Diablo 4 seasonal mechanics are “an opportunity to break the balance”

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Diablo 4 seasons give Blizzard an opportunity to experiment with new mechanics and systems in ways that can sometimes completely break the game. But that’s all part of the fun, Diablo production director Tiffany Wat and general manager Rod Fergusson tell PCGamesN at Blizzcon 2023. In an exclusive interview, the pair talk to us about ‘finding the fun’ and considering balance when thinking about what to keep around for future seasons.

With the second season of Diablo 4 in full swing, Blizzard announced at Blizzcon that a set of five Diablo 4 Malignant Rings are bringing back some of the most popular powers that were introduced for the game’s first season, which are no longer available in the RPG game following that season’s conclusion. Even those old season one characters, now moved to D4’s everlasting Eternal Realm, have had any Malignant powers stripped away, but can find these new rings to have a taste of that strength once more.

We ask Wat and Fergusson whether cherry-picking some fan-favorite mechanics and carrying them over in a new form is something the team wants to do with future seasons. “We’re definitely trying it out,” Wat tells us. “I’ve actually had a lot of discussions with [associate game director] Joe Piepiora and he’s talked about this extensively. It’s something we’re trying, and we’ve definitely heard a lot of people love the powers from season one.

“As a Necro player, which I know Rod [Fergusson] is as well, I am super excited to get that ring on Tuesday [November 7, when Diablo 4 patch 1.2.2 arrives],” Wat continues. “Honestly, I started the season as a Rogue and then I was like, wait, we’re doing the Malignant Rings. So I started playing a Necro, which is great.” I’m in somewhat the same boat; I’ve been really enjoying my Sorcerer, but the temptation to pick up another of the Diablo 4 classes in light of this news is very real.

“I think seasons are an opportunity for us to kind of break the balance sometimes,” Wat muses, something that’s playing out with some of the strongest powers in Diablo 4 Season 2. “Finding ways to break the game is part of the amazing fun of ARPGS. And why does the seasonal mechanic work so well? Because every season you have a new opportunity to bring in a new play style, find some crazy new power.”

As for how those mechanics could carry forward into new seasons, there’s obviously balance to consider. While some players might call for all mechanics to stick around forever, the nature of Diablo 4’s systems would make that a balancing nightmare; an ever-stacking tower of multipliers that will inevitably crumble in a cacophony of OP chaos eventually. Wat agrees: “I don’t think that we always want to take the craziest powers and always keep adding them to the game, because your game’s going to get to a place where it’s just outrageous.

“But we want our game fundamentally to be fun – Rod talked about how it’s about ‘finding the fun’ not necessarily balancing it perfectly,” she says. “So if we find features that players are really, really resonating with because they’re absolutely fun, I think that we’ll look for opportunities to potentially bring them back.”

Diablo 4 Season 2 boss ladder - Uber Duriel, a green-skinned demon.

“We’re also bringing those [Malignant] Rings to the Eternal Realm,” Fergusson adds, noting another key benefit of the new system. “So for people who maybe haven’t gotten on board the seasonal bandwagon, they can try it out, which is kind of cool.” While I’ve long been on board with the concept of the seasonal reset, there are certainly players for whom the idea of losing their character progress is unthinkable, and giving them a way to try out a sample platter of the seasonal systems is a nice way to show them what’s going on in that realm.

“But Tiffany’s nailed it,” Fergusson continues, “[seasons] are an experimentation sandbox every three months so we can go and do something crazy and turn it on. And we know some things will be what we call ‘evergreen.’ So things like the boss ladder we added in season two, that’s something that’s going to be staying with us. But the Abattoir of Zir [a new endgame challenge coming in December] – to be determined. We’ll see how people receive it.”

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“We liked the response that we got to the Malignant powers,” Fergusson concludes, “and we wanted to try this with the rings and have more uniques so yeah, we’ll see. But it’s not a for-sure thing.” It’s certainly reassuring to hear that it’s something the team has in mind moving forwards, however – it’s always nice to know that particularly cool seasonal mechanics aren’t gone forever.

We’ll have more from our Blizzcon interview with the Diablo 4 team soon, so be sure to stay tuned to PCGamesN for that. In the meantime, get up to speed on the new Diablo 4 Vessel of Hatred DLC announced at the show, and have a look through the best Diablo 4 builds to make sure you’re ready for the Abattoir of Zir’s arrival.

Interview conducted by Lauren Bergin at Blizzcon 2023.

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