We’re all aware of the recent news about how Diablo 4 is supposedly dead, the game has gone down in flames, nobody will ever play it again, and Blizzard’s heyday in the gaming world is over and will never return. In particular, a video was posted recently that got a good deal of attention by presenting the case for why Diablo 4 is “the biggest disappointment in all of gaming history.” Apart from being a rather bold claim, much of what was offered to back it up was fabricated, intentionally misleading, speculative, and crammed with hyperbole and superlatives.
It is true that the launch of this new game has been hampered by some serious problems and has turned many players away, perhaps for good. However, the situation may not be as dire as some would want us to believe. So, let’s take a closer look at both sides of what’s happened over the past few months and what the future may hold for this game.
The biggest disappointment?
Like most, or all, of you, I am truly interested in watching and reading reviews of games that have caught my attention in one way or another. However, the video mentioned above starts right off with some dubious assertions, which made me quite suspicious. While the game has certainly been a disappointment in a variety of ways, how was the qualification as “the biggest disappointment in gaming history” arrived at? Needless to say, the video producers offered no actual basis whatsoever for this designation. I do seem to recall, for example, that the initial releases of Fallout 76 and Cyberpunk 2077 were also hailed as disasters. So, has the launch of Diablo 4 been even worse than that? What about Diablo Immortal? A very popular and prestigious gamer resource website flushed all of its DI content right down the drain in protest of the allegedly unfair microtransactions in the game (DI is still very much alive and well, BTW). However, the same site still fully supports Diablo 4, yet we’re told that Diablo 4 is, nevertheless, the bigger disappointment.
Some stats were presented in the first few minutes of the video as well. The first image depicted the steady decline in the number of Diablo 4 players over the past few months. The graph showed two lines with no legend and no source was cited. There was also another image comparing the number of Diablo 4 viewers on Twitch during the last quarter of Season 1 to the number of Diablo 3 viewers during the first weekend of Season 29. I don’t see how that comparison is meaningful given that many popular streamers paused their Diablo 4 games to participate in the start of Season 29. Yes, it’s true, even the most devoted Streamers and Content Creators do leave their Diablo games occasionally to satisfy their viewers, but it doesn’t mean they’re not coming back.
Speaking of viewers, when I popped over to Twitch while writing this paragraph, I saw five times as many viewers for Diablo 4 as compared to Diablo 3. It’s also true that the Diablo 4 Developer Update Livestream from earlier this week peaked at well more than 17,000 viewers. Not a massive amount of viewership, true, but still pretty good for a livestream during the middle of a workday about a game that’s supposedly dead.
Comparing seeds and cinders
So, why continue to trash Diablo 4 with an elaborately produced video this far into the game’s launch, rather than just letting it die? While it may be true that some gamers legitimately need an outlet for their angst and frustration, there are probably a few other reasons for doing so that are much simpler and more obvious.
There is, and always will be, a fair number of Content Creators who produce game content but don’t actually play the games. One of the most effective business models in that situation may be to just trash games by regurgitating the negative comments and complaints found on the discussion forums. It’s called the Rage-Bait Bandwagon, because if it clicks – then it pays, and there’s plenty of guys out there making a good living simply by keeping that wagon rolling. As one Redditor recently pointed out, “the same Bandwagon that in past years utterly trashed Diablo 3 has gone full revisionist by declaring it a peerless masterpiece for the sake of dumping on Diablo 4 even more.”
Speaking of discussion forums, players with complaints who are not spending time playing games are far more incentivized to post on the forums compared to satisfied players who are busy playing games. Consequently, the overall tone of some discussion forums can end up being relatively negative.
Comparing one game to another game that’s of a different type and in a different genre can be misleading. Many negative reviews have compared the failure of Diablo 4 to the recent success of Baldur’s Gate 3. However, Baldur’s Gate 3 was released in August 2023, which is more than 20 years after Baldur’s Gate 2. That suggests there was nowhere near as much of a rush to release it compared to Diablo 4. It’s also true that the number of Baldur’s Gate 3 viewers on Twitch as I write this paragraph is less than the number of viewers for Diablo 3 at the start of Season 29. A precipitous falloff in the number of Twitch viewers for any new AAA game is pretty much a given as a result of the most popular streamers moving from one game to another due to the high level of competition in the industry. It’s also true that players simply do not have as much patience as they did 10 or 20 years ago. How big were Twitch, YouTube, and Netflix back when Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 were released? Players just don’t stick around as much as they once did, yet some reviewers still compare the level of player interest in new games to the lasting loyalty for games that launched back in a different entertainment era.
