Previously, I wrote about how Blizzard took its first step in the reclamation process of its underperforming franchise by admitting that it had a problem. This was a confession expressed by the closing of the Auction House, and the introduction of Loot 2.0, transforming Diablo III into a game that is actually fun to play as an action RPG rather than an EBay Simulator.
Loot 2.0 was fun…for a while. I raised all of my characters up to level 60 while significantly upgrading their gear. I used the reset feature and poured the majority of my allotted paragon points into the movespeed of my cleve/rend barb for a four-act speed run on normal for the “beat act _ in under an hour” achievements. I made a few millions in gold by selling my gems on the AH while it was still active because I knew that marquise-tier gems would be default drops for level 60 characters when RoS hit. I even did something I never did in DII: started my first ever hardcore character, Papa Shango.
Eventually, the limitations of vanilla DIII would once again blossom.
I can understand that it was Blizzard’s intent to make all areas of sanctuary a viable playground for players grinding for experience points or gear. They made this explicitly known on the forums. After all, the locations which players would actually visit for gameplay in DII made for an exclusive list.
DII Experience Arenas: DII Magic Find (MF) Runs:
Act 1Tristram (lv. 1-15) Countess (key)
Act 2 Tomb runs (lv. 15-25) Andariel (“Andy”)
Act IV Chaos Sanctuary (lv. 25-60) Summoner (key)
Act V Baal (lv. 60-99) Mephisto (“Meph”)
Nihlathak (“Nith” key)
Pindleskin (eventually nerfed)
The end-game “meta” of DII magic find runs (MF)reduces the scope of the game to just seven locations visited over and over and over and over and over and over and over and
You get the idea.
Now I’m going to get a bit technical here, so I recommend keeping the Diablo III [Urban] Dictionary open in a separate tab. Note that I loosely use “ARPG” because it is really a false designation, or at least a misleading one. Games such as Gauntlet, Brave Fencer Musashi, Star Ocean, SaGa Frontier, or even the modern Elder Scrolls franchise adhere to my idea of “Action” RPG, but I will use the term for lack of a better term than “dungeon crawler.”
The nexus of ARPGs is in the gear. “My stuff is cooler/kills more efficiently than yours” is the gist. We kill stuff with stuff to get better stuff with which we kill more stuff more efficiently while getting ever better stuff with which we use to kill more stuff until one becomes bored with this cycle. When that happens, and it inevitably does for most, rolling a new character embarking and upon the process from near-zero gear may reinvigorate interest. Depending upon one’s outlook, it might be (un)fortunate to find gear for a warrior class while playing a rogue class, so rolling a warrior may not be as painstaking of an endeavor as leveling the rogue was. Then again, it is discouraging to play a dedicated class and find a PHENOMENALLY SPECTACULAR ITEM that either does not properly synergize with the player’s class or choice or cannot be used by that class at all. Alternatively, one can attempt to escape the crazy cycle of the ARPG by setting personal objectives.
One of the objectives that I made for myself in DII was to solo the entire game from normal through hell mode. I could not do this when DII was first released simply because certain elements of the game were FUBAR, but few remember DII as it was upon first release. Minions on my necromancer would die from one or two hits forcing me to take a few nuke-style skills such as bone spear and bone spirit that made me feel like a gimped sorceress. As for sorceresses, many of them either would dual element with fire and cold, or build pure lighting. Too bad that in hell mode, the enemies with the chances to drop the best loot could be immune to more than one element. The expansion, Throne of Baal, along with patch 1.10 saved DII and in actuality encompasses the game that most of us remember fondly. The introduction of synergies made many impossible builds viable. For example, I could build a “fishymancer” whose minions would be strong enough to tank enemies like the dreaded gloams for me. All I had to do was switch my curses around depending on what I was fighting, or spam corpse explosion when possible. For MF, I built a lightning sorc who was significantly more gear/level intensive. While my sorc needed 80+ levels and at the minimum, Tal Rasha’s set for gear, my Necro could beat the game practically naked.
There is no adequate transition for what I am about to say, but it is relevant because when Blizzard decided to make DIII “always online, they had people like me in mind. I must confess that I was one of the individuals who cheated at the game.
First, I Map Hacked. The irony here is that, while we complained about the lack of random layouts in DIII, the random layouts in DII made finding many of those specific locations I mentioned time-consuming and therefore, counterintuitive to not only MF runs but also Hell Rushing. Personally, I hell rushed for free not only to undermine the profiteers who were likely not only MHers like myself, but also people trying to farm Hellforges for High Runes (HR) so they could dupe runewords. Plus, it’s fun one-shotting everything in normal, most things on nightmare, and carrying a full party of eight through hell. It was fun times, but what wasn’t fun at all is only getting Mal as my highest rune. In fact, outside of rolling a new character and doing the Hellforge or Countess runs, I never saw runes drop.
Maybe my RNG was broken, but it sucked because runewords were the most powerful items that one could create, and the HRs necessary to create them became their own economy for the super-rich players, even beyond those who relied on chestfulls of perfect gems or duplicated (duped) Stone Rings of Jordan (SoJs) for trading. Actually, my broke behind was carrying around stuff like Sigon’s Set (fondly referred to as “Sigon’s ****”) and other low-level gear hoping that people would trade. It was all for naught, because bots and duping, from which I benefited, broke the economy. Unless you had elite-class gear, players in trading games would not give you the time of the day.
