Reaper of Souls, the first expansion to 2012’s Diablo III, is one part expansion, several parts complete overhaul. Gone is the good-in-concept but horrible-in-implementation Auction House, and the even more misguided Real Money Auction House. Gone is the old, random ‘thank you sir may I have another?!’ loot system that doled out its treasures like an uncaring god and replaced with the tender and loving Loot 2.0 that generates gear that--gasp!--your specific class would have interest in. In this way, Blizzard has personalized the game a bit more. And that’s not all! A new class, Crusader, has been added as well as a whole new Act for you to lay waste to legion upon legion of foes. New enchantments! New plans! New gameplay modes! Social settings! Guilds! Dogs and cats, living together! It took them awhile, but with Reaper of Souls, Blizzard finally created a worthy successor to the damn near perfect Diablo II. To think it only took 14 years to get it right!
Diablo once again lies defeated, but the heroes of Sanctuary know it is but a small pause in a much larger war. No sooner had Diablo’s essence, now contained within the black soulstone, been interred deep within the world that a renegade Angel, Maltheal, goes ahead and steals the damn thing and intends to use it to cleanse the humans from the world and thereby put an end to the eternal conflict between Heaven and Hell. This works only because ‘Diablo’.
Act V begins in the hills above Westmarch, a huge, stone city that is under siege. Maltheal and his lieutenants, in an effort to purge mankind from the globe, have been turning the city’s own inhabitants against one another, turning men into zombies, revenants and a host of other otherworldly torments. Townsfolk are transformed into enemies right before your eyes. The city itself possesses a kind of Gothic quality. Filled with stone houses, streets devoid of human life and this sense of melancholy that is, at times, unnerving. Act IV of the original Diablo III took us through the very pits of Hell and even that was never as well done and horrifying as the broken streets of Westmarch. One quest line had my (still extremely sanctimonious) Monk wading through back-alleys literally overflowing with corpses. It was the most lasting image I’ve had whilst playing the game. The story takes us into swampy ruins, across eternal battlefields and ultimately to the heart of a ruined fortress in Pandemonium, where Mathael awaits with his doomsday device. Reaper of Souls is a condensed version of the original, sending you through earth and heaven in your quest.
The very, very first drop of the entire expansion was a fist weapon that obliterated my current 2 handed sword by some 300+ DPS. Why my monk was wielding a 2 handed sword in the first place could only be described as ‘noobish’. Three minutes later, a pair of boots dropped. Followed by a new helmet, a second fist weapon and before I realized it, all my old, vanilla gear had been upgraded. Just like that, no mucking around, no using my hard earned beer (wine) money to buy something that doesn’t even exist, no rerunning Act II in a fit of masochistic rage. It was like the people who hide hearts and rupees in jars decided to step up their game by a factor of 100. I was hooked on yellows, on getting new gear and worst of all, Blizzard knew it, too. Like a dealer who knows exactly what his customer requires, they doled out a small but steady hit every five to ten minutes that was precisely the right amount of time for me to reconsider a piece of gear. The item varieties still heavily favor DPS, but since this isn’t World of Warcraft that is to be expected. Loot 2.0 is the best thing to happen to Diablo since Diablo II. By removing the Auction Houses and increasing loot drops, the game has become more egalitarian. No longer is it about who has the most free time to earn fake money or who has the most real money. All that Reaper of Souls asks of you is time. Put in a few minutes or a few hours and the game will take care of you.
To put it another way, in 40+ hours of playing my Monk, I believe I saw one crappy level 30 something legendary. Within six hours total playtime in Reaper of Souls, I’ve gotten three. And they’re all awesome. The only downside to Loot 2.0 is that it may be too good. It’s hard to get attached to my kickass staff when I just know it’s gonna be replaced by something in a few levels, if not a few minutes. I think that speaks more to the nature of man than it does to the game, which simply exploits our inherent need to always desire more and better. Or maybe we’re just greedy jerks who will never know happiness. But hey, with enough time, I’m gonna be able to one-shot Diablo himself, so really, who’s the actual winner?
