So recently there have been a lot of rumors flying around that Blizzard will be announcing either a Diablo III expansion, or Diablo IV. Which got me to revisiting some of my old hopes for Diablo III last year, and also what did I really want from a Diablo IV?
The question was nagging me. The obvious things came to mind: updated graphics, new classes, ect. But as cool as those things would be, they still didn’t sell me on the need to branch out into another game, rather than rework the current game and give it some tuneups.
Then it hit me, a wave of clarity rushed over me and I realized exactly what I wanted from the next Diablo sequel. It was so simple, but so understated since the years of Diablo III’s release. What I wanted more than anything, the thing that encompassed all my previous hopes from last year, and everything I could imagine from that point on, was as simple as a single word:
Okay I know what you’re thinking; “Hey that’s a pretty generic and broad statement to make. I mean come on what exactly is considered depth.” Well that’s exactly what I’m here to discuss. My brief overview of how I determine the depth of a game is this: How much debate, and speculation, can be had in regards to the mechanics and story of the game. And also the modular aspects surrounding your individual choices when compared to another players.
Let me give you an example. Magic: The Gathering is a card game that has so much depth within it’s mechanics and synergies that a room full of players can stay up all night trying to convince each other of their individual choices. And still all be right! (I know, I’ve done it.) Everything, from the cards in your deck, to each card you play on every given turn is a well calculated decision that winds forever deeper into a labyrinth of “what if’s”. The short answer that I’m trying to get at here is: Chess. Adding depth to a game should provide the same feeling of personal success as a game of Chess.
It might be hard for some people to understand where I’m going with all this. I mean card games, board games, and action RPG’s, how are they at all comparable? So let me give this to you in terms any Diablo fan would understand, Stat Points.
There I said it, the fatal flaw, and nearly criminal diversion Diablo III took from it’s predecessors. The inability to shape your character, whoever they may be, into a disciple of your chosen playstyle. Allowing your knowledge and depth of skill be the final judge on whether or not your pathway was an effective one. You want your Barbarian to make use of the dexterity normally reserved for the more tricky Demon Hunter? Fine. Or do you like the Wizard but only wish they could more accurately serve you as a melee fighter? Using brutal magic to support yourself in ways that a typical up close warrior could not have.
Abilities, Items, and Stats, are the three pillars the franchise was built upon. It allowed for the devoted player to distance himself from the everyday player. But most important, it allows the beginning player to see himself grow into a knowledgeable machine of effective combinations as they slaughter their way through their second and third characters at a new found speed that almost mocks those who are now struggling where you once were.
While I don’t think stats should have an overly complicated system I do think they should highly influence the development and versatility of a character. I think a very obvious and correct implementation for stats is one Diablo III once again lost sight of, and that’s “item requirements”. This ties in so much with the overall perception of depth that it could almost entirely revamp the series on it’s own!
For instance: You’re barbarian is typically led down a strength based path, but what if you took him down the path of dexterity? Just to try an interesting dagger combination that’s locked behind a high dex requirement. How would the unique properties interact with the abilities of your barbarian when it was clearly designed with the Demon Hunter in mind? Well that’s the experiment you get to do. And the failures or successes will be yours to claim.
This topic is almost entirely covered in my wishlist for Diablo III that I published last year. I suggest you read that article, or that section at least before finishing this one. Long story short I talked about items being elements of the story, or even having their own story. Having more than a set of randomly placed stats coupled with a few “legendary effects”. Granted the idea of legendary effects has gotten a lot better in Diablo III over the years, it’s still not quite where it should be. I think they need to raise the bar and let lose a barrage of items so outlandish, that you feel under the right circumstances you could harness them to break the game. Allow players to work out those combinations themselves, and feel rewarded for their time scouring the internet for synergies, or theory crafting those designs on their own.
