Wanting to discuss some end game ideas and assess whether they would be viable for D4. I had shared my thoughts before so forgive my repetition as much of what follows will be maturation of those concepts.
Linking End Game Progression with Content
I believe you cannot escape talking about end game content without partially addressing end game character progression as it is key for supporting character identity and player motivation. Based on what information we have received from the developers I would be in support of a hybrid EXP and achievement based progression system. For example instead of “Paragon” I would suggest expanding on the tripartite itemization system (Angelic/Demonic/Ancestral) into a “Blood Affinity” system. Whereby a player after reaching a certain level cap would awaken their blood power and be afforded a few flexible “blood” points (say 30) that they can allocate to any of the three alignments. Players can then earn more blood points through a combination of gaining EXP and completing specific in-game activities but each additional blood point requires increasingly more EXP/tasks (task variety) in order to manifest. Increasing allocation of more points towards any one particular affinity (say past the first 20 points) would also have an adverse affect on one or both of the opposing alignments whereby points would be consumed (if no points remain in a particular alignment the effect is the same with a negative penalty assigned instead).
Now the reason why a player would want to build up blood points (beyond just item thresholds) would be to unlock new character specialization skills/skill trees by reaching certain blood affinity thresholds. For example, say after 30 points have been allocated to a given affinity a new skill/skill tree would become available (with a play style representing that particular affinity). This would results in expanded character classes to include 3 arch-typical specializations (Angelic/Demonic/Ancestral) and 3 hybrid specializations (Angelic+Demonic/Demonic+Ancestral/Angelic+Ancestral). With players needing to decide whether they value developing skills with focused specialization or gaining new skill combinations.
This sort of system should allow players to re-specialize but with increasing penalty and reward those who devote themselves to a specific purpose at the risk of not being able to handle all of what the world can throw at them.
Territory Systems and World Customization
I think it would be interesting if the developers looked into developing indirect player interaction through world customization and territory systems. They pour so much effort into developing environments just to have players speed through areas in order to get to the next instance event. It baffles me why they don’t develop territory systems that allow players to influence the game dynamics for a given area and have that influence shared in the “open-world”.
I think this would be a win-win situation. Developers would partially off-load the responsibility of creating new content and players would become more invested in the world.
I am not advocating for a full-on map/dungeon creator but rather just subtle influences. Imagine the scenario (as part of the end game) where the eternal conflict is spilling into Sanctuary and each faction (Angels/Demons/Nephilem) are vying for control of territory and issue quests to expand their influence. One such quest could be to open rifts/portals to allow their forces to advance. Now imagine the system where a player has the ability to customize a rift/portal by influencing the mobs/guardian affixes, density and difficulty (to some degree). So not only could a player complete a rift for loot but also choose to leave it open. If left open the rift starts to influence the surrounding environment by spawning mob types similar to what would be encountered in the rift and also begins to alter the surrounding environment - elemental effects such as frost/fire/poison/lightning/etc dictated by the rift customization.
As players expands their influence by opening more portals and connecting territories the mobs spawned could receive buffs in terms of toughness/exotic affixes and players could be given the opportunity to upgrade one of the portals into a “Greater Rift” which connects adjoining portals. Thus if a player from an opposing faction would want to clear the area and setup their own portals they would have to clear all the levels in succession.
This concept of territory competition could be threaded with other end game elements to facilitate different forms of game play while maintaining a consistent theme. “World bosses” could change from being a local time gated occurrence to being governed with player agency whereby they are spawned when a group of faction aligned players share farmed resources and expend blood points in order to create a guardian for their territories that prevents any of their rifts from being closed.
Villages within territories could also undergo similar treatment becoming another faction objective whereby players can influence village evolution and build towards something akin to a stronghold. Once obtained the stronghold could produce region altering effects such as denying players aligned with opposing factions from opening portals and can only be negated through a siege event (mass PVP instance) from opposing factions.
This concept of object scarcity in a “shared world” should also translate into more dynamic player based quests. Imagine if a singular unique world item could be crafted after collecting hidden pieces which are scattered randomly across the realms (shards of the world stone or black soul stone) with each faction competing to assemble it. Now if a player happens to locate a piece they have the ability to relocate the fragment and store it in one of the rifts/strongholds/territories under their influence. But in doing so advertises to the world the location of the fragment. Once the item has been stowed away the player(s) in possession could be granted additional territory buffs (ie. increased magic find in territories) as well as trap/puzzle mechanics to help safeguard the item but will be faced with warding off PVP instances in order to keep it.
Game Play Feasibility
I wonder what the community thinks would be the feasibility of such game play systems for an ARPG MMO and whether implementations of them would actually be any fun. In a table top setting territory systems would be turn based with a limited number of players so I can imagine there would be some difficulty accommodating real time inputs from numerous sources. Would some sort of priority system need to be in place (resulting in time-gated content) or is it possible to have instances be continuous and real time? For example would one rather have a priority system which prevents multiple players from entering the same rift based on first come first serve or does one prefer a system which allows players to enter the same rift but be provided with their own individual instance but with awareness of progression from other players in the rift and be given the choice to race/compete with others to be given priority over the territory?