Time for another round of good news/utterly mystifying news. First up, Blizzard's detailed Diablo III update 1.0.4, and it sounds like - at the very least - its heart is in the right place. The rather hefty patch is meant to stitch up some of the hell-themed hack 'n' slash's biggest trouble spots - for instance, the snooze-inducing weakness of normal enemies, a lack of excitement in item identification, and certain wimpy, underused skills. So that's the good. And the utterly mystifying? That award goes to the part where Blizzard's Wyatt Cheng outright states that solo play is the "clear choice" of Diablo players, which is apparently a problem. [Note: this post has been visited by the update fairy! Go past the break for details.]
This, of course, suggests that the sort of Diablo experience many players want and the one Blizzard constantly fights to provide are very, very different. And while that was fairly apparent back when Diablo's always online requirement was announced, there are now raw numbers to back it up. To Blizzard's credit, its solution to this un-dilemma is to make co-op more enjoyable, but the lack of a simple offline mode becomes more and more baffling by the day. [Update: Blargh, I goofed. While I still think Blizzard should consider other reasons players might prefer flying solo, Cheng's largely referring to the high-end farming experience here. My knee has since been harshly reprimanded for jerking so irrationally, and it won't be getting deserts for a whole week.] At any rate, here's Cheng's take:
"While many people are playing co-op, it’s still a minority of games. Ideally we would like players who want to play solo to be able to solo, and players who want to play co-op to play co-op. At the moment though playing solo is the clear choice, even for those who would prefer co-op with some of their friends."
"The first change we’re making in 1.0.4 for co-op is to remove averaging in multiplayer games of Magic Find and Gold Find. You’ll benefit from your full Magic Find stat, independent of other players in the game.... Along the same lines as the change in 1.0.3, we’re going to be lowering the health multiplier for monsters per additional player in co-op games. This makes enemies far more manageable in co-op games, and rewards a co-ordinated group with a higher farming efficiency than playing alone."
Meanwhile, enemies will also see some big changes, mainly in regard to the gap between normal monsters and elites. In short, normals are gaining health, and elites won't be quite as damage-spongy as they used to. On top of that, elites are losing Enrage Timers and heal-back-to-full abilities, because Blizzard deemed those bits more frustrating than fun. Next up, high-level weapons are having their damage ceilings raised, so as to give some viability back to weapon drops.
As for underused skills, Blizzard plans to detail them individually on a class-by-class basis. But the general philosophy behind the tinkerings sounds, well, sound. Basically, polish and buff - don't heap nerf-flavored rust on the good stuff to make sure the whole arsenal's equally mediocre.
So that's nice to hear. Surely, though, most of you have left Tristram for greener pastures by now, right? I mean, if any other developer was talking about improving its game's farming experience - well, aside from maybe Zynga or Natsume - to keep max level players from following their wanderlust, it'd be a sign that the game's run its course. Diablo's fun for 60-100 hours. That's fantastic! Far more than most games. And what happens after that? Well, you move on.