The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Diablo III Crusaders

A Crusader stands on the log on screen, clad in gold and white holy armor.

In case you haven’t been paying attention this week, but Diablo III: Reaper of Souls dropped. I have written about my time spent with this pleasant hack-and-slash game before, and it has been mostly positive and about how fun the game is. I had put it down for a while to focus on Mists of Pandaria but their pre-expansion patch 2.0 dragged me back with all of the quality of life changes. The expansion is no less engaging so far, as well.

What Diablo III: Reaper of Souls introduced, along with the new story quest content and Adventure Mode is a new class called the Crusader. A previously small branch of holy warriors that follow the religion of Zakarum, they are pious defenders that rid the world of sin and demonic activity. They apparently are similar to the paladins of Diablo II, but my own investigation into this has yielded at least one glaring question: why are they so white?

The thought that prompted to look into this class’ possible beginnings was wondering why Crusaders wouldn’t look like Tyrael’s human self versus the great white-haired-and-blue-eyed woman that stands on my logon screen.

Tyrael in the Reaper of Souls cinematic.

Tyrael (voiced by Jonathan Adams) is a fallen angel of the Heavens who is portrayed in the cinematic as well as his in-game portrait as black. Wouldn’t it make at least a clever bit of sense to have the newly minted Crusaders be made in the visage of Diablo III‘s most holy knight? It’s not like the game isn’t lacking other black and brown characters at this point, though the problem is that up until this point in Diablo III‘s career, the witch doctors are not exactly something I’d call a positive portrayal of black people. Witch doctors, although entirely fun as a game class, are black people that are styled in a way that is built on incredibly racist tropes.

When I started looking into Diablo’s history with other black characters, this was brought up to me:

Upon looking at the Diablo II wiki, this became pretty obvious. Paladins and Crusaders are both warriors of Zakarum. It would make both aesthetic and narrative sense to have the two classes look similar. The fact that how Crusaders look now is remarkably different from how they should have looked is touched on in-game. There’s a lore book in Reaper of Souls explaining why this occurred (somehow) as the crusaders split off from other holy orders to go East (which ignores things like how migration doesn’t magically turn you from black to lily white in a rapid fashion).

The Crusaders of the present also differ physically from their forebears—Abd al-Hazir referred to them as “tall blonde warriors,” very different from their Kehjistani forefathers.[10] While these Crusaders still bear the name of their forefathers, they are ethnically of Sanctuary’s far east rather than Kehjistan.[7]

Diablo 3 Wiki

There’s also the problem where it is intimated that the Crusaders split off due to their purity and zealousness and immunity to corruption that paladins never had that bothers the living heck out of me. It reads very oddly to have a holy order that is “ethnically different” from darker forebears but is also fabulously more pure. How does only a handful of generations of holy warriors manage to become a crusader of a different color if they are typically loners with only an apprentice? I wonder.

Even if none of this lore was particularly threadbare and bizarre on the subject of religious soldiers, there’s still the matter that often fantasy bases it’s portrayal of divine holy people as light and bright, skin color entirely in line with this. Seeing black or brown Crusaders in the vein of the paladins of yore would have gone a long way to shaking up the makeup of Diablo’s classes and unoriginal fantasy palettes even further. While it is commendable that they’ve done a handful of things differently than other games in this vein, perhaps, they’ve done not nearly enough and done a few things hideously wrong.

I get that maybe Blizzard got hyped on a tall, blonde Joan of Arc warrior woman type and while it’s cool to see them develop a woman character as the driving force behind a creative endeavor but the fact that she was yet another conventionally beautiful, blonde warrior woman in a long line of them in fantasy as an acceptable “strong” woman visage was nothing new. They missed out on a logical, fairly necessary place to honor some of Diablo’s older lore as well as create more characters that aren’t white.

Mini-Post: A How-To With Diablo’s Community Feature

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls just dropped and one of the features that came with it (or rather, the Loot 2.0 patch) was the “Community”.

What are Communities?

Communities in Diablo are social groups that users can create and connect to in the game. They operate similarly to clans in that they have their own news page, ranks and private chat channel but unlike clans, you can be a part of several at a time. Think of it like an extended clan that’s based around things that aren’t just about Diablo! There’s communities for people that read certain webpages, local town communities and anything else you can think of.

