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d3 Diablo at BlizzCon 2015

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Check out our overview of all the Diablo III announcements made at BlizzCon!

 

It would be easy to dismiss Diablo's BlizzCon presence as it certainly wasn't the focus of the show - a brand new game, a fledgling e-sport, and three expansion packs for Blizzard's franchises deservingly eating up the majority of the stage time. For a second year and fourth patch in a row however, the Diablo team ensures that we not only have new free content to enjoy, but is of scope and quality that many other franchises (even within the same company) would be dying to receive.

 
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The reworked Shadow's Mantle will fulfill the melee rogue fantasy in Diablo. 
 

New Items, Sets and Redesigns

 
Loot is what Diablo has always been about, and the major source of excitement in this patch will be no different - tons of item additions and reworks, adding new ways to play or addressing previously unviable or outdated builds. The reworks of old class sets that have been previously hinted at were all present; we are looking forward to redesigns of Might of the Earth, The Legacy of Raekor, Thorns of the Invoker, Armor of Akkhan, Shadow's Mantle, Embodiment of the Marauder, Monkey King's Garb, Raiment of the Jade Harvester, Firebird's Finery - and possibly more! The designer's intention is to bring them all up to the power of sets released in 2.2 and 2.3 through revised set bonuses and complementary items. You can look forward to my impressions in future news posts, as well as detailed guides as soon as content hits the Test Realm!
 
Some non-class specific sets have also been added; Istavan's Paired Blades will apparently grant damage and toughness bonuses alongside their usual attack speed buff, and - more interestingly - the Legacy of Nightmares ring set has been revamped to boost your damage if it's the only set worn. The goal of that redesign is to address the long-standing gripe of the rigid 6 armor pieces set designs, potentially allowing legendary-only builds.
 
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Three new zones expand the universe with self-contained stories.
 

New Zones

 
Continuing and expanding on the example set by 2.3, the upcoming patch will add three new zones with their own look and feel, monsters, and plenty of bounties and events. The Royal Quarters is an Act I zone accessible through the previously blocked stairs in Leoric's Manor; the Eternal Woods is an Act III zone near the Ruins of Sescheron, overrun by the undead; and Greyhollow Island is the mysterious and isolated home to a now-collapsed civilization.
 

Set Dungeons

 
A new, fixed dungeon type will be added in 2.4 - the so called Set Dungeons, each of them tied to one of the 24 class-specific sets and meant to acquaint you with, or better - give you mastery over their respective set. To enter a Set Dungeon, you will have to own the full set and follow in-game clues from a tome in Leoric's Manor to locate the entry portal. Once inside, you will have to complete several unique challenges (i.e. Uliana's set dungeon - kill 21 different enemies at once with Exploding Palm, three times), and optionally, the Mastery challenge - killing all monsters within a time limit. Completion of at least one primary objective will grant you an achievement, mastering the dungeon will grant you another achievement, and completing all mastery objectives for a class awards you with a pennant. Unlocking all pennants awards you with a set of wings. 
 
Personally I find the idea charming, if a bit short-lived for the hardcore audience; it is nevertheless a great way to introduce people to new playstyles, and is an interesting first step into fixed, objective based dungeons outside the campaign - an idea I hope gets expanded upon into future competitive modes.
 

Seasons Revised

 
Perhaps the most significant news about Seasons is the decision to run a fixed length of 3 months for Patch 2.4; this is a length I am particularly satisfied with, since I have been proposing it as early as Season 1 as a good balance between finding great items to push leaderboards with, and combatting staleness of a Paragon farming meta. The team has expressed their intention to fix the 3 months length for all future Seasons, and I hope they do not change their minds.
 
Another step in the right direction is the removal of Season-exclusive items, a move that has been shafting non-Seasonal players time and again so far (Monk players particularly). Participation in Seasons will be (rightfully) incentivized by cosmetic rewards, achievements and the guaranteed reward of a full 6 piece set for the Season Journey completion.
 
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New systems are in place to combat gold inflation and non-challenging runs.
 

