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    I hadn’t played a Crusader in a while, and while I’m enjoying all of the other classes (yes, even the Barb) in Reaper of Souls, I figured I needed to catch up on the new guy and his ongoing balancing process. So I fired up a new level 1 softcore Crusader, and rather than going right into Adventure Mode, I tried an experiment. It’s Reaper of Souls New Character Strategy time! How fast does a level 1 character level up, playing on Story Mode, on a high difficulty, with some +EXP gear, now that the monsters scale up along with your character’s level?

    I tried that months ago when the new scaling system first went in, and didn’t notice a huge difference. That time I did it with a Hardcore Crusader, playing on Expert mode (+200% EXP) with some twinks, and I was level 18, 32, and 42 through the first three acts. Well above the curve you get in D3 today, but not wildly over it.

    Quadfecta Hellfire Ring.

    Quadfecta Hellfire Ring.

    That was months ago, though. Since then we’ve seen big buffs to experience gain, the addition of Cursed Chests (which give huge exp bonuses for completion), boosts to the exp for quests and side-events, and a new Hellfire Ring which is worth +45% EXP and has no level requirement. I happen to have an exceptional roll on one of the new Hellfire Rings, so I put that on my new Crusader, started him out on Torment 1, and proceeded normally from there. How do you suppose his exp grew?

    Level 40 in Act One.

    Really. I actually dinged to 40 on the Butcher. Total play time to that point was maybe 3 hours. I could have gone faster in Story Mode, and I could have leveled faster in Adventure Mode, but it was an experiment. Also, the Crusader has seen several patches worth of huge changes since my last test drive, so I was trying out virtually every new skill each level up.

    Click through for more detail on the leveling pace, info on legendary drop quantity in story vs. adventure, some oddities of early equipment, and why Torment 1 in Reaper of Souls is *much* harder for a new character than MP10 in the live version of Diablo 3.


    Leveling Progression

    So I hit level 40 just in Act One. Did I get to 80 in Act Two? No no no, that won’t be possible until the next expansion tacks on another 10 to the max level. And probably not even then, since the exp curve does get a bit steeper as you approach 60. Also, I didn’t go right into Act Two since I was feeling the urge for more variety. I switched over to Adventure Mode and did both double reward acts in two straight games, which took me to about lvl 50.8 in maybe 1.5 hours.

    The leveling was still pretty fast, clicking about 5 times in 10 quests each game, but it was nothing like the first 40 levels, which had come so fast it was laughable at times. Several times in the early going I would ding at the start of a large battle, and by the time I’d cleared the screen so I could open the skills window, I was nearly to the next level up.

    Thanks to that Hellfire Ring and +300% EXP on Torment 1, the pace was crazy right from the start. I was level 9 by the time I got to Adria’s Shack and something like level 14 after I killed Haedrig’s Wife. (You know what Haedrig was after I killed his wife? Single.) I didn’t write down all the milestones, but I was around level 22 by the Skeleton King.

    There were a lot of oddities in being so far above the designed exp curve. I had an old 35% Hellfire Ring and a 25% Leoric’s Signet in my stash for my follower, but I couldn’t put them to use until I reached the Templar. And that didn’t happen until like level 20. If I’d been in Adventure Mode I could have hired a follower much earlier than that. The Templar becomes available for higher when you hit level 8, and the Scoundrel not long after that. In Story Mode though, I had to reach them working through the Act before I could employ them.


    Twinking and Socketing Follies

    Aside from the Hellfire Ring and a couple of low level jewelries (the standard level 6, +2-4 damage option), I had nothing to use in the way of twinks. Well, I had gems, and those are massive in Reaper of Souls. You need socketed gear before you can use gems, and without twinks or an Auction House to easily obtain low level gear, that was kind of an ordeal.

    You start to find socketed weapons and helms at level 15 in Diablo 3, and that’s the same in Reaper of Souls. (There are some legendary helms with sockets at lvl 10, but with no twinks or AH, that wasn’t an option.) But you have to find them, and while I was picking up everything that dropped (mostly to salvage since I knew I’d need the low level materials for crafting and enchanting expenses) I didn’t have luck finding socketed items right at 15. Furthermore, as quickly as I was leveling up I’d have gone from 13 to 18 between trips back to town.

    So I took advantage of new Reaper of Souls features. NPCs that sell rares, and the Mystic. She will only enchant rares/sets/legs. Not blue items. But since the vendors sell rares much more often than in in Diablo 3, rares were easily obtained, and I bought the first rare helm I saw at level 15 and quickly enchanted a socket into it, and I bought a rare weapon with a socket soon after that.

    There’s a hook in this bait. Do you anticipate it? Do you remember a new detail that I did not?

    I’ll get to that next, but I want to note at some point that you don’t really need twinks to level up quickly and have fun. This isn’t Diablo 3 with its stingy drop rate. You find tons of good gear in Reaper of Souls, lots of rares right from the start, without any need for Magic Find. I found a good number of legendary items also, almost all of which were substantial upgrades, and it was fun.

