It’s one thing to piss on Bethesda; they’ve been remaking Morrowind for a decade. It’s hard to say they know any better. Blizzard, on the other hand, should damn well know better.
I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining Blizzard’s past achievements. Starcraft, Diablo 1 & 2, and Warcraft 2 & 3 were all stellar, each in their own way. Well-developed storylines that take place within lovingly crafted universes, memorable characters with great dialogue, fantastically deep and novel mechanics, and badass cutscenes to boot. WoW, too, was a grand achievement, if only because it so thoroughly excelled beyond every other MMO on the market. What the hell happened since then? Why do I hate everything they’ve done in the last 3 years?
It started when Blizzard decided to make 3 games out of SC2 instead of one. Sure, there’s plenty of justifications that could be made for this decision, but at the end of the day, Blizzard knows that people are so desperate to play the sequel to one of history’s greatest games that they’ll pay $180 as easily as they would $60. Fine, whatever. But fuck! Then they announce no LANsupport; you have to be online to play the game. Fine, whatever. They can be controlling and greedy, but still make a great game, right?
My hope was raised when the beta was released; the graphics were stunning. Blizzard’s art and animation have always been top-notch, and SC2 continued that tradition in spades. The same is true for Diablo 3; there’s some awesome graphic design in there. Outside of the visuals, however, these games barely manage to be anything more than derivative and cliche.
Starcraft 2 makes an increasingly common error in the way video game storylines are told: the developers want to make it look epic. There’s this notion that everything should feel incredibly important, and that means a big orchestra, extended focus on intensely angry faces, and slow-motion action shots. As a result, the plot is told through a combination of badly written real-time cutscenes and overly dramatic pre-rendered cutscenes. The best cutscene in Starcraft 2 is…a fight scene, and one that clearly exists only to please fans, rather than to develop characters, create setting, or advance the plot. The dialogue it contains is a perfect example of the piss-poor writing that Blizzard has come to embrace:
Yet, in Starcraft, the entire story is told using only thumbnail animations of characters paired with voiceovers, interspersed by cutscenes that, half of the time, are only tangential to the central plot – but oh my god they give you such a vision for the universe the game is taking place within. And nearly all of them are fucking badass. Two random examples:
The conversation between Stukov and Alexei is a thousand times superior to the stupid pissing match we see between Zeratul and Kerrigan. The setting is created with the Terran and Zerg battle below – then the camera focuses on the cigar and the clock, making for a stark contrast between admiral and soldier. The conversation is deliberately paced, slowly revealing the nature of the two characters through their intonation and body language. I challenge anyone to find a scene in SC2 that achieves any such depth or complexity.
Diablo 3 is even worse. The pre-rendered scenes seem to exist only to show off the collectively large
penis budget of the art department, and/or to give fanboys something to jizz about (e.g. watching Tyrael fight). The in-game scenes, however, are a goddamn travesty. I didn’t realize how fucking bad these scenes were until I turned off the voice sound. Characters stand still, spewing flat monologues at one another in polite turns. In a game whose premise is that Hell is coming to take over the world and the enemies are all hate-filled lava-shitting demonspawn, why the FUCK are they going to stand there and talk to anyone? This is, of course, a persistent cliche across many movies, novels, and video games, but it becomes more ridiculous in a universe where objects of pure evil are taking the time to stop and explain anything to anyone.
Even more offensive than this, Blizzard chose to kill the only persistent (interactive) character in the Diablo series – Decard Cain – inside the awkward and emotionless confines of Diablo 3’s engine. Starcraft gave both Fenix and Tassadar full pre-rendered scenes for their deaths, as did Warcraft 3 for Grom Hellscream. Today, Blizzard seems to have forgotten what it takes to immerse players within the universe of their games.
Mechanically, Blizzard has effectively stopped innovating in their games, and the few changes they’ve made don’t actually make the games more fun to play. Putting aside the technical issues of the older games, SC2 and D3 are strictly less fun to play than their predecessors. How the fuck did they manage that? Personally, I think it’s because they were too afraid to change.
The story goes that when Blizzard was making Starcraft, they completely restarted the development process because they realized mid-way through that they were basically just making Warcraft in space. They ditched everything and started from scratch. What resulted was a completely original creation, with new mechanics, new strategies, and new possibilities for the entire RTS genre.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with making sequels, or with remaking games that are hampered by age and technical limitations. There’s a simple rule, however: iteration has to mean improvement. If there’s no room left for iteration, then it’s time to make something new. Perhaps Blizzard has forgotten how to pay attention to detail after working on WoW for so long. It could be the venemous influence of Activision. Maybe they’re just blinded by the cash cow that their franchises have become. Who the fuck knows? Either way, I don’t think I’ll be buying the next Blizzard game.