In between writing this review, I in fact just replaced my daibo with two amazing one handers and am now running through things like a ninja through a shoji screen. And then replaced those with an even better daibo.
The second biggest addition to the world of Sanctuary is the new Crusader class, which acts like a halfway point between the unstoppability of the Barbarian and the ascetic wisdom of the Monk. Armed with a flail and a shield, they are my new favorite class, and not simply because they’re the only new class. In World of Warcraft I was a Tank, a good old fashioned sword ‘n’ board Dwarf Warrior who just absorbed damage while my friends wailed on whatever it was we were wailing on. It wasn’t always glamorous and my DPS was awful, but I enjoyed my role and was valued for my skill. In Diablo III, the Barbarian came close to my old World of Warcraft character, but the class’ abilities always revolved around a weapon, either a two hander or by dual wielding. I wasn’t some lowly Fury & damage sponge nor did I play PVP, I tanked! Give me a shield! And lo, Blizzard heard and delivered the Crusader, a brutal ass kicker who also comes with specific shield abilities. That I can also throw the shield at my enemies and therefore fulfill life dream #6: be Captain America, and I would call the hybrid class philosophy behind the Crusader a huge win. My character, a female Crusader named Mydnyte (shut up) voiced by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, strikes a fine balance between holier than thou and badass demon slayer. I don’t know if I could endure another 70 levels of the droll sanctimony of my Monk.
The new creature designs seemed centered around the concept of corruption. Malthael, now the Angel of Death, has invaded Westmarch and the enemies appear accordingly. Malthael’s essence can possess and rend the soul from the living. The cowering civilian and the skittish guard out in the streets will very often be turned into a revenant or skeleton. Meanwhile, tall, elegant Death Maidens direct forces to you and make life terrible (as they do). My personal favorite bestiary addition is the Ghastly Seraph, which is essentially an even more hideous version of Baron Harkonnen from Dune. There’s something comical in a pudgy corrupted angel slowly making its way towards you, hurling ice shards. Sadly, there is still no zoom in mode for the in-game camera. It’s hard to appreciate the work the designers have put in when the camera keeps you at arms reach. A minor complaint, but the mechanic is common in many other games in the genre. [Editor's note- there actually is! The Z key lets you zoom.]
Act V will take probably about 7 to 12 hours to complete, depending on your commitment level. Thankfully, the fun does not stop there. Any player who has completed Act V opens up Adventure mode and with it, a world of replayability. Eschewing the campaign and story bits, the mode unlocks every waypoint in the game, allowing you to travel to whatever location you wish to hunt for Bounties. These are random quests given in each area, usually the killing of an elite mob, which is perfect for the ‘oh no, I have 20 minutes til I have to leave for work so I just want to get something quick in’ crowd. They’re a lot of fun and cut the Diablo experience down to its bare, Munchkin-esque essence: kill monsters, get money. The Nephalem Rifts, a randomized dungeon full of insanity provide quick in-and-outs with the promise of valuable new gear. These new additions are sure to add hours upon hundreds of hours of life to the game.
Blizzard is well known for its polishing of ideas into shiny new packages. Few things of theirs are ‘new’ in the strictest sense of the term, but they can take an idea and make it incredible. Reaper of Souls perfectly captures this spirit of repurposing. The game is sleek and efficient, addicting in the way Blizzard’s games always are. It walks the fine line between being too kind with its rewards and being too stingy. Just when you think you’ll never find an upgrade, one will come along as if to say ‘Don’t worry, man, I got you.’ The expansion is such a well crafted and thought out game that it makes you wonder why the dev team did not open with this from the start. Few things are perfect right out of the gate in any industry and a game like Diablo requires constant tinkering to make it enjoyable for all. Better now than never. Reaper of Souls breathes much needed life into a game that appeared to be crushed under the weight of its own expectations.
At long last, the Diablo game you hoped for has arrived. Stay awhile and listen.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls was reviewed from a code provided by the publisher. It's currently available on Battle.net for $39.99 for the Standard Edition or $59.99 for the Digital Deluxe Edition.
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