Rise of MegaMaid; elevating Diablo 3 into the gamer stratosphere with ‘Reaper of Souls’

d3ros1_malthael

If Diablo III: Reapers of Souls is the game we should have received two years ago, then what would the game be like today?

It seems to be that the biggest praise for D3:RoS is that it’s the standard of excellence that should have been met two years ago in D3’s initial release and said initial incarnation fell so far from the mark that people oft wish it be erased from Blizzstory.

It’s not a sentiment I particularly agree with.

Let’s be clear on some things though: RoS is an EXCELLENT addition by all means, but the initial release of D3 wasn’t the giant mound of triceratops poop people criticized it to be either. It did indeed have some missteps, but it was still by and large a fun and exciting game to play.

How interesting it is that people who criticized D3 often shoved the success and much-adoredness of D2 in the face of anyone on social media posting ANYTHING to do with D3 when they seemed to have forgotten that D2 was less than spectacular up until its one and only expansion, Lord of Destruction, was unleashed. D3’s missteps weren’t game-breakers, but they did warrant some correction. And thus, with the release of RoS, Spaceball One has now become Mega Maid (only, you know…without that pesky Lonestar trying to push the self-destruct button).

Problem the First: Game Identity

The initial problem that hindered the game was replayability. This marred Diablo’s search for game identity. Is it an RPG? Is it an action game? Is it a dungeon crawler? Is it an MMO?

This was exacerbated by the fact that the first goal was not simply to beat Diablo, but to level a character to cap level (then, 60). Further complicating things was that after a content patch, in order to track progression in a similar fashion to the leveling experience, the Paragon system was released and too offered then a cap on the progression of said characters.

The problem was rooted in the fact that one had to replay the same four acts (or simply find the most lucrative of Acts…Act 3 in my opinion) just to level a character or farm out gold and gear.

The solution: while it may certainly be debatable, I think it goes without saying Blizzard found that both the game and its players’ goals were more in line with a dungeon crawler, and as such, reduced other elements to back-burner status and elevated that which would enable the game to be enjoyed by breaking it up. Difficulty settings were modified not only to adjust for challenge, but also for reward bonuses (added experience points, chance at gold and epic loot, etc.).

What I find interesting about the difficulty settings is the ease of their adjustment. As one levels a new character, you can increase the content as you find challenges easier to overcome. In some cases you can increase the difficulty up one setting while playing (or exit out to increase it as high as you wish), or decrease it as often as you wish should you run into particularly gruesome roadblocks.

The best addition to Diablo’s dungeon crawler identity is Adventure Mode. Players can access it at any time (even while leveling) and can play through various taskings and challenges in any of the acts. Those challenges are randomly selected by the game and all must be completed to obtain a chest of gear which include key tokens for cross-dimensional challenge rifts (more on that in a sec), as well as gear you’ll either scrap for disenchantment material, sell for gold, or may even be an amazing upgrade (the beauty of the game is, you just never know).

The aforementioned Nephalem Rifts can also be accessed via Adventure Mode using key tokens one collects when completing adventure mode quests and boss challenges. Five tokens are needed to open a rift which will remain open until one logs out of the game or completes the quest that will close it out. Stepping inside one will find him or herself in any randomly selected dungeon setting with equally randomized enemy packs (desert wasps in a Westmarch dungeon, or Westmarch Death Maidens in a New Tristram crypt, for example). The final boss offers the most challenge and the highest chance at an exorbitant amount of loot drops both in quantity and quality. I found rift farming particularly challenging and engaging with friends rather than going in solo.

Problem the Second: Character Progression

levelingupGandalf

Leveling is an easy way to track progression. Ding. I’m one level higher than I was before. I have more power, I have more resources, I have newer abilities to melt or rip off a stronger enemy’s face. Paragon leveling offered the same progression to characters already at the maximum level (60 in Diablo’s initial launch and now 70 in RoS). In actuality it still does. A problem that existed prior to RoS was the fact that both the regular character and the paragon levels capped out at some point. Character progress became untrackable and replaying content became pointless, particularly because genuine loot upgrades were few and far between. In order for Blizzard to fully embrace the dungeon crawler identity, it needed to revamp gameplay that was encouraging to repeated runs through content.

