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Diablo 3 Expansion Speculation #1: Feature & System ChangesPosted 16 Nov 2012 by
There will Diablo 3 expansions. That’s not a real bold revelation; pretty much everyone expected one or more from the moment the game was announced, and when we saw two of them listed in that Gamespy editorial, fan delight was palpable. That was an internal timeline though, not meant for public eyes and probably revised since then anyway. (D3 obviously didn’t ship in 2011.) The only official timeframe was given in September 2011, when the D3 expansion was semi-promised before the end of 2014.
Since that leaked document, the D3 team has publicly confirmed that an expansion or two will come, and this was again re-confirmed during the recent quarterly conference call. What might be in the expansion(s) though? On that the devs have remained mum. They’ve been asked plenty of times, but have always replied politically and said things like, “We’re focused on finishing the game and aren’t thinking any further than that.” That’s surely true, for the most part, and they’ve stuck to that story all the way, even during development when numerous features, including Charms, the Talisman, the Mystic, craftable jewelry, the Scroll of Reforging and Scroll of Companion, item socketing (initially a talent of the Jeweler), were shelved.
Some of those features will probably return in the expansion(s), and that’s worth debating, but it’s also fun to think of the brand new features we’ll see, or the big (?) changes to current features. Covering all of that in one article would stretch on a bit, even for me, so I’m going to hit it in two pieces. This first one will focus on current features that could/should change in the expansion, and a second will go for the brand new features and systems. There’s unavoidable overlap in the issues; new skills and changes to current skills, new socketable items and changes to current gems, etc, but I’ve tried to break it up fairly evenly.
A lot of these issues have been under fan discussion for months (or longer) but the recent the Iron Islanders which prompted a huge and ongoing discussion in our community forum brought out some good ideas as well. Threads with patch change suggestions are good too. We’re also recording a podcast about this over the weekend, to get more debate and discussion in verbal form.
Diablo 3 Expansion Wish ListThis article isn’t going to cover totally new stuff, since that’s so hypothetical. Of course D3X (and D3Y?) will (probably) have new character classes, a 5th and 6th act, new item types, new socketables, a new Follower, the return of the Mystic, etc, and those are great topics for debate, but I’ll do those in a future article. This piece is more grounded in how to change/improve things in the current game.
Here’s the game feature/system changes wish list. You could probably put every feature and system in the game on this list, and everyone has their own priorities, but these are topics I’ve seen much-discussed and that I wanted to write something about. I don’t necessarily agree that all of them need to be done, and I’m sure you guys won’t either. But that’s the fun of debate; perhaps we can run a vote on which ones are most-needed, once we measure a bit more of the general fan reaction?
So, here’s the quick list. Read on for more discussion of all of these topics:
- Better single player features. Ladders, tournaments, level up challenges, etc.
- Better multiplayer features. Rewards for party play, more monsters, more drops, more NV stacks, special events/quests that *require* parties to attempt.
- Better maps and level layouts.
- Better character customization. Some manual stat points? Some sort of skill points? Some limits on freespecs?
- Redo item mods and attributes systems to be less boring/more varied. Re-introduce variety between classes and item types.
- Changes to existing classes. We’ve seen some big changes in patches already, and may well see more pre-D3X, but it’s fun to speculate.
- Crafting system overhaul. (Could easily be done in a patch, pre-D3X.)
- Ironborn mode. Like Hardcore, it’s a permanent character designation set at the time of creation. The Ironborn can be softcore or hardcore, but they can only interact with other Ironborn characters and they must pay the iron price for their equipment — thus they can never use the Auction House and must self find. Can they trade? Are top items BoA? Do the get inherently higher MF to make up for it?
Lots to debate, pros and cons, etc. So let’s go!
Better Multi-Player Features
Wow, talk about starting off with a target-rich environment! I’ll try to be brief and stay focused since this issue could be a whole article by itself.
During development, the D3 team talked endlessly about “do no harm to co-op” as one of their main slogans. And that was great as a slogan, but as the development progressed and they revealed features and design decisions, certain interested fans (like me) repeatedly tried to argue that they were failing. Yes, they did a good job fixing the ninja loot and PK problems (and TPPK hacks) that had been the biggest problems in D2’s multiplayer, but D3 was also eliminating most of D2’s incentives to party by removing bonus exp and bonus item drops in big games, and by designing character skills that didn’t include many party buffs or effects that benefited everyone in the game, such as the Curses, Spirits, War Cries, and Auras. In D2 you were so happy to see a Barbarian, or a Paladin, or a Druid enter your game since you knew substantial bonuses were coming your way. A Javazon playing with a Conviction Paladin acting as her remora in the Cow Level changed the entire game. There is nothing like that sort of skill sharing and character synergy in D3.
