Sometimes the things that happen after a review is penned are far more important than those that came before it. Diablo 3 is a prime example of this as whilst my initial impressions of the game were nothing short of amazement the tale of my experience after that is much more mixed. The challenge progression felt great, for a while, but once I hit Inferno the game shifted from being a conquerable challenge to an exercise in frustration. The auction house, initially a great source to give your character a quick boost, soon became the bane of my existance with all the items I needed far beyond my reach and the amount of griding required to get them far too high. It wasn’t long before I lost interest, alongside many of my long time Diablo fan friends. Blizzard was keenly aware of this however and the release of Diablo 3’s first expansion pack, Reaper of Souls, sets out to correct many of the missteps of its predecessor.
With the defeat of Diablo at the top of the crystal arch humanity was once again safe from his terror. However his essence was still captured in the black soulstone, unable to be destroyed even by the angels of heaven. Tyrael, now the mortal Aspect of Wisdom, has once again sought out the Horadrim to secret away the soulstone so that none may attempt to use it for their own purposes. However Malthael, the Archangel of Wisdom who had been lost ever since the destruction of the World Stone, had tracked the soulstone’s location. Whatever his plans are for it are not known but one thing is for sure, you, the Nephalem, are the only one who can stop him.
As you’d expect from an expansion pack Reaper of Souls adds a little more graphical flair to Blizzards’ flagship dungeon crawler although it’s nothing major like an overhaul of the graphics engine. The environments do feel like they have a lot more detail in them and the use of lighting and environmental effects is a lot more liberal, especially in the new areas. Still Diablo 3 is a game that’s meant to be fast paced so much of it is designed to run well without stutters or slow downs and with Blizzard’s reputation of being the low poly kings this ensures that the visuals are still on par with other current generation titles.
There have been some major changes to the core game play of Diablo 3 in Reaper of Souls, the vast majority of which have been aimed directly at addressing concerns that the community raised. The auction house is gone (both of it’s incarnations), the loot system revamped in a massive update called Loot 2.0 and the end game changed significantly adding in a new mode to replace the previous boss run meta that was the norm since Diablo 2. Additionally all the classes have had significant work done on their skills in order to make more of them viable for both end game loot farming as well as during your initial levelling experience. Suffice to say that whilst Reaper of Souls might only bring an additional act’s worth of content it adds an incredible amount of replayability, enough so that this feels like the game Blizzard should have released 2 years ago.
I actually jumped back onto Diablo 3 prior to the release of Reaper of Souls in order to try out the new Loot 2.0 system. Suffice to say I was very impressed as it only took me a couple hours to move from my less-than-stellar auction house purchased Inferno gear to a new set that was much more suited to my playstyle. It also didn’t take long for me to pick up a couple legendaries that completely changed the way my character was built, tempting me to try out builds that would have otherwise been completely unviable. Indeed even without those pieces of gear the various builds I experimented with all felt viable, a highly refreshing change to what I had to do previously.
Levels came thick and fast with my monk being able to reach 70 after a few nights worth of play. Indeed the levelling was so fast that I had pretty much reached level 70 before facing Malthael, only requiring a slight detour for the last push. The same can be said for Paragon levels that you’ll continue to amass after you reach max level, especially if you’re doing bounties or rifts often. The extra levels don’t add too much to the classes although the addition of another passive skill slot at max level does open up a lot of opportunities for builds that might not have been viable previously. The new monk skill, epiphany, is quite interesting although my current gear selection isn’t as effective with it as other builds. Whilst this might be disappointing to some (typically the new skills added in tend to be overpowered) I feel it’s a show of good design as the new skill adds variation whilst not being so powerful that its use is required.
The new way of running end game content is an obvious attempt to shift the current meta of boss runs for items to a more varied approach, incorporating a number of different types of runs that will result in a certain number of legendaries per hour. The first one is called Adventure Mode and is unlocked after completing the campaign through once. In this mode you’re given a series of bounties, usually things like “Clear out all enemies in the Den of Evil” or “Kill this act boss”, and for each of the ones you complete you’ll receive some XP and gold. Complete all of them within one act and you’ll receive a cache from Tyrael that contains a number of items, gems and health pots. This is in addition to any items that might drop along the way which will usually fill your inventory once for every 2 bounties completed. There’s also Nephalem Rifts which are randomly generated dungeons that require you kill a number of enemies before a boss will spawn and the Infernal Machines which pit you against super versions of act minibosses with a chance to drop legendary crafting materials.
The addition of the mystic, along with the minor tweaks to the crafting system, are welcome changes. The mystic allows you to reroll one stat on a piece of gear to another stat, making more pieces of gear viable. The costs of doing so are a little on the extreme side, especially for legendaries which all require a disenchanted legendary, but it can be worth it when you’re trying to min/max your way to victory. The limitation of only rerolling one stat is a little frustrating sometimes as you’ll often come across gear that’s got 2 junk stats on it but is otherwise fine but I can understand why this limitation is put in place. I’d probably complain less if crafting was actually worthwhile as currently the costs seem to heavily outweigh the chances of creating something that you’d use.