The solution: The first step was to remove the Paragon level cap. This allows people to track their activity in game contributing to the mentality “ah, well, no loot this time, at least I got some Paragon XP which will make me stronger, and maybe I can try a higher difficulty setting down the road to get a better chance at higher quality loot.”

Also promising better progression was the Loot 2.0 system. Probably the most important system for character-specific progression is a system in which the loot dropped is USEABLE by your character, or “smart” loot as it’s called. I found the system to NOT be ENTIRELY perfect, if only because I managed two legendary demon hunter chest drops while playing on my wizard (Intentional? Game bug? Jury’s still out on that). The idea behind Loot 2.0 is that while rare and legendary gear drops may seem far apart, when you DO get something it should be valuable to you. If you couple this with the new enchanting system and legendary crafting patterns for your Blacksmith, you find that even non-upgrade legendaries now have a purpose. For example, disenchanting unusable level 70 legendaries yields a Forgotten Soul which is needed to enchant other legendaries (and by “enchant” I mean change an undesired property to your choice of one of three other randomly selected properties).

Loot 2.0, a rejiggered crafting system, and a new enchanting and transmogrifying service, all combined to create the Schwartz force necessary to push Mega Maid’s “suck” switch to “blow,” thus breathing new life into the attention spans of the community’s most demanding gamers and also laying to rest the franchise’s most controversial feature…

REST IN PEACE, AUCTION HOUSE

obiwan_disturbance_RMAH

Where D3 pre-RoS was a fun game all things considered, the one piece of it that spoiled it for most people was the Real Money and Gold-Based Auction Houses. People selling off trash gear for obscene amounts of money (because really, no one even LOOKED at the gold-based AH) contributed solely to the first problem mentioned in this blog. Why replay something when you can spend a few bucks to get the gear you know in all likelihood will not drop for you.

I will say this though.

While I am indeed glad to see both AHs gone, I have to give props to Blizzard for at least TRYING to streamline external game transactions. Again, how quickly D3’s biggest critics forgot about the loot transaction system that existed in D2. External trade channels and character muling often opened players up to botters and shady third-party services that could jilt players out of both loot and personal finances. While an account-wide stash resolved muling issues, the trade system remained particularly challenging, partly because those who revere D2 often attribute such reverence to the trading system that encouraged community interaction. The RMAH and GAHs aimed at providing a outlet for people to trade unwanted, though valuable loot while giving them  options on how they wish to benefit from their luck. Coupling the stigma associated with a “pay for play” progression mindset with that of the greed that tends to infest an AH environment, and it’s easy to see why the RMAH/GAH was an experiment doomed for failure. Though I find it alarming that Blizzard appeared to be so surprised by the anti-AH sentiments when all designers needed to do was go into World of Warcraft to see how awful that system is to see that involving real money would only exponentialize the hate. If there’s one thing positive that came out of the experience, is that it revealed Blizzard to be a developer that cherishes feedback and also forced it to rethink the progression systems, the revamps of which we now get to enjoy. But alas, this horse is officially dead and placed in a modestly marked grave with the epitaph, “Good riddance.” And so shall it be.

Stay awhile, and play…

Overall the changes offered in RoS are welcomed. Act V continues what I thought to be a great story in the beautifully constructed and darkly tragic Westmarch. The newly added Crusader class is wicked fun to play and with the changes in how one can level and progress it is relatively easy to reach cap level to continue Paragon progression. Lest we forget that the production elements and touches are what separate Blizzard titles from the pack — as such, a nod to the amazing environments, in-game cinematics and music must be made.

Now, if only we had news on the release of the planned PS4 (and XBox One) version, and I’ll be a happy gamer.

Leave a Reply