A Tale of Two Loot Drops

Diablo 3

I’m trying to go to bed earlier, but two games this weekend got in my way. The first, to no one’s surprise, was Diablo 3. As the hours ticked by, I kept telling myself one more dungeon, one more level up—oh look, here’s a cave that has nothing to do with whatever arbitrary objective I’m fulfilling, but I’m going to run in there anyway. It was fun, and I stayed up until 2 AM playing it, much to the chagrin of my fiancée.

I realized that Diablo 3 is the casino of gaming.

It draws you in with a high level of polish, flashing lights, pitch-perfect sounds. It captures your desire of winning, that thrill of getting the jackpot. And even though, unlike casinos, there is a clock in Diablo 3, you tend to ignore all concepts of time. 15 minutes pass by, then 30, then suddenly an hour or two, and you have either won it all—or, if you’re playing on hardcore mode, maybe you’re flat broke and sleeping on the street tonight.

When I crawled into bed at 2 AM, trying to avoid the anger of my significant other, I lay awake for a while, thinking about what had passed. I remembered gorgeous settings, epic boss fights, and loot after loot after loot. But did I remember the story? No. The story sucks. It’s completely arbitrary. Then again, I reasoned, who plays Diablo for the story? It’s the gaming equivalent (if we’re going to stick with the Las Vegas metaphors) of going to a strip club for the slot machines.

Perhaps what had me feeling odd is the sense that I had played the same thing the whole time. Sure, the flashiness had upgraded as the game progressed. My demon hunter had long ago ditched boring arrows for exploding bolas, deadly chakrams, and acrobatic leaps. But the formula had stayed the same: click, click, click, press number key, grab loot, rinse, repeat.

And that’s fine. I guess. It’s a formula that works, especially for Diablo. And Blizzard has polished that system to a flawless state. Sound is fantastic, graphics are amazing, the scale is impressive—and yet, I couldn’t help but think that it was all circling in on itself. I was the proverbial hamster sprinting in a spinning wheel, getting nowhere, but determined to grab that carrot dangling right in front of me.

Diablo 3 plays on your obsession of being the best. The game’s mechanics are a simple formula that is quick to learn and not difficult to master. Finding new combinations of spells and abilities is intriguing, and the social element adds new layers to the system, but at the end of the day, you’re still trying to find that next piece of loot for that +2 damage buff. I thought I had some awesome stuff, until I took a quick look in the auction house. I realized there will always be something better: there’s always some new piece of loot to look forward to, or that rare item that will complete your set.

The next night, I logged into my other current gaming obsession: DayZ, the suddenly-popular mod for ArmA II. A group of friends and I have been slugging through the forests of Chernarus, fighting zombie hordes, dodging survivors, and looking for loot. I had bought ArmA II/installed DayZ the weekend before Diablo 3 came out, assuming that I would play it, take a break, play Diablo 3 forever, then come back to DayZ feeling satisfied with a cigarette in my hand and my loot urges satisfied.

What actually happened surprised me. While playing Diablo 3, I kept looking for my makeshift DayZ squad to log onto Steam so we could resume our adventure.

DayZ Mod

There are no quests in DayZ. There’s no plot structure to the game, no quests to fulfill, no experience bar to complete or skills to unlock. It’s as true to a sandbox experience as you can get. I realized at some point, however, that DayZ takes the loot system to a whole new level, one that adds meaning to the extent that Diablo 3 could never hope to match.

Resources in DayZ are scarce, and when you find a new gun or a new pack, it’s a god damn achievement. It’s so much more rewarding than any achievement points system, banner unlock or anything that Blizzard could hope to implement into Diablo 3—hell, anything that Microsoft or Sony could put in any of their games either. Trophies? Achievement Points? Please.

Because of the emphasis on rarity, I developed a relationship with my treasures, almost to a Gollum-One Ring creepy level. My beloved Winchester became a loyal friend. The loud Lee Enfield made me tremble with power and fear that it would alert every zombie within a hundred yards to my position. The CZ750 sniper was as useful as it was deadly in scouting out towns before making my approach. These weren’t items that I could just toss aside and move on. I mourned every time I had to lose a gun.

At one point during an intense shoot out against the zombie horde, I ran out of ammo, had to switch to a random gun I found on the ground, and then couldn’t find my Winchester afterwards. I searched through the corpses of the dead and the decaying, but my weapon was lost, and we had to move on. There were zombies nearby—and even deadlier, bandits and other players.

It’s not just the loot that makes DayZ brilliant; it’s the inventory system as well. Diablo 3 took the inventory management of Diablo 2 and made it simple: town portal can now be used any time without any cost, letting the player run back to town, sell all their goods, and return to exactly where they left off. There’s no consequence. See something you like on the ground but have no space left? Run back to town, pick it up, and move on.

In DayZ, there’s no easy solution; there are just hard choices. It reminds me of the brilliance of the original Halo. Do I keep this sniper rifle that only has one shot but can pretty much one-shot anything? Or do I switch to a weaker gun with more ammo? You’re faced with tough questions like how much food should I have versus ammo? Even the largest backpack can only hold 24 items—and, no, like-items don’t stack. Because of this, items take on a natural order of priority. Rare items like blood bags and morphine jump to the top of the list, but have to be managed with food, water and ammunition.

What separates these two loot-focused adventures is the emergent storytelling, more so than the item drops and inventory management. Diablo 3 tries to cultivate memorable experience by throwing in random dungeons and events that interrupt the linearity of the main storyline. Ask me about any of these side quests. I couldn’t describe any of them to you. I remember clicking (a lot), getting loot (often), and leveling up (not as often, although satisfying). But what did I actually do? I remember a few times I had to guard a NPC ally or defend an onslaught of demon spawn. But it all kind of blurs together.

Now, ask me about what I did in DayZ this weekend and I could write you an epic—in fact, I have. And it’s not just me. Look on Reddit at both the Diablo and DayZ threads. Look at comments about both games in forums on their respective websites. Diablo is all about build optimization, number crunching, streamlining. It’s very clinical. This item does X more damage-per-second than this item; this skill is essentially useless because of that skill. DayZ players are telling stories, talking about their experiences. It’s amazing. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen before (save for perhaps Skyrim and other Elder Scrolls entries, which do an amazing job of emergent gameplay, especially for a single player experience). People are taking the time to share their gameplay stories with someone else because the experience was that cool.

The night I played DayZ this weekend, I stayed up until 2 AM as well. My fiancée was angry at this point, and she should be since I wake her up regardless of my sneaking skills. But when I lay awake in bed that night, I didn’t feel as guilty. I felt like I hadn’t wasted the last 3 hours of my life, but had experienced something unique and something memorable.

Am I saying that DayZ is perfect and Diablo 3 sucks? Of course not. Diablo 3 is a way more polished experience than DayZ; it has fewer glitches, less lag problems (despite the crying on forums that would have you believing otherwise), and it’s a prettier game. I’ve logged an embarrassing amount of hours into the demon-themed click-a-thon just so I can see that next skill or grab that next treasure. It’s addicting. But at what point do we stop applauding a game for being addicting and start critiquing its faults? I played the hell out of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 even though (brace yourself) it was Call of Duty 4 with a more nonsensical story. Did the number of hours I logged into Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer make it a good game? Or was it just a habit I couldn’t kick?


One Response

  1. The reason I like Blizzard games is because of the polish and quality of the games. That being said, I felt like Diablo 3 didn’t have the epic story potential that it could have. This article finally explained what was missing.

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