Diablo 3 is probably the closest we will come to witnessing the death of a universe. More of a murder with how negligent the intellectual property was handled. Sitting in COVID-19 quarantine lockdown chatting with my Bro about another death, the US economy. We start getting the urge to do some gaming. This urge periodically arises out of boredom or withdrawal and we start talking about games that are good multi-player hangouts. We usually come to Diablo 2 because we spent a lot of time playing it in its prime. The conversation usually trends to how rad Diablo 2 was and how much of a bummer Diablo 3 was. With Diablo 4 on the horizon I feel its time I put this nightmare to bed once and for all.
Many have already wrote about Why Diablo 3 is considered a failure in depth. So I’ll keep this brief and entertaining. Was Diablo 3 a total failure? No it def made Acti-Blizz a bunch of money. It was a botch It attempted a power bomb and missed horribly.
First, a disclaimer of my personal biases. I have not played Diablo 3 with the Reaper of Souls expansion or any follow up patches. I frequently read smooth brain arguments like “Its a great game now and wasn’t at release”. I hope to prove why this is a straw man argument as Diablo 3 was critically flawed beyond redemption at launch. Others argue that “Diablo 3 is a great game by itself!” and to not compare with the rest of the franchise. If the Diablo franchise was an episodic standalone series like Final Fantasy, where each installment was a new universe this would be a weak argument. However Diablo 3 is a sequel and shares the same universe and continuation of that universe with the same characters. Its fair to directly compare it to previous installments. I have also actively boycotted any Blizzard releases since Diablo 3. Overwatch ? never seen it.
Was Diablo 3 Over Hyped?
No, hard no, Diablo 3 deserved all the hype that it received. Diablo 2 was beloved and full of active players hungry for a follow up. To this day, Diablo 2 has an active player base and modding community and fans are still waiting for a worthwhile follow up.
The Diablo 3 icy splash page teaser
The best place to start with the Diablo 3 hype generation is late June, 2008. Blizzard put up a mysterious splash page on blizzard.com. Each day from June 21-27 the splash page image was updated slowly revealing more and more of the underlying hidden image. This caused all sorts of wild hype and speculation around the gaming community. My favorite reaction to this splash hype was the people Photoshopping dead Blizzard franchise comebacks like The Lost Vikings and Rock N’ Roll Racing into the splash pages. Speculation was between Diablo 2, a new franchise, and Warcraft Lich king related content.
Imagine having that raw fan fervor energy to work with and absolutely squandering it…
Diablo 3 beta experience
The Diablo 3 beta was released September 2011. It included the entirety of Act 1. There had been screenshots leading up to the release of the beta that had stirred up internet drama. The chief complaint about the screenshots was that the art-style was too whimsical, to colorful, looked like a Disney cartoon. The angry Internet mob was upset with the direction the franchise was heading based on the art style but were unable to properly articulate why they were upset. The mobs message was eventually distilled into “color bad!”. The true message that the mob was trying to communicate was that the dark goth horror, heavy metal, aesthetic that the Diablo franchise had built its legacy on was now missing.
This Glitched article further captures the graphical changes that blizzard made to diablo 3 before release: https://www.glitched.online/this-is-what-diablo-3-looked-like-before-blizzard-made-it-all-colourful/
Diablo 3 final release break down
Diablo 3 was released May 15, 2012. It immediately had issues. To even play a single player experience Diablo 3 required an always online connection for DRM purposes. Blizzard greatly underestimated the server resources they would need to support the amount of players on launch. Players were met with waiting queues to play and an intermittent “error 37” message that was response from blizzards servers being at max capacity.
What went wrong with Diablo 3?
