Tag Archive | Blizzard Entertainment

The Redemption of Diablo (DIII Reaper of Souls Review)

I don’t particularly understand why I picked Diablo III back up, but I did.

Up until my re-download of the game, I had forgotten about the rumored game-changing patches and new Reaper of Souls expansion. Mine was a pick-up based on no hype, just a desire to run through some dungeons on a mad three-quarters-perspective loot grab. Such has been the case with Diablo games for me in the past; I just get that craving and there’s nothing that can satisfy like the real name brand.

It was easy to pick up where I last left off, probably more than a year ago. Thanks to the battle.net debacle, I still had my case of characters and a fair amount of gold in my pocket and a clutch of gems, dyes, and items stashed. I took a moment to assess the damage from the closure of the Auction House, realized that I had left about a dozen auctions running (none of which sold) while I was away and spent time scraping up the errant yellows I had put up for grabs.

My thought was that I would start anew with a Demon Hunter and be able to use most of my salvaged stash to kit out a lowbie with some sweet starting gear.

I quickly realized that most of it could simply go out the window because, while I was gone, the Loot 2.0 patch had swept in like a cleansing wind and severely changed the playing field.

Diablo III, even without the Reaper of Souls expansion, plays like a brand new game. You’re not going to get anything but your standard run from Act I through Act IV as far as content goes but things certainly have changed. Like moving out of town for a year and then coming back to visit; the scenery is largely the same but there’s a coffee shop where that Radio Shack used to be and they put in new pumps at the gas station. Also, there’s a new Subway… because there’s always a new Subway.

Going back to DIII now and playing an old character guarantees that, within approximately the first half-hour of gameplay, you will gear up in just about every slot. Loot 2.0’s sweeping changes cause less quantity with item drops, but higher quality and better targeting. If you’re running around as a Wizard, it’s likely you won’t see many quivers or mighty weapons or awesome wands with +ridiculous strength. You’ll see gear dropped, about 90% of the time, which is gear for your character; actual, usable things which will cause less anger at the futility of repetitive runs and more indecision as to which exact yellow helmet out of the seven you have in your inventory is the best investment for your future development. And, oh, by the way, you just found an orange.

When Blizzard blew up the Auction House, all those items were scattered throughout Sanctuary and are sitting there waiting for you to rediscover them.

They’ve also changed the way difficulty works and made the game much better for solo players. Rather than forcing you to continue running through the tiers of difficulty, the enemies and loot now scale to your level even if you leave the game set on Normal for the rest of your career. You can, of course, boost this to give yourself (or your party) more of a challenge, but only if you want to. Normal, Hard, Nightmare, Hell, and Torment are the settings and they advise you on where you should be in your development before you decide to make a change. You can also tweak this on the fly, so, if at any point you find yourself bored or facing down a particularly tough situation, you can seamlessly, mid-game, raise or lower the difficulty level by one step.

This means that the consummate solo player, like myself, does not have to bother themselves with twisting friends arms (or, indeed, having their own arms twisted) in order to make runs to improve their gear. Soloing remains possible indefinitely on the lower difficulty levels and will always produce newer, better items as you continue to rise in experience. This beats the shit out of getting as frustrated as I’d been with some classes around the 30-40 level bridge because they just weren’t cutting it when it came to solo boss battles and actually encourages me that playing every class will be a fun and rewarding experience.

I enjoyed leveling my new Demon Hunter and had just finished my second run (putting me around L55) when payday struck and I decided to buy Reaper of Souls (after having most of its features flaunted temptingly in my face all over the front-end of the game). I jumped right into the new Act V.

The story continues nicely from the end of DIII proper, allowing for some mourning of the dead before charging forward into battle once more. The new Act is rife with side-quests and events and ends on a note which could either allow for an Act VI or could be positioning for Diablo IV. The latest rumors have Blizzard probing the market via selective survey regarding another DIII expansion. If they can do as well as this one, I’m all for it.

Beyond the story and the additional playtime, the game also introduces a new vendor in the Mystic. If you love customization, then all your gold will be spent here. Not only does the Mystic allow you to “re-roll” any one stat on an item but she can also transmogrify your gear to give it a different appearance. Like the new armor you picked up but hate the way it looks because it clashes uncharacteristically with the rest of your set? Transmogs will fix that. You’ll also gain Transmogs for every Unique (orange) item you pick up. Though these cost significantly more gold to swap, I found Blind Faith for my DH and love the look so much that I’m willing to spend the G it takes to retain the badass appearance, if only for my own enjoyment.

