Diablo 3 Beta Receives Massive, Worrying Skill & Attribute Changes
Patch 13: February 18, 2012
The first implementation of the rune system became available to testers five months after the start of closed beta — and it was a completely different system from what we’ve been seeing in previews. Rather than a variety of physical rune stones that you can randomly find as loot and apply to a skill, “skill runes” are now unlocked as you level up, the same way skills are.
While Jay Wilson presented cogent arguments as to why the system we’ve been presented is superior to the system we were previously promised, he did also hint that the old implementation may have been too great a task to finish in time for D3′s release window:
But with around 120 base skills, that meant there were around 600 rune variants; on top of that, each variant had five quality levels each, meaning ultimately there would be something like 3,000 different runes in the game… and we knew we were heading toward a problem.
Wilson conceded the difficulties the team has been having with the rune system and that not all fans would react positively to the changes:
Runes have been by far the biggest design hurdle we’ve had in the game, and as you know we’ve been continually iterating on them. We fully expect that some of you will be disappointed that runes won’t be part of the itemization system.
What we’re seeing are various pieces of evidence pointing toward a concerning picture:
Diablo 3 is not ready to be released. It’s not even close to being ready.
Patches 5 and 10 showed us that it could take three months of beta testing for a new feature to be phased out. Patches 10 and 13 suggest that Blizzard is cutting and trimming down features in order to meet their deadlines, but introduce massive changes to core game systems. If another three months of beta testing are required to finalize the current systems, then D3 could be deemed ready for release by late April or early May — and that’s assuming no other major changes along the way.
During the Activision Blizzard Q4 2011 conference call, Blizzard promised its shareholders a 2012 release for Diablo 3, with a target window of Q2 2012 — anywhere between April and June. Historically, Blizzard has announced release dates about two months prior to a release. Slap that two-month buffer onto another three months of beta, and Blizzard may just squeeze out D3 by Q2′s end.
The StarCraft 2 closed beta began five months prior to the game’s release and receive 17 patches. While it went through a bounty of balance changes, there were no major, core system changes like we’re seeing with Diablo 3. The most significant new feature added throughout the SC2 beta was the map editor, which became available in patch 9 in late April.
The changes we’ve been seeing in the D3 beta are not minor balance adjustments and fine-tuning — they are massive, sweeping changes to core game systems. Major alterations need to be extensively beta-tested, and evidence suggests Blizzard is struggling to get D3 in a release-ready state before they miss their launch window.
When D3′s patch 10 released, Wilson said:
There’s a lot of work left to be done, though. We’re constantly tuning and making balance changes; it’s a massive task. (…) We want Diablo III to be the best game it can be when it launches. To get there, we’re going to be iterating on designs we’ve had in place for a long time, making changes to systems you’ve spent a lot of time theorycrafting, and removing features you may have come to associate with the core of the experience.
While this is certainly a laudable goal, will Blizzard be able to maintain its high standards and meet its Q2 window?
One of Blizzard’s greatest strengths has always been its intent on releasing games when they are ready. Wilson explained:
While working on Diablo III we’ve been called out for messing around with systems too much, that the game is good as-is and we should just release it. I think that’s a fair argument to make, but I also think it’s incorrect. Our job isn’t just to put out a game, it’s to release the next Diablo game. No one will remember if the game is late, only if it’s great. We trust in our ability to put out a great game, but we’re not quite there yet. In addition to finishing and polishing the content of the game we’re continuing to iterate on some of the core game systems.
I have faith that Blizzard can make the right design choices to make D3 great. The question is, will the company be forced to release the game early to meet shareholder expectations, and if not, how “late” will D3 be?