We had a pretty fast week when it came to updates to the latest Delve league. Most of the updates were concerning how Sulphite operates in terms of amounts one can get and the cost. However, that brought up a great deal of controversy which required a fast update as a result of essentially poor math. Although most of the changes are really aimed towards high end Delvers, we should examine the bigger issue: the expectations of what Delve meant to players.
Originally, Delve appeared to be what Greater Rifts were supposed to be for Diablo 3 players: an infinite dungeon. However, similar to Greater Rifts, the notion of an infinite dungeon was halted by gating in the form of resources. What ended up happening is this poor user experience of splitting between non-Delve game play and Delve game play.
The intention of having a resource like Sulphite seemed to be predicated upon forcing players to split their time between leveling and Delving. What does that mean? Essentially, GGG still wants players tackling their normal content that has existed for a while, whereas this new content acts as an augmentation to that content.
How can we compare Delves to Incursions though? The primary difference is the disruptive experience. Incursions felt optional for the most part. Say if you had a very good build to handle Incursions, you could dive right in. Only when you were ready to tackle the Temple, you could start. And if you decided to avoid the Temple, you could just open it and leave immediately.
Compare that to how Delves work. In Delves, you’re going to a new area where you must spend significant time going deeper into a mine. The way that time structure works can be profitable in both leveling and gear. Yet it’s a huge distraction from the normal leveling process as well as mapping.
Now, here’s the crux of the problem: context switching.
Delves are a poor user experience due to the massive context switching that must occur. Your intent and focus in a Delve distracts you from your previous game play. Once you get into the Delve zone, you just want to stay there. The moment you run out of Sulphite though, you’re pretty screwed because you must re-gather all that Sulphite.
The problem ended up extending itself once people realized that you could simply use the Quarry from Act 9 to re-build your Sulphite within a minute. This resembled the way Diablo 3 handled Bounties in Normal acts where it was equally rewarding and fast vs doing them on harder modes that didn’t scale as well.
In the end, GGG decided to try and improve the way Sulphite scaled, especially at the end game level. What ended up happening was a huge wall for people unable to sustain high level maps. So being able to Delve would be impossible just due to the math involved. Thereafter, GGG scaled back some more numbers as a quick solution.
But did changing the numbers really resolve the core problem of context switching?
In my estimate, the answer is no. The idea of Delve has nothing to do with Sulphite but on the expectations of what players want. The main thing is an alternate path from the boring story mode leveling process with crappy bosses, poor loot drops and just game play they’ve probably already done hundreds of times over with a simple hack-n-slash mode that feels progressive.
In all brutal honesty, the concept of the Delve makes almost no sense. Why is it around? How does it interact with the rest of the world? What’s the point?
The only real answers are loot, new grinding system and a new cool looking feature. But again what’s the point? I don’t get why it was introduced outside of being a new cool looking mechanic. What’s the intent?
And the reason I ask over and over again is that I don’t understand the limiting factor of Sulphite. That part makes no sense.
There’s been proposals to just eliminate Sulphite altogether. I believe this is the best solution. GGG may have this initial fear of having their older content being unused but I think that fear is somewhat irrational. First people are going to play what they want to play. The most important part is that people are playing.
Second, if people aren’t playing older content, ask why. Perhaps, the simple answer is that the content is horribly stale. Say what you want about Blizzard and Diablo 3, but one of the best moves they made was only enforcing story line mode once on a single character when Reaper of Souls came out.
If the older content is stale, then find ways to spruce it up or just give players the option of re-playing it. Don’t force it just because you put that effort into it. Most of the content has been around for 5-6 years. I doubt veteran players are going to bother spending time listening over and over again to each speech from every NPC.
Also, I don’t see how adding Sulphite helps anyone. I mentioned it before but a mechanic like that doesn’t add more money into GGG’s pockets. In fact, potentially people might feel offended and quit once they realize they can’t bypass a certain wall.
Here’s how I see how the so-called infinite dungeon as the way I imagine most players do. You have vertical and horizontal scaling. Vertical implies difficulty. Thus, as you go deeper, the rate at which you kill things will slow as well as your chances of death. Horizontal scaling exists to allow one to get the resources for progressing lower.
A person should hit a point where they find a good balance of being able to survive and eliminate things around them. Once they figure out that depth, they start moving left or right to build up the items and resources. Neither moving down nor left to right would cost resources. The only resource is time since the goal here is to gain experience and levels.
Something I would add is a way around the lab system. Yes, they have the enchanted fossils, but I’m talking about the need to do lab. I don’t want to see the same mechanics of lab in this mechanism but just one’s ability to push through to gain the Ascendancy. Lab runners and people who actually enjoy lab can continue to do lab. But both systems should be optional.
What would be great is to demonstrate from allowing people these options the resulting data. Meaning determining what people enjoyed in terms of what they used. That aspect would speak volumes on how GGG could target their games as well as how they build features. For instance, they could remove ideas of things like Sulphite in the future or change how lab works if people demonstrate what a pain it is. Or perhaps, eliminating story mode.
At any rate, the take away here should be that not every mechanism needs an equivalent resource to be a grind. A grind on top of a grind does not make for a good feature. The two have to be balanced and have reasonable expectations based on certain common denominators.