Although Diablo 3 is a high-quality game with a lot of potential, it's no secret that a large portion of the player base has been disappointed with some aspects of the game. I stream 6 - 8 hours of Diablo each day (ArchontheWizard) and feel like I have a good understanding of what the game is lacking.
Even though I feel Blizzard understands the issues and will do what it takes to fix them, I still want to put my thoughts and opinions into words. It feels unfair to have criticism about the game without giving feedback somewhere other than my own stream.
Disclaimer: I don't believe that Diablo 3 should merely be an improvement to Diablo 2. Some players feel it would be wrong to take the game in a direction away from D2 and traditional ARPGs, but I believe that any change which would make D3 more enjoyable and rewarding should be implemented; otherwise we're limiting the potential of the game.
I think the issues surrounding Diablo 3 could be summed up into 1 core problem with the current state of the game: "Players get bored of farming too quickly". This problem can be addressed in 2 ways:
1. Make farming more rewarding and enjoyable
2. Give players something to do other than farm
There are five main points I want to address which I feel would solve the issues:
1. Players should be progressing by playing the game, not the AH
2. There needs to be end-game content separate from the content you play through to level 60
3. There should be a ladder system for more competitive players
4. PvP should be robust enough that players can choose to focus on it primarily
5. Players should be able to customize their characters (skill and abilities)
I'd like to address each point and explain what I think the issue is and how to fix it.
1. Progress through playing the game, not the AH
With the game in its current state, once you hit max level you're able to visit the AH and get a decent set of gear for as little as 1 million gold. At that point, the chance of you finding an upgrade while farming is very unlikely. By the time your set is worth 10 to 50 million gold, it's almost impossible to find an upgrade while farming.
Most players understand that they're farming to find items that they can sell to other players to get the gold they need to buy the items they want on the AH. The problem with this system is that it takes the progression away from the actual game.
Much of the addicting-fun in action-rpgs/dungeon crawlers is that your next big upgrade is just around the corner - and that you're improving your character in a predictable way every time you play the game. The reason this isn't the case in Diablo 3 is because of the Auction House.
Recent blue posts from Blizzard imply that they're aware the Auction House causes many of the issues in Diablo 3 right now. However, I would assume they can't get rid of the AH at this point because too many players have become attached to it, and would be upset if it were removed.
Although, IMO, the real issue isn't the auction house - it's that you can buy the best items in the game on the auction house. Other games have working auction houses - but D3 is the first large title that allows players to buy the best items from the AH, and it's not working.
If you could only get the best items from actually playing the game it would bring a new level of excitement to farming, and would make the game much more rewarding. If another player saw you with a "top-tier" item, they would know you earned it yourself instead of buying it on the AH. The auction house would then become a place to fill holes in your gear while you hunt for those best in slot items. There could still be a lot of trading and a healthy economy, but the best geared players would be the ones who earned it - not those who spend a couple thousand dollars.
On a side note - I don't think the RMAH causes many issues at all (except for Public Relations, of course). While the RMAH might encourage players to spend money on the game - if you removed it, players would just buy gold from 3rd party websites. Anytime players can cut corners by spending real money it diminishes the effort others put into the game. If the only way to find an item is to earn it - finding that item becomes much more rewarding.
The recent itemization post from Travis Day showed that the Diablo 3 team understands how to fix issues with items: Making more desirable affixes, giving players more choices with gear, improving legendaries, having less "junk" drops, etc. I think these will be welcomed changes to the game. The post also mentions the idea of giving players guaranteed legendaries, and dropping more items that are good for your character - however none of these ideas address the issue that players can still buy the best items from the auction house.
Many methods for fixing the issue have already been discussed. I would like to focus on 3 which I think could work well.
A. Allow players to "Enhance" self-found gear
This idea is to allow players to add a socket or other affixes to gear they find themselves in exchange for a gold cost. Enhancing the gear would cause it to become bound to your account, so you wouldn't be able to trade the enhanced items. This would cause the highest potential items to be items you find through playing the game and would diminish the use of the Auction House.
You could also include items found by other players in your game to allow friends to find items for each other.
B. Items lose value when traded
This idea would be to improve the quality of all items (by increasing the affix values by 5% - 25%). However, when a player would trade or sell the item to another player it would lose that increase in quality. And again, you could include items found by other players in your game.
