The Necromancer was always my favorite class in Diablo 2, and one of the things that always struck me was how unique he was compared to all the other characters. His entire design paradigm was completely different. This uniqueness changed slightly in the expansion with the arrival of the Assassin and the Druid, but this is primarily because those two classes cribbed some of their design from the Necromancer.
(I analyzed the unique and intriguing design of the Necromancer in a post long ago, but that analysis was obfuscated by me also trying to do other weird gonzo, humor things; in early posts on this blog I did a lot of experimental things that didn’t pan out.)
This has also been on my mind recently because I am designing a coop dungeon crawler board game and some of the character classes are inspired by my revelations about D2’s Necromancer design.
So, let’s get into what makes the D2 Necromancer so unique and different from the rest of the D2 classes (I’m not really going to talk about Diablo 3 at all, fyi).
I think that the height of game design lies in the designers ability to give the player the freedom to choose how he approaches the game, and nevertheless the player still gets a specific and intended experience.
There’s a moment of perfect game design in Diablo (by Blizzard North), and it is has to do with the Butcher.
When you first start playing Diablo, you’re almost guaranteed to get the Butcher Quest. It’s your first quest and it’s your first boss battle.
The Butcher’s room is unique. And when the players first encounter it they can immediately tell that there’s something special and foreboding about this room. The room is on the second floor (very early in the game) and its isolation, design, and bloody, gory props are completely different than anything the players encountered so far.
They’re almost guaranteed to make the connection between this room and the Butcher Quest. They know what they will encounter behind the door to this gut strewn place.
Already this is pretty good game design. But this is where the design of this boss battle becomes ingenious:
At this point, there is no possible way that players can beat the Butcher.
I recently was thinking about the original Diablo, which is still my favorite of the Diablos next to Diablo Cody and El Diablo, the Mexican Satan. But in terms of the video game series begun by Blizzard North (and later watered down by Blizzard Blizzard), D1 was a weirder, more interesting, and grittier game. It was definitely more Rogue-like than its successors, and while it had some rough edges, those rough edges gave it more character.
One thing in particular sums up what I like about the original Diablo and how Blizzard’s design principles changed over time.
Unique items were absolutely bonkers.
I originally wrote this when the new Deus Ex came out and I replayed the original. I wrote it to point out how unbalanced the different builds paths happened to be in Dues Ex.
Some people complained that in the new game, if you focused on non-lethal skills that this would sabotage other parts of the game like certain boss battles. What I wanted to point out was that this was still true in the original game, and that the unbalance between tech paths was, in some cases, even worse in the original game.
I wanted to do more work on it before posting it, but oh well.