Your Deeds of Valor Will be Remembered

“That bauble around your neck—was it bought with gold or iron?”

Hardcore mode. Sounds intimidating. It’s for “hardcore players,” which as any erstwhile WoW forum reader knows, is the opposite of “casual players.” Which is what, statistically speaking, you probably are. This post is about why, name notwithstanding, Hardcore mode is for you. Paradoxically, it can be not only the most intense way to play, but also the most casual way to play. My goal in writing this is for you (whoever you are) to try it. Nothing more. Next time you’re logging in to D3 and don’t have a pressing goal in mind, or aren’t sure what you want to do, just hit that red button on the character creation screen and see what happens. Don’t have to do it for long, or have any big plan, just try it for an evening. There’s really only one risk: a lot of people never go back.

Do you want your possessions identified?

Diablo was in one sense the first of its kind, but it was really a update of a long-standing game genre, the “roguelike” (most famously Nethack). Diablo added graphics to the then-existing hack-and-slash dungeon crawling game concept. But a brief look back at Nethack, a well-known classic, is informative. Dungeon sizes, spell and monster lists, and item stat combinations were far more vast than we’re used to in the era after text-based games (aside: not having graphics used to leave quite a lot of resources free for other things). People would play for years and stumble across new spell/item/monster interactions, because it was virtually impossible to learn them all on your own. Beating the whole game was hard, and very few people did. The interesting fact for today though, is something that was so obvious there wasn’t even a name for it at the time: it was Hardcore. The whole value of the game was learning from your deaths. The first time I tried playing, my character died of hunger before I made it off the first level (so I don’t leave you in suspense, my next character died of food poisoning). Once I mastered the nuances of eating properly, and other skills, I’d get further with each character. Not because of any in-game property that carried over, but because I learned more about what to do and what not to do.

The idea that each character represents wasted time merely because he dies couldn’t be further from the player’s mind. The value is what happened along the way, and even though you roll up a fresh new character as far as the game is concerned, you, as a player, bring something new from the previous game that’s valuable and can’t be taken away. As a final aside: since Nethack (1987) was far before the era of online-only gaming, of course it was trivial to continue playing dead characters by copying save files or the like. But this was considered the highest form of cheating, and more importantly for this discussion–the people who did so would never even understand that they’d missed out on the entire game.

“This death takes place in the shadow of new life.”

Videogames have changed in the past 25 years, and so fortunately we have a much wider variety of playstyles to choose from. But what haven’t changed are the reasons that focusing on adventuring, careful choices, and learning from your mistakes will make for a great time, and for an experience you’re far more likely to remember long after you’re done playing.

1) No content is meaningless. The first time you play through D3, everything is new and exciting. You don’t know what abilities upcoming monsters will have, you’re not sure how your next spell will work even if you read the description, and each item you upgrade to is the best thing you’ve ever had. That’s all well and good, and I played through D3 softcore the first time, like nearly everyone (interestingly, I had no idea I’d ever touch Hardcore at the time). But what about after that? You feel like playing an alt, but suddenly that experience bar looks pretty long. Sure, you’ll do what everyone does, and plow through all the zones as quickly as you can while watching TV (don’t deny it), so that after many hours you can try another class in Hell or Inferno, and deck them out in sweet gear you grabbed off the AH. But what if it didn’t have to be that way?

In Hardcore, you have an interest in what’s going on the entire time. Which isn’t to say it’s a constant strenuous challenge–once you’ve done it once or twice, Normal difficulty is pretty comfortable and nonthreatening. And even in later levels, you tend not to play in areas where you’re always on the edge of your seat. But you always care about how you’re playing. And even when things are easy, it’s because you’re set up well with gear/skills that you picked, and as a player know how to handle the various monsters you might encounter. That constantly rewarding feeling is one of the biggest things that will hook you in to the game.

2) Choices matter. As a corollary to the above, D3, before the very high difficulties, rarely causes you to take even a serious moment’s thought about gear or spec decisions. The free respecs, freely tradable gear, and lack of penalty for death all conspire to let you generally do absolutely whatever you want without much care about how well it plays. Now this has its upsides–accessibility, uninterrupted gameplay, and character diversity. But it also leaves something else missing: the feeling of having made a meaningful decision about your character and, for better or worse, seeing how it turns out. To state the obvious: sometimes this means you can fail. But a consistent theme here is that “failure” is not all-downside. Not only do you learn from it, but even when you succeed, the very possibility of failure is what makes the success matter. Killing a boss and knowing that you would have died if you’d made different decisions about gear, skills, or tactics (perhaps you know it because you’ve died before) is the highest payoff the game has to offer.

3) Goals. Once you’re level 60, you can try to beat Inferno, which is a serious challenge in its own right before the 1.0.3 patch, and probably a reasonable challenge even afterwards. But how do you go about that, and/or, what do you after you’ve done it? All there is to do is get better gear. The whole game becomes an elaborate exercise in amassing wealth (see our essay about the Auction House for more on how gold is the be all and end all of high-end D3). This is the biggest reason why I often say that Hardcore can be the most casual way to play. In softcore, improving your stature can only be accomplished by farming or somehow acquiring more gold. It is slow, time-intensive, and doesn’t even center on using your character to do hard things–it’s usually about doing easy things repeatedly. In Hardcore you’re never in that state. The goal is always to progress further, by seeing what your character is capable of. No matter what stage you’re at, you have an interesting challenge in front of you. If you want a version of Diablo where you’re going to log in and worry about killing the next monster, not about how the Auction House is going to treat you today, Hardcore is for you. If you’re limited in your play time, think hard about whether a game in which finite standalone adventures matter might be more interesting than an unending grind for gold.

4) No real-money Auction House. The trials and tribulations of the RMAH could definitely be a post on its own (and may well we, after enough time has passed to digest it all), but for now I’m just going to leave this one here. Suffice to say, there are at least a lot of people for whom this is a pretty significant draw.

