A tried and true veteran to the world of Diablo – starting when he was just 10 years old – and very knowledgable about its mechanics and gameplay, YouTube gamer CJ Miozzi, better known as Rhykker, is also very connected to the Diablo III community. His gameplay videos and live streams cover everything from basics for newbies like us, to hardcore tactics for the most seasoned players. We recently got the chance to sit down with the influential user to discuss Blizzard’s ARPG series and the direction the franchise has been heading in.
Johnny Quid: How long have you been playing the Diablo series?
Rhykker: Since Diablo 2 released.
J£: How old were you when you first started playing the Diablo series and what drew you in about this particular series?
R: I first tried the Diablo 1 shareware back in ’97 or so, which means I was about 10 years old. It was when I got D2 a couple years later that I really got into the series, though. Over a decade later, it’s difficult to remember what initially drew me in, but I’m sure the dark atmosphere and engaging cinematics played a big part in my initial investment. Beyond that, the action-RPG gameplay is fast-paced and fun, and the progression system (both in terms of the acquisition of loot and levels) is great at psychologically manipulating a player into wanting to keep coming back. The multiplayer, though – the ability to play with friends and thus give meaning to that progression – is what kept me playing for years. Every few years now, I’ll reinstall D2, download a rapid-progression mod, play for a few hours, then get bored. Without multiplayer – without a meter stick against which to measure progression – I lose the motivation to progress. If a Grandfather sword drops in a forest, and you have no friends around to hear it, is it any different from a crude sash?
J£: Very true, my friend. Which Diablo game in the series offers you the most enjoyable experience and why? Which one offers the least enjoyable experience and why?
R: If we’re talking about an objective evaluation of all the games today – in 2014 – and not how enjoyable the experience was when the game released, then Reaper of Souls offers the most enjoyable experience, and Diablo 3 (the original, base game before any content updates) delivers the least enjoyable experience. I can hear the Diablo 2 fanboys crying out already – guys, I’m right there with you. D2 was an amazing game. Emphasis on was. It’s not the ’90s anymore, though. Gaming has evolved. Take off the rose-colored glasses, reinstall Diablo 2, play it for 20 hours, and then honestly tell me why you think it’s better than Reaper of Souls. We’ve come a long way over the past 15 years – we have quality-of-life changes that no one had thought of back then. Seriously, fuck managing potions. Was D2’s story better? Absolutely – I’ll give you that. But people don’t keep playing a Diablo game for years because of the story.
Vanilla D3 was the least enjoyable for a number of reasons. Was it a bad game? No. When I reviewed it for Game Front, I gave it an 85/100, but if I had another couple of weeks with the game, that score would have dropped as low as 75. First off, the story was abysmal, which is a personal sticking point, but whatever – as I said, people don’t keep playing a Diablo game for the story.
J£: When Diablo III first came out, what was your initial reaction after first playing it? How did you compare it to the previous games? Did it live up to your expectations or was it a slight letdown in some areas?
R: D3 was a letdown, but to be fair, it could have never lived up to the hype. I knew it wouldn’t be the game we all hoped it would be – I saw the writing on the wall. I saw that it was being rushed out the door, and that the devs were panicking. And when I tried to warn people, I was made into a pariah. How dare I claim that the almighty Blizzard would not create the perfect sequel to Diablo 2?
Months later, I was proven right. I’ve been a huge Blizzard fan since WarCraft 2. It was with a heavy heart that I conceded that D3 would not be awesome, and when I gave D3 an 85/100, I felt that was a low score for a Blizzard game. The story was simply tragically bad; no amount of patching or content updates can ever fix that. For me, D3 was the death knell of the Blizzard I once knew and adored. The company that I had once held to a higher standard was now just another video game developer. Was D3 a bad game? No. Did I get my money’s worth out of D3? Yes.
