A while back, I decided to compare Diablo Greater Rifts to Pokemon Speedrunning. This might have been a bit surprising, specially if you know that Pokemon has a spin-off series that is much closer to the actual Diablo games. Yeah, I’m talking about the Mystery Dungeon Series. They are dungeon crawlers, where you get in heavily randomized dungeons and have to traverse several floors until you typically reach a boss fight.
That sounds much more similar to Diablo, right? And it all ties back to the randomness.
If you remember from the Blizzcon Diablo Panels, they talked about how “Randomness is King” was an item design philosophy they used when Diablo had just launched, and something they eventually tried to move away from. But I digress, when I play Diablo 3 I see traces of “Randomness is King” all over the place. Maybe is not the same that they had in mind, but the name describes it perfectly. Doing Rifts over and over, where the only difference are the random enemies, the random tile-sets, and the random floor designs. The fact that every legendary item can spawn from any random minion. The random affixes on elite packs, and so on.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is often considered a game that is too random to be speedrun, but I decided to give it a try anyway. Hour long runs, where I traversed Tens and even Hundreds of Floors worth of Dungeon. Some were Randomly easy, some were randomly hard, some where mind-numbingly long. But in the long run, I felt like everything averaged out rather nicely.
While in a main series Pokemon game, having bad RNG in a particularly crucial point can be what makes or break your whole speedrun. Specially when the rest of the game is pretty much predetermined, those little spots of random make it so much more important. In Mystery Dungeon the random was everywhere, so if you lost 30 seconds due to a stupid dungeon layout, if the exit spawned right next to the entrance, you could win them right back on the next floor. When I realized that, it hit me. I finally understood what was bothering me in Diablo.
“When everything is random, random is no longer special”
But Even in Mystery Dungeon, things aren’t as random as Diablo Rifting. Much like the normal Diablo story mode experience, each Mystery Dungeon has random layouts but the tileset and enemy pool is always the same. So while each Dungeon and Floor are “random”, you know what you are facing and you can prepare for it. This means that you can employ different strategies for each Dungeon, you might even have to alter your playstyle to stay on the optimal course. In Diablo Rifting? No so much, you have to go with a one-size-fits-all build, you never know what you will be facing so you likely have to go with a cookie-cutter strat.
Rifting as end game has really spoiled the Diablo Experience, you no longer explore the rich world of sanctuary to discover its mysteries and get its glorious items. Now you just get inside a portal and kill stuff ad infinitum. But that’s not all of it.
In Mystery Dungeon, you know which Pokemon are on each dungeon, so if you want to add a new friend to your party you know where to “farm” him. In Diablo 3, almost every item drop is completely randomized, you can get any legendary item out of any random enemy so if you really want that item that will finish your dream build you are likely stuck running whatever has been determined to give the most legendaries/hour. Think about WoW World Drops, when you just start the new expansion and get a random world drop it is a great moment, you know you just got either a nice epic upgrade or at the very least something that will be very valuable on the auction house. Those World Drops really feel special; it is a case where just a little bit of random can really make something shine. But in Diablo 3, every legendary is a world drop, which kinda makes it loses its luster.
Because, “When everything is random, random is no longer special”.
So that’s why I say that Randomness is a Cruel King, because behind the illusion of doing different stuff, hides the sad reality that we are actually just doing the same thing over and over again.
I sincerely hope our 2015 is much less random, and much more predetermined.