5) Not everything is max-level. This is worth mentioning since I’m mostly known for my efforts to help people min/max to an extreme degree in WoW. But I also enjoy the world of the suboptimal, in all games. I like looking at two level 25 blue pants and figuring out which is better for keeping me safe at Belial. It’s similar to the reason I like drafting in Magic–it’s fun looking at two mediocre commons and knowing which better fits in the last spot in your deck. Things get very monotonous in any game when the only things you look at are the most optimized, highest-level, well-tested items (or stats, or cards, or whatever it is), and everything else is ignored. Making sense of the random assortments of low-level junk you deal with while leveling Hardcore characters is not only interesting because it’s different every time, but utilizes game knowledge far more than buying rare attack speed gloves on the AH for your level 60 because you know from the forums that everyone else is.

6) The Auction House is not the solution to everything. I linked above the piece we co-wrote on this blog about the AH; I won’t restate the thesis here. But suffice to say, in Hardcore, you can’t get everything you need from there for trivial prices, and high-level availability in particular is very limited. Most of this is obvious, but the most important point is that, since items actually leave the system (and it’s the good items that vanish, the ones people were actually using), item availability does not increase without bound. You have to both use what you get from drops, and use gold carefully, because good items will always have meaningful costs.

“He’s not really dead … as long as we remember him.”

What about the reasons not to play? I want to address them, but in truth, I’ve only heard one, and I think it’s already handled nicely by the above.

The objection I’m referring to is, “when I die, all that time is wasted.” But the answer couldn’t be more simple: no it is not. If you’re not convinced of this so far, I don’t know what to add except to ask: if you really think all that time would be wasted, why are you playing this game at all? Someday you’re going to quit and all of your characters will never be played again, Hardcore or otherwise. All you’ve gotten out of it is the experience of playing. Maximizing what you get out of your time spent playing is infinitely more valuable than some in-game assets you might lose every now and then.

Paying the Iron Price

A major theme in much of my writing about games is that the chance of failure and the chance of success are what bring all games to life. Without the chance of failure, what does success even mean? You just spent some time doing something and got a guaranteed result. I’m not going to deny that that sort of activity has its place, but I’m telling you here: try something different as well. Unless you’re a fan of the Nethack ilk, you may never have played this sort of game before. Now you’re playing a game with a tailor-made play mode intended for this very purpose, waiting for you to use it.

If you can’t help but balk at the perceived risk, nothing I can say might be able to make you click that button. But if you can bring yourself to try, the rewards do not take long to appear. In just an hour to two you can try to reach the Skeleton King and kill him. If you do that, I’d wager even money that next time you log in, you’ll find yourself playing that character again instead of your level 60. After the Butcher, you’ll be the one linking this article to your friends. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens even if you lose. Because you’ll have tasted something that has no substitute. And, well, to use the parlance of our times: you only live once.

Diablo III Banner Customization Guide

There isn’t much personalization in Diablo III, but your character can display customizable banner on the menu screen and in-game. Since the banner interface is unwieldy when it comes to matching up locked designs with achievements (it tells you the name of the achievement needed to unlock any design, but doesn’t link you to it or give any other information), this guide covers the information behind all banner shapes, patterns, sigils, and accents. It presents each row of banner shapes, patterns, sigils, and accents as they appear in-game, with a description of all the achievements required.

There are patterns among the types of achievements and rewards: kills on certain difficulties reward specific augmentations, as explained below. Worth noting is that among Co-op kills, only Inferno ones have banner rewards, and among Hardcore boss achievements, only Normal kills have rewards.

Overview:

There are six ways to customize a banner. Shapes, Pattern, Sigil, Accents are covered in detail below. The Sigil can be placed in one of 12 arrangements, in different sizes or repeated on the banner. As for dyes, there are three types: for the banner, pattern, and sigil. The banner and pattern can be two-toned–but you will only select the main color. The accent will be a shade of the chosen color.

Banner Shapes:

Killing bosses on Normal difficulty, completing all quests per act, and doing some crafting achievements will yield banner shapes as rewards.

Default: Bold, Sage, Noble, Classic.

Rugged: Default
ArtisinalBasic Gemology: Teach the Jeweler a design. Category: Crafting / Jeweler
StatelyA Question of Lust: Kill Cydaea on Normal difficulty. Category: Campaign /Act III
KurastianThe Coven Overthrown: Kill Maghda on Normal difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act II.

RichFlawless Gemology. Category: Crafting / Jeweler
ResplendentLevel 60. Category: Classes
StalwartMaking a Breakthrough. Kill the Siegebreaker Assault Beast on Normal difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.
ImmortalLevel 10 (Hardcore) Category: Hardcore

GrimMurderer. Torturer. Monster.: Kill Zoltun Kulle on Normal difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act II.
ChainedButchered!: Kill the Butcher on Normal difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act I.
ThornedDeath Metalworking: Teach the Blacksmith 100 recipes. Category: Crafting / Blacksmith.
TribalThe Ravening Beast: Kill Ghom on Normal difficulty. Category Campaign / Act III.

ArcherThe Black Soulstone: Complete all quests in Act II. Category: Campaign / Act II.
HolyThe Mad King’s End: Kill the Skeleton King on Normal difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act I.
DruidicMind on the Metal: Teach the Blacksmith a recipe. Category: Crafting / Blacksmith.
TriumphantAngels’ Bane: Kill Rakanoth on Normal difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act IV.

AscendingVictory and Sacrifice: Complete all quests in Act IV. Category: Campaign / Act IV.
LiberatedThe Lord of Lies: Kill Belial on Normal difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act II.
AngelicSpare Change: Pick up 50,000 gold. Category: General.
FieryThe Lord of Sin: Kill Azmodan on Normal difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.

