Diablo III: Reaper of Souls has been in closed beta for just over a week, and I’ve been playing it. Playing it a lot. Copying my characters over from my live account, I’ve chosen to focus solely on the Demon Hunter class: a personal favourite of mine that never really shined in the current metagame.
With the combination of the all new Rifts and Bounties, Diablo III has never been more subtle about its repetitive nature. Nestled inside is the new Loot 2.0 system that hands you positive reinforcement on a silver platter, awarding you with loot that can change the way you play in an instant.
Beta or not, there is still plenty of criticism to be had. Things such as the returning crushing blow stat, elite affix changes and item/class balances take away more than they give. However with no release date in sight, Blizzard have all the time they need to iron out the kinks and give us the Diablo experience we so sorely desire.
Reaper of Souls is pretty much all I’ve played in the past week. Getting from 60-70, gearing myself up and then attempting to go head to head with the hardest difficulties. Below I’ve separated my analysis into the key components that make up Reaper of Souls.
By far the most over-reaching difference between Diablo III and Reaper of Souls is the combination of Loot 2.0 and the removal of the auction house. Even trading has had some restrictions put in place: loot is only tradable to the players who were present at the time of the drop, and even that has a time limit of two hours.
The result is a pure self-found progression of your characters. Gone are the days where you can use buy your way into a powerful build. This is reinforced with what’s called a ‘smart drop’ system. The majority legendaries that drop will have stats rolled specifically to your current class, which is required to make this new self-found focused progression work. You can still get the occasional loot that’s for a different class than your own, but you can always trade it away to party members or put it in the stash to make use of it on your other classes.
Legendaries themselves have had their power increased even further thanks to a slew of new unique affixes. It’s not only about getting the best stats anymore, but supplementing your build with these powerful items that can change the way you play:
An example was when I found the K’mar Tenclip, a one-handed crossbow with the affix ‘Strafe no longer costs Hatred’. Suddenly I could use a powerful, high upkeep ability with impunity, but it didn’t stop there. Later I found another one-handed crossbow, Calamity. This one tagged every monster I hit with Marked for Death - an ability that increases all damage taken by 20% - further improving my new found build.
This new system has the most profound effects in hardcore, where a constant and consistent progression can be the difference between life and death. There’s even some new legendaries which are obviously aimed specifically for the hardcore crowd. The ‘Barter Town Pads’ makes your town portal uninterruptable while also giving you a 50% damage reduction for the channel duration. Another is an amulet which, upon receiving fatal damage, destroys the item while restoring you to full life.
Bounties and Rifts
Alkaizer, Scorpion and Crypt runs are the bread and butter of Diablo III right now. These pre-meditated routes - made up by the most seasoned Diablo III players - will net you the most efficient loot and xp there is to offer. The downside is that they get old, stale and boring pretty quickly. Reaper of Souls answer comes in cross-act Bounties, and Nephalem Rifts in all their RNG glory.
Bounties are scattered throughout five acts, taking advantage of pre-existing settings to create random tasks for players to complete. You could be tasked to killing one of the many bosses, completing an event or vanquishing an entire area of its evil denizens. Completing these will reward you with experience and a new currency: Blood Shards. If you complete all the bounties in an act, you will be rewarded with additional Blood Shards and a Horadric Cache.
Let’s talk about these two rewards. Blood Shards are a brand new currency that you can exchange for goodies. One vendor will give you more Horadric Caches, while another allows you to gamble your shards on specific item types of a random rarity. The Horadric Caches themselves are bags packed full of loot. When opened, they shower the screen with their contents, while having the chance the give you that satisfactory ding when a legendary drops. From my experience, gambling my items never yielded a legendary item, whereas the bags seem to drop them frequently. The bags also allow you to horde a bunch of them before splurging their contents all over town.
Rifts are the best use of Diablo III’s randomly generated dungeons yet. After finding a Rift Keystone on your excursions you can use it to open a Nephalem Rift. These portals take you into a random environment from the game which is then populated with equally random foes. The aim is to kill enemies while filling up a progress bar until it hits 100%, at which point a random boss will spawn for you to defeat. Depending on your Rift it can also feature multiple levels, each one a different area populated with different monsters.
Inside the Rifts are some hidden surprises. Instead of shrines, players can activate pylons for a huge short-term buff. Conduit pylons electrify any enemies and objects around you, speed pylons grant you maximum movement speed, power pylons give you 400% damage increase, shield pylons make you impervious to damage and finally channeling pylon removes all resource costs and cooldowns.
There are also rare spawns which can really reap you some nice rewards. Finding a treasure goblin is always fun, but finding multiple packs of them is sometimes just overwhelming. If you don’t accidently set them all off, you really have to plan ahead to make sure you can cull them all before they escape, and your potential legendaries with them.
