So, I was discussing with some of my B.Net friends about the difficultly of Inferno at launch and now, and I realized something - I've never heard anyone suggest (what I think) is a better way to implement difficulty in an ARPG, and more importantly, how do you design the game so the player can overcome it. I'm mostly interested in it because I don't believe in holding something against someone if I can't at least suggest something else.
Before we start, I think we can agree the item drops were a little off (basically needing to be in Act 3 to get items to let you beat Act 2), and it's not great when mobs can one shot you from off the screen. Aside from these, how would the difficultly have been improved (assuming they stayed true to the original idea, in that only a very few would actually be able to complete it)?
In an ARPG, the obvious way to make it more difficult is increasing monster strength/damage/numbers. Alternately, they could improve the AI. I'm not sure how much the AI could have been improved, so I'll work with the first one (if you have good examples of AI, feel free to work off that).
For dealing with improved monsters, I can only think of a few ways for players to improve: grind for levels, grind for loot, or improve character control so you can manually dodge attacks.
I think in this case, level grinding is out cause you get so little stat bonuses from levels (a few points when you regularly have 1000's of them), so they COULD have done that, but they' either need a HUGE amount of levels, or they'd have to rework the skills/stats so they radically improve every few levels. In any rate, this, to me, is basically the same idea as the loot, so I'll cover more of it there.
Grinding for loot. It's what they did. Yes, a gear check is one form of difficultly, no different than any other RPG. The issue here is the same as gaining levels, as things tend to increase exponentially, then eventually you get to the point where you have to take 100 hours to get any progress (unless they just make it so you can out level any content). For levels, it's because it always takes more to gain the next level than it did before (linear, exponential, or quadratic only change how fast that happens). For items, it's because every upgrade puts you closer to the BiS, which means there are less items that can be an upgrade.
For the player skill, I tend to believe them when they said it wasn't much fun to try and dodge EVERY attack (which is what they said most people ended up trying to do). I, personally, think so because the mouse is actually a really clunky way to move around (not aim, it's really good for that). I mean, we only have a limited form of this (kiting) and many of the guides comparing kiting builds to others all say the same, many people find this boring. This changes in a game with different controls (for example, the best part of Kingdom of Amalur's combat was that I could dodge or block or parry instead of just taking the hit).
So, all that said, I can't see where Blizz went wrong, assuming you believe their stated goal of making it nearly impossible and only for the hardest of the hardcore (aka, not about trying to get people to buy gear on the RMAH). Also taking into account what I mentioned earlier (and other little niggles that crop up, like certain champ affixes being OPed or some such). The control scheme prevented most of the player skill, so their only two alternatives where both time sinks.
In a meatgrinder like D3, with large number of very dim-witted monsters whose damage-dealing abilities are mostly just area-denial I'd do it pretty much the way Blizzard has. Make them do more damage so you have to exercise a little situational awareness, but the relentless attacking never really stops.
In something more sedate like PoE, I think there's room for mechanics that require more precision and forethought, but PoE's particular design of letting people use any skills they like means that there's not a baseline the designers can assume, so that limits their options.
Having said that, I'm not sure that 'difficultly' is a concept that can go beyond EHP+DPS in a game oriented entirely around acquiring gear in a way that's not rigidly gated. Honestly, if you're looking for 'difficulty' that's solved by skill, rather than just getting better stuff, the whole 'action roguelike' genre is completely the wrong place to look.
To me, the big thing they screwed up was itemization. The issues with difficulty stem from that imho. Instead of trying to balance everything against the AH, it would have been better to make most gear that drops bind to account and then add an affix that makes the gear not bind. To be clear, I would have opposed this at the time because Diablo has always been about free trade. I would have been wrong though because I hadn't yet seen what the AH would do to the game.
Making gear bind to account by default would mean that you could balance the game around self-found loot. You could easily predict how long a person ought to be stuck at a specific gear gate, for example.
The other major benefit would be a lot less time needing to be spent on the AH. Since self-found gear would be inherently better since it doesn't have a net -1 affix, the AH would be a fallback for people who were unlucky with a slot or two, wanted to build more specifically tailored builds, or had a bunch of real money to burn instead of being the default for all gear each of your characters has.
The other piece beyond making gear bind would have been to not have gear from A2-4 be so much better than gear from A1 Inferno. This is the main thing that made it so impossible to advance for some classes. You simply needed gear you didn't yet have access to in order to realistically farm the content you did have access to.
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...and if you disagree with me, you're probably <insert random ad hominem attack here>.
+1 for the interesting topic. Also +1 to tanis0 for echoing my own thoughts on the subject, and for the interesting idea of having most gear be BoA, and having one affix being "Removes BoA". Very interesting indeed, and the more I think about it, the more I like it.