KnightlyThe Wages of Sin: Complete all quests in Act III.
DiabolicalThe Prime Evil: Kill Diablo on Normal difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act IV
HoradricThe Last of the Horadrim: Complete all quests in Act I. Category: Campaign / Act I

Banner Patterns:

Killing bosses on Hell difficulty and various elites yield most banner patterns.

Default: Plain, Checkered, Diagonal Check, Quarters.
Hourglass, Horizontal Stripes, Left Slant, Right Slant.

Default: Right Shade, Left Shade, Diagonal Cross.
Diamond HourglassThe Mad King’s End (Hell): Kill the Skeleton King on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act I.

ArgyleThe Lord of Sin (Hell): Kill Azmodan on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.
CrossedThe Lord of Lies (Hell): Kill Belial on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act II.
Rectangular CheckNot So Tough Now: Kill 50 champions of the following types. Category: Challenges.
Right StripeRarely There: Equip a rare (yellow) item. Category: General / Exploration.

Left StripeLevel 20 (Hardcore): Reach level 20 in Hardcore mode. Category: Hardcore.
XSteeling with Feeling: Level up the Blacksmith. Category: Crafting / Blacksmith.
FlamesButchered! (Hell): Kill the Butcher on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act I.
Small HeartsThe Coven Overthrown (Hell): Kill Maghda on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act II.

Large HeartsA Question of Lust (Hell): Kill Cydaea on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.
Low WavesMaking a Breakthrough (Hell): Kill the Siegebreaker Assault Beast on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.
Full WavesMade to Order: Craft 5 items. Category: Crafting.
Large WavesMurderer. Torturer. Monster. (Hell): Kill Zoltun Kulle on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.

Dark LightningThe Ravening Beast (Hell): Kill Ghom on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.
Bright LightningRarin’ to Go: Kill 50 rare enemies of the following types. Category: Challenges.
Large LightningLegends of the Brawl: Equip a legendary (orange) item. Category: General / Exploration.
TargetAngels’ Bane (Hell): Kill Rakanoth on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act IV.

Inverted Target: Default
Dark CracksThe Prime Evil (Hell): Kill Diablo on Hell difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act IV.
Light CracksElitist Bubble: Kill 1500 elite (champion, rare, or unique) enemies. Category: Challenges.
Spider WebThe Elitist: Kill 500 elite (champion, rare, or unique) enemies. Category: Challenges.

Large RunesStaying Gold: Pick up 1,000,000 gold. Category: General.
Small RunesBless You: Get the following benefits from shrines. (Desecrated Enlightened Shrine, Desecrated Fortune Shrine, Blessed Desecrated Shrine, Desecrated Frenzied Shrine.) Category: General / Exploration.
Light BleedRainbow Connection: Use the following dyes. Category: General / Exploration.
Dark BleedThe Comfort of Strangers: Recruit the Templar, Scoundrel, and Enchantress. Category: General.

Square DiamondsJust Like New: Unsocket an item. Category: Crafting / Jeweler.
DiamondsIn the Loupe: Level up the Jeweler. Category: Crafting / Jeweler.
BejeweledBejeweled: Combine gems. Category: Crafting / Jeweler.
ChevronLevel 40. Category: Classes.

StarsIn the Land of Killer Unicorns: Find the hidden level. Category: Feat of Strength.

Sigil:

In addition to many default sigils, killing bosses on Inferno difficulty (both single-player and co-op) and completing Act IV yields sigils.

Default:
Bear, Bear Claw, Chicken, Moon Raven
Dragon, Ferrets, Fish, Flame
Fleur-de-lis, Fly, Gauntlet & Arrows, Hydra Head
Lily, Lion, Ram’s Head, Scarab

Default:
Scorpion, Sea Serpent, Rib Cage, Vipers
Spiders, Swan, Toad, Tree

Double-Headed Hawk: Default
DespairAngels’ Bane: Kill Rakanoth on Inferno difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act IV.
Grandmaster HunterGrandmaster Hunter: Complete Act IV with a Demon Hunter on Inferno difficulty. Category: Classes / Demon Hunter.
DiabloThe Prime Evil (Inferno): Kill Diablo on Inferno difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act IV.

Dark RiderLevel 40 (Hardcore): Reach level 40 in Hardcore mode. Category: Hardcore.
PentagramThe Lord of Lies (Cooperative Inferno): Kill Belial on Inferno difficulty in a cooperative game. Category: Cooperative / Act II.
DeathKeep it Rare: Kill 10 rare enemies of the following types (see comments). Category: Challenges.
CydaeaA Question of Lust (Inferno): Kill Cydaea on Inferno difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.

GryphonButchered! (Cooperative Inferno): Kill the Butcher on Inferno difficulty in a cooperative game. Category: Cooperative / Act I.
Swords & ShieldAn Impenetrable Defense: Block 5 attacks in a row. Category: Classes / Barbarian.
The Skeleton KingThe Mad King’s End (Inferno): Kill the Skeleton King on Inferno difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act I.
Greedy Pig: Default.

Eye of AnuThe Prime Evil (Cooperative Inferno): Kill Diablo on Inferno difficulty in a cooperative game. Category: Cooperative / Act IV.
AzmodanThe Lord of Sin (Inferno): Kill Azmodan on Inferno difficulty.
Lord of HellThe Lord of Sin (Cooperative Inferno): Kill Azmodan on Inferno difficulty in a cooperative game. Category: Cooperative / Act III.
BatBeastmaster of Tristram: Read the following Bestiary lore books in Act I (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act I.

Beast MonsterSmash! Jay, Smash!: Kill the unburied Jay Wilson. Category: Feat of Strength.
BeetleLord of the Flies: Kill Maghda without getting hit by her insect attack. Category: Challenges / Act II.
BelialThe Lord of Lies (Inferno): Kill Belial on Inferno difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act II.
Chakram: Default.

