On the Drawing Board #20: Shrines


@Diablo coughed up a quick comment today about a game issue we’ve not spent much time debating. Shrines.

Shrines are receiving new visuals to give them a more cohesive look.—Diablo

It’s nice to hear that they’re getting a graphical update, but it doesn’t mean much to us fans, since we’ve hardly seen shrines at all. They’ve never appeared in a gameplay movie or a screenshot, and they were only seen by players in the Blizzcon 2009 demo, after not appearing in 2008. There weren’t any in the 2010 demo either, so we’re pretty much taking @Diablo’s word for the fact that they remain in the game at all.

That said, they’re an interesting issue, one that the D3 devs have talked about, at least in theory/design, a few times. What were the good features and problems with shrines in D2? How can they be improved upon in D3? What does Jay Wilson want them to do? What shrines have been seen in the game so far?

Click through for discussion about those issues, and blue quotes on the subject.

Diablo III Shrines

We do not know much about DiabloWikishrines. The wiki article has some quotes from Jay Wilson and others, but they’re all about the general theory of shrines, and whether they’ll be in Diablo III at all.

Question: Will shrines be making a return to the world of Sanctuary in Diablo 3?

Jay Wilson: Well there are some aspects of shrines that we liked, experience shrines I think are probably the prime example everyone uses. They’re fun because they drive the player forward. Monster shrines are sometimes fun because they bring out a rare that you didn?t know or weren’t expecting that could come from any direction and that’s cool.

But for the most part, the pure mechanic of shrines, a random power-up that just appears in the world for no reason, we don’t really want to literally bring that back. What we are going to try to do is integrate a lot of the best things of shrines into our quest and event systems so that when you encounter a random quest or random event that has a story context within the game it either rewards you like a shrine would reward you or something that is actually built into the gameplay of the quest. So while technically no shrines are not coming back verbatim, we are trying to bring back kind of the best things of them in a different form.

I’m not real sure how Jay’s suggested bonus would work anyway; so a quest reward would grant you +skills, or +defense, etc, for a short duration? That seems like it would be predictable, and all the same shrine issues, about the bonus not being useful to high level characters, would remain.

In any event, that quote is from April 2009, and we’ve heard nothing since then. There weren’t any shrines in the Blizzcon 2010 demo. There were shrines scattered around the desert in the Blizzcon 2009 demo, and they were exactly what Jay said they wouldn’t be in D3. “Random power-ups that just appeared in the world for no reason” describes them perfectly.

As for the visuals, which Bashiok says are being improved… they were pretty nondescript in 2009, so there’s definitely room for improvement. As best I recall, they were like broken pieces of large statues, some part of which would move when you clicked them. Kind of like larger, but more degraded versions of the various stone chests and shrines you found in Act Three of Diablo II. We have some pictures, but they don’t help much, since they’re all low quality images, taken from ninja footage. No shrines have been shown in official screenshots or gameplay movies.

They were all mystery shrines, too. All of them just said, “Desecrated Shrine” when you hovered on them, a title that changed to “Restored Shrine” after you clicked them. Their bonus effect on your character was detailed with more pop up text, and an appropriate overhead icon, much like the ones granted in Diablo II.  We have details of a few D3 shrines in the wiki article, but the only confirmed effects were a +DiabloWikiMagic Find shrine, and one that granted DiabloWikiIce Armor.

The mystery effect was a nice touch, and one that might have made shrines more fun in Diablo II. Diablo I had Goat Shrines and Cauldrons that granted random shrine bonuses, but they weren’t used since there were permanently-bad shrine bonuses. All shrines in D2 could be identified before you clicked by the displayed icon, and none had a permanent effect anyway. I’d assume no shrines in D3 will have a permanent effect either, good or bad, hence mystery shrine types might remain.

Clearly, shrines as seen in the Blizzcon 2009 demo were not the final product. They didn’t look very good, and they didn’t do much, and they were deployed in exactly the fashion Jay Wilson said he didn’t like about them in D2. We know from today’s tweet that shrines are still in the game, and that they’re getting better graphics. Which must mean they’ve seen some development work in the year and a half since Blizzcon 2009, and that their functions have been improved. Are they more in line with how Jay said he wanted them to work? Are they better than they were in Diablo II?

Unknown. Let’s review, shall we?

Improving on Diablo II Shrines

There are two main issues with shrines as they were used in Diablo II.

The first as Jay pointed out, is that they were random. Almost all shrines granted a bonus to your character, but that bonus was unconnected to anything else that was happening in the game. It wasn’t like you got Fire Resistance shrines on levels full of fire casters, or Defense Shrines on levels with lots of archers, or shrines that were custom-tailored to your particular character’s needs. The shrine locations and bonuses were entirely random, which is either a feature or a bug, depending on your PoV. To the D1 and D2 developers, their randomness was the whole point, or else they wouldn’t have been random. The D3 devs might have changed their thinking and embraced the randomness, but that clearly wasn’t the direction Jay was leaning in 2009 when he last spoke on the subject.

