Has the Diablo Franchise Stalled?

On the eve of the launch of Diablo III, we find out how Blizzard plans to make the game feel like a new experience.

Twelve years ago, Diablo II became the fastest-selling video game of all time, selling 1 million units in its first two weeks on the market. Praised for its depth and intuitiveness, the game was an improvement on Diablo in almost every way: bigger, bolder, and more accessible. Now, on the eve of the release of the long-awaited, highly anticipated third entry in the best-selling series, the time has come to ask: will Diablo III manage to pull off the same feat?

Will Diablo III live up to expectations?

In June 2003, three years after the release of Diablo II, Blizzard North designer Max Schaefer walked away from the project he'd spent the last 10 years of his professional life perfecting. While some in Schaefer's position would have gone on to try their hand at something new, the next time Schaefer's name appeared in the credits of a game was in 2009 with the release of Torchlight, a game that has been compared to Diablo in almost every single way.

"You don't need to wait for Diablo III," GameSpot wrote of Torchlight in 2009. "Fans of action-oriented role-playing can get a first-rate fix of hacking and slashing right now in Torchlight, a great dungeon crawl from the designers of the first two Diablo games and the cult hit Fate. Runic Games has forged a letter-perfect copy of the action role-playing formula with fast-paced combat and cartoonish graphics that will keep you clicking until the wee hours."

"The games are different: the pacing is different, the combat feels different. We are making the game we want to make, and if it comes out near Diablo III, so be it."

But Torchlight is more than just a variation on a theme. Created by Schaefer and several ex-Blizzard North employees following the formation of co-founded studio Runic Games, Torchlight's mere existence--and Schaefer's determination to pursue it--has opened the doors to a genre long believed to be the exclusive domain of the hardcore gamer. While Schaefer can't avoid the comparisons between Torchlight and Diablo, he has no reservations about going head-to-head with the franchise he helped create. The failure of Flagship Studios, Schaefer's first venture after leaving Blizzard North and the Diablo franchise, pushed him and his colleagues to do something they knew would succeed. His return to role-playing games, the genre he has worked in for some 16 years, did more than just ensure Torchlight's success: it signaled the arrival of a new voice.

"The games are actually quite different," Schaefer says of the Diablo/Torchlight comparisons. "The pacing is different, the combat feels different, and they are actually more individual than first glance might imply. Plus, we are sort of focusing on areas they aren’t, like LAN and offline single-player play, and a much lower price point. I think we have maybe a healthy competition with Blizzard, but there is nothing but respect there. We are making the game we want to make, and if it comes out near Diablo III, so be it. There's room for more than one."

Since announcing Diablo III in 2008, Blizzard has hammered home the game's features: a deeper combat model, a broader story, new customization options, and two types of in-game auction houses. But it was the revelation that Diablo III would require a constant Internet connection to play, even in single-player mode, which caused uneasiness among some of the franchise's most dedicated fans. On this point, Blizzard remains fixed.

"We've never seen Diablo as a single-player game," Diablo III game director Jay Wilson says. "It's always been developed from the ground up as a co-op game. People can join the game dynamically. We see it as an online game, and we think that's the best experience we can give to players. We realise that there's sacrifices that we have to take on to be able to focus on that experience."

Wilson was brought on board following the departure of Schaefer and other key members of the Diablo team from Blizzard North in 2003. The studio was eventually shut down by Blizzard in 2005, and all Diablo III development was moved in-house at Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine, California. Wilson, a former Relic designer whose work credits include Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and Company of Heroes, says the decision to exclude an offline mode came from looking back at the Diablo franchise and isolating both the good and bad points of the series. For example, while Diablo II gave players the option of an offline mode, Wilson says a lot of players reached a point where they wanted to take their game online but found their level 30 or 40 character was invalid. The director also believes a lot of gameplay elements misfired in Diablo II, like the fact that players could just hit the potion button and still overcome any incoming damage.

"A lot of Diablo II came down to these one-shot bad situations coupled with one-skill-centric spamming combat model. It's amazing the game had the longevity it did with such a simple combat model. Most players resented that, and that was what we wanted to avoid with Diablo III."

It is these smaller tweaks and improvements that represent the innovation behind Diablo III, Wilson says. More often than not, people look for a big, flashy new feature as a sign that a game has significantly improved on its predecessor. Diablo III doesn't have this feature. What it does have, according to Wilson, is good execution. Besides, this isn't the first time gamers have accused a Blizzard game of not innovating enough. (Just look at some of the mixed reactions the Diablo III beta received.)

