The New Diablo Games Are Taking Too Long
Omega Force has released 22 Dynasty Warriors games since the last Diablo launched
As a huge fan of hack- and- slash action RPG games, Diablo III and the Dynasty Warriors franchise are both on my regular playlist. These games provide dozens of hours of fast-paced action fun, and keep players engaged for months with a combination of experience points, skill trees, and a massive pile of new weapons to find.
If you want some exciting new content, you never have to wait long with the Warriors series. Koei Tecmo, and their internal development team Omega Force, clearly have game production honed down to a science. Between the core games and licensed spin-offs, a brand new game is never far away. Even the licensed entries usually contain at least 30 hours worth of brand new worlds to explore, and the huge cast lists, move sets, and randomized loot drops mean that it’s easy to pour far more time in than that.
Diablo III has received regular downloadable updates since its original launch in 2012. Alongside the console ports, its loot system was overhauled, and the randomized Adventure mode launched a number of years ago to critical acclaim. It got two small paid expansions, and every so often receives a tiny drip of new content across its many versions thanks to its season feature.
However, Blizzard’s infamous perfectionism means that a truly new Diablo game experience is nowhere to be seen. They have three new games in development right now: Diablo IV, Diablo Immortal, and Diablo II Resurrected. The latter has a vague “2021” release window, while the other two have even less release certainty in spite of being marketed and shown for multiple years.
Meanwhile, Omega Force and Koei have released a hilarious twenty two new entries in the Warriors series since Diablo III’s 2012 launch. That sentence reads like a joke, but it’s not. Early in the franchise’s history, you could perhaps correctly remark that they were churning out middling games, but recent Warriors entries are bona-fide high quality action RPG experiences.
Persona 5 Strikers just launched in the west largely to critical acclaim, scoring above an 80 on metacritic. Last year’s Hyrule Warriors sequel, Age of Calamity has some performance issues on the Switch but is a masterful action game, also scoring critical praise. I’d argue this legacy of competent quality stretches all the way back to 2011’s Dynasty Warriors 7, which was the first time in the series I felt like I was playing a fully-developed game and not just a tech demo for their in-house engine that throws around hundreds of fully-animated characters on-screen.
Blizzard has far more money at their disposal than Omega Force, and a large team of talented developers, but they seem to be completely lacking strong leadership, and the will to actually release a thing. After a string of high-profile departures and PR challenges, the company brought on noted “fixer” and long-time Gears of War designer Rod Fergusson to try and bring Diablo IV home. That was the first time I’ve been hopeful about the game in a while, especially after stories that its development efforts have been thrown out numerous times over the last decade.
Perfectionism and releasing things “when they’re done” are edicts often boosted by hardcore gamers as the best way to get quality games. But gaming is as much a business as it is an art, and perfectionism also often translates to long hours of crunch poured into games that never end up releasing…or have launch disasters like Cyberpunk. Sure, companies like Nintendo have had some success with delays and endless tweaking, but they also still make sure to release a new slate of games on their console every year.
Games have to come out in order to be video games. Endless perfectionism is a nightmare rabbit hole with no obvious end. Limitations inspire creativity, and mean that tired workers can finally go home for a holiday when the project is done. I loved it when legendary Doom co-creator John Carmack, one of the strongest proponents of “when it’s done,” admitted that it was horrible. It’s okay for things to be imperfect, especially when they’re huge collaborative projects with millions of moving parts and lines of code like games.
I’ve had a blast playing each and every one of Omega Force’s twenty two games they’ve made over the last decade. They might not be “perfect,” but again no game really is. And they’ve been able to iterate and experiment along with the times. They’ve received player feedback, worked on multiple generations of console hardware, and honed their craft to a fine-tuned point that critics can finally appreciate. Meanwhile, three different Diablo games are stuck in a weird black hole. They’ll probably be good if any of them ever release. But in some sense they’ll also be inevitable disappointments since they’ll be fighting against ten years of eager fan anticipation.
The huge success of modern early access projects like Valheim shows that today’s gaming audience is more willing to play imperfect content, as long as the core of the thing is there. A game like that was able to shoot out of nowhere to wild success because it has a beautiful core design and no one hyped themselves up over it for a decade plus.
It’s time for “when it’s done” to enter the dustbin, and for meaningful scope limits and effective management to help development teams build games in a timely, healthy fashion. Omega Force clearly has this figured out. The fact that a smaller Japanese team can beat the output of a truly legendary studio by a comical factor of twenty- two speaks volumes to the success of their different approaches.