The State of Diablo III

– by Paradice

Diablo III has been out for almost six weeks, and we’ve just received probably the most significant patch to date: 1.0.3 (official patch notes).

To say that community/forum reaction to the changes is ‘mixed’ is an understatement. Some people are stating that this is literally the worst thing ever in the history of gaming, while others are cautiously optimistic, and still others are pretty happy with most of the changes.

Most of the changes (and therefore controversy) is based around the game’s Inferno difficulty. If you’re not there yet, you probably haven’t observed too many changes and are probably wondering what the fuss is about. But the game is changing substantially at the end. (For reference, I have four characters in Inferno: a Demon Hunter in Act 3, a Monk and Barbarian both in Act 2, and a poor unloved Wizard languishing outside New Tristram)

The Real Money Auction House

Not directly related to the rest of the changes, but important nonetheless: The Real Money Auction House (RMAH) is live! Note that only item trading is currently enabled. You can’t trade commodities (such as crafting materials or recipes) or more importantly Gold for real money yet. However, it’s still fascinating.

The thing that is most surprising to me is the perceived value of the items being traded. There are multiple sales for $250US going on! Even less than perfect items are trading for $10, $20, even $40 dollars a time. You can sell stuff that looks “reasonable” for $2 or $3, and it will sell, even if it’s missing something vital. I sold some boots with Strength and Resist All for $5. I was amazed that boots without movement speed were worth anything, because they don’t even sell on the Gold AH!

It all adds up. So far, I’ve made aprox $80US from selling unneeded stuff on the AH – My biggest sale was an amulet for $25US. Offsetting this though, I bought a couple of cheap legendaries and other pieces to improve my farming efficiency, so my net profit is $51.27

Not a bad return considering the RMAH has been available for less than two weeks. Many people’s goal of “making enough money to return the initial cost of Diablo III” seems very achievable now.

That said, I think items on the RMAH is currently heavily overvalued. I think the main reason for this is the inability to trade directly between gold and real money. Once that becomes an option, people will realize what they’re spending. Based on some comparisons for equivalent amulets and rings on Gold AH vs RMAH, looks like the exchange rate is currently ~40k gold – $1USD. I expect once direct currency trading becomes available, it will settle more around 150K-200K gold – $1USD. Some 3rd party sites (obviously using hacked accounts) are claiming to be selling up to 15Mil gold for $1USD right now, but most seem to be around 250K gold – $1USD. Needless to say, I don’t recommend using these sites unless you want to become the next victim of an account compromise, banwave, or just ripped off.

Balance Changes

Repair Cost Changes

This is probably the single most universally hated change of all. Repair costs (for characters with items over level 50) are now roughly 500% higher than they were before.  I’m going to buck the trend and say that I think this change is fantastic. Those who watched my initial video on Inferno difficulty, Life In Sanctuary, may recall I advocated for repair costs to be massively increased. Blizzard haven’t gone as far as I suggested, but they’ve done enough.

I admit that my Demon Hunter got her fair share of Inferno champion kills by Death Zerging (doing as much damage to an elite as you can before you die, respawning, doing more damage, repeat until mob dead).  It’s not a particularly satisfying way to play,  but (due to the quality of loot) it was clearly the optimal way to play before, with repair costs so trivial. Now, that’s no longer the case. Dying 2 or 3 times in a farming run can easily cost you the entirety of your gold profits for that run, so now players are heavily incentivised to farm content that’s actually farmable for their gear level, compared to before where they were incentivised to bang their heads against brick wall mobs for the chance at better loot. Death means something in softcore mode now. I love it!

I want to add a side note that durability damage due to normal play (not dying) is now too much (in my Demon Hunter gear, breaking a stack of barrels costs 125 gold to repair. It’s actually not viable to open barrels anymore). However, Blizzard have recognized this and will fix it, so no point getting upset.

