Growing up as a PC gamer, there was always one developer you could count on for absolutely amazing games: Blizzard Entertainment. Starting out with 2D sidescrollers like Lost Vikings and Blackthorne on the SNES, the studio unleashed their groundbreaking hit in 1994, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. Throughout the remainder of the ’90′s they released classic after classic: Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Diablo, Starcraft, and the expansions Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal and Starcraft: Broodwar, and in the early 00′s Diablo II, Warcraft III, and their expansions.
Then, finally, in 2004, Blizzard unveiled what is arguably the most successful game ever made, the MMORPG landmark, World of Warcraft. Now, 8 years and a few million subscribers later, Blizzard has cemented itself as one of the greatest game developers of all time thanks to WoW’s success.
And I’m totally done playing their games.
“Why?” you may ask. Well, in order to explain myself, let’s take this one franchise at a time.
Admittedly the one of three major Blizzard series I played the least, but still and extremely important series, both to myself and to PC gaming as a whole. The original Starcraft is widely regarded as one of the best-balanced games ever. While the single player campaign was a compelling sci-fi story about humanity struggling against and two hostile alien races, it was the multiplayer where the game’s brilliance shone. It was so well made in fact, that in South Korea it was (and probably still is) the most played game in the country, and probably the widest spread activity amongst the country’s youth.
But for me, it never really stuck. I beat the campaigns, played a some multiplayer, but I never really got into it. Instead, I found my home with another Blizzard franchise, but more on that in a bit.
In my opinion, Starcraft II is probably the only modern Blizzard game deserving of anyone’s time. There’s a big expansion on the way (practically another game entirely) which is sure to reignite interest in the game. But I’m going to skip it, not because of the quality of the game, but because as I said, Starcraft never really stuck with me. I have Warhammer 40k for that instead.
I loved the Warcraft series. To this day, I still consider it the best RTS franchise, and hold up Warcraft 3 as one of my favorite games of all time. Unlike Starcraft, I really got into the multiplayer of Warcraft, and not just the matchmaking, but the custom games especially. This is where games like League of Legends and DotA 2 were born, in the custom maps of WC3. It’s also where I first entered the land of map creation and modding. I have fond memories of spending hours playing online matches, creating custom maps and game types, and even my own campaigns. Back when I was a youngling in private school, I and a buddy of mine would install WC3 on the school computers, getting in a game or two between rounds of Unreal Tournament 2003. But it wasn’t just the multiplayer, it was the story of Warcraft 3 that really hooked me.
The fantasy tale Warcraft wove was very compelling to me, and the unique take on classic fantasy races like Orcs and Elves gave an identity to the world of Azeroth that few fantasy settings ever achieve.
So, when Blizzard announced they were making an MMORPG set in this amazing universe, I was ecstatic. After a few years of waiting, my younger brother and I finally got our hands on World of Warcraft one snowy Christmas morning. For the next few months, we ground away at our characters, trying to ascend to the mystical level 60, join guilds, and start raids. I never made it to level 60. Ever. As my brother was sucked deeper and deeper into the land of Azeroth, I found myself less and less interested. The first expansion the Burning Crusade brought me back to the fold, but after I hit a wall too steep to grind, I never went back.
All that time, what I really wanted was a Warcraft 4. But as the stories of Thrall, Arthas, and Illadan were furthered and transformed (and, frankly, ruined) in the rather meaningless narrative of the MMO, my hopes were dashed and my interest extinguished. I don’t think we’ll ever see a Warcraft 4, and that’s fine by me, because if their recent track record is any indication, I probably wouldn’t care for it much anyway. Which brings me to the big one…
If you had asked me in between 2002 and 2004 what my favorite game was, I would have answered with a resounding and unquestioned “Diablo II.”
I don’t know why. I was not a huge fan of the original, though I did certainly enjoy it. But something about Diablo II, whether it was the loot, the art, the music, the community — or perhaps all of combined — whatever it was, it resonated with me in a way that not many games had done before. In fact, up until then, it was maybe the n64 Zeldas, Warcraft, and maybe a few of the classic Mario and Rayman games that really spoke to me in that way.
I spent a lot of time with Diablo II. The randomly generated maps; mounds of loot and gold; dark storyline… it’s all still so fresh in my mind.
So after years of waiting, being let down by WoW, and hearing about a Starcraft sequel, when Diablo III was finally announced, I might as well had done back flips out of my chair. Finally, a return to the world of Diablo! As details began to pour out, I got more excited. Then less excited. The more. Then Less. It went like this right up until the last few months before the open beta. I resigned myself to Blizzard’s will, deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt and keep my faith in what was sure to be a faithful sequel to one of my most beloved games.
And it was!
Diablo III fixed and changed so much about what was wrong with Diablo II (even stuff I didn’t know was wrong), while still keeping the spirit of the series intact and sticking to the fundamental design principles fans expected. Blizzard also redesigned Battle.net, so that online play was smoother and playing with your friends was as simple as clicking a single button.
Oh and they made the story a bigger part, but don’t worry, even though it was horrible, it didn’t matter much. Oh, and they borrowed a lot from WoW’s aesthetic. Oh, and the loot has been scaled back so players will utilize crafting and the auction house instead. Oh, and character building has been altered so that, despite vastly improving the skill system, your character’s stats were customized for you. OH! and now, all that random map generation that kept the previous games fresh and new, that’s all been gutted and is practically non existent.
After getting about halfway through the second difficulty, Nightmare, I stopped playing, dead cold. My first play through was great! But as I joined more online games and found myself replaying the exact same parts of the game, over and over again, with little to no change in the set of the environments, I lost interest almost immediately.
Now, I know they’re changing and adding a lot of new features, many of which address some of the issues I have with Diablo III. But that just makes me wonder “Why didn’t you just delay the game until it was complete?” I mean, they are BLIZZARD after all, the kings of “it’s done when its done” alongside Valve.
It makes little difference. I’m sure I’ll hop back in one day. Well, actually, no I’m not. I might, but at this point I have no desire to.
There was a time, years ago, when I had every Blizzard game installed on my PC. I’d hop between Warcraft III, Diablo II, and Broodwar on a whim. I thought of Blizzard’s games as masterpieces and regarded Blizz as the top game developer around. But now, with so many of the designers and creators that made those games possible having moved on to new studios and projects years ago, the company that once was no longer remains. Blizzard have stated publicly on several occasions that after the next expansions for Diablo III, Starcraft II, and Wow are completed, they plan on moving to new IPs, including a new MMO that I’m sure will turn the genre on it’s ear, so maybe we’ll see something new that will make me a believer again. But I doubt it.
It’s sad, but that’s the way life works. In their place, numerous AAA and indie developers alike have come in to offer the same type of top-shelf PC gaming I desire. But there will always be a part of me the pines for the glory days of Blizzard Entertainment.