Blizzard has done a great job with the new features and changes found in 2.1, but there are a few issues.
nVidia 700 Series Issues
Diablo 3 is undoubtedly the most successful ARPG currently on the market, and it is a fantastic game. Once Blizzard executed their redux of the item drops, class balance, removal of the Auction House and other numerous enhancements, they created a fun, enjoyable and high quality product. Once D3 was refined, they planned and released the console version of the game (PS3, PS4, and XBox 360) on August 19th, 2014. Shortly after the console release, Diablo 3 Patch 2.1 went live on August 26, 2014. This was the most substantial patch since the redux provided by 2.0, offering numerous new features which included the Realm of Trials, Greater Rifts, Legendary Gems, the artisan Urshi, Leaderboards, Seasons, Seasonal Legendaries, Ramaladni’s Gift, the Cesspools map, Greed’s Domain, hundreds of changes to class skills and items, and other minor and aesthetic changes. Blizzard also released a “Patch 2.1 Philosophy” post explaining their overall intentions and goals with the release. What does all of this mean for the world of D3, its current state of playability, and its future? Let’s break down the new features and changes.
The most important feature of 2.1 is that of Greater Rifts. These are end-game “challenges” where the player focuses on completing random rifts that can go far beyond T6 difficulty depending on the level. The new Nephalem Obelisk now has a slot that can take three different types of stones. To open a normal rift, the player inserts a single fragment, but each party member must also provide a fragment (previously the opener of the rift provided 5 fragments). Normal Rift guardians now drop a new type of stone called a Keystone of Trials. When the player uses this stone, they are transported to a Trial realm that sends multiple waves of creatures at them. If the creatures are killed before the timer is up, the next wave is unleashed. Once the trial is complete, the player is given a Greater Rift Stone, which has a level embedded in it. These are one-time use stones and can be upgraded if the Greater Rift is complete in time. At this time a level 25 Greater Rift is equivalent to Torment 6.
Greater Rifts are similar to normal rifts except they must be completed in less than 15 minutes (so it’s a race against time) in order to upgrade the level, and mobs don’t drop any loot; they only drop health globes and skull globes (to accelerate completion). The Rift Guardian, however, drops a ton of loot, and often multiple legendaries. If you die in a Greater Rift, you will spawn at the checkpoint, often requiring the player to make a long run back to where they were killed. It is also important to note when a Greater Rift (or the Realm of Trials) is open, characters cannot switch skills or items. If the timer expires, the player can still fight and kill the Greater Rift Guardian, but they only have the option of upgrading their Legendary Gems rather than proceeding to the next level. Completing a Greater Rift also updates a characters “personal best” time, and if it’s the higher level than before or the best time for a level already completed, an announcement is posted in Clan chat.
Next we have Legendary Gems. There are 14 of them, and each has unique properties that benefit one or more classes. A Legendary Gem has the opportunity to be raised in level at the end of each Greater Rift, and each Gem receives some special bonus when it reaches level 25. For example, Enforcer is a popular gem that increases the damage of your pets by 15%, providing 0.3% more damage per level. At Rank 25 your pets take 25% reduced damage. Boon of the Hoarder is another fun gem, providing a 25% chance to cause an explosion of gold when you kill an enemy. Each rank raises that chance by 1.5% and when Rank 25 is reached, the gem provides a 30% increase in movement speed for 2 seconds after a player picks up gold. Legendary Gems can only be socketed in jewelry, and they only drop from Greater Rift Guardians. Players can only have one of each gem in their stash at a time, however if one character equips a gem and another runs a greater rift, that gem has the chance of dropping again, allowing a player to find each gem for each character. Note the gem will only drop if it’s “unavailable” (e.g. being used by another character). A good guide to Legendary Gems can be found here.
Once you kill the Greater Rift Guardian a new “Artisan” named Urshi appears. She allows you to do two things – you can either level up your Greater Rift Stone (by +1) or you can level up your Legendary Gems. The upgrade odds for your gems is based on the level of the GR and the level of your gem. If your gem is at least 10 levels lower than the rift you are guaranteed a 100% upgrade chance. If your gem is the same level as the rift, your chance is 60%, and once a gem is 7 levels higher than the rift, the upgrade chance is 0%. You can find detailed upgrade odds here.
