Diablo III Got Its Groove Back

D3 Patch 2.0.1

About a week ago, Blizzard Entertainment released patch 2.0.1, also known as the “Loot 2.0” patch for Diablo III. This massive update comes ahead of the Reaper of Souls Expansion Set, and gives us a look at the direction the game is headed. The changes are sweeping and will not make everyone happy, but most of them are for the better and greatly improve what was becoming a highly stale game. Let’s go over the most important points, along with a bit of my commentary for flavor.

“Loot 2.0”

The change that everyone will notice immediately is the complete overhaul to Diablo III’s itemization system.  Randomness has always been a part of the game, but items were far too random.  The odds of getting a Rare item that was useful to you at that particular time were next to none.  Forget about getting Legendary Items almost entirely.  You had a better chance of winning the lottery than you did finding a Legendary, let alone rolling one with good stats.  In over 400 hours of gameplay, I had only ever found 3 Legendary Items, and none of them were particularly useful.

So how did I outfit my character to at least have a chance of making progress through the higher difficulty levels?  Simple enough, hit the auction house and hunt for deals.  When I bought Diablo III, I expected an Action-RPG that was challenging and fun, not a never-ending grind with only a slim hope of getting decent loot.  Thankfully, the new head of the Diablo III development team agrees with me.

What we have now in patch 2.0.1 is a system that doesn’t get rid of random variables outright, but it does tone them down significantly.  To start, fewer items are dropped.  There is also now a chance of a “Smart Drop” which drops an item with stats that are better suited for the class you are playing.  Thus, you’ll likely see Magic and Rare items with attributes that make them immediately useful and usable.

This is just a very basic overview of some of the changes to the itemization system.  I won’t go into gritty detail on everything that was done, but suffice to say that these changes make sure that you’ll get items worth keeping at a regular enough rate that the item hunt doesn’t feel like a chore anymore.  Seeing as the auction house is being removed in the next few weeks, this is a welcome, and necessary, change.  Seeing better items dropping changes the way the game feels.  Sure, if you want the absolute best and most extreme items, you’ll have to put in some serious time and energy into the higher difficulty settings, but there is something to be said for a game that rewards players throughout the entire experience, rather than just at the end.

Difficulty Changes

The game’s difficulty has been completely overhauled.  For starters, monster difficulty is based on your character level.  So, even if you’re a Level 60+ character, you’ll still find some challenges by going back to Act 1.  Prior to this, the difficulty in each Act was static.  Blizzard also got rid of the Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno difficulty levels.  They have been replaced with Hard, Expert, Master, and Torment, and the Torment level has a slider setting as well.  So if you hate yourself, you can play on Torment Level 6 and you will face the toughest monsters available. However, you’ll also be able to reap the rewards of significantly better item drops.

It might seem like a small change, but it very much balances out the game.  Going back to previous acts won’t feel like a complete cakewalk.  This ties in very well with the new Adventure mode, which allows you to hop around the game world in a non-linear fashion.  Monsters in lower Acts will be tougher, but if you’re just starting out, monsters in higher acts won’t immediately kill you.

Offline Mode

I would love to say that as of the 2.0.1 Update, you can now play Diablo III offline and maintain separate characters that don’t interact with the Online version.  Unfortunately, giving players the option to forego being connected in favor of being able to play anywhere and not having any latency is something Blizzard doesn’t seem prepared to allow for the PC version of the game.  The console versions of Diablo III allow Offline play, so clearly there isn’t a real technical reason that this can’t happen.  It might take some re-jiggering of the game to make it happen, but it is possible to do.  Come on Blizzard, think of the road-warriors out there that have multi-hour flights and no wifi, or the folks that end up in a different town every night and have no guarantee of a decent cell reception.  They’d love to give you money, Blizzard, but you’re not letting them.

At this point, one might say “Well this is how it should have been from the start!”  The trouble with that sentiment is that it doesn’t take into account the amount of work it took to get here.  Many design decisions were made during the initial development of the game that, for better or worse, forged the game into what it is now.  Mistakes were certainly made, but the really important thing is that those mistakes were learned from.   There is only one mistake left that Blizzard is making, and I’ve said my peace about it. Now it’s up to them.