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It’s a tale that is virtually videogame folklore at this point, the example
of a game that was able to turn things around and resolve some fundamental issues that were holding it back from greatness. With the release of the Reaper of Souls
expansion for Diablo III
, two years after the 2012 launch of the base-game, the arrival of Loot 2.0 and more open Adventure Mode end-game led to one of the industry’s more well-known redemption stories.
The core of the expansion, outside of continuing the story, was the completely new approach taken by the team at Blizzard when it came to the concept of Legendary Items
. The rarest of loot. The philosophy was simple, Legendary Items in the form of weapons and gear should not only look cool but make your character feel powerful. Noticeable buffs that in many cases offered considerable bumps in one’s demon-melting abilities.
is set to continue this trend, with the team at Blizzard currently working on implementing hundreds of Legendary Items into the game. A philosophy that is also built around the idea of power and identity.
“The team at Blizzard is currently working on implementing hundreds of Legendary Items into the game."
“We want to make sure every Legendary has its own identity,” Diablo IV Game Director Luis Barriga explains. “What we want to avoid, completely, was in Diablo III where there were these Legendaries - mostly leftover from vanilla - that didn't have any additional Legendary affixes. So, it can be something that's more useful to more builds across all classes like Stone of Jordan
, or something very specific.”
“There’s a Barbarian
mace that changes your Upheaval to create a fiery area of effect,” Luis continues. “That's an example that changes a very specific Skill, and we can see it becoming a build-specific piece for the Barbarian class. But we will have a combination.”
It’s here where we can see Diablo III’s loot philosophy carry over but also see how it will evolve and change to suit Diablo IV’s design. Legendary Items will not simply focus on class-specific skills like most items with affixes in Diablo III, there’s a sense of diversity driving the design. The Stone of Jordan in Diablo IV adds Skill Points to all abilities and the design team is actively looking to avoid creating pre-defined builds or ways to play – leave those decisions up to the player.
Perhaps the biggest difference compared to loot in Diablo III, is how the game will treat Set Items. By ensuring they’re not the be all end all.
“We feel like with Diablo III it got to a place where you couldn't really play your build, your way,” Luis admits. “It was basically, you're going to pick one of these four sets and that's it. We're making sure that sets don't dominate in Diablo IV.” To accomplish this the team has a simple solution, make sure Legendary Items are the more powerful option. And with hundreds being designed and refined and added into the game, create true diversity that fosters player creativity and deciding how you might want to play.
Another piece of the puzzle is the re-introduction of Runewords with cause and effect Runes that can socket into items – adding more nuance to potential build options.
“We feel like with Diablo III it got to a place where you couldn't really play your build, your way. It was basically, you're going to pick one of these four sets and that's it."
An approach that also extends to how the team will balance the loot and fine tune the overall speed and progression of Diablo IV. Although specific details aren’t available, we do know that in its current state taking on more challenging content or tackling higher difficulties will not improve drop rates or the number of Legendary Items you’ll find. Instead more powerful gear will be easier to obtain or become available. The concept of Mythic Items with four Legendary affixes where you can only equip one adds more layers to the end-game potential. The damage and power curve is also different, and a far cry from sheer insanity and pace
of modern Diablo III.
“Players recognise that games evolve over time,” Luis responds when the discussion shift towards the current progression and speed of Diablo III. Where loot rains from the heavens. “Where Diablo III landed, after several Seasons, the balance philosophy was that we would never nerf anything. We currently have a different approach to it. Not better, not worse. It's just like with the art, it's a different lens through which you look at the game.”
“So just like, artists are looking at Diablo IV to create art and the mood, our balance designers that are coming from StarCraft - have a very different approach too,” Luis continues. “David Kim, our new Lead Systems Designer, will oversee balancing of all items. His approach was immediately like, ‘No, we nerf things all the time and this is how we accomplish it’. It’s a very nuanced approach, that involves nerfing and buffing judiciously.”
With Blizzard readily talking about the finer details of Diablo IV, and the playable demo at BlizzCon showcasing the sort of polish that one would expect from Blizzard – you wouldn’t be at fault for thinking that the game is far along in development. According to Luis, there’s still a long road ahead before Diablo IV hits retail and digital shelves across the globe. But, when it comes to what we’ve see with the classes (Barbarian, Sorceress, and Druid) and how the systems work, and combat feels – it’s a good look at what’s in store.
“I think a good comparison would be when we first showed the [Diablo III] Necromancer at BlizzCon and then what we shipped,” Luis explains. “There were certainly some abilities that you saw, but we still added a lot and tweaked a lot. We're at that stage where that core fantasy is there, but some abilities might go down in power or get buffed. Some abilities might change entirely.”
“We currently have a different approach to it. Not better, not worse. It's just like with the art, it's a different lens through which you look at the game."
“We're not even at the beta stage yet,” Luis concludes. “If you recall during Diablo III’s development, we changed the game quite a bit during the beta. This reveal is an honest proposition to our players though. These are the classes. So, it shouldn’t feel like we’ve completely changed everything when it comes to release. But players shouldn't interpret it as final either. That what you see here is the final skill-set.”
Thanks to Blizzard for taking the time to make this interview possible.