Thursday, March 27, 2014

First Impressions: Diablo III: Reaper of Souls

There are no major spoilers in this review.

I was initially pretty happy with the 2012 release of Diablo III, giving it a B+ in my review a couple weeks after release. However, I had stopped playing it within four months and probably would have given it a C+ if I were to re-review it once Torchlight 2 had been released. Diablo 3 had many flaws that did not surface until late in the game, the most salient of which were:

  1. The rate at which useable loot dropped was so low that visiting the auction house to buy gear became a necessity to progress. Fighting monsters to earn gold to buy gear was never as enticing as getting that gear directly from your battles.
  2. The difficulty progression required you to play through the inane story from start to finish three separate times, only to dump you into a nearly impossible situation where you spent fifteen minutes kiting a single monster around the map before dying. There should be a few difficulty steps between hard and impossible, because otherwise it's like playing tennis with a brick wall ("they're relentless!").

The Diablo 3 expansion pack, Reaper of Souls, was released on Tuesday for the slightly-too-high price point of $40, adding a new story Act, a new hero class, and alternate play modes. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I played Diablo 3 this month for the first time in nearly two years, and was surprised to find out how much better it had become. I had never really jumped on the "Hate the Game Director" bandwagon that pervaded the Internet in 2012. However, with historical perspective, it's vindicating to see just how many design decisions from the original game director's brain were undone or mellowed out after he was unceremoniously "moved to another project".

I've only played the expansion pack for a few hours so far, but here's a quick list of what has changed and what hasn't. Some of these changes retroactively apply to the original game, so you don't even need to buy the expansion pack to experience what a fun Diablo experience might taste like.

What's Exciting

  1. Loot will almost always have usable statistics (no more Barbarian belts full of Intelligence).
  2. The auction house is no more, so playing is once again about getting loot, not gold.
  3. Legendary items, like my farty pants, are still rare, but much more likely to drop. I've gotten a dozen so far, where I barely saw two in my entire original run.
  4. Difficulty can be scaled at anytime so you only need to play through the story end-to-end one time.
  5. There is an option to "automatically skip all cutscenes", which lets you bypass the most cringeworthy aspects of the story.
  6. You get a free pack of Hearthstone cards with purchase.
  7. The music is more memorable, favouring melodies and subtle reworkings of the Diablo 2 themes, rather than ambient sounds.
  8. The maps, events, and world design of Act V are top-notch. I can see myself playing these maps plenty in the future. They almost wipe away the bad taste of every desert-themed Act ever created.
  9. The smoothest launch day of any Blizzard game ever. Not a server crash or queue in sight.
  10. Once you beat Act V, there's an Adventure Mode that completely detaches you from the storyline and gives you random quests on random maps. I may never go back to the story again once I've unlocked this.

What's Less Exciting

  1. The Skill UI is still the same, so it's hard to maintain a big picture awareness of the skills you have unlocked and want to assign to slots.
  2. The dialogue is still awful, and everyone still wants to run up to you and beat you over the head with the high school play that constitutes the storyline.
  3. The game is still "online only".
  4. I played a "Crusader" for the first ten levels, and was underwhelmed. Obviously I haven't unlocked much yet, but it plays like a Barbarian with different art. I've never cared much for the melee classes though.

So far, this is a worthwhile (albeit slightly expensive) purchase, and corrects enough of the original Diablo flaws to satisfy me. I'll post a full review in a few weeks!

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