With the expansion to Diablo 3 set to arrive next month, I though today would be perfect to talk about a gameplay mechanic that I enjoy, loot. Random drops in games is nothing new. Even before the first Diablo, games had enemies that could drop random items that had properties that varied from game to game. My first experience of this was playing Fatal Labyrinth on the Mega Drive when I was young. Obviously, I did not have a lot of skill back then and this rogue-like constantly killed my within the first few floors (if I did not eat myself to death), but there was always a magic to discovering what the effects of each staff were, and if any of the equipment I found would curse me.
Growing up in a shop full of game, I often found that I had too much choice and would carry on playing the same RPGs over and over again. Rogue-like were particularly good for this, and Azure Dreams hold fond memories as it was the first time I found a rogue-like that contained story elements as well as some sort of saved progression. Death in the games tower did not mean a complete restart, but all the gear that was carried by the character was lost forever. Levels were also reset between tower visits, except for the monster companions. This made finding eggs in the tower a game itself. Each egg was unique and could contain a random monster from the floor it was found on, in one of four randomly chosen elements. Needless to say I spent much time hunting eggs in addition to enhancements for my equipment.
Only a year later saw the release of Diablo for the PlayStation. Being more of a console gamer at the time, I gave Diablo a go only to find that it was not that great on the PlayStation. The experience was not all bad though, as I had had my first taste of truly random loot. Items constantly dropped and needed to be checked against what I had on to see if anything was potentially better. This is why by the time Diablo 2 was released I had my own computer ready and waiting for it to be installed. Not even Diablo 3 could compete with Diablo 2 as a loot driven game, primarily because Diablo 3 launched with the auction house.
The inclusion of the auction house in Diablo 3 soured the game for me. The story was good enough to keep the game moving, but what enjoyment could I get out of finding loot when nothing I found could compete with what was up for sale on the auction house? Suddenly the game was all about how much money could be obtained so I could purchase a new piece of gear. My friends all found ways to make cash quick early on and soon had their characters decked out in the finest gear. I on the other hand had played on and off and was not able to keep up with them. I soon quit playing the game while it was popular, only pick it up again later. This time I avoided the auction house completely.
Many other games employ the same loot mechanics as Diablo now, in genres ranging from tower defense to first person shooters. Having a element in a game that is random (loot is different with each drop) while still having some method of control (which random item is being used at any given time) adds a lot of replayability to games. Old levels or areas can be played over again for useful items that, while not better that what one currently is using, can be turned into something better. This is why games that have random drops also need a method of using items that are no longer relevant, such as disenchanting them, or combining them into something new. The Borderlands series does not have this feature yet, but dismantling old equipment to craft new, higher level gear would be a welcomed addition for any future games.
I would be thrilled if loot games in the future did away money, and instead used crafting components as a form of currency. Loot would be broken down into components that could be used to craft something, or to buy an item from a vendor. Maybe this would not work for every game setting, but any game that could use it would be able to emphasise that loot in at the center of the games mechanics.
Have you played Diablo or any of its clones? Have you played a game recently that contained Diablo style loot? Do you think random drops will make their way into more game in the future? Let me know in the comments!