The Diablo 3 Battle.net game creation system is another controversial feature; most fans seemed to want a modified version of the D1/D2 system, where players created games and named them. Blizzard and their B.net 2.0 fetish for automation and matchmaking would have none of that. So now we’ve got only automated games with matchmaking joining that seldom work since people just start the game near the end of the act so they can hop from waypoint to waypoint and move around quickly. And that’s irrelevant anyway since the Monster Power system isn’t integrated into public games so all the people who would like to go on a higher MP for fun or challenge or key farming… can only do it with their friends. (And I’m not even mentioning the D3 chat channel ghost town problem that D3 imported directly from SC2.)
On the bright side, at least for the purposes of this article, there’s no shortage of multiplayer fixes. Basically everything in the last two paragraphs could be fixed fairly easily, and I haven’t even suggested any new features or social tools that could improve the B.net experience (like guild support). I bet you guys will, though.
Click through for much more.
Better Single Player Features
The Single Player issue was mentioned in the Gamespy article and I saw it echoed in forum threads and comments. As someone who mostly plays D3 alone, I should be eager to weigh in on this but honestly… I haven’t had a problem with it. Yes, the devs termed everything in terms of multiplayer (and then amazingly didn’t provide any real benefits to playing multiplayer) and gave no real consideration to any special/bonus features for solo players, but I don’t think they’re really needed.
Solo players get to use a Follower, and while the pre-game hype about how their amazing dialogue (i.e. repeating the same 4 phrases for eternity) was clearly overblown, they do talk and give you some sense of not being just a lone hero out to save the world. Of course if you want to be the lone hero out to save the world… Jay Wilson hates you. Or perhaps not, since D3 does allow you to un-hire your Follower and go fully alone
So, what would a special SP feature be? (Aside from something we’ll never ever ever ever see in online-only DRM D3.) The Gamespy article mentions wanting a more varied and replayable experience, but that’s not really anything specific to SP. I guess some Follower-specific quests could fit the bill, or some dungeon that’s only available to solo players? Would rankings and player stats and ladders and such count? I’d like to see those in any event.
Better Maps and Level LayoutsThis has been a topic of debate since before D3’s release, when we found out that surface areas would not be random in the overall shape and layout. I’ve seen a lot of player comments against those, but I don’t personally agree. The developers pushed their design as a way to add better art and layouts, while accommodating randomization through events and areas within the levels. And I think that’s pretty much come true. I can’t really say about the art aspect, but I like the randomization of elements within the big surface areas; it makes them much more interesting than the surface areas were in D2. In D3 you explore the areas and see all the random stuff within them, and I still routinely see events that I’ve never noticed before, or only very rarely.
That aspect of the game is done much better in Acts 1 and 2 since those had the most development time, while there’s only one big random surface area in Act Three, and it’s though it’s got some variety, it’s not exactly stuffed full of surprises once you’ve done it two or three times.
How would randomizing the layouts improve things, though? The D3 system has random features within, requires exploration to find dungeon entrances, and yet if you just want to get to the end, you know where it is and can head right there. Would anyone really prefer if we were forced to run around the entire perimeter of the areas (D2 style) to find the passage to the next level?
The real complaint and problem with D3’s level design comes not on the non-random surface, but in the randomized dungeons. Those I’ve seen much more complaints about, as most fans feel the layouts are too predictable and repetitious. The D3 artists tried to incorporate those big blocks of design into their dungeon, rather than just having endless small rooms that fit together in random ways. Basically using bigger, more distinctive puzzle pieces rather than tiny generic ones. And that’s a good theory, but many fans feel the big pieces are too big and predictable, so areas like the Act One Crypts or Catacombs, or the Act 2 sewers, or pretty much all of Act Four, feel predictable.
“Oh, this layout again.”
Personally, I think the smaller jigsaw pieces work better for long term use. Compare say, the endless rooms and unpredictable shapes of the Fort and Barracks levels in early Act Three to the larger block tileset dungeons listed above. I found those endless rooms in the Act Three areas boring at first, but after playing for months I now enjoy them since they vary more in shape and layout, while I get really bored running through the larger, more picturesque and predictable levels.
So maybe there’s a way to mix in more big random elements along with lots of those tiny boxes? If the devs can’t retrofit that into the current Acts, it’s certainly something to shoot for in Act Five and beyond.
Better Character Customization: Skills and Stats
Here’s another topic that could be a whole article to itself. It’s a controversial one, since while many players miss having more customization options and a sense of character identity and investment, others are very happy with the freespecs system in D3 and like to be able to change their builds at any time.
I’m more old school on this, and while i’m not advocating a return to the full on D2 style of “You want to change anything? You reroll now!” I do think D3 could give some sense of identity and individuality. So every level 60 character wasn’t exactly the same, barring some minor difference on like, one rune effect. (With equipment making 99% of the difference in power, and even that only by degrees, but I mention item issues next.)
