Diablo III Changes Mean More Waiting, But the Delay Should Pay off «

  Diablo III

In a somewhat lengthy blog post yesterday, Diablo III director Jay Wilson outlined a number of changes Blizzard is making to the game ahead of its release. These range from smaller, simpler changes like removing the need for Scrolls of Identification up to an overhaul of characters’ core attributes, which in turn means more waiting for the game to be done.

So much for February 1.

Even before that Best Buy display was pulled, it didn’t seem terribly likely that the game would be suddenly thrust upon us with so little notice. Wilson’s blog detailing the new changes reaffirms there is still some waiting to be done, although many fans continue to prefer that Blizzard just ship the game already.

“While working on Diablo III we’ve been called out for messing around with systems too much, that the game is good as-is and we should just release it,” Wilson wrote. “I think that’s a fair argument to make, but I also think it’s incorrect. Our job isn’t just to put out a game, it’s to release the next Diablo game. No one will remember if the game is late, only if it’s great. We trust in our ability to put out a great game, but we’re not quite there yet. In addition to finishing and polishing the content of the game we’re continuing to iterate on some of the core game systems.”

Blizzard going to great lengths to polish its games is nothing new. Wilson saying no one will remember if the game is late is absolutely true — if Diablo III was to come out after this decade-long wait and be a disappointment, that would be a blemish we wouldn’t forget anytime soon. But if it turns out a few more months are needed? Not exactly a big deal when looking at the whole picture.

For all the dwelling we do over the wait for Half-Life 3 or Episode Three, delays are rarely if ever brought up when discussing Episode Two. You might not even remember that it was delayed, yet there was a fairly substantial wait for it, even if that’s not what we remember about it. And why is that? Because the final product was terrific.

It’s unclear just how much longer we’ll have to wait for Blizzard to be satisfied with the changes it’s implemented. The changes outlined in Wilson’s blog have largely been implemented, as we’ll be seeing in a new update to the beta, but that doesn’t mean the changes are ready to be pushed out the door in a final release.

“I do not intend to impress that we’re close to release, or infer any such ‘we’re <– this –> done’ kind of statement, but most of these are fairly straightforward changes that are already complete and implemented,” said community manager Micah Whiple in a forum post. “We do have more changes, skills and runes, affixes to add, more items, Battle.net features, testing, testing, and more testing etc. to do so we’re obviously still not there yet, but none of the changes detailed today are theoretical or yet to be implemented.”

Diablo III Town Portal

As is to be expected with any changes to a game with such an ardent fanbase, feelings in the community are mixed. While I haven’t spent as much time playing the beta as I expected — I find it hard to invest in a character I’m going to lose when the beta concludes — I have played enough to feel like the changes are an improvement. Eliminating the need to haul around Scrolls of Identification is a welcome move, and I’m happy to leave them as a relic of the past. Bringing back the Town Portal in place of the Stone of Recall (in name only) is a harmless change, yet it’s one I appreciate as a diehard Diablo II player who enjoys the occasional callback.

Other changes are more controversial. The Mystic artisan, whose job it is to enchant items, has been deemed redundant and is being removed. That doesn’t mean she’s gone for good; Wilson said she could come back later in a form that differentiates her from the customization options already in the game. Regardless, for the time being it remains an option being removed. With all this talk of Diablo III ending up consoles (which is inevitable, though as yet unofficial), anytime something is simplified or removed, hardcore PC supporters feel like the game is being made more console-friendly at the expense of a ‘deeper’ experience.

Also being removed are the Cauldron of Jordan and the Nephalem Cube, which allowed players to break down and sell items while in the field, respectively. The ability to salvage items is being handed over to the Blacksmith, giving you another reason to head back to town from time to time. And that’s just as well; the occasional breather while sitting in town provides a break from constantly being out in the field, which was exactly the thinking behind this move according to Wilson. Having the ability to sell or salvage everything you come across while never leaving the field downplayed the importance of the town, and this will hopefully lead to time spent in the field being more focused on action. Drawing a more clearly defined line between downtime and action sounds, at least in theory, like a good thing.

In what feels like a similar line of thinking, the usefulness of common items (indicated by the color white) has been downgraded greatly. Previously these items could be broken down, possibly leaving you with something useful. Now these items can’t be salvaged, nor will they be worth much to merchants.

Diablo III

It might sound like a puzzling decision on the surface — why have enemies drop items designed to be pointless? — but that’s explained by Whiple quite succinctly: “Because the game is about fountains of loot exploding out of demons.” If every item that drops has some use to you, the significance of actually finding something good or useful is lessened. But if you come across loads of junk before finally finding something you have a use for, those moments become more exciting and special. That’s why, annoying as it may have been to come across a quiver of bolts or arrows in Diablo II, they did serve a purpose even to non-archer players.

Perhaps the most significant (and therefore controversial) change is to character attributes, which are now Strength Dexterity, Intellect, and Vitality. Each of the first three now has a direct correlation to the damage done by one or two character classes, ensuring it is fairly simple and easy (or at least easier) to determine what items are best for which characters. Wilson said the “change makes the stats more intuitive and fixes some of the itemization issues we were running into.”

This won’t prevent items from being diverse, though, as Wilson said, “The item hunt has always been based on secondary stats and affixes, and we’re working hard to ensure build diversity is as large as possible by getting as many affixes into the game as possible (adding more item affixes is also something we’ve been working on). Simply including affixes that augment specific skills greatly expands the itemization pool and build possibilities.”

It’s this change that is likely to be among the most time-consuming of the bunch for Blizzard; Wilson noted, “Obviously these stat changes are one of the bigger systems changes we’re currently working on as they have far reaching requirements to re-itemize and balance the game.”

However long it does end up taking, though, most players will ultimately find it doesn’t matter in the end so long as the game is good. Based on the current incarnation of the beta and the thoughtfulness behind these changes, it seems as if players have little to worry about on that front.


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