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Diablo 4 Gauntlet: Shrine On!

Shrine

The Gauntlet is the most recent addition to the Diablo 4 endgame, and the first iteration was released just a week ago on March 5th. As is customary for new Diablo 4 content, it has received lots of attention, scrutiny, and criticism. The current Gauntlet map concludes tomorrow morning and the next one is scheduled to go live right after that at 11:15 a.m. PST. Before we all dive into navigating the next challenge, let us take a look back at what the first week brought to the world of Diablo 4.

LeviathanCampfire Chat Demos

Five days before the first Gauntlet map was released, we were treated to three gameplay videos during the most recent Campfire Chat Livestream. The videos featured a few Blizzard staff members running the Gauntlet once each with a different class, including Liam Kerr, Associate Class Designer, running a Bone Spear Necromancer, and John Constable, Senior Gameplay Engineer, running a Ball Lightning Sorcerer. The best score of 298,825, which was enough to merit the Seal of the Worthy, was achieved by Stephen Stewart (a.k.a. Leviathan from Diablo 3 Demon Hunter fame), Associate Class Designer, running a HOTA Charge Barbarian. The first question on the minds of a lot of players at that point was how difficult would it be to replicate his achievement? After all, those demos were run by Blizzard employees who enjoy the added advantages of being such. However, the most burning question was whether or not a score of nearly 300K would ensure a top spot on one of the Leaderboards.

Running the Gauntlet

Perfect AmuletTrue to form, some of the most well-known and respected Diablo 4 GigaChads managed to thrash the first Gauntlet challenge within 48 hours following its release. Top-ranked players were soon hitting final scores that were more than three to four times higher than the best score achieved during the demos.

It then became clear that the most effective strategy for achieving a high score revolved around the Pillars and Shrines. Compared to pushing Geater Rifts in Diablo 3, which is all about survival and DPS, the Gauntlet is, instead, all about speed and the optimal chaining of shrine buffs. Therefore, being able to take down the bosses effeciently is important in order to repeatedly spawn shrines and keep the shrine buff domino effect going. That’s why players with consistenly high scores usually have all three Uber Unique items for their class equipped to handle the damage dealing side of the equation. After that, it’s about determining the best path between shrines in order to optimize the overlap of shrine effects, pulling mobs to the Pillards of Glory before activating them, and equipping other gear items that provide buffs to shrine duration and movement speed. Consequently, figuring out the best builds for the Gauntlet has involved incrementally sacrificing some Damage and Toughness in favor of even the slightest boosts to speed, cooldown, and shrine effects. Shrine buff duration is an item stat that most Diablo players had previously paid little attention to. However, it is now probably among the most desirable stats to have on a gear item like an amulet.

Gauntlet PathBefore long, the Sorcerer class began to emerge as the most effective for achieving the highest scores for both solo and multiplayer runs. This clearly made sense because spamming the Teleport skill speeds up the progress through the dungeon (Diablo 2 fans, does this sound familiar?). No other class can curently match the Sorcerer attack speed and synergy when using Teleport to jump from enemy to enemy. In fact, a solo Sorcerer player was the first to break the 1 Million score threshold for this very reason. A community update that was posted yesterday indicated that there is yet another new Sorcerer META based around the Blizzard Mastery. This ties in with another factor that contributes to a successful Gauntlet strategy, which is to take as many trips as possible through the map during the eight-minute run. A graphic that was recently shared by the community shows a path that is comprised of nearly five complete tours through the dungeon in order to achieve a score above 1M.

One important outcome of all this is that build diversity in the Gauntlet has already begun to noticeably diminish among those players who are serious about achieving the highest overall ranks on the Leaderboards. This result is likely inconsistent with the goals of the Diablo 4 Devs, who have repeatedly expressed their preference for promoting build diversity, while being reminiscent of the small assortment of S-Tier builds that almost everyone uses to push GRs during any given Season in Diablo 3.

Player Feedback

A poll was posted on the PureDiablo Twitter page on the same day that the Gauntlet was released. Most of the players who replied indicated that they were not really that interested in trying this new challenge. This may have been due to the rapid achievement of what many casual players viewed as impossibly high scores. Early in the week we saw posts from players who were feeling pretty good about their 500K+ scores. That is, until they got a look at the scores that were in first place. It became readily apparent that any hopes of being immortalized in the Hall of the Ancients was an honor that would likely be reserved for only the top pro players.

It turns out that the greatest challenge associated with the Gauntlet is time more than anything else. It’s a masterpiece of excessive trial and error and, as a result, it is out of reach for casual players who must budget their time in-game. Some casual players were expecting to be able to view the builds of top-ranked players as a means of expediting the process of assembling their own builds. To make matters worse, however, that expectation has been somewhat undermined due to many top players electing to keep their profiles private in order to remain more competitive.

Solo Barb

The most common requests from those players who are still actively engaged in the Gauntlet are for greater difficulty, larger maps, and more monster density. These players are simply running out of enough enemies and respawns, resulting in a score cap that is currently around 1.4M. The goal then, of course, is to allow for a more straightforward path to even higher scores. Nevertheless, the scores thus far have been very impressive and have likely exceeded Developer expectations. It’s just a matter of time until we discover how the Gauntlet will evolve in order to keep more players actively engaged.