It’s not just about variation, but about giving some weight to the character building process. I’d like to see some kind of skill points in the game, where players had to decide which skills to weight most heavily and that changed the play style. Here’s a very basic type of system that could be easily tacked onto the existing game. Say you had 12 skill points to spend on your 6 skills, and each skill could take up to 3 points. Do you want to max out your offensive ones? Want more damage to your single target burst or to your AoE? Or do you boost your defensive skills? Or do you want your CC to last longer, with a larger radius? Or do you want 2 points in everything?
By that same token, I think the stats could have some customization allowed. Say the current system is retained from 1-60, but with each Paragon level you have 1 point auto-assigned to each attribute, with 3 left over. You can follow the 2 vit, 3 main stat guideline… or you can vary it. Want to put them all into main stat for more damage? (Probably) Want to put more into Vit for survivability? (Hardcores might.)
Actually, I’d like to see the whole attribute system overhauled to make the non-main stats more useful and interesting. More bonuses from them, maybe some hybrid items where multiple stats boosted the damage, or where +DEX improved attack speed while +STR added to crit damage. Something better than the current binary system, where you are either overjoyed to get your main stat on an item, or else it’s a complete waste of the modifier slot. But that’s another really big topic that could fill a whole post.
Better Item Modifers
Many players have asked for item range to matter again, and pointed out how silly it is for a dagger to work exactly the same as a polearm or an axe. Logically, yes, that’s silly, but D3 simplified many features to provide greater “accessibility.” (Or they just Dumbed Down D3, depending on your PoV.) The lack of weapon range evens things for the classes as well. After all, weapon reach almost never matters to a Wizard or Witch Doctor, and even Barbs and Monks do most of their damage with spell-like attacks that don’t actually use the weapon to hit the enemy.
Many ARPGs have traditionally included damage bonuses or penalties for some weapon types against some monster types. Clubs work better against Undead than spears do, for instance. This sort of feature also found no place in Diablo 3. And D3 even removed the idea of different damage types mattering; monsters don’t have variety in their elemental resistances, poison is just green damage, and all the pre-game theories about different types of critical hits dealing different bonus effects got scrapped.
Okay, so they wanted to simplify and dumb down and streamline for D3C… now it’s time for D3X. Can we get some complexity and variety, please? Can it start to matter which type of item you use? Can there be trade offs and bonuses to item types, and some variety between classes from something other than which +stat is found on the axe/dagger/sword/mace/etc?
Better Crafting System
This could easily come in a patch before D3X, and really it should, since the system doesn’t seem to need that many changes. Crafting is a great idea, I like salvaging as a mechanic, I like the idea of breaking down junk items to try to roll them into something new and useful. But it’s just worthless in the current execution.
The cost / reward ratio is totally out of whack. Even aside from the fact that it’s much quicker and easier to just buy materials from the Auction House than to make them yourself, the “5 random attributes” type results you get from the Rare items created by crafting is almost never a good thing. This was true even in the early days of D3, but now that Nephalem Valor and Monster Power and improved drop rates and easier Inferno have made it so easy to completely fill your inventory with Rares in just a few minutes, it’s crazy. Why would anyone devote dozens of materials and 100k gold to rolling a single rare item, with totally variable (and thus almost certainly junky) mods, when they could find 20 of them in 15 minutes play time?
Current crafting is too random, costs too much, and has way too low a percent chance of success. That said… it’s not so easy to fix. Imagine that the devs just cut the costs of all crafting (mats and gold) by 50%. Or 90% Would that help? Or would it just create a new supply of overpowered rares and make item hunting seem pointless since it was easier to just craft something? Or would it just make the rich richer as players who had the gold (or a credit card on the RMAH) could buy gold and mats and craft all day, creating mega items that would then flood the AH with inflation?
Crafting needs to be a bit more predictable, with better odds for at lest some useful stats. During the beta most crafting recipes were not all random. Items had a guaranteed stat or two, plus some random mods. So at a low level you could make shoulders that you knew would get say, +12-20 Dexterity, +2 random mods. That system could easily be returned for the end game, or something many fans have suggested is to incorporate gems; a recipe could require say, a Star quality gem, which would grant +100-150 to the associated stat as one of the item’s mods.
That seems like a very cool idea, especially if it got bigger. Higher recipes could require multiple gems to guarantee some properties, plus some random mods as well. Imagine if we get more types of gems or other socketables in D3X, and they can be worked into this system?
The only real flaw that remains, as I see it, is the speculator profit. Crafting seems like a system meant to let players recycle their own stuff, to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Simply cutting all the costs by about 50% would make it a viable system, for a self-found player. You’d haul all your junk back to town, salvage the blues, save up the mats, roll them for new, and eventually improve your lot.
