Blizzard’s track record of creating expansions upon expansions for their mothership titles are still impeccable (Diablo II, StarCraft and World of WarCraft series), and they’re not abstaining with the upcoming release of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls.
Not only is the company expanding on the previous game’s narrative and abolishing quirks like the Real Money Auction House, it’s bringing the random elements that old-school Diablo fans have loved since 1996.
The game’s main step in bringing that element back is Adventure Mode, which lets Diablo III veterans run into the wild and not be restricted by the game’s story mode. Players can teleport to any location in the Acts, thanks to a new map UI, and hunt down randomly-assigned bounties like an Elite enemy type or a boss. Players then get keys from these bounties - or just better loot - to open up Nephalem Rifts that will lead them to randomized dungeons with multiple-spawning enemies. Once in, they can’t get out until they cleared the room of enemies, and even so, players will have to go through up to ten rooms of varying sizes and demon armies.
Just an hour or two of this reinvention reminded us of open world games like Skyrim and even their own World of Warcraft MMO; at least in concept. Lead producer Alex Mayberry said that Adventure Mode was instead inspired “by users playing the story mode over and over. The convention of playing it through just felt restrictive. We were losing the randomness of the game [and wish to get it back with this].”
“We have this huge world with all of these random pieces. Now with this mode, players aren’t stuck with a narrative and just experience it in a non-linear fashion. Story and encounter pacing rules are thrown out the window. Instead of finding an exit, you’re tasked with killing a guy [or two] or clear an event. The game engine will take all of that existing content and put it in new random ways.”
Ramping Up The Challenge
In Nephalem Rifts, players can expect to fight in familiar locales like the Oasis, only with a red hellish hue instead of the calm moonlight aura portrayed in the original. There will even be levels where you’re in a dark room with nothing but a cone of light around you for visual aid. “We’ve come up and refined the dungeon generator so that the flow and layouts are different than the past games,” Alex said. “We’re pulling out unused assets and scenes, and giving it new life in these dungeons.”
Even if he said that the team isn’t planning on doing never-ending dungeon scenarios, anything goes in terms of enemy count for a Nephalem Rift. Killing off a set number of enemies can spawn a random boss or two that can really put a strain on even the most dedicated of loothunters. Alex is banking on that player’s feeling at the edge of death as one of the reasons players will adore the new mode. “It gets their heart beating and adrenaline pumping, thinking that they’ll not survive. When they get that ultimate satisfaction by killing the mobs and collecting the loot; that’s the kind of power we want to give to players.”
The mobs will be level-scaled to your current character’s standing. This means that there’s no need for extra grinding in Act III just to push through seemingly high-leveled mobs; the challenge now is on how you use your class’ available skills and advantages. And for those worried about not getting an intense adventure to test their mettle, Alex said that there will be an ‘Apocalypse Now’ difficulty that comes with its own monster level adjustment slider.
A Hurting From Heaven
With a new mode also comes a new character: the heavily-armored Crusader who brandishes a flail and shield and is focused on close to mid-ranged combat. Just a few hours with the Crusader class prove that it’s not just a Paladin 2.0 lifted straight from Diablo II. Sure, the new guy has auras to buff him and other party members up, but his repertoire puts him as the guy who jumps in the middle of a group and wreck the party.
His Shield Bash can be a starter attack to home in onto any enemy, then he can follow the pummeling up with a mix of crowd control and area-of-effect attacks , capping it off with a Fist of the Heavens where an actual glowing fist comes down to kill off foes. If he can’t handle the heat, he can use Steed Charge to blaze out of trouble while leaving a fiery path that damages enemies within it. Even better, they’re the only class that can use two-handed weapons on one hand, with a shield on the other, thanks to the Heavenly Strength passive skill.
“Think of him as a war machine and a siege engine wrapped into one,” Alex said. “That was the fantasy we wanted to play off with. It has a few things one or two existing classes have, but he’s unique and we like that he’s an homage to the Paladin.”
Let’s also not forget about the game’s new fifth act focused on the subtitle about souls and reaping. Set in Westmarch, a kingdom talked about in Diablo lore, you’ll be facing hordes of undead knights and ethereal soldiers all wrought by the titular Reaper of Souls, Malthael. The standard Diablo III campaigns of going to point A to point B killing wraiths and all sorts of undead spirits along the way looks inviting cool thanks to the chapter’s gothic art direction. It's serviceable so far, but the highlight is the Adventure Mode that signals the possible return to form.
The Same Old Diablo
“There are philosophies we are keeping [and reintroducing] to make sure it’s still Diablo,” Alex said. “For example, a ‘less is more’ approach to loot. There are less items dropping onto the ground, but they’re better items. The [loot distribution] system has been upgraded so that it’s smart. When an item drops, there’s a strong chance that it’ll go ‘when we drop an item, let’s check on what the player is using. We’ll make sure it’s an item his or her class will be using, like stats or skills enhancing that class. Legendary items should remain legendary, not mythical.”
Blizzard isn’t going to rest on its laurels and is still working towards that grand Diablo III vision. The PS4 version is still underway, as the PC version is still the lead product, according to Alex. “We haven’t made any announcement in terms of the Xbox One, or even a set release date for the expansion. [In the long run] we’re hoping that we can get these things out simultaneously.” Until then, players can look forward to the PC closed beta to get a taste of the Crusader’s wrath at the end of this year.