No Nemesis of Mine - Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition Hands-On and Developer Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:21pm 07/07/14 | Comments
AusGamers sat down with Blizzard's Julia Humphreys and Matthew Berger while playing Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition on PS4. Read on for what they had to say and our experience with the latest build of the game...
We’re no strangers to Diablo in any form here at AusGamers, and when it comes to the recent expansion Reaper of Souls, we delved right on in with lengthy and in-depth diary entries and analysis. But the series has moved onto other pastures by way of console, and while the fundamental experience is largely the same, there’s something to be said about the main differential between the console and PC experience where multiplayer is concerned. And that’s one built around a same-screen social event.
“Multiplayer is one of the best features of Diablo III,” enthuses Julia Humphreys -- senior producer on Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition. “We think it’s the best way to play Diablo III; with your friends, and of course on the console version we have same-screen co-op, so all of you on the couch, you can kick back and we think this is a unique way to play it.”
In many ways, it’s a no-brainer the game should be played this way, and while it’s really the only main multiplayer difference between the two, there are other subtle changes that have been added to the console version of the game, especially where current-gen is concerned (read: PS4, Xbox One).
“One of the first things we added is apprentice mode,” Julia reveals. “So you might be playing with your friends and you start new characters together and your character might be a lower-level to the others. So instead of dying all the time, running behind the other player and picking up loot and not killing… with apprentice mode what we do is take [that] lower-level character and we boost them up for the duration of that play session. So they stay the same level with the same skills, but their stats are boosted so they’ll have more toughness, they’ll do more damage -- they’ll be able to stand toe-to-toe with most monsters and contribute meaningfully to most fights. And of course the loot that they get; the experience they get is still going to be appropriate to their level”
What this means is you can’t cheat the system either. Anyone playing from a lower-level with higher-level characters isn’t going to jump five levels just for hanging out with the top-tier cool kids, but they’re also not going to wind up with gear they can’t use. The idea here is to reward the player appropriately while managing the fun-factor to be ubiquitous among players regardless of their status. You don’t need to think about where you’re at with the game, it’s more about opening up that door for you to jump right in and have fun, whether it’s with friends or strangers -- the barrier is gone.
Of course all of this is often attributed by skeptical communities as ‘dumbing down’, and given Diablo’s catering to hardcore, veteran players, the elitist view that Blizzard is forgetting about the core, challenging principle of the series in more modern times gets lost in what that core actually is. And it’s sentiment the game’s senior level designer, and friend of the site, Matthew Berger is happy to reject.
“I don’t think so,” exclaims Matthew Berger when I bring up the term ‘dumbing down’ and whether he feels that’s what they’re doing. “I think it’s more that we want you to be able to play with your friends at any time, and because we recognise that’s one of the most fun ways to experience this game, and when we worked on the original on console we thought that was going to be important and people have reacted very positively. So we want to make sure there’s nothing in your way in [regards] to playing with your friends.
“So from an experience point of view, ‘dumbing it down’ might have looked like: we’re going to lower the damage and the experience of the enemies to meet with the expectations of the lower-level character and the higher-level characters are going to plow through them,” Berger adds. “No. The danger is still the same; you don’t have any new abilities, you don’t have any new items, you know, you’re still your own character [but] we make sure you’re not going to die as soon as a monster looks at you, so you still have fun when you’re playing with your friend who’s, you know, 20, 40 or 50 levels higher than you.”
During my time with Julia and Matthew, I was also taking the latest PS4 build of the game for a spin. Obviously for these scenarios the difficulty setting was relatively low, but something felt a little off. No, that’s the wrong word for it… something actually felt a little right. At least as far as being held up against movement on the PC, the console version seemed a little quicker and even perhaps a bit more responsive, but I wasn’t sure if it was just me.
“Funny you should mention that,” Matthew says with enthusiastic glee. “So in the PC version of the game and the original console version of the game, you know, you could destroy pieces of the environment [and] you get a little bit of experience; if you killed enough monsters you get a Massacre and you get a little bit of experience, and we took these features and we put them under the umbrella of what we’re calling ‘Action-Combat’ and we tweaked them in a way that they sing even more.
“So for instance, if you destroy a set number of [pieces of] the environment in a short period of time, instead of just giving you experience we’re going to give you a speed boost for a certain amount of time,” he explain. “Sometimes you’ll notice you have the little speed trails behind you -- that’s because you guys destroyed some elements of the environment and you got a speed boost. When you do a Massacre, instead of going “oh, hey you’ve killed 25 monsters here’s a bit of experience”, as soon as you hit the minimum threshold for a Massacre we’re going to show a counter on-screen and you’re going to see it count up and a timer go down if you’re in danger of your Massacre going away. [But] then once it’s over, we’re going to give you a lot of experience.
“So [what] this means is instead of, you know, accidentally killing 25 people and going “oh that’s cool, I killed 25”, you can [now] stretch that Massacre until, like, 50, 100, 200… and really just get that streak going. And the other thing we did was we’ve tied Nephalem Glory to your Massacre, so as you’re hitting some of the thresholds, we’re going to spawn Nephalem Glory orbs and so you have to go grab [them] -- and maybe run the risk of losing your Massacre -- but if you do (grab them) all of a sudden you’re more powerful and so your Massacre might even be a little easier to keep.”
The enthusiasm both devs have for these few additions of the many we’re going through is, as always with Blizzard peeps, infectious. What’s great though is while I’m being told these things, they’re actually happening on-screen and it’s all very straightforward. In fact, you can be a veteran from the PC life of the series ready to retire your desktop crouch-sitting in favour of a laid-back couch game and you’ll likely heavily respect the seamlessness of it all. Diablo in its original form, in many ways, could be a lot of work and the ideology behind a lot of these changes on console is that it shouldn’t be. It’s not that it’ll be easy, by any measure, rather the things that should be streamlines have been and the things that should be fun and challenging have been embraced and expanded upon.
