Diablo Revisited

Posted by Jack on 2014-03-01 at 16:00
Tagged: gaming

I last talked about Diablo 3 here.

In short, it was a disappointment. I particularly lamented the lack of social features, because without the ability to compete or show off, or even the incentive to team up due to lack of coordination, the end game becomes a grind for items that will let you grind for items faster. I also briefly mentioned the poor itemization, and the fact that the auction house robbed the game of the rewarding feeling of finding upgrades.

This Tuesday, Blizzard released patch 2.0.1 for the game and it's a great return to form for Diablo. It introduces a modicum of social features - clans and communities and, more importantly to the actual game, completely revamps the loot and difficulty systems.


The social features are surprisingly effective despite being minimal. They've added clans with up to 120 tagged members, and communities with indefinite members both do wonders. Both of these amount to adding channels to the chat window. I've joined the /r/diablo 'reddit' and 'redditHC' communities and it's amazing how just seeing the same names show up in chat makes you feel like you're part of a group. I haven't joined a clan (not my style), but even through the community chats there are a lot of people looking for groups. I do still miss the D2 style lobby with all of the characters lined up at the bottom, but I'll take the communities as a good start.

There are also rumors of a D3 ladder with the expansion, which would be excellent, but I'm counting those as unconfirmed.


The more important thing is that they fixed loot. With the AH shutting down, it's important that characters be able to support themselves. Find upgrades, find legendaries that work for them without converting them into gold on the AH. I've played some hours on the new patch and I've already found more legendaries than I had in ~250 hours before the patch, and most of them (but not all) have been upgrades for my current character. It's so nice to play Diablo without the AH meta-game. This patch has fundamentally fixed the core incentive - to find cool shit.


I was surprised to see that they removed the D2 style Normal/Nightmare/Hell/Inferno difficulties. Everything is now dynamically scaled to your level and your difficulty setting measures how much harder than that baseline the game becomes. Just like with the pre-patch Monster Power system, you get bonuses to XP/magic find the higher your difficulty.

I can't overstate how much smoother this makes the game. I've started a handful of characters since Tuesday, and it's fun immediately. Even in D2 the first playthrough (Normal difficulty) was mind numbingly easy and it wasn't until you hit Nightmare or Hell that you really had to sweat it. With the new system, you can set the difficulty to maximum (Torment VI) from level 1. Suddenly leveling isn't a mindless chore and you can level quickly based on your skill and the items you have prepped for you character. For example, my hardcore Wizard playing on "Master" difficulty (made easier by having gems and gold from my level 60 Demon Hunter) is already level 20 and just beat the Skeleton King. Before the patch, characters beating the Skeleton King were, at most, level 9 or so. Sure, it's probably taken me twice as long, but I've been challenged and I've had fun instead of breezing through it. It also means that you don't have to play the game three or four times all the way through to get to the endgame content. I can easily see my Wizard being 60 long before I face Diablo for the first time.

As a side effect, it does make hardcore a little less nerve-wracking by allowing you to start an easier game to progress the story. The next time I face Belial (the Act II boss), I'll start a game on "Normal" difficulty and breathe easy.

Trade - The Downside

I see a lot of bitching on the Blizzard forums. What's new, right? People have complained about D3 since release and it's no surprise. However, a lot of the chatter I see now is complaining that trading is broken. It's true, legendary items are BoA (bind on account, so legendary items are tradeable to your other characters, but not between accounts except to other people in the game when it dropped and within two hours).

I am in agreement on this to some extent. In some ways, Blizzard is damned if they do, and damned if they don't. One of the primary reasons they implemented the AH in the first place was that trading in D2 was a pain in the ass. The RMAH (real money auction house) was implemented because in D2 there was a thriving and shady business trading dollars for in game items. By making both of these official, they brought the whole practice out into the sunlight and made it safe and easy. It was a good idea. Theoretically. In practice it was the reason the loot was so warped in the first place. If selling a legendary on the AH can net real money or gold then the most powerful items need to be tightly controlled to keep from flooding the market and thus keep supply low. You also want to encourage people to buy in to the AHs to keep demand high. Basic capitalism with a twist in that Blizzard finely controls the availability of the items.

Removing the AH removes the pressure to maintain that balance and has allowed them to fix the game. This also moves the real money item market back underground (like in D2) and into the hands of shady dealers. Currently, they've solved this problem with BoA legendaries. It's now literally impossible to transfer ownership of legendaries (except in the specific circumstances I mentioned before) and thus impossible to sell them out of game for real money.

