When developers Blizzard finally released Diablo III to salivating gamers back in May 2012, the amount of hype it had to live up to and overcome could’ve easily killed a demon. Despite breaking multiple video game sales records and selling over 3 million copies in the first 24 hours of its release, fans of the series were quick to point out the action RPG’s shortcomings.
After waiting twelve years for Blizzard to release the follow-up to the critically acclaimed Diablo II, many gamers were expecting a very similar gaming experience with the series’ third main iteration. Consumers were hoping for a more polished and updated addition to the classic lore, but with the same mechanics and gameplay they fell in love with back in 2000.
What they got was a game that forced them to constantly be connected to the Internet via DRM, a lacking story, and nothing to really keep players interested in playing. Simply put, it wasn’t Diablo II. Hell, it wasn’t even the hardly-still-played-but-always-fondly-remembered Diablo I. Blizzard also introduced the implementation of two different auction houses; one where players could spend their in-game gold for different items, and one where players could sell their own items to other players for actual money. Ostensibly a good idea on paper, the inclusion of these auction houses quickly became the bane of the game’s existence, and players who were not hardcore, Ride-Or-Die Diablo fans quickly lost interest. Eventually, Blizzard realized the error of their ways, and, in March 2014, closed the doors on the game’s auction houses – a year after implementing patch 1.0.7; the Player versus Player (PvP) combat system.
None of this concerned me, however. In 2001, I was happily playing Dark Alliance with my nephew on my Playstation. In 2011, while everyone was anticipating the release of Diablo III, I was just excited to be building my first gaming PC and entering the vast world of PC gaming. I didn’t know where to start, and Diablo III wasn’t even on my radar – despite all my friends drooling over its upcoming release. When I finally did sharpen my sword and step foot into Diablo’s backdrop world of Sanctuary this past May, I quickly realized that I could’ve saved myself a lot of money if I had just got this game first. I fell headfirst into crazy, reckless love with the game. My friends all laughed and shook their heads. “Glad to see you’re enjoying it, dude”, they snickered. “I played enough of it when it first came out.” I played with friends and strangers, and the general consensus was that it didn’t really live up to the hype. I didn’t care. I was hacking and slashing and having an awesome time. Who cares if no one really plays it anymore?
Late to the party as usual, I ended up getting gifted a copy of Reaper of Souls this past September by one of my best friends, and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a long time. This is when I noticed a change in the tide. After RoS and the last few patches, the game appeared to be getting a lot more coverage… positive coverage. I really wasn’t sure why, so I went online to see if I could get some answers. That’s where I found YouTube gamer Rhykker. A tried and true veteran to the world of Diablo (starting when he was just 10 years old), and very knowledgable about its mechanics and gameplay, Rhykker’s also very connected to the Diablo III community. His gameplay videos and live streams cover everything from basics for newbies like me, to hardcore tactics for the most seasoned players. I decided he’d be my best source for explaining how and why this game went from being a huge letdown to the only isometric action RPG that you need to own.
Johnny Quid: When Diablo III first came out, what was your initial reaction after first playing it? How did you compare it to the previous games? Did it live up to your expectations or was it a slight letdown in some areas?
Rhykker: D3 was a letdown, but to be fair, it could have never lived up to the hype. I knew it wouldn’t be the game we all hoped it would be – I saw the writing on the wall. I saw that it was being rushed out the door, and that the devs were panicking. And when I tried to warn people, I was made into a pariah. How dare I claim that the almighty Blizzard would not create the perfect sequel to Diablo 2?
Months later, I was proven right. I’ve been a huge Blizzard fan since WarCraft 2. It was with a heavy heart that I conceded that D3 would not be awesome, and when I gave D3 an 85/100, I felt that was a low score for a Blizzard game. The story was simply tragically bad; no amount of patching or content updates can ever fix that. For me, D3 was the death knell of the Blizzard I once knew and adored. The company that I had once held to a higher standard was now just another video game developer. Was D3 a bad game? No. Did I get my money’s worth out of D3? Yes.