Another idea I touched on are items that serve to lead players on a new quest. Maybe you find a legendary sword that sends you on a quest to find the grave of it’s original owner. And maybe that sword grows in strength with each step you take towards that goal. Or perhaps an armor that was imbued with the ability to use demon souls in order to strengthen itself. The more demons you slay with this armor on, the more defense it gains. But you only unlock this by truly “identifying” the item. Not just clicking a button to instantly see the properties. But actually follow a path that could take several days or weeks of gameplay to finally see through to the end in order to unlock those special properties.
Going back to the beginning of items, how about making weapon and armor types count for something? Yes requirements is a good way of doing this, but honestly diversifying the items of the game to make each type feel specific. Should an edged weapon deal the same damage to undead as a blunt, or hammer type weapon? I don’t think it should. And neither did blizzard as that was another staple of the series before Diablo III. Beyond that there are so many opportunities to really flesh our the weapon and armor types for their tasks. I mean could we see a polearm actually increase the effective range of your abilities? Simple things that could be mixed and matched to provide another layer to the game mechanics.
If stats weren’t the number one sin of Diablo III then I have to say the ability system was. I can honestly say when I first played the game I didn’t know about “elective mode”. I want through my entire first character (up to 60) without knowing I could have multiple abilities from the same category equipped at one time. Truthfully, finding out this options exists was bitter sweet. In a way I felt like it ruined the ideas behind having to create a character build, but it obviously made the leveling up process much easier. I just don’t think that’s what the game should be about.
In ARPG’s there has always been a tradition of having to decide which path you will take with any specific character. And those choices are what keep you wanting to replay over and over. Do you elect to focus your attention on fire skills? Or do you decide to try making a lightning wizard this time. Gaining access to a whole new set of abilities you have never ever seen before. This breaks the individual classes down into as many sub classes as you can realistically create abilities for. It allows the barbarian to really make a choice between “I want to slaughter monsters with dual wielding weapons!” or “I want to equip a shield and keep myself protected.” Those character choices are what makes us stand out from each other. And to me it seems like it would be the most fun part of game design! I mean honestly I can sit here all day coming up with skill trees, the applications for builds, the lore implications of the builds, and so forth. Why on Earth there isn’t a whole slew of options for that is beyond me. Maybe the team responsible for that specific element of the game just doesn’t have the passion for it? Who knows.
Okay this is the most difficult section to really explain but I think it’s possibly the most important. It’s the idea behind world exploration. I want to feel like there is a world to explore and my choice of where to go and when actually matter at all. This is something that has to be done in multiple ways in order to successfully achieve what it is I’m trying to get at. And it starts with monsters that do not have the same drop tables as everything else. It’s such a tragedy that the only variant in loot comes from the number of monsters killed, versus the, rarity, type, and location of the monsters. Wouldn’t you like to know that monsters carrying specific weapon types were more likely to drop them? Well currently the answer is no, because weapon types serve no purpose. But this is why I said it has to be done in layers.
How about it the unique monsters you find were actually relevant to specific character builds. If you wanted Leoric’s Crown, well you had to explore his tomb. And while you’re there you are finding bits and pieces of lore specific gear from all the men who served under Leoric. I know this is getting back into items a bit but my point is to tell you that the sense of adventure comes from actually feeling like where you are matters. And that starts with the choices of loot in that area.
Now we can discuss the actual maps themselves. Because of what I spoke about just a second ago, there are no maps that actually mean anything to explore. Yes there are some side quests, and they do grant a small amount of exp, and terrible loot rewards but none of them matter, or even feel like they matter. It’s because of this that the added areas actually serve more as a complete waste of development time, and player time in almost every case. The few quests that are discovered to have some worth are quickly nerfed by Blizzard in an attempt to keep the effectiveness of the plan they set up. And for now that’s all they can do. Diablo III is beyond the point where you can start giving players that free reign to play their way. It’s a very straight line, perfectly drawn, and placed exactly where it was intended to be. But that’s just it, it can only be what it is. With Diablo IV, Blizzard has the opportunity to make new choices on how the game is to be played.