Empowering Rifts and Augmenting Items

 
The systems of Empowering Rifts and Augmenting in Kanai's Cube tie into each other, the former providing a fuel for the latter. Empowering Rifts is designed to be a substantial gold sink, speeding up Legendary Gem leveling by offering you an additional chance to upgrade at the cost of a hefty sum. This might seem a weak incentive, but it plays into the augmentation recipe of Kanai's Cube, Caldesann's Despair. The recipe requires an Ancient item and consumes 3 Flawless Royal gems plus a Legendary Gem, adding 5 main stat points per Legendary Gem level (main stat determined by the Flawless Royals you put in).
 
I believe this system is implemented to somewhat combat the endless runs of trivial difficulty GRs, replacing the repetitive dumping into main stat in your Paragon levels. This is further emphasized by the substantially reduced effectiveness of experience gear, with an example of 90% reduced effectiveness for Flawless Royal Rubies, and the shift of focus to 'massacre bonuses' - chained kills of monsters multiply your XP, incentivizing more of the group to run DPS gear instead of passive support builds.
 

UI Changes, Stash Space and Quality Improvements

 
The long-awaited buff bar improvements will arrive in Patch 2.4. Permanently active buffs like Crusader Laws and Monk Mantras will receive a shimmering golden border, notifying you of their effect. Timed buffs from your character's skills will be indicated by a progressively shrinking bar directly above the corresponding skill. Other players' permanent or temporary buffs will be stored into a single, collapsible button on your buff bar. On top of all these improvements, the bar will now hold up to 20 buffs.
 
One of the most commonly requested improvements is a bigger stash space, and will finally be delivered on in 2.4; starting with one additional stash tab as soon as the patch hits, and awarding you with an additional for each Season Journey you complete, up to a maximum of 10 tabs.
 
Damage numbers have been shrunken to their most important digits and give a suffix for their overall value, i.e. 100,000 will be 100K, 1,000,000 will be 1M, and 1,000,000,000 will be 1B. Your biggest crit values will be colored in orange and linger on the screen, giving you a better sense of your highest damage potential.
 
Additional quality of life improvements include: notifying you if an item is already cubed, ability to compare companion items, clarification on the Pools of Reflection effect and an improved visibility of Death's Breaths, including a recolor into teal.
 

Final Words

 
That about covers it for Diablo at BlizzCon 2015 - in my humble opinion, a great deal of changes cranked into a tiny preview window at the event. Given the choice however, I would trade BlizzCon spotlight for the quality work of a dedicated team, and it seems that once again we are in for a (free) treat - I couldn't be more excited about the 2.4 PTR, launching this coming week!
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      What will we think of when looking back at Season Five?
       
      Another Season has come to pass in Sanctuary, and with it some pretty massive revelations. We saw a rise in certain playstyles, reactions from Devs, changes in Team Diablo, No-Boss runs, Banwave after Banwave, and even new ways to play the game.
       
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      The Ugly
       

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      Paragon Disparity: This point is substantially tied to the previous issue, but deserves a special nod, as many player find themselves on one side of the divide or the other. The group meta saw legitimate players spanning well into several thousand paragons, and on the flip side any number of posts in r/Diablo's reddit detailing solo player journeys saw people hitting new highs in the hundreds. While many were not directly affected by this divide, the solo leaderboards closed in a stranglehold not from the Solo players themselves, but instead were mainly comprised of group players who then leveraged their superior paragons and gear in order to also dominate in this area. 
      No-Boss Runs: This one was saved for last on this list, because it is a bridge between the two previous issues listed, and The Worst issue which is near the end of this editorial. While it was not a new idea, the prevalence of this phenomenon in Season Five had new levels of impact. The idea behind a No-Boss Runs is that players in a group (or even solo) run an extremely high greater rift level (usually higher than could actually be cleared) and play up until the rift guardian is spawned. Players then exit the game and make a new rift, repeating the procedure. The result is massive amounts of XP gained, lending handily to the paragon disparity. Since the rift guardian is usually the bulk of time spent in a rift, and nets significantly less experience per time spent comparative to the rest of the rift, this practice born of pragmatism characterized greater rift pushing this season.   
       
