Act Four Revisited / Reconsidered

Though you wouldn’t know it by most “where to farm” type articles and forum posts, there are not three acts in Diablo III, but four. Yes, four. Rumor has it this fourth act takes place in a Heavenly-land infested with glowing blue trees, empty urns, and long-winded angels, but at press time no players were available to confirm any of these details, as no one had ever entered that act voluntarily. Act Four is out there, all agree, but it exists solely as a speed bump between a character’s descent into Hell and battle with Azmodan, and the opportunity to restart in a familiar Tristram where the zombies have inexplicably gained a vast amount of hit points.

One of the exciting Act Four dungeons.

Players give a number of reasons for Act Four’s lack of popularity (it finished dead last in our Favorite Act vote, just slightly ahead of “Not sure yet/no opinion” and some distance behind, “Don’t like any of them”) and they include the small size, the inadequate number of bosses, boringly non-random layouts, stupid dungeons, no variety in design or tile sets, and too many unrewarding purple bosses.

Well sure, but other than that…

The recent v1.05 patch made some changes to Act Four, though. Actually, that patch made changes to everything (except wildly OP Barb builds, though they are at least slightly penalized by constantly missing legendary drops) and Act Four wasn’t one of the biggest beneficiaries of them. At least there are more random bosses there now, which makes it possible to get the five required (to have a chance at the Plan dropping) DiabloWikiNephalem Valor stacks before you meet DiabloWikiNekarat the Keywarden.

Are there other changes, though? Has Act Four more fun and excitement than it did back when it first disappointed us all in May and June? Kind of.

I’ve played through it several times over the past week, doing it in Nightmare and Hell while leveling up my forgotten Witch Doctor, and then a few times on Inferno with my item finding Demon Hunter, and it’s… better. Not good enough to call it “not bad,” but there are some good points to it, especially if you play it smart and avoid most of the dead time created by the annoying and spectacularly-unrewarding purple bosses.

The remainder of this article covers some of the key aspects of Act Four as it plays in v1.05, and discusses the pros and cons of the Act while offering suggestions for improvements that will never come. I’ll start off with a con:

Those Purple Bastards!

I didn’t actually run a vote on it, but I’d be shocked if this wasn’t the top vote getter if we ever asked you guys, “What sucks the most about Act Four?” Those stupid purple bosses that die easily (or not) and drop nothing. You see the three stages of that experience above, and I could run the exact same series of images for all the other NPC ghost encounters.

They didn’t have to be like that, though. The concept is cool; trotting out ghostly versions of some of the good guy NPCs, which then suddenly and shockingly (at least the first time) turn into giant, vicious, attacking demons. The problem comes when the same trick is used like three times in every game, and the rewards are always so puny. Mostly it’s the puny rewards that suck, honestly. Maybe those bosses aren’t hard enough to pop 2-4 Rares, the way all the random bosses do, but FFS, one blue and some stacks of gold? That’s just insulting. It was insulting back in May when we first got to this act, and it’s even worse now, in the days of mega MF and Nephalem Valor stacks.

Obviously Act Four isn’t the only act with disappointing purple bosses, but the fact that you’re guaranteed to encounter 6 or 7 of them every time through the small act, and that three of them are quest bosses that can be quite nasty, and that none of them drop worth a damn, is pretty annoying. They need to drop better, especially Rakanoth and Izual who can be really hard on Hell or Inferno, depending on your build and gear (certainly harder than most of the other quest sub-bosses, such as Leoric or Magda or Siegebreaker, all of whom are guaranteed to drop huge loot). If the devs need to turn up their difficulty to justify better drops, go for it. Honestly, they should do that anyway, since there’s almost unanimous fan agreement that virtually all of the the purples are too easy, all throughout the game.

