'Reaper of Souls' Brings Graphics Improvements

Improvements to graphical shaders, and randomized outdoor areas in the Diablo III expansion

The 'Reaper of Souls' expansion will bring graphical improvements to the game, as well as seamless transitions between indoor and outdoor areas. In an interview with a number of Diablo III fansites at gamescom 2013, Diablo III Lead Designer Kevin Martens and Game Director Josh Mosqueira discussed a range of topics.

Martens stated that there are improvements in the graphical shaders in the 'Reaper of Souls' Diablo III expansion. The new areas in Act V will be different from the previous acts, with less loading screens, because of fluid movement between indoor and outdoor areas. The outdoor sections of Act V will be randomized, as seen in Diablo II; this is a big change from the more preset structure of the outdoor zones in the original Diablo III.

Interview Topics
Here's an overview of the topics covered in the interview, with Kevin Martens and Josh Mosqueira. Select any of these topics to jump directly to that section of the full interview transcript:

  • Crusader Design - The new Crusader class evolved from a dark Paladin, into a class of it's own.
  • Loot 2.0 Patch - The Loot 2.0 patch will include the "broadly systemic" changes.
  • Followers - Followers will have new side-quests and stories.
  • Nephalem Trials - Details about the new Nephalem Trials events.
  • Act V and Loot Runs - The systems that give Diablo III it's replayability are being vastly expanded, including the new Loot Runs. Act V will include randomized outdoor areas, unlike the outdoor zones in the original Diablo III.
  • Account Bound Items - Account Bound items are something that the developers are experimenting with, since the Hellfire Ring worked so well.
  • Act V Areas - Details about the Bloodmarsh, outside the city of Westmarch.
  • Dark Expansion - A lengthy discussion of how "dark" the expansion will be, compared to the original game.
  • Graphics Improvements - The expansion will bring both better graphics, and an improved design to the areas.
  • Battle.net and Social Improvements - No specifics, but there are "a lot of improvements" for social systems and Battle.net coming.
  • Necromancer - As detailed previously, there will be a significant Necromancer NPC in Westmarch, that players interact with. Here they talk about why the Necromancers are interested in what's going on...
  • Horadrim Order - The Horadrim Order has been refounded by Tyrael at the start of the expansion.
Jump past the break to read the transcript of the developer interview; everything is transcribed except a section about PVP, since that was identical to the previous discussion about PVP.

Diablo III Developer Interview
Diablo III fansites at gamescom 2013
Crusader Design
Q: Why the Crusader, and where did the inspiration for the Crusader come from?
Kevin Martens: For a few reasons. We had an idea of having a sort of very heavy armored character, so we explored that for a while. We thought of the angle of making it a dark Paladin sort of class and that idea took a life of its own and we went very far with it, and it's become something completely different at this point. So, the way we describe it is a war machine made human; what if a modern armored division tank was a medieval warrior? So we came up with this idea of him being a mid-ranged melee character. He wears heavy armor, he crushes his enemies, he has a big heavy flail and he has a shield which is as much a weapon as it is a defensive mechanism. In addition he has a lot of Holy Wrath based damage that he does, so he's got some ranged abilities, too. So it's a neat mix of melee and ranged, and he has become very different from the Paladin at this point. He has become the Crusader.

Loot 2.0 Patch
Q: We already know that you are going to patch Loot 2.0 before the expansion gets released. Are you considering adding other features like Paragon 2.0, and such before the expansion is ready?
Kevin Martens: Yeah, we will consider all of the features, and figure out which is more appropriate. Anything that is broadly systemic like that tends to have to be in the main codebase anyway. There's no reason for us not to give it up. Probably more things will go for free before the expansion hits.

Q: Will there be any new companions or any new content for older companions, like the Templar or the Scoundrel?
Kevin Martens: There is a lot of new content for the old companions. We didn't add a new companion. We have this idea that more is not better - better is better, is how we say it. We figured we did not do enough to make the existing companions deep; we had a lot of grand plans for them and we sort of ran out of time in the first game, the followers came in fairly late. We are giving them a lot of more stories, they are getting actually side-quests, in Act V as well. So they are getting richer back stories and side-plots. You get to meet, for example, the Scoundrel's brother.

