Editorial: Did patch 1.04 fix Diablo 3's endgame?

As someone who has sunk a lot of hours and energy cursing elite mobs and their entire lineages in Diablo 3, I've had a lot of time to contemplate the game taken as a whole. Despite being the fastest-selling PC game of all time, backlash about the game's design has seemed to persist. The community's core criticism was that Diablo's endgame wore out like old gum—it wasn't as fun or sustainable as Diablo II's. For the most part, I agreed with that. Patch 1.04 launched last week: Blizzard's medicine for addressing some of these ongoing concerns. I've spent some time with 1.04 to try and evaluate how it's changed Diablo III.

Before I can really answer, "Did this patch fix the game?" I have to ask, "What's actually broken about it?" I felt like I got my money's worth out of the 80-odd hours I played prior to 1.04. I wasn't one of those people that sunk hundreds of hours into Diablo II, and I didn't go in expecting to sink hundreds into Diablo 3. 80 hours of mostly memorable, polished fun for $60... you can do a lot worse in the games industry. But this article isn't for people like me. It's for players who were hoping to rack up the same ungodly playtime that D3's predecessor offered. Is 1.04 an elixir for these complaints?

The Paragon System

The Paragon system is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: 100 new levels, slapped on top of the 60 the game launched with. In terms of the time it will take you to hit paragon 100, it computes out to be over double the time it takes to go 1-60, though I obviously have not yet had time to cap it out. But does it add enough incentive to keep playing if you were out of steam before 1.04? When you pair it with the stacking magic find, it just might. Even just the fact that the new numerical goal is out there inspired me to hop back in.

The verdict: It's a welcome addition, and I find very little about it that doesn't go in the "positive" column. But stacking magic find doesn't really mean much if they haven't fixed the issues with...

The Item Game

I'm not going to comment on whether or not I think D3's drop mechanics are balanced to force you to use the auction house. Speculation abounds, but I don't think there's enough concrete data to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt one way or another. That said, as a player who never uses the auction house, I have absolutely experienced the frustrations with the rest of you: I don't get upgrades enough, and when I do, they aren't that good (or force me to give up a moderate amount of one stat for a moderate amount of another, rather than being a linear improvement).

From what I have been able to play of 1.04 so far, this doesn't seem to have changed significantly. Looking at the updates made to legendary items , I'm pretty impressed. But that assumes you can actually find a legendary, which I have only twice been able to, across five characters and 95 hours. I suppose it's fair to say that I wasn't expecting a legendary to just drop the moment I got in--the patch has only been out a week. So I'll withhold judgement on that particular angle for now.

The issue with rare items (which I brought up in our interview with Jay Wilson and Andrew Chambers ) seems to still exist, however. Maybe the random number generator just hates me, but anecdotally, most of the rares I've seen drop since 1.04 look very much like the rares pre-1.04: they often are only marginally better than a blue I already have slotted, or contain a large bonus to a stat I frankly don't care about in exchange for making me give up something like a gem slot. Now that legendaries have had a tuning pass, I think rares definitely need some more love. That aside, drop rates on higher item-level stuff (even without a bunch of paragon levels) does seem to have improved slightly.

Verdict: I wouldn't call it "fixed," but they are making steps in the right direction. Rare items still feel relatively underpowered.

Class Balance

My Barbarian is my endgame character. For me, the big question for 1.04 was whether I would, as Jay Wilson mentioned in our interview , be able to play a more offensive-focused build in the later acts.

The short answer, so far, is no. The minute I rearranged my hotbar back to the DPS-oriented build I was using up through the earlier acts of Hell difficulty, Diablo's minions ground my face into meat patties for a cookout being held in celebration of my stolen dignity. Some of my spells, like Hammer of the Ancients, certainly are much more destructive... but it still isn't enough. If you have any experience with the other classes going through endgame content after the patch, and have discovered previously-doomed builds that are now viable, let us know.

Verdict: The stated goals for build diversity haven't been accomplished yet. In terms of the Barbarian, specifically, you still need a very defensively-focused load-out to survive in the endgame. Granted this could have less to do with class balance, and more to do with the fact that certain elite packs are still way harder than the act bosses.

Putting it all together

Did patch 1.04 "fix" Diablo 3? Not really. But it also didn't hurt it. Things are, on the whole, moving in a positive direction. There are still issues with the item game that need a lot more attention to hit what I would consider the "sweet spot," and at least the class I play primarily still seems very pigeon-holed in terms of viable Inferno builds (unless maybe you're way over-geared already). The biggest improvement, from my perspective, is the Paragon system. By giving players something new and quantifiable to strive for that is both separate from gear, and will help you get better gear faster as you progress through it, Diablo 3's endgame has become considerably more compelling than it was before the patch.

No need to take my word for it, though. Jump back in for yourselves and let us know in the comments what you think of how far the game has come, and how much further it needs to go.