While reports of the doings on the Diablo 3 Asian server are shrouded by language barriers and pixelated image searches, we’ve got reliable, up-to-the-minute reports on the progress of players on the US and European servers, and the progress of the marathon gamers is impressive.

    There are hundreds (thousands?) of level 60 characters by now, after Athene was the first on Europe just over 24 hours after the realm went live. (Caution; no game spoilers, but loud NSFW language in the video.) The furthest anyone has gotten so far is team nolife on the US server, who advanced to Act Two of Inferno late Wednesday evening, less than 48 hours after the US servers went online. (See their live stream here, and their battle with the Act One end boss is here. Since then, another group streaming from Europe has beaten Act Two on Inferno.

    What does this faster-than-expected progress mean for the overall game difficulty and size, Blizzard’s estimates of how long players would require to finish the content, and other related issue? Click through for new Blue quotes, details about Inferno’s difficulty scaling, comparisons to D2’s leveling curve, and more.

    Blizzard Comments

    Blue CMs have replied to some of these reports, and sounded a bit defensive while doing it. Bashiok locked a 200 post thread with these final words:

    You can beat Skyrim in a few hours if your intent is to rush to the end of the game as fast as possible.

    You can beat the original Super Mario Bros in 5 minutes.

    If your intent is to simply race to the end of the game as quickly as possible I’m sure you can complete Normal difficulty in very little time. If your intent is to take your time and enjoy it, stop worrying about what people rushing to the end of the game think.

    Luckily, unlike other games, regardless of how quickly you want to rush to the end, the near-limitless content provided through randomized events, dungeons, enemies and items (and their random drop chance) mean that you’ll be able to play for years to come.

    Welcome to Diablo III, please enjoy.

    Another reply on the EU forums from Takralus.

    I’m one of those people who likes to explore all of the map, because you never know what might be lurking in that unexplored part, right? I’m in no hurry to rush through because that’s not my play style, but I know we’re all different. Some people love the bragging rights that come with being super quick through a game. Meh, I prefer to take my time, soak up the atmosphere, listen to the story, and loot every single damn barrel I find.

    But yeah, as others here have said, completing normal mode is by no means finishing the game… It’s just the start.

    And one more from Nakatoir on the EU forums.

    They have only killed the Skeleton King at this point. Do note that up to the Skeleton king is only part of the first act and they still have lots of the game to go till they complete act 1.

    Another point to be made is that this is a group of fully co-ordinated, skilled, dedicated and hardcore gamers who have been playing regularly since the moment of release. It will take quite a while longer for the average player and even most seasoned gamers to reach this point. That being said, it’s amazing to see the speed in which they have reached this stage of the game, but remember that the hardest is yet to come… [/blue]

    So yeah, Community Managers doing their job defending the company, but that doesn’t mean they’re *always* wrong, does it?

    Predictions vs. Reality

    You may not be surprised that people got through Normal/Nightmare/Hell that quickly, but wasn’t DiabloWikiInferno supposed to be like, impossible? That’s what Bashy and Jay Wilson and other devs told us, over and over again. So did they overestimate the difficulty of their game, or underestimate the tenacity of their players? Both, perhaps.

    Blizzard peeps never made any actually date-based predictions that I heard, always restoring to generalities and rough estimates, but they made clear that they expected players to require a long time to beat Inferno. Months ago, Bashiok talked about players wiping for “weeks” on the first boss in Act One, and we heard various Blizzard people say they were worried that Inferno might actually be impossible for Hardcore characters.

    You guys knew better, on the whole. We don’t yet know how Hardcore Inferno will go, (the players in it now are dying repeatedly) but in our Softcore Inferno pool there are a LOT of predictions in the 3-7 day range (I said 5). And with players already into Act Three of Inferno in 2.5 days, those predictions are looking pretty accurate.

    How are these players doing Inferno so quickly? And why did Blizzard so grossly overestimate the clear time? (Assuming they weren’t just saying what they did as PR/marketing since they knew players wanted a more epic struggle/accomplishment.) It seems mostly that Blizzard underestimated player tenacity. Players are dying repeatedly, even to normal monsters in Inferno, much less to the boss packs and Act Bosses.

    The player are just pressing on through the deaths, using good teamwork, resurrecting each other, and quite often just running past the dangerous monsters, to reach the next area or dungeon or level passageway through which the (slowly) pursuing enemies can’t follow.

    The monsters might be too slow, or too dumb, but they certainly aren’t dying too easily, as a watch of the videos or a look at their stats will show.

    Monsters in Inferno

    With so many players already into Inferno, you might expect that final barrier to fall shortly. Perhaps not.

    As we saw in the official game guide scans and datamining, monster hit points, damage, resistances, and body odor increase drastically between Hell and Inferno. Two sample pages from the Bradygames guide can be seen below

    As you see in those, the numbers increase dramatically between Hell and Inferno. The monsters have 5-10x more hit points in Inferno than they do in Hell, well up into the millions, and those figures in the pictures are for single player games. On the Act One boss video linked above, you can see that he has over 11,000,000 hit points, against which the characters are dealing 8-12k per hit.

    In another video from a live stream, a group of players was working through Act One Inferno, and facing regular monsters who all had upwards of two million hit points, against which a Barbarian was dealing 4000-7000 per hit. To put that into perspective, it would be like dealing 4-7 damage against a monster with 2000 hit points. That’s basically equivalent to fighting the Normal difficulty Skeleton King with the DPS of a naked level 8 character. And those are just the regular monsters!