Trophy SkullAmong the Elite: Kill 200 elite (champion, rare, or unique) enemies. Category: Challenges.
HellspawnLevel 10. Category: Classes.
Minion of HatredLevel 30. Category: Classes.
ElkBeastmaster of Caldeum: Read the following Bestiary lore books in Act II (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act II.

Leoric’s CrownInstant Karma: Have the Skeleton King kill 15 of his own Forgotten skeletons before killing him. Category: Challenges / Act I.
WolfIn a Hurry?: Complete the speed run challenge achievements listed below (clear each act in less than an hour). Category: Challenges.
Butcher’s CleaverButchered! (Inferno!): Kill the Butcher on Inferno difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act I.
CloverGolden Packs: Kill 20 Treasure Goblins. Category: Challenges.

CraftyPerfect as Tears: Craft a maximum level gem. Category: Crafting / Jeweler.
A Little BirdDirty Little Secrets: Complete the follower conversation achievements listed below (Templar: For the Order, Scoundrel: To Catch a Thief, Enchantress: Secret of the Ages). Category: General / Conversations.
DemonspawnLevel 50. Category: Classes.
Hell SteedTrophy Hunting: Kill each type of rare enemy in Hardcore mode. Category: Hardcore.

BallistaOh, the Places You’ll Go!: Explore the following dungeons in Act III (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act III.
Fallen LunaticSheer Lunacy: Kill 100 Fallen Lunatics before they can explode. Category: Challenges.
Fist of the GodsAmbuscade from Seven Sides: Hit 7 enemies with one Seven-Sided Strike. Category: Classes / Monk.
By the HornsPunch Diablo: Punch Diablo. Category: Challenges.

Khazra ShamanElitist Few: Kill 20,000 elite (champion, rare, or unique) enemies. Category: Challenges.
Golden TouchDeep Pockets: Pick up 500,000 gold. Category: General.
HareBeastmaster of Arreat: Read the following Bestiary lore books in Act III (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act III.
AnvilA Life with Meaning: Raise the Blacksmith to level 10. Category: Crafting / Blacksmith.

WandererSuch Great Heights: Explore the following dungeons in Act IV (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act IV.
Skeletal ChargerNever Seen that Before: Kill one of the following unique enemies. Category: Challenges.
Khalim’s WillThe Garbage Disposal: Complete the crafting achievements listed below (One Hero’s TrashOne Warrior’s TrashToo Good To TossResource Management). Category: Crafting.
MaghdaThe Coven Overthrown (Inferno): Kill Maghda on Inferno difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act II.

Maiden of LustNaked Lust: Defeat Cydaea without any items equipped on Hell difficulty or higher. Category: Challenges.
MeditationShut Up and Take My Money!: Buy each type of item from merchants (aim for white-quality items to save gold, spirit stone is most rare). Category: General / Exploration.
Rune of IvgorodGrandmaster: Complete Act IV with a Monk on Inferno difficulty. Category: Classes / Monk.
TomeSwing That Bloody Hammer!: Craft items that have each of the following 15 properties. Category: Crafting / Blacksmith.

OrbI Must Be Going: Use Teleport while at less than 5 percent of your maximum Life. Category: Classes / Wizard.
OwlBeastmaster of the High Heavens: Read the following Bestiary lore books in Act IV (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act IV.
Boar’s HeadCrop Dusting: Kill Ghom without getting hit by his gas attack. Category: Challenges / Act III.
DeceiverWe Are the Champions: Kill each type of champion in Hardcore mode. Category: Hardcore.

ScytheDiabolical: Complete the Diablo challenge achievements listed below (There Can Always Be OneUncagedSelf Sufficient). Category: Challenges.
Great ShieldCustom-Fit: Craft 100 items. Category: Crafting.
Death’s HeadNot Dead Yet: Resurrect another player in a cooperative game. Category: Cooperative.
Star of XiansaiJust a Hobby: Raise the Jeweler to level 10. Category: Crafting / Jeweler.

Fallen StarThe Takedown: Kill 10 champions of the following types. Category: Challenges.
SteinNo Stone Unturned: Explore the following dungeons in Act I (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act I.
Summoning CircleThe Art of Conversation: Complete the main character, follower, and artisan conversation achievements listed below. Category: General / Conversations.
SunGardening: Destroy all the corruption in the Gardens of Hope without leaving the game. Category: Challenges / Act IV.

Desert SunNooks and Crannies: Explore the following dungeons in Act II (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act II.
El DruinBul-Kathos Reborn: Complete Act IV with a Barbarian on Inferno difficulty. Category: Classes / Barbarian.
HourglassA Second to Spare: Escape the Crumbling Vault in under 90 seconds. Category: Challenges.
SiegebreakerMaking a Breakthrough (Inferno): Kill the Siegebreaker Assault Beast on Inferno difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.

Ghost TranceShaper of the Unformed Land: Complete Act IV with a Witch Doctor on Inferno difficulty. Category: Classes / Witch Doctor.
Zoltun KulleMurderer. Torturer. Monster. (Inferno): Kill Zoltun Kulle on Inferno difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act II.
UnicornIn the Land of Killer Unicorns: Find the hidden level. Category: Feat of Strength.
FetishPuppet Master: Have 7 pets and/or followers at the same time. Category: Classes / Witch Doctor.

Archmage’s CrownProphecy Fulfilled: Complete Act IV with a Wizard on Inferno difficulty. Category: Classes / Wizard.
GhomThe Ravening Beast (Inferno): Kill Ghom on Inferno difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.

Sigil Accents

Killing bosses on Nightmare difficulty and Normal Hardcore, as well as class-specific achievements, tends to yield sigil accent rewards.