Re-rolling stats is rather handy, but has a degree of randomness which may make the expense steep. You are given a long list of possibilities but, in the end, are only allowed to select from the original enchant or two random others from the initial long list. It will not be perfect every time but it can help you get the skill bonuses you want to match your current spec.

After Act V is done, the game presents you with Adventure Mode which is where the whole new world of fun begins. Adventure Mode presents you with a series of five “bounties” per zone (act). These bounties bounce you around the map doing varied quests from killing a specific boss mob or elite to killing x amount of enemies in a given area to doing an event/sidequest. Each completion rewards you with XP and gold. When all five are completed, Tyrael gives you a pack full of crafting materials and items which can include up to orange and set items.

It doesn’t stop there. Throughout the bounty completions, you amass both blood shards – a new currency allowing you to purchase random magical items of any type from a new vendor – and special coins of which five can be redeemed to open a Nephalem Rift. These Rifts are portals to dungeons which combine random tilesets with random lighting effects and random enemy pools to create entirely unique areas populated heavily by blue and gold elites as well as chests and treasure goblins. Kill enough enemies to fill a gauge and it triggers a boss fight where you will see another ton of incredible equipment drop. You’ll have to portal back about halfway through because your inventory will be full of ridiculous yellows and you’ll wind up having nothing much to do with them but sell or scrap.

There’s also the addition of the Crusader class. Haven’t toyed with it yet but I’ll probably start one soon. Reports state that it plays like the Paladin from DII which, if that’s the case, I’ll feel quite at home.

One of the main headlines surrounding Reaper of Souls is: “Can Blizzard Save Diablo III with $40?”

Yes. Yes it can and yes it did.

DIII now feels less like hopeless drudgery and more like an actual game. I feel much more rewarded for the time I’m putting in now that an orange drop isn’t something so incredibly rare that your first thought is “how much can I sell this puppy for on the AH”, rather, it’s an exciting moment where you can be legitimately excited that you’ll probably be replacing something after you identify it. My DH (L61) currently has four oranges and two greens (set items which were crafted from a set of found plans, something I didn’t even know was real before). It looks to get even more badass as my level climbs.

If you played DIII before and lost your taste for it, I recommend picking it back up again for the Loot 2.0 patch at least (it’s free!). If you like what you’re playing at that point, I strongly recommend investing in Reaper of Souls. With these two improvements, Blizzard has taken a game which was the butt of many jokes after release and reworked it into something more akin to the classic Diablo we all know and love. For that, I say good job boys. Looking forward to Act VI.

Bidula’s Last Word – 9/10

Keep fighting the good fight.

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I Sense a Soul In Search of Answers… (Bidula’s Last Word – Diablo III)

As a cheap-ass gamer, I typically don’t buy anything upon release.

Lately, I’ve been thriving on backlogged titles picked up during the big sales on Steam or the rare used or borrowed Xbox game.  I have become exceedingly good at this, even going so far as to mooch a login so I could mess around with Minecraft in single player just for something to do (thanks, Janna).

There were three games for which I knew I would pay full retail within 2012: Mass Effect 3, Diablo III, and Bioshock: Infinite.  Now that one of those titles has been pushed back to 2013, I suppose I’ve hit my quota.  Or, I’ve got room to fit one more retail release into my budget before the year is out.  Either way, my main purchases are already done.

I knew that picking up Diablo III would certainly not be a waste of money.  If it was anything like its predecessors, I was looking at a game I would be playing hardcore for the next three months minimum, but probably off-and-on for at least a year before putting it down for a while and picking it up again six months later for another fresh playthrough.

I was not wrong.  Stay a while and listen.

Yes, this is a game I’m going to be playing for a very long time.  With a unique experience within all five classes and, of course, the ever-random maps, ever-random drops, and sporadically occurring events, it will take some time to become truly bored.

The big question which was on everyone’s mind when this was first announced was: “Is DIII going to live up to its predecessors?”  Most notably, the question was would it live up to Diablo II, which persevered within the gamer underground long after its sell-by date.

I think it has the potential to do so, however, DIII is a much more controlled experience.  Blizzard, gleaning a bit from that small-time indie MMO of theirs which is still underground and never really met with much success, has tightened the reins on this iteration of their franchise.  They have also used their MMO experience to help determine what works and what doesn’t in a good game, resulting in a list of pros and cons as long as Deckard Cain’s beard.

Firstly, Blizzard has found the sweet spot in their financial game: Expansion Packs.  WoW, over three (soon to be four, I understand) different retail expansions has taught them how to use choke points to limit progress while still keeping the player base challenged and interested.  Sure, there are level caps, but then there are achievements, tiers of armor, honor points, faction credit, heroic dungeons, 40-man raids… things like this keep a hardcore gamer interested without making more than a few simple changes to the game.  They can prove their l33t-ness without actually seeing an increase in their level.

