After the classic that was Diablo II, expectations for a follow-up were at an all-time high. Although it could never really meet those expectations, Diablo III was a fine hack and slash, and I ended up replaying it time and time again with every possible class.
But it wasn't perfect of course, since loot was designed around the ill-fated and ill-designed Auction House, putting a damper on long-term gear goals. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls may not reinvent the wheel, but it eliminates many of the problems from DIII proper.
And most importantly, the Auction House is gone all around!
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (PC [reviewed], Mac)
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release: March 25, 2014
Before you even begin your adventure in Reaper of Souls, Patch 2.0.1, or the "Loot 2.0" patch is already fully in place. This doesn't require the purchase of Souls, but it adds in quite a few changes that make the entire game much better as a result. Paragon levels have been uncapped and are account-wide, rare drops have increased (and junk drops have decreased), a clan system is now available, the crafting system has been made more accessible (materials have been combined for less confusion), timed events have been added, and difficulties have been reworked.
A lot of these changes seem to be unchained due to the removal of the Auction House, which allows the loot system to really thrive. You'll earn rare and even legendary items on a constant basis, keeping that loot wheel turning pretty much every run -- it reignites that flame of "one more dungeon" that Diablo III sorely missed after a few weeks of play.
The other changes are pretty great as well, most notably the difficulty system. Now you can pick from five options all the way up to Torment (which is basically Inferno with a sliding scale) whenever you want, granting extra bonuses like more experience. This is a two-fold fix, as it not only alleviates the issue of people finding the game too easy the first time around, but it also helps keep you interested for longer periods of time with more options. Now, you don't have to beat the game three times to get to the "hard part." It's a win-win.
Beyond that, there are Reaper of Souls specific additions that further augment Diablo III's new features -- most notably a brand new Act, a new character, and "adventure mode." The first thing you'll probably notice when you boot up Souls is the Crusader class, which is defense-minded damage dealer that's basically a mix between a Barbarian and a Monk.
Like the archetype allows, the Crusader is a nice mix between offense and defense, allowing you to customize your character according to your personal priorities. Because they have access to a number of buffs and debuffs, you can choose to go all out with strong abilities like hammers or defensive powers like magic shields, or go for a middle of the road approach.
They also have a ton of unique skills that no other class has, like a magical horse that crashes through enemies, and their armor design and general theme fits the game perfectly. If you loved the Paladin in Diablo II and the Monk didn't really fill that void, you'll love the Crusader. I would have preferred two extra classes (perhaps another caster) in this expansion to balance things out, but the Crusader is definitely fun enough to go from 1-70 with on its own.
Speaking of level 70, that's the new cap that applies to everyone. All classes will get an extra ultimate ability and more runes, as well as more passives and an extra passive slot at max level. The account-wide paragon system also allows you to tweak everyone beyond the cap, allowing for an unprecedented amount of customization -- and that extra passive slot goes farther than you'd think.
A third Artisan (in addition to the Blacksmith and the Jeweler) also makes an appearance in Souls, in the form of the Mystic. This NPC can re-work specific statistics in items into more desirable parameters for a price, as well as morph existing items into different skins through transmogrification. The former is a fairly pricey affair, but the latter is so well done (and appropriately priced) that it ensures you'll never hate the look of your character again. If you get an amazing item that looks lame, you can just change it in seconds. Like the new ability changes, it ensures that you're always in control of your character.
The meat of Reaper of Souls however is Act V, which takes place in the desolate area of Westmarch. The narrative itself deals with Malthael, a former member of the Angiris Council and ex-Archangel of Wisdom, who has since become the Angel of Death -- the arch-nemesis of the expansion. It's pretty standard stuff when it comes to Diablo III's so-so narrative, but the environments and enemy models aren't ripped wholesale from the core game, which is what really makes Act V shine in its own right.
Malthael's minions range from grim reaper type foes, to bone dogs, to general demonic entities, as you make your way through a variety of towns, graveyards, swamps, and temples. It's basically a mix of every Act before it, but with its own signature artstyle and charms. Although the areas themselves are fun I would have preferred better boss fights (and at least one more at that), because outside of one fan-service oriented enemy everything pales in comparison to the Ancients encounter from Diablo II. It's not like the bosses are bad, per se, but I expected a bit more based on Blizzard's past experience.
The good news is once you're all done with the story, you can embark upon Adventure Mode -- a new feature in Reaper of Souls. Here you'll basically collect a number of different quests (bounties) with every active waypoint that can be tackled with your leisure. Usually these are shallow requests like "kill this boss" or "clear this area," but you'll earn tons of bonus experience for your efforts, as well as shards that can be used to open up random dungeons (rifts).
This is basically the new lifeblood of Reaper of Souls, as dedicated players will no doubt take their 70s into Torment difficulty bounties and rifts in search of better loot -- and with Loot 2.0, they'll get it. It also helps that the new Paragon system is helping you earn stats for every character along the way, including a potential Crusader character, so no session feels like a waste.
Diablo III may have lost its allure after a first months of play, but Reaper of Souls has sucked me right back in again. Most of these additions should have been in the base game from the get-go, but there's no denying that they're welcome changes. Now that Diablo III has a new base to work from, I hope Blizzard keeps at it to make it the best they possibly can. Thankfully, Reaper of Souls gives me hope.