Report from New Tristram

Wasn’t 2012 going to be the year of the heir to Diablo II?

We had multiple contenders.  There was the designated heir, Diablo III and all the weight Blizzard could bring to bear.  There was Torchlight II, from a team that included many of the people who actually made Diablo II back in the day.  And then there was the dark horse candidate, Path of Exile, planning on a free to play experience and the grandest skill tree ever seen.

So many skills...

Yet not really overwhelming…

Each of them managed to hit a few marks.  Diablo III carried on the Diablo story line and was polished in that Blizzard way.  Torchlight II clearly had the upper hand on price and play options.  And only Path of Exile managed to replicate the dark atmosphere of the past Diablo games.

However, in my opinion, each of them failed in some fundamental way.

Diablo III had always online problems at launch, but the real issue became itemization.  Gear drops, ever the life’s blood of a Diablo game, were huge in quantity and very bad in quality.  The only way to reliably find some gear close to your level was either via a higher level alt or through the auction house.  I didn’t really want to play via the auction house, but felt I pretty much had to when it came to end of act bosses.  Tired of being pulled out of the actual game to upgrade gear, I stopped playing.

Torchlight II was better on itemization.  It still had huge quantities, but quality wasn’t as universally awful, though without the auction house to fall back on, comparison of at-level gear wasn’t as obvious either.  However, colorful and well lit graphics hampered any feeling of atmosphere and the story line felt very weak to me.  I can give you a synopsis of the story line in all three Diablo games, but couldn’t begin to tell you what Torchligh II… or Torchlight… was really about.  That and the dev team punting on the Mac version of the game… and just about anything else it seems… thus killing off any chance of playing with my daughter, put the game pretty low on my play list and I haven’t been back to it in probably a year.

And then there was Path of Exile, which certainly won on price.  It is about a free as free to play can be I suppose, though a friend of mine who played a lot of the game says that there is a point after which you pretty much have to pay to progress the grind of leveling becomes unbearable.  That point is just much farther into the game than I managed to get.  While winning on atmosphere, it also had “always online” problems.  Basically, melee classes became pretty much unplayable at peak times, and I always play the melee classes and I apparently play at peak hours.  That ended that.

So three contenders, all of which I felt I was pretty much done with by the end of last year and none of which I could whole heartedly recommend for one reason or another.

But the dev teams were still working on at least two of the three games.  The Blizzard team, while slow to acknowledge that they had a problem, eventually owned up on the itemization front and last week those of us on the PC got Diablo III version 2.0.

It was time for a return to Diablo III.  I rolled up a new barbarian and played through act one.

The first thing I was looking at was gear drops.  And, hey presto, they did in fact seem to be better in quality and more likely to be relevant to my character.  Quest rewards for various stages of the story seemed to be better tuned, mini-bosses along the way seemed much more likely to drop something useful, and even the vendor in town seemed to be stocking a higher quality selection of goods.

In fact, that was going so well that the game started to seem a bit easy.  I was blowing through masses of undead or goatmen or whatever without much effort at all.  That looked to be the downside of the boost to itemization quality.

But I had another 2.0 feature available to me.  I was able to jump directly from Normal to Hard with my character.

This was actually a big win.  One of the 2.0 changes was to remove what was effectively level ranges for various areas of the game and, instead, make all of the content scale to your current level.  No more out running content and hitting a wall that could only be cured with a serious injection of new gear. (Itemization problem strikes again.)  And no more playing through the whole story in normal mode just to get to a higher level of challenge.

While loot quality, experience gained, and gold dropped all went up with this change, difficulty went up enough to more than offset those and made the game much more of a challenge.  Rather than cutting through mobs like butter, I actually had to start working for a living.  I couldn’t just rush into a room and collect everybody the way you can in a 1-60 dungeon finder group in WoW.  I found myself in trouble and in any number of close-run fights if I didn’t take care.

Still, I am not sure that “hard” is really the right term.  It is closer to “not easy” in feel.  While I got down to the red screen of limited health now and again, I never once died.  It is just the right level of resistance to keep the game interesting.

It was also fun rediscovering some of the cool bits of the game after a long absence.  While the atmosphere isn’t close to the play of light and shadows that was such a deep part of Diablo II at times… and honestly, none of the three games got all the way there… it isn’t the bright and colorful beast that some people were afraid it would be way back when.  The atmosphere is pretty good.

