Home ? News
Opinion: Diablo 3 Isn't an Action RPG
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.
An RPG is a game in which players make choices that have permanent effects.
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.
Decisions like this are what computer RPGs are all about.
Diablo allows you to unlock skills by deciding where to place your attribute points each time you level up.
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 diablo 3 gold 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.
This is my Monk. There are many like him, but this one is mine.
Everything that makes my character unique can be transferred to yours in a trade window.
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.