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!

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