Diablo 3 1.0.4 Impressions

So, I’ve had almost a week to play around with the new Diablo 3 patch, amid some time with other games as well, and I’ve played enough to form some impressions on how it feels.

Please note that this article assumes a basic knowledge of Diablo 3, and will use some terms from the game without explanation so as to avoid overbloating the article.

Patch 1.0.4 Summary

First I wanted to touch on the most important changes, both big and small, in the patch that just came out. This section will be mostly factual, I’ll go into opinions later on.

Paragon Levels

Blizzard has implemented an end-game progression system known as ‘Paragon Levels’ to the game. After hitting max level, any experience you get from monster kills or from performance bonuses such as kill streaks or environmental kills is applied towards progression in the paragon level system. There are 100 Paragon Levels and each one gives you an increase to your base stats and also gives you 3% bonus Magic Find and Gold Find.

Magic Find Caps

They have applied a 300% cap to the Magic Find stat, as acquired from any source save the Nephalem Valor system. This includes the Magic Find found on your gear, that from Paragon Levels, that provided from your follower, and also the Magic Find from the Fortune Shrines found in game.

The reason they provided this cap was to allow people to phase out magic find gear in favour of pure power gear as they gained Paragon Levels as if you max out at Paragon Level 100 you have 300% Magic Find, thus reaching your cap with no gear.

Build Variety

Many changes were made to class skills and abilities to help improve build diversity. For the most part these changes were made to address a few specific problems:

  1. There was typically ‘one right answer’ for many classes as to which Resource Generator to use. For example, 9 out of 10 Demon Hunters used Hungering Arrow.
  2. Resource Spender abilities were often underwhelming.
  3. Abilities that are iconic to certain classes felt very lacking in most cases.

I won’t go into a full list here as there were dozens of changes, but the vast majority of them were directed towards fixing one of those 3 problems which were hampering the ability or people to play the game how they wanted.

Auction House

A great many improvements were made to the Auction House to try to make it more functional. These improvements include increasing the number of search and sorting options, improving the amount of information available relating to auctions you’ve made or purchased, and making it so that stats from gems socketed into items are no longer accounted for when search for a stat.

Itemization

Aside from the changes made to class skills and abilities, the most changes were made to items. They’ve drastically increased the number of magical and rare items that drop, restored the ability to get items from destructible objects, improved the droprate on low level legendaries, and redesigned nearly every legendary item in the game. In addition, they’ve also made several changes to improve two-handed weapons and increased the base damage on weapons with an item level of 60-62. Finally, they’ve made class specific set items significantly stronger by upping the item level on them and by making it so that they are guaranteed to have the core stat for the class.

Quality of Life

Several quality of life changes have been made that I wanted to mention even though they don’t actually fit into any of the other categories since they are still significant changes.

  1. The Blacksmith Artisan can now repair items
  2. Gems will stack up to 100
  3. Several pets have increased life regeneration, and significantly increased survivability
  4. After completing a boss fight, you are now able to use town portal to exit/enter the boss room
  5. Followers will now automatically rejoin you after you have played multiplayer, and are less chatty
  6. Team play is encouraged by reducing the bonus health monsters get and by removing the magic find normalization previously found in multiplayer games.
  7. Several champion/rare affixes have been adjusted such as fire chains, nightmarish, shielding and jailer. The “Invulnerable Minions” affix has been entirely removed.

Addressing the Issues

Now that we’ve covered the basics, I wanted to go through some of my biggest issues that I had mentioned in my previous articles, and touch on whether the changes they made had any significant impact on correcting these issues.

Itemization – The ‘Big Three’

In my previous article I explained the 3 key elements that must be met for the itemization in a game to be met. I’m going to use these 3 points to discuss itemization in 1.0.4.

Frequency
The loot has to appear in enough frequency that people feel they have a chance of acquiring what they want.

They still fail on the frequency scale, but it is better than before. You see a lot more vendor trash than you used to, and you have a higher chance of getting rares which means you should see more potentially good loot. But you still don’t see enough of the really interesting stuff – in a good loot-oriented game, you should realistically expect to see items in the ‘highest class’ of loot every hour or so of solid play throughout the entire game to keep that carrot in front of your eyes. As you either get faster or get better gear, this should get faster than that. As it is now, most people are averaging about one every seven hours by default, and only slightly faster with better gear. Bear in mind that ‘highest class’ does not necessarily mean good as they can still roll very bad stats, or have a setup that is very niche in who it would appeal to.

Variance
Loot has to have enough interesting and useful combinations of stats to make people feel like every item is worth looking at.

They have made a bit more improvement to section number 2. Through their improvements to legendary items, they have dramatically increased the number of interesting items available. Unfortunately they have yet to address the absolute mandatory nature of certain stats, which means that among rares the vast majority are still absolutely and utterly useless.

This is a huge problem, as it means that there’s very little motivation for people to even bother identifying many items except to sell them. This isn’t how it should be, people should be excited to see a rare or a legendary item. But due to the stat balance issues, people aren’t excited to see rares, and usually aren’t even excited to see legendaries.

Enjoyability
The affixes within the game need to be fun and interesting, and the game itself needs to be satisfying.