Seasons are a fragmented multi-month events where players can create new characters and start completely from scratch. They are separate from the “core” game and have no gold, no stash, no achievements, and no paragon levels. This allows players to re-experience the core content of the game with a fresh start, and I must say it’s a blast. Most players haven’t started from scratch for well over a year, which means they remember the old loot system and difficulties with class imbalance and play issues. All of that is gone, and re-playing the game is more fun, balanced, and overall enjoyable. The duration of the first season has not been defined by Blizzard, but they have said seasons will last “a few months”. Once a season is over, any items, characters, and paragon experience will roll back into the base account.
Each Season brings with it new Seasonal Legendary items. For Season One we have 12 new items: a new potion, Krelm’s Buff Bulwark set, 3 follower items, and 6 weapons. These items will roll into the normal game once the season ends. A player also gains access to a new Helmet Transmog once they hit level 70 in Season 1. It’s estimated that future seasons will provide other armor pieces, allowing for a full set of Season gear (i.e. helmet, chest, pants, boots, gloves, shoulders).
Leaderboards are a new ranking system that show the top players in the game relative to Greater Rifts and Season accomplishments. You can see the highest rift levels completed (sorted by classes, groups, seasons, normal and hardcore), and also see who has the highest seasonal achievements. There are also Conquests, which include things like completing Acts I-V in under an hour, or simply reaching level 70. You can also sort by your clan to see how your fellow members performed.
The Leaderboards are only a quick snapshot of the most hardcore gamers and their accomplishments. With millions of people playing Diablo 3, the chance of anyone but the top 1% getting on this board is near impossible. As such, it really doesn’t mean much for the massive majority of gamers. The way to fix this would be to create tiers of Leader Boards, so each player could see how they compete with 100 or so other players.
New Areas (Greed’s Domain & The Cesspools)
Now when a player kills a Treasure Goblin in Adventure mode, there is a chance a portal will open to a new realm called Greed’s Domain; and prepare for massive gold overload. The domain is beautiful and probably one of the best looking realms in Diablo 3. While it is very short, the entire experience is fun and exciting, and being able to slam the final chest on Ghreed’s shattered body again and again is wonderful fun. During the double gold special event, I was able to bring in roughly $150M gold; and I wasn’t even wearing my gold gear!
There are also Rainbow Pygmies that spawn a rift to Whymsydale, an instanced version of Whymsyshire.
The Cesspools are a new swampy dock-like environment that can only be found in normal Rifts. They were removed from Greater Rifts due to checkpoint and performance problems. It’s nice to have a new area, but it really doesn’t add much to the game, and the performance issues (discussed below) are more problematic than what the new area offers.
Class Changes, Crafting, Caches, Elemental Damage & Other Enhancements
The Class Changes are far too numerous to list here; there are hundreds of them. Each and every class received a massive overhaul. Detailed notes can be found here. Ultimately, the classes feel much more balanced and fun. While there are undeniable issues relative to the Demon Hunter still being the most “powerful” and the Monks are still too weak, the changes provided in 2.1 were a step in the right direction. Blizzard has stated it will be using the Greater Rift and Season data to help identify areas they can focus on for future class enhancements and balance. The good news is the D3 team has a history of enhancing the classes rather than nerfing them, so even though Demon Hunter is undoubtedly the most powerful class in the game right now for end-game content (i.e. Greater Rifts), I believe they will enhance the other classes to become more powerful rather than negate the abilities of the Demon Hunter.
Crafting received a large boost with the addition of Ramaladni’s Gift, an item that will socket a weapon without replacing existing properties. This allows a player to find an excellent weapon and focus on refining the properties without losing one of them to a socket. Blizzard also removed the need for custom crafting materials, which was an excellent decision. No longer does a player have to pick up white items and hunt specific mobs for that rate legendary drop just to craft item X. Horadric Caches will always drop a Legendary now as well. This is fantastic. They also added the ability to Salvage all whites, blues and yellows — but this is only unlocked when the Blacksmith reaches maximum level.
