Why Blizzard Is Finally Making Bigger Changes To Diablo 2: Resurrected
Player feedback will chart Diablo 2: Resurrected's future, which is now being described as a live-service title.
In the lead-up to Diablo II: Resurrected's launch, Blizzard seemed hesitant to bring major changes to the action-RPG classic, which went on to define an entire genre. Even small new additions, like player characters automatically picking up gold on the ground when walking near it, could be toggled on and off in the game's settings. The message seemed clear: Diablo II: Resurrected may feature a fancy, and optional, new coat of paint, but under the hood, it's still the game so many of Blizzard's longtime fans have continued to play for more than 20 years.
Fast forward a few months post-launch, and Blizzard's plans for Diablo II: Resurrected look different, in large part due to community feedback. A recent update added an optional Diablo III-like action bar for PC players, something that just a few months prior seemed unthinkable. The inclusion of the more modern-day quick-cast functionality seemed to indicate that some important threshold had been crossed in regards to the game's future--perhaps Blizzard was now more open to updating Diablo II in a way that it hadn't been during Resurrected's development.
If that change in philosophy wasn't clear before, it is now. As of Diablo II: Resurrected patch 2.4, slated to release early next year after a period of testing on the game's recently launched public test realm, the game won't be the same RPG fans grew up playing. Patch 2.4 will be the first balance patch for Diablo II since patch 1.13c back in March 2010, bringing changes to class skills, updates for the game's recruitable mercenaries, new Runewords, and more for the first time in more than a decade.
But why are these changes happening now, as opposed to at launch? According to a recent interview with Diablo II: Resurrected producer Matt Cederquist and principal designer Rob Gallerani, the plan was always to get the game fans knew and loved out the door first before looking to the future.
"The reason we didn't come out with it [balance changes] right away was we needed to make sure we gave players that authentic experience," Gallerani said. "If we came out with something that was different from what they remembered, we would have failed on that front. What was awesome was when it came out, we felt pretty confident we stuck the landing. But immediately the feedback became, 'Well, how about you tune this, or tweak, this, or new meta, or add items like this.' So we were very excited to get to bring that forward."
The goal of patch 2.4, Gallerani said, is to make more class builds viable, not to make the entire game perfectly balanced.
"The way we approached that is we're not coming out nerfing anything, right?" he said. "We know everyone likes Hammerdin. We aren't taking that away from people. If you loved your builds, you are still going to love that build."
While patch 2.4 brings major balance changes, it's not going to fundamentally alter the way Diablo II is played on a mechanical level. Many monsters at higher difficulties, for example, will still be immune to fire, a mechanic Gallerani described as "a bridge too far" when it came to a change that, if implemented, would upend the game entirely. Another example of something that won't change is that caster-focused characters will still largely be more powerful than many melee-focused characters. That's simply because of the way melee works in Diablo II, which Gallerani described as more "unreliable" when compared to characters that primarily rely on ranged abilities.
"That being said, a lot of our changes are on builds of all classes that are not as viable," he said. "We didn't touch, for example, the Sorceress, as much as we did the others because she's working great right now. Whereas your Barbs or your Assassins, we gave them a bit more love."
Unlike Resurrected's existing tweaks to the original Diablo II, which can be toggled on or off in the game's settings, patch 2.4 won't be optional. Everyone playing Diablo II: Resurrected will receive the patch and all the balance changes that come with it. That's because, as Gallerani described it, Diablo II: Resurrected is a live-service game. For those who want a classic Diablo II experience, Gallerani points to the fact that the original Diablo II is still playable and won't be going away.
"If you love Diablo II, unchanged, as it was, that game is still there," he said. "We are not taking that away from players."
Deciding what to change and adjust in a two-decade-old game can't be easy, which is why both Gallerani and Cederquist stressed the importance of the game's community and their feedback in charting the course for Diablo II: Resurrected's future. Gallerani used the recent inclusion of the console version's quick-cast feature for PC players as an example.
"Really the quick-cast was intended for a console audience or for a player who chooses to use a controller," Gallerani said. "But the amount of fans who wanted quick-cast brought back to keyboard was so unanimous that we said, 'Well, we have to do that.'"
The upcoming balance changes, Cederquist was quick to point out, also came from feedback the developers were flooded with following the game's launch.
"Diablo II is the staple ARPG, back in its day and still now," Cederquist said. "There are people, including myself, who continue to play, for 20 years, every ladder season. As of right now, we definitely look on the forums [for feedback] and we work with content creators to provide us with specific feedback. We can also go out to them and ask, 'Hey, what do you think about this? Is this too much? How do you feel about this?' Because they are the ones playing the game in-and-out everyday. It's a real connection between the team and the community hand-in-hand."
One major change Cederquist said came as a result of feedback is the adjustment to mercenaries changes arriving with patch 2.4. As it currently stands, most veteran players stick exclusively with the mercenary companion that can be recruited in Act II, as they are widely viewed as the most powerful thanks to a passive aura that buffs the player character in addition to being able to use a specific, powerful Runeword. Patch 2.4 will provide other mercenaries with more health or higher damage potential, while the Act V Barbarian mercenary will get new shout abilities. More significant changes to the game's other mercenaries have yet to be disclosed.
Cederquist said that if enough people in the Diablo II: Resurrected community call for a specific change, the development team would investigate it. What's unclear is what the future might entail when it comes to new content. Patch 2.4 will introduce new Runewords alongside the game's first ladder play season, which will likely shake up the game's meta. When asked if anything was "off the table" in terms of future content, such as new enemies or mercenaries, Gallerani said the team is erring on the side of caution, preferring to make incremental changes to the game and see how fans react to it.
The announcement of patch 2.4 comes as Activision Blizzard continues to deal with the fallout from multiple lawsuits and investigations made public earlier this year that documented an alleged culture of sexual harassment and discrimination at the company. The response of Activision Blizzard leadership in response to those allegations have led to multiple employee walkouts, and recent layoffs at Activision Blizzard-owned Raven Software have led to unionization efforts and an ongoing strike among some employees across the company's various studios.
When asked if the strike and ongoing controversies are impacting Diablo II: Resurrected's development, Gallerani said it does have an effect on team morale, but that he didn't have much to add that hadn't already been "out in the public." He said those on the development team are currently focused on supporting their coworkers and peers through "all of this."
As for Diablo II: Resurrected's future, it seems it will largely be up to the game's most dedicated players to decide what comes next.
"It's really about that player feedback, it's about jumping on the PTR, and telling us what you love," Cederquist said.
Fans eager for more details on the upcoming balance changes can tune in to a livestream featuring Gallerani and Diablo content creator MrLlamaSC on December 16 for more information on patch 2.4.
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