Incidentally, can anyone explain the lore logic behind the NPC ghosts? What makes them appear? How? I mean, they’re not really ghosts. For one thing, Leah isn’t actually dead, at least going by the logic established in the previous Diablo games, which showed us that humans who eat a soulstone and host a Prime Evil remain alive during the process, though they’re just helpless and horrified passengers as their body is driven to destruction by the demon behind the wheel. (It’s a bit like being in the backseat during an Amanda Bynes and Lindsey Lohan road trip.)

Leah aside, Captain Rumford isn’t demon possessed or dead (just dead and hollow on the inside, where Marko’s final words endlessly echo) since he was fine and dandy, busy guarding the town well safely in the center of New Tristram when we left Act One.

Look, it’s Leah! She’s alive! Oh wait…

So what’s the point in those ghosts? I mean from a lore standpoint. Are they just humans that Diablo knows your character will recognize, conjured up to distract you or annoy you? If so why is one of them Zoltan Kulle, who we’d all like another chance to kill anyway?

Lest I sound too hard on the D3 “story” I’ll point out that there’s a long history of “throw that in because it’s cool” in the Diablo games, and the ghosts of NPCs turning into demons is not at all out of place in that roster. It’s not the concept that’s lacking here… it’s the execution.

Objects de Click

The walls of Act Four are simply lined with what look like glowing blue canopic jars, virtually all of which are completely empty. Latecomers to Diablo III might not realize it, but during the Beta and even shortly after release, it was a delight to smash all those jars and urns and barrels and such, since they were quite often full of items, or at least gold.

That parade of joy got nerfed shortly after release in a prime example of why botters and cheaters keep the rest of us from having nice things, but as far as I know Blizzard didn’t have to make any changes to the urn drop rate in Act Four, since those glowing trashcans never dropped anything anyway.

That said, the visuals for the urns, as well as for the weapon racks and lore book dispensers, are all awesome in Act Four, and I have to give credit where it’s due. That turtle up there, that was me when I saw the drop in the pictures below. Yes, that’s a legendary item that dropped from a weapon rack.

Naturally this was on Nightmare, for a character who had minimal Magic Find, the item was way below my level, and it wouldn’t have been useful even then. (Remember, while v1.04 and v1.05 made huge improvements to the legendaries, that only applied to the end game items. All the lower level stuff is still embarrassingly awful, and you don’t even get a Brimstone when you salvage it.)

But still… A legendary from a weapon rack! Praise the Angels! If I hadn’t seen it myself, I probably wouldn’t have believed it was possible.

Awesome Cinematics

To combo breaker my own litany of gripes, how about something cool in Act Four? The in-game cinematics.

Yes, I’m just as disappointed with them as most of you guys, and no, no one should ever forgive Chris Metzen for using the stupid, annoying, irrelevant Butterfly Queen to abruptly and anticlimactically kill off the one memorable and iconic character in the entire Diablo series.

That said, many of the in-game cut scenes look pretty good, they worked nicely for those character introduction cinematics we got during Diablo III’s development (back when people actually liked it), and if not for the stupid DRM limiters on Diablo III keeping players from being able to dig into the game files, we’d have seen countless awesome Machinima movies created by now. (For instance, check out this one and this one, made with just the Beta assets back in late 2011. And imagine how awesome they could be with the entire game to work with.)

Yes, the story of Act Four is fairly dopey, with little more than Imperius running around making threats since he’s butthurt about the ass-kicking Sheablo gave him, but those angel and demon models are awesome, and the defiled heavenly tile sets are so cinematic, that it’s fun to watch them just for the visuals.

And since no one’s played Diablo 3 with the music or dialogue at an audible level since about July, your viewing enjoyment doesn’t have to be interrupted by Imperius’ stupid remarks.

Monster Variety and Size

Another cool thing about Act Four, especially after playing so much in the other three acts over the months… it’s got different monsters! A number of monsters repeat, especially in the hell levels, but most of what you get in the Heavenly areas is entirely new and distinct.

