The perfectionists at Blizzard announced a slew of major changes to the company's hotly anticipated action role-playing game Diablo III on Thursday, suggesting that the long-in-the-making project – which has already slid past one vague launch window – is still several months from release.
Thousands of people have been playing the game in its beta test phase, and Blizzard's developers are using their feedback to not just tweak the interface and balance difficulty – expected modifications resulting from any public testing – but also significanty alter core systems.
(Apologies in advance to my less nerdy readers if the following comes off as geeky gobbledygook.)
Some of the changes listed in a lengthy blog post by game director Jay Wilson involve little more than altered monikers. For example, the Stone of Recall – a magic rock that sends players back to towns – is now simply the Town Portal.
Others have a greater impact on play, but are still relatively minor. Rather than collecting magic scrolls to identify mysterious items found in the wild, for instance, characters can now identify these items at will. This frees up an inventory slot and means you need not wait to identify the items you find, writes Mr. Wilson, while still providing the unique satisfaction that comes from double discovery.
But in addition to these tweaks there are also changes that, one imagines, will subtly but fundamentally alter the game's core experience.
In his post Mr. Wilson describes significant alterations to primary character attributes and their benefits, discusses the decision to eliminate the Cauldron of Jordan and Nephalem Cube (items that aided in the salvaging and selling of the thousands of objects players find on their travels), and talks about the removal of what would seem to be an important non-player character class, the mystic artisan.
And more critical changes are yet to come.
Without going into detail, Mr. Wilson explains that the game's all-important rune and skill systems are currently the subject of substantial alteration, and that the game can't possibly ship until these systems are finished.
Which brings us back to Diablo III's oft-delayed launch, the date of which at this point is pretty much unknowable.
Mr. Wilson says "no one will remember if the game is late, only if it's great." While I disagree that people don't remember if a game is late (Blizzard's well-established reputation for delayed releases suggests that its fans remember quite well many of the company's late launches), I get the gist of what he's saying, and I agree with him. Many games would be vastly improved if more studios had Blizzard's patience – and the financial means – to let the development process run its natural and inherently iterative course, which includes proper testing and feedback from consumers prior to launch. Save those few of use claimed by sickness and accidents over the next few months (some super fans in online forums have voiced concern that they'll die before the game hits shelves), we'll still be here when the game eventually releases, and we may well be treated to an experience better than what would have come from a rushed effort.
Regardless of your opinion of when Diablo III ought to release, Mr. Wilson's blog post is a good read. In addition to detailing the game's most recent and upcoming modifications, it provides a neat look into Blizzard's game design philosophy, offering explanations and reasoning for each change as well as a peek into how Blizzard views the gamer psyche and what it craves. Check it out here.