I was absolutely addicted to The Diablo Series until probably 2005 or so. This may not have been the first fantasy video game, nor was it the first multiplayer game, but it was certainly the first game to successfully combine very dark subject matter with a very urgent plot and what I believe to this day was probably some of the best mood-setting music ever put to use in a video game. The randomization of the maps, combined with a max character level of 99, a bunch of different classes, and infinite item stats made the game playable for well .. I got about 7 good years out of the series.
It wasn’t even a lack of replayability that killed Diablo II either, what it came down to was screen resolution. The first game had a max resolution of 640×480, the second one -only several years after release and the release of the expansion- finally maxed out at 800×600. That was pretty good for the year 2000, but by 2005 very few monitors were running resolution that small, and certainly no gamers were using them. That, at least in my mind, is what killed the game. It pushed me off to try Guild Wars at any rate, and it seems the majority of the Diablo II community also sought different games to fill the void.
Then, as all Diablo II players know, while we were eagerly awaiting the release of Diablo III, there was a highly publicized resignation party at Blizzard North that basically amounted to everyone who had ever worked on the Diablo franchise was gone. Some of them went on to form Flagship Studios, which I was counting on to carry the torch of the Diablo franchise, but the group fucked up in a big way in my opinion. How did they fuck up? Hellgate:London.
I want to be clear that I don’t think the game Hellgate:London was a fuckup, instead I think everything surrounding the games publicity and release absolutely doomed it to fail. I had been following the group at Flagship since they left Blizzard and I was eager to see what new titles they were going to put out. They were talented without a doubt, and I am sure that the entire Diablo community would have been eager to see what they released. The problem with Hellgate was that no one, not even the fansite community, was quite sure what to make of it. It looked like a futuristic, sci-fi, first person shooter, but was trying to incorporate the fantasy elements from a dungeons and dragons type world. Rather than bringing together fans of the FPS and fantasy it seemed to alienate them both. That is how I perceive it at any rate. But that wasn’t even the real problem. The real problem was that they rushed the game to release by Halloween 2007 despite the fact that the interface was clunky as hell and there were tons of bugs. And with, as near as I can tell, zero advertising. Why they rushed it to release at that point probably comes down to money; not having a product for a few years can scare off your investors, but unfortunately pushing out a shoddy product will scare off your clients.
Flagship had also been working on a game called Mythos at the time which never made it to release before the company folded. This is why I think Hellgate:London was such a bad idea. These guys were legends for the characters, bestiary and lore of the Diablo series, but rather than embrace that and play into it by trying to release a game that was similar to it, they tried to play away from it. Perhaps they just wanted to show that they weren’t a one-trick pony, but, as I’m sure they discovered, fantasy nerds are fiercely loyal to the genre.
I continued to check back on the Mythos website over the next couple of years as I toiled away playing World of Warcraft, always hoping to see it nearing release. Instead the site just started throwing a not found error a couple years back and I more or less gave up on it. Gave up until yesterday when I happened to type Mythos in my address bar and was taken to a site where a Mythos game is going to be release by Red Bana -a name I remember for infecting some of my old pc’s with malware. This, I was sure, wasn’t the work of the Flagship crew, so I started looking around to see what became of them. I finally found them at Runic Games, having just released a game called Torchlight, which I immediately downloaded.
This is the game they should have released in 2007. The game is much like the first Diablo, being set in a single town with a dungeon beneath that you must quest and fight to the bottom of. The gameplay is quite similar to Diablo, and the skill and attribute point system is also quite similar. There are three playable classes to the game currently, which as I’m sure you could guess are a strong man archetype, a nimble, ranged attack archetype, and a pure casting archetype. There are four different difficulty levels -though only three are really playable since the easiest could probably be completed by a developmentally challenged two year old. There is even a Hardcore setting (death is forever) although since the game is strictly played offline it hardly matters since you could just restore a saved game from before he died and he would live on. At any rate, this game has kept my attention for the past couple of days, and with a sticker price of only $19.95 and a download size of only 411mb (10 minutes on high speed) I suggest that you Go buy it if you haven’t done so already. There is also a two hour free trial if you aren’t sold by the following screenshots (click through to see them in much higher resolution):