I was excited to hear about this feature once I found out about it. I’m an extremely social person and the idea that I could hang out with lots of people who weren’t in my clan and chat about things was really neat.

How Do I Join One?

join-button

When you hop into game, go over to the bottom right of your UI and use the Communities button. (You can also access it by using default Shift + O!)  From there, you can hit the “Find” button and start searching for any community you could think of by language, subject or filter by name. You could even start a community of your own.

filter

Some communities have a little envelope by their name, that means you need to be invited to join. You can apply to join and see if you’re accepted.

I’m in! …Now What?

Once you have joined a community, get to mingling! The easiest way to do this is to join a community’s chat. Now, at the moment, chat is not “stickied” to keep you logged into it whether you leave the game or not. It’s different from WoW in that respect, so you have to rejoin every time you log into the game. You could be missing important or fun stuff if you forget this, but I hope that this is a bug and they fix it eventually.

Joining chat (or leaving) is pretty easy. Open your Community panel again:

join-chat

This logs you into your community’s chat so you can see what everyone is saying. The little red icon means you aren’t connected. And if you want to leave for some reason? Just click that button again.

Sightless Eye

As for my own communities, I started one for anyone who wanted a feminist/safe space to hang out and talk to people in Diablo III. It’s called “Sightless Eye” (which is what you’d search for in the Find panel) and has a handful of people right now. We mostly just shoot the breeze while demolishing demons, but if you want to come party with us, join!

And just remember to rejoin chat every time you hop in game! See you in Sanctuary!

Blizzcon 2013: Impressions

Blizzcon entrance, as seen from the glowing fountain of doom.

Blizzcon 2013 was not for the faint of heart. Between the travel woes, heat and the general fatigue that kept hitting me like a child with a wiffle bat, there was a lot of things to see and to do and it felt like I needed a time turner or perhaps de-aging myself 10 years to properly enjoy it all. Not to mention a lot more money. It was all worth it, though at times I wished I could have been curled up on my couch with the Virtual Ticket instead of braving the crowds. A lot of my best moments happened not in panels but rather behind the scenes hanging out with friends and meeting Blizzard people. However, this is going to be a rundown of the content we all got to see. I’ll save the granular discussions on particular issues for later.

Note: This is all based on my personal experiences and in the attempt to get this out today, I haven’t watched the panels I missed via the Virtual Ticket yet, so there’s gaps in my memory and knowledge. Be a little patient with possible corrections.

All That Real Life Stuff

Most of what gets discussed after the con is long over is not necessarily the panels but all the great memories you have while being at the con and getting to hang out with friends. This year’s Blizzcon theme definitely centered around the idea of friends and community and I felt like the feeling on the floor was no exception. Some of the greatest moments I had at Blizzcon was getting to just spend time with people I had only seen on Twitter or heard on podcasts. I admit that some of my real mopey-ness was feeling more like a public persona than being around people who know the “real” me like my guild-mates, most of whom weren’t in attendance this year. I did see a few though, which made me feel a lot better.

Getting to meet some of my heroes (and new faves like CM Nevalistis!) too though was also a big highlight – I got to meet Dave Kosak (head of Narrative), Helen Cheng (Quest designer and story bad-ass), and Craig Amai (head of Quest) as well as Bashiok and Nethaera, who was a personal inspiration. I had great conversations with all of them, some of whom I’ll go into more detail in other posts! I got to talk with Craig about Ji Firepaw and the need for representation in WoW, Helen and I got to finally meet and talk about the new expansion, and I got to briefly talk to Kosak about story stuff. Nethaera in particular is someone I got to speak with at length and as someone who particularly enjoys community engagement and public relations, seeing such a talented, storied woman publicly fronting Blizzard makes me really happy.

Warlords of Draenor

Let’s be real, there’s a lot of stuff about this expansion that I’m cautiously nervous about but I can unpack that later. The new expansion, despite all the weird timey-wimey-ness still seems really enjoyable to me. The quality of life changes (HIT, GONE! EXPERTISE, GONE!) are what really caught my attention overall. I love the idea of a garrison as someone who is an avid Animal Crossing: New Leaf player. Buy upgrades for my own personal town? Sure! Have helpers and followers? Absolutely.