Legendary items now absolutely hitting this metric. Legendaries are varied, interesting, and unique items that are fun to think about. They have interesting affixes, themes, and are generally significantly more powerful than previously. A huge improvement.

Unfortunately rare items still aren’t meeting this. Rare items are pillared on mandatory stats with very little change – and those 3 stats are unfortunately not terribly interesting. They still haven’t made any changes to the bland procs and affixes that exist on rare items and since you’ll find close to 1000 rares for every legendary you find, this is a problem.

These are the keys to making a good game using the ‘standard’ loot system popularized by Diablo 2 and so many other action rpgs that take a loot focus. Prior to 1.0.4, Diablo 3 failed to meet any of these. Now, they’re on the right track but they still have a long way to go. But progress has been made.

Power, or the Lack Thereof

Another of the key problems I noted before was the fact that you really never got to actually feel like you were truly ‘the hero’ in Diablo 3. Part of this was due to the game focusing on so providing stories for so many other characters, but the main problem was the lack of that feeling of being a ‘badass’ you get in these action rpgs. Whether they be the God of War hack and slash style, or the Diablo style… one of the key characteristics of these action rpgs is that your character is supposed to always feel like he’s powerful… and that he’s supposed to feel like he is getting more powerful as things progress. That isn’t to say that they have to be easy, not at all. All it is saying is that when you play, you’re supposed to get that distinct ‘badass’ feel of power.

Prior to 1.0.4, Diablo 3 had a sort of… inverse curve of power. When you first start out, you do get more powerful over the first difficulty. But even as you start to reach the end of Normal difficulty, that began to change and as you continued playing you gradually felt more and more powerless. The game has improved a little bit in this direction. The adjustments to difficulty in Inferno combined with the various class buffs and the new items have made the inverse curve a little less severe, but it is still prevalent. The longer you go on, the less powerful you feel.

Portion Control

Probably the most frustrating part of Diablo 3 when comparing it to it’s predecessor is the removal of bite-sized play. Diablo 2 offered you the ability to play in segments as small as 3 to 5 minutes and actually see tangible reward. One of the really cool things about loot-oriented action rpgs is the fact that you typically can be rewarded regardless of how long you choose to play since every minute is equally valuable to every other minute because it is all subject to the whims of the almighty RNG.

What I mean by this is that in most of these games, since it’s all random, it doesn’t matter how much time you sink in. A large part of this is due to the droprates, most of these action rpgs have very high droprates but leave it up to the randomness of stats to make great items rare. So while you are quite likely to see a unique, epic, legendary, or possessed (or whatever else the specific game uses to refer to the top tier of loot) item, the chances of it being exactly the one you want with exactly the stats you want are still 1 in a billion – or less. Since you are quite likely to see things, you have motivation to spend every minute playing.

Back when I played Diablo 2, if I was ready for work 10 minutes early, I’d fit 10 more minutes of Diablo 2 in. I even perfected the art of showering in 3 minutes so that I could free up an extra few minutes for Diablo 2 in the morning. Why did I do that? Because it was addictive to get those rewards. Diablo 3 doesn’t have that satisfaction, since you don’t really get rewarded for the first 15 to 30 minutes of play. It’s not until you hit max Nephalem Valor that you see rewards for your time.

Diablo 3 has made no steps to fix this in 1.0.4, and in fact they’ve actually made it worse. The Paragon Level system would have been a step in the right direction, except they artificially inflated the experience required to gain paragon levels and put a 15% per stack experience bonus on Nephalem Valor thus ensuring that once again, no progress can be realistically made unless you want to spend a minimum of 30 minutes playing… and the rewards for play increase exponentially with the more time you can play in a single sitting.

This is really badly wrong. A person who sinks 10 hours a day in but does it in 15 minute segments should get approximately the same amount of reward as someone who does it in 2 hour segments, but as the game is right now, you actually get more reward for playing for about 5 1 hour segments than you would for spending 10 hours broken up into 15 minute segments. That’s really sad for a game like this. If this were a group oriented MMORPG, that would be one thing – but this is a farming oriented action rpg, and these games just shouldn’t be like that.

Choices, Choices, Choices

Blizzard made a ton of changes to attempt to increase build diversity. It’s really hard to get a gauge for how much these changes have made until people have time to really let the metagame adapt… so it’s very hard to judge whether these changes have actually made an impact or not. That being said, I can speak from my own experience that I have made no changes to my builds on any of my characters as the main reasons I use the abilities I use are mechanical, not numerical, and the changes made were all numbers changes.

I have noticed quite a bit of discussion about a few of the changes, such as the buffs to the Wizard’s Hydra runes, and it seems like at least some of the buffs and changes have made a significant impact on builds and ability setups so I hope that over time more viable options will open up as people spend more time with these new changes.

Overall

In all, patch 1.0.4 is an important step in a very good direction. It shows that Blizzard is willing to listen to the critique that fans have and at least attempt to resolve the issues. They have made legendaries more appealing, opened up new abilities for use, reduced the penalties you take for grouping, and made some dramatic auction house improvements. I don’t feel they’ve done enough quite yet, but at least they’re listening and moving in the right direction.

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