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The Long Road Out Of Hell: How Reaper of Souls Will Address The Sins Of Diablo 3

Upon its announcement, Diablo 3 was greeted with huge and undivided excitement. However upon its release the long-awaited sequel ended up being one of the most divisive games in years. To some it was a solid third installment in the most prolific and popular action RPG series of all time while to others it was the dragged down by the controversy surrounding the game’s online-only requirements and its implementation of a real-money auction house.

When compared to Blizzard’s other mammoth properties Warcraft and Starcraft, Diablo 3 still stands as Blizzard’s most divisive title and in the time since its release they’ve acknowledged some of the mistakes they made with the game (although they still stand by its online-only status). With the impending release of the game’s first expansion pack Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls later this month Blizzard are looking to fix the rest of the issues and mistakes that affected the quality of their last demon-slaying game.

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While there have been plenty of good action RPGs since the days of Diablo 2 (Sacred and Torchlight come to mind) – the fact that the term “Diablo-clone” is so often used to describe them says a lot about the lack of innovation in the genre. For all the issues it had I fell on the side of gamers who liked Diablo 3 with its willingness to venture where most other action RPGs have feared to go.

The way that it played around with typical skill progression using the rune system and the way it changed the flow and pacing of hacking and slashing through health orbs was refreshing in a genre that’s all too happy to sit back on the same old routines. Changing the way that crafting worked through artisans and instancing loot so as to prevent griefers from stealing items stood as examples of the game’s willingness to innovate in a genre that for me and many others had become pretty stale. For all the claims that Blizzard’s changes were “dumbing the game down for casual players” there were a lot of good ideas in Diablo 3 that improved upon a gameplay formula that’s been more or less untouched since Diablo 2 came out back in 2000.

That said, not all these additions were successful and the in-game real-money auction house was by far the worst. It allowed players to buy and sell items for real money and it not only stole away the excitement of Diablo’s random drop system, it turned improving your character into something on par with a bad free-to-play game. You could never really tell whether you weren’t getting any good new items because you were unlucky, or because the good items were so hard to find that you were forced to get them through the auction house. A lot of players saw it as a shameless attempt to monetize Diablo 3 in the same that way that Blizzard did with World of Warcraft’s microtransactions; even players who enjoyed the game held very little sentiment towards that feature.

In the recent Loot 2.0 Patch that Blizzard released to pave the way for Reaper of Souls, they finally took the necessary steps to abolish the in-game auction house as well as overhaul the way that loot drops so as to reward the player far more effectively. While this is not technically a part of Reaper of Souls, it’s just one of several ways that Blizzard are addressing the mistakes of the past and trying to win back the audience they alienated.

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Alongside the auction house, the other big criticism that hit Diablo 3 on release was the lack of endgame content for hardcore fans. Sure there were the standard multiple difficulty levels (which could only be played after beating the previous one) but it didn’t take long for the more hardcore players to burn through all the content that the game has to offer. Blizzard even admitted shortly after release that “the item hunt is not enough for a long sustainable end-game.” Furthermore, the difficulty and repair cost spikes that characterized the endgame of Diablo 3 only fanned the flames of criticism from gamers suggesting that Blizzard was artificially padding out the game.

Reaper of Souls addresses this problem in three ways. First it offers high level players some new content in the form of Act V – which will take players to the gothic fortress of Westmarch in order to take on the forces of the Angel of Death. Secondly, the newly revamped Paragon system allows a form of meaningful account-wide progression for players who have reached the game’s level cap. Diablo 3 was criticized for stripping out the stat point allocation systems that players were so fond of in previous installments of the series and the overhauled Paragon system adds a meaningful form of endgame progression to the game.

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Finally Reaper of Souls introduces the new Adventure mode. Adventure mode gives players the ability to re-access all previous areas and randomly generates special quests called bounties that range from killing a specific boss in a dungeon to completing a special event in the area. Adventure mode is also going to add a new type of dungeon-within-a-dungeon called Nephalem Rifts that offers players the chance to complete a short 10-20 minute dungeon that rewards special loot. Adventure mode is set to offer a new sort of endgame in a genre that usually consists of simply re-running dungeons and bosses for loot.

Between the abolition of the auction house and implementation of adventure mode and the Paragon system, Blizzard is striking a strong balance between bringing back the features that defined the earlier games in the series and developing the new ideas that made Diablo 3 such a fresh take on the action RPG formula that earlier games in the series invented. Reaper of Souls is poised to solve the puzzling dilemma of how to provide a sustainable endgame for an action RPG that goes beyond running the same boss over and over – and that may very well end up being Diablo 3’s salvation.

You can check out Leviathyn’s review of the recently released console version of Diablo 3 and keep your eyes posted to our PC section for more coverage of Reaper of Souls and the future of the franchise.

Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls is scheduled for release on March 23rd on PC and Mac.

 



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