|I have no idea why this was the lone screenshot I took all weekend, but the bugged "marker location" text is vaguely amusing.|
It took surprisingly long to figure out how to backtrack far enough to a point where I would be able to survive. (For the record, you have to log out and click on the "game properties" on the character select screen if you want to backtrack to a previous act.) I died a few times to trash early in Act I as well, but then I replaced every single item on my character with higher quality gear within the space of a few fights that I actually survived. Between that, speccing my Whirlwind Barbarian out like I have Colossus set up in Marvel Heroes, the rest of the game on normal mode difficulty went by pretty quickly. I completed the story at level 44 with gear that appears from the tooltips to be vaguely level appropriate.
Over than the overall rate of loot acquisition, it's hard for me to tell how much has changed versus how much I simply never got around to seeing the first time. (There is an endgame alternate advancement system that was added post-launch, but I'm still not high enough to access this.)
I will say that I was struck by how freaking depressing the game's setting is. Maybe I just wasn't old enough to think about the horrors of war fifteen years ago as a student, maybe it's a matter of having a kid myself, or perhaps it's the game's use of voice-over to read lore updates to you as you continue the action. It just seems like a staggering number of NPC's die - you periodically find and loot a letter from a dead soldier's wife about how their kid is growing up - in an eternal conflict that doesn't seem to have a point or any resolution. Maybe this lore just worked better when the plot consisted of finding the village of Tristram dead and spending the rest of the time killing everything that moved because they were all demons.
All that aside, I guess the weekend was a win for Blizzard. This expansion moves on my watch list from "why would I pay for more of that game I never finished" to "maybe it'll be worth picking up on super sale next Black Friday". Doesn't mitigate having paid full price for the game, but having written the purchase off as a total loss I guess that makes this a pleasant surprise windfall.