Diablo III – Game System Updates Announced

by ParadiceNZ @ Paradice Software for DontCritMe.com

Diablo III – it’s the game that many people were hoping would already be here, but thanks to Blizzard’s “when it’s done”  Soon”_Was_Too_Soon –policy, we’re still waiting. A closed beta for the game has been live since September 2011, and with the recent announcement of Beta Patch 10, game director Jay Wilson has posted a detailed list of game system changes Systems_Changes-1_19_2012 to announce to the community what his team have been working on.

Here is a brief summary of the changes in the announcement, in rough order of magnitude; we’ll go into more detail shortly:

  • Scrolls of identification removed
  • 5th quick-slot button is now a dedicated “potion” button
  • Character stats now displayed on the Inventory screen
  • The Blacksmith now salvages items
  • Common (white) items are no longer salvageable
  • Removal of the Cauldron of Jordan and Nephalem Cube
  • Removal of the Mystic artisan
  • Core attributes changed – Strength, Dexterity, Intellect, Vitality

So, sounds like a fair bit of effort. What does this mean for existing Beta players, as well as for the eventual release, and (perhaps most importantly) does this mean more delays? Let’s review:

 

Scrolls of identification removed

This is a small change, but good. In Diablo, only rare (yellow) items need to be identified. Normal and magic (blue) items come with their stats already known. So, the identification scrolls mostly just take up an inventory slot, and get confused with Scrolls of Companion due to the similar icons. There’s no gameplay benefit to having this be an item. So the change to your character having this ability built-in and giving it a cast-time has no real downside. You still get two “yay!” moments: one when you find the item, and again when you identify it. If you’re a gambler, you could still potentially trade in unidentified rares if you really wanted to. Let’s move on.

 

5th quick-slot button is now a dedicated “potion” button

This is a more interesting change. In the beta, you have a total of 7 “buttons” that you can use – two for the left & right mouse buttons, and then ‘quick slots’ labelled 1-5 (There is the assumption that you can remap these and use additional mouse buttons etc, but that feature is not yet available). Your character can have a maximum of 6 skills at any one time, leaving one additional slot that could be used for “anything else” – by default, this is a potion, but you could also change it to a Scroll of Companion (unlike in WoW, you can’t place items on this bar as a shortcut for equipping them. Also, for some reason, Scrolls of Identification can’t be placed there either).

With the change, they are removing the 5th quick slot, and adding a dedicated “potion” button – they are incidentally moving it to the other side of the mouse skills too, probably to prevent it being confused with a quick slot. Here’s a comparison from current beta to their new screenshot:

This all seems minor, and it probably is in the scheme of things, but it *does* have a couple of gameplay implications. For one – you can no longer select what type of potion you will use (observe in my screenshot that I have two different health pot sizes in my quick bar). Presumably, the game will automatically choose an appropriate size of potion, but exactly how this works is going to be a mystery. Worst case scenario is that it always uses your biggest size of potion first – that would be *bad* for obvious reasons.

Secondly, it means that it’s no longer possible to have Scrolls of Companion on your quickbar at the same time as all six skills. To maximise farming efficiency, you will *always* want to have a companion out, so this is a minor irritation.

On the plus side, maybe this is an indicator of gameplay later on – hopefully the difficulty becomes such that you really *need* to have potions immediately accessible at all times. Maybe there is a monster attribute that could steal your potions, or place them on cooldown even when you haven’t used one. There is probably a very good reason that they have made this change, we just haven’t seen it yet.

Character stats now displayed on the Inventory screen

I don’t have much to add to this, other than it seems like a good change. I’m more excited that we can now see *more* details in their screenshot than are currently accessible in the beta. Here’s a comparison of an existing beta details snapshot compared to the new screenshot. In both cases, there are scrollbars, but for the categories that are shown (Defense, Life, Resource, Adventure) we can see that they have added more details to add of them. Very exciting for stats-lovers!

The Blacksmith now salvages items

Given that they have removed the Nephalem cube (which allowed players to directly salvage items themselves), this is just the logical place to put this ability. The blacksmith is also where you use the salvaged materials. Not much more to say.

Common (white) items are no longer salvageable

Now we start to get into the real itemization changes. This is the first of them. This is a fantastic change in my opinion. In previous builds, you felt obligated to pick up every single item, no matter how useless (and some of them were really useless. Like a 2-handed axe that with 3.4 DPS) You could always salvage it into Common Scraps, and Common Scraps (in sufficient volumes) were always useful.  But this undermined a big part of the whole itemization metagame: if *all* items are useful, then you reduce the excitement of finding items that are *actually* useful. For an item-based system to work well, you actually need to have a large class of items that are essentially junk. (I will elaborate on this more when it comes to the attribute changes, as I’m confident these changes were made for the same reason).