Default:
None, Beetles, Tendrils, Butterfly
Crossed Staves, Curls, Gemstone, Teganze
Filigree, Flowers, Horns, Jewel
Leaves, Lion, Locusts, Wingspan

Default: Branches, Wolves
Crossed AxesThe Lord of Lies (Nightmare): Kill Belial on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act II.
CrossbonesThe Culling of Hell: Kill 1,000 elite (champion, rare, or unique) enemies in cooperative games. Category: Cooperative.

Crossed MacesOne Hero’s Trash…: Salvage each of the following crafting materials. Category: Crafting.
Crossed PickaxesBashanishu: Hurt Bashiok using Rakanishu’s Blade. Category: Challenges>
Crossed SwordsBlowin’ in the Wind: Break 2,000 objects with Whirlwind. Category: Classes / Barbarian.
Lightning BoltsA Guiding Light: Use the Templar as your follower. Category: General / Exploration.

Tribal: Default.
Soft WingsMoneybags: Pick up 100,000 gold. Category: General.
OrnamentationI’ll Be Your Wingman: Let a follower get the killing blow on all of the following enemies. Category: Challenges.
Chain HooksDead Meat (Hardcore): Kill the Butcher on Normal difficulty in Hardcore mode. Category: Hardcore / Act I.

DragonReign of Terror (Hardcore): Kill Diablo on Normal difficulty in Hardcore mode. Category: Hardcore / Act IV.
Skeletal Fingers: Default.
AngelicThe Hero’s New Clothes: Defeat all of the following enemies without any items equipped on Hell difficulty or higher. Category: Challenges.
Full WingsLevel 20. Category: Classes.

Fair WindsHeroes of Circumstance: Join a public cooperative game. Category: Cooperative.
Druidic Knot: Default.
GemsA Fistful of Gems: Combine each of the following gem types. Category: Crafting / Jeweler.
Troubled HeartA Question of Lust (Nightmare): Kill Cydaea on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.

Crossed ScimitarsMaking a Breakthrough (Nightmare): Kill the Siegebreaker Assault Beast on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.
SpiderAntivenom. Kill Cydaea without taking damage from her Spiderlings. Category: Challenges / Act III.
ThornsElitist Jerks: Kill 5,000 elite (champion, rare, or unique) enemies. Category: Challenges.
FeelersThe Ravening Beast (Nightmare): Kill Ghom on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.

Grasping ClawsWanderer of Arreat: Complete the Act III exploration achievements listed below (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act III.
FlamesThe Prime Evil (Nightmare): Kill Diablo on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act IV.
GoldThe One Percent: Pick up 100,000,000 gold. Category: General.
HeartsSlice of Life: Use 50 health wells. Category: General / Exploration.

KeyMurderer. Torturer. Monster. (Nightmare): Kill Zoltun Kulle on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act II.
Crossed LongswordsNo More Lies (Hardcore): Kill Belial on Normal difficulty in Hardcore mode. Category: Hardcore / Act II.
ScrollDeath’s Cold Embrace: Kill 1,000 frozen enemies. Category: Classes / Wizard.
StarGreed over Need: Kill 100 Treasure Goblins. Category: Challenges.

WaterMe, Myself & Eirena: Use the Enchantress as your follower. Category: General / Exploration.
ArrowsDeath Trap: Kill 15 monsters in 5 seconds using Spike Traps. Category: Classes / Demon Hunter.
BarCursed Captives: Free 6 prisoners in 120 seconds in the Cursed Hold. Category: Challenges / Act I.
ScarabsThe Coven Overthrown (Nightmare): Kill Maghda on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign: Act II.

BowWheel of Misfortune: Experience all the possibilities of the Ancient Device in the Desolate Sands. Category: Campaign / Act II.
TorchesGot Out: Escape the Crumbling Vault before it collapses. Category: Challenges.
Crossed CleaversButchered! (Nightmare): Kill the Butcher on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act I.
Kingly CrownThe Mad King’s End (Nightmare): Kill the Skeleton King on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act I.

Imperial CrownLevel 30 (Hardcore). Category: Hardcore.
ChaliceAll That Glitters: Pick up 5,000,000 gold. Category: General.
Heart & Daggers: Default.
Elegant FlourishWanderer of Tristram: Complete the Act I exploration achievements listed below. Category: Campaign / Act I.

Sylvan FlourishAttacking the Darkness: Kill 20 Shadow Vermin, Gloom Wraiths, or Shade Stalkers at once. Category: Challenges.
Floral FlourishImp Slapped: Knockback 5 imps at one time. Category: Challenges.
Skull & BannersSavior of the Fallen: Resurrect other players 50 times in cooperative games. Category: Cooperative.
Double BladeThe Lord of Sin (Nightmare): Kill Azmodan on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act III.

Flower BannerMade it Work: Equip your head, shoulders, torso, legs, feet, and hands slots with items dyed in all different colors. Category: General / Exploration.
GauntletsNo Man Left Behind: Keep all soldiers alive while raising the catapults on the Stonefort. Category: Challenges / Act III.
Crossed HalberdsHe Thought He Was So Clever (Hardcore): Kill Azmodan on Normal difficulty in Hardcore mode. Category: Hardcore / Act III.
Knight’s HelmetsArmed to the Teeth: Equip all Inventory slots with items that have a minimum required level of 25 or higher. Category: General.

Champion’s HelmetsKulle Duel: Kill Zoltun Kulle without killing either of his Eternal Guardians. Category: Challenges / Act II.
Helm & ArmsThe Exalted Few: Complete the artisan level achievements listed below (A Life With MeaningJust a Hobby). Category: Crafting.
Demon HornsAngels’ Bane (Nightmare): Kill Rakanoth on Nightmare difficulty. Category: Campaign / Act IV.
HorsesWanderer of Caldeum: Complete the Act II exploration achievements listed below (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act II.