Item Drop Distribution Changes

Another big change; they created the chance of dropping the best items in the game (known as ilevel 63  items) anywhere in Inferno (with a 2% chance in Act I, 4.1% in Act II, and 8% in Act III & IV). This feels like a fantastic change to anyone who was previously stuck in act I or II pre-patch, as they now have the potential to upgrade gear without using the Auction House.  However, characters who were already farming Act III or higher were very frustrated by this change, as (what’s not revealed in the patch notes) 8% drop chance is a considerable drop to what that rate was before (it felt more like 20-25% drop chance there pre-patch).

It was probably necessary to reduce the drop rates in higher acts, otherwise the economy would be very quickly flooded with “perfect” items, however- they might have gone too far. Blizzard seem to have recognised this too, though, so I’m not going to get mad. What the rabidly screaming forumites don’t appear to realise is that, now that nowhere in the game has anything close to the drop rates they experienced before, the short one-two weeks they spent there has given them months worth of itemization head start on everyone else. Maybe they won’t feel so victimized when they realize the gate has been bolted shut behind them, not in front.

Overall, I’m “cautiously optimistic” on these changes. The only thing  I’m worried about is Act I now seems to be the premiere farming spot for everyone, even for my Act III geared DH: since I can wear almost pure Magic Find gear and just blast through champion packs in Act I without stopping, doing the math on kill rates and drop chances seems to make Act I clearly the best area. This is a very tough area to get right though. Hopefully Blizzard with their omnipresent view of the data will be able to resolve this for everyone.

Environmental Loot Changes

Barrels/vases/pots etc no longer drop items, have significantly lessened gold drops, and are no longer affected by character Gold find. Yeah, this one’s frustrating for me. I actually liked smashing barrels, but now it’s totally pointless (or even costly) to do so. Blame people writing bots that did nothing but smash vases in the Royal Crypts over and over again. I think Blizzard sense the community frustration on this. I’m hopeful they find some way to bring barrelsmashing back in the future.

Nephalem Valor

Now, bosses are only guaranteed to drop one rare item with a 5-stack of valor (instead of 2), but champion packs have been ugpraded to also have that guaranteed rare drop. I like the thinking behind this change, however there are problems. Firstly, it no longer seems worthwhile to fight the boss (why spend 3 choreographed minutes fighting the Butcher for a single rare, when I could get the same drop from a champion pack in 30 seconds?). Secondly, not being able to waypoint between Acts feels like a huge barrier now. I like getting out and seeing areas I ignored before (like the highlands in Act 1) to clear champion packs there, but sooner or later you just run out of good areas in your current act. Going to the next act, or starting a new game both lose your NV stacks. Overall, I feel it’s moving in the right direction (and there’s definitely more variety than just running Warden+Butcher+resets over and over again) but there’s definitely more work needed here.

Enrage Timers

The one area I really disagree with. Enrage timers on champion packs were bad enough (especially as a DH, enrage timers on things like Dune Thresher packs which don’t even pop up until you get in melee range? It does not feel like I am playing my class correctly when I fight them). Enrage timers on bosses seems to be too far. Especially considering how short they are. It sucks to be melee, because they have much lower DPS overall, and trade this for increased survivability. However, survivability no longer matters when you’re on a timer. I just really really hope that patch 1.0.4 buffs melee classes to be more competitive for equivalent gear.

Attack Speed reductions

This sucks, but it was necessary. Attack speed gear was too good, to the point that any gear in an attack speed slot that didn’t actually have attack speed (like Gloves) were rendered worthless. Right now, it’s still useful, but it’s not mandatory. It’s the right choice for item diversity. It still sucks though, because having superspeed attack characters felt awesome.

The Future

Overall, I’m optimistic about the direction for the patches. I haven’t touched on the changes to difficulty in Inferno because honestly, I haven’t really noticed them (which is probably a good thing, I was worried they were going to trivialize Act II and III but it seems not). I’m looking forward to class balance changes in 1.0.4 but really, I’m holding out for the PvP patch. I think a lot of whining and complaining about difficulty and drop rates and repair costs will disappear once there’s something to do at endgame other than farm (however, it’s gonna be replaced with balance whining and ‘pay to win’ accusations. Oh well).

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