Back in August of 2013, I wrote an article about 5 ways the Diablo III expansion could improve upon its predecessor. Now that Patch 2.01 has been released and Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is nearly upon us, it’s safe to say that Blizzard has provided answers to many—though not all—of the issues I brought up.
The most important change to the game has already been implemented, and you don’t even need a copy of Reaper of Souls to enjoy it. Patch 2.01 introduced “Loot 2.0” to Diablo III, which, to put it simply, makes acquiring items more fun. According to Blizzard, “The redesigned loot system in Reaper of Souls focuses on rewarding players with even better treasure through targeted ‘smart drops,’ and new and improved multi-level Legendary items.” Reaper of Souls will also add “a third artisan, the Mystic, who can augment an item’s power and appearance.” Everything they described aside from the third artisan has already been implemented with patch 2.0. But how does it work in practice? I have already played about 12 hours of Patch 2.01, and there are two experiences that come to mind.
The first thing I did after installing the patch was log on to my level 60 wizard. I started playing the game on Normal, the easiest difficulty (more on the new difficulty settings later), and started the game from Act I. In the time it took me to finish the first optional objective—killing three wretched mothers—I had already received three rare drops that were significant upgrades to the gear I had acquired on Inferno in the past. In fact, in the next couple of hours, I would end up replacing ALL of my old gear. But most importantly, nearly all of the items that I acquired were useful to my Wizard, with plenty of Intelligence and “Wizard Only” features.
It wasn’t long at all before I had turned up the difficulty and arrived at the Skeleton King, and that’s when the legendary item dropped, a powerful staff that added a “charm” effect to my attacks. In the short time I had played, I had acquired better and now more interesting loot than ever before. And I actually got a legendary item! I had only received 2 before that in about 150 hours of gameplay!
Curious about how Loot 2.0 would affect a brand new character, I created a Witch Doctor named Tupointo and got to work. Soon I had again defeated the Skeleton King, and this time I got TWO legendary items… from one boss! One of them was an amulet, and it did a lot more than just enhance my stats. It included an ability that could trigger when I was fighting nearby enemies. When it triggered, 4 orbs started spinning around Tupointo, and if they came in contact with an enemy, they would explode, dealing area effect damage to all nearby enemies. Suddenly, Tupointo was a melee Witch Doctor, charging at her opponents as though she was a heavily equipped Barbarian. Obviously this would not be quite so effective on higher difficulty settings, but it was still a ton of fun.
“Fun.” That’s the key here. It was fun; more fun than any previous Diablo III experience. That is what Loot 2.0 is all about, and I would describe it as an absolute success. Blizzard has implemented a system that reduces time wasted by traveling to town by reducing the number of garbage drops significantly, and made finding items more fun with gear that is appropriate to the class being played, and exciting legendary drops to look forward to, and even count on. That is one problem solved.
Change the Difficulty System
Another issue I had with Diablo III was the difficulty system. Despite their efforts to make each difficulty setting unique, the fact is, playing through the storyline 3 times in order to finally play the game yet again on Inferno was redundant and boring—especially when starting all over with new characters. When they added “Monster Power” to the game, it made things a bit more interesting and challenging, but no less redundant.
Patch 2.01 to the rescue, yet again! The new difficulty system has already been implemented for all Diablo III players, and it is a dramatic improvement. They completely ditched the old system; Nightmare, Hell and Inferno difficulties are things of the past (and their associated achievements are now Feats of Strength). The reason for this change is that enemy levels now scale according to the player’s level. Though you can still start a new game on Normal, you can also jump right into Hard or Expert without being forced to play the entire game on each setting. The enemies will still be level 1, but they will be more aggressive and powerful, with more abilities and difficult encounters appearing right off the bat.
It’s great for experienced players. Not only is the game more appropriately challenging and less redundant while leveling, but you also level up more quickly. Blizzard knows that pretty much every item acquired along the way to 60 (or 70 in Reaper of Souls) will become obsolete, so they are allowing players to reach the level cap much more quickly than ever before. This not only gives players access to all of their class abilities, but it also gets them to the point in the game where they can expect to find gear worth keeping.