      The Bad
       

      Lost Devs: This season saw the departure of many strongly talented figures from Team Diablo, and while some could potentially return, others are lost for good. How this will affect the game moving forward remains to be seen, but the figures lost were those who had direct and observable impact on the game as a whole.
      Class Diversity: In what always results in a continued struggle, Diablo's developers yet again took painstaking efforts in balancing, with a goal of roughly approximating all sets to be equal in terms of power. Once more, we saw a season ruled by flavor-of-the-month builds, and a particular class warping the entire group meta in around itself. While Season Four was the Year of the Monk, Season Five will forever be the Year of the Wizard. Like the Static Charge Monk of yester-season, the strength of the Energy Twister Wizard left an indelible mark on the group play of Diablo, and even caused a series of severely hard-hitting changes to several class and item mechanics. Health Globe spawning as a purposeful mechanic has all but been removed from the game, and the warp was so massive that even other classes had their skill mechanics changed thanks to the Wizard build in question.    
       
      Mixed
       

      Buff UI: While this issue is actually part of larger change that has positively impacted the game, it also has some quirks that presented and still require a clean up. The changes to the Buff UI that came baked into Patch 2.4 are overall successful. Making the bar more concise, it grew in Season Five to be the tool of information it was also supposed to be, and no longer is quite the source of player focus it once was. While the goal of making players engage the game (not their buff bar) seems to have been achieved, the improvements have left some aspects seemingly unpolished. The two most common issues that now seem to arise in discussion are the lack of drop shadow on stack numbers, and the paragon point allocation button covering part of the bar itself. With some minor tweaks, these could be changed and really let the newly designed buff bar come into its own glory. Rightfully so, as it now is leagues ahead of its old counterpart! 
      Stash Tab: While this might be a confusing place to find the stash tab, please read on as to why it finds a home here. Many players, myself included, were ecstatic about the inclusion of this reward. To me, the gaining of the extra space was massive, and let me fully devote a tab of stash to each class, as I am an alt-a-holic. I did not have any issue with the implementation, but the implementation was inline with how I play the game already. For many players, the implementation did not line up with their playstyle, or desired mode of play, and this is what lands the stash tab here. Like a billion dollars in the bank, it's great for those who have it, and not so much so for those who don't. I play seasons exclusively now in Diablo, and even quit during the interseason period to recharge and play other games. While Seasons are on, I religiously play each weekend with some friends, and manage to go far in, or complete the season journey. Getting the stash tab for me was merely a consequence. Now, my playstyle is not the only one. Many players don't play seasons. Others, are not as able or willing to devote the many hours needed to get to where I do. As a result, many groups found themselves left out, or struggling with a game (something we play for fun) to get what they felt was necessary to enjoy the game. This lack of fun for those players, well it's rough. I applaud the developers for setting a standard which players must achieve to be rewarded optional content in the game. Likewise, I see the strong argument from those who do not like being forced to play a game mode they do not enjoy in order to get access to something they want, and sometimes feel compulsion to gain. I am not sure what the right answer here is, and as such it remains in the murky waters of mixed. My only input is that I do think there is strong value in rewarding players for certain achievements. The term reward is defined as "a thing given in recognition of one's service, effort, or achievement." Perhaps the discussion should focus not on what is wrong, but what else can be opened as an avenue for others to also achieve.   
      The Good
       

      Single Player XP: Wait, wasn't there something about paragon disparity earlier? Yes, but there is strong hope for solo players, and Season Five gave the most compelling evidence. While by season's close the gap was huge, the early reports of the season saw solo players hitting 70 in roughly the same time as partied groups. This was the first time this had occurred in season play without some form of XP exploit being used. The main driver behind this was the addition of bonus kill-streaks which had previously been seen in console versions. Additionally, changes were made to group dynamics and xp sharing. More changes are coming with Season Six, meaning the outlook for this aspect is high. Perhaps this issue will eventually see a form of parity between groups and solo players. Certainly, we are seeing that goal closer than further as of writing.  