Jay “fuck that loser” Wilson
Jay Wilson is the failed director of Diablo 3. Jay worked at blizzard for 10 years. His dubious resume starts with level design for the game Blood, then working on some Warhammer games, a bit of Starcraft 2 and then Director of Diablo 3. Jay Wilson has since retired from game development to focus on a writing career. Wilson is notably remembered for getting into beef on Facebook and calling legendary developer of Diablo 1&2 David Brevik a loser after Brevik voiced his dissapointment with Diablo 3. Imagine that, the guy built the franchise and universe that Jay doped his way into ‘directing’ and then eventually destroying, and he calls him the loser. The following list of issues all start with Jay Wilson and are his design decisions.
The user interface was dumbed down for consoles.
This maybe the root cause of all the other failures of Diablo 3 design. The gameplay systems had to literally be “dumbed down” for console systems. This screen shot from 4chan really lays it out…
This was a rumor that was making the rounds before the beta release. I suspect that the 4chan post originated from a blizzard insider. Diablo 3 wasn’t released until September 3, 2013, almost 2 years after the PC release console releases finally emerged. This brought another wave of community heartbreak, the rumors were true the console constraints were not imaginary and had jeopardized the overall quality of the game.
To me the atmosphere was one of the key features of the Diablo franchise. The atmosphere in Diablo 1 is grim, dreary and desperate its like playing a heavy metal album cover. It is the unique horror survival dungeon crawling aesthetic that made the Diablo franchise. The drama around the Diablo 3 screenshots being too colorful was already an indicator that Diablo 3 had botched the expected atmosphere of the universe. Jay Wilson and the Diablo 3 team knew the atmosphere and atheistic was botched and leaned into the bad decision. The above sunshine and Pony logo is an official Blizzard logo that the team produced as an effort troll fan complaints about the toonish look.
The story transition for Diablo2 -> Diablo3 shares a similar disconnected failure as the transition of the last Jedi -> The Rise of Skywalker. In The Last Jedi the story sets it up with this premise that anyone, any normie can become a Jedi, a Jedi isn’t this blood rite elitist club that you are born into but you find your self in through experiential circumstances. Diablo 1 & 2 had this same premise. The heros in Diablo 1&2 are just average low tier adventeures who suddenly find themselves in this epic struggle of good and evil. Heros evolve from troglodytes into higher beings. They quite literally start out the early stages wearing rags and using boards with nails in for weapons and eventually equip golden plated armor crafted by angels. Diablo 3 throws this all into the toilet and claims that the heros are blood rite ‘Nepheleam” some super race that have always been powerful. By making them default powerful they have always been powerful and there is nothing special to their ascension to power. This is equivelent to The Rise of The Skywalker disregarding all the last jedi setup and focusing on the selective bloodline group.
The social engagement
Diablo 1 & 2 were both very social games, Both utilized Blizzards Battle.net community service. Battle.net is still around today however it is a shell of its former glory. The Diablo 2 battle.net was a chat room interface with default public thriving chat. As you logged onto battle.net you would get thrust into some public lobby room full of players shit posting, running trading deals, looking for pvp match making challengers, and making friends. You could interact with any random players by dming them directly and then take the conversation to a gameplay session. Guilds would setup private channels and then recruit members through game play and bring the new recruits in to the secret clubs after they proved themselves in combat. Real life offline friendships were made through these online interactions.
Diablo 2 was an 8 player cap multi-player experience, Diablo 3 cut that in half with a 4 player cap. The pure math from this change alone means that you are going interact with fewer players in Diablo 3 than you would in Diablo 2. Diablo 1&2 had open game lists and lobbys, players could browse active public games and join any that look interesting. Players had control over their multi player game title and used this content for advertising and further social meta interaction.
Diablo 1&2 had dynamic pvp experiences. Players would join up to duels and hold tournaments with prizes on the line. Diablo 3 did not have PvP at launch and did not introduce PvP until Patch 1.0.7. which was arrived Feb 12, 2013 almost a year after the original launch.
