Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls – We visit Blizzard to talk shop with the developers

Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls

By on February 26, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Reaper of Souls, at first glance, is a curious name. Every Diablo game, expansion or otherwise, has always contained a good deal of reaping souls from either the main character, antagonist, side enemies, allies, random corpses and innocent townsfolk. The player drove a soulstone containing el Diablo himself into their skull at the conclusion of the first game. Baal took control of his own soulstone after Diablo 2, while Adria sacrificed Leah to revive Diablo using the Black Soulstone.

Tampering with souls is a daily activity in Sanctuary, one that Malthael, the former Angel of Wisdom who now doubles as the Angel of Death, is rather proficient in. Convinced that humans are just demons, despite their half-and-half angelic/demon heritage, Malthael’s raising corpses left, right and centre to wipe out humanity and end the battle between demons and angels once and for all… by killing humans.

It makes more sense when you sit down with Kevin Martens and Larra Paolilli, the lead designer and a senior level designer for Reaper of Souls. “His problem with humans was that he knows their history – they’re the product of angels and demons,” Martens says of Malthael. “When Malthael sees a human, all he sees is their demonic side, he sees that 50% demon and he sees how powerful you, the player, have become. If humans can become this powerful, so powerful that they can defeat prime evil, like you did in Diablo 3, something he failed to do for millions of years, he’s scared.”

Martens calls it “exponential genocide”, which is code for Malthael’s form of necromancy, where those slain rise again in the Angel of Death’s service. In a guided tour of the full suite of additions for Reaper of Souls, Martens and Paolilli showed me through all of the expansion’s features, including a full walkthrough of the Crusader and the reasoning behind introducing a third melee class.

“We found that interesting tactical role for him by giving him the mid-range stuff so he can be wailing on things with his flail and shields and at the same time you’re tapping buttons and hitting things at distance,” Martens said. “You have a lot of battlefield control. He’s also great in co-op, he’s got a lot of buffs for other party members too.”

The team later showed me a disgustingly overpowered Barbarian to help illustrate how players might approach end-game builds and gearing in Reaper of Souls. This Barbarian was decked out to maximise the use of his Earthquake and leap, while new skills such as Avalanche can be tweaked for even greater synergy. With the Snowcapped Mountain rune, Martens was able to push enemies into a column before capitalising on their new-found closeness with Seismic Slam.

“We did a passover of all of Diablo 3 abilities as well and have adjusted ones that were underused to be more powerful, in some cases changing entire mechanics such as Arcane Orb,” Martens said. Paolilli added that the team was happy with the balance between skills that require more tactical nous and those that are more suited to casual players. “We think they’re pretty versatile, like Kevin was saying, you can use them without thinking too much about the tactics, but then when you’re at the higher levels and you know what you’re doing you can combine the skills in your build specifically for those needs.”

The original abilities aren’t the only things to receive a passover, thanks to the new Adventure Mode which lets players pick and choose which parts of the campaign they want to replay. Paolilli described it as a “reciprocal new sandbox mode” for the game and one which goes a long way to breaking up much of the end-game monotony with its bounties and Nephalem Rifts.

“And part of that freedom I think is you dictate how you want to play. When you were playing in campaign you kind of have these set points where the game will be saved but in Adventure Mode you can play as long as you want,” she noted. “Those are the two main features of Adventure Mode, bounties and Nephalem Rifts, but you don’t have to do them. You can just farm an area that you like through Acts 1 through 4, but they do give you a bit more of a guided experience if you want to come in, like I said, on your lunch break.”

Martens jumped in, pointing out that the Adventure Mode was also tuned to be the most efficient – mathematically – way of playing Diablo 3 too. “The smartest way to get more gold, loot and experience is to play it in here, which makes a wide variety of things to do – boss fights, events, new event types, wiping out entire zones, farming things – all that happens in a very randomised way so you’re doing things new very frequently and without sacrificing any sort of efficiency.”

Another boon to the game’s efficiency is the revamped loot system, or what’s been called “Loot 2.0”. Martens called it “taking the edges off randomness”, or making drops more meaningful to your particular character. You still have the chance of picking up completely useless gear, of course – “We don’t want to just cut out randomness and make everything for you and everything’s an upgrade all the time because then the game’s not fun either,” he observed – but the chance of doing so is substantially reduced.

“We have to make sure the overall survivability and ability to kill monsters is equal. However you get there can be different, as long as they are equal”

After going over what an end-game character’s build might look like – Martens used another disgustingly overpowered Barbarian geared for repeated Earthquakes – I chimed in about secondary bonuses. I’d noticed during the hour long playthroughs posted online that there was a bit of unhappiness about the balance between the utility of something like block versus the usefulness of the dodge you get from dexterity, so I raised the question.