       
      Death's Breath: They're a distinct color now, making them much easier to distinguish. This optimizes time spent while farming, and is a seemingly small, yet huge-in-impact change that I have yet to see a complaint about. An all around victory. 
      New Zones: For those who saw the Diablo panel at Blizzcon this year, the amount of changes coming with 2.4 seemed impossibly large. Since Season Five is a child of Patch 2.4, the addition of new zones with the patch meant that many players saw these sights for the first time in season. From minor additions with the Library at Leoric's Manor, to the entire zone replete with new mobs, tiles and lore (Greyhollow Island) there is not a fair argument against these additions. Free is free, but quality additions for free are just gravy!  
      The Great
       

       
      Empowered Rifts/Caldesann's Despair: While Wyatt Cheng (@Candlesan on Twitter) might hide his despair of this change behind a weak anagram, finally having a viable and impactful gold sink enter the game has many of the Diablo 1% jumping for joy. With so much gold coming from regular farming of high torments, and trips to The Vault, the community saw gold inflation in the highest order. With so many sources of generation, and few sources of loss, the amount players had stashed away became looney (Canadian money jokes). The idea of slightly lessening the time needed to level gems, and thus getting to imbue gear with the new enchanting recipe in Kanai's Cube faster, all while making gold worthwhile again was a massive victory for Team Diablo. It addressed an issue in a creative, fun, and engaging way that had players wanting to play the game more. It also diversified to a greater extent what players did while playing at endgame, and I think it is easy to classify this as an example of creative game design which resulted in a victory.   

