Diving Into Diablo III’s Endgame 12 Years Later

Welcome back to Save State, where sometimes I get addicted to 12-year-old games for practically no reason. Over the last couple weeks while I waited for a new GPU to be delivered, I wound up playing an older game with a friend of mine for a considerable number of hours. The title in question, Diablo III, was one that I purchased on launch to play with friends but ultimately couldn’t join with them for almost a week while Blizzard threw ice at their servers. So, if you’re interested in hearing about my experience with Diablo III, both old and new, stay a while and listen.

That is to say, I had a very rocky relationship with Diablo III from the very outset. I played a Monk all the way to the highest level I could reach, but at the time, Diablo III had overturned Inferno difficulty levels that gated the remaining levels to 70. In Diablo II, you would be challenged similarly by Hell difficulty, but the third title had a bad habit of dropping you gear for other classes – or gear that could only be used by your class, but with stats your class couldn’t use – which means you could get that legendary item you were hunting for hours, but it’s useless since it uses dexterity instead of strength. This largely meant that you had to use the dreaded Real Money Auction House in order to find the gear you needed to incrementally climb higher and higher in Inferno difficulty. After several dozen hours of banging my head against a wall, I gave up – largely because my friends had already hit that point and given up, too.

It took a whopping 12 years for Diablo III to finally suck me back into its endgame loop. Of course, having good friends to play with helps a lot, but it seems now that Diablo IV is out, Diablo III’s seasons are getting a lot more mechanics for players to interact with as they grind out paragon levels and primal gear. For the most part, Diablo III’s story mode is really just the tutorial for the real endgame – where you reach max level, do a list of tasks to get your seasonal armor set given for the class you’re playing, and partake in challenges like Greater Rift runs that have difficulty ranging from 1 to 150, that remix enemies and maps throughout the game with obscene amounts of health.

I was surprised how, in my absence from Diablo III, they actually took a lot of steps towards making the endgame grind more reasonable. When I returned sometime back in 2018 or 2019 for a brief month’s time, running Nephalem Rifts with my friends to get Greater Rift Keys, then running Greater Rifts of high levels was practically all we did with little variation. Not much else gave the opportunities for ancient and primal gear, the highest tiers of gear, that we desperately required.

In season 30, however, there’s a number of activities that let you split up how you grind; adding a nice amount of variation even if the end goal is always to acquire newer, shinier loot. While out and about killing enemies through the various maps in Diablo III, there’s a chance of a Vision of Enmity appearing. These visions are oftentimes multi-tiered instance dungeons that let you kill enemies, mini-bosses, and elites in rapid succession with what seems to be a high loot drop rate. This means that doing bounties, a group of activities that send you to multiple maps for various rewards, can finally have a good chance of dropping great loot while you do them.

One new mechanic, the Altar of Rites, which seems like it’s going to be a perennial inclusion from now on, is great since the Altar is a big guide map of various buffs you can give your characters that also give you a tangible list of progress you’ve made throughout the season. There’s also the fact that augmenting gear is no longer an incredibly tiresome slog because the Soul Shard items can be used in the gear augmentation recipe, offering huge chunks of your primary damage stat to your armor without requiring you to spend literally dozens, if not hundreds, of hours to augment your gear by sacrificing legendary gems.

To describe how much better the gameplay loop is at the high end, I’ll need to explain a couple things. The old way of augmenting gear from the last time I had played was a legitimate time sink – you were required to run Greater Rifts to get chances to upgrade legendary gems (which can also be socketed in your rings to provide powerful benefits depending on their level). Each completion of a Greater Rift would give you a maximum of five chances to upgrade the gems, and then you’d need to take those legendary gems and sacrifice them to apply additional stats to your gear which means starting the process over from scratch for all 12 pieces of gear.

Even if your average clear time for a rift is two minutes and you stop leveling gems at 125 out of the maximum 150, we’re talking a minimum of 50 hours just to get a small stats bump (and mind you – you have to keep raising the difficulty of the rifts to upgrade the gems. You can’t upgrade a gem higher than the level of the rift you’ve just completed). This is the type of soul-sucking endgame grind that made me bounce off Diablo III not just once, but twice, and having access to Soul Shards and the items that upgrade them to the equivalent of 125 gems really lets you skip the worst of this soul-sucking gameplay loop in gear augmentation. This change, among others, really helped me stay invested and continue climbing higher and higher Greater Rifts.

For the most part, my friend and I had a ton of fun. He played a Monk and Necromancer, and I played literally every variation of Demon Hunter because that’s such a fun class. The free seasonal armor set started me off with the Marauder loadout, which is a pet build that utilizes turrets to mow down enemies, making for a somewhat slow but very powerful play style. I would then go on to play one of the quickest builds in Diablo III, a long-range build where I effectively became the turret, and a close range build that chucks knives at any and all targets.

Having more than just one batch of content to run to find the best gear really helped maintain my interest, especially as I accrued gear for other builds to play while optimizing my favorite set of gear. Running bounties to find visions made a nice break from running both flavors of rifts, the buffs from the Altar and Soul Shards embedded into gear also made my character more powerful for climbing to higher Greater Rifts, which meant good loot was dropping at an amazing rate the entire time – especially with the Altar’s buff that doubles primal item drops.

So that’s pretty much where I am with Diablo III: It’s actually fun for me to play now. Especially now that Diablo IV is out and has a poor endgame similar to its predecessor’s starting years, there’s never been a better time to come back to Diablo III. Perhaps in 12 years, Diablo IV will reach a point where it sucks me back in, too, but only time will tell.

With that, I think it’s safe to bring this entry of Save State to a close. This article has been brought to you by electricity and loads of espresso. Until next time!

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