“We did a patch last week to try and bring some of the numbers a little closer together, but we don’t want to balance difference out of the game,” Martens answered. “If we make everything equal on the second to second numbers, then everyone kind of plays the same… we have to make sure the overall survivability and ability to kill monsters is equal. However you get there can be different, as long as they are equal.”

He added that while dodge might be underpowered, Demon Hunters were on par with Crusaders, as an example, in the greater scheme of things. “Having their abilities work differently is really important and we can never lose that. People who are new to balance always do it the wrong way, they always make everything equal, and then everything doesn’t play different enough even the abilities are different.”

Retaining that element of difference is a crucial part of the expansion, as the Blizzard pair showed when talking about the transmogrification and enchanting features. Enchanting’s more impressive, since it has affects gameplay directly and, most importantly, gives you some choice with your items. In short, enchanting lets you re-roll one of the stats on an item for something more useful or relevant. There’s a side-panel which gives you a list of potential rewards, an addition Martens says is “very numbery” for the actuaries among Diablo.

Similarly, transmogrification allows you to customise the appearance of your weaponry. Every item your character picks up is saved and you can alter the look of your weapons to anything you’ve picked up before. It’s not full customisation, although it’s a stark improvement on everyone’s characters looking identical because they’re all decked out with the same gear, but it’s a nice move to at least give your character more of a personal touch.

With that, the tour was finished, which gave me the opportunity to ask about player-vs-player combat, an addition fans have been demanding since release. I was curious: had all the new additions and changes made PvP an impossibility? Martens took issue with the word impossible, but he agreed that PvP’s introduction was a complicated matter.

“We made an extremely wide-ranging PvE game, where we have an incredible variety of skills and powers and certainly Reaper of Souls has added to that. So the approach we were taking before probably isn’t going to work if we wanted it to be balanced and neither did we want to do a mode where everyone plays pre-made characters.”

The lack of PvP hasn’t stopped players from organising themselves into clans, however, and a major patch before Reaper of Souls’ launch will include a long-awaited Groups and Clans feature. Martens admitted that implementing groups and clans wasn’t easy. “They’re not super up to date,” he said.

“It was a lot of work, I wish we had started this years a few years ago, a couple of years before it shipped… our clans are not as fully featured as WoW’s guilds and that’s okay because they’re definitely better than not having clans and this could be a potential place we could build on in the future,“ Martens explained — although he insisted that the module “happened exactly as intended”.

Talk about clans generally involves discussing competitive play and I enquired as to whether ladders or seasons might make an appearance down the road. I was assured that the idea had been floated internally, but neither would give me more any detail.

As my time with Martens and Paolilli came to a close, something in the back of my head involving David Kim and Diablo tweaked from one of the online playthroughs, so I asked whether people outside of the Diablo team had helped in the development of Reaper of Souls. The pair agreed and then Martens explained that outside involvement is actually a requirement within Blizzard.

“We have what we call strike teams, and they’re external people,” Martens said. “So Alex [Afrasiabi, creative director on World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor] was the one who would have these people play every week and give us feedback and he would give us dozens of legendary ideas. He’s reviewed every legendary in the game [while] in the meantime being the creative director on WoW. Every Blizzard game does that, we all have external strike teams, we have to bring new members in and they’re all external expects from a wide variety of viewpoints … it’s been very useful.”

The family environment is live and well at Blizzard, as is the spirit of one of its biggest franchises. Hellfire and Lord of Destruction were both excellent, enjoyable expansions for the series and from what I’ve seen, Reaper of Souls will continue the trend. With the game on track for a smooth launch, a fun new class in the Crusader and a host of sensible additions, Reaper of Souls is looking like the ultimate Diablo 3 experience.

14 comments (Leave your own)

Probably going to cop some flak for this but the only question I want answered is when do we get local Australian servers. Until then, everything else is irrelevant.

 
Artful-dodgeR

shuth:
Probably going to cop some flak for this but the only question I want answered is when do we get local Australian servers. Until then, everything else is irrelevant.

Never.

Next question?

Seriously, if they were going to do it they would’ve done so when WoW was at it’s prime… but they never will.

 

artfuldodger: Never.

Next question?

^this

 

Yeah, nevermind that Blizzard probably make more money than most of the gaming companies combined, they couldn’t be bothered balancing their profits so people in other regions can have a enjoyable gaming experience.

But yes next question?

 

They should just say never then, instead of constantly saying they’ll share information when they have some to share.

 

I wouldn’t say never. Unforeseeable perhaps.

makena:
They should just say never then, instead of constantly saying they’ll share information when they have some to share.