Many players just don’t know what they really want in a game and repeatedly flip flop on their opinions. As another Redditor recently pointed out, “There was nothing wrong with the level scaling, I never once felt underpowered, and we got XP for participating in world content. Nevertheless, too many players complained that they were dying too often. In response, Blizzard reported that they would tone it down and all of the complainers were happy again. That is until the patch went live and they tried playing the game again. Then they went right back to complaining, but this time it was about not getting enough XP. Congrats, y’all played yourselves.”
The nitty gritty
Okay, so maybe we’re really not supposed to take seriously the sensational titles and bold claims of negative reviews like those mentioned above. However, the game has, indeed, been hampered by some serious problems, at least that much is true. So, let’s now take a brief look back at the series of mishaps that may have led us to where we are now in Diablo 4.
Not long after Diablo 4 was announced at Blizzcon 2019, the sky began to fall at Blizzard as a result of the gross mismanagement of staff, to put it simply. The result of that was massive delays and the loss of a lot of talent, which could have only further weakened the development team that was working on their first Diablo game. No surprise, then, that the release of Diablo 4 kept getting pushed back until upper management decided to just go ahead with releasing the game as it was in June of this year.
The downward trajectory of the development process can be traced by reviewing the Diablo 4 Quarterly Updates over the years between the game’s announcement and its release. We initially saw a good deal of confident reporting about the core game systems, which was followed in the next few updates with reports that were apparently less confident and more confusing. The two or three updates prior to the release really didn’t talk about the core systems at all and focused on what was essentially the window dressing for the game.
The end result, of course, is that we got a game that was nowhere near being fully developed and the response from players has clearly reflected this. This fact was made even worse by the initial fear and flood of negative press associated with microtransactions (which was unfounded, thankfully) and the misguided intentions of the Make Your Mark race and Patch 1.1.
The question, though, is whether the Diablo community would have been willing to wait another year or two so that the Devs could catch up. The answer to that question from upper management at Blizzard was obviously a resounding no, and I suspect most players would have been unwilling to hang on much longer either. So, we got the game we got, but what do we do now?
A soul in search of answers
The purpose for going over the Nitty Gritty is to help put things in perspective. Most notable is the fact that the current problems with the game are not entirely due to the ineptitude of the developers. The parts of the game that were/are missing are so obvious that it seems unlikely they were omitted purely as the result of developer oversight and lack of vision. In fact, given all of what was going on at Blizzard between 2019 and 2023, not to mention the ongoing acquisition by Microsoft on top of everything else, it’s a wonder that we got as much of the game as we did. It stands to reason, then, that the Devs could get themselves caught up, and the new talent more up to speed, given enough time. At least we hope so, anyway.
Ultimately, the health of any game is determined by the fun and enjoyment of the average player. For example, sometimes class balance can be a bit overrated and less of it can actually be more fun. The Devs seem to have received that, as well as several other, messages from the community loud and clear and have incorporated a great deal of player feedback into their vision and plans for the game going forward.
Earlier this week the Developers did a livestream that showcased all of the changes and additions that will be included in Season 2, and there’s still much more in store for the Campfire Chat next week. Many Content Creators and Journalists posted positive reviews of the work that has been done recently to get the game in better shape. Some of them have said that it’s now looking like the Devs have finally had the chance to complete more of what they would have wanted to accomplish prior to release if they could have.
Either way, the Devs will have, by the start of Season 2, crossed a number of items off their punch list and have also indicated they are working on many more. Have a look at our full recap of the most recent Developer Update Livestream here.
Missing in action
For those of us who have not yet decided that Diablo 4 is deserving of a death sentence, there are some blatantly obvious improvements that are needed and worth looking out for as the Devs proceed with presenting their updates. Last week’s article entitled Diablo 4 Season 2 Wishlist reviewed several of those needed improvements, some of which were addressed in the Developer Update earlier in this week, including the following:
- The issue of broken core game systems like resistances and the variety of available ways to deal damage, both of which have contributed to the lackluster leveling progression in the late endgame. The Devs have already reported that they are well aware of these problems and will present their intial solutions in next week’s Campfire Chat.