The fact that the raid sizes and flexibility changes are now across the board except for Mythic is interesting; it might give me a new lease on raiding again, at least enough to do Heroic (basically the new Normal difficulty) even with a casual social guild. Being able to raid cross-realm from the start of the expansion on new content is basically what I had been hoping for since the beginning as much of my love of raiding comes from doing it with friends but often we didn’t have enough people to field a full 10P raid on new content. Flex mitigated that somewhat but not being able to do it with my core raid team was sad a lot of days. This might give me the needed flexibility (ha!) to get back into raiding a tiny bit. We shall see.

The idea of going back in time to a revamped Draenor is pretty interesting to me, even if it is just that my fangirl dreams have always included seeing a restored Temple of Karabor. From a roleplay standpoint, I know that I will be dusting off my deadspeaker draenei priest for sure.

Also, hello? Did anyone see those new model previews? Is anyone overjoyed at that sassy gnome lady face? Yesssss.

The fact that they also hinted at sticking in new content for explorers like myself as well as a lot of stuff for those of us who are on the more casual end of things (Potential future transmog changes? What!?) means that I feel less alienated by this new expansion even moreso than when I hit Mists of Pandaria, which was pretty alt-unfriendly and killed a lot of my drive to do stuff at 90.

I unfortunately did not get to play the demos as often or as long as I would have liked. When I sat down the one time to play Warlords, it was mostly to poke around Shadowmoon Valley (which is gorgeous by the way) and to explore. I didn’t tackle any of the quest content, which I really should have. I got most of my information about that from my boyfriend Alex and Sally Pine from WoW Insider.

Heroes of the Storm

Blizzard jumping into the MOBA/DoTA-like genre is both ironic and also not surprising. What is surprising is that I’m hearing that it has more elements of a character brawler and some PVE-ish elements to make it slightly different from your other fare in this category. I’m not a MOBA player at heart and I’ve never really done well with PVP-based games, nor grasping the complexities of item building and such. If Blizzard can make something similar to League of Legends but with an ease of entry for those of us who have been too scared of the community or too confused by the mechanics, then I suspect they will have a runaway hit on their hands.

The cinematic for the game also featuring two women was also a big plus for me. We will just have to see if there’s tons of female champs and if they go to the route that Riot did and made them pretty skimpily dressed. I’m hoping this isn’t the case.

Unlike the case with Diablo 3, where I got to try it out at last Blizzcon, the line for this was so extensive both days that I didn’t have the heart (or the feet) to stand in line to poke at it.

Diablo III and Hearthstone

I must admit I don’t have many things to say about either game. I know there’s been sweeping changes with D3 and I’ve been in the Hearthstone beta for a while now. What might push me back into doing D3 is the the demolition of the Auction House as well as transmog changes. My biggest gripe with D3 wasn’t combat or gear but rather that I was doing the same content over and over multiple times. As someone who is not used to that type of game, it was very boring to me despite liking the story, aesthetics and gameplay. So I’ll probably pick D3 back up when the new expansion material gets added.

As for Hearthstone? I’m really glad to see a potential e-sport that mechanically requires no trash-talking. Card games have always been alien to me but the idea of one that I can play on tablets or phones while I’m doing nothing else and don’t have to worry about gross people is really cool to me. I’ll get good at this game eventually. Eventually.

Blizzcon was really great for a lot of reasons and even though the negatives were there, I felt that it all balanced out. The only real drawbacks was that it exhausted my poor body very thoroughly and I’m going to take some time to recuperate. I know this rundown wasn’t nearly as juicy or potentially inflammatory as it could have been but I’m looking to do some piecemeal analysis once I get back on my feet. Expect stuff in the next couple of hours or days!

As always, it was a lot of fun meeting fans, listeners of my podcast as well as friends. You’re all wonderful. Same goes for the Blizzard employees who had to spend long hours working and dealing with fans.

 

 

I’m So Good, I Astound Myself: Diablo III From the Perspective of a WoW Veteran

A character sheet showing Aislin the wizard in Diablo 3.