That whole system goes out the window with the Auction House, since it’s much quicker/cheaper/easier to just buy an item that’s better than 99.9% of what you’d ever craft. (Or find from playing, to get to the real heart of the AH problem.) So, short of ripping the AH entirely out of the game (which isn’t a real solution), how could this be addressed for crafting? BoA for all materials? A 50% tax on all material trades (so you’d basically get double the mats for doing your own crafting)?
The Ironborn System
This is an idea I’ve been kicking around for months, but especially since v1.05 has made self-finding fairly viable, (though still very rare) with the increased drop rates and adjusted/customizable difficulty levels. You can play self-found and not use the AH at all now, and still succeed in Inferno. Maybe not on MP5, but at least you can get a foot in the door now, without playing 8 hours a day.
The problem with being self found is that you’re in the same economy and public games with people who are not wearing a single item they found themselves, and there’s constant temptation to nibble on the AH, even if you want to resist. I see this becoming an even more acute problem once the Arenas go in and we’ve got PvP, since I just can’t imagine how the devs can balance anything so that full AH players with 200k DPS aren’t able to effortlessly massacre anyone who hasn’t also devoted billions to their gear. And sure, the match making will, in theory, pair players up into fair matches, but we all know how much equipment matters in D3. It’s not the only thing, but it’s by far the most important thing, and once we’ve got PvP the specialization will become crazy.
It’s hard to predict what item mods and types will be most in demand for PvP, but I am quite sure that just a month or two after PvP goes live, we’ll see very high level, very rich characters with gear sets that make them essentially unkillable to more modestly-equipped characters. (Who they can in turn one-shot.) Whether that’ll come from super high resistances, 10000/sec life regen, massive CC reduction mods, or something else, it will happen. Even with D3’s fairly simplified item system/modifier pool.
And that’s great, for players who have scored massive riches, either from playing endlessly, or from RMAHing. Or both. But for players who want to play more casually, or especially who want to find their own gear… it’s hopeless. You’ll never compare to the high end. (I laugh when I read long and quite excellent strategy threads, since the gear considered minimum baseline for many of the strats has 2 or 3x the DPS of the best stuff I’d accumulated over 6 months of almost all self-finding.)
AH players can PvM 10x faster and will always slaughter self-finders in PvP. And they deserve to, since their gear is vastly better and D3 is a gear-based game. But why does everyone have to be in the same economy and dueling pool? Why can’t there be a separate economy, for players how want to DIY and self find?
Hence the Ironborn (the name is entirely taken from the Iron Islanders in GRRM’s fantasy world who consider it effeminate to wear riches or items that were bought for gold, rather than taken by force). It’s a class of character, much like Hardcore, set upon character creation. Ironborn can only play (PvM or PvP) with other Ironborn. They can be SC or HC, but the main difference is that the can not use the Auction House. That in of itself wouldn’t solve all the problems, since it would just spur black market item trading sites, so perhaps some degree of BoA or BoE needs to be included as well? I don’t think making it entirely self found is a solution, since that would basically just be a single player mode, but perhaps there could be limits of some kind set on trading, with items at ilvl 62+ all binding, or maybe some kind of tracking tag on every item so that it could only be traded between accounts once or twice?
Obviously this would be a fairly specialized playing style that many players wouldn’t be interested in. Most of you guys love the AH and love to cheaply buy mega items that are better than anything you’ll likely ever find. Which is fine; if that’s what you enjoy, go for it. That’s why the Ironborn concept would be voluntary and specialized. The few and the proud, devoted and determined to do it themselves.
And yes, this seems wildly unlikely to ever occur in a game that’s funded, long term, by the RMAH. But even aside from outside devs pointing to the AH as a problem, Blizzard has at least been willing to admit that it’s a corrupting influence that many players would prefer to avoid.
Still, I’m not exactly holding my breath.
Other Expansion Features
Okay, so that was wildly long and probably too inclusive. And I should have saved the Ironborn thing for a separate article. That said, feel free to leap into the comments on any topic in particular, and I’m quite open to running additional articles on specific issues, incorporating more player feedback and ideas. I didn’t even get into other big issues, like major changes to current classes, the possible return of ladders and ladder seasons (more loot can drop if the economy is going to reset every 6-12 months), a massive overhaul to item mods, new monster modifier types, and much more.
Also, I do want to run another article next week on the *new* features we could/should/might see in D3X. I’m sure these will be discussed some on the podcast this weekend, but here’s a quick list:
- New Act. (Skovos? Teganze jungle?)
- New class. (Strength based?)
- New item types. (Throwing weapons? “Super Legendary” higher quality Legendaries? Ilvl 64+ items. New affixes. Etc.)
- New socketable objects (Jewels? Runes?) and a socketing quest/NPC.
- New game modes? (Endless dungeon? Timed events? New PvP modes also, probably.)
- New NPCs/Artisans. Enchantress returns and more?
- New Follower type?
- Pets? Mounts? Murlocs?