About as bright and colorful as Act I gets

About as bright and colorful as Act I gets

Then there was the dynamics of the game while playing the barbarian.  For a full on visceral experience, this is the class.  I love how elements of the world react when he is pounding out a big attack.  Furniture disintegrates, shelves tumble, tapestries whip and swirl, and corpses fly.  Oh, and how corpses fly.  Ending on a big pound can send multiple foes dead and sailing through the air, sometimes headed completely off screen. (Note the flying goatmen in the screen shot above.)  It never gets old.

And the game itself is as well put together as one would expect from a Blizzard product.  And the game is divided up into nice, bite size chunks via the waypoints, so you can get in and play for a bit while making it to the next stage of the story.  Of course, this can still lead to the “one more waypoint” urge.  Not nearly as strong as “just one more turn” is in a Civilization game, but it is there.

There were a few other small features added.  We now have a map for the various waypoints as opposed to the old listing that the game and its predecessor used.  I guess this adds a bit of immersion, or a sense of place, though it does also point out that I was traveling in a big circle as well.

Act I Map

Act I Map

I made it through to the final boss and remembered enough of it to get through the fight on the first try.

In this corner, The Butcher!

In this corner, The Butcher!

I had rather optimized myself, my skills, and my companion (the Templar this time) for healing, so it was more a matter of building up fury for big hits and staying out of the fire.  I did not end up using either of the health shrines in The Butcher’s room.  And then it was through to Tyreal and the wrap up of Act I.

Me, Tyreal, and the Templar

Me, Tyreal, and the Templar

So far, so good.  Now it is on to Act II.  We shall see how well the game sticks this time around.

I also managed to get quite a few levels in, as there was a pre-expansion experience boost in effect while I was playing.

D3CommBuff

That wasn’t a big deal to me.  I guess it will get me closer to the level cap sooner.  Is that a good thing?

And the question remain whether or not I will pick up the Reaper of Souls expansion given what it offers.

Reaper of Souls info

Reaper of Souls info

I like the idea of Act V, and the Crusader class feels much more like my favorite Diablo II class, the paladin.  But is that enough to justify the cost?  Has Diablo III version 2.0 changed things up enough that I will make it through Act IV?  I have time left to decide.  And to play.  We shall see.

17 thoughts on “Report from New Tristram

  1. Adam D.

    Hey Wilhelm,

    I think you should give Path of Exile a try again. They have fixed a lot of the desync issues for melee (unless you’re running specific skills that bounce you all over the place like a pinball… I’m looking at you, Cyclone), and Melee is perfectiy viable. Even though I play on EST, I’m usually playing 7-8PM PST, and do not have any issues. Plus with GGG releasing their new free Expansion today, now would be a great time to jump back in and give it another go.

    Like

  2. SynCaine

    I curious what is needed in the shop at higher levels. I beat the game on normal and played a bit with the next difficulty, and never once saw anything that would really aid me in the shop.

    Like

  3. James Prestridge (Stimpicus)

    The Diablo III bug bit me hard this past weekend. I played the game at launch, beat it on Hardcore, lost my character at level 38 or so in Nightmare, and never really looked at it again.

    Started up a new character on Friday evening and went at the game like a meth addict. From 0-60 and paragon level 0 to 28 or 29 since Friday night. The XP boosts and itemization increases definitely made it easier. But, like you mentioned, turning the difficulty up to the point where it’s not easy definitely keeps it fun. Once you unlock the Torment difficulty slider, you can definitely make the game difficult (freaking ice orb spawning elites…).

    I’m glad I decided to give it another look with the recent changes. Also glad to hear I’m not the only one doing so.

    Now I’m fighting the urge to dive head first into that other Blizzard game. The PvP changes they’re talking about seem pretty appealing to me.

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  4. Scott

    though a friend of mine who played a lot of the game says that there is a point after which you pretty much have to pay to progress.

    Not possible, there’s nothing but cosmetic type stuff to buy. Unless he just meant inventory space… That’s the only thing anyone might “need” to buy at some point. Most people toss GGG some money to support a good game done well. They never once bug the players for money in the UI or by withholding content.

