Update: Don't miss our full review of Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls on PC here.
I enjoyed Diablo 3, but it didn't change my life, and there were more than a few problems that prevented the experience being what it could have been.
This isn't going to turn into a lengthy rant about "always-on" DRM, however. I was one of the people who actually quite liked Diablo 3's quasi-MMO nature, through which you could chat with other friends playing the game even if you weren't actually in the same play session. The system had its flaws, of course -- lack of offline play was a dealbreaker for those who travel a lot and like to play on the go, while for me the segregation between my native European servers and the American servers where most (though, frustratingly, not all) of my friends were made playing with others more frustrating than it really needed to be.
For me, though, the problem with Diablo 3 was not so much with its online infrastructure, but with the fact it got quite dull quite quickly. Once I'd finished the storyline once with one character, I felt no real urge to charge through it again with another, and no compulsion to play through again on a harder difficulty level. I had a bit of fun playing with the permadeath "Hardcore" mode, but even that lost its appeal somewhat by not getting even a little bit challenging until your second loop through the game content.
Obviously my experience doesn't represent everyone, but I noted a lot of other people in my friendship group tailing off similarly quickly. A lot of players from the community complained of the lack of a satisfying "endgame," while others retorted that the game wasn't really an MMO and consequently didn't need an endgame. Both had a point; from the perspective of accurately positioning what Diablo 3 both was and wasn't, the game was a disaster, with seemingly no-one able to agree on exactly what sort of experience players should expect from it. Doubtless there are still some people playing today, but I certainly haven't touched it for a very long time now, and wasn't anticipating going back any time soon.
That said, this morning's announcement at Gamescom of a new expansion pack was worthy of note. While it doesn't address some of the player base's more serious concerns -- there's seemingly still no option for offline play, for example -- it does at least sound as if it will give the game a certain degree more longevity than it had at launch, particularly for high-level players. Specifically, it addresses the "endgame" complaints directly.
Let's talk specifics, then. Reaper of Souls, as the new expansion is called, raises the game's level cap to 70; introduces a whole new Act in which you battle against Malthael, the Angel of Death; and, perhaps most notably, brings in a new character class. The Crusader is described as a "mid-range melee character" comparable to Diablo 2's Paladin class. His skills include the ever-reliable Shield Bash, along with holy spells that rain damage from above.
The increased level cap means that all classes have new skills and runes to acquire, and even once you get there and/or are done with the story, a revamped endgame system provides plenty of things for high-level characters to do. For example, the Paragon level system, whereby you'd continue to earn stat bonuses and enhanced Gold and Magic Find skills even after hitting the level cap, has been tweaked -- now Paragon levels are global to your account rather than individual characters, and there's no cap. The most notable addition to endgame content is the Loot Run system, whereby a completely randomized 15-20 minute dungeon is generated, allowing players to battle their way through a variety of different enemies in the hope of scoring some better gear.
Talking of loot, the item drop system has been revamped, too. On the whole, the new system means that loot drops less frequently, but is more likely to be directly helpful to your character. A new mechanic called Smart Drops apparently tweaks stats according to the character you're playing -- a change seemingly brought over from the upcoming rebalanced console version. To put the changes in perspective, vanilla Diablo 3's Act 3 would previously drop, on average, 256 common items, 399 blue, 275 yellow and one legendary. In Reaper of Souls it could be 73 commons, 266 blues and 83 yellow items, but with a greater chance of them being Smart Drops that will more directly benefit your character. Not only that, but there'll be more legendary items on offer, with each providing the potential to shake up your character build significantly.
Blizzard did not, however, mention anything about the game's auction house system, which many have accused of unbalancing the game significantly -- after all, why should you rely on random loot drops when you can simply purchase super-effective items with minimal effort? It sounds as if the new "Loot 2.0" system, as it's called, is designed to make in-game drops a lot more meaningful, but this will have little meaning if the auction house is still flooded. This particular aspect is something we won't be able to see the effect of until after the expansion launches -- but given that this is what drove a lot of people away from the game in the first place, how likely is it that those players will come back?
On the whole, Reaper of Souls sounds like it will be a substantial expansion to the base Diablo 3 experience, and it certainly looks like Blizzard has made an effort to address a lot of the most common complaints about the game. However, I find myself wondering if this is too little, too late; even with these changes, I honestly don't see myself going back any time soon due to the simple fact that too many other games that I like more have come out since then. I might feel differently if I had been playing Diablo 3 constantly for this whole period, but as a "lapsed" player who tired of the experience before I'd finished my second playthrough, I'm not sure there's enough here to tempt me.
How about you lot? Any hardcore Diablo 3 players among you? Do the changes in the expansion satisfy you, or have you already moved on?
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