Last yearâ€™s release of Diablo 3 was rough. Think the SimCity debut raised some flags? Childâ€™s play. Diablo 3 sold 3.5 million copies in 24 hours, crashed servers, thrilled players, and got more people angry than any reasonable person could have predicted. World governments got involved when Diablo 3 came out. Seriously! The Korean Fair Trade Commission actually raided Blizzardâ€™s offices in Seoul because of reports that the studio refused to give refunds to players that couldnâ€™t sign on to the game as it was buried in the deluge of new players.
The tumult didnâ€™t slow down either. Complaints about the gameâ€™s Auction House-based economy, its end-game story content, and many other features plagued Blizzard as it released updates across the year. By November 2012, when the big story should have been the release of World of Warcraft: Mysts of Pandaria, Blizzard was getting slammed with lawsuits over Diablo 3. In short: People love their Diablo, but after a decade and more of waiting for a sequel, they were not happy.
One year later, things are different. Diablo 3 is plugging away and entering a new life. For the first time since EA ported the original to PlayStation, Diablo 3â€²s coming to consoles. Not only that, but Blizzard continues to tweak and refine the PC game to try and chisel away those features that catastrophically failed to connect with gamers. It is, like its beloved predecessor Diablo 2, a living game that continues to change and grow.
This may seem insignificant from the outside but improved co-op and changes to the gameâ€™s crafting system have had significant effects on the game, even more so than expansion-style features like the player-versus-player Brawls introduced in February and boss fight events like Infernal Machine. Even bigger changes are on the horizon.
Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime confirmed last fall that Diablo 3 would receive a real, old style expansion a la Diablo: Hellfire and Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction. â€œWe do have a plan, an expansion plan for Diablo,â€ teased Morhaime, tantalizing fans with the prospect of what could be an entirely different game.
Thatâ€™s no exaggeration based on past Diablo expansions. Lord of Destruction brought two new character classes to the game as well as an entirely new concluding chapter culminating in a fight against the vicious boss Baal. Diablo 3 has plenty of hints buried in the game at whole new locales that could be used for an additional act, like the kingdom of Westmarch. Home of the Knights of Westmarch order that the Paladin character in Diablo 2 came from, the follower character Lydon in Diablo 3 says itâ€™s a place where things can get a little rowdy.
Thereâ€™s also a set up for a new big boss right in Diablo 3. The Archangel Imperius, the fella with the fiery temper and the fiery sword, lives through the climactic fight in the battle in High Heavens in act 4 but itâ€™s unknown what happens to him after that. As a character whoâ€™s seemingly always on the edge of completely losing his mind and whoâ€™s terribly powerful, what better way to add a new big bad to whatâ€™s mostly a finished story?
As the updates to Diablo 3 already released have shown, though, smaller foundational changes are more meaningful to the exact nature of the game and a full expansion will likely be no different. Lords of Destructionâ€™s biggest change to Diablo 2 wasnâ€™t the addition of Assassin and Druid classes, but how it overhauledÂ the gameplay. An expansion could conceivably remove Diablo 3â€²s most divisive features, particularly the need for a persistent Internet connection and the gameâ€™s Auction Houses.
An Auction House-free Diablo 3 on PC certainly sounds like the dream version of the game. Rather than a delicious, engaging adventure that yielded the best rewards as its difficulty scaled, the biggest problem with Diablo 3 was how the Auction House drove all of the gameâ€™s long-term systems. The very best loot didnâ€™t drop regularly enough for even the most diligent player, so they were forced to farm gold or pay out actual cash for the gear they wanted. This reliance on the Auction House even crippled the gameâ€™s campaign, and Blizzardâ€™s known it since the game released. While the new crafting system was brought in to refocus players away from farming the Auction House and onto farming monsters, itâ€™s still only a half step.
According to Blizzard, even though the upcoming PlayStation 3/4 version will skip the Auction House, itâ€™s staying in the PC game. Director Jay Wilson, who left the game to work on other projects in January, said at GDC that Auction House was a bad call all along. â€œItâ€™s not good for a game like Diablo,â€ said Wilson, â€œIt doesnâ€™t feel good to get items for money, it feels good to get items by killing monsters.â€ But it canâ€™t do it since roughly a million players are still playing the game every day and thereâ€™s no easy way to completely excise the Auction House from the game. An expansion like Lords of Destruction, essentially being a whole new version of the game, could fix the problem.
The same is true of removing Internet connection requirements. Sony actually confirmed back in February that its version of the game can be played offline and Blizzard backed up the claim shortly thereafter. Since the game wonâ€™t be played via Blizzardâ€™s Battle.net network and wonâ€™t have the Auction Houses to go along with it, it make sense that the consolized Diablo 3 can be played offline. There are plenty of unofficial ways to trick Diablo 3 into letting PC players take on the campaign offline as well. Solutions were showing up in the official forums within weeks of its release.
As with the Auction Houses, though, it seem that only a completely different version will bring offline play to Diablo 3 on PC. A message from Morhaime delivered to players last July put the kibosh on an offline solo mode through patch updates.
Expanded player-versus-player options are another prime candidate for an expansion. While the game did finally get PvP dueling in February, the gameâ€™s long lost Team Deathmatch mode from the beta was cancelled last December because, according to Wilson, it â€œgets old relatively quickly.â€ He did say at the time, though, that Team Deathmatch would be replaced with something more â€œappropriate for Diablo 3.â€ What that may be remains a tantalizing prospect for the future.
One year later, Blizzard has the twin luxuries of an industry with its attention elsewhere and a devoted audience still playing its highly divisive game. It can continue to tinker away, refining the game. People will have to wait longer for the big changes a major expansion can bring, though.Â Â Both Hellfire and Lords of Destruction came out approximately one year after Diablo and Diablo 2, so a Diablo 3 expansion is already behind historical schedule. This is a game people had to wait four years for between announcement and release. The expansion may be coming, but the wait will likely be long.