This week patch 1.0.3 landed on the Diablo III servers, and while there was a great deal to be excited about, there was even more that came to mind as a major concern. Now keep in mind this is an opinion piece, and these views are my own. I discussed my thoughts with our Managing Editor, Michael Futter, and he could see the rationale behind my desire to write this, and I hope to spark debate on both sides of the line here. First though, a little bit about my history with Diablo as a franchise. I started playing the original Diablo the day the demo hit years and years ago. My friends and I spent countless hours, literally, running through the demo until the day the game launched. Upon launch we played that version for months on end without even looking at another game. Our love of it finally started to taper off about a year and a half later and we would go back to it on some occasions for a month at a time. Upon the launch of Diablo II our lives were again taken over with the constant hunt for loot. Through all of the patches, updates and the expansion we hunted for every piece of loot we could possibly find. I didn’t play it like some did for a decade, but we did spend a good four or five years on and off playing through all the way, farming the final acts for the best gear, then taking short breaks to play lesser games.

With Diablo III, I have a level 60 monk and wizard both rocking Act II and III Inferno difficulty, pre-patch. Once the patch hit, I logged in with my wizard and had a great time. The mobs were significantly easier to fight, and though there was a bit of face rolling through most of the groups, some required strategy and thought. Much of this was due to a rather broken spec, that even with the attack speed nerd (Patch 1.0.3 cuts attack speed item buffs in half) was holding up okay. Once I added more critical chance to the build and dropped a little attack speed, it was more or less a cake walk again. It’s not easy in the same way normal and nightmare difficulties are, but easy enough that I didn’t log off in anger, instead, just exhausted from the constant focus the game required in Inferno.

Things seemed to be going very well for patch 1.0.3, and I was pleased with the changes that were made. Then I looked at the time. I had been farming Act III Inferno, with five stacks of valor, making my magic find % in the high 200′s. Yet the only town runs I made were to repair items from durability loss and deaths. I never sold any gear. At the end of the two hour session I had just about filled up my inventory. Now last weekend, when hanging out with my regular dungeoneering party, we were making town runs every twenty to thirty minutes because so much loot would drop. We had pretty similar magic find % in those runs as it averages out, so some of the changes in 1.0.3 were, in short, bad.

You see, magic find is an integral part of any gear hunt. You need to find gear that provides essential stats as well as magic find stats because this is a dungeon delving game. Loot is king. Magic find gives you a better chance to get more loot. Yes, you can cry random number generator all you want and say it was just a bad session, but it has happened two more times in similar ways. Part of the reason is your magic find % does not affect chests, and barrels and other destructible objects have no chance of dropping items anymore. So as I, and my team, murder mob after mob, because that is how we like to play the game, then stumble on a resplendent chest, we know not to get our hopes up. Instead, we think back to the players that would skip mobs for chests and smash barrels for loot to gear up to fight mobs.

It seems Blizzard does not think that treasure hunting (as opposed to demon slaying) is a fun way to play, so they killed it. I don’t blame those who played that way, Inferno was rough and without any chance of gearing up except through spending gold or cash in the auction house, or great deals of luck, the chances of you ever getting through the brick wall that was Act II Inferno were slim to none. Besides, it is how those players wanted to spend their time in Sanctuary. They own the game, they can play like they want. The issue I do have is with Blizzard deciding what is fun and what is not fun. But then I started thinking a little more on the subject. Why do they care how easy it is to get loot? Diablo II had plenty of ways to acquire loot quickly, and it was never smashed in the face like it was with this patch. Then when I logged out of the game, I saw it. Right there, in that familiar Diablo font: Auction House.

I’m trying so hard not to be a cynic here, but it seems to me that Diablo and Diablo II fed loot to players at such a rapid rate that it was just silly. Diablo III seems to be trying to keep you from getting a constant string of loot going. Then I realized that I had made and spent about 30 dollars on the RMAH. Of that, Blizzard made a dollar off each transaction plus 15% and whatever else. I really hate to go down this path. I completely understand that this is a cynical view that sounds like a guy whining about a change he doesn’t like. But it is much more than that. It is about the practices that a company puts in place that affect both their reputation and the integrity of the product.

Action RPG’s by their very nature are not exciting games that keep you incredibly engaged. They generally have you spamming your skills and clicking on bad guys to find new loot. For guys like me, that’s a dream come true. After a day of writing, child care, house cleaning and all the other stresses that come with the day, I want to find some hot new loot. I play Magic for the same reasons. Each pack of cards is a chance at something new, exciting and valuable. In it’s current state, a traditional player, like me, is punished by what Blizzard deems to be practices that lack in fun. The actions of a few have ruined the game for the masses.