This is what irks me about Blizzard and the difference between D3 and WoW. With WoW, it was “no Australian servers, but have these ‘Oceanic’ servers which are no more than US servers in an AU timezone” – a definitive response. With D3, it is “we’re looking into it”, “keep playing, we’ll have information soon” and “we’re working hard on a solution”

Since release nothing has changed and I guess I’m tired of the empty platitudes.

 

More importantly … the 2.0 pre expansion update is amazing.

 

spooler,

I agree, I don’t know what it is, but the whole game just feels different…….. in a good way.

 

So when did they say they are going to release heroes of the storm?

P.S D3 died a long time ago, especially when PoE was released, stop trying to kick a dead horse and move on.

Its good blizzard are smart enough to realize what PoE did was/is awesome and are basically copying and pasting ideas from them (end game mapping, legendaries that work with/boost/synergize with class specific skills, etc etc) But in the end, PoE started with it, it was part of the game from the start, was built around it, whereas with D3 it’ll always just be some DLC slapped on the end years after release.

Why experience it as DLC slapped on years later, when you can experience it in a game where its part of its core, and where the ideas originally came from?

 

whiskiz: P.S D3 died a long time ago, especially when PoE was released

Interesting … as I still play it but I don’t play PoE … which I really didn’t enjoy and couldn’t get into.

I like how you think blizzard is ripping off path of the exile though … hilarious notion considering other than the ridiculous stat tree thing PoE has everything it’s done blizzard did first with diablo 2 years ago.

 

spooler,

How is it hilarious when as mentioned in my first comment, PoE has for example end game mapping, and legendaries that work with specific class skills, then a year or 2 later after diablo 3 release and PoE has been out, D3 happens to bring out some DLC where you can do end game maps and legendaries that will boost specific class skills? Totally hilarious lol.

And probably alot more if i bothered to actually look into what else D3 are doing. The only thing hilarious is how blatantly their copying PoE haha, but its actually good, PoE did it very right.

“hilarious notion considering other than the ridiculous stat tree thing PoE has everything it’s done blizzard did first with diablo 2 years ago.”

Really? so diablo 2 had a no gold barter system? diablo 2 had currency you could not only barter with but instead if you wanted to, use to upgrade/modify gear? diablo 2 had any gear modification whatsoever? diablo 2 had skills you level up with experience, not stat points to put into them at the end of each level? diabo 2 had a system for skills where you can modify them using other skills (skill gems linked with support gems etc) in diablo 2 you could potentially use any skill in the game on your character? (if you have the required stat high enough)
e t c

Yeah, PoE is a clone of the diablo series haha…..

Don’t make random statements trying to make something look bad just because you don’t like it, its kinda childish lol..

The most “hilarious” thing? PoE is 100% free, besides skins and stuff, for the first time properly F2P, and is way more successful than diablo 3 ever was :)

 

spooler: everything it’s done blizzard did first with diablo 2 years ago.

^

PoE did nothing innovative.

“hurr durr no gold barter system”

Sure it’s called trading with other players, in a player driven economy.

“hurr durr no stat points just skill points”
At this point I realise you never played Diablo 2 and are talking out your ass. Diablo 2 gave you 5 stat points each level.

whiskiz: Yeah, PoE is a clone of the diablo series

I’m glad you’re aware of that.

whiskiz: Don’t make random statements trying to make something look bad just because you don’t like it, its kinda childish

whiskiz: D3 died a long time ago

^ Like that ?

whiskiz: and is way more successful than diablo 3 ever was

Diablo 3 sold 3.5M copies in 24 hours and is up to like 7M now… By what metric is PoE more successful ? Number of fan-boys saying “PoE iz totes amazing D3 iz dead lulz”.

PoE has like what 4Mil player accounts ? A shit load of which like mine are inactive I don’t think it’s made more money than Diablo 3 somehow. Not to mention it’s played by fewer people, what with the developers saying some time back that they had more people during open beta than at launch.

Don’t get me wrong you might like it more and it might be a better game in your eyes but saying it’s more successful than Diablo 3 is outright, incorrect Fan boy bull-crap.

I really don’t care if you like Path of the Exile and hate Diablo 3 but your claim that Blizzard are ripping off PoE is totally wrong the only additions they’re making are either new to the genre or come from elsewhere.

 

spooler,

Nothing innovative even after all that stuff i just mentioned? Plus anything more i could have been bothered to add on that already big list, Now you’re purposely being ignorant/stubborn and you know it, so please….

After that opening statement you went a little full retard but ill try respond to everything:

“no stat points just skill points”

To begin with, you use quotation marks yet don’t actually quote exactly what i said, it was “not* stat points just skill points” secondly read that entire part again, you apparently need to learn to read or, god help you lol

“diablo 2 had skills you level up with experience, not stat points to put into them at the end of each level?”