    Player characters gain quite a bit of improvement at higher levels as well, but nothing like the jump monsters get from Hell to Inferno. Characters don’t level up at all, and while they can find (and craft) better gear in Inferno, that takes a long time and good luck on the random rolls. Even with much improved gear, Inferno is going to be a huge step up. Say you engage in intensive gear farming from Hell to Inferno and you double your DPS — you’re still facing monsters that have gained 10x their hit points, and vastly increased their damage output as well. Which means they’ll take around 5x longer than they did on Hell, even with your gear hugely upgraded.

    So How are Players Doing It?

    With strategy and sneakiness, mostly. If you watch any of the live streams, you’ll see what our forum readers saw. None of the groups are doing anything like full clears in Inferno. Players are running through and past and around everything, using stealth and stun and escape skills to move quickly, and are only stopping to fight the bosses required to advance the quests.

    This is obviously a suboptimal strategy for overall success, but it’s necessary to move quickly through Inferno, while the race for the first full Inferno clear is on. And it’s why this early rush tells us little about the long term play of Inferno, or about how Hardcore characters will fare against the challenge.

    Max Level vs. Grinding

    The more fundamental issue is one that came up in this thread, as well as numerous times during Diablo III’s development after the lowered, easily-obtained Clvl 60 cap was announced. (A thorough recap with numerous Blizzard quotes can be seen on the DiabloWikiMaximum level wiki article.)

    You could easily argue that the level 60 cap is too low, now that we’ve seen people reach it in a day. And that’s with brand new characters, no twinks, and even the whole game new! Imagine how quickly skilled players will be able to reach 60 in a few weeks or months, once they’ve got great twinks, other level 60s to help the turbo, a better understanding of shared party experience and the sweet spots for leveling up, etc?

    For the sake of comparison, the first (and only?) two characters to ever reach 99 in D2C were the infamous GerBarb and RussBarb (those links go to extensive coverage archived from Diabloii.net), who were part of huge team efforts, and required months of very intensive play, with dozens of people assisting by clearing out dungeons, since only by killing Diablo, in an 8 player game, could any worthwhile experience be gained past level 95.

    Maxing out takes much less time in D2X (though it’s varied greatly from patch to path), and when the game was in its prime in the 2001-2003 range, most of that during v1.09, the standard was set by a team who worked to power up Amazon DipDancer, who zoomed from 1 to 99 in just 39 hours after a ladder reset.

    I don’t know if anyone ever timed Diablo I to level 50, but I ultimately did it with a Rogue and a Sorc and I can testify that it took hundreds of hours of fairly monotonous clears of the same few levels, and that it was essentially a solo effort since there was no experience sharing in parties, no monster scaling for MP, and the always-on friendly fire made two Sorcerers in the same game a bigger danger to each other than to the monsters.

    D3 can’t really be compared to D1 or D2 on the time to max level, since Diablo 3 isn’t designed with a max level that’s a challenge to reach. The developers intentionally paced the maximum level to the content, so that characters could be expected to reach 60 around the time they finished Hell difficulty. (An achievement that put you perhaps 1/50th of the way to 99 in D2X.)

    The D3 Team was wise enough never to claim it would take players weeks or months to reach max level, but they did assert that D3 would have no shortage of content, and would boast a better DiabloWikiend game than Diablo 2 did. (I think they’re clearly correct about having more and more-varied content, though it’s too early to judge the end game. In theory though, though Inferno certainly sounds more interesting and varied than the repetitious Pit/Meph/A5SU/Cows/Baal runs we loved and violently exploited in D2. (I raised a 99 and lots of other 90s, mostly Hardcore, and in retrospect I would certainly have voted for an Inferno-like 4th difficulty level in D2.)

    The main complaint about D3’s lowered maximum level, way back when it was revealed and was controversial, was that having nothing but item grinding after completing Hell would be boring, at least compared to the item grinding + regular rewards and milestones provided by the Clvl 99 maximum in D2. Again, it’s way too soon to judge this, but some of you guys might have thoughts about it, now that we see how quickly dedicated players can reach 60 in D3.

    Personally, I was sympathetic to suggestions of some kind of experience-like display. Blizzard didn’t want D3 chars to get stronger with longer play (other than by finding better gear), but even if you agree with that, why not some kind of kill counter, or experience that keeps increasing but doesn’t grant any benefits? Those suggestions went nowhere, though.

    There’s no such thing as extra levels for people who want to grind them out. Either they’re there and provide a necessary boost in power in which case it’s not a choice to get them or not, or they don’t exist. We’re not going to put in extra levels that provide no bonus simply so people have achievements to work toward. That’s what achievements are for.

    True, there are a few high end achievements in D3 that will only be reached after thousands of games played, but there are only a few of them, and you don’t get a counter on the way up to them. Therefore, players won’t get any sense of progress until suddenly, after weeks of nothing, there’s a ding for killing 100,000 elites, or picking up 100,000,000 gold.

    Continuing Questions

  • So what do you guys think, now that we’ve seen the D3 system in action?
  • Are you still content with a max level of 60, knowing that it can be reached in less than a day? (Though regular players will take days or weeks to get there.) Will Achievements and item grinding be enough incentive to keep playing once you’re into the end game?
  • Is Inferno the massive challenge we were repeatedly promised, or does the sight of players in Act 3 just 2.5 days after release throw a bucket of water on that fire?
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