"I don't know of a Blizzard game that did not get that criticism. People have said that about almost every one of our games. People are looking for something, or even just one thing, that says to them that this is the next greatest thing ever. But we don't think that's the way to make games. Innovation comes from perfect execution. An innovative game that's poorly executed is not a good game. A game that's executed well is always a great game."

Innovation does not always come in big, flashy features, says Diablo III's game director, Jay Wilson.

Looking back at Diablo II's development, Schaefer can't say with certainty what the game could have done better: having put everything into its development, Schaefer and his team came away from the project utterly spent, and nothing, not even a long period of introspective detachment, seems to have changed that. But he does know why the original Diablo had such an impact, and why it was so easy to make Diablo II an even bigger and better experience.

"I think what Diablo did right was to make dungeon crawling fun again," he says. "It marked a vindication of our wacky theories about what RPGs should be like. I think we rescued RPGs for people who just want to hit monsters with cool swords, and dispensed with all that advanced math."

"We had no idea Diablo would be so big, so going into Diablo II we had a lot more confidence," Schaefer says. "Mostly we wanted to make everything bigger and better than before, and learn from the mistakes of Diablo. We were passionate about making a coherent and interesting-looking world."

"I don't know of a Blizzard game that did not get [accused of not innovating].
People are looking for something, or even just one thing, that says to them that this is the next greatest thing ever."

The same success has followed Schaefer at Runic. In July 2011, Torchlight sales surpassed 1 million copies across all platforms, allowing Schaefer and his team to begin working on a sequel. With new character classes, quests, monsters, and dungeons, and a much-requested co-op mode, Torchlight II was originally slated for release in 2011. Runic pushed this date back to sometime in 2012, revealing it would hold off releasing the game until after the release of Diablo III. The decision had as much to do with strategy as it did with respect for Blizzard.

"To me, Diablo III looks fantastic," Schaefer says. "I will be a first-day buyer. I have confidence that the franchise will have a future beyond Diablo III. Provided it’s as good as it looks to be, it will be a very popular game. Nobody will be talking about 'stale' anymore."

Both Schaefer and Wilson arrive at this point. Stale or innovative, complex or simplistic, online or off: regardless of their shortcomings, both Diablo III and Torchlight II serve to improve, diversify, and evolve their genre.

"I don't feel the market needs to be reduced to just one or the other," Wilson says. "I know some people want to put their stake in the ground and say "Diablo III is better" or "Torchlight II is better." Personally, I will play both. I think most players who love this genre will play both."

"The action RPG has been vastly underpopulated for years, so to finally see a good number of titles coming out that are high quality…well, I say hallelujah."

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691 comments
Dinichtys
Dinichtys

how many people now in front of their pc waiting to login and play diablo single player online! xD

Slashless
Slashless

The Diablo franchise would have had to have had some form of quality in previous installments to actually have "stalled". Now I know you Diablo/Blizzard nuthuggers will wait in line for hours for this mediocre crap with terrible and boring gameplay but true, sane gamers will await for better titles to spend their hard earned dollars on, i.e Resident Evil 6, GTAV, and South Park The Game(of the Year) brought to you by our true lord and savior GODsidian Entertainment.

RedEyedMonster8
RedEyedMonster8

Why is it every single time Gamespot posts an article about this game the comments are always filled with whining and stupidity?

Snaptrap
Snaptrap

Diablo III will have a good launch because it's Diablo. Hack 'N' Slash was fun back in the days of Diablo II, but now it has become stale, and this will be the problem. Blizzard is out of gas and that's why they're falling back on old franchises that have worn thin.

midnight_trashh
midnight_trashh

Who cares if people don't want to pay 60$ for a game. It's their choice. So what? I'll be buying the game as soon as it's released. Will I get ripped off? Maybe. But i got the money to pay for it because I like to waste money on shit that I don't need. :D

kokonut1971
kokonut1971

I am so tired of people saying other people well if you do not like it then don't use it. Like the auction house in the game. Its like some person say to another person well if you don't like pollution don't use your car to go to work.

 

Its non-logic to say to someone to not do something or use something when it is available or in this case a feature in the game.  Personally i am only going to use this to complete the story and then its gonna stay in digital limbo. I am not gonna become the next gaming superstar or burn long hours on this. There are way too many games out there to be stuck on one game.

 

I see diablo 3 having a good start but it will dies quickly like starcraft 2 did, made a big splash, people played it and then went on to other things. Its not gonna create any new era in gaming as it does not seem to create anything new. Its just a mish-mash of diablo games and wow mixed together to give you the illusion that the game is complex. Most of the lenght of the game will probably be spent going thru new game menus or looking at stats. You take that away there would not be much left to the game. I am not saying ti is gonna be all bad. but it is not gonna be a game changer.

