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With the upcoming release of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls and patch 2.0.1, Blizzard is aiming both to introduce a ton of great new content to Diablo III, and to significantly improve the game's existing content and gameplay systems. As lead designer Kevin Martens told me at a recent preview event, everything they're introducing shares one thing in common, "expanding replayability and sanding off the rough edges of the randomness of the game." In outlining for me the ways in which Blizzard hopes to do this, he started off by focusing on the content of Reaper of Souls.
"Reaper of Souls is cool for us because--and this is always true for expansions--we can take everything we've learned from the main launch of the game, we've had 15 million people play it and we've seen crazy things happen, and we can build on that base. We're not stopped by tools and technology anymore; it's more about doubling down on what made it fun. So at the high level, we've got three major things: we've got our new class, we've got act five, the continuation of the story, and we have Adventure mode."
As he demoed the crusader for me, Martens shed some light on Blizzard's philosophy when approaching class design, and on what the studio specifically hopes the new class will offer players. "Tactically, his role is a midrange melee character, to make him stand out from the existing barbarian and monk classes. We've given him midrange holy abilities. We always ask ourselves, this is true for anything at Blizzard that we do, 'What's the fantasy?' When a player plays this, what are we trying to engage in them? In this case, it was a war machine made human. If we took a modern battle tank and turned it into a medieval warrior, how would that work? An important part of that is that the armor is part of the weaponry. His shield is a core part of many of his abilities." To demonstrate this, he performed the blessed shield attack, which had the crusader hurling his shield at surrounding enemies.
Random city environments
Moving on from the new class of Reaper of Souls to the expansion's environments, Martens said, "Something we wanted to do but were unable to do in Diablo III was making the city as a randomized environment. We've made Westmarch into a super-random zone that still feels like a real city, which goes to the point of replayability over all. All the zones in act five are randomized, both inside and out, and that's unlike the zones in Diablo III, where the exterior zones had set exteriors and the big pieces of content that switched out within them. At the same time, we didn't want people feeling like they had to play the same story over and over again, and while you still can do that, that's where Adventure mode comes in."
For Martens, Adventure mode is about making the existing content as enjoyable and rewarding to players as possible. "We have all these random systems, we have all these pieces of content, and we wanted to find a way for a varied experience to be the best way to play. It's already the most fun way to play, but people tend to go where the power is, they tend to go where the items are. We wanted to make sure that the best way to get gear was also the most varied way to play."
Senior level designer Larra Paolilli took over to explain Blizzard's intentions with Adventure mode in more detail. Describing the mode as Diablo III's go-anywhere, slay-anything sandbox mode, Paolilli called up the world map from which you access the mode's content. "You're free to play however you want, by yourself or with friends, and you can kind of design how you want to play and the amount of time you want to play. So you can just go and farm if you want to play that way, but if you want to play for 15, 20 minutes or so, you can do bounties." These were indicated by exclamation points in specific locations on the map. "Those are randomized content from throughout the entire game, and each time you come in, they'll be different. So where they are within the act, and what they are, will be different each time." Bounties can involve killing bosses, clearing out dungeons, or completing other goals, and they reward you with experience, gold, and rift keystone fragments. Collect five of those and you can access a rift. Rifts, Paolilli explained, "are multilevel dungeons that take a mix of tilesets, lighting and monsters and put them together in a combination you haven't seen before. So each floor can be something different. And they all culminate in a unique boss fight. And these are the best way to get loot."
Ah yes, loot
New to Diablo III in the expansion are randomized city environments like Westmarch.
Patch 2.0.1 introduces a significant overhaul to Diablo III's loot system, an overhaul which Blizzard refers to as Loot 2.0. Explaining what this overhaul would bring to the game, Martens said, "First and foremost is the smart drop system, which is that items have a high-percentage chance of rolling stats that are good for the character that finds them. So if you're a witch doctor and you find a great witch doctor dagger and because of the random number generator, you get a bunch of strength on it that you totally don't need, what a waste. OK, well, first we've made it so that it's much more likely to be intelligence or armor or vitality or something that you're going to want. We also have class-specific affixes, a bunch of new ones." He highlighted a specific piece of gear that carried with it a 14 percent increase to damage done by the witch doctor's fetish army.
Martens hopes that by increasing the quality and variety of drops for classes, Blizzard can also increase the variety of ways in which people play Diablo III. Previously, he said that players tended to pick certain abilities and stick with them for the duration. One aim of the new loot system is to encourage players to try new things. Using the witch doctor as an example, he said, "If you don't use fetish army and you start to get improvements to the damage, you might want to try it out. Maybe not with 14 percent, but you find two or three items that have plus fetish army damage and you kinda can't resist."
Correcting past mistakes
Martens also talked about how Loot 2.0 is designed to fix what many saw as a flaw in the loot system. "Legendaries were always supposed to be the best items in the game. Mathematically, we did not make that the case. You could get a yellow item that was more powerful even though the legendary had a cool power, and that became a difficult choice that wasn't as fun as we wanted it to be. " Now, he says, "The best items in the game have gotten a lot better."