PipeWanderer of the High Heavens: Complete the Act IV exploration achievements listed below (see comments). Category: Campaign / Act IV.
PotionBorn to Dye: Dye an item. Category: General / Exploration.
QuiversStolen Moments: Use the Scoundrel as your follower. Category: General / Exploration.
Crossed RapiersCut Off the Head: Kill Headcleaver before killing any of the Royal Henchmen who arrive with him in Leoric’s Passage. Category: Challenges / Act I.

Winged ShieldReturn to the Light: Release 25 Impaled Angels. Category: Challenges / Act IV.
Winged ChaliceShort Reign: Kill the Skeleton King in under 20 seconds. Category: Challenges / Act I.
Barbarian BladesTo the Victor Go the Spoils: Complete Act IV with a Barbarian on Normal difficulty. Category: Classes / Barbarian.
Demon Hunter’s CrestI Am Vengeance: Complete Act IV with a Demon Hunter on Normal difficulty. Category: Classes / Demon Hunter.

Monk’s Maces: Restoring Balance: Complete Act IV with a Monk on Normal difficulty. Category: Classes / Monk.
Witch Doctor’s WeaponrySpirit Guide: Complete Act IV with a Witch Doctor on Normal difficulty. Category: Classes / Witch Doctor.
Wizard’s WandsLive to Fight Again: Complete Act IV with a Wizard on Normal difficulty. Category: Classes / Wizard.

Feats of Strength

Details related to Feats of Strength are invisible on the banner selection screen, unless you have already unlocked them. The d3db links will have linked images under “Achievement Information.”

The Auction House is Currently Available

Another collaborative essay by Perculia and Hamlet (see About for more info), this time not about WoW.

Diablo has always had a formula: elevating the mundane task of clicking and looting into something inexplicably enthralling. Everyone who’s played any Diablo game understands it, other games have tried to replicate it, but nobody ever seems to know exactly what the secret ingredient is. Diablo 3 looked as though it was going to remain safely in this well-charted territory. But over the hours we’ve spent playing in the first four weeks since the game’s release, one element we didn’t foresee has, for better or for worse, altered the formula on quite a fundamental level. We want to discuss the new system in Diablo 3 that, since it was released into the wild, has bent the entire game around its existence: the Auction House.

Blizzard has remarked that the game’s testing was done in an AH-free environment. While simulating the AH for internal testing would have been obviously difficult, it seems the ramifications of the AH have taken everyone by surprise. Having had time to see it in action, we discuss how the AH has affected players across the spectrum, from low-level first-time players which make up a large part of the user base to high-level Inferno players. We also explain why we now believe the AH’s omnipresence was inevitable once it was introduced.

As of this writing, on the planned eve of the arrival of the real money AH, the effect that will have on the landscape remains speculative. There’s no doubt it will be interesting, and will provide fodder for more analysis once everyone has digested its effects. But we wanted to write this piece before that took place, because the effect of the AH on the nature of the game, even without the more complex real money factor, is quite dramatic in its own right.

Low Levels: The Big Red Button

While leveling up, the AH has an unusual and somewhat unprecedented effect. Any character, including a player’s first character, has access to twink gear with virtually no added effort from the player. This leads to a drastic variation in gameplay experience between players who use the AH and those who don’t. To be completely clear, “use the AH” refers to the mere effort to click on it occasionally and browse for 5 minutes. The gold an average player collects from normal leveling is, at any point, perfectly sufficient to not only thoroughly obsolete all other sources of character improvement, but to do so while only using a small portion of her funds at any point.

Our first trip through Normal, Nightmare, and Hell difficulties on our mains was fairly clean. We weren’t spending a huge amount of time reading about the game or doing much of anything besides work, sleeping, and playing. We didn’t look at the AH too closely for either buying or selling because we assumed it would be daunting to learn about item pricing, and playing was more fun. The game felt more or less like you’d expect from Diablo or similar adventure games with gear-based development. Our stats were somewhat random at any time, even on basic points like whether they were offensively or defensively balanced. Sometimes one of us would die a few times and we’d notice that it was due to having almost no HP, simply from unwittingly upgrading away from all the Vitality-bearing items we had a few minutes ago. When we’d gone without weapon upgrades for a few levels, getting a new one was a huge windfall. It would even sometimes make one of us significantly stronger than the other for a time. We don’t have to go on here; you know what it feels like to live off the land in a game, and get along with what you find on the way. And we only realized later that it all happened because, by sheer accident, we’d ignored the AH.

Let’s be more specific. Since in this game you level somewhat quickly, you often go many levels without an upgrade in a particular slot. It seemed that items on the order of 5-10 levels behind our actual character level, in each slot, were typical. A magic-quality drop that was at a level equal to ours with a relevant stat for one of our classes was a huge upgrade, and usually lasted for many levels. If it was a weapon, it was likely to instantaneously double a character’s DPS output, or more. Perhaps that sets up the context for where this is going: imagine if at one point, out of nowhere, we’d suddenly had such powerful items in every slot. The whole game would have been different. The spots where things were a little rough, where we had to hunker down and come up with something of a plan, would never have come close to happening. After playing later characters with the benefit of the AH, we can verify that. And the salient point is that anyone can do this. If you’ve never tried it, we’ll reassure you, sight unseen: you have enough gold to make it happen without even making a dent in your reserve.

Should you avoid the AH on your first playthrough? We’ll leave that alone for this essay, but hopefully you come away at least well-informed about how you want to play. An apt analogy is using cheat codes in a single-player game. If you’re someone who tends not to do that, similar logic would apply here. At the very least though, the import of that decision is not something we’d anticipated.

