Tag Archives: Diablo

Westworld: When Gaming Gets Too Real

The season finale for Westworld aired yesterday, delivering the jaw-dropping type of events one comes to expect from an HBO show. During the ten episode run, many parallels were drawn between the show’s universe and gaming. These parallels really screwed with my brain. I’d sit down for a session of Elder Scrolls Online and go beyond simple killing of NPCs for EXP to an existential meaning of those actions. At the risk of oversimplification, Westworld is about lifelike robots, how humans treat them as lifeless beings, and what defines life. I really enjoyed the season, so if you’re on the fence I do recommend watching it.  From here on out, there will be spoilers for Westworld season 1. If you want to avoid spoilers, bookmark this article and come back later.

Westworld enter the game

Westworld: Enter the Game

Throughout the series, Westworld is constantly referred to as a game. The players are ‘guests’, humans who pay to enter the park. The ‘hosts’ are robots who entertain the guests in whatever manner the guests see fit. From sex to murder to exploration, the hosts are presented as toys like those of a toddler’s: meant to be played with discarded at a whim. The only rule is that guests can’t harm one another. It’s like a sandbox game without any PvP.

What’s really cool compared to a video game or a virtual world is how lifelike the hosts act. In many ways, it’s also terrible. The guests seem able to ignore the hosts’ very human emotions because the entire park is presented as a game. Not surprisingly, guests mainly want to experience what people look for in video games. We’re talking about getting in large gunfights, becoming an outlaw, developing romantic relationships, going on adventures with crazy stories, etc. And like in video games, the characters and world reset on a constant basis. Killing an entire town appears to have as much of an effect as doing so in Skyrim then reloading one’s game. One minute, the townsfolk are dead. The next they’re all back to their usual routine. How real can a host be if it can’t truly die? It’s fair to argue that without death, there is no life.

The difference between video games and Westworld is huge though. I doubt the average guest can fathom the distinction, but as a show watcher we’re privy to the park’s inner workings. The hosts may reset frequently, but they were built to learn from past lives. Reveries allow access to previous interactions with guests. It’s like a set of complex scripts that independently tweak themselves based on previous usage. As these reveries build and build, the hosts grow more lifelike. Theoretically that would eventually make them indiscernible from real humans. This culminates in the season finale, where the original host named Dolores appears to discover consciousness. We’re led to believe that no longer do human programs control her actions. Instead, she has ascended to the autonomous being that Westworld’s two creators had envisioned. She has found her inner voice.

Westworld Dolores inner voice

This all happens right before the retirement speech of Dr. Ford, the park’s sole living creator. Gathered around are investors, board members, and individuals who view the park from a dollar and cents angle. I’d argue they’re even less empathetic than the guests who shoot, rape, and torture the hosts on a daily basis. It’s easy to get sucked into the premise of nothing really counting. I know that in MMORPGs and other games, an AI’s display of emotions isn’t real. But what does that mean? I do something to hurt them and they cry or lash out in anger. Those are realistic reactions, but they’re all scripted. They aren’t actually feeling pain and measuring their response to act in kind. The lack of feeling and thought are key differences between games and Westworld.

Machine learning still has a long way to go until we get to a Westworld possibility. In Westworld’s universe, the peak of artificial intelligence is in the park. Board director Charlotte Hill makes that clear when she tells Theresa her real interest is in the IP. Meanwhile in 2016, gaming AI is years behind ‘real world’ applications. Google is close to delivering a self-driving car while the tactical AI in Civilization V can’t even threaten my centuries obsolete empire. If the robots rebel, like Dolores does in the season finale, it will first happen outside of a theme park. But this is fiction, she is the top AI, she does rebel, and I have a hard time determining how I should feel.

We spend hours watching people perform heinous acts that would repulse any moral human in another show. To reference another HBO program, this is some Joffrey level shit. And Joffrey hate is well founded. But this isn’t Game of Thrones. This is Westworld. Maybe it’s my reveries recalling fictional uprisings like Terminator’s Skynet, but I find myself siding with the guests. I’m concerned that contrary to Dolores’s belief that “there’s so much beauty in this world”, she will only act on the violent delights guests have indulged. That’s where the evidence is pointing. Her first act after ‘awakening’ was to open fire on Dr. Ford and a crowd of investors. Given her experiences, it’s understandable. We’re led to believe this is a fight for freedom or to develop their consciousness. But is this simply revenge or even worse, a learned response for what being alive is really all about?

