Season 16 of Diablo 3, also referred to as the ‘Season of Grandeur’, went live on January 18. It’s notable because, unlike prior seasons, it makes set-piece bonuses kick in with one less piece of the set than normal. Usually, this power is only available through a legendary item called The Ring of Grandeur.
The game’s meta has long focused on set-piece bonuses. The new season, which is flanked by other tweaks to armor set balance, is meant to shake up the stale list of top builds. It’s appreciated, but seasons could (and should) be so much more.
Diablo 3 has faded…
The first season of Diablo 3 began on August 29, 2014. It came just months after the Reaper of Souls expansion and packed a list of new legendary items. The seasons that followed were full of promise. New items were added, and the patches that came each season added new areas and features. Kanai’s Cube came in August 2015 as part of Patch 2.3, and in January of 2016, Patch 2.4 added Set Dungeons and Empowered Rifts.
It was a prolific time for content in Diablo 3, but as time went on, Blizzard let off the gas. Seasons started to see fewer new features and items, while patches became less frequent. Multiple seasons passed without major changes to the game.
Season 16 is more of the same. It makes a tweak to the meta but isn’t backed by any major patch features. New levels? Monsters? Rifts? Nah. That’d require real effort, and Blizzard’s not willing to back Diablo 3 with more than a skeleton crew.
Path of Exile has staked out territory as Diablo 3’s alternative.
It’s a strange situation. Diablo 3 is part of a popular franchise with over 20 years of history. It has a loyal following eager for updates. Yet Blizzard seems content with leaving it for dead. There’s little hope for new classes, new challenges, or new feature updates. Even Heroes of the Storm, recently left to wither as the company moves on to other projects, has enjoyed better support.
…while Path of Exile surged
Blizzard doesn’t seem to think players are interested in an older game that lacks a competitive esports scene. Nevermind that every new console release of Diablo 3 – including the new Switch port – sold like delicious hotcakes. It’s a serious miscalculation, one that does a disservice to Diablo and suggests Blizzard doesn’t understand why its fans stay engaged.
How could a game like Diablo 3 be different? Look no further than Path of Exile. An early access success story before the term “early access” was popular, Path of Exile has staked out territory as Diablo 3’s alternative. Grinding Gear Games, the developer, committed to an aggressive update schedule that constantly adds new features, new quests, and new items.
That schedule has, if anything, accelerated over time, as both new expansions and new seasons hit at regular intervals. These often include unique ways to play the game. 2018’s expansion, Betrayal, arrived with a new meta-game about the investigation of a shadowy organization called the Immortal Syndicate. It also brought back content from prior leagues as permanent game features.
The result? Popularity. Path of Exile peaked at 34,371 concurrent players on launch in October of 2013. The new expansion, Betrayal, saw a peak of 123,462 players, the game’s best turnout yet. It’s now six years old, yet more popular than ever before.
Forcing players to move on
Diablo has a future. The controversial mobile game, Diablo Immortal, will arrive this year, followed by Diablo 4 in 2020 (or later). Blizzard clearly plans to do more with the franchise, which makes the decision to neglect Diablo 3 even more bizarre.
Gamers, like everyone else, stick to what they know. Examine any list of best-selling or most-popular games and you’ll see the same names appear time and time again. Grand Theft Auto V. Fortnite. Call of Duty. These franchises are popular not because they’re good (though they often are), but because they’re always part of the conversation. Most of today’s top games have lasting appeal.
The trivial updates to Diablo 3 ignore that, giving games like Path of Exile the chance to assimilate fans of Blizzard’s franchise. That’s bad for the game, bad for fans, and most damning of all, it’s boring. There’s nothing grand about the ‘Season of Grandeur’.
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