But we’ve all come to expect more than that from Blizzard – we’ve come to expect games that we’ll play for 10 years. Vanilla Diablo III wasn’t going to be that game. RoS has brought hope; some fresh design leads have moved this game in the right direction, and a glimmer of Old Blizzard has emerged.
J£: Since I didn’t get a chance to play the game when it was first released, I didn’t get a chance to take advantage of the auction house. They’ve since removed that aspect of the game. Do you feel like this was a good choice? Why or why not?
R: The auction house is the principle reason why D3 was the least enjoyable – because the entire progression system was balanced around the assumption that everyone would use the AH. Drops sucked. Period. You’d be lucky to find a single legendary item by the time you hit the level cap of 60. Set items? Did those even exist? Drop rates were incredibly low so that the AH wouldn’t be completely flooded with sets and legendaries, deflating the value of these items. Oh, and when you would get a legendary drop? It would roll crap stats.
Then, just take a casual visit to the auction house, and you’re the poor beggar orphan standing outside the bakery, salivating as you stare at the confections through the glass, wishing you could one day save up enough pennies to buy one of these treats. No one who played vanilla D3 without using the AH ever became any degree of powerful relative to those who used the AH. The optimum play strategy in vanilla D3 was to be an AH tycoon – and that’s exactly what I eventually did. I logged an order of magnitude more hours in the AH than I did actually playing the game. I made billions of gold off the AH, and toward the end of the game, decided to even make a few hundred dollars of actual money. Every single item every one of my 10 characters had equipped was purchased from the AH. Is that fun? Is it fun to completely gear out your characters without killing a single monster, and simply by practicing arbitrage in a virtual marketplace? Is it fun to know that the most efficient way to play the game is to not play the game?
Honestly, I learned to enjoy flipping items on the AH. It became fun to find a steal of a deal – it was like the rush of getting a legendary drop. I started by flipping small ticket items for little profit, then, as I learned the market more, I’d flip for double, triple, quintuple profit. But it was when I started flipping between the gold and real-money AH that I eclipsed all my previous earnings with easily 10x and even 100x profit flips. Was I disappointed when Blizzard announced the closing of the AH? Yes, because I knew that would be the end of the game D3 had become. The game that I had learned to become good at, and enjoy. But I knew that the Diablo series would be better for it – I knew that D3 would become a better ARPG without the AH. I knew it would mean drop rates could be improved to the point of the game feeling rewarding. Playing the game had become a fun little activity I did between AHing – and that’s not the game D3 should have been.
J£: Great answer. Now when did you start your YouTube channel? How has it evolved since you first went live?
R: I started my channel a couple years ago, with the intent of posting Dungeons & Dragons content. My channel has always just been a hobby, a passion project, and I knew that D&D content would be niche and not reach a wide audience. But that didn’t bother me. I enjoyed posting D&D content to my small audience, and still cherish the early subscribers who devotedly followed the adventures of our gaming group, watched our live streams, and posted on our forums.
Meanwhile, Diablo 3 became my main video game. I don’t make the time to play as much as some expect me to, but I religiously follow the scene and am knee-deep in the community. When the Patch 2.0 Public Test Realm went live, I noticed a lot of people complaining about running low on a certain crafting material – common debris. Since my D&D how-to guides were well-received, I decided to make a how-to video on farming common debris. If I’m not mistaken, that was my first D3 vid. I enjoy being helpful, and from there, decided to continue creating helpful D3 content for newer players. When Reaper of Souls released, interest in D3 reached its all-time high since the game’s vanilla release, and you can argue that the channel “exploded” from there – as far as a YouTube channel about D3 content can explode, I suppose.
J£: Well, 25,000+ subscribers is nothing to shake a Shamaniac Staff at! After the Reaper of Souls expansion was released, along with these latest patches, it looks like many players who previously were done with Diablo III started returning to it and having a way better experience. Do you think these implementations have sort of renewed the replayability of the game? For you personally, did the game always have a high replay value?
