Chatty Q&A: Blizzard talks Reaper of Souls and the future of Diablo 3

It's been roughly a month since Blizzard released the Reaper of Souls expansion for Diablo 3. PC players have not only had the opportunity to check out the game's continuing story, but have also been able to check out some of the PC version's major improvements that were implemented with the recent 2.0 patch.

However, Blizzard is far from done with Diablo 3. The development team is hard at work on some new content, for both the rejuvenated PC version and for Diablo 3's console version. Production Director John Hight, Game Director Joshua Mosqueira, Lead Designer Kevin Martens, Senior Game Producer Julia Humphreys, and Project Music Director Derek Duke all took time out of their busy schedules to speak to Shacknews and answer some email questions about Reaper of Souls' next big patch, Diablo 3's console versions, and the game's long-awaited PvP mode.

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Shacknews: No rest for the weary. Even after releasing Reaper of Souls, you guys are already looking ahead to the big summer update. Can you tell us about some of what you have planned for 2.1?

Production Director John Hight: We're working on two major systems for the 2.1 release, first is Seasons. Seasons are a shard of the existing game where everything is a fresh start. You start with a brand new character without access to any of the gold or items you collected with your primary account for the length of the season. We plan on creating brand new, powerful legendaries that only drop within in the season. After the season ends, all of your progress — your experience, your items, your gold, etc. — will be rolled into the main roster. The goal is the fresh-start feeling — so many changes and tweaks have happened since the launch of Diablo III — it is really energizing and fun to recreate that 'first-moment-in-a-new-game' feeling.

We've also added leaderboards. Players can race on a variety of metrics to try to become the leader in their region or the top of their friends and clan lists. That friendly competition angle lends itself really well to Diablo games.

Second is Tiered Rifts. Tiered Rifts are variations on the Nephalem Rifts concept from Reaper of Souls. You have a timer to finish a Rift (kill enough monsters to draw out the boss and slay the boss) and the better you do, the more challenging the level that you get to tackle. For example, if you finished a Tiered Rift in just a few minutes, you’d get to jump ahead to a much harder rift. These will also have unique rewards, custom leaderboards, etc. Tiered Rifts are a new end game activity that offers both challenge and competition but are easy enough for everyone at max level (70) to try.

Shacknews: With so much going into Diablo III and Reaper of Souls for PC, what can Blizzard tell console owners that are waiting patiently for their opportunity to jump into the expansion? Will the console Diablo III: Reaper of Souls feature all of the updates currently available on PC?

Hight: We showed Reaper of Souls running on PS4 at BlizzCon and again at PAX East. We're very excited about the PS4 and we've announced some cool additions to our Ultimate Evil Edition to take advantage of this technology: action combat, co-op loot, apprentice mode, nemesis kills, mail system, player gifts, touch pad & light bar support. We also plan to include all the updates to Diablo III: Reaper of Souls up to patch 2.0.4. We'll have more console news soon.

Shacknews: Should console players expect a bonus XP period, similar to what PC players got?

Hight: This is something we would love to do, I mean who doesn't want bonus XP, after all. However, we are still working out the details, but stay tuned.

Shacknews: Diablo III has seen a renaissance on PC, mostly because of the recent updates, but also in part because of how well it was received on consoles. With that in mind, has Blizzard given consideration to bringing controller support to the PC version?

Hight: We made a great many changes to how skills work for console to make them feel right on a controller. If we were to embark on such a project it would require bringing the console and PC skills inline, and while I think for the most part this would be very cool, it would mean changes to PC skills. At the end of the day, if this is something our community wants, we could explore at some future point.

Shacknews: It sounds like so much of Diablo is starting to come together, but there's still one aspect of the game that's seemingly disappeared off everyone's radar. What's become of the game's PvP mode that's been in the works for so long?

Hight: Yes, PvP is still a hotly debated topic on the team. Brawling only scratches the surface for sure, but to bring a full PvP mode to Diablo, and to make it feel right for Diablo, is no simple matter given how the game works since it was designed as a PvE experience. However at the heart of the PvP question is the desire to have some form of competition, and this is why we are so excited about Tiered Rifts. We feel this feature will give players a way to keep score in a very Diablo way.

The development team also answered a number of questions from Shacknews' Chatty community, many of whom have already spent several hours on Reaper of Souls.

Frozen Pixel: With the Damage and Toughness stats starting to get into the millions, are there plans to rebalance the stats similar to what is happening in World of Warcraft?

Hight: At the moment, no. We will see how things evolve and adjust as needed. We like big numbers.

Ambient80: How many people from the original, main development team of D3 still remained for RoS development, and how hard was it for them to see the game changed so drastically from release?

Hight: The majority of the original Diablo III team went on to develop Reaper of Souls. We added some new leadership, but the original development team was largely responsible for most of the changes. We spent a lot of time sifting through player feedback and gathered our own impressions before moving forward with the 2.0.1 update and the Reaper of Souls expansion. As a team, we're very happy with the reception from the Diablo community. We play the game regularly ourselves and we're having a blast!

kallanta: What was the discussion like that led to shutting down the Auction House (atmosphere in the room, employee reaction the decision, etc.)?

Hight: We had a lot of debates. Most players agreed that the Auction House was impacting the core gameplay. We considered a lot of different proposals. The final decision took place in a meeting where we went over the various pros and cons and after a lengthy discussion, Mike Morhaime asked "What is the best thing for the game?" and we said "we should shut down the Auction House." Mike said, "OK then that's what we'll have to do." We walked out and told the team and the cheers went up. We were proud that Blizzard was willing to do this. It takes courage for a company to stand behind its players this way.

ArtilleryMarker: Will any form of trading come back for high-end items?

Hight: This is another topic we often discuss internally. For now we are happy with the current ecosystem because it allows us to drop more items, and it means every player needs to earn their awesome legendaries. But, we understand the social component of trading and how it's missing at the moment. For now we have no plans to add trading of high end items.

sleepytea: What influenced the music direction for Reaper of Souls? It feels like a noticeable change from previous soundtracks.

Project Music Director Derek Duke: Like a lot of things about Reaper, we wanted the music darker and more gothic inspired, very dialed in to the mood, story, and art direction. We also made a concerted effort at giving the player more memorable melodies and to further differentiate Diablo's music from Blizzard's other IPs.

vile: Are there any plans for further deepening socketing, such as reintroducing runes and runewords?

Hight We don't have any short term plans at the moment, but we all agree that the socketing game is not super deep and we’ve said so before. We are talking seriously about some legendary gem ideas that will offer new tactical options to players. Stay tuned as we do hope that this design gathers steam.

EricZBA, happynoodle, Downforce, and Frozen Pixel: Why did the team decide to end Reaper of Souls the way they did?

Hight: We wanted to make the ending of Reaper (without giving any spoilers away) very focused on the player and their hero. We wanted to make it personal. Because of that, it made more sense and it felt right to go with the hand-drawn style of the current ending. I do not think we could have done the player and their awesome hero justice otherwise. We didn't want a generic stand in.