The problem is that D2 trading was fun. It was time consuming, it was scammy, it was open to exploit from outside websites, but it was fun. I can see why a lot of people miss it. Honestly, I can't say that I miss it more than I missed getting decent loot, but to each their own. The core difference between D2 trading and the AH was that it was more a barter relationship. Even though Stones of Jordan became the defacto currency, you were mostly trading items and gems and runes that were mutually beneficial. There was also a huge amount of luck involved because the 'bidding' was limited to people in the trade channel at the time. This means that it was possible to make out like a bandit by taking advantage of people's specific needs or their ignorance of what an item was worth, or just the timeframe of the trade (i.e. what an item is worth at Tuesday 2AM when there's no demand, versus Friday at 10PM when everyone's just getting started on the weekend). The AH was so standardized and easy to use that there was never any ignorance of value, and the timeframe of a 'trade' could be days long. It just didn't have the same luck factor and thus lacked the same exhilaration of making a good (for you at least) trade.

I feel for Blizzard because they've failed to find a balance between these two extremes (totally regulated and totally unregulated) in the current patch. Personally, I believe they should return to the D2 model. Don't provide any assistance outside of making a trade channel and don't regulate anything. I understand their need to shutdown people making money from their work (fucking item farmers are the scum of the earth) and there is value in keeping people from getting scammed, but it worked in D2 for two reasons.

There was a natural barrier to buying items for money and that was having to go to an external site and trust them with your credit card. "Reputable" auction sites showed up, but for the people that just want to play the game and have fun, that's not on their radar. The only people wanting to spend money on digital items are idiots people that are desperate for an edge. It's sad, really.

In-game scamming is avoidable (sans patchable exploits). There were all manner of tricks to get people to commit to trades that were slanted against them. From the old trade window switcheroo to the just plain out bad trading done by the naive. That's life though. Some people are scammy bastards, some people aren't and it's a valuable skill to be alert and on your toes when dealing with other people.

Especially now that it's possible to play D3 with only found items (and thus there's no pressure to trade), a return to this laissez-faire policy makes a lot of sense.


Overall the patch is a gigantic improvement to the core game. Loot feels good, playing is rewarded with juicy items frequently, and you spend no time on the AH (which will officially close on the 18th). The difficulty system is a great improvement to not just D3 but the franchise itself. The trading is a hopefully temporary setback but if Blizzard is insistent that nobody gets screwed trading then so be it. I'd rather have a fun fighting game with great loot you can't trade than a fighting game with shitty loot you have to trade to afford upgrades.

In some ways, I view the patch as a commitment from Blizzard to get the game right. You can see their thought process with the creation of D3 vanilla, and you can also see the thought process that went into this patch.

They created the AH for noble reasons and then designed the game around it. Coming from D2 it made perfect sense to absorb the underground market that grew up around the game and make everyone's lives safer and easier. It was controversial, but it was a bold choice to not just put out a clone. Two years later, the AH experiment has failed and Blizzard had the balls to not only remove it, but also to redesign the rest of the game's systems around the new AH free game.

The difficulty system was also taken directly from D2 (with the addition of the fourth difficulty, Inferno) but it was and always has been repetitive. First, they merged in Monster Power to layer dynamic difficulty on top of the set difficulty but that was clunky and still meant you had to play through the game four times. Now this patch has eschewed the set difficulty and gone entirely dynamic. You can see the evolution of D3's difficulty and how it incrementally improved on D2's.

It's funny because the AH and the difficulty settings were the two major places that D3 tried to learn or borrow from D2. Everything else, the skill system, the attribute system, the game mechanics, and the classes were all solid (eventually) and all original to D3. Even the enemies, items and locations were, for the most part original (barring the mandatory appearance of Tristram and Diablo and legendaries like Windforce). It's almost as if Blizzard designed the game with 2.0 in mind as a radical departure from D2 but then got cold feet and bolted on the AH trading, warped the loot table, and took D2's difficulty system wholesale to seem like it was a proper sequel instead of a similar game with Diablo in the title. Now that D3 is free of these, it's a much better game.

In some fantasy world, D3 borrowed D2's understated story and community PvP/ladder features instead of its repetitive difficulty scheme and 'fixing' its unregulated trading. That world has a perfect D3. But our world's D3 has now unlearned some of the bad lessons of D2 and become a much better game. Who's to say that D3 can't learn some new lessons along the way. After all, D2 had some really great features patched in years after release too (patch 1.10 brought skill synergies and uber-Diablo more than three years after release).

I never thought I'd say this after the vanilla game and taking more than a year off from the game, but I'm really looking forward to the expansion, Reaper of Souls, on the 25th. Its feature set is compelling, but only in the light of the new fixed game. In the meantime, I've got a few weeks to enjoy finding decent loot, playing D3 the way that two years of hindsight tells us it should have been at release.