The second issue is a bigger one, and it relates to the long term value of having shrines in the game at all. Most shrines in D2 were cool in the early going, but pretty much irrelevant by the end game. They granted more stamina, or a big boost to your resistance to one element, or faster mana regeneration, or a bonus to defense or offense, etc. Those weren’t bad properties, but they seldom made any difference in play style, especially for higher level characters who had their equipment set-up finalized. One of the oft-stated design goals of the D3 team is to create bonuses and conditions, via quests and monster behaviors, that do something to noticeably change the usual play style. And that’s a philosophy in direct opposition to inconsequential shrine bonuses.

That’s not necessarily a deal breaker for shrines; they could return much as they were in D2; a cool feature for low and mid level chars that end game characters largely ignore. But it sounded like the D3 devs wanted more from them.

There were a very few D2 shrines that still mattered for high level characters, though. The most notable was the Experience Shrine which granted a 50% experience bonus from all kills, for 144 seconds. One that should have existed and would have changed player behavior was a +Magic Find shrine, so it’s no surprise that the D3 team put in the Fortune Shrine right from the start.

There was one other shrine that made a big difference in gameplay. The Monster shrine, which turned a nearby normal monster into a boss or champion. That shrine was something of a novelty, but the theory was expanded on by D2X’s Evil Urns. Those shrine-like objects could drop multiple stacks of gold, multiple items, or most impressively, they could generate an entire boss pack somewhere nearby. Sometimes right on top of your character!

Undeniably those shrines do what the D3 team says they want; they affect the gameplay, and they’re still impactful even for high level characters. They’re not really “shrines” though, in that they do not grant a character buff, but create a monster effect. Perhaps they could form the basis of a new type of shrine, one that has an effect on the larger game world? They could kill all nearby monsters, or revive all the dead ones, or change normal monsters to champions/bosses, or summon boss packs, refill all the chests (a D1 shrine did that) in the area, etc.

Shrine Solutions

There are a number of things Diablo III could do to make shrines more fun. The first is the easiest. Nothing. Just bring them back much as they were in Diablo II, with some new effects, but bonuses of about the same importance. They’d be lots of fun for low level characters, of some use later in the game, and while largely ignored by end game characters, the Experience and Fortune and maybe some other new shrines would always be worth keeping an eye out for. That’s not a perfect solution, but it’s not horrible. No one hated shrines in D2, most of us just thought they could have done more.

One way to improve that, without changing it greatly, is to tweak the bonuses the shrines grant. Bigger bonuses, longer durations, bonuses scaled to character level, bonuses that share to the entire party, etc. Skill shrines granted +2 to all skills in Diablo II, which was nice early on, but fairly irrelevant when you had level 30 to everything. What if skill shrines had granted +10 skills, though? Even high level characters would have valued them. Same with resistance shrines; what if they’d granted immunities? And so on. The tricky part there is balance. It’s hard to balance shrines to give a meaningful effect without it being too big and game-breaking, which is why I think scaling them, at least somewhat, to Clvl would be a good idea.

Another point is that shrines will be different in D3 due to changes in the game. An obvious example is the skill shrine. It would have had to add +10 or more to really matter in D2, since +skills were such common item bonuses. But in D3 +skills will be a very uncommon item property. Thus +2 will actually matter, or perhaps +5 for high level characters. Or how about a Life or Mana Tap shrine? Most characters in D2 had so much leech and mana regeneration that getting more from a shrine wouldn’t have mattered, except in a few special situations. In D3 we’ll have very little (or no) life/mana leech. So a shrine that granted that, even for a short duration, would immediately change the gameplay.

We can also imagine new shrine bonuses that couldn’t have existed in D2. How about a Trait Shrine, with +2 to all DiabloWikitraits?  Or a Runestone Shrine, that granted higher levels to your DiabloWikiskill runes?

Another shrine feature from Diablo I was bad shrines. Shrines that actually hurt your character, some of them permanently. (Lowering your maximum mana.) No one liked that effect, which is why it didn’t return in Diablo II, but some D3 shrines with temporary debuffs, or amusing ones, might be fun to mix in. (These would work best if shrine properties remain unknown until you click them, as was the case in the Blizzcon 2009 demo.) How about a shrine that temporarily added 100 to two attributes while subtracting 100 from others? Or that had a similar effect on your traits? Or one that randomly changed your skill rune types, for a short duration?

What do you guys think? Tinker with the D2 shrine bonuses? Greatly increase them to make them more useful? Include new shrine bonuses? Ditch shrines entirely? Must shrines (or any feature) always be useful to every type and level of character, or can some stuff just be cool for low level chars without having the same importance at level 60?

 

Tagged As: | Categories: Diablo 3, Diabloii.Net Columns, Game Features

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