Nephalem Trials
Q: Can you explain the Nephalem Trials?
Josh Mosqueira: The idea for the Nephalem Trials takes a lot of inspiration from the Jar of Souls event: how can we create these sort of micro-challenges to help us vary the pace of gameplay. The idea is that you explore in the world and you'll come across a Nephalem portal, and you'' jump into one of these Nephalem Trials. There are many different variations - one of the classic ones is you're going to be fighting waves of enemies and you have a time limit. Depending how well, how many monsters you kill within the time limit, you will be rewarded with a number of Resplendent Chests. So it's a cool way to add some challenge to the game and some variety to the game.

Kevin Martens: You have that bonus: the better you do, the better rewarded you are. Storywise, people met some of the Nephalem spirits that have been left behind in the world of Sanctuary, in the first game. At a certain point, all humans were Nephalem, all humans had powers. It was the first generations of humans ever born that had that. Eventually, they lost their power. As they were losing it, the leaders of them left behind guardian spirits for if in the future the Nephalem arose again, they could get guidance. These are the spirits that help you run these trials.

Act V
Q: The new expansion adds a new Act with a new story. How much gameplay time does it take for a normal player to play through the whole story?
Kevin Martens: We haven't finished the Act yet. We're not done making it, so it's hard to say exactly how long it is. But I think more than ever, the game does not end when you kill Malthael and defeat Death. The replayability systems are being quite vastly expanded. Loot Runs is the first one that we're talking about, that we announced here at gamescom.

Loot Runs is just one of the systems, by the way, and the way that it works is, it's endlessly random dungeons. We take every single tileset we have in the game, including all of the new exterior ones which are now randomized in Act V. We combine those in about 15-minute long dungeons with multiple levels with a variety of monsters. And it's monsters that don't usually work together, so you have to change your tactics. It's monsters in areas where they are not usually placed, so you have to change your tactics, so it's more refreshing. It's densely populated, and they all end in a boss fight, which is also random, and then you get random loot. So it takes the promise of Diablo's randomness, what people think of when they think of the ideal of randomness, and it makes that into condensed 15-minute chunks. That adds a lot more gameplay than just the story.

Account Bound Items
Q: Almost every items we saw in this expansions are account-bound. Is this because of enchanting or Smart Drops, or is there another reason for that?
Josh Mosqueira: That's something that we are experimenting with. The Hellfire Rings were something people responded really well to. So we are trying to see about how we can extend that system. We are hoping to hear some initial feedback from players here at gamescom.

Kevin Martens: You get better items, but it's your better items, is one of the ideas we're trying to do.

Act V Areas
Q: What variation of environments are we going to see in the expansion? We have seen some like Westmarch, Bloodmarsh, what else can we expect?
Kevin Martens: We are just sort of teasing the other zones, but we can mention them. So I'll cover the Bloodmarsh. The Bloodmarsh is an area outside of the city of Westmarch. It's a very cool area, it's one of our more fun and dangerous looking zones we have in the game. There's actually a hint of it in the opening cinematic. Where the Black Soulstone is buried, where Archangel Malthael came and stole it from Tyrael, is underneath the Bloodmarsh. At least as it sits in the game right now, but we do tend to move things around.

Josh Mosqueira: The other area that players will be exploring is the Pandemonium Fortress. It at the heart of creation, and that's going to be a really great counterpoint to the more gothic feeling of Westmarch. The players will go on this really awesome journey from Westmarch to the Bloodmarsh to Pandemonium.

Kevin Martens: It's a place that the angels and demons have fought over forever.

Dark Expansion
Q: A lot of people have been missing the dark side of Diablo II in Diablo III. Is the expansion a direct answer to that?
Kevin Martens: The dark side... I mean, Diablo III opens with a zombie apocalypse. It's the end of the world, and a meteor is falling, and the armies of Hell are coming. Explain dark side. I mean, it's grim, it's dark, there's bodies everywhere. I think you run into 7 zombies before you've taken your first 5 steps in Diablo III. What darkness are we missing?

Q: People had been finding Diablo III maybe too colorful, and well, here we have Death. Was it the idea from the start to make the expansion very dark, even darker than the original game?
Kevin Martens: It's not a response to any lack of darkness in Diablo III. For Westmarch, we have a lot of hints about the city of Westmarch throughout Diablo III, it's been something that we did want to do. For many years now we've been wanting to do a city tileset, a random city. So it all works with all the Diablo randomness, but still feels like a real city.

