Blizzard Entertainment. Love it or hate it, there is no question that this is a company that has indelibly changed the face of gaming forever. With three iconic series, Starcraft, Diablo and Warcraft, Blizzard has had a spectacular run at the top of the game and game development heaps.
Being the top dog, however, has a downside as well. Blizzard has been the focus of spirited attacks by those who either hate the games that it makes or who are disappointed in the direction the three series have traveled.
In a special look at the Diablo series, we’ll examine why there is so much dissent swirling around Diablo 3 and what Blizzard has done to answer the criticism since the game arrived on the scene in May of 2012.
A Little History
Originally released in late 1996, the original Diablo became a huge international hit with its action RPG, isometric view game play. Followed a year later by the Hellfire expansion (made by Sierra, not Blizzard), the game was a big success, breeding the guild system and an astonishing level of class combinations with magic-wielding Warriors, bow shooting Mages and sword swinging Rogues.
Because of the huge community, Blizzard announced Diablo 2’s development, long rumored but now confirmed. Players had a long three years to wait before it hit the scene in 2000. Diablo 2, again with its isometric view and broad skill trees, struck a nerve with the action-RPG community. The game progressed the series well and Blizzard continued to add new classes with the Lord of Destruction expansion released in 2001.
From 2001 to 2008, however, players were left hanging, wondering when the next game in the beloved series would begin development. What a long wait it was until the 2008 Blizzard Worldwide Invitational announcement that, finally, Diablo 3 was in the works and had been, at least on certain levels, since 2001. Players suffered for another four years before seeing Diablo 3 hit retail release.
What a rocky road it has been since then.
This Took Twelve Years?
On release, Diablo 3’s sales were astonishing, with over ten million copies sold both before and shortly after release. Players and fans of the series who had waited patiently (or not!) for so long, flocked to the game servers and, as often happens with keenly anticipated titles in the MMO-space, ran into a plethora of issues, error messages and more. Blizzard was roundly and, to some, deservedly chastised for the always online requirement to play Diablo 3, the issue most to blame for connectivity problems for players.
Yet arriving into the game did not seem to make things much better for many when it was discovered, prior game play element revelations aside, that the game was not Diablo 2 updated for a new decade. Those who wanted new, innovative game play were disappointed in what they felt was a shallow, “dumbed down” version of their beloved series. Diablo 3 was castigated in many circles by a loud and angry crowd, many of whom could admit that it was a good game, just not Diablo. They wanted more.
Gone were core Diablo 2 features including:
- The Horadric Cube
- Stat points
- Wider array of weapon affixes
- Chat channels of relevance
- PvP on a meaningful scale
- An open map system for players of different levels/locations to share game spaces
- Item rewards for quest
- Skill-based over item-based game play
Players were seemingly astonished to find that open skill leveling was gone and replaced in large part by preassigned, predetermined skills that only varied in terms of the rune attached. In fairness, even Diablo 2 “dumbed down” Diablo’s wide open skill system by not allowing players to choose cross character skills. Still, the skill system came as a shock to many. In addition, players quickly discovered that skills’ efficacy depended, not on skill points earned by player level, but on equipment alone. A level 60 monk would do the same damage as a level 1 monk if equipment was removed.
Another major issue for many was the seeming necessity to utilize the game’s Auction House system in order to “succeed” on Inferno at higher Monster Power levels. The inclusion of the real money auction house was also seen by many to be a cheap money grab on the part of Blizzard with their percent cut of the profits from player to player sales. Others felt that to compete, one had to use the AH to be successful thanks to low drop rates and insufficiently powerful drop rates of equipment and items.
Add in the necessity for PC players to always be connected to the Blizzard game servers in order to play (even if solo), and the pot was stirred to the boiling point. Many flocked to Metacritic, Amazon reviews and other fan-created review sites to vent their rage at what seemed to be a wasted decade plus of development.
Yet even so, even in the face of swarms of angry players, Blizzard continued to mount up impressive game sales of Diablo 3 and even managed to announce and launch a PlayStation 3 version of the game in late 2013.
Success didn’t come without a price, however, as Blizzard seemed to be listening, if slowly. Senior Game Producer Jay Wilson announced in early 2013 that he was leaving the Diablo development team to move on to another Blizzard project. This was seen by many as a critique of his handling of the long twelve years of D3’s development and the deserved criticism of the game after release.