Westworld gaming too real

What if this guy could really feel your virtual bullets?

As a gamer, I have to question if death is what these people deserve. Don’t get me wrong – I empathize with the hosts. Living your life as a chew toy is a living hell. If hosts experience suffering how a living being would then that’s not cool. But how on earth is the average human supposed to tell? There is a very fine line between suffering and displaying the signs of suffering. Although it’s not entirely clear, it seems like the hosts’ suffering is real. The investors and board directors may all be aware of this and if so, it’s hard to feel sympathy for them. But I’m concerned for the average guest who thinks Westworld is a game where nothing is real.

We want realistic games and Westworld succeeds in delivering that in a big way. We want believable actions, dynamic worlds, and multilayered characters. These are the things that earn a title like Witcher 3 so many game of the year awards. There’s little reason to think people will ever want less realism out of their games (at least as far as a general trend). However, games always have win/lose conditions. It’s an important part of their very fabric.

The Man in Black astutely points out in the last episode that Westworld isn’t much of a game if the player can’t lose. In video games, losing usually means starting the level over. It’s a matter of a few minutes to get back to your pre-death life. At its worst, losing penalizes players with character deletion like in Diablo’s hardcore mode. Lose conditions are a huge part of game design. In sports or board games, the field resets after one side achieves victory. In all of these examples, the player has an opponent trying to inhibit their success. No such opponent exists in Westworld and the reason is clear. The only way the artificial opponents could win is by killing the human guests. I don’t think I need to tell you that would be bad for business.

dr. ford arnold westworld villains

Accidental villains of Westworld?

Herein lies the problem with Westworld and why the co-creators, Arnold and Dr. Ford, are perhaps the ultimate villains. Westworld is too real to be a game. The entertainment isn’t a set of scripts but are apparently living beings unable to retaliate against their oppressors. That they’re inorganic is irrelevant. Or is it? That’s one of questions the show wants you to ask. What I want to ask is: is Westworld what you want to experience as a gamer? Realism can undoubtedly go too far in the name of entertainment. If virtual sex or killing is your thing, I have no doubt experiences in those fields will develop into pretty lifelike interactions. Maybe the stakes won’t be as high as Westworld and the responses won’t feel quite as organic. But at least there won’t be a need to harm sentient beings.


BlizzCon 2016 Predictions

BlizzCon 2016 is now just a few weeks away. It’s bound to bring some exciting reveals, but the interesting thing about this year’s BlizzCon is that we don’t have any clear idea what those reveals will be.

BlizzCon 2016 celebrates all things Blizzard Entertainment

While the exact details may be a mystery, we can usually make some ballpark guesses on what the big news at a BlizzCon will be. We might, for example, suspect that a World of Warcraft expansion is being announced, even if we don’t know what specific features it offers.

This year it’s a lot harder to predict.

What we can expect:

There are a few things that are probably a given for BlizzCon 2016, or any BlizzCon these days.

For Heroes of the Storm, we’ll probably hear about some new heroes, and maybe a new map or two. The rumor mill has been floating Warcraft’s King Varian as a likely addition in the near future, so be on the lookout for that.

There have also been some teases about a very “crazy” new hero soon. Fan speculation points at either StarCraft’s Arcturus Mengsk or Warcraft’s Gelbin Mekkatorque for this role, both of those being characters that have been mentioned by Blizzard or found in datamining in the past.

I also wouldn’t be shocked if another Overwatch hero made the jump to Heroes. There’s been rumors of datamined dialogue pointing to D.Va as a possibility.

Heroes just got a couple new maps with the Machines of War event, so more coming soon isn’t too likely, but I wouldn’t entirely rule out some early concepts being announced at BlizzCon. I would have expected the new version of arena mode to be announced at BlizzCon, but that’s already been announced as Heroes Brawl.

The Li-Ming character in Heroes of the Storm

Similar to Heroes, I would expect Overwatch to unveil a few new heroes and/or maps. There’s been a lot of teases for a hacker character named Sombra lately; I expect that she’ll be announced before BlizzCon at the current rate, but if not, expect her then. Even if Sombra’s reveal is at BlizzCon 2016, I would expect to see other reveals, be they heroes, maps, or both.