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  5. Talarian

    I was going to chime in the same as Scott and Syncaine. The cash shop in PoE is nothing but cosmetic stuff and more stash tabs, at least it was that way a couple months ago… Can’t seem at access their website to double check….

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    I looked at the cash shop for PoE and didn’t see anything that might have influenced game play all that much, so I may have misunderstood. I know he hit some point past level 60 where he didn’t want to play any more.

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  7. heavyb

    I recommend u give Poe one more go. Very rewarding when you get spell combos that work. And desync is not an issue anymore. You can’t pay to win in Poe at all. So ur friend was mistaken.

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  8. Whorhay

    My favorite change for D3 2.0 has been the itemization changes, and not just the relevance of the loot to your character. They actually added new item properties and changed around what can roll on which slots and what combinations or properties can appear on any given item. All this means that you can actually happen upon a piece of loot that motivates you to change your entire play style and set of gear to try out a new build. The only downside to me is making all the legendary stuff account bound, half the fun of Diablo for me has always been trading and this effectively kills most of that.

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  9. A concerned Minmatar

    Level 60 is about the point where you start dying repeatedly unless you know what you’re doing. The difficulty noticeably jacks up a few notches. There is nothing in the item shop that will help you with this, so I have a feeling your friend was looking for a graceful way to exit due to having grown soft on the new generation of games that give you achievements just for signing in.

    Like

  10. Adam D.

    @Wilhelm

    It could be both ;)

    But yes, once you get into Merciless, it definitely ramps up the difficulty, and depending on what your build is, it can be a very unwelcome shift.

    Right now, Everyone’s still re-learning the skill tree after the changes made in the patch, which made just a few builds much harder to play.

    I’ve always appreciated the fact that it’s quite possible to bork a build to the point where it may be easier to roll a new char. PoE is very much a game that’s a constant learning experience, and builds are just part of that experience.

    I find it more fun that way, but it’s not for everyone.

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  11. A concerned Minmatar

    I was trying to word this diplomatically, but I guess I will attempt again. We agree that he wasn’t having fun. The thing is, unless you play a hardcore build that does nothing but stack health nodes or something – and why would you do that in standard – you. Will. Die. Repeatedly. It has nothing to do with sucking, it’s just how PoE is. When I said he has grown soft, I meant he is not used to this anymore, and hence would not find the challenge fun. That seems to be an obvious reason he would quit at that particular stage, since he clearly enjoyed the game to beat the first two difficulties.

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  12. Matt

    If POE had an offline mode I’d play it. I find D3 online pretty seamless, but my experience with PoE has been less positive. That and it is impossible to find a character name that isn’t taken. I would think devising a system that allowed for multiple identical character names would be SOP in this day and age.

    I’ve been playing a lot of D3 2.0 though. One thing they always nailed on it was the fun factor. Not even D2 came close. Now that the loot isn’t complete garbage (it might be a bit too generous now) and some of the more annoying monster mechanics have been toned down, it feels like the game it should have been from the start. Of course, Diablo still chatters at me incessantly like a captain planet eco-villain, but we can’t have everything.

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  13. Adam D.

    @Matt
    You’re Joking, right? Please tell me you’re joking.

    I joined the game 4 months after launch, with a Barbarian character I was able to name ChuckF***ingNorris. If there are any naming filters over at GGG, I don’t know about them.

    You may be unused to the filters, but PoE does allow for a lot of names.

    I was able to name my Templay Sexy_McNoPants in the latest Ambush league. A bit of Creativity and you can get pretty much any name you want!

    Like

  14. Matt

    Are you joking? I said it is impossible to find character names that aren’t taken by someone else, not banned by some policy. Obviously it isn’t impossible, since I did manage to name a few characters, but when I tried to give my barbarian an actual barbarian name (I think I tried Genseric first) it soon became clear I was not the only person to have that idea. I forget what I eventually settled on, but the fact remains that in this day and age there is no need to force unique names on everyone. Heck, in Diablo 3 you can name all of your own characters the same thing, much less the same thing as someone else’s.

    Granted, if I wanted to give my characters stupid or joke names it would be easier, but then I could just give them random gibberish names too if my only goal was to get past the naming screen.

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