Back during Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction's patch 1.09 era, I spent years running around in the Blood Moor, duelling. PvP was what kept me playing Diablo 2 for so long, even though there was no variety, no balance, and no point (beyond collecting the severed ears of your fallen opponents, of course).
I quit Diablo 2 shortly after the release of patch 1.10, and I've spent the nearly 10 years since then awaiting Diablo 3 and the opportunity to recapture that old-time duelling glory. I was very disappointed when I learned that Diablo 3 wouldn't be launching with any PvP options, but the upside of this situation is that Blizzard has had time to assess their game and how it's played and use that information to build a really robust, fun, and lasting PvP experience.
In service of that goal, I've decided to put together a PvP manifesto or wish-list of modes and features that I would love to see in Diablo 3's eventual PvP patch. Naturally it will be too late for the development team to implement any huge changes to whatever they're working on, but maybe we can provide some thoughts or ideas for them to think about and possibly act on down the line.
I've organized my wish-list into three sections: first are the features and systems that I hope to see in place to support PvP, second are the game modes I'd like to lay, and third are the balance questions I feel need to be considered.
Features and Systems
Matchmaking and Ladders
There should be a ranking/rating system that is used to match players against others of similar skill levels or win ratios. With the lack of Diablo 2-style chat hubs or named public games, it's impossible to find opponents without an automated matchmaking system. This feature really goes without saying. In addition to basic matchmaking, though, PvP ratings and win/loss records should be publically viewable, not only in-game but on a Battle.net ladder. Being able to show off your PvP accomplishments and claim your bragging rights is a big motivator for playing PvP.
Playing team games with friends is fun, and it also serves to enhance the competitive quality of PvP, but the current friends list system only allows for person-to-person communication, not for group interaction. A rudimentary guild or clan system, with custom chat channels, online lists, and even an in-game lobby, would really enhance the group-play atmosphere.
PvP-Only Gear and Rewards
I discuss PvP gear and rewards more in the Balance section below, but I wanted to mention them here, as well, since they're a game system that would require some work to implement. If Blizzard wants Diablo 3's PvP to be at all competitive outside of seeing which player can afford better gear, there has to be some system of either equipping competitive players with evenly matched, PvP-only items, or throttling players' numbers up or down while in PvP games so that they come in on an even playing field. Of the two options, implementing PvP-only gear, fuelled by a rewards system unique to PvP play, seems the simpler option to me.
Diablo 3 is not Diablo 2. Arena duelling will simply not be enough. Sure, it's fun to be dropped into a room with an opponent and bash on each other until one of you dies, but it's also repetitive and more or less void of any tactical interest. So drawing inspiration from other strong PvP games, we want to see multiple game modes to choose from. Here are my suggestions:
This is the basic mode, the bread and butter. Two people in a closed room, whacking each other or firing spells until one of them falls. Include five or six environments, with slightly different layouts and some pillars or pits to navigate around to encourage player movement, and people will be happy. This is a place to hone the basic skills of PvP.
Preformed or randomly gathered teams of 2 to 4 players face off against other teams in larger arenas with more obstacles. Team play encourages more preparation, tactical thinking, and group-oriented skill choices. For added interest, take a cue from Guild Wars and allow winning teams to be brought automatically into their next match and build up winning streaks, with rewards for streaks of 10 and 25.
A twist on the Team Arena concept: each time begins the match with a big, strong NPC companion, and whichever team kills their opponents' VIP first wins. Include a timed resurrection mechanic for players—everyone resurrects every 60 seconds, maybe—and give the VIP a tiered health regeneration system, so if you get the VIP below 75%, 50%, or 25% HP he can't heal above that point, but if you don't hit him for 30 seconds he's going to heal himself back up from 55% to 75%, or from 15% to 25%. This way, if you wipe the opposing team with only 15 seconds left in the resurrection timer, you might have time to drop the VIP down another health tier, gaining an advantage before you have to withdraw for another confrontation in the centre of the map, but if you aren't careful, the other team, with their VIP supporting them, might wipe you instead, and get some shots in on your VIP while you wait for the next minute mark.
Capture the Flag
A classic PvP setup: two teams are tasked with fighting their way into the others' base, retrieving a flag, and returning it to their own flag stand. Allow teams of 4 or 5 on each side, throw in some obstacles and defensive NPCs, and you've got some good, long-lasting, replayable fun.
Defense of the Ancients created a whole new genre of videogame. League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, and even Blizzard's own upcoming "Blizzard All-Stars" StarCraft 2 mod have capitalized on the lane game's rising popularity. Diablo 3 could be built into a great lane game. Let players choose their skill selection before the game, and have them unlock those skills in order of the level requirements that are already in place. (If they choose two skills with the same level requirement, let them prioritize which skill they'd like to get first...) This is an objective-based game mode where players could put their soloing and team-fighting skills to use towards accomplishing larger, more interesting, and more tactically intriguing team goals. Perhaps the VIP NPC could be included in the lane game as the final win condition, once the towers or other NPC defenders have been downed.
Diablo 3 was not built from the ground up as a PvP game. That is quite obvious. PvP games thrive on balance, while the Diablo series has always been about gathering increasingly rare and powerful equipment. When that item game is brought into a PvP environment, you quickly encounter a scenario where the richest player will always win, because he can simply take more hits and dish out more damage than his budget-restricted opponent.
On a certain level, farming enough new gear to give yourself a PvP advantage is rewarding. It's just a different way to earn a victory. With the advent of the Real Money Auction House, unfortunately, richer players won't necessarily have earned their victory through play time and farming, but may have earned it with their real-world wallets. However, regardless of that issue, it should still be an option to simply out-gear your opponent, because ultimately that's what Diablo is about.
At the same time, if Blizzard wishes to sustain real interest in Diablo 3's PvP scene, it will have to address item balance within the PvP environment. There should be "casual" PvP games, where players can use their standard gear, and "competitive" PvP games where players choose their gear from a pregenerated list of options for each item slot. Allow three or four gear options per slot—say, for example, the player can choose from an offensive critical hit chance/damage + primary stat amulet, or a defensive Vitality + All Resists + Armor amulet—and balance those options against one another. To maintain some of the Diablo spirit, players could gain PvP-only experience, like "Honor Points", that could be used to unlock PvP gear variations or incremental upgrades.
Obviously this kind of balance system would require a lot of testing and tweaking, but without it, or something similar, I fear the Diablo 3 PvP experience will lack much competitive appeal.
So, what do people think? Do you have suggestions or wish-list items of your own? Concerns about or problems with the ideas I've presented? Let's get a dialogue going!