Over the years, Blizzard has cancelled many projects within the narrow range of properties they work with, and it has recently come to light that Diablo 3 was originally going to have a second expansion following the first, Reaper of Souls, but that too was cancelled. Unfortunately, players would never see the formal release of The King in the North, though bits and pieces did find their way into the retail version of the game.
Why Was This Second Expansion Cancelled?
Work for the second expansion appeared to be well under way following the release of Reaper of Souls and the second expansion was going to be formally announced at BlizzCon 2015. According to Michael Morhaime, cancellation of this second expansion was due to Diablo 3 not generating sufficient revenue compared to the rest of the Blizzard properties.
This reason is nonsensical. While Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and StarCraft are better suited to generate ongoing revenue because they are filled with microtransactions for cosmetics, Diablo 3 relied upon an initial purchase point for its main game and expansion. Certainly, this should have been known ahead of time through financial projections. Being surprised that this model was not generating ongoing revenue simply makes no sense.
However, the statement does make more sense when we consider the original start of Diablo 3, as it would be an understatement to say that it has evolved over the years.
The Real Money Auction House
This seems like a relic from the past, but for a short while following the release of Diablo 3, players could use their in-game gold and real money to purchase items, and Blizzard would inevitably take a small cut. This was likely what Morhaime referred to in that Diablo 3 could not generate enough revenue to remain worth development resources.
The Auction House was a feature created in response to the trading of in-game items on third-party marketplaces and in informal transactions between players observable in Diablo 2. According to the former director of Diablo 3, Jay Wilson:
“The auction house came out of the desire to legitimize third party trading so that players would stay in the game to do their trading rather than go to third party sites, and as a result reduce fraud, scams, spamming, and the profit in hacking the game, making dupes, etc.”
The various failing of the system is a story for another time, but suffice to say that it corrupted the core gameplay of the Diablo series and shifted the incentives of players towards something entirely different from slaying demons.
Content Released From The Expansion Through Patches
The “King” referred to the in the expansion title lies in the Ruins of Sescheron. King Kanai can be found to the north of Kanai’s cube, where every player needs to go at the start of a new season to unlock the powerful tool. If one explores the areas, they find a fully developed throne room, but with nothing else of note. Was this perhaps where a boss would activate for combat, similar to the Skeleton King?
Greyhollow Island was also pitched at around the same time as the Sescheron Ruins, but instead launched with the Necromancer class pack. While it has never been confirmed, there are plenty of in-game clues that point towards the eventual release of the Druid class, perhaps meant to follow the Necromancer release, or alongside it in the King of the North expansion. Check out the video below by Rhykker for a detailed summary of those clues.
Perhaps the Necromancer was already in development when the expansion was cancelled, and so it got turned into the class pack that was released in June of 2017.
The Untold Story Of King Of The North
Fans of Diablo 2 would have noticed rather quickly the connection between that game and the Ruins of Sescheron. In the trailer for Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction, we see Baal emerge from the gates of Sescheron, with the same large pool of blood still left behind years later in Diablo 3. The King of the North would have probably explored the aftermath of the struggle there, and presumably either fight a corrupted spirit of King Kanai or work to release their spirits.
Past that, it is hard to speculate, because one would assume that The King of the North would have had an antagonist at least on par with Malthael, the former leader of the Angiris Counil and Archangel off Wisdom. Perhaps development never made it that far, or perhaps it was King Kanai in some form who would provide that role.
While it is always unfortunate to hear of projects cancelled within Blizzard, this one is particularly hard to look into because it points to yet another mishandling of the Diablo series. In place of a proper expansion, developers are now working “hard” on Diablo: Immortal, a mobile game that few are excited about.
Perhaps the eventual release of Diablo 4 will treat the series better, through recent history does not seem to support that type of optimism.