Review: Diablo III – Reaper of Souls (**** stars) (Part 2)

At the same time, the Blacksmith system received a complete overhaul. Before, you needed to refine materials before use, and you might not get anything useful; now, everything is salvageable, and the “random” gear has turned to “gear tuned for your class”. This makes crafting infinitely more fun, like a dice roll to determine whether you get something or not, or even to fill in holes in your current gearset. This gives you an incentive to get crafting materials mostly because…well, different attributes pop out every time, and some attribute distributions are simply better than others for your playstyle and build choices. This means lot of crafting, keeping loot, salvagaging, and trying again, all without the feeling that you just wasted some stuff or made it for a new character exclusively. Consider that finding recipes for Legendaries and Set items out in the wild can only be made via the Blacksmith, and you’ll find yourself grinding for many hours to come.

Unfortunately, the Jeweler and socketing remain just as boring as ever…so boring that I didn’t mention them in either of the other reviews for some reason! Mostly, that’s due to gemming turning into an incredibly boring busywork loop of “find gem, upgrade gem, repeat”. At least salvaging a socketed item now removes the gem rather than destroying it, but great gems drop in such frequency in the end-game that it really doesn’t matter.

What does matter more is the new Mystic Artisan. She adds a World of WarCraft feature, transmogrify, which lets you customize the look of your character (color is still controlled via dyes).The feature does not strike me as something amazing like World of WarCraft’s version (owing to a lack of distinct sets), but it’s cheap and fun. Her better qualities derive from Enchantment, which lets you replace a stat on an item with a random stat from a list. Sometimes a piece of gear needs a boost, and this provides you with an opportunity to improve an already great item (for a certain gold and material cost). You could get something worse or better, but the gamble is part of the fun! I would prefer something more precise, but this allows you to customize your gear beyond picking it up and just accepting crappy stats.

At this point, all I can do is just complain about the basic structure of Diablo. I didn’t mention this before, given the critical issues with previous entries, but the massive improvements tend to highlight the flaws of the “unchanged” portions of the action role-playing game genre in general. First off, randomness does not produce a consistent challenge in the game. While this works for gear drops, heightening the excitement of a legendary drop’s possible benefits, it does not help when you encounter a random enemy far more powerful than any boss you fight. Diablo’s a pushover compared to some of these randomly encountered enemies, and certain combos of ability prove to be a pretty large death sentence if you’re not paying attention. But why aren’t the scripted bosses as difficult? They have patterns, surely, but man do they disappoint after all the cutscene/lore-based hype for the actual encounter. This makes subsequent playthroughts interesting, of course, but it plagues the main campaign.

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Hence, the introduction of Adventure Mode alleviates this somewhat. Adventure Mode is the “endgame” of Diablo, a freeform exploration of previous areas which amounts to doing randomly generate quests for giant loot and experience bonuses. You could get any combination of enemies or abilities, making this far more challenging than the campaign, and bosses spring up in the weirdest places. At the same time, doing Bounties provides you with clear objectives in each area (heck, Kill Diablo was a Bounty – super weird!). Do five Bounties in one area and you obtain a Horadric Cache, filled to the brim with gems, gear, and possibly exclusive legendaries! Finishing those five Bounties gets you five Nephaelim Rift Keys, which open up super difficult areas called Nephaelim Rifts. They’re a clear bump up in difficulty, often involving the most horrible combinations of bosses and abilities the game will throw at you, and the rewards remain commensurate to the required skill cap.

For better or worse, Diablo is really all about grinding to get better loot to kill things better to get loot. Adventure Mode barely bothers to disguise this element at all, except by making that grind as varied and interesting as possible. For my personal stance, I believe it succeeds brilliantly – I can’t imagine doing the campaign again unless I wanted some of the more obscure secrets, but Adventure Mode continues to provide a wealth of randomly generated balance. It also removes the problem of random generation versus a coordinated Campaign – now, the whole game arrives in bite-sized random chunks, making the spikes in difficulty more palatable and more like a rogue-like (not actually like Rogue, silly!).

Adventure Mode also introduces one more extra mechanics – gambling. Enemies in this new mode drop Blood Shards, a currency only used for the gambling vendor. Basically, you trade a certain number of Shards for the chance of an excellent weapon or piece of armor. I believe there’s a 1.5% chance to obtain a legendary, but the real purpose of the system comes in filling in loot holes. This is yet another system that attempts to alleviate the random chance of actual loot drops – I mean, it serves no other purpose than this, a pretty good one at that.

That’s why I think Reaper of Souls and Loot 2.0 made for such great improvements – they removed what didn’t add to the core loop, and then provided players with both new ways to keep the grind fresh and alternatives to finding gear just via drops. Yes, they re-use content to create more interesting scenarios, but that’s the whole fun of Diablo in the first place. Kill things, get loot remains as fun from beginning to end, and the loot merely turns into an incentive structure.

Because of the genre itself, I honestly don’t think I could ever give it the highest score around. Part of me knows that there’s something empty about the endless pursuit of loot. But, in the end, that sort of problem hasn’t prevented me from playing far too much of Diablo III’s latest update continuously, and that says it all.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.