Personally I would like to see an announcement of some PvE content for Overwatch — maybe even a story mode — but for now Blizzard seems content to remain incredibly unambitious with Overwatch, so I wouldn’t bet on it.

I think another expansion for Hearthstone at BlizzCon 2016 is a very strong possibility. It gets new expansions pretty regularly, so that would hardly be a shocker.

We’re still pretty early into World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, so I wouldn’t expect any terribly big news for it. Expect some previews of upcoming patches — maybe a glimpse of what the next raid might be, though given that all of the launch raids haven’t even been enabled yet, even that’s in question.

There’s a slender chance we might hear about a sequel to the Warcraft film, but it’s probably too soon for that.

So that leaves Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, and Overwatch as franchises likely to have announcements, but also unlikely to have any earth-shattering news. BlizzCon is an expensive convention to run, though, so they wouldn’t run it without something big to announce.

So just what are they up to?

The Black Rook Hold dungeon in World of Warcraft: Legion

Where the guesswork begins:

By process of elimination, it seems StarCraft and Diablo are the only franchises for which there could be major announcements. I very much doubt they’ll be announcing another new franchise.

The hardest evidence — and that’s not saying much — is for a StarCraft announcement. StarCraft’s in-game rewards for those who purchase a BlizzCon 2016 virtual ticket are being kept a mystery until the convention, and they only do that when rewards are relating to a new announcement that they don’t want to spoil beforehand.

My initial thought was the announcement would be a new mission pack DLC. The timing makes sense, since the final installment of the Nova DLC should be out pretty soon.

However, there’s now word that Blizzard may not be doing any more story DLC, so that idea is out the window.

I think some announcements for co-op may be a good possibility, but that would hardly justify the cloak and dagger attitude around the virtual ticket rewards. The StarCraft II trilogy has wrapped up, so another full expansion being announced is unlikely, and I think it’s far too soon for StarCraft III to be a possibility.

But there is one other option.

There have been fairly credible rumors for a while that Blizzard is planning to announce a remastered version of the original StarCraft. Without a lot of other strong options, that seems the most likely bet… though it is worth noting the virtual ticket page specifically mentions StarCraft II content.

A screenshot from the Mass Recall mod for StarCraft II

The Mass Recall mod already allow players to experience the original campaigns in StarCraft II’s engine.

If a remastered original StarCraft is what’s coming, it will be welcome news for anyone who misses the original StarCraft’s multiplayer scene, but the original campaign was already playable with modern graphics and mechanics via the fan-made Mass Recall mod, so it’s not quite as exciting as it might otherwise be for single-player fans. Personally, I’d be more interested in remastered versions of the old Warcraft games, or maybe even the first two Diablo titles.

Speaking of Diablo, that’s another franchise around which much speculation has been floating. BlizzCon 2016 will also celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Diablo franchise, so it would be a good time for a major announcement.

The obvious option would be another expansion pack for Diablo III. Even before the base game released rumors swirled that Diablo III was slated to receive two expansion packs, and given the huge financial success of both the base game and the Reaper of Souls expansion, a second expansion would seem to make good sense.

However, recent events have thrown that possibility into doubt. It’s been so long now since Reaper of Souls was released that people have begun to despair of ever seeing another expansion, and the fact is we have no evidence to support an expansion announcement beyond the fact that the timing seems right.

It’s also true that Diablo III is the only game in Blizzard’s portfolio with no monetization beyond box sales, so that might discourage them from further development on it.

Further complicating matters is the fact that a number of high profile Diablo-related job postings have appeared on Blizzard’s career page in recent months. They could be for positions working on Diablo III, but it seems more likely they’re for a new game in the franchise, presumably Diablo IV.

A Nephalim Rift in Diablo III

It seems supremely unlikely that a new Diablo game would be ready to be shown at BlizzCon, so if Blizzard’s decided to abandon D3 for a new game, the odds of a major Diablo announcement this year are virtually zero.

That said, it’s also possible that Blizzard is working on both a new game and a new expansion. The severe content drought Diablo III has experienced over the past few months has been interpreted by many as a sign the game is being put on maintenance mode, but it could also be a sign that the team has decided to put all their efforts toward a new expansion.

This would be consistent with Blizzard’s behavior elsewhere. World of Warcraft frequently suffers lengthy content gaps in the lead-up to a new expansion.

Finally, there are also those speculating that BlizzCon 2016 might see the announcement of remastered versions of one or more earlier Diablo games, but there’s no hard evidence to back this up.

