Ironborn #11: The Missing Piece of the Loot Puzzle

Runes copy
In just a few months, we’ll have Loot 2.0 and the D3 expansion (barring a PTR/beta update or two).

We’ll soon bask in the glow of brand new items – some of which have lead to very interesting new builds. The progression system of rares, to crafted items, to found-only legendary and set items feels satisfying. Some tweaking of set items remains, but overall, the devs’ vision for loot feels engaging.

Despite all this awesomeness, something in the back of my mind has been nagging at me about D3. It began when I started playing the game on launch day, and it hasn’t stopped – even after I played the beta. Something felt like it was missing, but I couldn’t say what.

Recently, I was able to pinpoint it. The more I think about it, the more I feel it needs to be in the game.

I’m Talking About Runestones

Well, not runestones exactly, but the concept behind them. There’s nothing like them in D3.

The request for a runestone system like D2’s has come up many times before, of course, and they were originally planned to be items you could socket to skills in D3. The system was ultimately axed over inventory concerns, and the result is the rune-as-skill setup we see in the game today.

But it’s not the socketable aspect of runes that make them integral to Diablo. Again, it’s the concept: allowing players to plan builds ahead of time, and giving them a clear (if slow) path to get there. This idea was central to self-found play in D2, and would greatly benefit gear progression in D3.

Serendipity Is Great, But It’s Not All There Is To Diablo

The developers deserve kudos for trying to design items so cool that we want to undo all of our previous gear tweaking to take advantage of them. Even so, most players like to learn for themselves what builds are cool – first by seeing what others use, and then by trying them out.

It was a smart move to give us crafted legendaries and sets to work on until we find those amazing found-only legendary and set items in RoS. But the drawback to this system is that we don’t feel like we have control over where we’re headed gear wise. The on-rails loot system of Smart Drops helps us boost our stats – but we still end up feeling a lack of control over our “build destiny,” so to speak.

Returning runestones to the Diablo series would give us a way to recover that feeling of control. They would allow us to pick a spot way off on the horizon where we want to go (gear-wise), and plan on getting there someday. While the serendipity of discovering a totally random new legendary is great, players need to be at the steering wheel more when it comes to their long-term gear goals.

Progress Every Time You Play

Nothing feels worse than getting to the end of a play session in D3 and thinking: “I didn’t find any high-level crafting mats, and the only legendaries and set items I found were insta-brims.” While the new crafted leg and set items look fun, they’re ultimately stopgap gear. You won’t want them in the end-game, since the best things are found-only set and legendary items.

But you can’t plan to find something that’s entirely random. The devs could add any number of new legendaries, set items or crafting plans to the game – but none of them will give players the feeling of knowing that they’ll achieve their gear goals (not just hoping they will, as in D3).

Plus, even if everything in the game is buffed tomorrow – from drop rates, to legendary and set item affixes, you-name-it – players will still eventually hit a point where a lack of gear progression begins to try their patience. Faced with that prospect, I can see why people who like to trade are worried.

Help For Those Who Miss Trading

One of the biggest fears traders have with a BoA-heavy system is that they’ll never achieve the build they want if they can’t trade for it. As a self-found player, I sympathize with them: the RNG can be a cruel mistress, whom we’ve all hated at one point or another.

With trading pretty much out of the picture (at least as it stands), that makes a runeword-like system even more important. Especially in the absence of trading, players need to know they’ll achieve a build someday – even if it takes a great deal of grinding (like in D2).

A runestone-like system added to the game would ensure that no matter what your goal is gear-wise, you’re closer to achieving it after every single play session. Compare that to what we have now in the live game: if you haven’t found a legendary you want, you’re no closer to getting it, regardless whether you play another 10 hours or 1,000 hours.

When we’re decked out head-to-toe in legendary and set items, the crafted stuff just won’t measure up. So, other than hoping for a build-changing legendary or set item, what are we supposed to do?

Well, how about this: “I didn’t find X or Y legendaries today – but I did find these runes that are getting me closer to that runeword I’ve always wanted.”

Runestones would soften the blow of not finding hard gear upgrades, allow us to set goals we know are achievable long-term, and give us a measurable way to get there.

Interesting Item Choices + Limited Resources

One of the main goals the devs have for Loot 2.0 is to give us more meaningful item choices. In the live game right now, the only thing we really care about on items are main and trifecta stats. With everything else serving as mere icing on the cake, loot feels a little shallow.

Adding Reduced Cooldown to the pool of gear affixes in Loot 2.0 was a great start, along with adding the Diamond socketable for extra resists and elite damage in RoS. Additional loot changes have more players scrutinizing items, rather than glancing around for green numbers before salvaging.

