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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!

Level Boost: The New Sorry

Nothing says I'm sorry like 'pay me another 60 bucks for less content'

Level boosts are becoming the ultimate make good for the developers of MMOs (and similar games) who are unable to make their old content compelling enough to play. “Sorry we can’t figure out how to make anything compelling beyond the new end game” is what each developer is saying, essentially, about level boosts. Sometimes, this is appropriate; after 10 years of playing WoW, I can honestly say that I never again want to do 1-60. Other times, it is less a quality of life thing and more of a ‘yeah, we know, this whole first bit kinda sucks and always has.’

Creating content that is both repeatable and compelling is an incredibly difficult challenge. Unless you are the type to enjoy grinding, there aren’t many games that manage to do it. In most genres this isn’t much of a problem, for a variety of reasons: the grind could be the whole point of the game (Diablo 3); the game could only need to be played once for full effect (The Last of Us); the players could be the ones in charge of producing content (EVE Online).

and by history we mean our whole game

This is why MMOs in particular are susceptible to alt-fatigue, the exhaustion of static content that must be repeated time and again. World of Warcraft is a pretty great example of a game with a high level of alt-fatigue potential. The game really only starts at max level – different character roles are required for group activities and you can reasonably expect a large portion of your players to want to experience multiple roles over time. Logically this means those players should want to play hybrid classes such as the Druid or the Paladin, but humans are illogical creatures. They will of course make a Warrior, and then a Mage, and then a Priest to cover the same bases that a single Paladin or Druid can.

The problem with this is that leveling through WoW is by and large the same experience no matter what class the player chooses. It is a static experience that clashes with the dynamic experience of end game content. You must do (by and large) the same quests, in (roughly) the same order, whether you are a warrior or paladin or mage or priest. Thus, ‘illogical’ players that roll three different classes to fill three different roles will likely not be enjoying the content on the second time through, and probably start to hate it on the third.

This person has a problem. They probably also really like Friends.

Image courtesy of Engadget.com

There are, of course, exceptions to this; my wife is in fact one of them. She enjoys completing the same content over and over and over again. She also is on her 1 billionth rewatch of Friends. For most people, though, repeating the leveling experience is not a compelling thing. That’s where the level boosts come in.

Developers like Bungie and Blizzard are no dummies when it comes to player experience; for all the griping that can occur on the internet, those two companies have actually repeatedly delivered some of the finest player experiences of their times. They worry about this problem no less than you hate that the problem exists, but creating handcrafted worlds that adhere to a narrative that they create seems, at least so far, fundamentally incompatible with a refreshing and compelling repeatable experience.

There is some hope. Advances in procedural generation of content could provide an avenue through which compelling narratives and worlds can be repeated – at least, that’s the hope of No Man’s Sky. And games like EVE Online have shown that there is a recipe for player-generated content that doesn’t end in tragic failure, though in those worlds the developer-created narratives often take a back seat to the player-generated drama.

Welcome to The Matrix, basically

For now, level boosts like the one Blizzard introduced in Warlords of Draenor and the one that Bungie are deploying with The Taken King are the implicit apology for a failure to generate compelling leveling experiences. These failures are not necessarily the result of negligence or ignorance on the part of the developer, though, contrary to what many embittered customers of those companies like to allege. They are the symptoms of the inherent design problem present in persistent, handcrafted online spaces.

Level boosts are a good thing, whether old timers or other detractors like it or not – at least, as long as developers are still trying to push the boundaries of the industry and find the way ahead. As a stop gap measure, level boosts are not only sufficient but considerate. The danger lies in whether companies see the level boost as another ‘feature’ to add on to expansions of content. Should we arrive at a point in mainstream development wherein level boosts are the ‘best practice’ for MMOs and no time is being spent on trying to fix the core issue that level boosts were created to address – well, then it’ll be time to just pack it all up and go home.

World of Warcraft: Legion Unveiled

Yep, this guy - again

On August 6th, at Gamescom in Germany, Blizzard held a press conference to announce that WoW 7.0 is going to be called Legion. The venerable MMO’s seventh expansion will take players to The Broken Isles, a set of sundered islands that are home to High Elves and the revived Burning Legion. And yes, that means that once again we’ll have Illidan Stormrage to contend with in an expansion.

First we went back to Draenor. Now we’re fighting Illidan again. One has to wonder if perhaps the lore of Warcraft has been exhausted at this point.

While the narrative might not be the freshest thing in the world, the features presented in the Legion announcement trailer seem substantial enough to lure back a large portion of players. Garrisons have been replaced with ‘Class Halls’, communal areas open to all members of a particular class; followers are becoming more powerful and more direct in their effect on your gameplay, with examples like ‘providing buffs for your hero in the zones the follower quests in’ being thrown out over the course of Blizzard’s hour-long press conference.

The big highlight of Legion has to be the new class being introduced: the Demon Hunter. Restricted to either night elves or blood elves, Demon Hunters will become the 12th playable class in World of Warcraft. While they are certainly visually striking – essentially mimicking Illidan in the aesthetics department – they are, at the end of the day, another leather-wearing hybrid class. They will use Demonic Fury and will be capable of either tanking or dealing damage.

I SEE GREEN PEOPLE

Hot on the heels of the Demon Hunter, though, was the revelation that essentially every specialization of every class will be receiving an ‘Artifact’ weapon – an upgradeable legendary that is consistent with the lore of the spec. Most intriguing about this system is that each weapon will represent a sort of secondary talent system, making me wonder how much of the artifact upgrade system is in fact the end result of the old Path of the Titans system that was announced for Cataclysm but never made it into the game. I also have to wonder if the artifact talent system will share the same fate, come to think of it.

The expansion features lots of new dungeons and raids and 10 more levels to get through; in addition, those who pre-order Legion will receive a complimentary character level boost to 100. While no official date of release was announced, a Blizzard press release did state that the beta would be out this year. Earlier this week, Activision Blizzard also announced that World of Warcraft subscriptions had fallen from 10 million seven months ago (upon the release of Warlords of Draenor) to 5.6 million (which is still a lot, but also a 10 year low point for the MMO).

THIS IS PROBABLY JUST A SHITTY TASER

If I’m totally honest, I’m not sure how I feel about Legion at first glance. The Demon Hunter is something I’m very interested in playing (IT CAN DOUBLE JUMP!) and I love the idea that not just every class, but every spec, will have their own personal storyline to get through with the artifact system (I was a fan of the old Paladin and Warlock mount quests in vanilla). Class Halls strike me as odd, though, and there just has to be some other compelling stories to tell than a rehashed Illidan arc.

I’ve seen some reference to Legion potentially being the spiritual successor to both The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansions and I agree it certainly has that feel at first blush. Then again, so did Warlords of Draenor.