Backlog: Reaper of Dark Souls edition

Once in a while I get a whole Backlog entirely to myself. It's a lonely feeling, but it's also kinda nice.

I've spent a lot of my free time over the last week immersed in some pretty morbid media. I'm closing in on the final chapters of A Storm of Swords, the third entry in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. It feels really good to have finally passed the TV show and to know things about the story that most of my friends don't. The Red Wedding doesn't hold a candle to what the back half of A Storm of Swords delivers.

I also finished two games with "souls" in the title, so I guess that's noteworthy.

Anyway, let's talk about some games.

When a fire starts to burn

When a fire starts to burn

I finished DarkSouls shortly after last week's Backlog went up. After nearly 50 hours logged on a single character — after countless boss battles and agonizing defeats — I'd finally arrived at the final boss. Lord Gwyn is an angry man with a flaming sword, and in true Dark Souls fashion, that's pretty much all you need to know about him.

I don't often feel a sense of loss when I've finished a game, book, or other piece of literature, but it's a bittersweet thing to be done with Dark Souls. I invested way more time into that game than just about anything I've played in the last few years, and I certainly haven't endured anything as unyieldingly difficult in recent memory. Dark Souls became less a game I was trying to cross off my own personal backlog and more a test I had volunteered myself for. It became a ritual where I'd learn the hard way how to tackle the game's challenges while broadcasting my folly to the internet on my Twitch channel. More often than not, I'd be soliciting moral support from friends who'd call in or hop into the chat room to watch me struggle my way through the game. It was a unique experience for me, and I'm not sure anything — not even the upcoming PC release of Dark Souls II — could replace it.

Then there's Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. Having finished off the new, final act of the game's storyline and dipped my toe into the loot-grinding machine that is the new Adventure mode, I'm feeling pretty torn about my purchase.

I was one of the few people I know who walked away completely satisfied with my time spent on the original release of Diablo III. The source of most gamers' consternation — the lack of a meaty, substantial, hundreds-of-hours-long endgame section supported by a finely tuned loot-drop system — didn't bother me in the slightest. I played through the campaign four times and hit the level cap, and I spent most of that time playing with a few good friends. That's all I wanted out of it.

I can understand people who yearn for the same transformative experience they had with Diablo II; I'm no stranger to it. I spent hundreds of hours of my high-school years grinding through the game over and over with friends, desperately seeking that one last unique item, that final piece of the Tal Rasha's Wrappings set. But I had time to burn back then in spades. And in 2012, more than a decade after Diablo II was released, I had a full-time job and was living 2,000 miles from where I grew up. I had other things on my mind. So a tight, gratifying, finely tuned multiplayer romp through four solid acts was exactly what I wanted from Diablo III. If I'd still been the teenage kid with time to burn, yeah, I might've been disappointed that I couldn't toss all my free time down yet another Diablo-shaped well. But people change, and fortunately for me, so did Diablo.

Reaper of Souls seeks to fulfill people's desire for an endless, modern Diablo experience with its rebuilt loot-drop system, a swath of new difficulty levels and all kinds of new loot customization options. But now that I've sunk a dozen or so hours into the new system — and now that I've seen unique weapons drop almost like clockwork after every hour of play — I feel like the mystery is gone. Diablo's loot game has always been fickle, but that's part of the joy of it: you never know when you'll find something truly transformative. Now I can almost set my watch by the intervals at which something substantially better for my character will drop. The mystique is gone; instead, there's a much more overt quid-pro-quo relationship between time and gear. Instead of feeling like every play session is a series of dice rolls, it's more akin to approaching a game like Magic: The Gathering — you know that no amount of skill and cunning will matter as much as the time and money you're willing to sink into the game.

I'm not sure if I'll dig deep into Reaper's endgame content. I'll definitely create a new Crusader to play with, since that's the new character class, but even that may be short-lived. It sure looks fun to see more colorful items dropping all the time, but...well, to quote a song that's still stuck in my head from my Diablo II days: "I know it's not a party if it happens every night."