Add in the fact that they have just removed the Nephalem Cube and the Couldron of Jordan, and these white items would have been actually painful to players if they had known that the items had a non-zero value back in town. Although it doesn’t seem logical at first glance, this change is a convenience boost, allowing players to now safely ignore white items and get back to killing demons.

Removal of the Cauldron of Jordan and Nephalem Cube

OK, removing these features is going to irritate players. These items allowed players to immediately salvage (Cube) or sell (Cauldron) items from anywhere in the dungeon. Removing them makes this process less convenient. But let’s examine the thought process behind this.

These items were added when there was no “Town Portal” in the game. As such, these features were desperately needed if the game wasn’t going to devolve into a cycle of “fill bags, run all the way back to waypoint, empty bags, run all the way back to where you were”. Then a town portal ability (then called Stone of Recall) was added, making these features less critical, but still convenient.

I am guessing that these features were removed solely for accessibility purposes (fewer game systems = less confusion), and to streamline the user interface at the expense of less convenience. Personally, I will miss them.  Maybe we will see them re-added in other forms later: perhaps it will become available on a scroll as a late-game gold sink (maybe pay 50,000 gold to buy a stack of salvage scrolls.. the scrolls that can salvage higher level items cost more). D3 can always use more gold sinks, as this translates directly into slower content consumption and more longevity.

Removal of the Mystic artisan

We never saw the Mystic, so it’s difficult to evaluate what impact this has – all we know is what Blizzard chose to reveal at Blizzcons and interviews, and the occasional hint from data-mining.

I think this was probably removed for three reasons: that the item “enhancement” system the mystic promised was confusing for newer players, that the system also contributed to item homogenization (which again, undermines the itemization system itself), and finally that development on this feature probably wasn’t finished.

We hardly saw enhancement at all – which means it probably wasn’t done – which means including it probably meant more delay. If that’s the case, I don’t think she will be missed.

Core attributes changed – Strength, Dexterity, Intellect, Vitality

And finally, we come to the most significant change of all. And, in my opinion, the most necessary. The previous attribute system, as implemented in the beta, was one of my biggest concerns for the longevity of Diablo III.  First, let’s review the system it replaced.

Attack, Precision, Defense and Vitality were the previous stats. The problem with this was that they were all useful to all classes – worse still, they were all useful to the same extent with all classes. This is horrific for promoting a diverse and interesting item system, where individual choices and decisions help separate you from your cohorts (collectively, this is all known as “itemization”, and is a fundamental part of Action RPGs).

What was the problem? Well, you could just make one set of gear, and all of your classes were sorted. In the beta, I had a set of +Attack gear that I kept in my stash, and I just threw all the gear onto whatever class I wanted to play at the time. Aside from a couple of class-specific items (like Wizard offhands) there just wasn’t any choice involved at all.

We can’t get far enough in the beta to figure out whether +Precision ever scaled to a reasonable alternative for +Attack, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway – if it was better, all classes would have chosen it. If it was worse, everyone would just get +Attack all the time. Worst case scenario – they were balanced: then it wouldn’t  even matter which items you went with. Can you think of anything worse than playing a Diablo game where it *just doesn’t matter* what gear you wear?

Now, we have Barbarians looking for +Strength, Wizards/Witch Doctors looking for +Intellect, and Monks and Demon Hunters looking for +Dexterity. Sure, every class is still seeking one primary stat, but at least now they are seeking *different* stats.

This enhances itemization in two ways: one, it’s now possible to trade items in a way that benefits both players (if you think about it, this actually wasn’t possible before! Kind of a fundamental flaw in a game where trading is said to be so important). Secondly, it means that you’ve now got a much better chance of getting useless drops. It sounds counterintuitive, but useless drops are essential for the longevity of the game, as well as making it “more awesome” when you finally do find an item that is perfect for you. Imagine playing a virtual slot machine game (for fake money) where you were a winner on every spin. How long would it be before you got bored?

Summary

OK, so in summary I think that almost all of the changes revealed are positive, and I’m actually feeling a lot more confident about Diablo III’s long-term prospects than I was before. The changes they have made will hold up much better in year 1, year 2 after release than the previous systems we were looking at. As a bonus, we have confirmation that these systems are *done*. They are in-place now, so we don’t need to worry that this announcement means another delay. Although it is arguable whether these changes alone can “justify” the delays we’ve already seen, at least it’s not still “work to do before release”. Personally, I can’t wait for Beta Patch 10 to be released so I can start playing around with these new systems.

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One response to “Diablo III – Game System Updates Announced

  1. Pingback: Diablo III – It’s close, and getting closer. | Dont Crit Me.com·

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