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.
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) Nephalem Valor stacks before you meet Nekarat 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.
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.
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 Vortex, Horde, Fast, and Shielding 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 Nekarat 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.