Monday, August 25, 2014

Winter is Coming - Seasons and More for Diablo 3 Patch 2.1

After two months in public testing, the next major content patch for Diablo 3 (patch 2.1) is poised for imminent release. While I feel every major update since launch has been a decided improvement, it should be noted that the fundamental gameplay has remained largely unchanged. After plugging away on the PTR, I am definitely stoked for the new patch but doubt the staunchest naysayers will be impressed. In any case, below you will find my biggest joys, fears, and don't cares about the latest patch.

Let me just say it - I like greater rifts. Pitting the player against a time limit and streamlining the monster killing process by removing loot drops along the way creates a sense of urgency that isn't present with normal rifts. Also, distilling all those 'missing' drops into one massive reward drives that 'just one more' mentality. I liken it to Mephisto runs in Diablo 2 where you are virtually guaranteed to see a few uniques at the end and the question is whether the particular item you're looking for is among them. Providing a reasonably dependable way to produce a legendary drop that doesn't take forever (ie. playing the main campaign) is a fantastic addition and one that should have been integrated into rifts to start with.

Metrics and Math
The development team has overtly stated that greater rifts are designed to be a reliable way to compare the relevant power of each class. While some argue that rifts aren't the best way to do this, I applaud Blizzard for making it clear what their intended metric for class balance is; all classes should be able to reach the same tier of greater rift and if any are drastically over/under-performing it will be easy to determine if tweaks to those classes have had the intended effect. Right now, discussing class balance typically revolves around a lot of vague phrases like 'doesn't feel right' and 'seems to be too strong', in the future the discussion can point to a clear measurement to back up these inherently imprecise statements. The system isn't perfect but is definitely a step in the right direction.

Fresh Start
A new season is like the wild west with everyone just scrambling to get by. Upgrades are plentiful and each beam of brown or green light is a genuine reason to get excited. Also, everyone is in the same boat so groups are less inclined to kicking people for lacking specific pieces of gear and, anecdotally, players are more friendly and willing to help each other out. I'm a chronic re-roller so it's no wonder why I love the prospect of a tabula rasa.

I'm all for feeling powerful but it's just getting a bit out of hand at this point. Consider that one of the effects of the new legendary gems is a chance on hit to deal 2000% weapon damage - when the game first launched, this kind of number was associated with the hardest hitting skills on several minute cooldowns. The development team has an aversion to nerfing skills but the consequence of out of control damage numbers is quickly becoming a problem with monster health pools exploding into the trillions just to stay standing. I don't have a solution beyond across the board scaling but something needs to be done.

Despite a healthy two months in the oven, I think 2.1 could use a bit more time to cook in the PTR. The recent changes to legendary gem scaling (they used to be infinitely powerful but are now capped) only show that the development team isn't exactly sure how these new items will play out in a live setting. I understand that the patch can't stay in beta forever but I can't shake the feeling that the first live season is going to have a big asterisk next to it in the record books as players exploit bugs and design inadequacies.

Demon Hunters, Witch Doctors, and Crusaders are all in a decent spot right now with viable end-game builds. I like how this covers the dexterity, intelligence, and strength archetypes nicely but want to see the other classes given a bit of love. Further, build diversity is still a problem - demon hunters are useless unless they build for sentries - which can lead to some pretty boring playstyles. Herein lies one of the problems alluded to in 'metrics and math' above, each class may be capable of performing to the same level of greater rift as each other but is it fun and are the gear requirements for doing so in line with each other?

Don't Care
New Legendaries
It's not that I'm not excited for the new legendaries, it's just that many of them still don't feel all that game changing in practise. Case in point, I was really excited to find the new Barbarian mighty weapon that summons an ancient when using the ancient's hammer skill. It's a pretty sweet ability but doesn't exactly revolutionize the class. Most players already use ancient hammer and this is doing nothing to encourage trying something new. In another case, the new shield bash focused Crusader set doesn't give enough of a buff (arguably, the buff is right but just doesn't last long enough) to usurp the current Akarat's champion set. It's not bad, more options in the midgame is fine, but my excitement for 2.1 is not measured in new legendaries.

Season Rewards and Rankings
I might be in the minority here but I really don't care if my name is on a leader board. I can already guess that the top ladder spots are going to be held by players who are way out my league in terms of skill, have way more time than me, or who have found clever ways to exploit gaps in the system. In any case I won't look on them with reverence as there position has no effect on my ability to find better loot. As for the banner reward and special achievements for participating in seasons... meh.

Gold Find Buff
As of writing, there is a 50% multiplicative gold buff on the live servers presumably in an effort to get players excited for the patch. My question, who cares about gold? Since the auction house went away it has lost its power as a metric for wealth and is sufficiently abundant to not inhibit progression. Blizzard could easily be offering 50% more smiles, it's nice but I probably wouldn't notice it.

Obviously the patch has a lot more to it than I've highlighted here with too many changes both major (I hinted at the new legendary gems) and minor (salvage all button!) to fully explore. I'm definitely sharpening my blade to head back into Sanctuary and look forward to seeing my fellow adventurers there.