Again, this is not a bash on those that used ways to enhance the rate at which they obtained loot. Instead it is focusing on the fact that loot is now a commodity that Blizzard and their parent company, Activision, have a vested interest in. By controlling the speed in which the players that are most likely to spend real cash are able to gear and find loot, they force us into a place where we have to dig through a cumbersome auction house to find the specific items we need to continue on with our goals. So the question here is, “Did the auction house, both gold and real money, ruin what Diablo stands for?”

I want to end on a positive note. Blizzard has had an exemplary track record with their products. Quite a few have been cancelled because the company did not feel they would meet the high standards fans have come to expect. Now that they have a higher power to answer to, it seems that money is key. Activision is notorious for squeezing wallets of those willing to pay for many things that should be offered in good faith to customers. I have owned every single Blizzard game that has ever been made and smiled when I saw that Blackthorne got his own set of armor and gear in Diablo III. After so many years, one game and some questionable practices has made me question my undying loyalty to a company that I felt could do no wrong.

Hopefully I am completely wrong here and this is just a bump in the road for Blizzard. They are notorious for constantly patching and balancing their games for years after release, and this may have just been a huge mistake on their side in which they over-nerfed too many aspects of the game at once. I hope I’m wrong about the motives behind the recent changes, and I think the company will quickly learn that allowing the players to play how they want is always the best idea. What the future may hold for Diablo III is unknown, but I’ll keep my eye on it with a hopeful twinkle that it will become another one of Blizzard’s legendary titles. In the mean time, I will be stepping away from the game much more than I otherwise would. Without some communication and a little understanding about the players’ desires, Diablo III will never be what it should. If Blizzard was still independent, I would hazard to guess that we wouldn’t even be playing the game yet. I still stand by my review score of 9.5, as the game was amazing for the first few weeks. After time in Inferno, and now this patch, I would probably just take the square root of that and run with it. In a future opinion piece, I may go in the other direction. It all comes down to what Blizzard chooses to do.

We reached out to Blizzard for comment and were provided with a few pieces of information. (This is the same information that inspired this article)

First:

Ultimately, we think players running around with an entire set of Magic Find gear and swapping out those pieces every time they want to open a chest, smash a pot, or click on a weapon rack isn’t really all that fun, and we didn’t want the game’s mechanics to make players feel like they needed to do that in order to be the most efficient. We also don’t want players avoiding fighting monsters just to run after shiny clicky things (we want you to do both). In both situations, this is something we wanted to discourage and we implemented changes we felt would accomplish this.

We’re already working on another developer blog that delves more deeply in to our current philosophy regarding Magic Find gear swapping, why it’s our current philosophy, and how we’re looking at improving Magic Find in general, so that will probably provide insight on this particular topic. No solid date on that blog yet, but it’s definitely coming soon(tm).

This is a fair enough statement, but the problem still comes in the restrictive way that they force players to play. In addition we were pointed to the developer blog about the patch, which was written shortly before the patch actually launched. You can find that here. Finally, we were directed to information found on diablofans.com with this reply concerning repair costs.

No one is going to like additional repair costs. I’m not sure how any feedback would be “Great, I really love paying more for repair costs.” however, we have seen enough feedback and data to show that the ratio is pretty good as long as people aren’t throwing their character’s corpses against enemies. Death has meant nothing for a very long time now, and it’s going to take some getting used to and just understanding that death is no longer something that just happens, it should be something you’re really fighting to avoid, and potentially being smarter about tackling content you can actually tackle.

That said, we think the normal wear and tear is maybe too high. Just fighting is probably too expensive, and we’re looking at potential adjustments there.

Hopefully this will do something to help out a bit with the normal wear and tear that players accrue as they play, but it is far from a fix for the extreme costs that are levied on players for making a mistake and dying. I think a fear of dying in the game is fine, but when it gets to the point that I can’t sell the loot to vendors, or on the AH because of such a slow drop rate in gear, it still points me to my thoughts on a need to use real money to gear. Gold is entirely too hard to find if you don’t play flawlessly and I don’t play Diablo III to show off my skills in video games. I play it for that rush of the possibility of finding an amazing piece of gear. Until these issues are fixed, my points are not overcome by these few replies to the outcry from fans.

A final concerning piece of information comes from what seems to be a huge decline in player base. I have no hard numbers or proof to show you, just my own observations. Before the patch, public games numbered in the 200k range, and now they hit the 2k range. It seems that, while maybe not all for the same reasons, players are not enjoying the new iteration of the game.

Your comments are appreciated. A thoughtful and civil discussion should be held. Maybe, just maybe, Blizzard will put their eyes on it and see this more as a concerned fan hoping not to lose their love for their favorite company and not a jaded gamer just wanting to moan about changes he didn’t like. Keep it civil and chime in with your thoughts. Hopefully we can come back here in a couple weeks and laugh at this little bump in the road. Currently, the plane is starting to lose power and without something drastic we may be seeing a crash sooner than anyone would have guessed.