Monday, January 20, 2014

A tribute to a deeply flawed and amazing game



I don't have any particular reason for making this post, I just wanted to engage in some nostalgia. It's a wall of text, but I hope you'd like to read it nonetheless!

Humble origins

I started playing playing Diablo when I was very young. I got the original Diablo when it was brand new back in 1997, and fell in love with the game instantly. Not everyone had the rig for it though; back then it was unheard of to have a game with a size of 100 MB for the recommended installation. I pretty much had to remove all my other games so the computer only held Diablo and the Windows installation, but it was worth it.

Then I moved on to Diablo 2 in 2000. I had a friend who managed to get into the beta, and I was incredibly jealous of him for that. Especially since he wasn't as big of a fan of the franchise as I was, and never really cared for the game all that much. I made up for it after the release though, and pored in countless hours into that game. First I just played Paladins, but later on discovered how much fun the Necromancer was and made the switch. But that was then.

Launch

Naturally, I wanted to be part of Diablo 3 from the very start. To call it one of the most anticipated games ever is almost an understatement; after Blizzard released World of Warcraft in 2004, pretty much everything else got pushed back indefinitely. It was all WoW, all the time. Hardly unsurprising considering the money they were making on it, but it was a bit discouraging for those of us who were more drawn to the other Blizzard games. For a long time, people referred to Diablo 3 as the game that everyone wanted, but no one thought would ever be made. But finally it was, and I sat there with everyone else on May 15, 2012... And couldn't get in.

Not the best possible launch I have to admit, with worldwide server crashes from the traffic overload, but I thought like many other people did: "I've waited for this game for 12 years. I can wait another 24 hours." And that opening screen with the moon and the raven was pretty to look at, so there was that at least. But eventually we all got in, and Diablo 3 was finally reality.

First impressions

Running through the story was cool and all, but didn't take that long. Mind you, this was back before all the botters, before the AH inflation, before the overhauled loot system, before anyone had any Cain's sets or whatever, so you made due with what you had and soldiered on. It was all about getting to level 60 though, getting to Inferno. Diablo was never about the story, it was about the grind and the item hunt.

Normal was still fairly easy, and Nightmare didn't provide all that much of a challenge either. Hell was tough. You progressed slowly, and had to claw your way through every inch of it. Still, it was doable. I played almost non-stop those first days as well, and I think I was among the first people in Europe to hit level 60. Then came Inferno, and that was like hitting a brick wall.

Do you remember what it was like? You managed to get through the Old Ruins, maybe, but that was it. I remember jumping through public game after public game trying to find good people to run with, who could carry me through it until I had found enough inferno gear to survive by myself, but it was the same thing every time. You went out into the Weeping Hollow, and you were dead in seconds. For a while, people were doing runs killing Sarkoth and Mira Eamon, just in the hopes of getting a yellow drop on either of them, and then reloading the game. This was before paragon levels and Nephalem Valor mind you, so yellow drops were few and far between. Legendaries were almost unheard of, and the few that had been found sold on the AH for ridiculous amounts of gold that no one yet had. Most of them weren't very good though; at launch, most legendaries were only slightly better than yellows, and unless you got a lucky drop, they were nothing special at all.

So yeah, some things were just impossible. If you tried to run the Caverns of Aranae and ran into a champion spiderling with the now-removed invulnerable minions affix, combined with maybe vampiric or fire chains, you were done. Can't run from them, can't beat them. Nothing to do but restart the game and hope for better luck.

That was a thing back then, people ran from certain affix combinations rather than even attempt to fight them. You couldn't keep grinding until they were dead either! Remember how the elites got their health back if you were gone from the fight for too long? Remember the enrage timers that made your health start to tick down automatically if you took too long to kill them? Remember how infuriated you got when your teammates cowered out of the fight and ran back to town, while you still tried to keep on fighting? Ugh.