But we’ve all come to expect more than that from Blizzard – we’ve come to expect games that we’ll play for 10 years. Vanilla Diablo III wasn’t going to be that game. RoS has brought hope; some fresh design leads have moved this game in the right direction, and a glimmer of Old Blizzard has emerged.
J£: Since I didn’t get a chance to play the game when it was first released, I didn’t get a chance to take advantage of the auction house. They’ve since removed that aspect of the game. Do you feel like this was a good choice? Why or why not?
R: The auction house is the principle reason why D3 was the least enjoyable – because the entire progression system was balanced around the assumption that everyone would use the AH. Drops sucked. Period. You’d be lucky to find a single legendary item by the time you hit the level cap of 60. Set items? Did those even exist? Drop rates were incredibly low so that the AH wouldn’t be completely flooded with sets and legendaries, deflating the value of these items. Oh, and when you would get a legendary drop? It would roll crap stats.
Then, just take a casual visit to the auction house, and you’re the poor beggar orphan standing outside the bakery, salivating as you stare at the confections through the glass, wishing you could one day save up enough pennies to buy one of these treats. No one who played vanilla D3 without using the AH ever became any degree of powerful relative to those who used the AH. The optimum play strategy in vanilla D3 was to be an AH tycoon – and that’s exactly what I eventually did. I logged an order of magnitude more hours in the AH than I did actually playing the game. I made billions of gold off the AH, and toward the end of the game, decided to even make a few hundred dollars of actual money. Every single item every one of my 10 characters had equipped was purchased from the AH. Is that fun? Is it fun to completely gear out your characters without killing a single monster, and simply by practicing arbitrage in a virtual marketplace? Is it fun to know that the most efficient way to play the game is to not play the game?
Honestly, I learned to enjoy flipping items on the AH. It became fun to find a steal of a deal – it was like the rush of getting a legendary drop. I started by flipping small ticket items for little profit, then, as I learned the market more, I’d flip for double, triple, quintuple profit. But it was when I started flipping between the gold and real-money AH that I eclipsed all my previous earnings with easily 10x and even 100x profit flips. Was I disappointed when Blizzard announced the closing of the AH? Yes, because I knew that would be the end of the game D3 had become. The game that I had learned to become good at, and enjoy. But I knew that the Diablo series would be better for it – I knew that D3 would become a better ARPG without the AH. I knew it would mean drop rates could be improved to the point of the game feeling rewarding. Playing the game had become a fun little activity I did between AHing – and that’s not the game D3 should have been.
J£: After the Reaper of Souls expansion was released, along with these latest patches, it looks like many players who previously were done with Diablo III started returning to it and having a way better experience. Do you think these implementations have sort of renewed the replayability of the game? For you personally, did the game always have a high replay value?
R: RoS and the subsequent 2.1 patch have absolutely improved the longevity of the game. Replayability – or replay value – is also a topic I discussed in the past in the context of D3 and D2. I still believe that D3 had just about as much replay value as D2 – it was just less fun. RoS is more fun than D3 and has greater replay value, which together lead to increased longevity.
J£: What additions, if any, do you feel still need to be implemented into the game? How will these implementations help the game and its players?
R: Is RoS perfect right now? No, but what is? We can always use some more Quality of Life improvements, and the Greater Rift Trial system doesn’t feel like it’s serving a purpose right now. Ultimately, though, I don’t like to play armchair developer, because it’s easy to make sweeping claims about what would improve the game when you’re not the one who is accountable for that implementation. I don’t envy the devs who have to make the right decisions on how to prioritize and allocate resources in order to improve their game.
J£: Make sure to visit, and subscribe, to Rhykker’s YouTube channel. Also, make sure to leave us some comments about your opinions on Diablo III!
This article contains excerpts from a broader, more extensive interview I conducted with Rhykker about all things Diablo; the full, unabridged version of which can be found here.