After 30 minutes with post-patch Diablo 3, Spyro the wizard is a new man. His new shoulder pads let him teleport back to town from the safety of an impenetrable energy bubble. The crotch slot of his new rare pants, called the "Bone Guard", is occupied by a radiant topaz that increases his intelligence. He'll be happiest with his new wand, though. The "Blackhand Key" boosts his arcane power, feeds him extra XP for every monster he melts, and looks like a glowing green animal spine. A coveted legendary spine, no less. Another juicy chunk of treasure, courtesy of the revamped loot system introduced by update 2.0.1.
The patch is great. This major update revamps the core loot systems on which the entire game runs, rejigs skills for every class, redesigns boss fights and adds new stuff, like cursed shrines and nephalem glory globes. The reams of changes are contained in lengthy patch notes on Battle.net , but the takeaway is simple. Diablo 3 is a much faster and more rewarding game than it was a week ago.
In the wake of 2.0.1 I've all but abandoned my level 60 Barbarian to plump up my wizard. Looking back, the pre-patch drip-feed of loot seems even more agonising. If you were lucky enough to see a legendary drop — almost unthinkable for those without plenty of Paragon levels and five stacks of Nephalem valour — it would probably be useless to your character. In a world connected by an auction house you can just sell it and buy what you need, right? But clicking through menus looking at items isn't what Spyro signed up for. He wants to wave his legendary spine at a mob and see it crushed by a volley of meteors. And then he wants to do it again and again until he's dressed from head to toe in glowing magical spines.
His wish has been granted. After the item-rush of the first hour, he's received incremental equipment upgrades from native monster drops, including a couple of legendaries. The subsequent power-boost means he can mince through each world faster, propelling him up the reworked difficulty tiers. Each tier now tailors monster power to your hero, and it's easier to skip ahead — great news if you're starting an alt.
Diablo 3 is simply a better game at higher difficulty tiers. Hero mobs, with their randomised special abilities ("affixes", as Blizzard call them), provide the most interesting fights, and there are more mobs bearing a greater number of affixes in higher tiers. 2.0.1 has added more variety with new monster powers, including one that draws a poisonous grid across the battlefield, and another that creates wormholes that forcibly teleport you when touched.
The Nephalem Valour loot-drop buff you used to get for killing hero mobs is gone, replaced by Nephalem Glory blobs. There's a chance that a hero monster will plop out a glory blob when they expire. You can gobble it up for a damage and loot boost, but must consume another quickly before the effect dissipates.
To maintain the maximum three stacks of Nephalem Glory you're encouraged to kill quickly . It's a subtle but important shift in ethos from vanilla Diablo 3. Formerly the predictable outlay of hero mobs guaranteed an efficient path to a five-stack of Nephalem Valour which could be achieved with slow, tanky builds. The system encouraged high-level players to blast through the same set runs over and over again.
I expect these old habits will be decimated by Reaper of Souls' randomised adventure mode, but in the meantime the Nephalem Glory system feels like a little nudge from Diablo 3's designers. "Wouldn't you rather play the fun way?" they seem to say. There's meat for those who enjoy total optimisation, but Diablo 3 works first as an immediate and satisfying power trip.
There's more to enjoy for lapsed players. Some of the bosses have been spiced up a bit. The Seigebreaker fight is improved by the addition of two giant siege worms that vomit mobs onto the battlefield. The Azmodan fight takes place in a shrinking circle that pushes you closer to the crab-toad's molten puke attack.
Cursed shrines also provide a bit of mid-run variety. Trigger them and you'll be thrown into a battle with five waves of enemies, or a single boss. Beat the challenge and a massive iron chest of loot appears. We'll hopefully see more of this in Reaper of Souls' instanced Nephalem Rift challenges.
The Paragon system has been completely rethought as well. Instead of a flat boost to gold and magic-item find, Paragon points can be attributed across four disciplines to boost your character's stats. It's a much more satisfying reward loop than the old system, which had players grinding out Paragon levels to improve their chances of grinding out legendary gear. You can assign your pool of Paragon points to each character differently. My Wizard benefits from increased movement speed so he can fight his way to level 60 faster. My level-capped Barbarian has points in gold find so I can better profit from his runs on Expert mode.
Beyond Expert there's "Torment" difficulty, which you can ratchet all the way up to "Torment VI" which offers 1600% more gold and experience, but makes monsters stupidly powerful. We'll surely need to hit level 70 in Reaper of Souls to run the highest tiers.
It's a huge, welcome patch, but given that it's done such a good job of refreshing vanilla Diablo 3, I wonder what it'll do for the appeal of Reaper of Souls. The expansion will add the Crusader class, raise the level cap to 70 for all classes, add act 5, the mystic and adventure mode. Not a bad package, but less tempting for £33 — the same price as vanilla Diablo 3, which featured four acts and five classes. We'll find out whether it's worth the cost on March 25. Meanwhile it's well worth revisiting Diablo 3, and there's a 50% XP boost in action for everyone to celebrate this month's expansion.