Most people are pretty averse to suffering significant penalties for dying in the games they play. While you always see folks demanding games to become challenging and ‘hardcore’ again in forums and on reddit, whenever such a game comes along next to nobody actually wants to play it.
All things considered I’m definitely no advocate for full looting or permadeath myself, but there’s no denying that a higher risk provides for much more excitement and a greater feeling of accomplishment if you succeed.
Which brings me to a tremendously thrilling rescue mission I undertook more than 20 years ago that I still remember very vividly and fondly.
It was somewhere between autumn ’97 and spring ’98. Two friends of mine and I were still playing a lot of Diablo. We’d regularly schlep our PCs (along with those bulky CRT monitors we had back then) to our computer club to play together.
Multiplayer characters in Diablo had one special ‘feature’, possibly to up the ante in PvP duels: when you died every single one of your equipped items would drop fountainlike to the ground, to be picked up by either yourself – provided you managed to fight your way back there without them – or by anyone else. While the irony of the heroes becoming a loot piñata for once wasn’t lost on us we were always a bit on edge due to this. Fortunately whenever one of us died the others were usually there to the rescue.
We had the game’s three classes divided between us. I played the Warrior, one guy the Rogue and my then best buddy the Sorcerer. The latter was by far the most powerful class for most encounters in the game, and he’d always talk shit to me (in jest) because I had to, you know, walk up to the monsters and actually hit them with my sword one by one like a barbarian, while he could set a whole room on fire with a flick of his fingers.
There were two types of monsters though that the Sorcerer had a very hard time against: Blood Knights and Azure Drakes. Both melee mobs who, at the time, were completely immune to fire and lightning, the only two spell damage types in the game. His spells rendered useless the Sorcerer could pretty much do nothing but angrily wave his walking stick at them. Of course the Rogue and I were always happy when they appeared because those were our rare moments to shine.
One day in the late afternoon I was sitting at home doing whatever when my phone rang. It was the Sorcerer, and he said “Pack your stuff and get your ass down here, I’m in big trouble!”.
Turned out he had died to a bunch of Azure Drakes and tried, unsuccessfully, to get his stuff back on his own a couple of times. In doing so he had led the monsters closer and closer to the staircase leading down to that level. Now the whole gang sat right at those stairs and just waited to eat him alive should he try again.
Of course my first reaction was the one you would expect from a good friend: I laughed and made fun of him. “The mighty Sorcerer has died? No way! Now you need, of all people, MY help?? Impossible!!”
Then I packed my stuff and got my ass down to the club. Meanwhile the Rogue had also arrived by coincidence, but decided after looking at the Sorcerer’s screen, where his most recent body was still being swarmed by those drakes, that this was indeed a job for the Warrior.
In theory my task was easy enough. Join his game, walk down those stairs and immediately start klicking as fast as I can while chugging health potions like crazy. Just one problem: had I failed and died both our full sets of gear would’ve been irreplaceably lost.
I hesitated. What tipped the scales was the Rogue agreeing to lend me a sword he’d found a while before, with the stat combo most coveted by every Warrior: a King’s Sword of Haste.
With that beauty I shouldn’t have too much of a hard time killing those pesky drakes. Theoretically. Hopefully. Maybe.
I wish someone else had been there to take a photo of this: me sitting there, sweaty hands cramped around mouse and keyboard, the Sorcerer and Rogue standing to my left and right, anxiously staring at my screen. We remained like this for what felt like an eternity and must have looked like a still life.
Finally I gave myself a push and klicked on the stairs.
As expected I was swarmed the moment the level had finished loading, and I started swinging that sword like a madman. The first drake died, then the second, and another one. My health dipped every now and then, but potions in Diablo were instant and I never dropped to a critical level.
After what must have been less than a minute it was all over. The drakes were dead and the way to the Sorcerer’s precious items clear. We let go a huge collective sigh of relief. He picked up his gear, I gave back the sword and we decided that we’d had enough excitement for one day. If I remember correctly we celebrated by getting ourselves a nice, unhealthy meal at our favourite greek fast food place and headed home pretty soon afterwards.
Like I said in the beginning, I don’t really miss the danger of losing all my stuff in today’s games, but I do miss these kinds of great adventures that would’ve never occurred without such mechanics. Quite a dilemma, isn’t it?