More than most games, Diablo 3 has been rife with updates and big changes. Through a combination of Blizzard's attempts at new gameplay structures and the general grind of improvements that we expect from modern connected games, the experience as it stands today is very different than the one players found at launch. As Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls hits stores for consoles, let's take a look back at just how different it is.
Paragons and Monsters
The core Diablo experience was not unlike the ones before it, but from the start it came with a few significant changes. The classes were mostly familiar, but it added a new Witch Doctor class as a series first.
Upon launch, Diablo 3 was one of the most infamous in recent history for server troubles. We probably should've known, considering we got a preview of server issues a week during the beta. Many blamed this on the always-on requirement, even for playing solo. After all, if fewer people were pinging the server while they played solo, it may not have been so overloaded.
The first significant change to Diablo 3 came in patch 1.0.4, with the addition of Paragon Levels. Just three months after release, Blizzard was making sure players who had hit the level cap still had something to do. After reaching level 60, killing monsters would give you experience towards your new Paragon Level, with boosts to the normal core stats, along with extra boosts to Magic Find and Gold Find. Plus, you'd get a special in-game border every ten levels, for the sake of bragging rights.
A few months later, Blizzard added the Monster Power system in patch 1.0.5. This harkened back to the days of Diablo 2, letting players set monster power levels. Bumping up the monster power would scale up the rewads, and could stack above the 300% cap of Gold and Magic Find from the Paragon system. It could also be adjusted separately through each difficulty, so those truly obsessed fans who wanted harder monsters on Inferno difficulty could have it. The same patch added the "Infernal Machine," which let level 60 players go back and battle extra-tough versions of bosses.
Nearly a year after release, in February of 2013, Blizzard added PvP as part of patch 1.0.7. A special zone called "The Scorched Chapel" could be accessed by speaking to a special Brawler character, and would let up to four players duke it out with their own unique hero builds.
Already, the game had gone through some major changes and additions. But the biggest was yet to come.
The Fall of the House of Auctions
Since its inception, the Auction House was a controversial idea, due mainly to its real-money application. Blizzard's own FAQ page regarding the feature is chock full of remarkably self-aware questions like, "Why would I want to pay real money to buy or sell in-game items?" and "What’s Blizzard’s cut?" Fans were skeptics from the start. You might recall that former Shacknews editor Garnett Lee was an especially vocal critic.
What's worse, the nature of Diablo 3 meant that comparing items was a pain. Since stats were procedurally generated, two similar items might have entirely different stats. Even comparing an item to itself could be difficult, and that was compounded by the sheer weight of different kinds of items. It's tough to determine fair-market price when everything is apples and oranges.
By March of 2013, it was clear Blizzard was beginning to agree. Former game director Jay Wilson said it "really hurt the game." In August the studio announced a new loot system to come alongside its first expansion, and clearly stated it intended to use the "Loot 2.0" system to diminish the importance of the auction house. That became a moot point, though, as only a few weeks later it announced that both the real-money and gold auction houses would be shut down in March 2014.
So why the about-face? As it turns out, Jay Wilson's concerns ended up being almost exactly what Blizzard cited as its reasoning. Wilson had said that a game like Diablo should be about getting loot from killing monsters, not just purchasing them. Blizzard's statement was wordier, but fell along the same lines:
"When we initially designed and implemented the auction houses, the driving goal was to provide a convenient and secure system for trades. But as we've mentioned on different occasions, it became increasingly clear that despite the benefits of the AH system and the fact that many players around the world use it, it ultimately undermines Diablo's core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot."
It was around this announcement, also, that Blizzard began to detail Loot 2.0. The revised loot system gave you less junk and more rare weapons, encouraging more loadout swapping. While the old Diablo 3 gave only occasionally rare items, the revision made it feel like a whole new game and made the higher difficulty levels more accessible with more generous loot. The loot was also better than it ever had been, since it could go three levels above the cap. It also offered legendary properties, special class-based bonuses to encourage their use. The revised system went live shortly before Reaper of Souls hit.
The Console Versions
Amid the changing landscape of the auction house debacle, Blizzard was hard at work on what may have been the worst-kept secret in its long history: the console ports. Even before launch, Blizzard seemed to drop hints of console development at every opportunity. It stated it was exploring a Diablo-related project, openly said it was investigating the possibility, and even assured fans it was still very serious about a port it hadn't even formally announced. When Jay Wilson later touted the benefits of Diablo 3 on a controller, he might as well have been winking at us.
The cat was finally officially let out of the bag in February 2013, when Blizzard's Chris Metzen took the stage during the PlayStation 4 reveal event. He announced it would be coming for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, leaving the Xbox 360 and Xbox One announcements for later. In practice, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions hit at the same time that September, while the new generation waited until yesterday.
The nature of the console versions seemed to inadvertently confirm suspicions about the PC's lack of an offline mode. Both its always-on status and the Auction House were defended in the game as necessary components built into its core. Though Blizzard said it explored an online requirement for consoles, it ultimately decided not to pursue it, and the auction house was missing altogether. More than anything, this proved that neither was actually a necessary component.
Reaper of Souls
Available across PC since March and on all four consoles, Reaper of Souls is the largest single umbrella of new content and changes. For Diablo 3, that's saying something.
The expansion adds a fifth character class, the Crusader, which specializes maces and shields to encourage more defensive play, and a fifth act. Many of the new features revolve around the Adventure Mode, comprised of missions that can take place across any point in the game. Bounties let you gather extra loot in Adventure Mode by completing specific quests, and Nephalem Rifts have you fight randomized enemies in special dungeons made of pieces of other stages. Legendary drops are more likely in Nephalem Rifts, especially in the higher difficulties. New "Torment" difficulty levels, in six, made for a new end-game for high level play, with special Torment-only drops and ingredients for the Infernal Machine.
A new NPC, Kadala, lets you trade Blood Shards for items in Adventure Mode. Finally, a Mystic lets you enchant items to gamble for new stats. In a purely aesthetic feature, the Mystic can also "Transmogrify" your gear's appearance.
Blizzard has spent the last few years putting out fires, tinkering, revising, and improving Diablo 3. Reaper of Souls seems largely aimed at bringing back players who may have lapsed or been put off by the initial experience. It was successful to that end on PC, and now it's open for everyone. This has put the game in a finished state, so time will tell what else Blizzard has planned.