Diablo is a series all about killing hordes of monsters to harvest them for XP and powerful loot, so Blizzard knew it had a problem when players in the Diablo Immortal beta were actively avoiding leveling up.
The strange behavior is a reaction to a system Blizzard is trying to perfect. It wants Diablo Immortal to be a game people play together, it is an MMO, after all. For people to buddy up and take on challenges as a group, they need to be roughly the same level as one another. However, how do you keep people at similar levels if you’re only able to play for an hour a day whereas one of your friends can play for five?
What Blizzard has come up with is the World Paragon system. “We want to make sure friends who play different amounts of time each day can still always play together as a team, instead of the strong players ‘carrying’ the weaker ones,” Diablo Immortal’s senior system designer Kris Zierhut explains in a blog post.
Once you reach the maximum level in Diablo Immortal, you begin earning Paragon Levels, each level gives you access to improved loot and lets you progress along the Paragon Trees. To stop players with more time racing ahead, Blizzard has given each Diablo Immortal server a World Paragon Level that increases by two each day. If you’re below that level then you get increased experience, letting you level up faster. The counter to this is if you’re a higher level then you get reduced experience, slowing your progress and stopping you from getting too far ahead of other players.
In effect, Blizzard is penalizing you for playing the game too much.
The system worked, though, keeping players broadly close to one another’s levels, allowing them to party up without one player carrying another.
The problem came when Blizzard expanded the World Paragon system to also apply to loot. As Zierhut says “players who play more hours will collect more loot,” and that can give them an advantage. Loot can be broken down into salvage, and salvage is used to upgrade gear, letting players with more time end up with significantly better gear than time-poor players, even if they don’t end up a significantly higher Paragon Level.
When Blizzard applied the Paragon World System to loot, reducing the amount of salvage they got access to based on what Paragon Level they were “it led to players in the Closed Beta [to avoid] experience” to keep their level low and their loot gains high. Zierhut tells how players stopped “picking up XP orbs dropped by Elite monsters, or completing quests but not turning them in.” Not the behavior Blizzard wants to see.
Blizzard has responded by reverting the salvage modifiers so now players can “gather items as long as you like, and Paragon Levels earned will no longer penalize how much salvage you receive.” But, Blizzard still has the problem of how it stops players with more time to play pulling too far ahead of players without.
“Our current plan is to increase the salvage materials needed to advance items at very high ranks,” Zierhut says. “This will allow all players to reach rank sixteen Legendaries, but only the truly dedicated players will reach even higher ranks. Very active players will still be more powerful from higher item ranks and have more choices of Legendary and Set items, but they won’t get so far ahead that they can’t play with their friends.”
Diablo Immortal is still on track for release this year, but hopefully with issues like the above ironed out.
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Julian's been writing about video games for more than a decade. In that time, he's always been drawn to the strange intersections between gaming and the real world, like when he interviewed a NASA scientist who had become a Space Pope in EVE Online, or when he traveled to Ukraine to interview game developers involved in the 2014 revolution, or that time he tore his trousers while playing Just Dance with a developer.