Introducing runestones would take the idea of meaningful item choices further than what we see in Loot 2.0 by adding a new scarce resource to the equation. If high runes take lots of time to acquire, and are destroyed in creating runewords, how players use them becomes a meaningful choice.

The Promise of Power

If I sound like I’m down on Loot 2.0 or the expansion, I’m not. Actually, it’s hard to be so picky when there’s so much to look forward to in the coming months. Aside from a buff to drop rates, I don’t see how the loot framework for the game could really be much better.

But if we’re talking about the long-term picture for the game, I’ll admit I think the devs were on to something when they considered adding runestones to D3. Once RoS is released, and the focus turns to the future of the end-game (maybe in a later expansion), I hope they revisit the idea.

Jay Wilson once said “There’s no such thing as too much power.” In D2, that idea crystallized around runewords. They ensured that if we were willing to put in the time to grind for it, we were rewarded with exactly what we wanted – not just the gear that the RNG gave us.

With all due respect to the RNG Gods (and the devs), I still miss runestones. I’d much rather get bits and pieces of “awesome,” and get excited about the things I could make with them, than to simply sigh and shrug my shoulders at not finding an upgrade after I’ve hit a gear wall.

Wouldn’t you? What do you think?

Ironborn is a column exploring self-found play and related topics by Waterfiend, who would totally slap a Zod in that beast. Got an idea for a column? Share it in the comments!

Tagged As: | Categories: Diabloii.Net Columns


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  1. “I’d much rather get bits and pieces of “awesome,” and get excited about the things I could make with them, than to simply sigh and shrug my shoulders at not finding an upgrade after I’ve hit a gear wall.”

    Great article!

    I agree, and it feels like too much emphasis is on the Legendary items at the cost of long term game play. With tight restrictions on trading it could be a train-wreck in 6 months after release, we need items to fill in the inevitable gaps that will occur.

    The hunt for a perfect white item (for a awesome runeword)in Diablo 2 via the pits is etched in Diablo 2 history. It would be nice for white items to have value outside of crafting mats.

    I also think that sockets in general are not be realized to their full potential, and that there should be other socketable items like Jewels in the game.

    Finally Charms should have been in the game taking the place of Paragon Points for stat tweaking via actual items and not XP grinding, which only benefits the hardcore gamer. Charms would benefit all.

    The only real problem is stash space, but this is a direct result of an online only game as blizzard has limited server space and Diablo is not exactly king of resources like WOW.

    I personally would not have problems as I would just flat out make choices and yes I would be trashing decent gear, but the gear I would be keeping would be far and away better for my builds.

    • I have been saying this from day 1, no one listens it seems. What the game lacks, no matter how much tweaking the present set up gets, is a way for the player to feel progression toward a perceived goal. RNG never gives that. Personal improvement you might call it. No one continues to exercise unless you can see or feel the results from that exercise.

      Players will never be ultimately end game happy without a progressive system that leads to improvement no matter what drops.

      Does anyone quit a game while leveling (if they like the game)? Never
      People only quit when the feel of progression is gone. The cycle will start again soon on the grind fest that is D3 if they don’t realize this basic core of humanness and do something about it whether it be runes or whatever.

  2. Very cool article, but they won’t add runes because the-game-that-shall-not-be-named already added gem skills and had wild success with it.

    • you mean diablo 2: Lord of Destruction ? with for example a Phoenix shield ?

      • pretty much PoE. Do you wonder how it is to summon a totem which casts continuously rain of arrows with cold damage and with increased projectile speed?

        Or how to link five support skills onver an active skill to create a mega skill with five distinct properties? gooood damn!

        • Except the difference is that in PoE skill gems are not really a rarity issue, and because the game relies on skill gems to unlock actual abilities, they can’t really be all that rare or restrictive.

          In PoE, you have to plan everything because passives are the key to survival, so the skill gem system has to accommodate you. Plus, nothing is more annoying than needing even a mid-tier support (e.g., mana leech) and not getting any mana leech gems to drop, which leaves your clear speed pretty bad in the mid-levels.

          Runes as items in D3, as originally envisioned, represented INCREMENTAL boosts to already-available skills. So you could get excited about an extra 15% weapon damage to a skill, or have to make tough choices between “skill I really like but haven’t had good rune drops for” versus “skill I like less but is two rune ranks higher now.” Of course, this is not a “build” aspect of the game, it’s more of a pseudo-roguelike “work with what you have” system.

          • You make a good point. D3’s original system was interesting in concept – but with 8-9 levels of each of the 5 rune types (for 45 runes total), it was also messy. It would have been neat to see, though – and definitely encouraged people to try new builds based on what they found.

