Diablo 4's magnificent stallions may be more powerful than ever, but the game itself is in a tough spot. It's always had its disgruntled players, but the blow done to its reputation by the almost universally reviled pre-season 1 patch has seriously soured the mood in the game's community. Although Blizzard apologised for the update's disastrous launch, it didn't totally backpedal on it, and the mood in spaces like the game's subreddit—once a hive of hype— is still bitter.
Other studios are paying attention. In a chat with IGN, developers on long-running Diablo-like Path of Exile gave their take on Diablo 4's rocky season 1 launch, offering Blizzard their sympathy while emphasising that their own fans shouldn't worry: Grinding Gear is taking a different tack with Path of Exile 2.
"Honestly, when I look at that, all I can think is, 'Man, it's tough. It's a real tough situation to be in,'" said studio technical director Jonathan Rogers, remarking on the difficulty of running a season-based live service game. "The learning process for running a live game with Seasons like this is a hard one," said Rogers, but thankfully Grinding Gear has "learned our lessons about how to do this stuff" over its many years of season-esque challenge leagues.
"I feel very bad for the developers, because I'm sure that they mean well, but yeah, it's a hard lesson to learn," said Rogers.
Managing director Chris Wilson was a bit more specific. "There are times when a developer looks at a thing in their game that is too fast and they think. 'I should slow this down,'" he said, likely referring to much-maligned class-based nerfs in Diablo 4's 1.1.0 patch, "however, there is a process for that." What process? Wilson didn't say. But I suspect it bears very little resemblance to Blizzard's handling of 1.1.0.
With Diablo 4's fan sentiment where it is, Rogers was understandably keen to highlight just how very un-Diablo 4 Grinding Gear's Path of Exile 2 is going to be. D4 is on an "MMO path," said Rogers, noting the game's abundance of cooldowns and its open world design, while POE 2 is "going more in the kind of like Elden Ring sort of direction," meaning a "much more action-focused" game "with a sort of hardcore bent".
POE 2's design philosophy doesn't feature "much in the way of cooldowns," said Rogers, instead he says it's focused more on action: "very much more, 'What skill is best to use here in this moment because it's just the right situation.' Things like the way you never lose control of your character … that's kind of our main focus". He also emphasised the game's depth and complexity versus Diablo 4, but that's less of a surprise to anyone who—like me—has ever fired up POE 1 and found themselves confronted by a skill tree that looks like some kind of spiralling diagram from Ars Goetia.
I've never put much time into Path of Exile, but I have to admit hearing Rogers distinguish it from Diablo like this makes me more tempted than ever. I enjoyed my 20 or so hours with D4, but I've long since put the game down to focus on other stuff. Perhaps I should try to get into Path of Exile 2's closed beta when it hits on June 7 next year?