We actually tried to do that for a while, in Diablo III's development, and we put it aside and reserved it for Westmarch. As soon as we started the expansion, that was the first thing we tackled. So part of it was the fact that it was a city; we did know that we wanted it to be Westmarch years ago. And then Death as the villain, has definitely made it very grim and dark. It was heavy and gothic anyway before Death ever invaded. It's a marshal city, it was founded by the Paladin order when they were on their first grand crusade, bringing the Zakarum faith to the west with fire and the sword. It was founded by Rakkis. The soldiers at Bastion's Keep are actually from the city of Westmarch. So we knew that we wanted to do Westmarch for a while, and not in response to anything in particular from Diablo III.

Josh Mosqueira: I think to follow up on that. It's certainly not a reaction, but more than anything else an opportunity for us. As Kevin said, when they started thinking about the expansion, and they knew that they wanted Westmarch, they knew that they wanted the Crusader. When the team came across the idea of really focusing on Malthael, on the Angel of Death, that kind of brought everything together. It really allowed us to deliver not just a gothic setting, but this is a super apocalyptic and a haunted apocalypse that is happening. It helped bring everything together, the complete package.

Kevin Martens: The whole expansion is not the same color scheme, it's not the same heavy gothic feel either. We just mentioned two of the other zones that are in it, and there are more zones. Variety is a very important part of the game, it's about replayability.

Josh Mosqueira: For us gothic doesn't necessarily mean just round, black and gray. Gothic is more about the feel, and what's at stake.

Kevin Martens: Heavy, grim, foreboding. Yeah, those are good words; the end times.

Graphic Improvements
Q: Are there improvements to the graphics engine in Reaper of Souls?
Kevin Martens: Yeah, there are new shaders and things, and I'm not technical enough to know what those mean, as such.

Josh Mosqueira: They just look cool.

Kevin Martens: Right. But the main one we showed off in the demo, was the seamless transitions from exteriors to interiors. So we felt like there was too harsh of a divide; you were either inside or outside. And in a couple of ways we tried to blur those lines. It makes the game feel a little more realistic, as well, it helps with the immersion. You watch from an outside zone, you walk into a house: the weather changes, the light becomes torchlight, it all fades in really nicely, then you go into another area in the sewer. We don't have to have as many loads, that's nice as well, it looks better for that aspect of it.

But we've also gone in the reverse direction. The exterior zones of Act V, the new ones we've made, are now randomized. There were good things about doing non-random exterior zones in Diablo III; you really had a sense of place, like the Stinging Winds felt like a place, with the mines and all that stuff, you knew where you were. But we did miss some of the randomness we used to have in Diablo II, of randomizing the zones. So we're trying to find the right place in the middle there.

Battle.net and Social Improvements
Q: Are you going to make improvements to Battle.net, like StarCraft II has gotten clans and group systems and stuff like that?
Josh Mosqueira: We are working on a lot of improvements. We didn't announce any one yet. We are still working on them, and want to be sure what they are, before we talk about them. But there are a number of improvements to Battle.net and social systems coming.

Q: Given the theme of the new expansion, with Malthael being the Angel of Death, will we meet any Necromancers? It sounds like it would fit well.
Kevin Martens: We can talk about the event, it's in Westmarch... Josh Mosqueira: I don't want to give any spoilers away, but (in unison) maybe! Josh Mosqueira: Obviously, bad things are happening. There's a lot of death, and I think necromancers are drawn to death.
Kevin Martens: Necromancers are about balance. If the army of dead is taking over the world, that's not balance anymore; and they need to do something about it.

Horadrim Order
Q: In the cinematic, Tyrael is hiding the Black Soulstone with the Horadrim. Wasn't Deckard Cain supposed to be the last of them? Are we going to know more about the Horadrim?
Kevin Martens: Yes, he was. Before the expansion ships, you are going to know more about the Order. Tyrael has refounded the Horadrim Order. So there are new Horadrim. The character that we meet right the beginning of the demo is Lorath Nahr, and he is a new Horadrim character that we spend a lot of time getting to know as well. So the Horadrim are being reborn. Initially, Cain wanted to pass that mantle down to Leah, and then we all know what happened with her. So, that didn't work. Right? (laughs) Spoilers! I guess I didn't specifically say what happened to Leah.

Josh Mosqueira: (Laughs)

Kevin Martens: She's not taking over the Horadrim, let's just say that... for reasons that are in Diablo III.

Here's the full audio-only recording of the interview. The sound is sketchy, with the loud noise of gamescom in the background.

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