 

its gonna get high grades, because it is hyped up and is a franchise game but if this would come from any other studio than Blizzard and if it was a first game it would not get high scores. Look at Titan quest and you'll see that it was a very good clone of Diablo and is almost if not better in some areas in quality of diablo 3 and it got poor scores..

 

so there you have it... i bought the game for the story but you wont see me in the auction house just so that blizzard can abuse me afterwards with their e-@y like fees for using their auction house.

 

anyways

 

peace on.

Nuke_FonKillazz
Nuke_FonKillazz

be happy u need pay only 60$ i needed pay 60euro and its totaly worth

Born_Lucky
Born_Lucky

Divinity II - Dragon Knight Saga

King's Bounty: Collection (Legend/Armored Princess/Crossworlds)

Mass Effect 2

Disciples III

Mount and Blade Mount and Blade Warband

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl

Broken Sword: Twin Pack

Gothic II

Gothic 3

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

 

All that for less than $80 There's no way I'm paying $60 for ONE game - it's never gonna happen.

grahamrenney78
grahamrenney78

no game is worth $60 - especially an overhyped game like Diablo 3 - let the franchise rest in piece while people still have good memories

OgreB
OgreB

Still not buying.

Open beta saved me 60 bucks.

 

 

openup
openup

Asking if the genre has somehow passsed Diablo by is like asking if people are feed up on hamburgers and fries, it is basic and timeless. I personaly HATE Diablo and the clickfest RPGs, so it is the same to me, but I know that there is quite a captive audience for this sort of game. On and shame on Blizzard for their stupid DRM scheme; that online everywhere idea sounds just like that

zenstrata
zenstrata

I will not purchase this game due to its abusive customer policies.  The always-online play requriement, real-money auction house, and lack of LAN support are game breakers for me.  This game needs to fail miserably, because if it does not, we can look forward to a gaming future with ever increasing restrictive, draconian, and anti-consumer business practices.

Sully0227
Sully0227

This game was so much fun in the Beta, even though the Beta was so short and everyone just seemed to want to rush through it as fast as they could after they beat it themselves either the first time or once on each Class.

 

Multiplayer Co-op storyline is a blast because the loot that drops is all for you. There's no "need or greed"...keeps the game pace moving...but you can trade with other players if its an upgrade for them. So much fun!

 

Can't wait till the 15th!!

buffalo16and0
buffalo16and0

Blizzard has the best resume for not releasing flops. Much like Starcraft 2, don't change your formula too much and release a bug free game. I dont think you really need to "push" blizzard to be innovative.

Nuke_FonKillazz
Nuke_FonKillazz

6 more days..........i dont know if i will last that long.....*ugh*

Kryptonbornson
Kryptonbornson

I just read something where they were talking about why they decided against a third person camera. Other games have sucessfully moved on to 3rd person like Zelda and even the Witcher, which had optional isometric or over-the-should views improved with it's sequel to something on par to Zelda. I wonder how many people, who aren't into multiplayer will compare this to Darksiders 2 or other combat heavy adventure/rpgs. They can pretend it's a different kind of game if they want to, but I think Blizzard was afraid to compete with the likes of more modern games. It's a shame too because I really fell in love with Diablo 3's flavor after the beta. They would have to claim that games like Devil May Cry don't sucessfully handle thing similar to teleporting or handling large volume of enemies. They tried to use Bethesda style combat as an argument a for some reason.

paulosouza
paulosouza

. Is the article absolute shit? Yes it is. Does it say anything new? No it doesn't. Thegirl who wrote this trash is probably one of those people who complain about lack of innovation, and when an innovative feature fails, complains that devs didn't stick to a working old formulae.

tanktank537
tanktank537

Wow, an actual news article on a gaming website. I want to thank you, Laura, for writing such an unbiased and informative article, I really enjoyed reading it. We need a lot more of these instead of writers trying to throw their worthless opinions in with the facts..

 

volcax
volcax

Any true Diablo fan had already pre-ordered the game a year ago. I've pre-ordered Torchlight 2 as well.

All this whinging that the game will suck is just anti-corperationism. Yes, the Beta was disappointing, it was the BETA for christ sake!

I'm still warming up on Diablo 2, and still loving every minute. I loved torchlight, but there's only so many time you can re-play it. If D3 is as good as D2, perfect. If it's better, Fan-fucking-tastic! T2 had better be better than T1, but for what you pay, who can complain, seriously!

ironfoxgamer
ironfoxgamer

It will be better in the original game....they just can't disappoint us with the beta and then change nothing!