For the most part all of this adds up to a very enjoyable experience however I’d be lying if I said it didn’t start to feel a little grindy after a certain point. Sure my character is decked out in about half legendaries, some of them quite amazing, but the quest for items that improve my character has become somewhat arduous. I see as many legendaries drop as the next guy but even with my small collection I already have duplicates (quite irritating when you consider you can’t equip 2 of the same legendary weapon) and I’ve yet to see a solid upgrade in the last few days of play. It’s hard to fault Reaper of Souls specifically for this, it’s just the uncaring wrath of the random number generator, but grinding without the guaranteed reward of an upgrade at the end of it does sap a lot of the fun out of the experience. Now that I’ve said that I’ll probably do one run and get 3 upgrades in a row and all will be right in the world.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls is the game Blizzard should have released 2 years ago as it has managed to capture the enduring attention of so many of my Diablo fan friends where the original failed to do so. The revamps to the talent system, loot and addition of the mystic all add up to make the experience far more enjoyable and rewarding, removing some of the reliance on good rolls to give you the stats you require. Adventure mode is the end game that many were seeking originally, something that provides a bit more flavour to the traditional boss runs of yore. Of course this doesn’t absolve you from the grind completely and, if I’m honest, this will likely be the thing that drives me away from playing Reaper of Souls. Still it’s enough that I feel that Diablo 3 will resurface as one of the LAN games of choice as it’s a lot of fun to blast through a couple bounties or rifts with a close bunch of friends.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is available on PC right now for $49.95. Total play time was approximately 15 hours reaching Paragon level 56.
Taken at face value my review of Diablo III is overwhelmingly positive and for the most part I still agree with it. Whilst it hasn’t managed to become the cult classic that Diablo II was, one that managed to rear its head every so often both on and offline, Diablo III still felt like a solid title. My time with Diablo III didn’t stop after the review however as I continued to progress my character through it’s hardest difficulty setting: Inferno. As anyone who has played the game will tell you the difference between Hell and Inferno is akin to running head first into a brick wall repeatedly until you realize that you’re never going to get past it unless something drastic changes.
And then you hit up the auction house.
At this point I had a decent reserve of gold built up thanks to pawning off a few good items and being able to power through levels without too much trouble. I was able to afford a few decent upgrades that were enough to see me through Act 1 but any further than that and I was running up against yet another brick wall. So I figured I’d just need to grind out Act 1 for a while in order to scrounge up some gold for a couple more upgrades in order to get me through the next phase. I soon realized that the amount of time I’d need to invest per upgrade was pretty extensive and, most depressingly, the inflation rate of the auction house ensured that subsequent upgrades would get further and further apart.
This was made even worse by the fact that nearly every single drop I got wasn’t useful for my character class and was never likely to fetch a good price on the auction house due to the random assortment of stats that wasn’t good for anything in particular. Whilst my chosen character class (Monk) was one of the better ones for end game content I still found myself struggling, especially after the attack speed nerf came through. All of these things combined to create an experience that was solely focused on grinding in order to buy better gear on the auction house, something that I, and all of my friends, had no interest in pursuing after that.
The problem as I saw it was two fold. The introduction of the auction house was meant to be an avenue for players to trade items to overcome the rather inadequate solution that Diablo II had. I don’t have a problem with this idea per se, however Diablo III seemed to rely on it due to the way the loot system worked. Essentially since the loot you found was usually not particularly useful for you at your current level/end game progression you had to sell it and, since you needed more gold to buy the required upgrades, you needed to charge a premium for those items you did sell. The crux of it was that the loot system however since the randomization added on top of the legendary items usually resulted in them being useless to you.
Blizzard has since announced that in Reaper of Souls, the upcoming expansion for Diablo III, the auction house will be going away permanently. This comes hand in hand with a revised loot system that changes the amount and distribution of items a player will receive over the course of an Act. Honestly the latter is what will improve the game experience vastly as it brings back the kind of variation that made Diablo II so infinitely replayable whilst making the drops you do get more meaningful. Removing the auction house will hopefully reduce the game’s reliance on it allowing players to enjoy the experience and the thrill of getting those upgrades.
I was honestly skeptical that Blizzard could do anything to bring me back into the fold with the latest expansion. I mean sure I was probably going to buy it and play it through once but beyond that I figured it would just become yet another box to add to my collection. However with these changes it shows that Blizzard is listening to the community and fixing the major issues that stopped many from continuing playing. Of course I’ll reserve final judgement until I actually play it but suffice to say they’ve got my attention and they’ve reignited my hope that Diablo III will be able to emulate the cult classic success that its predecessor did.