Little by little

Eventually, I got lucky. Around a month in, I found two legendary items that were godly at the time, and the right class-specific items for me as well (I play a Monk). I still have them in my stash, never could bring myself to scrap them. They may not look like much now, but back then, these two items are what opened up Act 1 Inferno for me, and made it possible to survive there. It was still insanely hard, but finally I could start doing enough damage to win fights against elite packs before the enrage timers hit. Another month, and I had managed to trade myself into two more, and now I was set. With this, I could start farming effectively. Eventually I had aquired good enough gear to walk around with a whopping 11k dps and 277% magic find,which was very respectable.

Then of course came Act 2, which was just as much of a brick wall. You were back at zero, and insta-dying as soon as you left Caldeum. Granted, we eventually got through that as well, but man it took forever. Don't even get me started on Belial. Holy hell, you had to get so lucky in order to take him out before that timer hit.

I never got past Act 3 in the old gear system. If you thought act 1 and 2 were hard, they were nothingcompared to Act 3. I spent an entire week trying to light those signal fires to no avail; I had simply met my match. Act 3 inferno was too hard. I heard of people who got through it though, but I couldn't. Maybe I eventually would have, but until then I just kept on farming act 1, hoping for those rare iLvl63 items. Before MP levels, where all items rolled those stats, the difference in potency was major.





Magic Find

Everyone needed gear improvements, and gear didn't drop often; Magic Find was key. And this almost killed public games. Good MF gear was ridiculously hard to come by, so what people did was gear with bad MF items, and simply hung back and let someone else do the work. Or, they started item swapping, changing into MF gear just before the elite died. Either way, the people who were playing with hard-earned legitimately good MF gear were dragged down by those who didn't. To solve the issue, Blizzard brought about a solution that didn't make anyone happy. They instated a system of shared MF in public games, to take away some of the advantage of those running with poor MF gear, and giving a boost to those with 0% MF. That sucked for me though, since I was running with MF gear that was actually good. Public games meant lower MF for me, without any boost in damage output to compensate for it. Because of this, a lot of people simply stopped playing public games all together. Then came the Paragon levels and the new legendaries, and everything changed.

A new game

Certain things had been repeated over and over again by vocal parts of the player base:


  • The game is too hard
  • Legendaries are no good
  • Legendaries don't drop often enough
  • You reach max level too quickly
  • It's too hard to get good enough MF to farm effectively
  • The shared MF is killing public games


Blizzard answered these criticisms by introducing the Paragon levels, the Nephalem Valor system, and Monster Power (with the increased trash mob density). It brought a lot of good with it: people got the long-term EXP grind they wanted, the legendary items became as impressive as they should be, and public games became viable again. But it also brought a lot of bad: The item inflation that made everything but the 0.1% "perfect rolls" lose all value and let the entire economy be controlled by botters (or the extremely lucky), the BiS standard that became too easy to acquire (and took everything but a few select items out of usefulness), and the biggest one for me: the elimination of actual challenge from the game.

To me, being able to literally wade through oceans of white mobs without having to do anything else than hold down the left mouse button, isn't actually as fun. Sure, there's some enjoyment in that too, but I loved the times where even the white mobs were dangerous, and you had to adjust your playing style according to each enemy you were facing. Look at it now: Does it matter if you are facing skeletons, fallen, constructs, succubi or mongrels? No, you will fight all of them the exact same way; by holding down the left mouse button and letting your AoE attacks do the work without even really registering who you are facing.

I liked it better when the enemies were much fewer, and much more dangerous. Then, it made a huge difference if you focused on AoE or single target attacks, with very different playing styles for both. It meant employing real tactics. People always talk about how gear hampers build diversity, but never really about howmonster density was the biggest killer of build diversity you could ever imagine.

New objectives

Now things were different, and Diablo 3 was no longer the same game as it was at launch. With the new system of Paragon Levels with MF tied to it, everyone knew right away that it wouldn't take long until we were all walking around with godly equipment and that Magic Find would no longer be important. In the short run, sure, we would still need it while we were at low Paragon... But it would become obsolete. Logically, what you should do if you wanted maximum benefit, would be to go for experience. With the newly-introduced Uber bosses and Hellfire rings, that part was obvious; you wanted a hellfire ring as quickly as possible. In those early days though, the Ubers were hard. No one had the gear yet to fight them on high paragon levels, so those crafting reagents too a long time to get your hands on. I mean hell, I'll give you an example: Everyone knows about Alkaizer, the first person to reach Paragon 100 and who discovered the most optimal run for experience grinding (before monster density was a thing; the paragon levels came before that). He played almost 24/7 and reached Paragon 100 in a mere three weeks after the Paragon levels were introduced. But look: this was the gear he did it with, and he ran on very low MP levels. Hellfire rings weren't easy to get. But the other ring, the Leoric's Signet, was easily attainable. It just took mind-numbing patience.