As far as characters beyond your first, that’s where the impact of the AH is least disruptive. That’s what we, and likely most people, had in mind for the AH–you’ve played the game already, you can use your gold to make future characters level quickly. It’s akin to the purpose of heirlooms in WoW. The fact that you can have the equivalent of heirlooms on your first character however (something much stronger, in fact), is probably unintended, given that the game was developed and tested largely without the AH being involved. What this means to us is that they failed to anticipate that the AH would have a greater impact on the Diablo experience than any other innovation they’ve introduced. They thought it was a great side feature, but the game would still be as we described it above: primarily about finding stuff. The rest of this is piece is about what happens when a game is changed into something new (for Diablo purposes): a game about buying stuff.

Inferno: The Life of a Salesman

You’ve hit 60. You’ve gotten some decent drops from the end of Hell and slowly worked through the early Inferno quests, and now you’re stuck on some Invulnerable Minions in the crypts. You have to make your characters stronger somehow. This is Diablo, so you know what to do: repeat the last bit of content you can do. If you’re not overgeared for it already, upgrades must flow! There is a novel option though: sell everything you get, and buy items with the exact stats you want. Ultimately you’re going to do one of the two. Overgearing the content is a much easier solution playing meticulously (and very slowly), and even if you do play very well, timed enrages and other gear checks ensure that characters cannot progress arbitrarily far on skill alone. Players with limited time, especially, will be much better served buying upgrades instead of struggling through a new quest or doing farm runs.

What’s even more of a shakeup to the natural order of things is how you get the gold you need to support these purchases. You can farm gold–either by farming items to sell, or using actual gold find gear to farm certain areas. The former, for reasons explained below, will grow more difficult as items that are worth nontrivial amounts become increasingly rare. The latter is fine–it sounds tremendously boring to us because you don’t even get the fun of gambling for good drops–but more importantly, it pales in comparison to another activity: pure Auction House trading. The concept is obvious: buy low, sell high. The interesting details of this game-within-a-game are best reserved for another article, but the key points are: 1) your yield is essentially unlimited, and grows exponentially with your bankroll rather than linearly with your character strength, 2) game knowledge is at a premium–knowing what stats are valuable will help you out here more directly than it will when you actually play, and 3) finding great deals can be fun in its own way.

A typical evening of progress through Act 2 Inferno

An Act I run culminating in a major boss (Skeleton King or Butcher) with 5 stacks of Nephalem Valor and magic find gear swapped in before every meaningful kill will not garner as much gold as a few simple AH flips. With Act I and II dropping low-level rares, the items you loot generally won’t be worth listing. Now at the end of Act III Inferno, we took a break this past weekend to plow through all of Act I for fun, and we may have gotten enough gold to rival the profit from finding one mediocre Attack Speed neck that’s underpriced. It was more enjoyable than obsessively checking to see if deals had slipped through our AH filters, but it didn’t contribute to improving the strength of our characters. We received no useful drops and didn’t make anything close to the million or so gold we needed to buy anything of use off the AH. We did it because playing our characters for an evening is a fun time, but to imagine actually getting from Act 2 strength to Act 3 strength by doing this–well, one can see why Blizzard thought that it would take people months to get into late Inferno.

The crafting system is similarly overshadowed by the Auction House. The Auction House will always return a well-stocked set of search results for anything you like, while crafting is a gamble. Currently, crafting is a risk on top of an initial gold loss: you must destroy items, pay the Blacksmith a fee to craft, and then turn the shards into an item that more likely than not will have a lackluster stat combination, since there’s no way to control the output. And to drive the point home, when you do get a good item from crafting, what do you do with it? You sell it on the AH. Blizzard plans to address the unpopularity of crafting in a few weeks, but the basic issue is that crafting items will remain a gamble, albeit a less risky one, while the AH returns precise search results from the entire playerbase. To make crafting more appealing, Blizzard must do more than lower the crafting fee and required materials. In Diablo II, gambling served a function, because excess gold needed a purpose. But now, where gold is the benchmark of progress, gambling it away is is far less appealing.

In the first weeks of Diablo, players would run Act I Inferno to accrue an initial pool of gold, play the AH to deck their characters out and trivialize Act II, and then either farm Siegebreaker or Act IV Aspects with magic find gear and glass cannon specs. Those areas were easy farming spots that yielded the chance of high-value items, much more profitable than suffering through an act in chronological order. Leveling together, we don’t have the time or inclination to spend a huge amount of time playing the AH, but after spending a few minutes a day on it and seeing our problems with particular quests dissolve with upgrades after having tried conventional methods for hours, we’ve had to embrace the system somewhat. The AH has warped the concept of max-level progression.

And if you do decide to tackle content in chronological order and rely on the AH for help, you become further entrenched in the system the farther you progress. Gear requirements become steeper across acts, and ideal upgrades on the AH skyrocket in price. Purchasing upgrades swiftly moves from several thousand gold to over a million; to keep up with harder content, players have to step their AH game up to maintain a satisfactory gold reserve. A player content to casually check the AH to buy some basic level 60 upgrades may get discouraged after several rounds of the AH game, when they must generate 20 times that to stay afloat and gamble on already-expensive items to flip. The Act I experience shared above, of simple flips outweighing playing the actual game, is magnified in harder content when higher repair bills (especially after the upcoming patch) and lack of NV hamper gold acquisition. We haven’t even touched upon learning bosses–that’s because most people don’t want to spend hours wiping and respeccing while undergeared to get some meaningless blues. Log off and relist some underpriced items. Playing the AH is not only the most effective way to get gold, but also to progress your character. Playing your character has little tangible reward.