Corrupted Angels floating eerily and launching blinding-fast charging attacks. Monsters that bomb drop on you in shielded form. Huge demons whose riders toss fireballs, then get off to fight and die on foot once you slay their oliphant maounts. Giant Corrupter demons that divebomb, bash, and Inferno breath you. And Mallet demons with their awesome giant feet and bashing tendencies.

There are lots of others, but they’re pretty clearly the biggest and baddest enemies in the entire game, and they’ve got nicely-distinct behaviors and appearances and fighting styles. And just the size is impressive. (As she said.) The tops of Mallet lords aren’t even visible on your screen if they’re above you, and when you get a boss pack of those, or Corrupters, you know it.

I didn’t really appreciate/enjoy the Act Four enemies very much when I first played through the act multiple times, while leveling up back in the early days, but returning there now I was more able to appreciate the monster design and especially how different they felt compared to the demonic biosphere I’d grown used to in Acts 1-3.

Act Four is much harder than three, also. Obviously YMMV depending on build, but my Demon Hunter in mostly MF gear can blast through Act 3, but in Act 4 in the same gear I was constantly retreating and soon learned to save health orbs for emergency consumption while kiting. There aren’t nearly as many slow/easy trash mobs in Act Four; and you don’t regularly get huge packs of almost motionless skeletons or the various types of ankle biters. As a result a far higher percentage of the enemies are actually dangerous, capable of getting to you and hitting you before you kill them. This is helped in no small part by how many of them actually appear right on top of you, or charge at you at high speed, or drop massive Meteors on your head.

Loot, and the Fatness Thereof

All that said… it pretty much comes down to the loot in the end, and there, alas, Act Four still comes up short. There are more bosses than there used to be, but if you were hoping for some sort of Heavenly Lair of the Assassin, with a new boss pack on almost every screen, you won’t get it.

Another problem is the dungeons. They’re lame. I remembered them being lame from months ago, but exploring them all now several games in a row… man they’re lame. Sometimes you get a random boss, but mostly not, and the one with the 3 burning angels on the podium is about the worst risk/reward ratio in the game, with a guaranteed nasty purple, plus about a dozen of the huge and dangerous Corrupters, and not a boss drop to be had from the whole lot.

The only benefit of the Act Four dungeons was a surprising one; since you get 2 or 3 dungeons off the Gardens of Hope levels right at the start of the act, and you will usually find a Resplendent Chest in 1 or 2 of them, you can actually use those chests to advance your Nephalem Valor stacks. I’m not sure I’d ever done that previously, since nowhere I run in Acts 1-3 has a golden chest so close to the start that I don’t already have 5 stacks when I first find it.

However you handle the dungeons, the key to farming the act is to skip all of the useless, unrewarding purple bosses, and that’s not hard to do if you start at the end, and work your way backwards. You want to skip the opening ankle biter theme park (though it can be fun just for the sheer mass slaughter) and avoid wasting time on Rakanoth and Izual as well. That’s not hard to do; just use the waypoints; there’s one on almost every full level. You can skip the NPC ghost battles as well, by simply running past them rather than talking and waiting for them to transform.

This leaves you with just the big levels to explore and clear out, and you’ll get 2 or 3 boss packs on the opening shiny levels, and then 5 or 6 each on the larger Silver Spire areas. Of course those are generally harder than any other areas in the game, with the Corrupted Angels, Morlu bomb-droppers, massive Mallets (While researching this article, my Demon Hunter got a Mallet boss with DiabloWikiVortex, DiabloWikiHorde, DiabloWikiFast, and DiabloWikiShielding and it was easily the scariest, craziest battle I’ve survived in weeks.)

The other big drawback is that with Tyrael and Rakanoth not dropping anything special you’ve only got 2 big bosses (in terms of their drops) in the entire act; the keywarden and Diablo. The DiabloWikiNekarat the Keywarden can be nasty, but he’s not hard to find. Diablo is Diablo, and YMMV on difficulty, but he’s the most annoying and slowest to fight thanks to his 3 stage battle with all the brain-cell-killing monologuing between rounds.