Getting the Signet

So I found out how to get the Leoric's Signet; it's a level 14 item, so you can only find it on the Normal difficulty. Normal Act 2 to be specific. Normal Act 2, between the Black Canyon Mines and the Ancient Waterway to be very specific.

Everyone was always talking about how the Barbarian was so OP (they still do), and how every other class was inferior, but I've never cared about that. I love playing the Monk, and I'm happy with continuing to do that. And for once I was lucky to have picked the Monk as my go-to-guy: It turns out to be the best class for farming Signets! With some very specific equipment, you can get enough spirit generation for infinite Tempest Rush, allowing you to zoom through the map as fast as possible. Combining that with Mantra Of Conviction + Submission means that everything on Normal (even elites) insta-dies when you get close to it, even on MP10 (assuming that you have dps good enough to run Inferno normally). Here's some of the stuff I used. Mind you, it's not easy getting a hold of Legacy Xephirian Amulets (from before the legendary overhaul) with high spirit generation, but I managed to get two! One for me, and one for the templar.



This was around a year ago. I harvested for that ring for a long, long time. Some people get lucky and find it right away. For some, it takes months. In the mean time, I turned the process into a Christmas Giveaway for new players, handing out the other legendaries I found along the way for free to new players, trying to give them a positive first impression of Diablo players.

Eventually, finally, I got it. And it was glorious. (this was before legendaries were marked out with a star on the map.)



I kept doing it for a while after that. In the end, I managed to collect 3 Signet rings. One I used for myself, one I placed on my follower, and the third I sold for some 40 million gold. Felt nice.

Other memorable stuff

Along the way, I started to find new things to entertain myself with. Getting rare achievements. Notable happenings. Stuff like doing a straight path run of the Caverns of Aranae, or getting that elusive double legendary drop, or finding a unique plan. Hell, I thought it was cool enough when I found a trifecta ring. I've never been a big Auction House player, but it's been neat when you've managed to do successful item flips as well. Just little things along the way to bump off an internal check list.



Permadeath

I've also dabbled a bit with Hardcore playing. It's fun as hell, if you can stomach it and embrace the death. I've had to a couple of times now, as I'm sure most people have. My first character never got far; a Demon Hunter that perished at the hands of Izual at level 26. Never got a screenshot of that, unfortunately. But then there was the Witch Doctor who got to level 60 and died immediately on attempting inferno. There was the Barbarian who never even made past level 54. There was the second Barbarian who reached Paragon 8 before being cornered by a pack of expoders. Urgh. Oh well, now I'm on my fourth Barbarian who's still alive and kicking at Paragon 24, so here's hoping he can keep on doing that!

And of course

Yesterday, I managed to complete the big one. After 653 hours played, 50,844 elite kills, after 145,246,308 gold collected, after 1,003,082 total kills, my Monk hit Paragon 100. Some people choose special places to do it (killing Diablo usually), but I didn't think that was important. The moment doesn't need to have a sense of finality to it, because to me, Diablo isn't a game that has an end. It's a game that is all about the journey, and not the destination. So I reached the goal while clearing the Jar of Souls event, like I've done hundreds of times before.


My Monk has been grinding for a long time now, and taken on many different appearances along the way, so maybe it's time for him to take a well-earned rest. When Reaper of Souls hits the shelves, I'll pick him right back up again to continue his grind, but for now I could pick another character to run with a bit until then; I'm sure they're just as fun. Maybe it's time to gear up a Softcore Barbarian? Or maybe I should finally start to learn how to properly play Witch Doctors?

I just love playing Diablo. Always have, always will.


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