    Every minute (almost literally) a new level, constant item upgrades, monsters scaling up with me so no need to skip ahead to keep the exp going, no need to pause the game to hop out to the Auction House every 10 or 15 levels to sell my current gear and buy upgrades… I still miss the AH at times for the end game, but I very much preferred just playing straight through with a new character, to the D3 style of using the AH to keep ahead of the gear curve by essentially renting gear for 8 or 10 levels, then reselling it once you’ve outgrown it.


    So, back to the high level twinked gems and the economic disaster they brought upon my Newsader.

    Let's just leave that in there for now.

    Let’s just leave that in there for now.

    In Reaper of Souls, high level gems are quite expensive to unsocket. It’s 50k to pry out a Marquise, and it increases to 100, 150, 250, and 500k at the gem levels increase. You will spend 750k to unsocket 3 Royal gems from a chest armor. Upgrading the gems costs a *lot* more than that, though, so it’s worth paying to unsocket instead of just throwing away.) I’m poor in RoS in softcore mode thanks to very profligate enchanting, back when it was much more expensive than it is now. So my plan for this new Crusader was to destroy every item I used when I found an upgrade, since you can salvage an item and get the gem back for free.

    What’s the catch? You can no longer salvage items you buy from merchants! The devs hotfixed that in a couple of patches ago since players were buying white items from merchants and salvaging them into Common Scraps, which are fairly rare in the early going and required in large quantities for low level crafting. I’d forgotten that little detail, and boy was I delighted to remember it when the Blacksmith’s tooltip error message let me know!

    Sadly, no negotiation was possible. I only wanted the gem; I didn’t give a damn about the material from the item, but try telling that to an angry mob. Sadly, I hadn’t just settled for using a Marquise, which I’d have just thrown away. No, I had Flawless Imperials in there, so 200k later, I had them in new items. Items I’d found. Items Haedrig wasn’t too fricking good to smash into bits, preserving only my gem from the wreckage.

    Let this be a lesson to you when you do a new character in Reaper of Souls. Especially if you’ve thrown away all your twinks and must socket immediately, rather than just waiting to find something by level 17 or 18.

    Also, since people have asked, here are the gem levels and upgrade prices:

  • Marquise. These you find in vast quantities past level 65ish. (50k to unsocket, per gem.)
  • Imperial. 3 marquise + 200k makes one. You can find Imperial on Torment 1+, but they’re very rare drops. (100k to unsocket, per gem.)
  • Flawless Imperial: 3 Imperial + 300k to make one = 900k total price. (150k to unsocket, per gem.)
  • Royal: 3 Flawless Imperial + 400k to make one = 3.1m total price. (250k to unsocket, per gem.)
  • Flawless Royal: 3 Royal + 500k to make one = 9.8m total price. (500k to unsocket.)
  • Including all the upgrades the net cost to create the highest level gem is 9.8 million, and one (of various flavors) is required to craft most Legendary items now. That’s quite expensive if you’re not rich from gold brought into Reaper of Souls. I’ve never played the beta really trying to make gold, but I’ve noticed my bank increasing about 1m per hour. I’m sure you could make more gold more quickly if you tried, or partied up and farmed high Torment (the gold find and gold rewards for quests increases hugely). But for most normal players, you’re looking at 6-10 hours (or more) of play time to afford to upgrade Marquise gems to a single Flawless Royal.

    That’s very worth doing, by the way. Not so much for the bonus in a weapon, since the Critical Hit Damage only goes up 5% per Emerald level above Marquise. The real value in upgrades is to add mainstat or Vit to your armor sockets, since the value per gem leaps up by 60 per level. Marquise is +60, and from there it’s 100, 160, 220, 280. I’m no mathematician and neither are you, but 5 x 220 (or 280) is a lot more than 5 x 100, when you’re looking to boost your DPS into the Torment range. And trust me, you find plenty of gems in Reaper of Souls. The bottleneck, if it exists, is the gold required to upgrade them.

    It’s wise to do what I’m not, with my 5 lvl 70 chars. (And a WD at 66 that I’m itching to level and gear up.) Play just one or two mains and concentrate all your gear finding on him/them. It’ll pay off in better equipment, and especially in high or max level gems in all their sockets.


    Legendary Drop Rate

    Legendary items are sometimes a guaranteed drop the first time you kill certain bosses on Story Mode. Which bosses? All sub-bosses? Blizzard says no:

    Just started a new character with my GF on the latest patch. The skeleton king gave us both legendaries. Not sure if this is coincidental or if lesser bosses are dropping guaranteed legends now.
    Grimiku: The only bosses intended to give a guaranteed Legendary the first time you kill them are the major “end of Act” bosses for players level 1-59.

    If other bosses are giving guaranteed Legendary items then it’s likely a bug.