I’ve seen a lot of players ask for an “auto-skip cinematic” check box in the Options menu. I don’t really want/need that elsewhere in the game, but man I’d enjoy it for the Diablo battle, because he/she/it just will not shut up.

“Yes, yes, you’ll kill my family and kill their souls and then dig them up and kill their bones again. Okay, got it. Yes, you have a lovely singing voice. Okay. Great. Yes, those new cloven hooves are perfect for you. They match your horns nicely. Can we continue fighting now?”

Happily, when he/she/it does eventually stop talking to fight, and die, Diablo drops nicely. Not much different than the other Act Bosses in terms of rares (usually 4-6), but there always seem to be a good sprinkling of gems and like triple the number of gold stacks, for bonus shiny profit. The pic below is from Hell difficulty when my Witch Doctor was leveling up, and it’s on Monster Power 10 for extra MF and GF, but note that I got 2 level 62 rares (the bow and the amulet).

I have no idea if those could have been legendaries, but running Act Four on Hell, on MP10 seems like a not-entirely bad idea. It’s certainly hugely profitable on gold, and Hell on MP10 is much easier than Inferno on MP1, if you’re just looking for faster killing and gold collection. Though that’s an article for another day.

Act Four Conclusion

Well, nothing real sweeping to add here. The Act is smaller and much less varied than the earlier acts, but if you want a change of pace, with different level layouts and very different monsters, plus a higher difficulty, give it a try. If you haven’t been there in months, other than some quick runs through while leveling, or just doing the Silver Spire level while hunting the keywarden, you might enjoy a full tour of the act, now that you’ve got a big kick ass character and can farm it, rather than just trying to hurry through.

The drop quality on Inferno is identical to what you get in Act 3, with all the monsters ilevel 63, so it’s potentially very profitable. Good luck.

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30 thoughts on “Act Four Revisited / Reconsidered

  1. I kind of like that Act4 is underplayed – it gives it a sense of uniqueness that makes it run to revisit when you’re leveling up a new SC or HC character.

    Act4 in D2 was worse, I think; the first 3 dusky grey zones are the worst zones in the game in terms of looks, and Chaos Sanctuary had nothing interesting going on there – but that was where we ended up spending 100% of our time, given that it was the best place for drops. D3 also gave us a final act that doesn’t have any cool optional dungeons (and granted it would have been silly to explore random nooks and crannies of heaven while trying to stop Diablo in time), but at least we aren’t compelled to spend all of our time there…and when we do go, the visual and monster uniqueness is a fun treat.

    • Most areas in DII were grey, but I would say that the first few areas in A5 are worse than the grey areas in A4. Endless fields of siege/boringness that I always end up running through to get to the ice caverns anyway.

      But “bad” is a relative term, and the worst areas in DII sh!t all over the best areas in DIII… because DII is a better game.

  2. Act 4 is in Heaven?!? Thanks for the spoiler warning!

    (Just wanted to be that guy for a second)

  3. The thing I really dislike about A4 is that the design choices of the mobs make it tedious without greater reward. On the “fun challenge” “annoying challenge” spectrum, it leans to the annoying side quite a bit.

    Oppressor charges often do too much damage, and can come from off-screen. Subjugator projectiles have really, really bad hit detection, as do the Morlu Incinerator Meteors. Succubi run away endlessly, and large groups of them create impassable corridors of blood stars for melee characters. Mallet Lords with Illusionist make me want to kill myself, especially if they spawn on a set of narrow walkways that starts a level. Oh, and there’s the Aspect of Destruction Mallet Lord who is still bugged half the time he spawns. Rakanoth is, IMO, the least fun and most tedious encounter in the game — not because it takes a long time, but because he has an almost unavoidable spiky damage attack in a game where boss encounters are about patterns and anything but spiky damage (look at every other boss encounter — none of them are about being one-shotted). Iskatu is not much better — you just stand around and wait for him to appear and nuke his pathetic health. At least Izual requires a little bit of mouse action — and the Diablo fight is waaay too long, even if you’re not really threatened by dying (though the Shadow Clones on Inferno are pretty cool — was surprised when a clone of my WD killed me with a Locust Swarm that spread from my pets to me, while I ran half the map away). The Aspect of Terror that spawns from Leah has issues — disproportionate damage for his spawns, who are guaranteed to have a first attack because they spawn on top of you.