C. Create a new "Tier" of BoA items
The idea would be to create new items (possibly item level 64) which would be higher quality and more rare than the current items. However, they would all be BoA.
These items could drop anywhere in the game, but they would have a higher chance to drop off of specific mob types, unique monsters, or bosses. This way, based on the items you wanted you could farm in areas which were more likely to drop those items.
I strongly feel that giving players something specific to work towards, with a semi-predictable timeline as to what they'll need in order to achieve it, makes a game much more rewarding and enjoyable.
I think it would also be a good idea to have less randomness to these items. Because they are more rare they could be ensured to always roll decent. Some versions of each item would still be better than others, but not by the same margin as the current items.
I'll discuss this more in the next section, but quickly - if the best items in the game were similar in quality, the devs could create end-game content that would be scaled to a group of players with top-tier gear. Which means that there would be end game content that couldn't be out-geared; challenges that players would feel a sense of accomplishment for beating because it's challenging even with the best gear in the game. Players want something "Epic" to work towards.
2. End-Game Content
We haven't received much information from Blizzard regarding end-game content yet. It seems that originally they wanted Inferno to be the "end-game" of Diablo, but players either hit road-blocks or got burnt-out too quickly. Changes have been made to the game to reward players for farming the current content more, but I truly feel that D3 needs some real end-game content that is different from the content you play through to level.
WHY WE NEED END-GAME CONTENT
Farming gets boring. Currently players are farming the same content to acquire better gear so that they can farm more. The only purpose for collecting gold and gear is so that you can collect gold and gear faster. It's rewarding for a period of time, but eventually it starts to feel a little pointless. If there were challenges that required a certain level of gear and skill, players would have something to farm for. Getting a new upgrade would be even more exciting if it would allow you to progress further through end-game content.
WHAT MAKES GOOD END-GAME CONTENT
IMO there are 3 qualities end-game content should have:
A. It should not be worth it for players to "farm" the content - If players can farm the end-game content to gear up it removes the need to play the original 4 acts. However, you can keep end-game content from being "farmable" by either limiting how often players can beat it, or limiting how often they can receive certain rewards. Then farming becomes a way to gear up to progress further through end-game
B. It should feel like a challenge, not a grind. You can accomplish this by either making content which is different every time you play it (PvP or Competitive PvE are easy examples of this), or by making content which requires strategy and practice.
C. Players should not be able to beat it easily - Ideally end-game content would never be beaten. The idea is to always have something for players to work towards and brag about. It seems there are 2 ways to accomplish this.
1. Create content faster than most players can finish it - This is the WoW model, which works well but would require the top-tier gear to be similar enough in quality that the most difficult challenges could be scaled to the highest level of gear. However, I don't think this is practical for Diablo, and it would require a lot of content creation.
2. Create content that cannot be beaten. I believe there are some easy ways to add fun, challenging content which can never be beaten.
An endless mode would be a series of challenges which would get progressively more difficult and give rewards based on your progress. The rewards could only be received once each, so you wouldn't be able to farm the same content to continue collecting the reward. Because it is endless, no one would ever beat it, which means players would always have something to work towards. Farming and practicing more would allow you to progress further, collect better rewards, and brag to your friends. There are several ways you could go about creating an endless mode:
A. Survival Mode - Imagine the Jar of Souls event but much more complex (bigger room, more spawn points, etc.). Every time monsters would spawn they would be a little more challenging, and every few rounds there would be a reward.
B. Defend the Blank - Players would have a structure or item to defend as waves of mobs came to attack it.
C. Endless Dungeon - Player would progress through a dungeon with unlimited levels - each level becomes more challenging with a bigger reward.
Currently the avid Diablo players rarely have a challenge unless they create it themselves (i.e. killing diablo with only a weapon). We need something we can work towards and feel a sense of accomplishment for completing regardless of how good our gear is. Look at how popular the "Zombie Mode" on "Call of Duty" has become - it provides endless gameplay which doesn't get boring quickly, and it doesn't require a large amount of content.
