A Little Bit Broken

The number of possible builds in Diablo 3 is vast and the game allows you to switch between skills almost penalty-free. Rapid iterative experimentation allows me to find a build I like, a build that has me sending the hordes of demons back to Hell with gusto, but it has also allowed players to find certain incredibly powerful combinations missed even with the game’s 12 year gestation period. Powerful enough, in fact, that the Blizzard took it upon themselves to “nerf” them. Isn’t the whole point of Diablo to create a character that truly excels, whose skills and loot work together towards a carnage-filled power fantasy?

Should we really to expect that every single one is balanced? What does that even mean? After all, if they’re “balanced”, if they offer an “equivalent” experience, then why develop so many abilities? What could the reasoning behind the rebalancing be?

After all, balancing of weapons and perks is expected in competitive environments. The wisdom of the crowd will always find exploits even a small army of QA testers couldn’t uncover. This seems an unlikely reason because PvP is a small part of the game and skills are a smaller part still in an individual character’s power. No one would dare touch a Diablo player’s loot.

When it comes to the main game, the single-player and cooperative play, perfect balance isn’t an ideal to strive for. I like my RPGs a little bit broken. As long as the difficulty never becomes trivial, I want to go from feeling afraid to being strong, deadly, and all-powerful. Enemies should start hard but become easy as my character and his equipment evolve.

The wisdom of the crowd will always find exploits even a small army of QA testers couldn’t uncover.Playing a full Dark Side character in Knights of the Old Republic is one of my fondest gaming memories. At the higher levels he unlocked an ability called Death Field, which allowed him to drain life out of any character within a certain radius. BioWare clearly intended it as the analogue to a Light Side healing ability, something you would use only when needed, but in practice it was an incredibly effective offensive weapon. My character would regularly suck the life out of mobs – even at full health – just because it was a more efficient way to kill them. Did that break my experience? Far from it.

If it is for PvP, then Blizzard is punishing the many in service of the few and if it is for the base game I’m not quite sure why they’re doing it. No one, as far as I can tell, is complaining that high-level Diablo 3 is too easy. Before nerfing high-level skills how about buffing “Normal” mode so it’s actually somewhat challenging, or let us select a goddamn difficulty from the start?

The elephant in the room, of course, is the planned real money auction house. Though players can already trade items for in-game currency, people could (potentially) make an actual living selling digital items. MMO economies have been manipulated many times in the past and at least one developer keeps a PhD economist on staff. A concern is that over-powered builds can farm loot much faster than others, throwing the meta-economy out of whack. Exploits in a first-person shooter ruin a game but in the end it’s just a game. Tuning difficulty, item stats, and character builds in the service of fun is a difficult tightrope act as it is. Hard currency being on the line makes that rope into razor wire and Blizzard isn’t going to garrote themselves.

Hard currency being on the line makes that rope into razor wire and Blizzard isn’t going to garrote themselves.The real-money auction house is an interesting experiment. At the very least, making it an official part of the game keeps it under control, unlike the gold-farming and trading which occurs as a black market economy around many MMORPGs. Nerfing skills,however, is an action which could cause a great deal of resentment among the player base and may not be the best way to handle the situation. After all, skills are only part of the equation. The very existence of the auction house is inherently unbalancing, especially since it can become a “pay to win” scenario if the player wants it to. In this case, a person is paying over and above their $60 to have an easier game by acquiring better loot. Farming is going to occur, whether it’s with allowances built into the game or with paid-for loot.

When such a glaring imbalance is right there in Blizzard’s plan, taking power away from characters seems like a strange move. Blizzard, I hope, wants players to form a sense of investment in our characters, particularly permadeath-subject Hardcore characters. Though I haven’t been affected by any of this rebalancing, the last thing I’d want to see in a changelog is that something I thought my character had achieved was considered merely an exploit by the developers. Give my character an awesome experience, don’t take something away from her.

About David Hughes

David Hughes is an Editor for Splitkick. PC gamer, mod lover, screenarcher, and Elder Scrolls fanboy.
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