Editorial: Diablo 3's poorly planned end-game plays to addiction, not fun

I've tried to stay engaged in Diablo III, I really have. I got my monk to level 60. I played into Act IV of Hell mode. I created a Demon Hunter for a change of pace. I've even tried playing the AH game to make some money. But in the end, the game offers the same trap as World of Warcraft: Grinding for gear and leveling up alts is more of an addiction than it is enjoyable game play.

Blizzard has finally caught on to its end-game problem publicly, admitting in its forums that it knows the game does not have a "long-term sustainable end-game." Community manager Bashiok said they are working on lots of fixes and changes in patch 1.0.4 as they move toward PvP arenas in 1.1, but any further changes are still only a distant work-in-progress:

"We have some ideas for progression systems, but honestly it's a huge feature if we want to try to do it right, and not something we could envision being possible until well after 1.1."

Bashiok acknowledged that content and systems roll-outs, like in World of Warcraft, are not possible every few months in Diablo III. But DLC has become an expected part of non-MMO games. Did Blizzard really expect fans to just play the auction house and grind for gear in Inferno mode until PvP finally made its debut? What if you don't like PvP? Excessive repetition isn't good design. It's a pandering to players who have a compulsive need for the best possible gear. But unlike World of Warcraft, where new content is inevitable and better gear is needed, Diablo III gives you nothing but an endless cycle of grinding for no future purpose.

I've been at Blizzard's mercy since the first Warcraft RTS. I have played every Blizzard game (with the exception of Lost Vikings), but not until World of Warcraft did the actual addiction kick in. While I wasn't as bad as some poor souls, I still had four level 85s geared well enough for the pre-Deathwing raids. I also had four other characters between 81-84, three twinks for levels 29, 39 and 49 battlegrounds, and four more characters between levels 45-65. I finally broke away, but trust me when I say that I know about grinding and the desire for better gear, and playing the auction house to find the best deals.

I guess that Blizzard may have subconsciously hoped that players with that World of Warcraft mentality would be able to sustain Diablo III as they moved toward the PvP patch. But personally, I broke my grinding addiction about a year and a half ago, and I have stopped playing Diablo III because I recognized the addiction signs I had in WoW. This time, however, I wasn't going to let myself become one of those mindless zombies I was killing in the game.

I am surprised that Blizzard did not have a longer term plan for the game. I'm sure an expansion is already planned (Diablo II: Lord of Destruction came out only a year after the original), but how many times can you kill Belial and Azmodan without wanting to beat your head on the desk when your gear upgrade doesn't drop? There are no other options. And since I suck at PvP, the 1.1 patch doesn't interest me. But even that is still at some undefined time in the future.

It's a shame that a company with Blizzard's pedigree couldn't have foreseen the monotony and disillusionment that could creep in less then two months after the game's release. Blizzard has some good storytellers and a fantastic animation staff. Something as intriguing as Halo 4's planned Spartan Ops episodic content would have been enough to keep me engrossed until the inevitable expansion, even if it was every month instead of every week.

In the end, I guess, players with the same mentality as die-hard MMO players will continue to populate the Diablo III servers. Diablo III was an enjoyable game for the first 80 hours. Bashiok said in a later post:

"We have hundreds upon hundreds of thousands playing every night. Comparing to just normal drop-off post release of a WoW expansion, Diablo III has been very solid, and it's not even out in China yet."

That's the kick in the head. The game is a huge success financially. Blizzard has my cash, so my departure will go unnoticed and my protest of poor planning will join with that of a vocal minority of others dissatisfied with wasted potential. It didn't have to be that way.