I'm posting this here as well, since I'm hoping it gets some much needed attention (/ego)
As an avid ARPG lover I feel like a mark might be missed with the D4 release, and I'm really hoping it's not.
MMO vs ARPG - they are not the same
The main issue I see is the focus on longevity of a single character's playtime. With MMOs it makes sense, since you tend to play your "main" for countless hours, months, years, expansion after expansion. With ARPGs this is NEVER the case.
Your first character is the most exciting because it's all unknown. You learn the story, the gameplay, the systems, the UI, the settings, and so on. But there comes a point when you finish the story, leveling slows down or stops, upgrades are few and far between, and you've "done everything" the so-called end-game has to offer, likely countless times over. And it was glorius, but it's time to move on.
Whether there's a level cap or not, any additional power you may gain and experiences you may have will thin out or become repetetive. And that, my friends, is the real end game. What do you do when this happens? You make a new character, and experience that progression stack all over again but with fresh eyes, knowledge, leveling gear, and best of all - a completely new class or build.
Re-rolling - make it a core part of the design
I have yet to see anything that truly incorporates a solid re-rolling incentive as a core end-game system. It should be. The next character I make should gain some passive or even active bonus' from my previous characters, beyond some near-meaningless paragon-style power bump.
Each character I make should become part of my army. As I build that army I feel my account grow stronger and stronger. I can utilize that army in interesting ways to accomplish things that a single playthrough cannot. The bigger my army, the more difficult the objectives become.
Eventually my army will be able to take on the pinnacle of difficult content, at which point I can obtain the most difficult to obtain rewards.
Item Rarity - it should take a veeeery long time to obtain the best of the best
D2 nailed this. The balance between rarity and time-invested was spot on. Ensuring this is formulated in such a way to keep people chasing is critical to longevity. If I can make a fully (or near-fully) geared out character build in a few days, then the longevity is strictly tied to how many possible distinct character builds there are multiplied by the number of days it takes to make one.
If I've made all the character builds I'm interested in, but none of them are at max power level, then I can keep chasing items for my army to make it stronger and stronger.
Perfect items should be one in a million, especially dynamic items like rares, which should exceed the power of uniques/legendaries in distinctive ways, making them the true "uniques" that are sought after by the elite. Everybody has an SoJ, but who found the original (non-duped) Raven Spiral rare ring.
Respec vs Reroll - in pursuit of "the perfect build"
In the earlier days of D2 there was no respec. This meant a build at level 99 was set in stone. If you made even a minor mistake, too much STR for example, then making "the perfect build" meant re-rolling and re-leveling to obtain that extra 50 or 100 HP. And we did it.
With full respec capabilities, it means you only need to level a character class once. If you feel like playing a different build for that class, and you're bored of the old one, just respec. Easy right? Well sure, but the fun is capped early. The real fun, as much as people claim to deny this, is in leveling and growing in power. The feeling of unlocking that level 30 skill and throwing out your first Frozen Orb, feels... amazing. You slogged through crypts firing a single fireball at packs of monsters, dreaming of having that one ability to make you feel like a god.
PoE does this incredibly well. They throw a few respec points at you throughout the story, but never a full respec. In the late stages you can technically full-respec, but it has a notably high cost. Do you pay that cost, or simply make another for free and experience that growth and excitement one skill point at a time. Trust me, we re-roll, because that's the fun part. That's the end game.
Please give this some attention. If you want to understand why D2 did (and continues) to do so well, and why everyone flocked from D3 to PoE, it's not because people like running cows and maps over and over and over. It's because there's another build they want to try, and this time it's going to be perfect.
I think that D3 was a great game, the issue was content not being brought into the game for far too long. Mistakes were made but D3 improved over time and then was left to stagnate with seasons the only reason to keep playing. POE was not as successful in sales of games but it has far more longevity due to adding better and more new content constantly. Even in POE you have many of the same issues that plague all RPG's which is re-playability. Sure you can play through over and over as new class specc/role but even that will become stale after a while. I think modern gamers now are different than older gamers like me, they tend to consume games quicker and move on quicker. I still play some games many, many years after i first played but if i am honest do i really enjoy it or is it just me wishing to recapture those bygone times.
I think in this modern world you will never create anything that will get 100% approval or keep people constantly playing the same game for years like we used to, and to be honest that is a good thing. A lot of the time we played those same games over and over not because they were amazing (though some were) it was due to a lack of choice or other decent options. Now there are tons of aRPG titles you can play and more coming, once you have so many to choose from why would you play just one? I think developers understand this, they will tap into nostalgia to create revenue but gamers are far more fickle now and will move on far quicker. Just look at POE at how quickly the numbers drop after just a month of new content dropping.
My hope for D4 is not a D2 clone, we have D2 Resurrected for that, i want something new and engaging. I want something darker like Diablo used to be and from what i have seen so far it looks interesting. I can bet one thing i am confident of though, no matter what millions will buy it and play it and when games are successful it means other companies strive to create other new and exciting games too, which can only be good for all gamers.
I agree with you. It was easier to stick with games in the earlier days because there was less variety. If you look at PoE though, they get record numbers of players coming back every new league because they spice things up. It's not just a couple tweaks to balance and gear like D3, they add fresh mechanics, new abilities, sweeping balance changes and so on. It's a model that's been working extremely well for them and I think is the only way to keep people interested in an ARPG long term. It's a game they intend people to play "forever", as Chris Wilson stated.
BTW PoE was far more successful overall than D3 in terms of revenue. The game itself is free to play, but their financial model works better than a box sale price ever could.
I agree with your point on rerolling and limited respeccing. I put more than 10 years of daily play into D2--when respec was added in D2 I was ecstatic, but I realized after a time exactly what you point out--D2 doesn't really have an endgame. That timesink for perfect stats/gear is what does it, and esp. that kick of serotonin unlocking new abilities on a fresh char early on. And then the cycle of getting gear with soft stats on it so you have to keep rerolling your char to optimize those stats. It was uncomplicated (my criticism of PoE--their endgame overcomplicates it imo) but the need to reroll (or high cost respeccing) is pivotal. So much of D2's experience was in rerolling that making respeccing so trivial really hampered it.
I also agree with your take on gearing, in that a build should not be completable in only a couple days. Most builds should be functional and competitive for endgame activities with modest investment imo but if endgame areas are trivial in a matter of less than a week then there is a significant problem. Imo D2 got this close to right, although I think rampant immunities in all endgame content was a cheap way of doing it (especially multi-immunity).
The core of this criticism is the gear/build relationship, in which D3 went the complete opposite way on both from D2. Imo the combat itself and the way you can customize skills was superior, but it feels like it came at the cost of everything else. D4 seems to have a cost for respec, but I'm hoping it's much steeper than D2 (have to clear endgame bosses a few times or trade for items, otherwise 3 resets max) and definitely higher than D3 (virtually free).
I had this idea back in June and posted it in the official forum but since there is too many new toes it quickly got down and not mos many pol had chance to give some feedback, the least few did like it thought, so here it goes, hope you guys like it too.