  3. You know even if we didn’t get runewords what about adding a socket to belts where you had a choice of one powerful and not common modifier and let there be like 10 runes that can fill that socket and each rune has one powerful effect. so you could get the one you wanted eventually. The system could be interesting if you could add additional runes to make it slightly more powerful up to a certain point like combining 10 runes of the same type in the belt. no rune words, but ever increasing rune effects.

    I dunno just throwing out ideas.

    • I like your idea. Like D2, but without runewords – only runes. Even if they added only 5-10 more socket-it-where-you-want-it items (with uncommon affixes) to the game, that’s a huge amount of control over how we gear.

  4. “But you can’t plan to find something that’s entirely random.”

    This. This is why ROS will fail.

    In D2 and D3V, ANY item I got was useful to me because I could sell it and buy what I wanted. Now every 3 hours I have a one in 250 chance to get an item that has a chance of being good? Are you fucking kidding me?

    • RoS will fail because the developers think that infinite loot-runs for gimmicky legendary items will last forever. This game has no builds, which was the core of D2 (TQ,PoE). I have watched few streams of both game modes and I am bored already. Ask yourself a question:

      When you find your dream-legendary item that suits your “build” and beat the highest difficulty, do you need to play further? For what? Creating another “build” that you can just swap on-the-fly? D2 has the building of your character, bit by bit. It has it’s flaws, but it was fun. Not just swapping skills, changing 2-3 items and call it a new build?. With OP gear, every skill combination is viable, because your dmg will be super-high.

      • “When you find your dream-legendary item that suits your “build” and beat the highest difficulty, do you need to play further? For what?”

        Maybe to do the same with the other classes? Also, games need to have an end. If you feel that beating D3 on T6 is that end for you then stop playing and find something else to do in your free time. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s a healthy thing to do. If you can’t stop playing something then you are addicted and despite that in gaming circles people like to throw around that word as something positive (even reviews like to call good games addictive) it’s really not something you want.

        “With OP gear, every skill combination is viable, because your dmg will be super-high.”

        Except that OP gear in RoS often has skill specific bonuses. My current Wizard gear would be absolutely rubbish with anything but my current skill set, as it focuses solely on cold damage and the 3 skill I use the most.

        • “OP gear in RoS often has skill specific bonuses”

          Only few of those are actualy usefull on specific skills.

          “Maybe to do the same with the other classes?”

          And this is the exact problem with D3. Many players just quit playing because there is nothing to do (except this artificial infinite paradgon level progression). Why would you create the same character again when you can just switch all skills and wait for a new legendary gimmick. The only option is to play Hard Core (only on console because of the absence of lags and desyncs) because there at least a small sense of uniques and player can feel some relation to the character.

          • “Only few of those are actualy usefull on specific skills.”

            Elemental damage and skill bonuses are plenty useful even on Rares.

            “Many players just quit playing because there is nothing to do (except this artificial infinite paradgon level progression).”

            And many still keep playing. By the way, paragon leveling should never be your goal, it’s a small bonus you get while hopefully you enjoy other things. If people don’t enjoy the combat and the item hunt, then they should write down their feedback, but when they don’t get their wish for almost 2 years I think they should absolutely move on to other things (I don’t play D3 exclusively either). Hoping that the game will change radically and to their liking isn’t the reasonable thing to do at this point.

            “Why would you create the same character again when you can just switch all skills and wait for a new legendary gimmick.”

            And why should we have to start with a fresh character when we want to try new things? Neither system is objectively better than the other, it’s all down to personal taste.

      • “When you find your dream-legendary item that suits your “build” and beat the highest difficulty, do you need to play further?”
        When that happened in D2, what have you done? You started new char, leveled it up, and waited for this new dream-legendary, right? So now you’re skipping two first parts and goes directly into the 3rd one, or you can create new char, find new name and enjoy leveling again. You don’t need to allocate points to feel emotionally connected to char.

      • Why does it need to last forever?

    • Lol not nearly any I found was useful. Think about all those crappy unique weapons the game(D2) has.

      Anyways I really didn’t use runes in D2 since I played 99% classic after a ½ year or so of LOD. In Lod I didn’t make many runewords either.

  5. Fantastic article.
    The addition of Runewords was the very biggest improvement LoD introduced in comparison to D2C.

  6. Yes, we need more ways to tweak our characters and gear. Runes are good for this. Working towards a goal and feeling like you make progress is essential for replay value. I personally feel D3 Vanilla has very little of this. RoS will improve on this greatly but I am still concerned how blizzard is forcing us to worship legendaries. I personally want as many choices as possible for my high end gearing because to me that’s how you get replay value. D2 had this with it’s wide variety of items/gear.