    On top of this, with the increased elite density since 1.0.5, there is an annoying tendency to have multiple elite packs spawn on top of you right as you zone into a level, especially on Gardens of Hope 2. As a DH or Wizard, it’s not fun to have to kite when there’s nowhere to kite to.

    If the rewards were proportionate (i.e., better ilvl 63 drop rate, etc.), all of these things would be fine, albeit more tedious than the other acts, but as is it’s just more annoying with no compensation.

  4. The biggest reason Act 4 is not played, is the size of the mobs. They have the same chance to drop items as act3/act2/act1 mobs on MP1+. Have more health than all the other acts, and there is simply not the same ammount of them. In act3 you can slaughter sooo many mobs in shorter time period that the chance of getting better loot faster over time is increased greatly.

  5. -Not enough monsters
    -takes much longer to get 5 stacks
    -more skill requirements – dodge mallet attacks, meteors, subjugator fireballs, opressor fire, kite with healing reduction curse, key warden
    -dead end maps, lots of backtracking
    -huge amounts of terroar speeches
    -unrewarding side areas, no random events

  6. Funnily enough, the guys I usually play with stopped hitting the ghosts, just running past and ignoring them. After a while of that I was soloing (Gell difficulty), thought I might as well sort Ghost Leia out, and she/it dropped a legendary! I was pretty chuffed, though I can’t remember for the life of me whether it was any good or not.

    And as much as I hate the cut-scenes, they’re a pretty useful little break if you need one of your skill or potion cooldowns to reset.

  7. Two small, doable suggestions that would help. The first one is obvious – Act 4 should have a higher chance of dropping lvl 63s than Act 3. Rather baffling to me that that wasn’t immediately obvious. It’s monsters are harder, therefore the odds should be better.

    And the 2nd one – allow switching between the damn acts. It wouldn’t matter so much that Act 4 was small if you could come and go to it without losing your NV.

    • The ONLY way I see Blizzard ever letting us keep NV between Acts, is if we defeat an Act Boss, progress to the following Act, and start at the very beginning wih the first Quest. Otherwise, it will turn into “farm stacks on A1, go to Checkpoint at end of your Act of choice, Waypoint back to Keywarden, repeat.”

  8. Act 4 isn’t efficient at all. Too few bosses, too many purple obstacles, and a harder difficulty. I’ve been doing it only because I still haven’t gotten my infernal machine recipe after ~40 combined monster power of farming with 5 stacks. The mallet lord packs are really tough for my witch doctor cuz my pets force armor doesn’t cut it vs them.

    Really though, the nerf to purple monster loot that was never reversed is by far the worst thing they did to inferno. Sure they’re mostly predictable, but make them drop 1 rare with 5 stacks. It’s stupid to throw big, glowing, high-hp monsters with special abilities at us that aren’t worth killing. It’s actually a huge slap in the face to the player. They aren’t cool, they aren’t fun, they aren’t hard, but sometimes they’re there mocking you like the urns. It’s a shame they took the fun out of the game because they didn’t want people to efficiently farm items.

  9. I spent around a week or two (on run counter, aroun 20k) sp pindle runs. It’s a Diablo game – a game that I play to obliterate stuff asap.

    The mallet lord champions are just too challenging (time-consuming). I still remember how it was, a couple weeks, beating the game with DH, taking out emeralds from gear, using amethysts, just to survive the one bone prison I will be too bored to dodge when the thunder-bola-stunning thing fails.