Warning: Contains plot spoilers.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months, last week was the release of Blizzard’s much-anticipated Diablo III. Prior to being gifted the game like every other annual pass subscriber, I hadn’t touched the franchise at all. Sure, I’d heard about it from friends and whatnot (especially the guy who made thousands of real American dollars off duping), but my understanding of it had mostly been that it was a grindy sort of punishing game that only showered rewards on the most intense, most faithful. In short, sort of video game martyrdom, casuals need not apply. Taken in by the allure of something honest-to-god FREE, I decided I’d at least give it a shot.

I’m not what you consider a “hardcore” gamer. My area of expertise with video games and their complexities extends about as far as you can see the boundaries of Warcraft. I’m not excessively good at twitch, I’m terrible at shooting things and I have never owned a console. I know, I know. Settle down.  It’s very rare for me to pick up a game that takes me away from the all-consuming timesink that is Warcraft, honestly. I thought I was going to just kick my way around Diablo until I got bored; I was not prepared for the temporal vortex that this game is, sucking away hours of your life in a blink of an eye all while having the most intense, mob-killing fun of your life. Okay, maybe I overstate a touch. But I haven’t “lost track of time” in a game since I played Myst when I was 11 or 12.

Part of this is just due to the fact that unlike World of Warcraft, Diablo is pretty much tailored to you being the only person in the world. Despite having multi-player mode, the story is essentially that you are the savior of the world, one of the glorious nephalem that crawled into being after the destruction of the Worldstone. You can immerse yourself as far as you want in studying all of the books that drop in game, or talking to NPCs as often as you want. You hear conversations around you and none of it is really affected by whatever other idiots might be in your presence. Being able to freely explore and achieve by myself was a real selling point for me. I made a solemn commitment to playing all of normal-mode myself because I really wanted to understand and grasp this story. I felt that Warcraft had been so focused on rushing to the endgame that I hadn’t really stopped to smell the lore roses. I had all the time in world now and I wasn’t going to let someone prod me forward. So I noodled around, clearing every map fully, respawning dungeons for events, reading every book that fell into my lap. It was legitimately fun seeing what main story was unfolding as much as it was seeing all the little stories that were happening in the background (the Templar companion’s story most of all, I feel, is a real masterstroke.) Having cleared through all of the acts in somewhere around 40 hours, I found the story entertaining even if it wasn’t that profound and had a lot of loose ends or plot holes. Why does almost no one care about Leah? Where did Adria go? Who’s running Caldeum now? A lot of the major reveals (Adria’s betrayal, Belial, the mysterious stranger being Tyrael) were telescoped fairly hard, even for someone who is a real Diablo lore newbie like myself. (Not to mention that major spoilers are in the achievements page.) There’s also the strange matter of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff  like your companion encountering a former self/similar person in Nightmare mode, having vendors you met in future acts being present in New Tristram who have, by virtue of their dialogue, always just been there.

The real success of this game though, for me, was just that there was a real proliferation of women characters, even if some of the consistent tropes of corruption/betrayal/death seemed to follow. For one, there’s your character if you choose to be a woman. There’s Leah, one of the main (and very capable protagonists) through Acts 1-3. Adria is present in Acts 2-3. There’s your companion the Enchantress, who despite the really annoying voice acting, is also a force to be reckoned with. Captain Asheara, leader of the Iron Wolves, makes a comeback in Act 2. The world feels persistently full of women who are not just there to be cannon fodder, it seems. Sure, no one really gives a shit about Leah after Diablo comes back, but it is a fair sight better than most other video games, like, ever. Some of the starting armor designs for women characters bugged me but you get progressively more clad as your power increases, so that at least was a small bone tossed at those of us who like armor to look like actual armor.

But Diablo isn’t JUST an RPG, it does have action.