R: RoS and the subsequent 2.1 patch have absolutely improved the longevity of the game. Replayability – or replay value – is also a topic I discussed in the past in the context of D3 and D2. I still believe that D3 had just about as much replay value as D2 – it was just less fun. RoS is more fun than D3 and has greater replay value, which together lead to increased longevity.
J£: What additions, if any, do you feel still need to be implemented into the game? How will these implementations help the game and its players?
R: Is RoS perfect right now? No, but what is? We can always use some more Quality of Life improvements, and the Greater Rift Trial system doesn’t feel like it’s serving a purpose right now. Ultimately, though, I don’t like to play armchair developer, because it’s easy to make sweeping claims about what would improve the game when you’re not the one who is accountable for that implementation. I don’t envy the devs who have to make the right decisions on how to prioritize and allocate resources in order to improve their game.
J£: Your characters are at very high levels. I recently watched a live stream where you were playing on Torment VI and I was dumbfounded. If a “noob” like myself is interested in getting to these high levels of difficulty and not dying within the first four seconds, what quick suggestions can you offer?
R: It’s funny that you consider me high-level – it just goes to show that it’s all a matter of perspective. By the standards of those who play this game several hours a day, every day, I’m not high-level and (I often) get scoffed at by some of those who (are like), “Who are you to be making guides on how to play this game?” But I believe in playing smart, not hard. I may not game as much as others, but I look to maximize the efficiency of my gaming time, and spend a lot of time reading, researching, and testing ways to be as efficient as possible – that’s part of the fun for me. Ultimately, Diablo isn’t a difficult game – anyone who puts enough man hours into it will become high-level. Hell, we used to have bots running 24/7 that would be “high level” – did that mean those bots were “skilled?”
(Rhykker provided me some tips on how to reach the end-game without help)
Rhykker’s Rules – Getting to Reaper of Souls’ end-game as quickly as possible without relying on others to carry you:
The end-game will open up to you once you can run with one of the few end-game builds your class has available to you, by acquiring a specific set and perhaps certain other ancillary items. Before you get that gear, forget about T6. You will never be efficient in T6 without an end-game set.
1. The game then becomes about acquiring that end-game set as quickly as possible. Rifts. Rift on the highest difficulty setting that you can efficiently manage. With best-in-slot, non-end-game-gear, you can go as high as about T3. Once you get the end-game set, you can jump straight to T6.
2. If you’re dying, you’re not being efficient. Once or twice may be fine, but more than that, and you’re likely tackling too high a difficulty.
3. There are more accurate measures, but if you’re not completing a rift in under 10 minutes, you’re not being efficient. Some argue 7 minutes should be the sweet spot.
4. Spend your blood shards wisely. Hunt for the items that will complete your set, starting with those that cost the least amount of blood shards and will lead to the most immediate benefit.
5. Know how to gear pre-end-game. There are some very simple guidelines to follow that will maximize your damage output and find the right balance with toughness.
J£: Awesome tips! See, now I wanna go play it to implement some of these tips. So which class(es) do you personally favor the most and why? Which class(es) do you favor the least and why?
R: I’ve always liked the Wizard. I feel it’s the class that’s most fun to level from 1–70 and has the most potential versatility pre–end-game. I suppose I just like the play styles it offers. The Witch Doctor was my least favorite class for the longest time (all of vanilla D3), until I recently came upon the pet build. I believe the Crusader is currently my least favorite, simply because I cannot find a build I have fun with. I’m curious to try out the pony build, though – it seems quaint. Demon Hunters have tended to be my most powerful characters since RoS, though.
J£: When you’re not in front of the webcam playing Diablo III, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
R: Eating, sleeping, working. There’s actually a lot of crossover between my professional and recreational activities – I try to do the things I love, so that I want to keep doing them in my free time. There’s also this place called “outside” that’s pretty neat.
J£: Make sure to visit, and subscribe, to Rhykker’s YouTube channel!