  7. With this dev team, runes would be another dissapoitment. Would you be excited when you find a rune (one of the 5!!!) with one dmg-amplifier stat on weapon, and 2 completely useless stats for helms and other? Because that’s their ideas about the-shiny-things-that-you-can-put-into-socket. So when they don’t add runes into D3, the are actually doing us (diablo fans) a favour. It is just as it is.

  8. I honestly have no idea if this article is arguing in favor of:

    1) Runes a la D2: specific socketable boosts that, when combined in specific combinations, gave greater boosts (like a set bonus for socketables)

    2) Runes a la early D3: skill-specific boosts that could be crafted up and down

    3) Both

    4) Neither

    • Sorry, I should have been clearer. I like the idea of a system similar to what D2 had (although even D3’s initial proposed rune system would work with some improvements).

      • No worries – just wanted to make sure.

        I’d be fine with either, but I still think that an iteration of D3’s initial rune-skills system would’ve basically saved the game from most of the issues people complain about/dislike.

  9. Excellent write up ! Ditto

  10. It is good idea, add runes.
    Rune = one effect (add 10-50 fire dmg etc).
    This will give us new combinations.
    More combinations, more individual characters 🙂

  11. Lack of a rune/runeword system is literally the only thing keeping me from buying ros. Until this feature is added, the item game of ros is unappealing to me. I agree completely with your article and hope they add this system soon. Until they do I’ll be content to stick to casual play of vanilla. Farming differently colored punching bags at lvl70 is not enough for me to get ros.

    • Just to clarify, I don’t care if ‘runes’ are reintroduced, just that something similar to their function in crafting interesting items with mostly fixed stats is brought back to d3. In a weird way, the ah did this. You get a really rare drop for another class and use the gold from sale to get what you want.

  12. They have to have something for 2nd expansion, so…

  13. Each rune have one and only one effect (from all average and elemental dmg to life on hit and stats, etc) randomly generated.
    No dissapoitment with mine vision of rune system in game.
    Imagine plenty of possibilities!
    This could save and improvment trade and game itself : )

    • I think that no one-effect runes are need. D3 in it’s current state has too many items slots which leads into too many one dimensional stats. No +elemental dmg, +life on hit or +stats are needed. They are already in the game. 🙂

  14. Three tier’s:
    magic rune (blue): low stats randomly generated (51-100)
    rare rune (yellow): mid stats randolmy generated (101-250)
    legendary rune (red?): high stats randomly generated (251-500)

    This is mine vision of rune system.

  15. I like the foundations runewords build on (such as incremental gains, meaningful choices, and the influence over what you end up getting) , but not the actual outcome (socketing runes into items).

    I wonder if a system could be made that combined the good things from runes and the good things from charms (which basically were incremental upgrades. And more, but smaller, choices than what you get from the relatively few gear slots. Inventory hell was the primary negative on the other hand).

    Like “runes” that can be slotted in a box (with like 20-30 slots), and synergize for bonuses in a lot of different ways depending on which runes you use, the order you combine them in etc. Charms and Runewords mixed with tic-tac-toe?
    The talisman looked interesting before release, even though we knew nothing about it (likely it was terrible, since Blizzard apparently felt it was worse than the stuff they actually released…).

  16. Legendary trophies (each for class) (like torch in D2).
    To get one of those, u will need 20-30 runes with different materials + plan for it – killing ubers, combaning organs…
    Space is full of unlimited possibilities.

  17. So you want a system where items you find can incrementally be built up and put together to create a specific, powerful items that you desire? That sounds….exactly like crafting – or at least what crafting could be if it had been even remotely well-planned and thought-out.

    Hey Blizz, make a fun, interesting crafting system. kthxbye.

  18. sigh, looking at those runes…what could diablo 3 have been…

    if they really had wanted to make the rune skill system work, they would have found a way. but no, dumbing down the game and taking every bit of skill out of it was and is the no.1 on their agenda

    • “sigh, looking at those runes…what could diablo 3 have been…”

      The current skill system is almost exactly what the rune system was, except that we always have the most powerful version of the skills. During development the rune system was barely more than another simple DPS progression.

      “dumbing down the game and taking every bit of skill out of it was and is the no.1 on their agenda”

      I would argue that by removing Life Steal the game requires more skill than it did ever since D1. 🙂

  19. Future is unwritten yet : )
    Diablo 3 is really really good game, could be even better!
    Good feedback from community is not bad.
    Go go go Blizzard! : )

  20. I’d be happy if just something, somewhere conferred an actual meaningful choice for your character. A once-in-a-decade drop like a Zod rune that you have to permanently attach to an item to get any use from would be pretty close.

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