The Law of Perfect Competition

One of the interesting questions is, what’s so different about item acquisition from Diablo II? People traded in that game. In fact, high-level players had to acquire most of their gear on the trading market, for roughly the same reason as in D3. Since gear was totally random, most of the good stuff you found was for characters other than your own, and gear was much more build-specific in Diablo II. The difference is not obvious, and that’s largely why we think this basic change in the Diablo experience has mostly crept up on everybody. The system has moved along two axes however. First, gear dilution is even stronger–the percentage of gear that’s not complete junk is lower than ever before. Second, instantaneous access to a single worldwide market is sufficiently different from Diablo II’s third-party trading forums so as to not be comparable at all.

We’ve not done a detailed study on itemization distributions in D3 vs. D2. But a few simple points of logic suggest that elite loot is going to be very rare. For one, sub-60 gear can drop even in all levels of Inferno. That’s a substantial fraction of loot that may as well be white or grey. It exists primarily for flavor reasons; part of the subjective feel of the game relies on the constant shower of loot as you move forward, including blues and rares. Getting an ilvl 52 weapon in Inferno doesn’t serve any possible purpose no matter what the stats are, but someone somewhere decided that the flash of hope as you see the yellow text should be fed to you at a certain rate to make you keep clicking. At any rate, those items are completely illusory for economic purposes; they’re disguised gold drops. Next is the fact that rares have to roll up useful stats over junk stats, but that’s more or less akin to Diablo II. It is relevant that, at least until a later patch, rares are usually substantially stronger than legendaries in D3, because rares have the added hurdle of rolling up useful stats (and actually, D3 legendaries all have random stat affixes, we believe for the same reason–to ensure that there are a percentage of bad ones). Finally, variance in numbers on each stat roll is very wide. Since truly elite items need to be near the top end of their stat rolls, this is another filter of randomization that makes them exponentially rarer. In Diablo II, many very important affixes (+skills and +school skills in particular) had little or no random variance. Putting it all together, the item pool in D3 is orders of magnitude more dilute. Quite a sequence of rand() rolls have to turn out well to produce an amazing item. Every time we find a weapon in Act 1 with amazing stat rolls and only 500 DPS, we think about how it’s very different world from the one in which merely seeing the words “Colossus Blade” in gold letters was enough to mean your day was made.

The point about worldwide trading with no barriers is simpler but likely more significant. You have access to the drops of everyone in the world. If you just stop and think about it, the result should be obvious. Don’t get tripped up by the economics; the fact that you have to pay gold for others’ items but not for your own is a red herring. Gold is the medium of exchange; we all have it, and it flows around in the closed system of the AH, but items exist independently of gold. Similarly, the 15% AH cut is ultimately meaningless on the gold AH. The gold flows in a circle as Blizzard gives it to you and takes it back; it only serves to make AH flipping slightly less profitable than it would otherwise be. The facts are simple: we all have far more items than we need. If they can all get allocated to people who need them, people will have an incredible overabundance of relevant gear. Now, the AH doesn’t come close to allocating everything perfectly, but it comes close enough. Experience shows that if you want merely adequate gear at any moment for any character, it is available for a pittance. And the logic in this paragraph should show why that’s completely expected. To make it clearer, imagine yourself zooming out to watch everyone in the world playing Diablo. Whenever one person thinks “I want a level 34 Monk weapon,” within a few seconds of him having that thought, thousands of such weapons have dropped for other people. Within the 36-hour AH window, millions. Even if a tiny fraction of those are picked up and bothered to be listed on the AH, there is no way whatsoever that that player has to pay more than a token cost for what he wants. Basic economic reality cannot be changed, even by Blizzard.

At low levels, only the first factor, the extreme abundance of adequate items, is relevant. Since looking for perfect items is unimportant, the result is one-sided–there is not even a semblance of scarcity. In Inferno where the desire for optimized items becomes relevant, the extreme mathematical rarity of superb items plays against the sheer volume of items constantly appearing. High-level items are designed to have such an enormous spread in value because it preserves some sense of scarcity in the face of worldwide availability. But this is like holding back the tide with a teaspoon. Diablo 3 sold 6.3 million copies in its first week. Without knowing how many more sales there have been since, or how many people are still playing, it’s fair to guess that it’s on the order of millions. When they are trying to balance a game to be played both with and without the AH, they are thinking of two different games where effective item drop rates differ by a factor of millions, or close to it. Perhaps by now you are convinced that there is no way to have both games play out in nearly the same way.

Conclusion

Moreover, there’s no clear way that any of this can be changed, even though the upcoming patch will bring about a number of changes to iron out issues in the gameplay. Some will have an effect on the economy of gear: allowing ilvl 63 loot to drop in Act 1 and generally nerfing the hardest content. However, we don’t expect these modifications to significantly affect the issues discussed here. They may render the problem somewhat academic for high-level characters by making the game easier, which may well be desirable for other reasons, but that is not an actual resolution. And nothing is changed for players below level 60. Without restating the whole argument, the effect of the AH on gameplay is endemic to the nature of a worldwide trade system with instantaneous and cost-free access.

The core experience of Diablo, bathing in the shower of items while scanning for that yellow gleam of a potential diamond in the rough, couldn’t be more at odds with–well, with going shopping (or depending on how you use the AH, with being a sort of fantasy adventure day trader). If you’re a casual player, you have the choice to use the AH or not, but games are defined by the choices they present. That button on the main menu just under “Public Games” that’s labeled “Free Gear” is a hard thing to ignore once you know it’s there, and in any case plays a curious role in a game that’s wholly about gear. For Inferno-caliber characters there is less of a choice, with AH-free play being a strenuous self-imposed challenge that would come at very significant cost in terms of time and effort. In both cases the underlying effect is more subtle; once you know about the complex global marketplace, you can’t unknow it. Logging on hoping to find anything in a barrel feels just a little more quaint, a relic from past games. The AH was supposed to be a useful support feature for character enhancement or to fill in gaps, but it has developed a life of its own, overshadowing the primal need to loot everything on the ground. Looking back on an evening spent playing, it’s not always so clear which one is the main game and which is the side activity.