Elemental Damage has also received an overhaul. Before 2.1 few legendary items with an elemental proc would benefit from the additional elemental damage provided by items. Now, those items will take advantage of the additional bonus, allowing for more focused and viable builds. They also adjusted the Item Sets and not only fixed the attack speed issue tied to the Marauder’s Sentries, but also added a new Crusader set called Roland’s Legacy.
The game also added a new Hellfire Amulet, which is extremely hard to craft due to the rare drop rates associated with the wardens and machine bosses (which I believe they are going to change). The advantage is the Hellfire Amulet can provide a passive skill as a property, which allows a character to run with 5 passives instead of four.
UPDATE! On September 9, 2014: the drop rate of Leoric’s Regret, Vial of Putridness, Idol of Terror, and Heart of Evil has been increased on Torment I and above, to a maximum of 100% on Torment VI.
Pet AI has also been enhanced, and other player’s pets (including Sentries) will now appear as transparent to other party members, allowing a player to differentiate between their pets and other party members’ pets.
They also added an additional Stash Tab and a Gold Counter in the lower right corner so you can see how much gold you pick up between battles, and new green marks on the minimap for when a set item drops.
Issues to Address
If you can believe it, the first player to make it to level 70 after the start of Season 1 took 1 hour and 35 minutes and had 0 kills. This is because they kept running the quests where no kills are required, such as Miner’s Gold, Miser, Jar of Souls and Matriarch’s Bones. Run these in T6, do your best to avoid monsters, and you get a ton of experience. The same player (nekoken) and his buddy Kaho were also the first to kill Malthael on Torment 6… just 2 hours and 10 minutes later. Granted we can give them credit for etching themselves in the leaderboard, their actions really don’t represent what the game is about. They weren’t the only ones either; a torrent of players followed suit and the first 1,000 entries of the Leaderboard’s “Race to the Top” is full of nothing but quest runners. Blizzard disabled these quests a few days after the start of Season 1, but the “damage” was done. What’s strange is Blizzard had to have known about this issue prior to the launch of Season 1 as this “uber leveling” technique has been used for awhile. While I really enjoy the direction they’ve taken the game, they should have seen this coming. Essentially, any competitive approach for Season 1 is gone for the main conquests.
Unfortunately, I have become rather disappointed with Greater Rifts because they are geared more towards hardcore players and tend to leave the casual player behind, thus resulting in more stress and frustration than fun for the majority of players. The Paragon system was added to provide a mechanism of progression after a player achieved max level. This was a fantastic idea; one way or another, you are always progressing. You also always have the chance of getting amazing item drops, even in Torment I – a difficulty most casual players can play in. With Greater Rifts, you are slammed against a brick wall when you reach a level you cannot handle. If you can’t make it beyond a greater rift that’s 7 levels below your Legendary Gems, you cannot level them up; and even if you can handle a GR level 3-6 levels below your gem, your chance of upgrade is only 1-15%. This mechanism ensures a player can get stuck and cannot progress, or they receive so many failed gem upgrades the runs can become unrewarding and frustrating. Granted the system was created to be challenge-based and the Greater Rift Guardian might drop one or more legendaries, the simple fact is most players of D3 do not play the game to “win or lose” (that is what Hardcore is for). The majority of D3 players play to have fun and progress. The core concept of Greater Rifts contradicts the core philosophy of progress and creates a mechanism where only the best players can level up their Legendary Gems to the top tier. The difference here is even the casual gamer has the chance to reach Paragon 1000 (depending on the time they put in). A player who cannot get beyond a Level 30 greater rift (which is substantially harder than T6) can never get their gems beyond level 37.
Another issue is the key farming for the Hellfire Amulet. First, one must farm 1 of each of the keys, of which only has a 50% chance to drop from each warden on Torment 6. Then one must craft all four infernal machines. Each machine opens a portal to custom bosses that might drop the key ingredient needed to make the amulet. So 4 keys per machine, 4 machines, and then you may get an Amulet that has bad stats on it and have to craft another. Many players have complained about this “grind” and asked for guaranteed drops, which I agree with. Right now, it’s too hit and miss with the key and legendary crafting material drops from the realms, especially given the high chance you may have to craft 50+ amulets to get a really good one. There’s a Reddit thread discussing the issue here.