While DIII sheds much of the MMO aspect (notably opting to drop the first “M” and just go with “MO”), it retains a lot of the tricks.  There is a level cap.  There are increasing levels of difficulty (added to give that end-game challenge).  There are, within each class, different play styles though they don’t resemble the ones in DII or WoW in the sense that you’re not limited to one specialization within a three skill tree system.  Your spec can change at any moment.  You can drag and drop abilities into your hotbar at will.  You don’t need to spend time planning how to build you character, you can do so on the fly and change it at will.  There are no more skill points, no more attribute points… instead, everything simply unlocks at certain levels and your gear can help flesh out the rest.

I’ve heard some complaints that this system is simplified.  Duly noted, however, you have to see Blizzard’s angle here.  They have the opportunity to cash in on a more casual market which may have felt alienated by the set-in-stone skill choices of the past.  Now, you can see how everything works without having to spend 50 levels getting that one skill you thought would be cool only to find out that it is about as effective as shooting rainbows and has the damage capabilities of a feather pillow at point blank range.  Hardcore vets of Diablo and WoW are used to careful build planning, where to put points, how to construct the perfect character for just what they want to do.  The option is still there, but this time you get to pick from everything instead of being limited to just that one specialization.  Every gamer has had that moment where you get to a point in the story and you mutter “damn, if only I would have spec’d up in (blank) this would be so much easier.”  Well, now that lamented lost ability is only a mouse-click away.  Not a bad thing, in my opinion, but I could see it as nails on a chalkboard to some.

You’ve also got the ascending difficulty chain, which, it seems, Blizzard is more actively encouraging this time around.  I’m a seasoned gamer but I realize that to have the most fun with things, one generally stays away from difficulty settings named “Nightmare” or “Hell”, at least on the first playthrough, to keep things more enjoyable and less frustrating.  In DIII, these settings must be unlocked by completing the game at the difficulty below.  They’re also actively encouraging total completion by making it extremely difficult to hit the level cap within normal difficulty.  From what I can see this time around, it seems as though Blizzard has wisely geared the game toward this.  With every level I progress, it seems that the game scales in difficulty to match my new capabilities much better than any past release.  This keeps things challenging and doesn’t allow for the sheer dominance provided by a second-normal playthrough on DII.  Slightly less satisfying (because you can’t just romp about one-shotting things into oblivion) but definitely more engaging.  The increase in challenge feels organic.  Natural.

The main flaw is that out of the box with a level cap seems like a ploy for more money.  Yes, I understand the marketing of it.  This is the downside of what made WoW such a great game.  Once people reach the end of that challenge phase, they’re going to get bored.  And, oh, what’s this?  Uncle Blizz just showed up with some more shit for you.  Here, have Level 70.  Here, have a bit more content.  Here, maybe a few new classes will help you stick around longer.  It’s pure genius, really.  Our culture (meaning gamer culture, of course) is so devoted that, most times, we’ll buy whatever they’re selling, damn the cost.  We just want to get some more mileage out of the game we love.

Set items, socket runes, and other aspects of DII were left out specifically for this reason.  Can’t say I blame Blizzard for doing so.  I’ll be among the first in line for the expansion (of which, Blizz says, there will be many).  My main problem with DIII, and mainly with gaming in general at this point, is the marketing and selling of incomplete games for beaucoup bux with the foreknowledge that gamers will happily plunk down US$40 more on the additional material for the game they’ve already spent US$60 buying.  This trend is rampant and it will never stop.

That’s another rant for another day…

Is DIII fun?  Yes.  Is DIII worth your money?  Absolutely.  Will I give you my B.net ID so you can play along with me?  Probably, but remember, I’m more of a single-player guy these days.  Don’t expect me to run with you every night.  I left the MMO world so that I wouldn’t have to plan my life around this stuff.

Another big question is “Will DIII run on my computer?”  The answer is yes, unless you’re running some 10-year-old shit box.  I’ve got a 4-year-old lappy running it just fine.  A little lag when the destruction gets heavy, but nothing too shocking.  I almost dropped 800+ on a new performance machine just because I thought the thing would crash my current computer.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it runs and looks just fine, even though some of my settings are a bit lower than I would like.  If you’re in it for the game and not for the pageantry of graphics (as in, needing to see all shadows and every blade of freaking grass), then you’re good to go.  I’ll still probably end up picking up a new rig, but the ability to run DIII on my machine without issue has lengthened my time table significantly.

Bidula’s Last Word – 8.5/10  Get this game.  It’s fun as hell.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—