"The patch has summarily made Diablo III a better game, and since it's available to everyone with a copy — no expansion required — you can hop back in and see for yourself."
Part 1: Patch Notes
Editor's note: In order to cover all the sweeping changes that have been brought to Diablo III, our review will span three parts. Part one will address the new patch that hit the core game a few weeks ago, part two will cover the main bullet points of Reaper of Souls with preliminary scores, and part three will include final scores and discuss the long-term outlook of the game as whole.
When I reviewed the original Diablo III, I gave it a glowing appraisal that spoke of niggling concerns that the game's systems would not hold up to extended play in the way its legendary predecessor's did. In hindsight, I was right to voice those concerns, as problems with the way items were awarded, the auction house, and the wildly oscillating level of difficulty killed replayability after reaching the maximum level. Much drama has unfolded in the wake of vanilla Diablo's unpopular mechanics, and for a while, it seemed like a legend had fallen. Even I said, in no uncertain terms, to fellow RPGFan editor/Diablo aficionado Rob Steinman, "I don't think Reaper of Souls and Loot 2.0 can fix the problems in this game."
Fortunately, I was mistaken.
First of all, my return to Sanctuary began a few weeks ago with the release of a major patch that revamped the difficulty, loot, paragon leveling, and skill systems in Diablo III. This patch is available to anyone with a copy of the game, and it forms the foundation of what has refreshed the game so well.
For starters, each class has had their skillsets vastly modified, providing a greater deal of variety and a much more interesting degree of synergy in your choices. I tend to favor wizarding around the land, and the patch has allowed me to try out all kinds of new and, more importantly, viable builds than the original ever did. Part of this is a great new variety in skills, but some credit also most go to how items are distributed post-patch.
The loot system has been entirely revamped, featuring a generally lower number of drops with a generally higher amount of interest. Special abilities are more frequently tailored to your specific class and skillset, and the vaunted legendary items now inspire the kind of awe their name implies. You'll still find stuff for other classes and builds, but the days of procuring only a single near-useless legendary after hours and hours of play are essentially over. Along with the abolishment of the contentious auction houses, running around finding goodies is better than ever, even without the expansion.
The new difficulty system rips out the nostalgic but sadly unbalanced Normal/Nightmare/Hell/Inferno progression and replaces it with a new setup which offers a much more balanced and intuitive difficulty curve. Monsters now scale to your level — a change that I initially was hesitant to embrace in light of the damage that scaling can cause to the sense of progression vital to so many RPGs. Thankfully, this was a change for the better.
The difficulty level now relates more to your equipment than your player level: as you notch up the challenge, your foes gain newer and deadlier skills that would slay an under-equipped adventurer in moments, along with a bump in stats. This means that you're free to set the difficulty to hard mode right from level one if you're looking for a challenge, and as you make things tougher, loot drops become better and experience/gold multiply. What's more, subsequent playthroughs are paced and balanced better than ever, since you can take your excellent gear and gems from your level 60-70 titan and put them on a lower-level character, while bumping the difficulty up so that you're gaining appropriate rewards and not snoozing through the battles thanks to your legendary weapons and armor. You're also able to adjust difficulty mid-game, which lets you make things tougher or easier on the fly, so you can find a sweet spot in terms of challenge and reward.
Finally, the Paragon leveling system has been changed to allow players to gain levels beyond the character cap of 60 (70 in Reaper of Souls). Each level allots you one stat point to place in a variety of categories, and this in turn gives you a degree of customization beyond your skill and gear choices. These aren't sweeping changes in the way Diablo II's stat points were, but include things like life regeneration, movement speed, defense, core damage stats, and more. They're a nice incentive to keep you gaining in strength after the level cap, and since they're now account-wide (much like Borderlands 2's badass ranks), you're free to play any character you like and reap the benefits of your burgeoning strength.
The patch has summarily made Diablo III a better game, and since it's available to everyone with a copy — no expansion required — you can hop back in and see for yourself. It's important to know about these changes, since Reaper of Souls builds upon them in meaningful ways and makes the game better than it has ever been. Be sure to check back for part two of this review, which will cover the bullet points of the new expansion.