    I too got a legendary from Leoric, and it was Leoric’s Crown, appropriately enough. (Not a coincidence, he’s got a boosted chance to drop that one.) I also got a legendary from the Spider Queen in the caves, which seemed like a trend. I did not get a legendary from the Warden, but then I did from the Butcher. Those facts were in my mind when I reached Act Two and considered soldiering on… but I couldn’t take more of the straight quest stuff, even with curiosity and hope for a legendary from Maghda.

    Ultimately I did return to Act Two and the story mode, just to check. I was level 55ish and rushed through the desert to Alcarnus, where no orange or greens were waiting for me. I did, however, get a helpful guildmate to create games and help me bag Belial, Azmodan, and Diablo, all at level 56-57, and they all dropped their guaranteed legendary. Which wasn’t any real use at that level in Reaper of Souls, but still… *clang*!

    To summarize the rules of the guaranteed legendary drop:

  • Only the Act Bosses.
  • Only in Campaign Mode.
  • Only the first kill of that boss.
  • Only below level 60.
  • One other amusing legendary thing. My Crusader’s first legendary item was also his second legendary item.

    Upgrades. Because scaling!

    Upgrades. Because scaling!

    I found about 8 total legs in Act One; Leoric, Spider Queen, and the Butcher, plus five (or so) random drops from monsters. All but one was an upgrade at the time. The leveling up experience for a new character in Reaper of Souls (and Diablo 3v2.0) is definitely more fun, thanks to much faster exp gain and the much higher legendary drop rate.


    Difficulty

    This is one big and surprising change in Reaper of Souls. Torment from the start is much harder than starting out on a high MP level in Diablo 3. I’ve done plenty of level 1 hardcore characters on MP10 and never had any real trouble. It’s slower because they have a ton of hit points, but they don’t really do that much more damage, so with some decent twinks you can greatly accelerate your exp gain without too much risk of death.

    This is very different in Reaper of Souls. For one thing with monster scaling you never get much above or below the level of the monsters. (Unless you join someone else’s game who is well over or under your character’s level.) More obviously though, the monsters do a lot more damage on higher difficulty levels. I’ve heard tales from players trying to start out in Torment 6 and getting one-shotted by the first zombies outside of Tristram.

    I didn’t do that, and with minimal twinks I had no real trouble starting off on Torment, but by level 10 or 12 I started to die. Partially through carelessness, partially through not really knowing how to play a Crusader, but mostly since the monsters hit really hard. By level 20 of my Newsader, I had changed all my armor sockets from Rubies (STR for damage) to Amethysts (VIT for hit points), so I wasn’t getting one-shotted by Frozen anymore, but any two of them, or Molten explosions, or a swing of an Arcane needle, or even being hit by 3 or 4 trash mobs at once would kill me dead.

    Part of it was the way the monsters scaled up so much in level. The still looked like slow, hapless zombies, but they were level 20 or 25 or 30, which meant they were dealing equivalent damage to Act Three or Act Four enemies, as you’d see them in Diablo 3. Even once I got used to that though, I had to be really careful, kite and retreat a lot, heal, drink potions, etc. And since my whole goal was to level up quickly, and all the dying and nearly-dying was takng more time than the higher EXP was worth, I eventually lowered the difficulty down from Torment to Expert, sometime around level 30/Leoric’s Highlands.

    That made a huge difference and I didn’t die or come very close to dying after that, while the EXP still kept pouring in.

    I mentioned it to some friends online, and I think Xanth made the same point in a column sometime recently… beware starting out a new character in Reaper of Souls on a higher difficulty level, especially if you’re Hardcore. It’s not like Diablo 3. You can’t just put on a Vit Hellfire Ring and grind away on MP10. They will hit you. You will die.


    Conclusion

    So, here’s the part at the end where I wrap things up with some questions designed to lead to discussion in comments. Magical!

    The pain of being a beta tester comes not so much during the beta, but when it ends. Now I’ve got 4 Torment-capable chars, all wearing self-found gear that’s vastly better than they had at 60 when imported into the Beta. Come March 25 I’ll have nothing but memories, and be back to my level 60s in their crummy D3 quality gear (what little is left of it after I firesale’d everything of value weeks ago), starting the process all over again. I don’t really look forward to that, but it’s inevitable.

    In a way I’d almost rather go from scratch, the way my Crusader (mostly) did. All my other chars went from 60 up to 70 and it was fairly boring, since I didn’t find many upgrades until level 70. The Crusader was more fun since he found upgrades constantly, especially once he hit 65ish and started finding some of the highest level gear, just with stats rolled a bit lower from the level. And then once he got to 70 I could put on some twinks, but mostly I dove into item finding, gambling, and enchanting, and upgraded almost every slot.

    Do you guys anticipate leveling up a new char in Reaper of Souls? Hardcore or Softcore? How will you go about that? Rush rush rush? Enjoy the experience and experiment with new skills? Store up twinks now or self find when the time comes? Or would you prefer the “instant level 70” button to get it out of the way and dive right into the end game?

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