I debated titling this “Diablo’s Blue Balls,” but [spoiler] Diablo doesn’t have balls.
To the ongoing amazement of all (including myself), I have continued to play Diablo 3. You know, the game that I quit twice? In fairness, “playing” consists of 40-60 minute circuits of Act 1 Inferno with 177% Magic Find as I farm random items to sell on the AH for gold to purchase actual items, so that some semblance of progression can be squeezed from the rock that is Act 3 Inferno.
After three days of putting off another progression attempt like one does a dental appointment or a particularly difficult bowel movement, I finally sat on the chair and grit my teeth while awaiting the verdict. It was worse than I imagined. The “awesome” 1.5 million gold weapon I purchased actually decreased my DPS and survivability. In a panic, I scoured the AH for other upgrades… upgrades which helped in the sense of elongating the amount of time it took my face to collapse from the champion pack curb-stomp.
Up until now, I have been treating Diablo 3 as I treated daily quests in WoW: a not entirely joyless task in service of the greater goal of progression. The allure of rare items netting real money certainly added spice to the stew, but the endpoint always was taking down the titular Diablo on Inferno. As has become increasingly clear, that goal is no longer entirely reasonable.
Mike Morhaime has some words to say about Diablo 3 at this two-month mark, although you have to swim through six paragraphs of PR bullshit to find any:
You’ve seen some of that work already in patch 1.0.3, and you’ll see additional improvements with patch 1.0.4. On the game balance front, this update will contain changes designed to further deliver on the team’s goal of promoting “build diversity,” with buffs to many rarely used, underpowered class abilities. Another topic we’ve seen actively discussed is the fact that better, more distinct Legendary items are needed. We agree. Patch 1.0.4 will also include new and improved Legendary items that are more interesting, more powerful, and more epic in ways you probably won’t be expecting.
[...] On the flipside, we are also committed to ensuring you have a great experience with Diablo III without feeling like the auction house is mandatory, which was never our intention. Thank you for all the feedback about that.
[...] We’re also working on a gameplay system that will provide players who have max-level, high-powered characters new goals to strive for as an alternative to the “item hunt.” We’re not ready to get into specifics just yet, but I can say that we’re actively taking your feedback into account as we plan out the future of the game.
After thoroughly washing my hands, what I got from all that was: nothing.
To suggest that the designers never intended the AH to be mandatory is simply ludicrous. I do not mean that in a “greedy corporation cash shop” sense, I mean that in a “did these morons ever do any projection analysis of what the hardest difficulties require in their own goddamn game” sense. It matters not that a pro player can cheaply gear themselves well enough to go through Act 2 when all that budget gear came from other players. Was the design really that a player would spend 2+ months farming an Act for upgrades to progress to the next one when that is eight times as long as it took to get there in the first place? And, please, spare me the Diablo 2 anecdotes unless it involves the necessity of specific gear to finish the final boss.
…that is kind of the rub though, right?
As a player, I want both the fun to never end and the satisfaction of a completed experience. Meanwhile, the designers of MMOs and cash shop games want to delay the gratification for as long as possible while still retaining player interest. If the tacit tension between both parties is maintained successfully, both profit. After all, a game that abruptly ends before the player wants it to is just as bad as an unfinished game drained down to the curdled dregs at the bottom of an otherwise bone-dry barrel of fun.
…except that is wrong. The latter is worse than the former, and you do not even really need balls to appreciate that fact. Simply examine every unsatisfying ending to any game you have played – the one quality they will all have in common is lack of closure. Of release.
If Inferno was easier, there is little doubt that I would have completed it and shelved Diablo weeks ago. Many could argue that Blizzard was doing me a favor by setting forth this Sisyphean task, as those are (presumably) weeks of fun I would not have otherwise had. But that is not what happens. What happens is I sit here, without even the satisfaction of a logical endpoint, miserably looking back on those weeks of “fun” with a jaundiced eye and two blue balls.
And what I see is time spent playing Diablo 3 when I could have had more fun playing damn near anything else.