A fan posited one of those old ideas that keeps popping up again; a fourth difficulty level. Bashiok’s answer is a good one, as he transcends the limitations of Diablo 2 type thinking and cuts right into a new paradigm.
I’ve said this a lot but try not to think of Diablo III as an extension of Diablo II. Things like experience curves are not a constant that we have to take from Diablo II, implement directly into Diablo III, and then be really upset about it and have to try to solve the problems they give us. This is a new game being built from the ground up, problems aren’t inherited from the previous games. We can do whatever we want.
Anyway, we have many ideas, there have been many good ideas discussed out there on how to solve some of the end game issues. Some of them are pretty much spot-on for ideas we’ll likely go ahead with. Most of that design and work on end-game hasn’t started yet though. We’re still working primarily on building out the core game experience (act-to-act world and dungeons and monsters). Just the basic play through on Normal. Which is coming along quite well still, I might add.
The D3 developers have often commented on their ideas for the end game, and a bunch of those quotes can be found on that wiki article. Nothing in particular, but like Bashiok says here, they’re looking to expand the issue. The D2 team had plans for the end game too, as well as ideas about guild halls and PvP/Arena games and other cool online features to extend the play experience. Sadly, they never had time to implement them, which is why we now get requests for things like a fourth difficulty level.
The Nightmare and Hell difficulties of Diablo 2 weren’t really tested or designed. The normal difficulty was extensively tested, which is why the game proceeds at a near-perfect pace up through about level 40 (assuming you’re not twinked/rushed/etc). On Normal difficulty, virtually every skill can be used effectively in a small game, almost all of the equipment is viable, most of the areas are challenging and varied in style, the monsters aren’t too hard or easy, etc. This all breaks down once you get into the Nightmare and Hell difficulties, since they’re just Normal repeated, with the monster stats boosted across the board.
As we all know from our playing experience, this doesn’t really work. Some monsters are much harder than the difficulty curve, most are way too easy, certain skills become hugely overpowered while others atrophy to uselessness, etc. This basic game problem has been tweaked in the patches; v1.10 added guest monsters and reworked skills/builds with synergies, while throwing in uber Runewords; v1.11 added the Pandemonium Event, etc. But none of these little tweaks have ever, or can ever, change the fundamental issue of characters diverging so wildly in their powers and equipment, when all the game can do in return is to scale up monster hit points in larger games.
Major, fundamental changes are required to increase the difficulty and keep the end game challenging, without making it impossible for players without top equipment. Furthermore, no one really wants the D3/Hell experience to be just a new version of cow runs, bloody runs, baal runs, meph runs, etc. It’s a bit challenge to address all of those problems and make the D3 end game experience as fun as the rest of the game. It’s nice to see that the team has big ideas for it. Will they pull it off? Can it be done? Time will tell…
Update: Bashiok added some more on this subject in a second post:
All that said, long-term end game concerns are I know a top priority of you regulars here and on our fansites, but there’s so much good stuff in the game that I really hope these WHAT IF scenarios don’t take away from the wow-factor of just enjoying what we have to share with you.