“The final element of Action-Combat we’ve added is Trap-Kills,” continues Matthew. “So you could always kill people with traps in our game, but we’ve increased the damage so it’s easier, and every time you kill monsters with traps, we’re going to give you increased Resource Regeneration.
“So you were always playing the game this way, we’re just embracing this and giving you even more reasons to do it and more reasons to change the rhythm of your game a little bit because, you know, as you’re chasing a Massacre result, you might end up getting too many monsters attacking you at once.”
The console game also flags loot drops that are specific to characters so you’re not sifting through items that aren’t there for you. Moreover, anyone can pick up loot and it’ll go to the character it’s meant to, regardless of who’s collecting. Again, it’s all part of the streamlining process, which again isn’t meant to dull the experience, but rather expedite your shift in and out of monster encounters. Breathers and micro-management are one thing, but when you’re pulled out of the action too long because of lengthy and trivial things like picking up loot, the way the game works now makes much more sense.
“On console there are very few restrictions on what you can give other players, very few things are account bound,” Matthew reveals.
There are also mailboxes in the game that remind you to interact with your friends and allow you to share items, but like with everything else already mentioned, this just wasn’t enough, and so mail is also a renewed system.
These are built to send items to your friends by way of gifts and Julia explains that when a Legendary item drops, there’s a chance another item will drop that is tagged for your friend. It’ll actually have his or her name on it and you can then go ahead and mail that to your friend and whichever character they open that gift with, it’ll either roll a Legendary or Rare item for that class.
Then there’s the Nemesis System.
It had been racking me ever since I was told about the unique concept: how far could a nemesis travel throughout people’s games? Effectively the monster levels and invades someone else’s playspace. Then, if he’s successful in taking out your buddy, he levels again and moves on. In principle it sounds almost like it could be endless, but then you’d wind up having a grunt monster eventually more powerful than Diablo or Reaper’s new antagonist, Malthael.
“This was… I’m not gonna say contentious, but I had this inner turmoil about this myself because, you know, wouldn’t it be cool if this monster became unbeatable and just went from game to game; player to player,” Matthew reveals with a look that reflects that turmoil. “And then, about a fifth of a second later I was, like, that sounds like a horrible experience. So after a monster has killed his sixth player -- after five kills he’s fully levelled up -- that monster retires. We were also flirting with the idea of maybe having him impact you differently in Hardcore [but] we decided that there won’t be Nemesis monsters in Hardcore.”
I lamented their decision openly because the concept is just so unique, but was shut-down with their relentless development logic.
“We wanted it to be an experience that’s really memorable without being overwhelming,” Matthew asserts.
With so much going on where console is concerned, there’s a question of how the other team takes this innovation, and while I’ve been told time and again in the past that the team’s aren’t really all that separate, there surely must be some rivalry for innovation going on.
“Jealous is a strong word,” Matthew says with a smile. “Let’s just say we have discussions about what we can bring over from console to PC.”
On the topic of differences between platforms, I also delved into what we can expect between both PS4 and Xbox One, and also what might be generationally unique.
“There’s some differences,” Julia explains. “The main difference between the Xbox One and the PS4 is that you have some bonus items on the PS4 -- we have the Last of Us Nephalem Rift and the Shadow of the Colossus Transmog items. Other than that on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions we’ve made some changes to how Adventure Mode works because those two platforms are not as powerful, so you’re limited to one Act at a time.”
Awesomely for anyone who has been digging down on the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions of the game, all your hard work won’t go to waste as Blizzard has your data back.
“We do allow you to transfer your save from Diablo III (on console),” Julia adds. “So if you played on the PS3 or Xbox 360 and you choose to play [Reaper of Souls] on the PS3 or Xbox 360, when you fire up the game it’ll automatically find that save and bring it in. Now, if you want to move to the PS4 or Xbox One there’ll be a patch coming out that will upload your save to the network and then when you play on [either of the new platforms] it’ll automatically look for that save and import it.”
There will also be a new set of Trophies and Achievements. Some will carry over as the same from last-gen, but there will be new ones to pursue for the glory hunters out there. But on the troubling topic of performance there is news for Xbox One owners.
“So PS4 is native 1080p, super-solid 60 frames per-second,” Julia reveals.
“The difference with Xbox One is the resolution is 900p, but the frame-rate is the same, the textures are the same -- everything else is the same,” Matthew adds.
Xbox One owners everywhere have already been whining over this happening in other games, mostly because it’s being lauded over them by the PS4 elite, but there are reasons behind this related to how much power Kinect was drawing away from devs being able to fully tap into what Xbox One is actually capable of. More recently Microsoft has said they’re taking away Kinect requirements for devs, and so I asked if there might be a chance for the resolution to change via an update down the track.
“It’s possible,” Julia says. “We’d just need to look at what that would require, and we’ve actually [talked to] Microsoft about that.”
Whichever way you look at it though, Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition is a meaty entry in the franchise. It’s clear the series has found a comfortable and rewarding home on the console and Blizzard’s commitment to capitalising on what that means is written for you above. But it’ll be in your time with the game, the fruits of their labour will really begin to show and as reactive a company as they are, you can bet they’ll continue to support the game post-release, listening to feedback and working to make the experience the best damn couch co-op romp they can. Feet up, y’all, it’s almost time to slay some monsters.