Progressing through the game will unlock Master and Torment difficulties, and you can change to those settings immediately once they are unlocked. These new difficulty levels replace the Monster Level system. Torment includes a slider with 6 levels, bringing the total number of difficulty levels in Diablo III to 10. In some cases, you can increase or decrease the difficulty level without even leaving the current game. Blizzard has clearly put a lot of effort into this refined difficulty system, and the results speak for themselves. The rapid leveling experience and highly fluid difficulty system make the game more fun and much less redundant.
Mandatory Storyline Content, Random Map Boundaries and Better Writing
Unfortunately, Patch 2.01 does not make playing through the storyline any less redundant in Diablo III. I had hoped for a game mode where all the storyline locks would be removed so that players could explore anywhere and everywhere, and Blizzard does has an answer for that as well, though it will only be available in Reaper of Souls, not in the Diablo III base game. It’s called Adventure Mode, a feature that removes the main storyline entirely and allows the player to travel to any waypoint in any act, and adds Bounties and Nephalem Rifts to the game. Bounties add randomized objectives to the game, and Nephalem Rifts are basically loot runs, adding random dungeons to the game.
I really hope those random dungeons are actually truly random. One of my biggest disappointments with Diablo III was how after playing through the game a few times, I could actually have an idea of where I was supposed to go, despite supposedly being in a game made up of random environments. This was largely because the boundaries surrounding many of the environments were actually static, so no matter how much the space between New Tristram and the Cathedral changed, New Tristram and the Cathedral were always in the same place. I can only hope that Adventure Mode and the Nephalem Rifts put the “random” back into Diablo III.
Adventure Mode sounds incredibly fun to me, and is one of the main reasons I am looking forward to the expansion. I can’t wait to play it so that I can simply explore and immerse myself in the world and lore of Diablo III without being distracted by a poorly written story. I am utterly sick of the storyline in Acts I-IV, and I can only hope that Act V will prove to tell a better tale. In that regard, Diablo III was disappointing as a whole. When I get Reaper of Souls I plan on playing through Act V once, and then I’ll probably be playing Adventure Mode exclusively. I just wish Adventure Mode could have been a part of patch 2.01, but considering how much of Reaper of Souls was given away for free in the patch, maybe I’m being too greedy.
But even without the Reaper of Souls exclusive features, patch 2.01 has drastically improved Diablo III as a whole. Loot 2.0 adds a new layer of fun to the game and the changes to the difficulty system remove a lot of redundancy. There were countless other changes as well, such as changes to boss battles, a reduction in the kind of “spikey” damage that could kill a player too quickly, new events, and an enormous list of revisions to all of the classes.
Even the Paragon system has been overhauled, making Paragon Levels (levels earned beyond the level cap) persistent across all characters (or Hardcore characters), rewarding each character with a point to be distributed among four categories: Core, Offense, Defense and Utility. These points can be refunded and spent again at any time outside of combat and at no cost, and will allow players to continue growing their characters past the level cap. I should also mention that even low level characters can take advantage of the points earned by other characters on the account. This may not appease those nostalgic players who miss distributing every single skill point in games like Diablo II and Torchlight, or those craving permanency, but it does make playing at the level cap more rewarding.
Personally, I always enjoyed Diablo III, and in my opinion, this patch has vastly improved an already great game. I still hope for random map boundaries and better storytelling, but I’m thrilled that loot has been made much more fun, that the difficulty system is much less redundant and that at least in Reaper of Souls, I’ll be able to explore the world without being interrupted or impeded by mandatory storyline content. But even without Reaper of Souls, two years since its release, Diablo III is now more fun to play than it ever was before. If you have been waiting for the right time to play, I believe now is the time.
Diablo III players will receive a 50% bonus in experience points earned until the day Reaper of Souls is released on March 25th, 2014. For more details on patch 2.01, check out this video.