       
      Haedrig's Gift: The thorn in my side, (I played Invoker's Burden Crusader this Season) I have to admit that this feature was a success from the community perspective. I will freely admit that I was bent out of shape with the announcement of this feature, and still question its merit. However, I was shown how my opinion here is narrow, and needs broader context. As a gamer who loved the early adventure games such as Sierra's King's Quest line, or the amazing LucasArt's Monkey Island series, I lamented the inclusion of "free sets" as a softening up of gaming culture, and an attempt to cater to those who want things without working for them. I also still question if this sped up the progression of seasonal character too much, leading to faster burn-out or season completion. The second point I hold true to, the first, I was gravely mistaken on. While I can be crusty old gamer who complains about walking uphill to school both ways "back in my day," I also have my scope wrongly adjusted to those old games. Many old computer games are famously confusing and difficult at times, and often lead to out-of-the-box or just plain weird solutions. These games also could often be played, once you knew what to do, in a matter of hours. You might sink lots of time into solving the puzzles initially, but the actual game length is relatively short. Now, we have a whole genre of game with the word massive in its title. These are games where a player can take an hour just to make a character's appearance right if they so choose. In this wave of massive gameplay comes things like Diablo, which actually never end. Sure you can beat the game, but that's not the goal for most. Set dungeons still leave the stopping point role unfulfilled. Instead we continue to push hard, faster and further a group each season, and many players were not having fun anymore trying to keep up. Enter the Gift, and now player who might have never even owned a full set before are getting a chance to explore the game in new and exciting ways. This is obviously a positive, and something that is good for the health of the game. In practice my Softcore Crusader who received Invoker's Burden through the Gift, and my Hardcore Crusader who farmed the pieces had very little difference of experience. It was a small gap in time spent between their progression, several hours to be fair. My enjoyment was no less on my softcore crusader, and progression only felt slightly slower on my hardcore one. The upshot? It let players with limited time, or perhaps those who don't spend hours talking theorycraft on the forums to be able to get moving faster and enjoying themselves sooner. Thus, I have to concede this to the clear win category. 
      Diablo Unannounced Project/Job Postings: While this isn't anything related with the Season, it did come to light during the season, and had a measurable effect on the community. The posting of various jobs to Blizzard's career page, and the mention in those posting about a "Diablo Unannounced Project" have many speculating. With the possibility of another Diablo III expansion, to another game set in the Diablo universe, to Diablo IV, the community is abuzz with theories. Only time will tell exactly what it is that Blizzard has up their sleeve, but many remain exceptionally excited for whatever that could be. More Diablo is always welcome.
      Kanai Event: Like the previous entry, this is more something that merely came to light during Season Five, and is not a direct product of it, but it certainly merits mention. The event consisted of a longstanding mystery of Kanai's Throne Room finally being revealed. Since the arrival of Ruins of Sescheron in Patch 2.3, there were cryptic in game clues and references to the "right time" in Kanai's Throne Room. The right time turned up in Season Five, with the Kanai's Stomping Ground event coming to life in March. This tribute is touching and tasteful on behalf of Blizzard, and is set to outlive this past season, by coming around each March. More can be read about the event and the person it honors here. 
      Legacy of Nightmares/Invoker's Burden: These two sets might not share anything in mechanics, but what makes their birth in the Season 5 meta important is that both represent a paradigm shift in what makes a character powerful in Diablo. Firstly, let's examine Invokers. This set, also known as the Thorns Set, offers a look into a world where Crit Chance/Crit Damage stats and Sheet DPS are utterly irrelevant. This change was lauded by many long term pundits of the game, who often argued that Crit was a stat too crucial to DPS output. This new way of thinking about how you get your damaged threw convention out the window, and did so successfully. 97,786 is how much DPS when my Invoker Crusader cleared his first 70 Greater Rift, something I know because I immortalized it via screen capture. With DPS figures ranging in the 2-3 million range for well-geared and high paragon toons, the idea that 97,786 could do anything of impact seemed astounding. It still is, if you think about Diablo convention to this point. This brings us to Legacy of Nightmares, another fly-in-the-face of conventional Diablo 3 Since the Loot 2.0 revamp, sets have been king of DPS. Some argue the lack of true diversity is gone in builds, something Vanilla had a surprising amount of in contrast. Few arguments could be mounted for anything but set based builds of late, and enter The Legacy of Nightmares . The "No-Set Set" gave rise to a new and exciting branch of gameplay that satisfied many of the prior complaints of too heavy reliance on set bonuses. While the issue is still not dead, after all Wizards couldn't seem to materialize a competitive build with LoN, it went on to dominate the solo leaderboards for classes like Crusader and Demon Hunter. I will state there is much work to be done here, but like Apollo 11, this was a "Giant Leap" for Diablo III.   
      Now, the heart of article is revealed. We have made it this far, and now the rock bottom and the sky-high aspects of Season Five come to light. 
       
      The Worst
       

      A Support Meta/Single DPS Gameplay: This is probably not a twist(er) to those who played Season Five, as we saw a worrying trend that began in Season Four take a whole new level of notoriety in Season Five. In a game that is all about smacking skeletons until they collapse, a striking meta emerges where 75% of a Four-man group are not doing it. David Brevik (you know, the guy who envisioned Diablo and worked so hard to make the game a reality) stated fondly of working on the first Diablo "I clicked on the mouse, and the warrior walked over and smacked the skeleton down. And I was like, ‘Oh my god! ...That was awesome!'" Thus was born the Action Role Playing Game, or ARPG. This quote characterizes what makes the arpg so special, and for many what their first Diablo experience was like. With this in mind, consider a situation where only one out four in a party are doing the skeleton smacking. Change might be good, but such a dramatic shift away from what seems so core to the arpg and the Diablo experience is nearing criminal. The reaction from the developers behind the game seems to be in vein with my own take on the situation, as they have mobilized en masse to try and cull this type of gameplay. Even well-known community figures admit that they only partake in it because it is the most efficient, not because it's what they enjoy. It is how to climb the leaderboards, for better or worse. Worse, really. This will likely be the most remembered aspect of Season Five looking back. Actually, strike that. The most remembered thing about Season Five, the thing that will put it down in the history books as what went right is:   
      The Win
       

