A look into difficulty in Diablo and Binding of Isaac
I am a long time Binding of Isaac player, and it is one of my all time favourite games. I also recently picked up Diablo III on sale, I needed the distraction, and I knew Diablo would deliver.
A friend recently linked me to a post on Diablo about defense, offense and unavoidable damage. The basic premise of the post was that if the difficulty is ever increasing, then damage grows to infinity and therefore any defense is meaningless. This got me thinking about the system in diablo, and provoked a short discussion with my friend.
In Diablo, skill is used primarily to avoid damage. Dodging projectiles, like in a bullet hell game, to avoid damage for as long as it is needed to kill the enemy. Because of the nature of the abilities you use in game to apply damage, skill cannot be used, beyond a certain point, to apply significantly more damage.
Stats can be broken down into what they actually mean in gameplay:
Defense (health plus resistances) is the amount of mistakes you can make before you die.
Enemy health divided by DPS is the amount of time you need to not make more mistakes than you’re allowed by your health.
Health regeneration is the amount of mistakes you reclaim over time.
This means that increasing the difficulty through those stats merely serves to make fights longer, keeping the player on their toes for longer stretches of time while they avoid damage. This is excellent, until you pass a certain threshold where it becomes a chore to remain in the fight for so long. I think that threshold is somewhere around 3 minutes. Up until three minutes it is more interesting as the the battle grows longer, I could see myself trying to fight 3 minute battle without taking any damage. But as you go over three minutes it becomes simply less and less enjoyable. If you can avoid damage for 3 minutes, you can probably do it for 5, 9, even 20 minutes. If you misstep, you probably simply got bored.
Now since there is no way, using skill, to increase the amount of damage you apply (again, beyond a certain point) since the only reliable way to increase damage is better equipment, you’re left with just finding the “correct” difficulty, the one where it takes about 3 minutes tops to kill monsters, which is entirely up to random drops. This is, of course, provided you’re competent enough to survive three minutes, if you’re a weaker player, it is a matter of finding the spot where you feel challenged, which is always going to be fun.
My friend then brought up Binding of Isaac, knowing I like the game. And claimed, initially, that the system was essentially the same. But it is not. Due to the nature of the attacks in Binding of Isaac, and sometimes the nature of the enemies, skills can indeed be applied to increase damage output. The fact that shots only fire orthogonally, unlike diablo where most everything is point and click, means that skill can be applied to increase your DPS. The Knights in Binding of Isaac only take damage from the back, taking skill to damage them.
Sure, there are items in the game which allow you to ignore one skill requirement or another in fights, but those are only available to you for the span of an hour of a game, after which point you start a new game, where you might have to apply all your skill to win. Those serve both as a relief from constant difficulty, and as a means to allow “weaker” players to win from time to time.
In conclusion, I think the inability to use skill to apply damage in Diablo hurts the game significantly. I also think that for most players, this is absolutely fine.