With the upcoming release of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls and patch 2.0.1, Blizzard is aiming both to introduce a ton of great new content to Diablo III, and to significantly improve the game's existing content and gameplay systems. As lead designer Kevin Martens told me at a recent preview event, everything they're introducing shares one thing in common, "expanding replayability and sanding off the rough edges of the randomness of the game." In outlining for me the ways in which Blizzard hopes to do this, he started off by focusing on the content of Reaper of Souls.
"Reaper of Souls is cool for us because--and this is always true for expansions--we can take everything we've learned from the main launch of the game, we've had 15 million people play it and we've seen crazy things happen, and we can build on that base. We're not stopped by tools and technology anymore; it's more about doubling down on what made it fun. So at the high level, we've got three major things: we've got our new class, we've got act five, the continuation of the story, and we have Adventure mode."
As he demoed the crusader for me, Martens shed some light on Blizzard's philosophy when approaching class design, and on what the studio specifically hopes the new class will offer players. "Tactically, his role is a midrange melee character, to make him stand out from the existing barbarian and monk classes. We've given him midrange holy abilities. We always ask ourselves, this is true for anything at Blizzard that we do, 'What's the fantasy?' When a player plays this, what are we trying to engage in them? In this case, it was a war machine made human. If we took a modern battle tank and turned it into a medieval warrior, how would that work? An important part of that is that the armor is part of the weaponry. His shield is a core part of many of his abilities." To demonstrate this, he performed the blessed shield attack, which had the crusader hurling his shield at surrounding enemies.
Random city environments
Moving on from the new class of Reaper of Souls to the expansion's environments, Martens said, "Something we wanted to do but were unable to do in Diablo III was making the city as a randomized environment. We've made Westmarch into a super-random zone that still feels like a real city, which goes to the point of replayability over all. All the zones in act five are randomized, both inside and out, and that's unlike the zones in Diablo III, where the exterior zones had set exteriors and the big pieces of content that switched out within them. At the same time, we didn't want people feeling like they had to play the same story over and over again, and while you still can do that, that's where Adventure mode comes in."
"The metaphor I tend to use is cars. Everyone gets to drive a Lamborghini. It may not be the top-level Lamborghini, you might have to play a long time to find that one, but everybody gets to try out the wacky, crazy, powerful stuff. Guaranteed."
For Martens, Adventure mode is about making the existing content as enjoyable and rewarding to players as possible. "We have all these random systems, we have all these pieces of content, and we wanted to find a way for a varied experience to be the best way to play. It's already the most fun way to play, but people tend to go where the power is, they tend to go where the items are. We wanted to make sure that the best way to get gear was also the most varied way to play."
Senior level designer Larra Paolilli took over to explain Blizzard's intentions with Adventure mode in more detail. Describing the mode as Diablo III's go-anywhere, slay-anything sandbox mode, Paolilli called up the world map from which you access the mode's content. "You're free to play however you want, by yourself or with friends, and you can kind of design how you want to play and the amount of time you want to play. So you can just go and farm if you want to play that way, but if you want to play for 15, 20 minutes or so, you can do bounties." These were indicated by exclamation points in specific locations on the map. "Those are randomized content from throughout the entire game, and each time you come in, they'll be different. So where they are within the act, and what they are, will be different each time." Bounties can involve killing bosses, clearing out dungeons, or completing other goals, and they reward you with experience, gold, and rift keystone fragments. Collect five of those and you can access a rift. Rifts, Paolilli explained, "are multilevel dungeons that take a mix of tilesets, lighting and monsters and put them together in a combination you haven't seen before. So each floor can be something different. And they all culminate in a unique boss fight. And these are the best way to get loot."
Ah yes, loot
Patch 2.0.1 introduces a significant overhaul to Diablo III's loot system, an overhaul which Blizzard refers to as Loot 2.0. Explaining what this overhaul would bring to the game, Martens said, "First and foremost is the smart drop system, which is that items have a high-percentage chance of rolling stats that are good for the character that finds them. So if you're a witch doctor and you find a great witch doctor dagger and because of the random number generator, you get a bunch of strength on it that you totally don't need, what a waste. OK, well, first we've made it so that it's much more likely to be intelligence or armor or vitality or something that you're going to want. We also have class-specific affixes, a bunch of new ones." He highlighted a specific piece of gear that carried with it a 14 percent increase to damage done by the witch doctor's fetish army.
Martens hopes that by increasing the quality and variety of drops for classes, Blizzard can also increase the variety of ways in which people play Diablo III. Previously, he said that players tended to pick certain abilities and stick with them for the duration. One aim of the new loot system is to encourage players to try new things. Using the witch doctor as an example, he said, "If you don't use fetish army and you start to get improvements to the damage, you might want to try it out. Maybe not with 14 percent, but you find two or three items that have plus fetish army damage and you kinda can't resist."
Correcting past mistakes
Martens also talked about how Loot 2.0 is designed to fix what many saw as a flaw in the loot system. "Legendaries were always supposed to be the best items in the game. Mathematically, we did not make that the case. You could get a yellow item that was more powerful even though the legendary had a cool power, and that became a difficult choice that wasn't as fun as we wanted it to be. " Now, he says, "The best items in the game have gotten a lot better."
Martens is confident that the new system will lead to a better experience for everyone. "We're being way more generous with our drops. So we're actually dropping fewer items overall, you don't have to go back to town and clear your bags as often. But between the smart drop system and the generosity on our set and legendary items just being exponentially higher, you're much more likely to get awesome items. The metaphor I tend to use is cars. Everyone gets to drive a Lamborghini. It may not be the top-level Lamborghini, you might have to play a long time to find that one, but everybody gets to try out the wacky, crazy, powerful stuff. Guaranteed."