Magic find is essentially useless and I don’t know why it’s still in the game.
With the difficulty of Greater Rifts resulting in numerous 1-shot kills, there is an issue with off-screen beasts that charge you (without any notification), and the game not properly rendering hazards around corners, such as an active arcane sentry that’s beaming across a doorway. It will not properly show until you can walk through the door and see its base. This is problematic and it is also a rendering bug since the game determines whether or not the beam should render based on where the origin is, and not the extension part of the beam. Jailor is another problem, and probably the greatest 1-shot killer in the game now (especially in Greater Rifts). There is no way to dodge Jailor nor is there any notification on when it will be cast – and it does a ton of damage. The only real defense is Countess Julio’s Cameo, but “requiring” that amulet to survive means no more solid alternatives, and since you can’t switch gear in a Greater Rift, you either go in with or without it. The fix? Make Jailor hit for a percentage of health rather than a derived number. That way it can never 1-shot you.
There is currently a very big problem with nVidia 700 series video cards, and it’s getting worse. Areas such as Rakkis Crossing and Arreat Crater cause the render rate on powerful machines to pummel below 10fps. This issue does not happen on 600 series or titans. Only 700 series, which is currently ~8% of the market for gaming rigs (according to Steam statistics). But the 700 series is growing more than any other series, and soon the number of D3 players with 700 series cards will be well above 10%. The game is essentially unplayable on certain maps, especially in Rifts. This includes the new Cesspools. I’ve contacted Blizzard about this issue, but they’ve been aware of it for roughly a year and I don’t know when they’ll address it, but since it’s getting worse with the addition of new content, I would consider it the highest priority client bug they need to deal with.
Another issue many people have complained about is that of losing the mouse cursor during combat becasue it blends in too well with the graphics. This happens to me (and most people I know) quite often. It would be nice to be able to use a custom cursor or have some sort of FX assigned to it so there’s no question as to where it is on the screen. A nice pulsating circle when it’s moved would help the eyes track it properly.
Blizzard has already made numerous hotfixes to the 2.1 patch. You can monitor these fixes here.
While Blizzard has shared their philosophy with the community regarding 2.1 and the future of D3, there are a number of things that would greatly enhance the game.
With the addition of Ramaladni’s Gift, they should also add a rare legendary item that resets the enchanting roll on an item. This way a player who has rolled so much each try costs $10M gold could apply the item and start over.
Add a little icon in the lower left corner of any linked item that shows whether or not it’s a core item or a season item.
Adjust channels so only seasonal or non-seasonal players can communicate (this prevents confusion of LFG, etc).
Break Leaderboards into ranks so players feel like they have a chance to progress in some capacity.
Add sell all buttons (like they added with the Blacksmith) to merchants.
Provide statistics at the end of rifts (or play sessions).
Add the ability to pick up all items around the character with a single keystroke/doubleclick.
Play a different Sound FX when you engage a Treasure Goblin.
Since Rifts only take one Rift Key Fragment, allow the player to trade them in for bloodshards.
Provide an option to either not pick up potions, or remove potions altogether (except for the legendary ones).
Create a new money sink. With Boon of the Hoarder, I have over $2 Billion gold and nothing to really spend it on.
Mix up the bounties, focus on adding more content within the world we know to make bounty hunting more interesting.
Add random Nephalem NPCs (similar to the crazy Exiles in Path of Exile). These would be super elites that are randomly equipped and built versions of character classes. We already see this when fighting Diablo in the shadow realm (when copies of the characters are made). Spice things up by having the player occasionally encounter evil Nephalem. That would make things very interesting!
Granted some of these recommendations (such as the Nephalem NPCs) are true “idea concepts”, I believe the future of D3 is bright, and I can’t wait to see what the team puts together for the 2.2 release.
Despite the issues with Greater Rifts and 700 series video cards, Blizzard has done a fantastic job of enhancing the overall experience D3 has to offer by continuing to grow the game beyond its initial inception more than two years ago. It’s fun to play all classes, and leveling up in a new Season is both challenging and rewarding. In the end, D3 is an even better game than it was before, and 2.1 takes that enjoyment to the next level.
Below is a great video from AOD Gaming on how to optimize your greater rift experience!