So here’s the second component of my cheating. I “paid to play.” I “bought” my way into high gear stuff. Yep, I used my PayPal account to purchase items from shady vendors as well as D2JSP. I spent $100 one summer, decking out my light sorc with a all of the top-level gear listed in the light sorc build that I already linked to above. For my Necromancer, I I purchased a crafted +2 to all skills ammy that allowed me to teleport, and thus, tactically reposition my minions if they ever got stuck (and with the poor AI of revive they did often). That ammy was expensive to recharge, too. Hundreds of thousands of gold!
So yeah, after I beat the Throne of Baal expansion and put the game down for years, when I came back, I hax. But I also learned some valuable lessons. Spending $100 on virtual items in a gear-driven game was a sign that I had a serious problem with video game addiction. Sure, I saved time by buying items rather than farming them, but that $100 could have gone to an infinite number of things with real-life implications. I told my wife about it a year after the fact, the summer after DIII was officially announced which sent many of us fans back to the game, and she was miffed anyway. And rightfully so. Additionally, once I purchased top-level gear, I was bored. There was nothing left to do. Getting to level 99 was a goal for people with hammerdin bots doing Baal runs like 120 times in a row to gain ONE LEVEL. Running a hardcore character would make me enraged if I died, and with all that I have confessed here concerning gear acquisition, fighting in PvP duels would be like trying to fight God with one hand tied behind my back.
In other words, during my last run of DII I ruined the game for myself because I felt that finding items like Occulus and Waterwalks were inadequate. I have nobody to blame for myself.
Thus, with DIII, Blizzard wanted to avoid all of this: the item duping, the bots, the map hacks, real-money transactions for loot, the abundance of game-breaking runewords such as Enigma–which statistically speaking there should have been only one or two for the entire duration of a ladder season (by the way, one could not make runewords on non-ladder characters so their prices became even more astronomical when the ladder season would reset)–and MF which trammelled the surface area of the game. Therefore, in vanilla DIII, waypoints became perfunctory because one could not freely travel between various acts in a single game, eliminating the ability to skip around to high-density, high-enemy level areas for rapid MF runs; the combination of security checks and the game being always-online prevents dummy accounts for mule characters (characters created only to hold valuable items once player character stashes are filled, or, couriers used to transfer purchased items from real-money transactions). Bots exist but are severely gimped, and I have yet to hear about dupes, nor have I checked to see if map hacks exist, but they are largely irrelevant now because the Wizard’s teleport is no longer a skill that can be cast rapidly for fast travel without a cooldown, nor were there any bosses such as Mephisto or Baal who would have a “high” of dropping Unique items because drops are based upon character rather than monster level. Instead, the introduction of the (Real Money) Auction House provided the option for people such as myself to pay-to-win.
Now I suspect that the team responsible for developing Diablo II did not approve of real-money transactions for digital items, but I also suspect that Activision wanted to capitalize on these transactions more than the desire to eliminated them. Most people want to blame Jay Wilson for pretty much everything wrong with DIII because he was the “face,” the (now former) lead director. That might be a fair thing to do. But if we were to look at how StarCraft 2 has been divided into three games, and why there are more World of Warcraft expansions than I can count, then maybe we should consider the possibility that the “Activision portion” of Blizzard wants to milk the latter for all its franchises has to offer. The reduction in frequency for good loot to drop in DIII was done not only “in consideration” of the presence of the AH, but also because the AH existed. Remember when I said I became bored with my elite loot? That’s because I had “beaten” the game by acquiring the best gear the game had to offer. So then, the reduction of loot drops is both balance and profit-influenced, a double-edged sword.
But a double-edged sword is deadly to both those on the receiving end and to the one who wields it. Grinding is a “genre-defining” feature of an ARPG. It is possible to play a game for ten years, like many people such as myself did with DII, and never find an item such as Griffon’s Eye. Others might have TEN Griffon’s Eyes drop after they meet the minimum character and monster level requirements to trigger it. That’s what happens when RnG comes into play (as players of DotA 2 know, for better and for worse). RnG is awesome when it works, but sucks the big one when it does not. Simply put, vanilla DIII took its lumps because the RnG rate was too low to be considered fun.
There was no way Blizzard was going to profit from its well-known secret expansion with DIII in its post-Nephalem Valor state. It’s tragically comical that all Blizzard needed to do to bring us Loot 2.0 was to bump up some item drop rate percentages. Of course that’s not all they did; they eliminated nightmare, hell, and inferno modes and replaced them with difficulties which award bonus gold, experience. That was fun for a while, but again, as I played, some fundamental flaws of DIII that can’t be amended by manipulating numbers in equations began to surface. Leveling up all of my characters who were not already level 60 became boring despite the challenge/reward dynamic. That is because the campaign, was poorly designed. Yes, the production quality invested into the character classes and environments is evident, but repeating the steps of discovering that the fallen star is Tyrael, recovering his sword, finding Adria, avenging Cain, pretending that the snot-nosed kid with the talent of being ubiquitous isn’t Belial all along, and keeping a hand hovering over the ESC key throughout Acts 3 and 4 due to Azmodan’s and Diablo’s incessant taunting. I’m not as critical of Chris Metzen’s writing as perhaps the folks on Reddit, for I believe lore of DIII to be what distinguishes it from games like Torchlight, Titan Quest, Path of Exile, and other derivatives like Record of Lodoss War and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Yet, I agree that the tediousness of turbo-tapping the ESC key while doing the same quests repeatedly is an egregious oversight. The story is basic and entertaining for what it is worth, but Metzen is no C.S. Lewis.
When I did finally give up on playing the campaign after coping with the fact that any gear that I had farmed (or purchased) would be instantaneously rendered obsolete once RoS hit and item levels would maintain parity with character levels, I decided to grind out a few more paragon levels doing COTA runs. After about fifty of those or so (and a cleverly-worded hotfix that nerfed exp), I had become bored with the game again.