Reaper of Souls also introduces a new NPC: the Mystic. This NPC can alter the stats and the looks of your items. For a fee and some crafting materials, you can pick one stat on any item and re roll it to another. There are two groups of stats: primary and secondary. These groups are independent from each other as to try and keep players from easily stacking core stats. When you re roll a stat, you get three randomly generated stats. If you don’t like any of the stats you roll, you can re roll again, but the gold cost will rise exponentially. If you’re unlucky enough, the cost of re-rolling an item can become far too expensive to maintain.
The other side of the Mystic is transmogrification. Making its debut in Blizzard’s mammoth MMO: World of Warcraft, transmogrification allows you to swap the appearance of one item for another you’ve found, for a fee. The higher the item rarity, the higher the cost. This enables players to choose a preferred look and try and appear unique from their fellow clones of the same class.
Demon Hunters have always been my preferred class in any Diablo game. This was first challenged in Diablo III, after a slew of nerfs made them painfully slow to play on higher difficulties, resulting in me switching to Wizard. With the Reaper of Souls beta, I wanted to see how my beloved class had fared.
Not too well.
I’ve tried to push the class to its limits. While there has been some interesting changes to the class, there are some glaring holes in the classes functionality with some of the additions in Reaper of Souls:
- Unavoidable damage and dodge: Reaper of Souls introduces some new elite affixes to the world. These affixes grant elite monsters powerful abilities. Most of these abilities - including the reworked Vortex and Jailer - deal unavoidable damage which cannot be dodged. Why is this a problem? Well Demon Hunters rely on three things to stay alive: dodge, defensive skills and positioning. Unfortunately all of these have no effect on the the aforementioned affixes, which often than not results in your quick demise.
- Our new passives make no sense: Demon Hunters, like every other class, received three new passives with Reaper of Souls. Ambush grants you 30% additional damage to enemies above 80% health. Awareness grants you 4% dodge every second, resetting once you successfully dodge. Single Out grants you a 20% increased critical strike chance to enemies who are more than 20 yards away from other enemies. Ambush has such little uptime, it isn’t worth taking. Considering I already have a 50%+ chance to dodge from my dexterity alone and the aforementioned ineffectiveness of dodge in the first place, Awareness has little use. Finally Single Out is little more than a boss killer due to the nature of monster packs, and even bosses regularly spawn extra mobs.
- Some skills still feel redundant: It’s painful to see whole skills and archetypes be completely ignored in any class. For me the biggest example with Demon Hunters is their pets, specifically sentries and companions. Blizzard have said that they want Demon Hunters to set up a ‘nest’ of sorts to lure enemies into. The reality however is that Diablo III is a very fluid experience, and creating such a thing would be a waste of time compared to other builds. Example: by equipping certain legendaries and passives I can have a maximum of five sentries out at one time, but I would never use them. Why? Because they have a six second cooldown between each sentry placement, equating to a 30 second wait to get all of them up and firing. In 99% of my experience I am never in the same place for that period of time, it just doesn’t happen. A simple solution would be to have the skill place your maximum number of sentries all at once, with a slightly increased cooldown. Companions are another issue. In higher difficulties they melt to the enemies in seconds while dealing negligible damage. This is further exacerbated with their huge cooldown between summons.
Naturally this is a beta, and things can and will change all the time. Blizzard have already displayed their hawk-eye with the removal of Crushing Blow, a returning stat from Diablo II that didn’t go down well with the testers. For the uninitiated, Crushing Blow gave you a percentage chance to deal 25% of the monsters current health as damage. Naturally with a decent percentage and attack speed you could drop enemies below half health in a couple of hits. It was far too powerful and independent to be a healthy addition, and I hope it never comes back. But this is a perfect example that Blizzard are watching, willing to change or completely remove features that just don’t work.
Reaper of Souls is excellent. While I haven’t touched the new story, the other additions have kept me entertained indefinitely. Hiding the superficial fact that you’re grinding gear for more gear is a hard feat to pull off, and Blizzard have a PHD in it. Some areas of the game such as hardcore are still yet to be exploited for their potential (ladders are already confirmed) but I’m sure that will come in due time. For now, I can see myself playing the game all the way up until release, and then some. If that doesn’t say anything for its newfound longevity, I don’t know what will.
Shortly after writing this, Blizzard announced their first friends and family beta patch. Accounts will be completely wiped of all characters, items and progression. If you want to see Nick explore what this new mysterious patch has to offer, you can check out our Twitch channel. A big thank you to all of our fab viewers over the course of the beta, your theorycrafting and feedback has been wonderful.