3. Self-Found Ladder
This idea is for a specific demographic of Diablo players. However, I think anyone who tries playing the game using only self-found gear will see how rewarding and challenging it can be. Currently many players, including myself, have been playing using only self-found gear, which is fun, but there's no recognition for it. Because players aren't able to prove they're using only self-found gear, it feels a little cheap. Anyone could claim they're using self-found gear and just buy gear on the AH. We want to compare ourselves with other players, but what's the point if anyone can "cheat".
One option would be to give players recognition if they've only used self-found gear; either visually on their character, or as a note on their profile. The only issue with this is, knowing hardcore gamers, the best geared self-found players would quickly become those who get rushed (or rush themselves) by players who are using auction house gear. This is why I think self-found would be perfect in conjunction with a ladder system.
Players have been asking for a ladder for a while now. We like to compete against fellow D3 players, and a ladder allows us to do that over and over again. The one issue with a ladder is if you allow for open trading, inevitably players who buy gear from 3rd party websites will have a significant advantage, which is discouraging and diminishes the efforts of those who are using their own gear. If the ladders were self-found gear only, the possibility of cheating would be removed.
You could still allow trading within game if you like, but only for items that dropped while in that game. Crafting could also be allowed, of course.
I have a lot of hope that Blizzard is going to get PvP right in D3, however we're still not sure what they're working on back there, so I just want to address two points which I feel strongly about:
A. PvP Gear - Most importantly, I think that players who prefer PvP should be able to focus on it. Some players will see PvP as a side activity for when they're bored, however, certain types of players will want to put the majority of their efforts into PvP without having to continuously farm PvE to stay competitive. If participating in PvP could yield gear for the players, it would allow for a new way to play the game, and it would appeal to an additional demographic.
B. Integrating PvE with PvP - Hopefully Blizzard will create several "battlegrounds" or types of PvP. I think one type that would appeal to players and be a good fit for D3 is competitive PvE. Blizzard has suggested the idea of mixing in PvE with PvP, and I think it would be a good fit for Diablo. Here are a few ideas I think would work well:
1. MOBA PvP - I believe ARPGs would lend themselves well to League of Legends/DOTA style PvP. Having heroes defending each side of a map while weaker NPCs continuously spawn and fight each other; it would be a good mix of PvE and PvP.
2. Competitive PvE - This could be done many different ways, but there's a "Warcraft 3" map called "Rabbits vs Sheep" which I feel would translate well to Diablo: Players are split into 2 teams and put into separate rooms. Each team has monsters spawn in their room which they have to defeat. However, every time your team kills a monster, that monster is sent to the other team with full health. Monsters continue to pile up until one team is defeated. This is a very simple example of competitive PvE, however I think the idea is something players would enjoy (and it would be different every time, which would keep it from becoming boring).
5. Character Customization
I think a lot of players would agree that one of the most addictive features of Diablo 2 was the skill tree. It gave each player meaningful choices to make about their character, and really turned each character into a project. Allowing players to "design" each character and make decisions as they level gives them a sense of pride. The Diablo 3 team has addressed this issue briefly.
I agree with Travis Day's post when he says an actual skill tree isn't the best addition to Diablo 3. His reason was that players might make a mistake when placing skill points and then have to remake the character - I don't agree with this point, as it would be easy to implement a respec system. However, adding a skill tree would require a complete re-design of the skill system which would require a lot of work and testing, and would ultimately upset players who enjoy the current system.
I think, most importantly, when adding a customization system, allow players to make real choices about their characters which cause them to play differently than other characters of the same class. This will give players the feeling that each character is really their own.
Gear customization is an interesting idea as well, but not really game changing in my opinion. I don't have any feedback about it, because they've already announced that they're interested in implementing it and it seems fairly straight-forward.
I love Diablo 3, and I plan to continue playing 40+ hours a week for the foreseeable future. Blizzard has a long-lasting reputation for working on every game to ensure it's the best it can be. Although sometimes players might feel that Blizzard isn't fixing issues fast enough, I trust that they're focused more on the long-term.
There are many different potential methods to fixing the current issues with the game; this post simply outlines the methods which I think would work best. The Blizzard devs, as well as other players, will have additional insight, and will probably come up with new ideas for some of these issues. However, I've had most of these ideas for a long time now, and felt like I should share my feedback with anyone who is interested in hearing it. We can't complain about the game if we aren't prepared to offer solutions.