Diablo has been, for the most part, a learning process – despite picking a caster class (wizard, naturally), I still had no idea about any of the actual class mechanics that go into playing it. I was doing alright through the first two acts with slows and as much hard-hitting DPS as I could muster. I also picked the Templar as my persistent companion, as having a tank proved to be indispensable. However, it wasn’t until I hit the back end of Act 2 and eventually Act 3 that I felt myself really struggling to stay alive. I had mastered the ubiquitous shift+casting, left-mouse -button movement, but I was still face-planting on the regular. Both my guildmate Adryon and my friend Mike, who play wizards as well, sat me down and give me such much needed advice and rares. First of all, Diablo’s DPS mechanics (which everyone has) work very differently than Warcraft’s. A lot your power is based off your weapon’s DPS and speed. This is very weird to me, as I’m used to a weapon essentially being a stat-stick. I was gifted a very nice slow 1H-er rare, patted on the head and told to use Disintegrate now. Not only did it tick faster but it did fuckloads of damage. Secondly, I got myself some Vitality. It is the difference between getting 2-shot and being able to survive full champion packs on Nightmare. I felt like a tiny god now. The game literally changed before my eyes and became a lot more enjoyable. Do I really understand most wizard-y things now? Well, no. I’ve always been fairly dumb to mechanics unless I’ve done extensive playing, but I feel a lot more capable now. I’ve been taken into the secret circle of more knowledgeable peers (Hello, Elective mode!) and taught the ways of truth. Playing a wizard is fucking fun. It just is. If you enjoy caster roles in RPGs, you will enjoy being a wizard. They are exceptionally smart and cocky, and their personality shines through beyond just the straight class mechanics. It doesn’t hurt that fem!wizards are voiced by Grey DeLisle, who was the voice of Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Try not cackling when you massacre 8 mobs in a single blow with Electrocute, I dare you.

Diablo 3′s positives to me largely have been a lot of quality of life perks like Town Portals, the individuality of class choices and the cheap thrills of randomness and blowing shit up. It is easy to see these things. However, there have been criticisms aplenty, even if I find myself not overly concerned about them.

The persistent online-always mode was the cause of much of the anger, especially on launch day when most people were locked out from playing due to server overload. Had we not needed to get into Battle.net, the load would have been much less of a concern. This is to facilitate RealID/Battletags systems so while annoying (and having known no other ways prior to this), it has more of a benefit to me than harm. It also is an attempt to validate where items are coming from for the gold auction house as well as the impending Real Money Trading auction house. As someone who hopes to make a little cash this way, I don’t mind either of these reasons for being persistently online. As someone coming to this game new, I have no real dog in this fight. I enjoy the pleasures of having my friends list across multiple Blizzard games. But I can see where the frustration comes from.

The boss fights felt really…similar to Warcraft boss fights. Was this intentional or was it just a coincidence? It felt a little pandering. Azmodan gave me Lich-King era panic fits because of what seemed like Defile, Belial was Ragnaros all over again with tons of ground movement. The fights on normal didn’t feel exceptionally challenging or unique, even solo, with the exception of Diablo. Most of them just involved running away, shooting some random DPS and using a defensive cooldown. Most of the Diablo fight was like that too, but at least it felt like more of a skill fight rather than letting my pets do all the work. Obviously, I probably have my work cut out for me on Nightmare, Hell and Inferno respectively. However, doing a 4-ranged-party Skeleton King in sub-20 seconds drove a point home to me; it feels like some of WoW’s endgame motivations have leaked into Diablo. Normal is for storyseekers, Hell and Inferno are where the real “challenges” lie. Considering how fast people shot up to 60 to try and tackle world-firsts in Hell and Inferno modes, I feel like this iteration of design has left an indelible mark on the community as well. Does it deter me from greater challenges as I proceed towards level cap? Not in the slightest. However, it does make me look critically how even Blizzard’s success with one game in a different genre has impacted how they approach other parts of their franchise.

 All in all, Diablo 3 is a fun game. There’s no getting around that. I don’t think it’s going to have the long-term appeal that WoW has for me just due to the non-dynamic  nature of the content and linear paths of gameplay. That being said, I’m looking forward to hitting 60, I’m looking forward to going to Whimsyshire and I’m happy doing tons of boss runs with my friends. That is all I really need in a game and having it in a game besides WoW has been a bit of breath of fresh air during the typical expansion burnout period. We might be waiting on Mists of Pandaria to drop, but until then, consider me happy with Diablo until then.