ChaosUndivided
ChaosUndivided

Any fan of Hack & Slash RPGs will be excited with the release of these 2 titles. The last decent games of this genre were Titans Quest and Dungeon Siege 2.

baal46
baal46

If D3 is disappointing, I have a feeling TL2 and Path of Exile will be right there to pick up the slack.

Albaficas
Albaficas

D3 sucked i expected more after ALL those years blizz worked for this game

Path of Exile and Lineage Eternal are soooo gonna own this game.

y3ivan
y3ivan

 @grahamrenney78 It way too overhyped. Old Diablo fans will get it regardless similiar with Starcraft2.

 

Seriously i would throw money on TL2 and get this maybe 2 yrs later when its cheap

Deihjan
Deihjan

 @zenstrata Just so you know, you're not required to use the auction house nor real money in the auction house.

You can use in-game gold as well as Blizzard Bucks, that you can earn to buy new WoW subscriptions etc.

While I don't support the Blizzard Bucks thing, I think the auction house could be a good idea. It was very limited in the Beta while I tried it, so I don't know -exactly- how it works beyond the currency.

Puffinmuffin
Puffinmuffin

Wait...what? Blizzard decided against a 3rd-person camera for Diablo III? Huh? That doesn't make sense. Action-rpgs specifically use that format for obvious reasons. Surely you must be mistaken? The game most certainly must use a top-down 3rd-person view, right?

hawsman3
hawsman3

 @tanktank537 Was that sarcasm? The writer opens up the conversation with a slanted, obviously controversial title, and then proceeds to just copy and paste from developer interviews she didn't even perform. It's trolling, and the worst part about it is it's BAD trolling. She doesn't even support the premise of her own article. "Has Diablo Stalled" sounds like, at first glance, that Diablo 3 is a floundering franchise that's about to put out a weak product, but then passes out benedictions on the entire genre, like the Action RPG has always been the best of the best of the best, and this and Torchlight 2 will only make it better

rodrover
rodrover

 @Albaficas so u played the beta and u say the game sucked, u sir, is dumb like a door knob

Kryptonbornson
Kryptonbornson

 @Albaficas Yeah, the camera being locked into place in Diablo is going to be a problem and so is the fact that they refuse to leave older computers behind.

ggregd
ggregd

 @Puffinmuffin

 Someone is confusing first-person with third-person.  there's no way Diablo could be first person.  It wouldn't be Diablo.

Lozzica
Lozzica moderator

 @hawsman3 Actually, the video interview with Jay Wilson that is on the site was done by me. I also interviewed Max S for this piece. All the quotes in this article are from interviews that I have done. As for the title, it is simply a question, one that I think is very clearly answered in the article.

tanktank537
tanktank537

 @hawsman3 I avoid sarcasm because it is difficult to properly convey through writing alone.

 

I admit that the title is a little misleading at first, but after reading the article, stalling very obviously refers to the lack of innovation in the gameplay of the series and how it has barely changed from previous games. Not whether or not the Diablo series is going to flop.  There is very little innovation in D3, it is mostly about updating and improving existing elements, not adding new ones. Not saying that it's a bad thing, but is it good? We'll see. That is basically what was written in the article.

 

The reason I like the article was because she didn't make conjectures or extrapolations or spurt opinions throughout it. It was all reliable quotes and factual statements, that's what good reporting is. The last two paragraphs at the end of the article talking about the genre are direct quotes from the developers of D3 and Torchlight 2, not her words. Nothing in the article leads me to believe that she is promoting the Action RPG genre other than the fact that she is reporting on it.

 

She didn't go off on a tangent talking about how the always online requirement for D3 would destroy the game and suppress the playerbase like other writers might. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but it isn't really up to the reporter to go there. Gamespot is a gaming news site, not a gaming blog. Gimme the news, not your opinions, I can come up with my own.

tanktank537
tanktank537

 @Albaficas It's a general trend in gaming news for writers to place their opinions as often as facts in articles, normally stuff just to create controversy and it gets really old really fast. I just want an unbiased source of news for once, which is damned near impossible to find today.

tanktank537
tanktank537

 @AlbaficasI have been a subscriber for 7 years, and I prefer it to every other site. Not really sure where you got that idea.

Albaficas
Albaficas

 @rodrover it sucked PERIOD the gameplay WONT change it will remain the same and thats all i needed to know.

 

i wont mention the graphics wich looks HORRIBLE for again all these years of work on this game...they look jsut like WoW FFS...its 2012 already not 2004

Deihjan
Deihjan

 @y3ivan Isn't that just for Blizzard Buck/real life money transactions?

Not that it matters to me, I won't be utilizing the auction house unless I can't get all the dyes. Armor is such a trivial matter, unless they suddenly decide to bring back runewords and all of that stuff that made me loathe online D2 play.