About ARPGs

A lot of buzz has been kicked up in the past week about the apparent resurgence of Diablo III. A recent Woolly Mammoth-sized patch revamped its loot drop system, its end-game Paragon leveling system, its difficulty scaling as well as a host of other things. Coincidentally timed close to the launch of the upcoming expansion, Reaper of Souls, the patch was also accompanied by a promotion offering a 50% experience bonus for the time you log in and play leading up to the launch of RoS.

At the moment, Diablo III is definitely more fun. A year ago, I got bored spending an hour trying to grind from Paragon 3 to 4. In the past week, I have gone from 3 to 38. Legendary and Set items now drop about once an hour, and the new difficulty system allows you to play through the game proper while still being challenged and getting the same chances of good loot regardless of where and who you fight.

I want to emphasize at the moment. Up until now, Diablo 3 was the result of a shitstorm of things that went wrong. The atrocious drop rates, the uneven difficulty scaling in the original Inferno acts, the over-reliance on grinding gold for the auction house – these things made the endgame a tedious and unrewarding experience. The new patch goes a long way to fix those problems, and the gameplay experience is almost joyful now. To the majority of players who had stepped away from the game, levelling comes fast and easy, equipment upgrades are plentiful and you don’t need to grind one level over and over to progress. But behind all the euphoria, a question remains – why wasn’t it always this way?

Forgive my skepticism. I was one of the few who stuck with Inferno, grinding Act I for gold, even dying 20 times before finally soloing Belial in Act II, only to get stuck at the first elite mob of the third act. A core group of players embraced the challenge. Most, however, were worn out by the tedium and frustration. I am by no means an optimal or “hardcore” ARPG player. That makes me one of the majority who eventually got turned off by Diablo III. On the flip side, Torchlight II was a great play experience all the way through. Path of Exile is a very fun alternative given that it’s free and is constantly updated with new content and ladder seasons (coincidentally its free expansion, Sacrifice of the Vaal, was released this week).

There’s the old phrase, “Once bitten, twice shy.” If it took two years for Diablo III to become a playable game again, and it requires all these nice and shiny things to get people to come back to the game, has anything fundamentally changed? When Reaper of Souls is released and players level to 70, what kind of endgame awaits them? Is it just going to be a rehash of D3 Vanilla that causes a drop-off in committed players, or will the level-capped game actually have some staying power this time around?

It’s worth noting that all these changes arrive just before the launch of Reaper of Souls. Blizzard wants people back in the game so they can buy the expansion. The price tag is hefty – $40 for RoS versus $20 for Torchlight II or $0 for Path of Exile – and it’s difficult to justify that price for the amount of content you get…if you’re not a D3 addict.

I am enjoying D3, and I will continue to enjoy it for a little while still. But I remain skeptical about the longevity of the game. Just as Blizzard made a shit-ton of money for a half-broken game when D3 first launched in 2012, they could make a shit-ton more for a $40 expansion that’s built not on solid content but hype and borderline bribery. I hope I’m wrong. I hope RoS brings a lot more quality gaming hours than it shows on paper. But I’m not abandoning my Path of Exile account just yet.

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