I want to see maps that go on for multiple game sessions, containing monsters, and loot, that might be unique to that area. With each of those monsters having a loot table unlike the rest of the world. And after a few game sessions and finally discovering the “end” of that particular section of the world, I want to have new knowledge of the world I’m playing in. Areas completely diverted from the main pathways of the game. I want to be able to discuss with my friends and say “hey did you go to The Araneae ruins? You should go there! That’s where I got this really cool shield that let’s me crowd control monsters with webs. I had to fight this boss that was actually a Captain of Leroic’s Army and had been infested by the Araneae. Took me a few tries to figure out that I had to lure him over to the water dripping from the ceiling in order to lower his guard long enough to deal damage. But eventually I killed him, and found out Leoric was actually visited by the Araneae as a child and learned to communicate with them. Which he never told anyone. Anyways, yeah I got this shield down there. It’s worth going down there if you see it!”
Just imagine being able to actually have enough to explore that you can really converse with other players about things you found, and where you found them. And what it all means to the series.
The part of me that remembers grinding for hours in Diablo II just to be killed by a living soul and lose 2-3 days worth of exp is trying to slap me for talking about this, but I have to anyways. The overall character progression needs to be reworked. Being able to reach maximum level in a single session unassisted is completely horrifying. There is no subtlety. No feeling of accomplishment. And considering there are no choices to be made, it’s a complete waste of time. However even saying all that, it works for Diablo III. Because within the system of that game, you are meant to play through the game, reach your maximum level, switch to adventure mode, and decide how you want to play that character from then on. But when it comes to Diablo IV I pray that the progression is completely reworked to add that feeling of depth that this entire article is about.
I understand that MMORPG’s have made it so a lot of players only believe they can start enjoying the game once they reach that maximum level cap. Basically people see progression in 3 phases:
Phase 1: Blast through the game getting to maximum level with the least thinking possible.
Phase 2: Begin your end game content and get the best loot possible.
Phase 3: Boast and brag because you are finally the best player in the game.
The illusion of phase 3 is what keeps people playing the games for longer than they rightfully should.
But what id we took a step back and lengthened our phase 1. So that it took proper choices, and time investments to complete it? What if the illusion became phase 2? Suddenly everything you do from the time of beginning your character, until the time you log off becomes important while you’re preparing for the phase 2 that never comes.
In previous games the cap was level 99. In my entire time playing Diablo II (hardcore) I only met a few people who had made it to that cap, and I was not one of them. But the point is that once they got there, their character actually wasn’t really that much better than mine who hovered around 94 for quite some time. But that illusion of beginning phase 2 once we hit level 99 kept us intrigued. It kept our eyes open for loot options. Kept us experimenting with options. And it really kept us devoted and proud of the progress and time spent on that character. I remember the night one of my friends finally hit level 99 it was the most exciting thing I had felt in the game up until that point. Then, after a few days it was almost sad. It was like the illusion of phase 2 had been pulled out from under us and instead we were just left with less than we had before in terms of things keeping us there.
The point I’m making is that you should always be in as many states of progress as possible. Your gear should be under progress, your level, your skill levels, and many other things (some of which I covered in my first article). Such as “monster knowledge”. A system that would increase your effectiveness in some way against a certain monster type, simply by defeating monsters of that same type. There should always be a number of things you’re working on improving with your character. And all those things should be specific to the role you choose to play with that character. You should want to make new characters to get back that feel of constant progress day in and day out, while other people choose to devote themselves to the endless Phase 1 of their specific character choice.
These are the gameplay concepts that allow a game to appeal to more than one type of gamer.
Now all of these things come together to what I call depth of gameplay. It’s the ability to feel almost overwhelmed when you pick up a game, but achieve constant satisfaction at your own hands as you decode the web of interconnected elements piece by piece. Soon you’ll be performing tasks with eloquent ease, while spectators stand by in amazement thinking “how are you doing that!” And you know that it was devoted hard work, and time spent that allowed you to rise from the pools of would be adventurers into a world of battle hardened warriors. Ready to use every detail of code to further enhance your pursuit of the phase 2 you can only hope never comes.
And that ladies and gentlemen, is my hopes for Diablo IV
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