The eternal war for Tim Clark’s spare time rages on. (Image credit: Blizzard)
When do you accept you’ve got a problem? For years now I’ve known I was playing Destiny 2 too much. My play time on Steam is so high that I’ve become embarrassed to admit the number, but suffice to say it’s in the many thousands of hours, and that doesn’t include all the time it was only available through Battle.net. I also recently crossed the ridiculous threshold of four million kills in PvE, which means I’ve somehow killed more aliens than the entire population of Croatia. My most shameful point, though, was delaying a medical procedure so as not to miss the launch of The Witch Queen expansion. The knock on effect was that when we moved apartments a few days later I was basically incapacitated and barely helped with the boxes. Somehow, my girlfriend didn’t leave me.
I’ve rationalized my addiction—I’m uncomfortable to admit that it does feel like the right descriptor—by saying I don’t have kids and, susceptibility to kidney stones aside, I am reasonably healthy. Whose business is it but mine if I want to spend my nights and weekends raiding with mates, endlessly tinkering with builds, and futzing around with my Warlock’s fashion? Over time, though, something has eaten away at me. Like most of my colleagues, I was always pretty omnivorous when it came to gaming. Each year I’d play as many of the big releases as possible, dipping into acclaimed indies and surprise hits along the way. But eventually all my time (note I don’t say “spare”) was being taken up by Destiny 2 and, to a much lesser degree, Hearthstone.
It was easier to stick with those games, which I already loved and had a community of friends playing and talking about, than take risks on new games I might not like. The more I played Destiny 2, the deeper the well of knowledge I built up, and I dare say the better player I became. I found myself bouncing off other games, especially shooters, because I immediately didn’t like the feel. Only Titanfall 2 made a dent. As to why Destiny 2 had its hooks so deep, I can trace the warning signs back to the early Halo games. I replayed these endlessly because nothing gave me close to the same kick as Bungie’s combat. Now combine that dopamine-dispensing gunplay with the skinner box of the modern live service model and I was always going to be in trouble.
Meet the new boss
The good news is that a new game has broken the spell. The slightly more troubling news is that the new game is Diablo 4. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Swapping one grindy live service game with a disgruntled community for another isn’t the act of radical self-care that you think it is.” But hear me out. Just the fact that I’m no longer logging into Destiny 2 daily—that the thought of logging in actually makes me slightly nauseous—is a sort of win.
It feels good to be a noob again
I’m not naive enough to think Diablo 4 won’t suffer from many of the exact same problems Destiny 2 does, or that I won’t end up feeling that same loop of compulsion and fatigue from its seasonal model. One look at the game’s subreddit tells you those problems are not just in the post but already piling up on the door mat. Here’s the thing though: I’m not feeling the issues yet. I’m still miles off the true endgame, mooching around the campaign in the 50s on World Tier II, delivering justice on the tip of a bone spear with my trusty platoon of skellies traipsing behind. I know that skeletons aren’t meta and you’re supposed to sacrifice them, but no thanks! I’m having fun with my painfully-thin pals.
Honestly, what Diablo 4 has made me realise more than anything is that it can feel good to be a noob again. I’m not freighted down with almost a decade of calcified knowledge about how to play the game ‘properly’.
I should say that I am (loosely) following a guide. This post isn’t intended as an entreaty to ignore all of a game’s systems and use any old abilities and gear. I want to be a necromancer, not a clown. Learning at my own pace is proving to be its own pleasure, though, as I gradually come to grips with extracting and applying Aspects to crank up my build’s synergies. I also recently switched from a Corpse Explosion setup to one that uses Corpse Tendrils to smoosh mobs together for a crit-juiced Bone Spear. A small but satisfying gain. I am also trying to channel Robin Valentine and his recommendation not to obsess about min-maxing. Yes, eventually, I will almost certainly end up in the same place: lovelessly running the same content for the most marginal of upgrades to my gear. But today it’s enough to just be excited to play and it not feel like a chore.
Let the record state my fashion skills remain incredibly strong. (Image credit: Blizzard)
Putting the ARGH in ARPG
As for what it is about Diablo 4 that scratches the same itch as Destiny 2, the answers are easy. The combat in both puts me in a fuguelike state of hyper focus that soothes my ADHD-raddled brain for hours at a time. Playing Destiny 2 and Diablo 4 is like popping digital bubble wrap to me. They are each fundamentally about building the best monster killing machine possible and letting it rip. When that machine sings, and the screen is fizzing and bursting with the best VFX that 2023 has to offer, it feels like some primo Rube Goldberg shit. And of course there’s the loot. Hoovering up gear hoping to find a god roll is so inherently moreish that it’s a reminder of why the live service model isn’t going anywhere. So yeah, I might be trading one debilitating hobby for another, but a change is as good as a rest.
(I also want to note that Diablo 4 feels slightly less stuffed with microtransactions than Destiny 2, and transmog being completely free is a reminder of how much Bungie likes to dip my pockets for every single element of its game.)
We’re talking about changes to numerical values ascribed to abilities, not something which warrants the gravity of a truth and reconciliation commission.
Given where I am in Diablo 4 currently, it’s probably no surprise that I barely felt the impact of the controversial nerfs from the last patch. Honestly, I could have taken the Pepsi challenge between the two versions and not known the difference. I felt sympathy for the devs who were wheeled out to explain those changes last Friday. Yes, we had a little fun with our reaction to the stream, but only because these are changes to numerical values ascribed to abilities in a videogame, not something which warrants the gravity of a truth and reconciliation commission. Hopefully next week’s update soothes the waters.
To reiterate: I’m having a great time with Diablo 4. I fully understand that others, particularly those at the sharp end of Tier 100 Nightmare Dungeons, have substantial issues that I’m not close to encountering. But if all Diablo does is rekindle my willingness to spend more time with other games, that will do fine. Does it mean I’m done with Destiny 2?
Sunk-cost fallacy is a thing, and although the game is in a particularly arid drought right now, you’d better believe I’ll still be riding The Final Shape all the way down, yee-hawing like Slim Pickens as my sleep schedule explodes. So I guess the moral of this story is… look, I dunno… Maybe that it’s okay to have an affair so long as you go back to the wife who’s slowly killing you? (Again: a miracle she hasn’t left me.)