Blizzard Entertainment doesn’t release very many games. They still have only a handful of franchises to their name, and half of them have “craft” in the title. Blizzard has abstained from releasing yearly entries in its popular franchises like many big gaming companies do, instead releasing just one or two games a year total, then giving players years’ worth of post-game updates, improvements, support, and the occasional paid expansion.
Blizzard’s successful approach to mainstream gaming and commitment to their games has never been more apparent than with Diablo 3. Originally released in 2012, an agonizingly long 12 years after Diablo 2, the latest entry made the surprising changes of breaking and reconstructing many of the series’ (and the whole genre’s) beloved systems. And fans were not happy.
Skill points were completely scratched, the game instead rewarding everyone with the same skills and skill-runes every level. The art style was bemoaned as being far too bright and cartoony compared to the series’ former Gothic, sinister tones. An auction house, at which you could buy other players’ in-game items and sell your own, destroyed the exhilaration of finding your own loot, and a real money store—where you simply paid the developer for stuff—threatened the game’s basic integrity.
Then there was the infamously derided always-online component, which forced even those that just wanted to play by themselves to sign into Blizzard’s servers, at the constant mercy of their internet connection. On launch day players who simply couldn’t play the game they had just purchased spewed enough bile to fill a Grotesque.
Many purists and diehards of the genre quickly dismissed Diablo 3 in 2012. But then a funny thing happened. You see, underneath all these derided changes beat the demonic soulstone of a solid action-role-playing game. The desire to swiftly kill things to get more powerful and get fancy loot so that you can then kill more things is still a winning formula. Its near universal popularity has been co-opted by shooters and action games like Borderlands and Destiny, and is particularly adept at bringing friends together in a more relaxed, cooperative environment.
So Blizzard didn’t give up and move on. Instead they doubled down on trying to fix and change the game, implementing new systems to not only improve the entire experience, but add all new gameplay modes to keep people playing for years to come.
By the end of 2012 Blizzard had added post-game Paragon levels to give max level players a reason to still gain experience, as well as an end-game boss-run mode. 2013 stayed relatively quiet, but an incredibly large patch was promised on the horizon.
In early 2014 Patch 2.0 completely reworked the franchise’s venerable difficulty system of Normal, Nightmare, and Hell, creating 10 new difficulty settings and a dynamic system where foes leveled up with you. Even more sweeping was the new Loot 2.0 that reworked all the items in the game, making the right loot drop for the right character, and making Legendary items truly legendary. Loot 2.0 also saw the dismantling of the Auction Houses in a very respectable, “yeah, this didn’t work” move by a major developer.
March of 2014 saw the release of the official expansion pack “Reaper of Souls,” adding a new character class, new abilities, a fifth Act, and the incredibly fun and replayable Adventure Mode. Adventure Mode eschews the campaign by letting you hunt for randomized bounties around the world, earning new treasures and rewards. Nephalim Rifts were created to completely randomize the level and monster layouts of a dungeon, ending in an epic boss fight, while Greater Rifts challenged you with completing increasingly difficult waves of enemies in a certain amount of time.
The latter half of 2014 saw the addition of Seasonal play, giving veterans an incentive to start completely over with a level 1 character every few months. With Season Four, Diablo 3 added the Season Journey, unique achievements and rewards for seasonal characters. In 2015 we got even more difficulty settings (bringing the total to 14), a whole new zone with its own enemies, and a cube that utilizes crafting materials to extract unique powers from Legendary items.
Yeah, it’s a lot—especially for a game that was easily dismissed when it came out.
All of these patches and updates have also come with the constant tweaking and reworking of player abilities and skills. The focus has always been on creating a more fun, pure experience where you could choose your own challenge level while minimizing downtime. Since Diablo is a cooperative experience, Blizzard has wisely chosen the path of buffing everyone up rather than bringing anyone down. Aside from the Reaper of Souls expansion pack, all of these updates have been completely free.
In the 3+ years since its release, Diablo 3 has gone from a somewhat crushing disappointment to arguably one of the best loot-driven action games on the market. Well-received console releases on PlayStation and Xbox systems further expanded its user-base, and proved that Diablo’s simple but effective appeal can reach beyond PC gamers.
If you can swallow the now even more commonplace always-online system requirements—and especially if you have some like-minded demon-slaying, gold-hoarding buddies—it doesn’t get much better than an evening with a very finely polished Diablo 3. That’s not something I could have said a few years ago, but what do you know? Times change.
Eric Watson is a freelance writer who enjoys talking about video games, movies, books and Dallas-based sports teams. Every week he watches a random film from his collection of several hundred DVDs and live tweets about it @RogueWatson. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas with his wife and daughter, two dogs, two cats, two fish tanks, some hermit crabs and a bookshelf full of Transformers.
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