      Season Five saw the purge of the Botter, and humans attaining victory. An update to Blizzard's Warden, in conjunction with well timed and decisive waves, saw the leaderboards all but purified of those who chose to break the Terms of Service by utilizing suspect third party softwares. Whether you and Brother Chris played Diablo 24/7, or you used a software which rhymes with MurboMud, or maybe plotted your trips through Sanctuary using some GPS, you probably saw the boot. While not all elicit software users were burned by the righteous fires of the purge, a great chunk saw, and thus now fear the Light. Whatever this means moving forward, the message has been sent, and the result are clear for all to see: Play by the rules, or risk consequences. Exceptionally well played on Blizzard's part with timing and deployment, the banwave has many of the jaded questioning if perhaps there is much to be said about the game after all. Excellent work to Blizzard, and I personally hope that you keep this momentum you've gained.   
       
      Conclusion:
       
      Season Five has come and gone, and with it a new legacy was born. What the full effect is still remains to be seen, but we can assess some core principles in the immediate. What we know is that like any Season, there are going to be bad aspects, and those that make us remember exactly what has us logging in again and again and again. Season Five seemed to polarize the issues, making the extremes of the bad, as well as the good, more apparent than ever. In the end there more good than bad, and this should have all fans of the franchise reaching for that mouse.
       
      Personally, I had a great time in Season Five, and I am looking forward to Season Six, which will begin as follows: 
      North America: Friday, April 29 @ 5:00 p.m. PDT Europe: Friday, April 29 @ 5:00 p.m. CEST Asia: Friday, April 29 @ 5:00 p.m. KST  
      I want to thank readers, and now that I have said my piece, I open the comment box to all of you below. Do you agree or disagree with my take? Let me know! 
       
      In the meantime, happy farming! 
    • By Realbookwurm
      Community member Meathead Mikhail regularly puts out helpful Diablo videos, and his latest covers a  very important mechanic which many players may not be aware of.
       
      I was made aware of this mechanic sometime back in 2012, but only because I am the guy who loves diving into a spreadsheet on the numbers behind a game. I also want to concede that most do not find reading up on the maths behind their favorite game quite as exciting as I do. However, since the nature of the mechanic is not referenced anywhere in the game itself, and has come about solely by the efforts of the theory-crafting community, it is still largely unknown to the player-base. 
       
      While some might see this as information for the Min/Max crowd, it is truly amazing how small tweaks like this can make your character so much more viable. I have invited many people in my life to try Diablo, and small tips such as this one have vastly improved their experience. It seems players tend to have more fun when they don't die often. Rambling aside, I am really happy to see such a quick and easy-to-understand explanation of the mechanic being made available. Thanks Meathead MIkhail!
       
      Please take the time to give it a watch, and I hope that players find this useful. I know that I have over the years! 
       
       
       
    • By Realbookwurm
      Get your cosmetic groove on with oodles of new looks coming in Patch 2.4.1!

      It is no secret that I am strongly looking forward to the new farmable cosmetic content that is due to drop with Patch 2.4.1. I even wrote a brief news about it featuring way too many caps in the title. The truth is while the game may still produce minor gripes here and there, let's not fail to celebrate that we finally are to the point with Diablo III where this type of development can take precedence. The gameplay has been tweaked, modified and perfected for nearly four years now, and the result is a patch that lets us focus on the finer things. 
       
      That isn't to say that Patch 2.4.1, and the Season 6 meta wont see totally new aspects. Many of the sets were once again tweaked, tons of legendary gems are changing, there was a massive effort from the devs to change the 1 DPS, 3 Support meta of Season 5, and even one or two massive tweaks to help out the solo players.
       
      Well if you are looking forward to the "small things" coming in the form a portrait frame made of rainbows, then check out the Cosmetics Preview that has just gone live on Battle.net. It shows a few of the items that will become attainable, including the new pet goblin and even some wings! 
       
      Don't forget to drop a comment or two in the box below and let us know what feature you are most looking forward to in Patch 2.4.1! I'm guessing the ability to wear a crab on your head is going to win any polls though...