- Then there is the the lack of content in the late endgame, which was likely the result of having to rush to get the game ready for launch. Everyone has complained about how relatively dull the grind is from Level 70 to 100, and they’re right. It seems like the Devs just wanted to get us through the campaign and World Tier 3 with the time they had left to develop the game prior to launch.
- Another part of addressing the issue of inadequate endgame content is that the game needs a more sustainable gameplay loop. One of the most well-liked features of Diablo 3 is its Paragon farming loop. Start with Nephalem Rifts for rift keys, then Greater Rifts for gold and loot, followed by Bounties for materials, and finally burning through all that gold and materials at the Mystic and Kanai’s Cube to upgrade your gear. You can efficiently rinse and repeat with relatively little effort for hours at a time, and it’s also fun to watch.
- There are certainly mixed feelings in the Diablo community regarding the role of leaderboards. Some gamers feel that this feature detracts from the immersiveness of an open world game and also invites botting. However, leaderboards have a great deal to do with what drives the gameplay loop engine I just described. I understand wanting to give players a couple of Seasons to get their footing in this new game. However, without a compelling reason to continue to grind, many players have felt like they just ran out of things to do. Either way, the Devs have already confirmed that leaderboards will be added to the game in Season 3.
- Speaking of the open world of Sanctuary, the Devs may have pushed a little too hard with this concept in order to create an even greater sense of immersion. However, if over-world activities become practically useless and random encounters with other players are essentially meaningless, then the open world really doesn’t add much excitement or satisfaction to the game. Consequently, this is another important area that needs to be addressed and some of the changes coming with Season 2 will begin to fix that.
- Perhaps the most severe casualty of the development debacle described above was Itemization. When Blizzard shared its initial Itemization concepts via the Diablo 4 Developer Updates, the resemblance to Diablo 2 was unmistakable. As time went on, however, the resemblance faded, most likely due to the shortcuts that the development team felt compelled to make.
- Many players have commented about how they just can’t pinpoint the power breakpoints as they progress into the endgame. This feature was much more apparent in Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 and contributed considerably to making those games feel more thrilling. We don’t want to invite power creep simply for the sake of getting those dopamine hits, but we also need to be able to have a greater sense of accomplishment.
- In addition to the items above, there is a need for a more robust clan system. Clans are at the heart of the game for so many casual players and the current system is too shallow and weak.
Looking at the progression of changes and additions planned for the next two patches as a benchmark, we could possibly have a game we can happily call home by the time we reach Season 4 and/or the first expansion. Remember, Diablo 3 launched with gear sets that were max level 60, no Adventure Mode, and no Kanai’s Cube. Would you play Diablo 3 now without those endgame features?
In a recent article I talked about being patient and allowing Diablo 4 to evolve naturally. I am just as disappointed as anyone about the current state of the game compared to what we were all hoping for and expecting based on the pre-release marketing. Nevertheless, as a life-long casual Diablo fan, waiting another year or so for a really great game is pretty much par for the course. In the meantime, there is D2R, DI, and D3, as well as lots of other excellent titles to check out without feeling the least bit guilty.
Redditors are still regularly posting their achievements, such as finally defeating Uber Lilith, so that’s another good sign. I have also seen more positive comments posted in the last couple of days than I’ve probably seen in the past two months, as well as some new videos with titles like “D4 Saved!”. Diablo Derangement Syndrome is still in full swing, as usual, so the haters still gotta hate, you know, because, well that’s just what they do. However, the overall tone of Diablo 4-related media has noticeably improved following the Season 2 update.
Diablo 4 was recently nominated for a Golden Joystick Award in the Best Multiplayer and PC Game of the Year categories, so that’s something too. We also recently saw Elon Musk streaming a Tier 69 NM Dungeon to test the streaming capability on X and Lex Fridman commenting about how he was inspired to try the game as a result, imagine that.
A forum post I recently came across sums it all up quite nicely: “People certainly have lost interest in the game, but that does not mean they will not come back. If Blizzard can find the right elements for their updates, which made this game so successful at launch, there’s no reason Diablo 4 won’t rise again [from the Smoldering Ashes].”
PureDiablo will be publishing a recap in real time for the Campfire Chat on October 10th, so please check back next week for that.
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