Answer is no, so this meant that diablo 2 does not level skills with experience, but instead stat points at the end of each level, another thing different PoE does differently to D2.

I love how you only quote certain parts and even then certain parts of words to back your argument up, your losing this fast and hard, just accept the fact(s) im right whether it annoys you or not lol, that doesnt change facts, although maybe just for you if you keep trying hard enough :D

“Diablo 3 sold 3.5M copies in the first 24 hours”

Rofl, because it had the whole diablo history/franchise backing it, those 3.5mil sales were from D1 and D2, it didn’t sell 3.5m copies instantly because D3 is amazing, so ah, that statement kinda means nothing in this argument, especially for the point of D3 being much better and/or popular. How many ppl today would get a refund if they could ;)

The fact is its lost a ton of player base, retention is a joke, even famous youtubers dis the game, while PoE had nothing to hype it with, nothing to work from, started *proper* free to play and has still retained/impressed alot of ppl. Look around, ppl are literally calling it “the game diablo 3 should have been” im not making this up, type in PoE game diablo 3 should have been into google maybe.

So crazy sales from a games history/franchise on day 1 means nothing in the context of saying diablo 3 is better and/or more popular or even more successful, especially in the longer term. *Those 3.5mil sales wasnt D3′s success or popularity, but again D1 and D2′s*

#epicfail #comeatme

“Don’t get me wrong you might like it more and it might be a better game in your eyes”

This hasn’t been personal opinion, i have been stating facts, wether i have numbers and/or statistics to prove, ive seen the general publics opinion on both games, and you have too, especially on D3 these days, you know, before PoE’s stuff was going to be implemented :)

“your claim that Blizzard are ripping off PoE is totally wrong the only additions they’re making are either new to the genre or come from elsewhere.”

For about the third time? Examples like end game mapping and legendaries boosting/synergising class specific skills are not new, innovative or come from elsewhere LOL They have already been done, clearly, right now, in PoE, for a long time haha. A fact you can try argue with but which is pretty stupid imo lol.

You stay in your own little stubborn/ignorant world. But FYI you might buy what your saying but anyone that actually looks at facts and/or both games wont, so your wasting your time.

*Alot more players like PoE than D3, and D3 are clearly implementing ideas from PoE* (again, an idea which i think is good)

Don’t go hardcore stubborn or ignorant or angry just because you don’t like it, deal with that statement like a man. Peace.

 

whiskiz: Nothing innovative even after all that stuff i just mentioned?

You didn’t mention anything that hadn’t been done before.

Either by Blizzard or someone-else, that doesn’t make the game bad just not innovative.

You went on a rant about how PoE was the second coming of the genre and how Diablo 3 had died and was unsuccessful I’ve shown you to be wrong and now you’re just going on rants about “It’s success just came from D1-2″. Which is counter to your original claim that it wasn’t a success.

As for the skills think maybe you need to learn to communicate more effectively if I’ve missed your point somehow.

by level skills with experience I have no idea what you’re talking about you get points for everything. No it doesn’t level up skills as you use them but plenty of other games have done that and it’s not relevant to anything because diablo 3 is not doing that(your point of “blizz is ripping off everything” doesn’t apply here). Unless you’re making some other point in which case learn to communicate more effectively.

whiskiz: your losing this fast and hard, just accept the fact(s) im right whether it annoys you or not

Wait what am I losing, your claim was blizzard is copying PoE and the only things you’ve mentioned PoE did that D2 didn’t do Diablo 3 isn’t doing.

whiskiz: This hasn’t been personal opinion

Yes it has. For example “diablo 3 is dying” when it’s sale count has doubled since launch. “PoE is more successful” when there’s no evidence to support the claim. 100% your personal opinion little buddy.

whiskiz: For about the third time? Examples like end game mapping and legendaries boosting/synergising class specific skills are not new, innovative or come from elsewhere LOL They have already been done, clearly, right now, in PoE, for a long time haha. A fact you can try argue with but which is pretty stupid imo lol.

Legendaries boosting class skills
http://diablo.gamepedia.com/Tal_Rasha's_Wrappings_(Diablo_II)

End game mapping I have nfi what you’re talking about to be honest unless you mean randomisation of goals on high level maps in which case I invite you to look at pretty much any game with randomised goals.

whiskiz: *Alot more players like PoE than D3, and D3 are clearly implementing ideas from PoE* (again, an idea which i think is good)

And more opinion or are you going to tell me there’s a metric on this ?

whiskiz: Don’t go hardcore stubborn or ignorant or angry just because you don’t like it, deal with that statement like a man. Peace.

Says the guy who’s being completely stubborn, ignorant and for angry well… Tell me again how I can’t read Mr Ad hominem.

 
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