Some of the other frequent suggestions for improvement from the community have included the following:

  • Implementing another way to exit and restart the Gauntlet other than having to locate the Exit Icon, allowing the timer to run out, or restarting the game (This may be resolved with the next Patch).
  • Launching the Gauntlet at the beginning of the Season to give players more of an incentive to level their characters up to 100 while the new Season hype is still alive.
  • Introducing brand new bosses to the Gauntlet dungeons. Really, how many times can we be expected to kill a Tomb Lord before it becomes painfully boring?
  • Adding the Gauntlet to the Eternal Realm.
  • Requiring all Leaderboard player profiles to be made public with a snapshot of the build at the time the Gauntlet was completed.

 

In Search of an Endgame Loop

The Gauntlet is Season-only content that starts in WT4 and it is designed ideally for players who have already reached Level 100, upgraded all their Glyphs to Level 21, and have farmed the three Uber Unique gear items for their class . The event itself doesn’t yield much of anything significant in the way of gear or other resources that would contribute to player progression in a meaningful way. It’s also relatively easy to play in that it lacks any real challenges that would highlight a player’s advanced gaming skills or knowledge, unlike the Echo of Lilith, for example. In other words, it’s more or less specifically intended to cater to only those players who are willing to put in the time necessary in order to achieve the fame and glory that comes with being immortalized in the Hall of the Ancients. The result of all this, generally speaking, is that the Gauntlet sits somewhat outside of the Diablo 4 Endgame loop for most players, as was also the case for the Abattoir of Zir.

For many dedicated and long-term fans of the Diablo game series, the Gauntlet feels just like busy work to keep them occupied until the end of the current Season. It’s not particularly engaging or exciting, it doesn’t require a great deal of min-maxing, and, so, it doesn’t feel like the kind of Leaderboard activities they’ve known in the past. As it stands, they say that the Gauntlet is mostly just about running around in circles through a dungeon until you figure out how to do it without getting dizzy and falling over.

In a way, this does seem to be consistent with one of the overall trends we’ve seen in the game since it launched last year. The Developers have, perhaps reluctantly, been compelled to make several incremental changes in order to satisfy gamers who seem to want the game to essentially play itself. I suspect that this approach is partly the result of Blizzard trying to achieve an effective balance between producing an ARPG that is genuinely challenging and compelling while, at the same time, keeping an eye on their bottom line. Can’t say I really blame them, though, given how much the video gaming industry has evolved since the release of Diablo 2.

However, one of the conspicuous consequences of this is that many of the pro streamers who had embraced Diablo 3 for years are not pushing the Gauntlet, or any other Diablo 4 Endgame feature for that matter. Those streamers are now playing other games to pass the time, or have permanently expanded their channels to include a larger variety of games. It remains to be seen whether future changes to Itemization and the establishment of a bona fide endgame loop in Diablo 4 will recapture some of the bandwidth that the Diablo game series has enjoyed in the past.

My Two Gold Pieces

Gauntlet MapAs I have mentioned multiple times in past articles, Diablo 4 is still in its infancy as far as Diablo games go. For example, I honestly didn’t really get into Diablo 2 until D2R was released because I lacked the talent to effectively manage the relatively limited stash space in D2 Vanilla, nor was I inclined to use mules or a stash plugin. As for Diablo 3, I pretty much just waited until the Crusader class was added before I really dove into that game. The point here, obviously, is that Diablo games have a long-standing tradition of getting much better over the long-term. I expect the same will turn out to be true for Diablo 4 and, in the meantime, the game isn’t going anywhere.

With regard to the Gauntlet, keep in mind that it’s been out for only one week and that METAs are revealed incrementally through the combined efforts of many players working independently over time. Leaderboard ranks have always come down to repetition and execution rather than abrupt build innovation. Therefore, there’s absolutely no need to stress over some top players deciding to keep their builds secret, because the details will be revealed eventually and fan sites like PureDiablo will feature more build guides that are specifically geared towards this particular type of content. As a matter of fact, the PureDiablo website has now added a new Gauntlet Maps Guide section to make it even easier for folks like us to participate.

At the same time, it will likely never be practical for casual players to legitimately compete with the pros. In fact, I’ve often thought that there should be a separate Leaderboard section for Diablo Partners and Twitch Partners. However, since that’s never going to happen, the rest of us just need to accept the fact that the Hall of the Ancients is, in reality, the Hall of the Pro Blasters. Providing a means for gaming pros to promote themselves has been, and will likely always be, a necessary component of the AAA Gaming marketplace.

So, what do we do? I’ve always taken the approach that I’ll just have fun playing Diablo and then look for commensurate competition elsewhere. After all, a game like Diablo is, at its core, primarily meant to allow players to immerse themselves in a power fantasy by battling against the minions of evil, and competing with other players in a feature like the Gauntlet does tend to conflict with that. Nevertheless, playing Seasons and the Gauntlet is still fun and it can still be challenging to attempt to surpass your own personal best score, or those of your friends or fellow clan members, etc. Don’t let yourself be annoyed by competitive game modes that are designed for a niche group of players. In other words, failing to obtain the Seal of the Worthy does not, in any way, mean that you are an unworthy player.

I want to also point out that week one has not escaped players using exploits and hopefully, these will be fixed for today’s new map.

Disclaimer

We would love to hear your opinions on the matter, so please sound off in the comments section below or contact me on Twitter. Please also keep an eye on the news feed here at PureDiablo so you’ll have all the up-to-date info you need to get the most out of your game.

If you believe that any of the information shared above is inaccurate in any way, please let us know, along with a reference for the correct information, so we can update this document accordingly.

Cheers,
Gazerrick


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