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Really awesome article. Some of the comments are also very well thought out.
In the beginning of PC gaming time, there was no such thing as an "action-roleplaying game." There were only "Diablo clones," games that copied Blizzard's wildly successful modified roguelike formula of creating a character, earning powers, and gathering loot via bashing creatures in real-time combat. Over time that army of clones (and some Diablo predecessors) congealed into a roleplaying game subgenre, and the term action RPG was born. Given Diablo's importance to the foundation of the genre, it's surprising that Diablo 3 isn't a part of it.
Diablo 3 isn't an action-roleplaying game -- it's simply an action game. This doesn't mean I don't like Diablo 3 (because I do) or that I think the lack of roleplaying elements means that it's by definition inferior to Diablo 2, Titan Quest, or Torchlight (because I don't). It just means that it's a different beast that doesn't fit the criteria of the term.
So where is the line drawn? As I see it, an RPG is defined as a game in which players make choices that have permanent effects. There are two ways that most RPGs do this. The first is a story or quests whose outcomes are determined by player choice. Does Wrex live or die in Mass Effect? Do you go Light Side or Dark Side in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic? Does Megaton go up in smoke in Fallout 3? All those are simple examples of events that may or may not happen because of actions we decide to take.
Unique Snowflakes in Hell
The second method is via a player character whose skills and stats progress according to the actions of the player. Is your character smart or strong? Is he good with a bow and arrow or magic? Is he charismatic or stealthy? Is he even a he? Those are means by which we make our unique marks on game worlds -- while it's certainly possible for another player to replicate every step of your journey through Skyrim or Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, in practice everybody in a group of friends is likely to end up with at least a subtly different experience, even if they started with the same character.
Diablo and Diablo 2 (along with most of the action-RPG genre) have very linear stories, so they possess only one of these two qualities: a character who develops according to the player's choices. As you level up you're given the option of which skills to unlock or enhance, and which to bypass. Diablo allows you to unlock skills by deciding where to place your attribute points each time you level up, and Diablo 2 adds a skill tree to the equation, giving you even more choices of how to develop your character. That's still enough roleplaying to earn it the RPG label, though it's shared with the equally important "action" moniker.
One of These Things is Not Like the Others
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.
Again, I have nothing at all against action games, and I've had a good time playing through Diablo thus far. But when even Batman: Arkham City gives me more roleplaying choices in which powers to unlock when, I think it may be time to drop Diablo 3's RPG label. It's not about it being good or bad, it's about being able to accurately talk to our fellow gamers and friends what kind of game this really is.
Edited by iAmNoob#1268 on 6/29/2012 8:04 AM PDT
Gear has nothing to do with something being a role playing game.
I'd agree that it's a fair assessment. D3 is more of just an action game.
A lot of these games today even take rpg out of context. The'yre mostly on-rails story driven action games. Very rarely is there any role playing.
RPG = Role Playing Game
D3 gives you no choice in character customization aside from gear. So if you find D3 to be a RPG you would then think that every shooter ever is an RPG, or Super Mario Bros for that matter, after all you could choose to grow big, get fire powers, or remain small by virtue of what item you ate.
D3 is an action adventure game, not an action RPG.
Does this mean D3 is inherently bad? Nope. It just means the game has been streamlined towards a more action oriented game.
So you can fight the terminology all you want, the fact remains that there is no sense of role playing (owning the character) in the game.
85 Dwarf Hunter
D3 is supposed to be an action game but since the only true skill required (and allowed by the vision apparently) is opening one's inventory and clicking a couple of times to become less killable, there's not really even any action left post 60.
And role playing? LMAO.
If the end result of EVERY character can be summarized in three basic stats, there is no role playing.
DPS, HP, RESIST.
That's it. No actual skill allowed or needed.
What difference does it make if your DPS comes from Icy Blast of Doom or Crushing Blood of the Ancient Giants or Gattling Gun of Destiny?
It's a different sparkly effect that does exactly the same thing in the end.
What difference does it make if your HP comes from a Giant Orange Crab Carapace of Zingaroth or the Mystical Blue Nubnub of Oombajoomba?
It's a different sparkly effect that does exactly the same thing in the end.
I won't even try to caricature resists. No point.
The only thing that makes a game fun is the feeling that "I DID IT."
I killed the boss (not my gear).
I survived against the hoard (not my gear).
I beat the game (not my gear).
I got my gear (my gear didn't get itself).
So it's a non-action, non-role playing, non-game as written.
At least post 60...
As I see it, an RPG is defined as a game in which players make choices that have permanent effects.
Not sure I want to read an article where the guy is arguing his opinion of what an RPG is.
Most genre titles are so general, I could classify a baseball game as an RPG simply because I'd be playing the role of a baseball player (or players!). Who really gives a damn what D3 is and is not?
RPG is overused in gaming today anyway (as is MMO), as soon as you have unlocks of some kind, however minor the developers/publishers add the moniker RPG to a game, same with MMO, as soon as there is a significant online component developers/publishers add MMO.
RPG is playing the role of a certain character, wheather it is a character that you wrote the background story, designed the look and decide how that character progresses (skyrim, DD, KoA etc...) or if the characters design choices are someone elses and you play an already ready to go person (Pick any final fantasy game).
D3 is an RPG as each character has their own story and progression. What D3 is not is a micromanaging RPG. Like TL said, you have no choices for what skills to progress, what stats to progress. The only management part of the game is finiding gear and tweaking it to how you want to use it. But when the gear you are looking for is either biased to a certain gameplay dynamic or just plain cruddy it means you have a cruddy RPG = D3
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