Activision Blizzard push Diablo 4 discounts and free trials even as Season 2 updates divide players

Activision Blizzard rolled out Diablo 4‘s Season 2, also known as the Season of Blood, this week, together with an absolute deluge of quality-of-life improvements across console and PC. The publisher have also now launched the hitherto PC version on Steam, and are trying to attract newcomers with a discount on Valve’s platform and a free 10 hour trial this weekend (that’s 19th-22nd October) for Xbox players.

Have the Season 2 updates – which you could summarise as “slay vampires to get vampire powers” and “spend less time and have more fun grinding/farming for loot and levels” – salvaged Blizzard’s action-RPG from the ashes of Season 1? I’ve been trawling the reactions this morning, and while the new Diablo appears to be evolving in the right direction, the big picture is still of a game with just as many raters as haters.

It’s a pretty rosy outlook on the Diablo 4 subreddit, which has been a hotbed of complaints in the past: as one user comments, “you can tell things are better because this sub has shut the fuck up.” In particular, players seem very happy with Season 2’s new time-limited Blood Harvest events (thanks, Dotesports), which manifest unpredictably around the world, increasing the spawn rate for enemies, introducing Seeker Caches of rewards, and allowing players to use Blood Lures to summon special Blood Seeker foes that drop special loot. Plus which, you’ll earn Hunter’s Acclaim for doing Heroic Stuff in a Blood Harvest zone, which can be traded for, you guessed it, more rewards, and Blood Harvest zones are a good place to farm for the Potent Blood which unlocks Season 2’s new vampire powers.

If you don’t play loot-driven ARPGs, all this probably reads like some really excited instructions for how to load and operate an absolutely epic custom-fit washing machine, for optimally fresh laundry. But streamlined progression and reward mechanisms aside, players appear to be enjoying Blood Harvests simply because they’re a fun challenge. There’s also positive chatter around Season 2’s updates to World Bosses, which spawn more frequently, drop more loot, and are tougher. As reported on Gamesradar, the extra difficulty means that there’s more time to appreciate the intricacies of the boss designs – take Avarice, for example, who spawns a load of loot-heavy smaller enemies as a distraction, when the boss’s health is low.

The situation is different on Steam, where the game is getting a vengeful kicking from Diablo players who’ve already clocked up dozens of hours on, and have strong opinions about Blizzard’s approach to monetisation in particular. After 1,345 reviews, the consensus stands at Mixed. I’ve written in the past about how review aggregators cancel out the specifics of critical conversations, so with a view to not doing that here, let’s dig into some of those reviews. Mind you, some of them are more like drive-by shootings. The Steam user review deemed Most Helpful by other users at the time of writing is as follows: “During my childhood Blizzard couldn’t get it wrong. As an adult, they can’t get it right.” Eek. The second Most Helpful review reads “I know Blizzard gets a lot of hate, but personally, I don’t think it gets enough”. Oof.

The third Most Helpful review offers some more specific, if loaded comparisons with Larian’s RPG Baldur’s Gate 3, which continues to be exalted online as the Right Way to do a blockbuster videogame. What does Diablo 4 do better than Baldur’s Gate 3? “Microtransactions”, “[being] always online” and “$20 horse cosmetics”, to name a few. What does Baldur’s Gate 3 do better than Diablo 4? Well, the game’s “patches don’t nerf classes and items that ruins everyones build”, it offers a “full story with an ending that isn’t behind paid DLC” and it “doesn’t have malicious UI design that makes it extremely easy to accidentally purchase battlepass”. For good measure, the user throws in a few references to allegations of threats and harassment at Activision Blizzard over the past few years.

And the fourth Most Helpful review? It compares Diablo 4 to Overwatch 2, which is also a service-game with microtransactions and a battle pass system, and which also got mass-pitchforked and set ablaze when it launched on Steam in August.

A thing I would really like to know, and might end up writing about, in response to the above, is: what’s the difference between Good/Meaningful loot and Bad/Meaningless loot? While Diablo 4 is ground zero for several overlapping grievances about the games industry, it feels like much of the furore boils down to the age-old ARPG question of how you design grinding and farming in such a way that it doesn’t feel like grinding and farming. It’s quite the line to walk, and Diablo 4 often appears at war with itself, striving to be fun in spite of its reliance on a progression treadmill which often seems designed only to make you more inclined to pay for extra stuff. Take the Avarice boss before – only in a game such as this could a boss defend itself by exploiting the player’s greed.

Personally, I can’t abide this kind of busywork, even in games without monetisation fixtures. I like Diablo 4’s environments and bosses – more than Alice B did, anyway, going by her Diablo 4 review – but I consider approximately 80% of the act of playing it to be a waste of life. I’m always intrigued, however, by how action-RPG developers find that sweet spot between introducing enough essentially arbitrary friction that players feel like they have to put the work in, without making the process of harvesting those endless rewards just a question of piling up hours. I’m interested to know how much Blizzard want individual pieces of gear or weaponry to feel like belongings. How long should players want to hold onto their equipment, ideally, even as they’re relentlessly presented with marginally better gear? And while I’ve got you, Blizzard – what’s happened to this player’s trousers?

Activision Blizzard are currently the subject of a number of legal actions, labour disputes and allegations of workplace harassment. Rock Paper Shotgun will continue to write about these issues, as well as covering Activision Blizzard games as part of our commitment to cover subjects of interest to our readers. The latest news can always be found under our Activision Blizzard tag.

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