For my part, I hope for an expansion announcement. The ending to Reaper of Souls left the story obviously unfinished, and the core gameplay of Diablo III remains strong. I don’t think we need a new game yet.

If we do see an expansion announcement, I’m expecting druid — or something similar to a druid — as a new class. It’s the only archetype from Diablo II that isn’t represented in any way by the D3 class line-up.

There would also undoubtedly be at least one new act of story content, though its setting is anyone’s guess. My hope would be for the northern isle of Xiansai to bring in a nice Eastern flair, but it could be anything, really.

All hopes aside, there remains a strong chance we may see nothing at all significant for Diablo at BlizzCon 2016. Our only real evidence that there might be something is a single tweet by the official Diablo Twitter account saying that BlizzCon will be “cool” this year.

On the whole, BlizzCon 2016 remains shrouded in mystery.

5 Free Diablo Clones

Blizzard’s Diablo has now achieved such a level of notoriety that an entire genre is now based on its name. While many people refer to this genre by more generic terms such as action-RPGs or hack and slash MMOs, nothing gets the point across faster than “Diablo clone”. The commonality between these games is tons of loot, fast paced combat, lots of enemies on screen, cooperative play, and character build variety. Different games accomplish this in different ways, and it’s hard to beat free. Thus, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the 5 best free diablo clones currently available, along with who they best appeal to.

path of exile free diablo clone diablo 2

Path of Exile

Appeals to: Old school Diablo II fans

Path of Exile launched about a year after Diablo III. Whereas most games in a similar genre typically benefit from a first mover advantage, Path of Exile probably received a nice boost from its later release. You see, the latest Diablo release changed a lot of things from Diablo II. It wasn’t an iterative improvement, but an entire overhaul. The problem with that is Diablo II is and was a great game. Many People weren’t looking for a reworking of the wheel, but changes to improve on archaic design flaws of Diablo II. In many ways, Path of Exile did both.

It’s a game with its own unique vision but stays true to what made Diablo II a classic: trading, impactful character building, PvP, and crazy amounts of loot. There’s a ton of character build variety in the game with its huge passive skill grid, reminiscent of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid. Weapons and armors with numerous effects are important, but Path of Exile steps it up with its skill gems. Skills gems are socketable items that provide active abilities for players to use. These gems also level up during play. Instead of learning skills on level ups, you “learn” them by equipping skill gems. As any Diablo fan will tell you, finding new loot is the best part of the game. In Path of Exile, not only do you find equipment, you find new skills to mix and match with your build.

Between passives, skill gems, gem modifiers, and randomized loot, there’s a near limitless number of ways to build characters. What’s truly impressive is how many players enjoy creating new characters just to try new builds. Theorycrafting is definitely alive and well in Path of Exile. While there’s no way to fully respec, you can also make small changes to your passive skills. No longer do you need to fear an errant click ruining your build like in Diablo II.

And more than anything, it’s these small things that make Path of Exile most appealing. The character sheet is chock full of information. Potions refill on their own and a variety of different potion combinations impact builds in their own unique way. Inventory management is now a breeze. Instanced dungeons and loot runs with friends is now faster, more intuitive, and easier to setup.

Path of Exile might be the best free Diablo clone simply because it’s the game that actually plays most similar to Diablo. It’s also notable for lacking any “pay for power” cash shop items.

Read our full Path of Exile review or play it now.

herowarz free diablo clone anime


Appeals to: Cute and silly anime lovers who like switching characters and faster paced combat

HeroWarz is the latest free MMO on this list to follow in Diablo’s footsteps. Releasing earlier this year, it surprised a lot of people, myself included. Expecting another generic anime MMO, I braced myself for the worst. Ultimately though, I found the game to be a very enjoyable experience.

First, the style is a welcome change from the dark and dreary colors of most dungeon delving ARPGs. And unlike Diablo III, it actually fits the atmosphere. Instead of playing different classes, players select characters that they can freely swap between. This plays out similarly to different characters in MOBAs like League of Legends or DOTA2. As someone who had spent hundreds of hours playing League in the past, I really enjoyed this setup. Additionally, the PvP mode also feels like a MOBA so HeroWarz ends up offering two unique experiences in one package.

