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Diablo 3 Patch 2.3 Review: Bringing Back The Cube

diablo 3

Diablo 3 has a pretty phenomenal patch record. Patch 2.0 brought a lot of much-needed changes to the overall structure of the game, with the most important being the introduction of Loot 2.0. While no patch will ever have that much influence on the scope of Diablo 3 again, Patch 2.3 comes awfully close, and the many changes improve Diablo 3 in ways that I was unaware needed improvement.

There are three big changes in 2.3: Kanai’s Cube, Bounty and Rift simplification, and Seasonal Journeys.

Kanai’s Cube

Once upon a time, Diablo 2 had the Horadric Cube. This artifact allowed you to transmute items into other items, and even open portals to secret levels, such as the infamous cow level (which doesn’t exist). Before patch 2.3, Diablo 3 had no such item. With the introduction of Sescheron as a region, however, Kanai’s Cube is now available to take the old Horadric Cube’s place. It’s certainly a worthy successor.

The most overpowered feature of Kanai’s Cube – and the reason why four new harder difficulties were added to the game – is legendary passives. By combining a few materials and a legendary, you destroy the legendary to extract its passive and add it to a “library.” From that library, you can pick three passives to use: one weapon, one armor, and one jewelry. These passives layer on top of your existing legendary passives, and can be switched out for free once acquired; all you have to do is visit the Kanai’s Cube artisan in town.

As you might expect, this breaks the game in so many ways. By using the Ring of Royal Grandeur, players can stack multiple set bonuses without having to lose a valuable jewelry slot to a relatively mediocre item. By equipping weapon passives that complement your current build (in my case, it was “Bombardment casts twice” on my Crusader), you can drastically increase your damage output. By equipping armor passives like Illusory Boots (move through enemies), you can drastically increase your survivability and utility in combat. It’s a massive buff to all players, especially people with an extensive legendary collection, and offers more build flexibility than Diablo 3 has ever had.

There are some other powers too, of course. One allows you to change the level requirement of an item to 1 by sacrificing a high-level legendary gem. Another converts a rare item into a legendary of the same type (chest, weapon, necklace, etc). Yet another allows you to convert spare set items into another set item of the same set, bypassing some issues with set drops. In short, it’s an incredible quality of life improvement for end-game players, and this patch would already be fantastic if this was the only change.

Bounties and Rifts

Kanai’s Cube isn’t the only change, though. Bounties and rifts (both normal and Greater) saw an overhaul as well, both for the better.

Bounties are now constrained to a single bonus act per game. However, the bonus act cycles every time you finish the current once, which means you’ll only have to leave the game once you’ve exhausted all 25 bounties. These bonus acts now also give an extra horadric cache rather than doubling the completion bonus for individual bounties. While this sounds insignificant, it’s actually not, as those caches contain act-specific crafting materials necessary for Kanai’s Cube. In order to do transmutation such as legendary passive extraction, you’ll need materials from every act, so multiple caches means more materials. They also drop legendary plans at an incredible rate – my first cache gave me almost 20 (!) plans – so if you want to flesh out your artisans, that’s the way.

Bounties are also just more fun to run in general. There are far more chests and shrines to loot/activate, treasure goblins seem to lurk around every corner, there’s a new shrine (Bandit) that summons a horde of treasure goblins, and killing story bosses now spawns a “Diabolic Chest”, which has a high chance to give you gems and gold, among the standard chest item drops. Rifts used to be the only way to play the endgame, but bounties now offer players an open-ended route to collecting the gear they need as well.

If you want to do rifts, though, they’re far easier to jump into. Normal Nephalem Rifts are now free to open the moment you step into adventure mode; no more keystones necessary. Simply walk up to the obelisk and start your rift. Greater Rifts are still bound by keystones, but trails are no more. Now, you simply select from a drop-down, with the maximum level choosable being one greater than your best completion. Unfortunately, you now also have to complete the rift on time in order to get the legendary gem upgrade prompt, so there is one downside. These are mostly minor changes compared to bounties, though, and mostly simplify the process of getting into Greater Rifts (the best place to farm for set pieces, at least if you are playing solo).

Seasonal Journeys

These two improvements are great for characters with long histories, like your normal characters, but what about seasonals?

Patch 2.3 brings Seasonal Journeys, a “new” way to progress through seasons. Rather than relying purely on achievement points as before, players now receive a list of tasks to complete, and once they complete enough of them they are given pets, banners, and other cosmetics.

While Kanai’s Cube and the bounty quality of life changes are definite boons, this one’s hit or miss. Having some more concrete goals besides “getting X amount of points” is nice, but the flexibility of being able to choose which achievements you want to tackle was good too. I personally lean more toward this being one of the patch’s missteps; I had a lot of fun in 2.2 figuring out how to optimally get 400 achievement points for my portrait frame, and it feels a little hollow to just make it a list of easily-completable tasks (complete 5 bounties, defeat a boss, etc).

Other Improvements

Much like any patch, this one also has a number of other miscellaneous improvements.

There’s the standard list of new legendaries, including a new gem. Gem qualities have been heavily condensed, with pre-60 gems only having roughly 5 rarities from 1-60. Materials saw the same thing, with all materials converting to their level 70 versions; the aforementioned legendary act-specific crafting materials now fill the void of endgame crafting materials. There was the requisite number of buffs and nerfs to elites and characters.

Even though Seasonal Journey falls a little flat, the changes and improvements to bounties and rifts, and the introduction of Kanai’s Cube, more than make up for it. If you haven’t played in a while, it’s definitely worth jumping into now. Just be sure to build the most ridiculously overpowered character you can via Kanai’s Cube. Share your favorite builds with us as well!

