Diablo 3 continues to grow bigger and better with each update from Blizzard after the Reaper of Souls expansion. In a re-review I did over at Black Gate, I went over this in a lot more detail, but there is something that I want to expand on. Diablo 3's biggest problem at the moment for me is still its end game; something that hasn't been fixed all that well with patches. The problem is a contradiction of mechanics and progression that deserves a bigger examination.
Spreadsheet Stats Spree:
I'm not going to retread my previous thoughts on Diablo 3 and patch 2.3; you can find all that and links in my post over at Black Gate. If I had to describe Diablo 3's end game, I would use two words: Random and Linear; I know that doesn't make sense now, but it will in a minute.
Diablo 3's itemization at the end game is based on legendary and set items; unique gear that offers higher stat ranges and sometimes special effects. Due to how the loot tables were designed and then rebalanced, legendary and set items are the cream of the crop for players at the end. This is a big difference compared to earlier in the game or specifically 1-69; where the loot table the player will have access to changes as they go up in level. The changing loot tables offer power progression to the player and motivates them to see the end of the game. That means even low level legendary items could be replaced by higher level rare ranked items.
However at level 70 the loot tables stop, every player will have access to the same table with the same possible item drops and stat ranges. In other words, despite having random stat allocations, there is a literal limit to how strong someone can make their character in Diablo 3.
This is taken further by how sets work compared to Diablo 2 and what they offer to players. End game class specific sets will confer skill changing effects for players who collect some or all of the items. These effects are so powerful, that if they weren't limited to these sets they would be considered borderline game breaking.
End gameplay is about acquiring a specific unique item that reduces the number of set items needed to get bonuses; effectively allowing you to have more set bonuses active thanks to spreading out the gear. Once you have your chosen set or sets defined along with your build, Diablo 3 for all intents and purposes is done, which takes us to the somewhat endless grind Blizzard has implemented.
Torment Times Ten:
One of the smarter decisions Blizzard made with Diablo 3 was giving players complete control of how hard the game should be. Even though enemies scale to the player's level, they can make things easier or harder by tweaking the difficulty setting before starting a game. Once you hit the end game, the big decision that you have to make is when to switch from playing master to Torment 1; this is because certain legendary and set items are locked to the Torment range of difficulty.
The start of Torment can be tough for players who weren't fully optimize before making the leap, but all it takes is a few level 70 legendaries to change that. From there, there are 9 more ranks of Torment; 4 of which were added in patch 2.3, but here's the problem: Nothing else of note changes from Torment 2 to 10. Each level up raises enemy stats, magic find, gold and experience, but nothing new is unlocked. Yes, you are getting access to legendary and set items while raising your Paragon level faster, but the game is still played the same way; no new enemies appear, no new areas, bosses or challenges.
You can also do Greater Rifts which at the highest levels is harder than Torment 10, but again the same complaints about lack of change are here too.
Unless you are competing for high marks in the season, there is no incentive to keep playing Diablo 3 past Torment 1. Blizzard realized this and have made some minor allowances to try to extend the end game.
First are ancient variants of legendary items which have higher stats and abilities compared to their regular versions; these are also a lot rarer to find. Second is the recent addition of Kunai's Cube which allows you to harvest special effects from legendaries and equip them on your character, which offers a long time scavenger hunt.
These are band aid fixes to the problem and still force the player to create their own incentive instead of the game motivating them, which gives me an idea of what I would like to see.
Blizzard has been stuck between a rock and a hard place for some time with Diablo 3's end game. The problem as we've talked about is there just isn't a meaningful reason to keep going once the player has found what they wanted in Torment 1. What there needs to be is something new to challenge and motivate someone, and what better way to do that would be to mix things up.
My proposal would be to make the jump from Torment 4 to 5 be huge and essentially act as restarting the game in Diablo 2. When you restarted in Diablo 2 and went up a higher difficulty, enemies not only had their stats altered but they became more dangerous; enemy modifiers became stronger and more abundant. To compensate, the developers essentially "refreshed" the entire game's loot. What happened was that all the items in the game were boosted and renamed; so a rare club found on normal would be far different than one found on hell.
What this would do is provide another jump in terms of content and challenges, but also rewards for players. At this point, there should be no doubt that the players going for this are the hardest of the hardcore, as you need to be using a complete set with the chosen skills in order to start surviving at Torment 6 and up.
The beauty of this method is that it won't affect the balance or content for players below it as they would never see this level of difficulty. However, the allure of having this new tier of challenges and rewards would help motivate people to keep going and help make the endless grind have a few more carrots in front of the players.
Evil Returns...Again and Again and Again:
Diablo 3 is a great ARPG and shows that level of detail Blizzard has with all of their game designs, but for a game that has such a strong beginning and middle, the end is just lacking to me. I don't know if I will ever get to Torment 5, let along Torment 10 in the current form and it shows how linear Diablo 3 really is. Right now, the power curve has an end to it that removes one of the major allures of playing an ARPG. The foundation is there for an all around amazing game, Blizzard just needs to figure out how to stick the landing.