Season 2 in Diablo 3 is now in progress, and it's an opportunity to return to the world of Sanctuary. Recently, I created a new ladder character - a wizard, just to scope out how the game experience had changed since I left. Diablo 3 is the game that often creates a proverbial fork amongst former Diablo fans, due to the unfortunate launch environment, real money auction house, and terrible loot system. It's safe to say that in the current build of the game, the Diablo team has managed to make loot (and the acquisition of it) a far greater focus than they have previously. A lot of the loot itself has been reworked to ensure that even the lower-tiered legendaries and set items could roll with an "ancient" modifier to make it stronger than a higher-tiered legendary.
The greatest thing about starting a sesonal (ladder) character is that you start completely fresh. No previous paragon points to spend, no level 10 crafting stations and nothing in your stash to help you powerlevel. In fact, you'll have to re-buy all your stash slots and extra bags again, which is big deal in the early stages when gold isn't coming in very quickly. You won't have that flawless royal ruby ready for that delicious bonus XP gain, nor any gems that would otherwise accelerate the process. On face value, starting fresh in totality after you've put in all that time to gain the paragon/gear/exp-ring advantage seems a strange plus. I had reservations about it too, because I'd essentially be doing all the same shit I already did at launch - without the extra +% to my movement speed!
The lack of extra movement speed was indeed a tearful omission from the leveling experience. So how can this be the greatest thing? It's the greatest thing because it's essentially a chance for me to "re-do" the launch experience. I didn't have to go through the campaign anymore, I could start my brand new wizard on expert-difficulty adventure mode doing bounties with a bunch of Twelvians. XP, loot, gold and rift tokens were all up for grabs. It was actually a ton of fun leveling a new wizard and having to unlock the skills etc. In addition to the leveling changes, you'll be playing in a loot-rich environment that will provide ample opportunities to craft gear which doesn't suck total dick and also pick up rares/legendaries that actually enhance the leveling experience. Diablo 3's fate as the supposed blockbuster successor to its namesake could have been realized had this been the offering on launch. At the very least, credit should go to the Diablo team for bringing things to where they now are.
Changes to the loot system have been a series of major changes since launch. A lot of loot that drops now are actually decent or useful, even if they were originally one of those shitty, or "junk" legendaries from previous incarnations of the game. What would have been an insta-melt piece of loot for me in the past, actually garnered a look or two first - thanks to the inclusion of secondary effects that some pieces of equipment grant. These secondary stats, ranging from funny uselessness in the form squealing as your attacks hit - to better passive bonuses like inducing large electrical damage for dodging hits, do add a lot of the flavour that was sorely missing from itemization. More specifically, I am referring to secondary effects that actually change the way you build your character as it levels up.
You're going to be seeing loot drops with actually useful stats. How about the rate of drops? I personally came across more legendaries as I was leveling up this time around, but I am sure that the mileage will vary based on the individual. Once you hit the max level for your character, you can then spend all those blood shards you saved up from leveling at Kadala. Just by doing this, I got 2 awesome set items and a useful legendary helm (which rolled with a socket). Kadala's chance of giving you a legendary/set item has been vastly improved from when I remembered it last. Back then, getting blood shards was a chore - because when you were capped, you had to spend it, and then go to the BS to melt all the stupid blues, yellows and junk legendaries that she shat out to you. Now, you look forward to spending blood shards because she's actually putting out stuff that you want. This makes all the difference in how people will approach the game, and how they are rewarded for spending time playing Diablo 3.
A Hero's work is never done
The season 2 binge for me ended at around Paragon level 55 after hitting max level. It's a far cry from my non-ladder Paragon level of 190 - but I think it was a lot more enjoyable for me to use my weird wizard build in my playthrough. I had this frozen orb throwing, arcane missile shooting and mammoth hydra summoning lady of sorcery that was just a carnival of joy to use. It felt nice having the freedom to start from nothingness and ascend to having a bunch of well-rolled legendaries/set items (2 of which had the Ancient modifier!) and just feeling like the monsters were there to be demolished for my loot wanderlust. I didn't dread meeting elites and rares on the open map - as they have been tuned sufficiently to provide a comfortable road bump on your quest for better gear. Chests actually dropped useful shit for me to melt and combine, and so I actually wanted to open them, where in past builds of the game - I would have just ignored them unless they were resplendent (and even then, they dropped shit).
Diablo 3 wants to reward you for playing, and this time around, I really felt that. The best example I could give of this was Docilus and myself happening upon a treasure goblin vault portal. This portal took us to the realm of the treasure goblins, and it was one of the coolest and most rewarding Diablo 3 experiences ever. The both of us picked up so much gold, items, shards and gems that I was actually quivering in delight for most of us. Everytime my frozen orbs hit a pile of vases, a great fountain of gold erupted in an opulent fashion. The last boss encounter was in this wonderfully crafted and gilded throne room that rewarded us with even more riches to haul back to town. Doc and I both agreed that, "this was the coolest goddamned shit ever". In previous rants about Diablo 3, I would say that the game was supposed to be loot-centric as opposed to encounter-centric. Guess they actually did the thing I said they should do.
It's good for a week of your playtime, at the very least. For me personally, if people are complaining about the game in its current form, then they are doing it for the sake of doing it. The title's arduous life and tumultuous reputation has meant that it either died in obscurity, or learned from it. As a longtime enthusiast of Diablo 2, it's with a redeeming spirit that I say that the third installment is finally a worthy successor. The current Diablo 3 is the game that people will be revisiting time and time again, only to rediscover a magical ember they thought long lost in this hallowed franchise of gaming.