gear customization does not an RPG make; there needs to be more than that vestigial tail — and the sheer habit of referring to all things Diablo as action RPGs — to justify calling it such.

    Remember variants?

    It would be interesting to hear Jay Wilson’s response to this. I bet he’d redefine the question. He’d say that dictionary definitions of “RPG” are irrelevant to the fun of a game, and that it would be easy to tack some character customization features onto Diablo 3, which would force players to make permanent skill/stat choices for their characters. But that these would not necessarily make the game any more fun, and would probably make it less fun, which is why they removed them during development, and why WoW is following the same path.

    So what do you guys think? We had endless debates about character customization via auto-assigned stat points, the removal of skill points, and the removal of rune levels during D3’s development, and opinions were all over the place. Now that you’ve played the game for 6 weeks and have some data to add to your conjecture, would you make changes?

    Have the current game systems ruined the viability of variants? Do you miss having a reason to reroll characters? Would you like some more sense of character individuality and ownership? Or do you agree with D3’s current systems, prefer full skill freespecs, and like not having to worry about assigning your own stat points?

    Hit comments to add your thoughts, or click through to see my quick suggestions on the issue. Thanks to Kris for the news tip.

    I’m going to say yes on all points. I’m not ruby-lensed in my glasses enough to say D2’s system was perfect in every way, but I would not mind having some sort of skill and stat specialization in D3.

    On skills it can be argued since the current D3 skill system works very well in terms of scaling up every skill and rune effect to remain viable into the end game. (Not that every skill/rune is viable, but plenty of the lowest level ones you get are.) That said, I think it would add depth to the game to have some way to improve my favorite skills, or to be rewarded for choosing a skill and sticking to it. And no, NV stacks do not really fill that void.

    I have similar-mixed feelings about stat points. What if Bliz retained the auto-stats system, but also gave us 1 or 2 points per level to manually assign? (And some limited respec options long term.) Characters would still be mostly as the devs want them to be for balancing purposes, but players would feel a bit more control over their fates and could customize somewhat. (The fact that 1 or 2 socketed gems would almost equal the entire stat effect of this customization is a valid argument against bothering with it.)

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