I for one would like to have more control over dodging stuff with my mouse, instead of being hit by something that actually passed 5 meters away. Very annoying.
Apart from that, there's not a lot one can do in ARPG's, you're right. I think they mostly did a good job with elite affixes, with the odd fix here and there, it's a good idea, and it works. They could expand on that in the future.
I'll post again if I think of more stuff.
Also, +1 to dinamar. You know why. I think ruksak knows too.
I don't think ARPGs need difficulty beyond what we've traditionally seen in D2 and D3 honestly. ARPGs are just not a genre I look at as some kind of eSport that challenges people with twitch reflexes and super hardcore theorycrafting as requisites for being successful.
I think, generally, D3 is pretty spot-on with difficulty. Stuff like Monster Power has always been player-friendly and a very good middle ground between the nubs and the elite.
I would love to see more variety affixes on elites, although I kinda struggle with what they could be. Perhaps an arcane buff that does pulsing arcane damage (on the light side since it'd be unavoidable). Maybe Poison Nova, since that was a kinda memorable spell from D2. I don't know, but I do know I'd like to see more possible abilities that elites get. Most of the stuff right now is "avoidable but dangerous" - I'd kinda like to see some unavoidable stuff that isn't super-dangerous.
I like PoEs idea for "Wealth" and that's something that D3 could copycat at some point. Very rarely you get an elite pack which has an extra affix - Wealth - which makes it drop a lot more loot. There was a thread on the official forums (and here) about "positive" affixes which could work similarly to Wealth in PoE, but more varied. Maybe that thread could be revisited.
Well I'd say that you are looking in the wrong genre (Diablo style ARpg, not ARpg per se) if you want a difficult game. Loot based ARpgs are mainly about constant rewards: Finding loot and progressing. They are not about being skillful. There are other games for that. Difficulty is just a mechanism that adds visibility to your rewards:
With increasing difficulty you will get new skills/items to overcome this difficulty. As you progress you notice a rise in difficulty, then you find a new item, get a new skil and get rewarded because the effect is a lower difficulty. Higher difficulties in these kind of games should only be temporary.
At the end a lot of players do want to feel like a god killing even the strongest monsters in a matter of a second. The more the merrier. Otherwise players won't feel rewarded by leveling up and getting better and better loot.
1 funny thing about this kind of ARpgs is that usually the first levels are the hardest (from a difficulty view). You got crappy skills (usually just left click attack), no equipment and monsters kill you by looking at them. The games become more fun the more powerful you get. If you look at D2 (before Synergies) the first 30 levels usually were the most boring. You never had enough Mana to use your cool skills, it took you ages to get from point a to point b, most of the time you had to fight single monsters and you kept all your skill points until level 30 because you needed to save them for the fun endgame (with synergies it was not as bad anymore as you would not lose out later when putting points in Teeth for example).
I understand why some ARPG fans hate TL2, but the starting 4 difficulties + HC option is a no-brainer, no matter your opinion on their execution of it. Making a player grind for 20 hours before the game even begins to get remotely challenging is just stupid.
Well the 2 best ARPG that I've played the last couple of years:
Demon's Souls and Dark Souls.
Before those two is was D2 and Too Human.
Diablo 3... I'm not sure yet. It's better then D2 in a straight up comparison if both games had been released now. But I was expecting more from D3 taking into account the time they spent on it. And also I have changed since I played D2, so I have different tastes about what I find appealing in games now. I remember when I though Rush'n Attack was a fun game (ridiculous hard though, never completed it).
The Diablo games are imo a mix between ARPG and Hunter/Gatherer games (like Terraria for example). And in a hunter/gatherer game it becomes a lot about the items you find, and in Diablo those items increase your stats, so the "easy" way to provide a challenge is to make the combat based on a lot of stats (not only stats, but you get my point).
In no way, with whatever gear you have can you kill for example Ghom on mp10 with a lvl 59 char. The stats are simply not enough, no matter how good your build, lvl 59 gear and skills are, the room will fill with gas before you are able to kill him. There are several ARPGs out there, that you CAN beat with starting gear if you are skilled enough... sure the last boss might take 1h to kill, but it's at least possible.
I wouldn't mind seeing some new mechanics which require more skills and less stats popping up. One problem with this, is that those kinds of mechanics in ARPGs tend to be avoid this or die... which is all well and good, but maybe not for HC lovers like me. If you want more of those types of skill based mechanics you would have to adjust them for HC.
To "win" in Diablo games, you have to farm. It's appealing to the players that like to grind and find shinies and be able to take on new challenges.
While I do enjoy the hunting and gathering part in Diablo 3, it can get boring fast. Which is why I like to play Diablo intensely for a little while, then take a break, then come back, and so forth.
As for players complaining about Diablo not being hard enough, play HC and never look back ^^?