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Diablo II
The original Diablo lept onto the scene in early 1997, scaring the bejesus out of late-night RPG fans everywhere. Coupled with the buggy hacker's delight known as Battle.Net, you could experience unfair gameplay in an entirely new fashion, utilising your phone line and a screeching modulator-demodulator unit, which everyone just referred to as a "modem". The juxtaposition of demonic possession and a satanic-sounding electric box set the scene for what was a roaringly good hack 'n' slash title, admired by many, and perfected by few.

Nevermind that you couldn't actually reach the original Diablo's level 50 cap, and settling for level 49 required a time investment akin to rebuilding the Great Wall of China using only your teeth, Diablo II was always going to happen.

Come 2000, happen it did. With a character level cap of 99, enormous outdoor battlefields, hundreds of new monster variables and thousands of weapon permutations, Diablo II was everything we'd hoped it would be. Gone was Griswald's crusty "Well, what can I do for ye?" comment every time you went to vendor trash, in Diablo II you actually got to kill him. How cool was that?

Perhaps the single biggest master stroke employed in Diablo II, and absent in the original Diablo, involved random loot distribution algorithms. Now, I've never figured out the attraction of gambling. Every year, hundreds of families are torn apart by breadwinners overindulging on the gee-gees, pokies, slots, and other suggestively titled electronic devices designed to take your money. Enough of my money is taken from me each week as it is, but enough about income tax - in Diablo II, every single kill is a lotto ticket because you just don't know what's going to drop. Will this skeleton give you the topaz you need to socket your helm for extra magic find? Or will he drop a low quality buckler?

The statistics were mind-boggling. Players became fanatical about getting the tiniest possible edge in finding rare and unique weapons. Every possible game attribute was discussed, and even myth became reality with the new Cow Level.

Every patch added more content to the game, and a huge expansion (Lord of Destruction) padded out weapons and armour, and added another boss. Ladder-only weapons for dedicated online players became available, and even when Blizzard nerfed every single character with the 1.10 patch, they did it in style by introducing ability synergies to offset the damage.

Every good RPG that has followed Diablo II owes, in part, at least some of its success to this title, it's a game you can keep coming back to because there will always be some kind of loot that you absolutely have to have.

My next, and final title will therefore come as no surprise.

World of Warcraft
A friend introduced me to Blizzard's behemoth MMORPG World of Warcraft back in the summer of 2005. I've never met a heroin dealer before, but I suspect the sales patter is much the same - "just try it bro, if you don't like it, cancel your subscription, eh?" Yeah, right.

The problem with World of Warcraft is that it's technically an awesome game. It really encapsulates the "massive" attribute of a massively multiplayer online game. You can, once a specific level has been reached, literally go anywhere and do anything. The reason this is a problem is because invariably you will - and unless regulated, it can actually take over your life.

Regulation, for me, came late one night as I sat atop my epic mount in the middle of Orgrimmar, and realised I'd had enough. You can actually have too much of a good thing, you can get sick of not seeing the sun for several days at a time. You can get sick of being wiped in Molten Core because one of your idiot team mates dropped at the wrong time, and you can certainly get sick of paying Blizzard for the privilege.

After uninstalling World of Warcraft, and re-discovering the game of real life (the graphics are awesome, by the way) I couldn't shake the impression that the past four months had shown me the future of social interaction.

Any World of Warcraft player can tell you about the game, and it's not hard to find one - there are over nine million out there. But it takes an ex-WoW player to tell you that unless we're careful, the future could consist of n00bs and gold farmers. Guilds and loot. A single unified virtual currency, and talking to your flatmates over a headset.

World of Warcraft is a very, very good game - perhaps the best game there is - but it's more than that. It's a veritable no-man's-land, a staging ground between the real world, and the virtual world that is growing at an exponential rate, whether we choose to admit it or not.

It's a world that has been created to entertain and amaze, but ultimately, it exists to satisfy shareholders - something to remember before we ply Blizzard with too many awards.

It is absolutely staggering to me that over the course of my short lifetime, technology has progressed from wire-framed space simulators to entire living, completely interactive worlds that can be explored.

And we're not done yet. This year we'll see the release of Grand Theft Auto IV and Spore, two titles continuing the boundary-pushing legacy of the titles I've chosen in this article.

Next year The Sims 3 will no doubt amaze us further. If we can go from Elite to World of Warcraft in twenty years, then I'd like to get my pre-order in for The Matrix: Real Edition.

2028 sounds about right to me.


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