Update 1: Bashiok has added further, really long replies. I would suggest reading it all if you’re curious about more blue insight on skill runes. Also, I have never seen Bashiok praise an entire thread of responses, so enjoy it while you can.
Skill runes have been the popular controversial topic in the past weeks since the launch of Diablo III Beta Patch 13. For those unfamiliar with the debate, those against the new system often rally under the claim that the new system demotes customization, effectively homogenizing all level 60 heroes. Those that speak out in defense of the new system claim that rune ranks and customization have been re-allocated to itemized affixes on your gear, effectively maintaining and even diversifying builds at level 60. And of course, there are people everywhere in between the polar ends of the debate continuum.
The controversy has merited many threads and responses both on our forums and on the official boards. Topics include everything from brainstorming new ideas, to support, to doomsday predictions for Diablo 3. In fact, the volume on this topic is rather enormous.
On the official forums, Bashiok added some of his perspective on the matter:
Well, I hope no one could actually believe that last part is true. I mean, in Diablo II you were locked, you had no option to change your attributes or skills, and all you did then was go on an item hunt to perfect that build by getting the most perfect items. How is having no choice at all, save leveling a new character, more compelling of a game than one where you can use your knowledge, and experience, and change and adapt and min-max as you go? It has a definite psychological premise. I made these choices and for better or worse, they’re mine. But our argument is that it’s not actually a better or more enjoyable game, and the psychology of that customization process isn’t actually based on any real needs for the game to be fun or enjoyable. For some games it absolutely might be, because they have a game style, pacing, or other mechanics that work really well with that kind of system. It is not true for Diablo, and it is not true for World of Warcraft, which is going to a hot swappable format in Mists. We all subscribed to the idea that in an RPG you build a character, there’s an investment in those choices, and that makes the game fun. We do not believe that to be true for these two games any longer, it may make total sense for another game, but for ours it does not. (It is worth noting that in World of Warcraft you don’t pick and choose all of your abilities based on talents, which I would argue makes the Diablo III customization that much more compelling.)
Also, as a fun tidbit, respec costs in WoW stuck around for so long because they were one of the few and consistent gold sinks the game had. Not because it encouraged some idea of permanent player choices.
Diablo games have always been about re-playability. Afterall, that is the whole point of the randomized dungeons, loot, monsters, etc.. This game has none and sticks another stake in it with the 10 character limit.
Replayability is not the same as a mandate to re-level characters to try something else out. Replayability is the enjoyment of the experience of playing the game even after you’ve completed the main story, which by the way is completely what playing through the subsequent difficulties is. Most games have replayability because their game is finite, you hit a Game Over screen. Diablo doesn’t really have replayability, what it has is near-infinite content due to the randomized elements.
I personally love leveling characters because the levels and the new stuff you get feels super rewarding. It’s great fun to get new toys and things as you get stronger. I think it’s great if you also enjoy that. That is still totally possible in the game. You can make additional characters in other regions by just jumping over to that server, since you have 10 slots on each, or you can (and I know this may sound shocking) offload everything to your shared stash, delete the character, and enjoy leveling a new one. That process of leveling, if you enjoy purely that process, is still completely possible. I don’t level multiple characters in WoW of the same class because I don’t want to spend some gold to respec, I level new characters because I enjoy leveling new characters. Now, if I was forced to level a new character because I want to try out a new build, that has absolutely nothing to do with the enjoyment of leveling a character. That is a means to an end. They may overlap, you may enjoy leveling a character even though you’re being forced to do so, but they are not the same thing.
Read past the fold for his complete response.
And this sums up the debate in a nut-shell. What you just said here is that Blizzard’s preference is not RPG elements where players have control over building and investing in your choices. I read this as saying that Blizzard wants to create a different gaming experience that focuses on the game-play, not the character creation.
This may be an acceptable approach, but it certainly alienates those players who enjoy the RPG elements.
But the RPG elements are still there. You’re still making builds and attempting to find the right mix of options, and more importantly trying to find the items that can make it successful. That is the same exact thing as Diablo II. How is being locked in to any one of those systems more of a customization system? Because its the way other games have been made? Because you need a math degree and schematic to make sure you dont screw up? That’s great, but it’s not a reason to argue less customization. Is it a reason that you can spend less time on websites and spread sheets theorizing and more time actually experimenting and playing an awesome game? Absolutely.
The itemization argument seems to be the biggest proponent for the new system. Tinfoil hatters will say that this is simply to ensure that optimal builds will require the use of Auction Houses, since it will be so unlikely to find all optimal gear yourself with such a large item pool. This may or may not be the case, though it probably is. We saw in Jay Wilson‘s most recent game update that they were “trying to force” runes into items. That in itself was a road to failure, as creativity is strangled whenever forcing is involved. The fact that they were trying to make this work indicates that they had pressure to focus on rune itemization above any other creative/elegant solution.
There is some credence to what Bashiok is saying, though. Many of the choices that people want are there – and this means that there is just as much customization as before, if not more due to the increased item pool. But while the choices are there, we still lack the permanence that many have grown used to as a staple for the RPG experience. And perhaps that’s true, but the plain fact is that the permanence of choice is no longer Blizzard’s vision. It seems that those against the idea will have to swallow the sour medicine or move on. Everybody has a different perspective on what makes a game fun, and it seems that character permanence, for Blizzard, is a thing of the past.
How do you feel about the new rune system? Do you think it will strangle re-playability, or do you think Blizzard will still provide a great experience that keeps you playing for the long run? For me, it’s rather simple, as I play for the PvP. I have a built-in source of re-playability, but this is often not the case for the majority of players.