I finally got around to beating the Diablo III: Reaper of Souls campaign today. I originally wasn’t going to bother, as I was primarily interested in playing the new(ish) Adventure Mode rather than grinding through the campaign again, but I found myself enjoying the experience more than I expected, particularly in Act V.
I often think of Blizzard games as being rather weak on the story front. There are exceptions, of course — Warcraft III was particularly strong, for example — but on the whole, I’ve never really come to Blizzard games for the story. They are masters of their art when it comes to gameplay, but when it comes to storytelling, there are people out there who do it a whole lot better.
Or at least, that’s what I’d been thinking. But replaying the Diablo III campaign and having my first run through the Reaper of Souls Act, I was actually quite surprised to see some reasonably decent writing along the way. I mean, the overall plot is still the sort of thing an angsty teenager would come up with if they wanted to write something dramatic (Angels! Demons! Eternal Conflict! Killing death itself!) but the individual moments that you encounter along the way are actually pretty good, even if some of the more supposedly “shocking” moments — the death of Cain, for example — were underwhelming due to their presentation.
I played through the campaign as the female Wizard, who has an endearingly posh voice and a penchant for sarcasm. Consequently, I found myself liking her a whole lot, which is not something you can usually say about the mostly-mute protagonists of loot-whoring dungeon-crawling action RPGs. Her interactions with some of the more tiresome characters — such as the perpetually grumpy head of the angels — were particular highlights for me. “Know this, nephalem,” he said. “You may defeat Malthael, but I will not thank you for it.” “No,” replied my character, sighing. “Of course you won’t. And that’s part of your charm.”
Since I’d already levelled my Wizard a fair bit in Adventure Mode before running through the campaign, I hit the level cap well before the end and started earning Paragon experience. The last time I played Diablo III, this system wasn’t in place, so I was interested to see how it worked. Turns out it makes for an enjoyable endgame experience that doesn’t rely on long-winded grinding for currency or large amounts of effort for relatively small, incremental amounts of progress. It would be completely inappropriate for a full-on MMO, mind you, given that it has the potential to totally unbalance your character if you put the time into it, but for Diablo, which has always been a series about seeing how big you can make the numbers that pop out of monsters when you smack them in the face, it’s perfect.
If you’ve never capped a character in Diablo III and are curious, the Paragon system works like this: once you hit the current cap (level 70) your experience bar turns blue from its original orange, but you continue to earn experience as you did before. Early Paragon levels cost considerably less experience than the top end of the regular levels (7 million XP to go from regular Level 70 to Paragon Level 1 vs 83 million XP to go from regular Level 69 to 70) but the amount required increases gradually as you gain levels.
Gaining a Paragon level gives you a point to spend in one of four categories in turn. Your first point is in the Core Stats category, which includes your class’ primary stat, which affects damage; Vitality, which affects your maximum HP and defence; Movement Speed, which is self-explanatory; and Maximum Resource, which is the thing your character spends to use skills or cast spells. Your next point is in the Offense category, which includes attack speed, critical hit rate, critical hit damage increase and cooldown reduction. Then there’s the Defense category, which includes maximum life, armour rating, your natural regeneration rate and bonuses to your resistances. Then your fourth point goes in the Utility category, which includes area damage, the amount of life you get back per successful hit on an enemy, the amount of bonus gold you find and a reduction to the costs of your skills. Once you’ve spent a point in each of the four categories, your fifth goes into Core Stats, your sixth into Offense and so on.
The interesting thing about the Paragon system is that it’s account-wide — in other words, your Paragon level applies to all your characters, even the ones that aren’t yet at the level cap. This means that you can make levelling subsequent characters much easier if you have a decent Paragon level, because they’ll be operating at a considerably stronger level than they would normally be otherwise. What’s also quite nice is the fact that you can redistribute the Paragon points whenever you like (so long as you’re not in combat) and each character can have a different setup as you see fit; the “shared” part is just how many points you have available.
Now I’ve beaten the campaign properly, I can focus on Adventure Mode, and now I’m at level 70 I can investigate some of the really interesting stuff like Greater Rifts and tracking down the Keymaster monsters. Endgame Diablo III certainly sounds like an intriguing time, and certainly a far cry from the completely non-existent endgame that it launched with. I’m glad I’m coming to it now, though; having experienced MMO endgame play in Final Fantasy XIV, I now understand the appeal of an endgame and why Diablo III needed one, whereas when I originally played the game I didn’t really get why people seemed to be so annoyed that it was lacking in level-cap content.
Anyway. Time for bed before I get tempted to try and reach Paragon Level 30 this evening…