    I’ve beat the game with the five classes and lvl-ed 10 chars up to lvl 60. The infernal machine plan was colaborative and showed up on the first mp 2 run. That means – good bye, act 4 SC. C ya if I need to look for a unique monster for the achievement, someday…

    The post is very well written, but nope… The run time/results are kinda disappointing. If the elite packs get better drops, then maybe…

  10. I didn’t think the ghosts were the actual ghosts of the NPCs.
    I thought they were demons in disguise that tried to get you to let your guard down and then attack you.

    It worked against me for the first ghost, but was certainly no surprise for the others.

    • I think that’s the idea, in game lore/logic, that your character would let down his/her guard and think it’s maybe not an enemy. Like in Terminator 2 when the T1000 impersonated Sarah Conner to draw out John in the fire/smoke manufacturing facility.

      But as I disjointedly pointed out in this article, it’s not like your character has any reason to trust or believe they’re not monsters. Especially after the first one turns into a demon and attacks you. Hence the, “just b/c it would be cool” rationale.

  11. Funny how this is a convention that ties together D2, D3, and TL2.

    Wonder if PoE and Grim Dawn are also planning a crappy, rushed, undersized “Act 4”?

  12. What would make A4 better is if they pack elites in it, wall to wall. It could play like a Dynasty warrioirs 1:10000 map. If the packs were sufficiently leet, kill time would be slow enough to stop exploit farming.

  13. @flux: you had me disappointed, I thought this was a news post that blizz was considering revisiting Act 4 :(. I’ve run Act 4 twice on inferno. Once to kill Diablo, once to get the plan (which dropped first time and MP3 :p). It is fun enough when playing through the game, but the rewards aren’t good enough to justify farming it.

  14. I still can’t forgive this development team for making Diablo a girl with tons of cheesy dialogues and a complete tactical ineptitude. That’s not the Diablo we deserved, not even the Diablo we needed.

  15. As much as I dislike playing through act 4 I do like that it exists. It means that Blizzard probably won’t set the act of any expansions in heaven. They’ve gotten it out of their system. Good.

  16. Why are barbs penalized for missing legendaries? After patch 1.0.5 is pretty hard to miss a drop, there is a pretty distinct sound, a huge pillar of light and a ping on map.

    ps: i play a barb

    • The ping you hear when a legendary drops apparently isn’t happening all the time, according to many people, and some other people feel that the ping isn’t loud enough and the giant friggin’ pillar of light not noticeable enough. Personally, I don’t know how people are missing the combination of the ping sound, the pillar of light, the map ping, and the brown text. My eyes instantly take note anytime they see any brown text on the screen. As for barbs being penalized, Flux is talking about a YouTube video that he linked to in the article where a guy who plays a double tornado barb says he sometimes misses legendaries because he’s always whirling all over the screen.

  17. I have NEVER gotten Rumford as a ghost, and it’s pissing me off. I love that son of a bitch.

  18. Actually, Flux, Rumford IS dead. You’ll find his body when you return from Wortham and for some reason choose to go exploring instead of directly rushing to Cain’s cottage. Even if you hadn’t noticed that, you might have realised that from Cain’s death onward you never see Rumford in town again.

    (Just defending the ghosts from a lore standpoint. I find myself in agreement with the rest of the article!)

  19. Act 4 is still an annoying joke. It’s the speed bump between difficulty levels, and once you have hit Inferno and obtained the key warden plan, there is no reason to ever play Act 4 again, barring helping someone else get over the speed bumps and obtain the plan.

    Act 4:
    – Not enough monster density
    – Not enough elites to get 5 stacks quickly
    – No random events
    – Unrewarding side areas with no elites
    – Too much map backtracking through cleared areas
    – Too many Purples that do not drop anything or count for NV stacks

    The different scenery, enemies and challenges are nice and all, but these don’t make up for all of the above.

  20. My least favorite act. It’s a very nice looking act, I like the colors and the entire theme but it’s over far too quickly.

    I don’t get the puzzle room either. It isn’t much of a puzzle unless I’m missing something.

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