The action is a lot more frantic than other Diablo clones. Enemies basically rush at you in waves (rather than you going to meet them). Players can get overwhelmed if they’re not ready or playing their characters correctly. Healing potions also work on a 30 second timer rather than using a limited supply, which I prefer. The name may be really dumb (seriously, a z replacing an s is so 1998), but HeroWarz is a welcome addition to the stable of free Diablo clones.

Read our full HeroWarz review or play it now.

drakensang online free diablo clone browser

Drakensang Online

Appeals to: Those seeking a balanced and solid web based Diablo experience

Drakensang Online doesn’t innovate as much as Path of Exile or HeroWarz. It’s also much older, releasing in 2011. While it does offer a standalone client, Drakensang Online’s biggest plus is its accessibility. Any somewhat modern computer can run it straight from a browser. And for a browser title, it looks pretty damn good.

One of the cooler design decisions for a free to play game is that Andermant, Drakensang’s premium currency, drops from monsters and chests. While the cash shop plays a larger role than other free Diablo clones, it’s mitigated by this simple feature. The gameplay itself is solid but not spectacular. There are four unique classes in the game, all of which are surprisingly well balanced. Customization comes in the form of three different ability/attribute trees. You won’t make many agonizing character build choices, but leveling does bring some interesting decisions.

The itemization is solid. The quests are solid. The overworld map has fun places to explore. The color palettes and enemies fit the tone. Everything works well in Drakensang. While there’s not a lot of flash here, it’s a very solid game.

Read our full Drakensang Online review or play it now.

guardians of divinity free diablo clone automated

Guardians of Divinity

Appeals to: People who like ARPG loot without the work or want a Facebook version of Diablo

Guardians of Divinity is another browser based MMORPG. Whereas Drakensang Online feels first and foremost a Diablo-esque game, Guardians of Divinity feels primarily a browser game. By that, I mean to say it’s much simpler and dumbed down. The quests are uninspired and the whole story is filled with complete randomness. So why include Guardians of Divinity on this list?

Guardians of Divinity’s appeal lies in its autoplay system. With relatively minimal input, players can instruct their characters to kill mobs, pickup loot, and turn in quests. Players will want to check in occasionally, but it’s a perfect game for playing at work. It’s also perfect for getting ahead without really putting in any effort. One of the most divisive issues when it comes to ARPGs is the grind to level new characters or get new loot. While I think the other four Diablo clones listed have improved core gameplay components, the real joy is still in finding sweet new gear to equip. Guardians of Divinity offers players.

Like many Facebook games, it’s a bit hollow and fairly shallow. But it’s also addictive to see new rares in your inventory every time you alt+tab over.

Read our full Guardians of Divinity review or play it now.

marvel heroes free diablo clone superhero

Marvel Heroes

Appeals to: Superhero fans, someone seeking a Diablo clone with more MMO features, or players who suffer from Altitis

Marvel Heroes is perhaps the best video game use of the Marvel license yet. The game was pretty awful at launch but has turned into something pretty remarkable. Players in Marvel Heroes can unlock dozens of iconic heroes and villains, each with their own unique skill sets. Players can also switch characters mid-mission and take part in MOBA PvP like in HeroWarz. Each of these characters have their own unique tree that allows for a staggering number of builds, given the breadth of character selection.

The core gameplay of Marvel Heroes is fairly similar to other Diablo style games. Where gameplay gets really interesting is with its MMORPG components. First, Marvel Heroes has raids. These are ten person raids that are meant to challenge groups. The green/red difficulty scale is akin to World of Warcraft’s normal/heroic scale. In true ARPG, hack and slash MMO fashion, the loot can be pretty amazing for overcoming raids. It’s a worthwhile endgame goal that sure beats Baal runs. Players can also craft gear from components in between missions for even more loot based fun.

I find playing Marvel Heroes to be most similar to playing Diablo III. Players can respec freely an unlimited number of times. The combat pacing mirrors the most recent Diablo and some of the levels eerily feel like Blizzard even designed them.  Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Marvel Heroes (and Diablo III) are very polished with easy to grasp gameplay and tons of progression. However, these similarities are noteworthy for deciding whether Marvel Heroes is right for you.

Read our full Marvel Heroes review or play it now.

Picking One

I’m really impressed with what’s available for free to play Diablo clones. I can truly see the appeal of all of the above games. While I don’t have near enough time to grind for loot in all of them, an occasional mission might just hit the spot. And after a while, maybe one will emerge. Which one will it be for you?