Martens is confident that the new system will lead to a better experience for everyone. "We're being way more generous with our drops. So we're actually dropping fewer items overall, you don't have to go back to town and clear your bags as often. But between the smart drop system and the generosity on our set and legendary items just being exponentially higher, you're much more likely to get awesome items. The metaphor I tend to use is cars. Everyone gets to drive a Lamborghini. It may not be the top-level Lamborghini, you might have to play a long time to find that one, but everybody gets to try out the wacky, crazy, powerful stuff. Guaranteed."
The Xbox One is fully capable of rending games in 1080p at 60fps, but it's up to individual developers to balance resources in such a way that their titles deliver the optimal visual experience to players, a Microsoft executive said today in a new interview.
"Let's be clear about this: Xbox One fully supports 1080p at 60 frames-per-second,” Xbox UK marketing director Harvey Eagle told The Guardian today. “Forza Motosport 5 is an example of a game that delivers on that. It's up to individual developers to determine what is the best balance in order to deliver the best experience to gamers."
Eagle further noted that you have to throw away the old benchmarks for how you determine the "power" of a console. "No longer can you measure or talk about power in terms of pixels and polygon counts. Performance in this era comes from three areas: hardware, software and the cloud," Eagle said.
Much has been made of the fact that right now, more high-profile games run in 1080p on PlayStation 4 compared to the Xbox One. Sony responded to the 1080p/60fps debate this month, saying better performance on PS4 over Xbox One is because Sony's console is "performing and packing the punch that developers want." Meanwhile, Microsoft previously contended that "these little things get way overblown" concerning the Xbox One's library and what's truly important to players.
Also in the interview, Eagle addressed the recently concluded Titanfall beta on Xbox One, saying the reason it was so successful (it had 2 million players and no significant issues) was because of its vast network of dedicated servers.
"That makes the game run smoothly without interruptions. You need to think about what power really means in the next generation," Eagle said.
Asked if other developers, including third-party studios or those without exclusive deals with Microsoft, could utilize Microsoft's server networks, Eagle offered a coy response.
"We're committed to allowing developers getting the maximum out of the investment that we've made," Eagle said. "We said at launch that we'd built a server farm of 300,000 dedicated servers to support multiplayer games--it would be foolish of us not to work with developers to ensure they get the maximum from that power."
Eagle also offered a candid response to the Xbox One's first few months on the market, acknowledging various system issues, but explaining that Microsoft is learning from its shortcomings.
"I want to be honest: there are some things that haven't worked as well as they were intended to--we've had a lot of feedback from our community about that," Eagle said.
Finally, Eagle responded to some of the criticisms regarding games like Forza Motorsport 5 and their controversial microtransaction-based business models.
"We're trying out a number of different business models to understand which are best for us and best for gamers," Eagle said. "You're not going to get everything right first time--we're still at the stage of experimenting and trying new things; everything we learn from our community we put into what we do going forward. There is still a huge appetite for big commercial triple A titles if you get it right--look at GTA V. But obviously developers are looking at other ways to monetize and I think that will carry on."
Earlier today, Microsoft announced a $500 Titanfall Xbox One bundle and confirmed a £30/$50 price cut for the system in the United Kingdom. This price drop is not coming to other regions. Microsoft also today seemed to rule out the possibility of a Kinect-free Xbox One.
The Xbox One version of Titanfall will require "up to" 40GB of hard drive space to install, Microsoft and Electronic Arts announced today.
The news comes from the fine print of the Titanfall Xbox One bundle announcement, which notes the file size for the first time. Titanfall's install size is close to that of other major shooters like Battlefield 4 (33GB) and Call of Duty: Ghosts (39GB).
Titanfall also requires Xbox Live Gold, as it is a multiplayer-only shooter. The Xbox One Titanfall bundle includes a one-month Xbox Live Gold card; after that, you'll need to pay $10/month or $60/year to continue playing.
Developed by a team of former Call of Duty designers, including Infinity Ward cofounder Vince Zampella, Titanfall launches March 11 for Xbox One and PC. An Xbox 360 version--developed externally at Bluepoint Games--will launch two weeks later on March 25.
For more on Titanfall, be sure to check out our feature, The Next Big Game: Titanfall, which includes exclusives interviews, previews, and videos for the game.
Microsoft's announcement today of a £30/$50 price cut for the Xbox One in the United Kingdom is not an indication that the newly launched system is struggling in the region or abroad, marketing executive Harvey Eagle has said.
"No, I don't think so," Eagle told Metro. "For us, this is about giving UK gamers the best value that we can." The new £399 bundle includes a system, copy of Titanfall, and Kinect. The same bundle will be offered in North America for $500, though the price cut is only good for the UK.
The Xbox One's official UK price cut is one of the fastest in modern console history, coming just 94 days into the system's lifecycle. Microsoft maintains that the Xbox One's launch has been a success, with over 3 million consoles sold in 2013 alone.
But if the Xbox One is selling so well (as fast as they can be made, Microsoft says), why is Microsoft implementing a price cut so soon?
"We're doing this because it will generate sales, absolutely," Eagle told GameSpot. "I think it's a great deal for people in the UK to get a next-gen machine for £399 including Kinect, including Titanfall, in the box. Yeah, it's a great deal and hopefully lots of people will take up the offer."
Sony said at the end of January that it was selling 1.5 PlayStation 4s for every Xbox One sold in the UK. The PS4 has officially shifted 5.3 million consoles worldwide as of February 8.