The loot and economy
First and foremost Diablo 3 removed player to player trading. This was another anti social move that limited player interaction in-favor of an isolated experience. This is a travesty because the player to player trading of Diablo 2 had some pretty fascinating economic effects Here is an academic paper on the barter system of diablo 2
A huge part of Diablo 1&2s staying power was the rich loot catalog and customization. Treasure hunting was a big part of the 1&2 experience, unique items with gold text labels were a huge dopamine hit to find. The Unique items had their own deep lore and back story and were almost like their own characters with emotional attachment. Unique items could drastically change the skills or playstyle or appearance of your character. The Diablo 3 itemization theme was a mess. Unique items no longer exist they became ‘legendary’ items with neon orange font. The item drop rate was severely miscalibrated. You could play for 60+ hours with out finding a “Legendary” item, when you did the legendaries were weak, bland and unsatisfying treasure.
On top of this loot miscalibration was the much hated Live Auction House. The Diablo 3 auction house allowed users to trade real life fiat currency for in game items. Most people hated the auction house and attribute it to root of Diablo 3s failure. The Diablo 3 auction house was great.
I’ll repeat that The Diablo 3 auction house was not bad. There are great stories about players essentially developing full time income streams from Diablo 3 item trading. In my opinion this is an amazing gaming achievement that isn’t talked about enough and deserves its own post. When people complain about the auction house ruining the fun of Diablo 3 what they are really talking about is the poorly balanced and miscalibrated loot drop rates. Players would do unbalanced amounts of grinding and not be rewarded with any good loot. Then be required to visit the auction house to acquire the real loot. If players were properly rewarded and the loot system was good on its own accord the auction house would have been amazing.
Another loot system failure of Diablo 3 is the introduction of individual player loot drops. This means that when a group of players defeat a boss or open a treasure chest each player gets their own set of loot from that event. D1&2 differ from this by having 1 shared drop for all players. This is less of a loot failure but more of another social engagement failure. A shared loot system adds another social dynamic to the game. Players all see what loot dropped and scramble for it before other players can. This leads to meta social interactions like players immediately trying to trade or fight for items. With shared loot drops its more like players are playing a simultaneous single player experience.
The Character development
Diablo has origins as a Roguelike. Roguelike games are heavy in character customization and stat optimization. Diablo 1&2 had rich back stories for each different character class. Character classes had their own unique skill trees and stat perks that made them feel unique to play. Players would create many different characters to switch between and share loot between. Diablo 3 turned all the characters into homogeneous mix of blandness. Sure the characters have varying graphical looks but they all essentially play the same. At a surface level the characters appear to have differing skills but if you dive into it they all boil down to shared skill themes. Each character has projectiles or summon moves. This character blandness significantly crippled the replay-ability of Diablo 3. The character development in Diablo 1&2 offered players lots of creative ways to combine gear and exaggerated character skill sets to make unique play experiences.
Summary and Diablo 4 preview
After writing this botch examination its become clear to me that one of the biggest failings of Diablo 3 is that it turned a richly social game franchise into a socially isolated and withdrawn experience. It was much harder to interact with players in Diablo 3 compared to Diablo1&2 if the social experience was there it may have increased the longevity of Diablo 3
The Blizzard of today is simply a logo it has lost the amazing culture that created all time greats like Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo. In my opinion the Blizzard of old truly died when Blizzard North was absorbed. The Youtuber Actman has a fantastic video on the decline of Blizzard that explains the fall from grace. I refuse to give a company of this level of incompetence any money. I’m not trying to pay salaries for people like Jay Wilson that have no artistic integrity.
After Diablo 3, I personally feel the Diablo franchise is a lost cause. The closest you will get to the atmosphere of Diablo1&2 is Darkest Dungeon It perfectly captures the bleak desperation feeling of Diablo 1. I don’t think Diablo 4 can do anything to recover all the lore and atmosphere that was destroyed by Diablo3. I’ve seen trailers and I’m confident Diablo 4 won’t remedy any of the anti-social patterns Diablo 3 introduced