Review: Rocket League

Rocket-League_big

Rocket League is soccer. I could end the review there, more or less, and you would understand the fundamentals. Rocket League is soccer, but without penalties, without corner kicks or throw-ins or free kicks. It is soccer with rocket powered cars, trucks, and minivans and a ball that is huge and sparkly and leaves triple helix contrails in the air. The vehicles can double jump, barrel roll, and bicycle ‘kick’ the big spinning glowy ball around an enclosed space in a medley of wall racing, turbo boosting, and opponent destroying.

Rocket League is what soccer should be.

Developed as a sequel to the obscure PS3 exclusive Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket Powered Battle Cars (just call it SARP for short, because good lord), Rocket League was developed by San Diego independent studio Psyonix, which also recently released Nosgoth, a free-to-play third-person shooter. The features that make Rocket League great largely existed already in SARP – in fact, the argument could be made that Rocket League is a stripped down version of SARP, as it contains none of the weird arenas of the older title. Only three things have really improved from SARP to Rocket League: graphics, polish, and Playstation Plus. Those three things, however, make the difference between a forgettable buggy piece of software and a gut-clenching, visceral, exciting video game.

SHINY

Visually, Rocket League is a stunningly palatable mix of vibrant colors and neon contrails. Neon is usually a sign of a bad time – neon ‘Bud Sold Here’, ‘Vacancy’, and ‘Food/Gas’ signs are typically an indicator that maybe you should just keep driving – but in Rocket League, neon means fast. A solid, speedy hit of the gigantic beach ball generates an explosion of twisting colors, while small touches, bumps, or brushes generate subtle redirections of movement unaccompanied by the bold strokes of neon.

Rocket League also features a fairly robust set of tutorials and practice modes, encouraging users to develop more advanced tricks than simply bunny hopping in front of their own goal. Aerial strikes, goaltending, and offensive play are all covered in practice mode. In addition, there is an offline ‘seasons’ mode in which you play the part of an individual on a team. This is one of the weaker spots of the game, though, as the AI is either the brain dead idiocy of Rookie difficulty or the HAL-like perfection of Pro difficulty, with nothing in-between. The lack of stats (as you might find in actual sports games) also serves to damage the playability of the offline season mode; without progression, single-player sports games are devoid of personal meaning.

This is when it all started to click.

It is in online multiplayer that Rocket League shines, and it’s possibly the best multiplayer game to hit the market so far this year. Multiplayer contains two sets of playlists: Ranked and Unranked. There is only one game mode, though, which is straightforward fútbol with rocket cars. It can be intimidating at first, particularly if you happen to be matched up with players of superior skill levels. For the first couple of hours, I struggled to hit the ball while other players conducted aerial assaults and epic saves left and right. I felt, to put it lightly, inadequate.

However, once your fingers develop the muscle memory and your brain catches on to the trigonometry required, Rocket League transforms from a font of self loathing to a bastion of pride and hubris. As I performed my first aerial strike goal (in other words, managed to leap off the wall of the arena and hit the ball out of mid air straight down into the opponent’s goal), a strange version of myself appeared. I thumped my chest and shouted “LOOK AT THAT SHIT,” startling my children and disgusting my wife – and I didn’t care a lick. I had done the unimaginable – the perfect goal – and no one could stop me. I became a monster in the best way possible.

WICKED HEADAH

Luckily, most chat in Rocket League (for the PS4, at least) is conducted by a preset series of statements accessible via the directional pad. “Nice Shot,” “What a Save,” and “Great Pass!” are all presets that you can trigger to show appreciation. There are also some that are intended to be useful and not merely congratulatory, terms like ‘Centering’ or ‘Take the Shot’ or ‘Defending’ – but these aren’t really used, as everyone is far too focused on the game at hand to muck about with the directional pad.

It is due to this lack of communication, though, that I achieved the greatest sense of accomplishment. The unspoken accord between teammates that can occur, if you are lucky enough to be placed into a team with decent players, is deeply satisfying. Without speaking a word to these strangers, I often found myself synchronizing my actions with theirs. When a ball bounced over to the corner, I slowed in the center of the field, waiting for the opportunity to pounce as my teammate went into the corner and thrusted the ball in front of the goal. It is this developing knowledge of the game, an understanding of geography and team that is bred over time, that produces some of the most rousing moments in Rocket League.

TEAMWORK YAY

There are, of course, a few problems with Rocket League. While it is not beset by the plague of bugs that helped prevent SARP from ever achieving stardom on the PS3, Rocket League struggles with the load of players its success has generated. Rocket League regularly hovers around 100,000 concurrent players searching for their fix of rocket soccer, a number built by the parents of video game stardom in 2015: a place in the Instant Games Collection on Playstation Plus, popularity with YouTube critics and players, and Top 10 placement in games played on Twitch.tv.

Psyonix stated that over 5 million unique players have taken part in Rocket League since release. Perhaps, then, the independent San Diego studio can be forgiven for the inability of their dedicated server infrastructure to keep up with demand. While lag can absolutely destroy all enjoyment of the game, it remains one of the only problem areas with Rocket League. There are a few others – for instance, when playing in a ranked game there are no AI replacements for players who drop out (unranked has this feature), meaning you can be left 1 on 2 or 3 in a game that is nearly impossible to effectively solo. There is also the concern over progression; without stats, levels are by and large meaningless, taking away any sense of real progression.

However, these are minor quibbles, quibbles that mean absolutely nothing while actually playing Rocket League. On the field of rocket-powered automotive soccer, all that truly matters is hitting the ball, destroying your opponents, and executing maneuvers with fine-tuned precision. Luckily, these are all things that Rocket League is superbly designed to do. While the year is young yet in terms of video game releases, Rocket League is easily one of the best games to come out in 2015.

 

This review was conducted on the PlayStation 4, using a privately obtained copy of the game.