While we live in an age where games are constantly patched with balance fixes, DLC and so on, it’s hard to think of any game that has undergone as dramatic of a transformation in as short a window of time as Diablo 3.
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It’s video game legend now that at release nearly two years ago, Diablo 3 was something of a disaster. If you could log in to the game (which was a struggle for quite a while around launch) you were met with a new entry in the series full of underpowered, underwhelming items, and an Auction House that made the entire purpose of the game, questing for loot, pointless.
All of Diablo 3′s core problems stemmed from the Auction House, both its in-game gold and real money variants. The existence of the Auction House meant two things would always have to be true.
1) Drop rates of truly fantastic items could not be increased lest the AH be flooded with such items, which in turn, would make them not fantastic.
2) No matter what you found in the wild, there was a 99.9% chance that you could find a better version in the AH, both diminishing your sense of accomplishment, and making the “logical” place to find loot the AH rather than the game itself.
Diablo 3′s console release was an experiment to see what it might be like to have a game without such restrictions ,and the result was a resounding success. It was a game that forced players to kill monsters for gear upgrades, not battle pages and pages of Auction House spreadsheets. Players were concerned with fighting demons, not AH bots scooping up low priced good items in the blink of an eye. Legendary items were plentiful and enjoyable, and the thought of scalping them on the AH wasn’t even a consideration.
Enter patch 2.0 for the PC version which is the culmination of the console’s lessons and all the mini-patches that have slowly transformed Diablo 3 from a mess into something worthwhile and fun. “Loot 2.0″ has killed the Auction House dead, and goes a few steps further than even the changes to the console version, including a completely reworked difficulty system that allows players to level a new character from 1-60 in just about one playthrough, rather than three and a half. Gone is the need to slog through the comically easy modes of Normal and Nightmare. The game can be exactly as hard as you want it to be, and a huge amount of good item drops will ensure you’re never without an upgrade for more than a short while.
All of this is laying the groundwork for the final nail in the coffin of old Diablo 3, the Reaper of Souls expansion which will add even more openness to the game with Adventure Mode (plus a new act and character). With how much the game has turned things around since release, I think its genuinely possible for D3 to enjoy the same level of immortality as D2 someday. It’s an interesting case study where the developers spent all their time listening to fans after release, and painstakingly reworked the game until they got nearly everything they wanted. Granted it would have been much better if this happened before the game came out, and the first year and a half didn’t feel like an alpha test, but at least they got to the finish line eventually.
Diablo is too important of a franchise for Blizzard to simply surrender. It’s encouraging to see both how hard the D3 team worked to fix something they admitted was incredibly broken, and how many fans were patient enough to stay with the game as it went through its metamorphosis. Those that gave it up completely should consider returning for a fresh start. Call it Diablo 4 if you like, because honestly, that’s what it feels like.