Diablo III was long awaited by countless people who’ve spent good portions of their time hacking and slashing their way through Diablo and Baal’s minions in Sanctuary back in the day. However, when it finally arrived, the voices of the fans were rather divided, some disagreeing with the path Blizzard chose for the title. The outcries were partly justified. While it wasn’t quite a disaster, the game had a number of issues, both at launch and afterwards, predominantly in the loot and difficulty departments. Almost two years later, we’re faced with Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, the first expansion for the game, that promises some changes.
Diablo’s plans were thwarted once more. However, Malthael, ex-archangel of wisdom turned angel of death, disturbs the balance of Sanctuary by stealing the Black Soulstone, planning to use it for his twisted plans. Act V has the player visiting a few different, new areas. Westmarch’s medieval Europe-inspired, claustrophobic streets will instill a sense of hopelessness. The planes where the Eternal Conflict rages on are rugged and battered. Pandemonium Fortress with its ever-shifting mechanisms feels in tune with Malthael’s madness.
The Crusader is a new addition to the roster of heroes. A machine born for bringing retribution upon his or her enemies, the Crusader feels situated somewhere between the Barbarian and the Monk. He’s definitely centered around the idea of tanking, and, perhaps, slightly more made with cooperative play in mind. Having a decent amount of crowd-control skills and the capability of armoring up quite well, he’s ideal for soaking up damage in a party. That, however, doesn’t mean he won’t do well on his own. The Crusader is able to wield 2 handed weapons in one hand with the right passive skill. The Crusader starts off slow and taxing at first but with enough training becomes a force to be feared.
The narrative continues along the same lines structurally, so from a distance it may seem predictable. However, when you first begin the fifth act, to the image of Westmarch ominously still in the distance, there is a sense of helplessness that clutches you. This is amplified by Malthael’s occasional appearances as you progress. Malthael is close to an untouchable wraith that’s clearly in control. His incursions feel natural and justified to the point where you begin to question your actual chances of success, but then … it just stops. Malthael never really gets past these short lines, wasting a lot of potential. In truth, he just ends up feeling like a mini-boss, than a great villain. In this respect, Diablo, although, perhaps a bit too close to the clichéd megalomaniac, trumps Malthael. He could have been so much more, and seeing his potential drip from his formless body is indeed sad.
The music and art-direction are top-notch. The locations feel fresh, the new twisted angelic entities are well-designed. Quality-wise, there’s nothing to reproach. However, during my playthroughs I did encounter moments when I was battling a strong boss with soft voices singing lullabies in the background, breaking immersion; these annoyances were rare and isolated events. Most of the time, large battles were accompanied by crescendos that largely added to the experience.
Diablo III is known for being too restrictive with its checkpoint system or simply too unstable in its difficulty. Loot issues were also there, often making you feel you were playing for nothing. Farming rarely rewarded you with stronger items. There was simply too much reliance on the auction house for one to have a steady progress. What’s important to know about Reaper of Souls is that it retains the Diablo III framework. However it does modify it a bit. For starters, the auction house is not a part of the game anymore. The difficulty settings have been reworked. Up to eleven difficulty settings are available for you to choose from. The higher the difficulty, the better the loot. It’s worth noting that the stronger items, in the shape of set items and certain legendary drops, only drop on Torment I or higher. This change manages to help offer a steady challenge based on your character’s gear. Thus, dying a hundred times before you kill a pack of elites can be fixed by lowering the difficulty and farming it for better loot.
Speaking of loot the new system, Loot 2.0, has turned things around quite a bit. Implemented one month before the actual release of the game, it fixes two issues that were previously present. The loot you get tends to cater more to your class, having a higher chance of carrying the stats you actually need. Apart from that, legendary items are less of a myth now. Of course, some may say that these items are less rare than they should be, nowadays. However, they are a big part of the reason why people play games like these. Having them drop more often and with useful stats is undoubtedly better than getting them at higher intervals of time and with stats that don’t benefit your class. And, yes, overall it’s great to notice that Reaper of Souls actually makes the player feel that’s he’s progressing, that his character is getting better with every beaten dungeon. That’s the very essence of hack ‘n’ slash RPGs, after all.
Facing against the same boss and rerunning through campaigns for the purpose of gaining better items are things of the past. With Reaper of Souls, Blizzard have refreshed the endgame. After you’ve reached the story’s conclusion, Bounties are open to you. This mode can be picked from the menu and focuses on exploration and monster slaying. In this mode the player is free travel between checkpoints and every act map has a set of five bounties for you to undertake. The objectives of said bounties range from killing a major boss to killing mini-bosses or elites in order to complete events. Once a set of five bounties is complete you earn experience and gold. The twist is in the addition of Nephalem Rift Fragments.
Nephalem Rift Fragments open up Nephalem Rifts, which are basically dungeons. Every floor has a different aesthetic. The mobs you encounter here can come from any of the acts, adding more variety to the encounters. Eliminate enough enemies to summon the boss of the area and simple exterminate him to complete the stage. These foes can vary from either campaign bosses to buffed up versions of various elite mobs. Apart from loot, these dungeons offer Blood Shards. Blood Shards are a new type of currency used by a merchant of unidentified items called Kadala. Far from being a novelty, this merchant can sometimes offer you better gear, however everything with her is subjected to chance.
The addition of the Mystic is not something to overlook either. Apart from having interesting dialogue she can change the enchantments on your items, offering an extra way of fine tuning your gear. Transmogrification is also part of her services, meaning you can have the items you’re wearing look like other items you’ve had in the past. Thus providing a certain degree of style to your character. Vanity’s a human trait, after all.
Bounties and dungeons can take quite a while to finish. Progress is not saved during sessions, so if you quit a map after just 3 bounties, you’ll have to start over when you log back on. In long sessions these ventures can also become tedious. However, with Reaper of Souls, they’ve nailed the constant call to play some more bounties, or level up a different character. The endgame simply flows better now. Players seeking a challenge can find it in Hardcore Mode, where dying means losing your character forever.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls aims to provide fun and ultimately manages it quite well. The flexible skill system opens way for experimentation. The addition of the Crusader adds some extra bulkiness to the class roster. The gameplay is now stable, the endgame more appealing. If you’re looking for a high definition variant of Diablo II, you won’t find it here. If however you were one of those who always thought Diablo III could use some improvement, or just happen to be looking for a great hack ‘n’ slash RPG, do not hesitate in picking Reaper of Souls up.