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[personal profile] davidn
I never used to get ill for very long, but now that Penny is bringing all kinds of exotic diseases back from the daycare I've had to stay off work for longer than I ever have before. I passed some of the time by resolving to finally complete Diablo 2 - during my sixth year of school I think that I got about halfway through the game twice before realizing I was just clicking on monsters and gave up. Having now got to the end, I think I was correct in my earlier assessment.

It's a strangely addictive game despite my underlying problem, which is that I can't name any point in the game at which I made a real decision. The gameplay seems entirely algorithmic - you venture out into the wilderness and bash a tidal wave of monsters as they come at you, you use a potion when your health gets a bit low. Monsters will often drop loot or new weapons, and you compare those weapons to your current ones and toss the old ones aside if the new one is obviously better in speed or attack power or special properties. It might be a bit better if you could keep interesting-looking items in reserve so that you could bring them out when you needed them, but the opportunity for this is very limited - a typical weapon will take up 4-6 inventory slots, and you have just 24 squares of "stash" (which is smaller than your personal inventory!) to reserve items for later. Realistically, with everything else you have in there, you can afford to keep maybe just one or two weapons in reserve - everything else is picked up and then instantly either adopted or discarded.

The nature of this sort of gameplay came to the forefront when I hit a speed bump in the difficulty where I started encountering enemies that gave off uncontrollable bolts of lightning when they were hit. In Etrian Odyssey, for example (a game which I'll always hold up as an example of taking a genre I previously hated and then fixing everything about it), I would have gone back to the town, researched the materials I needed to make items that were resistant to lightning, go out and collect those, then use them to gain the advantage back. Here, there's no opportunity to do that and the best you can do is just hope that a lightning-proof hat or pair of socks or something turns up fairly soon. You have a limited opportunity to customize better items by collecting gems and inserting them into weapon sockets, but you can't remove gems once you've used them, so you have to wait until the exact right randomly-generated weapon comes along and irreversibly take a chance with your also-rare gems.

The whole thing is forced to be very linear from start to finish - especially with the Barbarian I was playing as, you can't really switch gears and decide to do something radically different with your character, because you have to dedicate skill points to improving your skills with a specific weapon class. Actually I was pleasantly surprised to find one character in the early game offered the option to reset skill and stat points, which I didn't remember from before (it was added in a patch 16 years after the release of the game) - but then found out you could only do it once, and I used that opportunity to pour all my points into blunt weaponry to give me an advantage against undead enemies so there was no point in trying anything else from then on.

At the end of the game you face off with Diablo himself, who has elemental attacks that will melt you instantly - having pretty much got everything from the game I was going to get at this point, I cheated up a magic-resistant fully automatic crossbow using a save editor and finished him off with that. You're then invited to continue the game from the start again with vastly more difficult monsters in Nightmare and then Hell difficulty, building up on the stats and weapons you had the first time around (and by virtue of spending longer in the game, finding more randomly dropped items that might be good). In this way, the game really seems geared to reward people who are obsessives, or who at the very least have more time than me to spend on it - towards the end I started having the thought "Why am I wasting my life with this when I could be writing more music?", which I took as a sure sign that I was recovering.

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