Sunday, September 28, 2014


Diablo 3 is trying to be a competitive game.  Blizzard is making a go at setting up an environment where only the extremes of skill and effort will be successful.  The system they have gone for is Greater Rifts, where rifts are timed and become more and more difficult with each level.  The increments are multiplicative so no matter how good you are eventually the enemies will one shot you and you will be unable to beat them within the fifteen minutes alloted.  There has been quite the outcry recently because recently Blizzard changed the way people get access to high level GRifts.  In short, they made it much harder to jump immediately into the highest level GRifts and forced people to beat lower level ones and grind their way up.  This would have been fine except that people can't actually beat any of the GRifts near the top at all and now it is nearly impossible to advance.

The fundamental issue here is that GRift difficulty is hugely variable.  The way people were getting top scores is not be being better, but rather by dashing into GRifts to see if the monster composition was favourable and then usually dashing back out again in ten seconds to try again.  Even with a favourable composition the only way to get a really top time was to get lucky and get a conduit pylon.  People were literally unable to beat GRifts above say 38 consistently but because they could get into GRift 42 and just keep on trying until they got a super easy one they could win - rarely.  Now that you actually have to beat 38 and then 40 to get into 42 fishing for an easy 42 is nearly impossible.  This is not a good competitive environment, particularly when new players find the scores that are posted are effectively unbeatable due to mid season changes.

I am not entirely convinced that competitive GRifts are actually the thing to do but if Blizzard wants to do them what they need to go for is preset levels.  If every single level 42 looks identical then people can truly practice and theorycraft the best way to beat it and the game won't come down to seeing who gets the lucky 1 in 1000.  An actual competitive way to build this would let players simply select any level from 1 to 42 as long as they have beaten 41.  Go nuts and keep slamming your head into that wall if you want, and let those who build properly and practice diligently succeed.  With preset GRifts it is completely okay to have some levels be easier than expected - as long as 38 is super trivial for everyone it really doesn't hurt things overall.

A slightly less extreme way to accomplish the same end is to remove all Pylons from GRifts and group monsters in a less random way.  As long as there was always a mix of easy monsters (Zombies!) and brutal monsters (Anarchs!) then it should be fine, or at least fine enough.  Of course this further tinkering would completely shut down any new attempts to beat current records and season 1 would be effectively over, at least for those wanting to be anywhere near the top.  This would preserve some randomness in the system which would be nice for those like myself who aren't anywhere near the edge but still like bashing our way through GRifts for fun.

Something Blizzard has to learn to deal with though is how much precision and control is required to have a competitive environment.  You can't just wander in and make changes to the system and not completely upset the very delicate balance at the absolute bleeding edge.  If they want to patch in new abilities and alter systems on a semi regular basis there simply cannot be a really competitive environment.  Their current strategy is very much like the Tour De France deciding that bikes may not be made of a carbon and announcing that after three days of racing.  Nobody would take the competition seriously, and rightly so.

What I actually expect to see is a set of changes that flattens the randomness of GRifts very seriously but I don't think that will actually come in until the next season.  Both monster mixes and pylons will be addressed for the start of season 2, and not before.  I don't think Blizzard actually intended to bork the season up with the latest batch of changes as their intended effect of making things less punishing for melee actually worked out just fine.  What I do think is that they didn't anticipate the serious change to the top players their seemingly minor alteration made and they don't want to wreck things up further until a full reset is happening anyway.  I also suspect when this happens they will alter the scaling so that old records will fall easily to give people something to shoot for.  They would likely have to change it so that 40 then is roughly as hard as 35 is now to give people a reasonable shot at beating the old records, though it might even have to be more extreme than that.

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