Finally! Diablo III has actually started to become the game that Blizzard promised us years ago, and it’s about time too. As well as the Reaper of Souls expansion pack that was released on March 25th, Blizzard introduced a major content patch about a month before that, which gave Diablo III a badly need overhaul.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m was a fan of Diablo III and all, but like many of those who played Diablo II previously, I found myself torn between enjoying the new content and wishing desperately that they would return some of the features that were removed.
Reaper of Souls takes a significant step in that direction, returning the gameplay to a much more deliberate pace, even if it came at the cost of a complete reworking of the classes, monsters, items and loot system. Reaper of Souls also introduced the new Crusader class and provides access to Act V, which is set primarily in the city of Westmarch. For the sake of those who enjoy the storyline of the Diablo series as much as I do, I will do my best to avoid any plot spoilers.
Unlike the midnight release of Diablo III, Reaper of Souls managed a smooth launch with little to no queuing or wait times. Although I already had a level 60 character of each class and could have gone on to Act V right at midnight, I instead opted to try out the Crusader. I had rather expected that the Crusader would play a lot like the Barbarian does, especially now that whirlwind has been nerfed to oblivion.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Crusader differs from the Barbarian significantly in that most of his strengths come from defensive boosts rather than offensive, making him seem like some kind of Barbarian/Monk hybrid. Like the Monk, the Crusader has a variety of aura-like abilities called laws. Unlike auras however, laws provide a permanent passive bonus to only the Crusader, not sharing their effects with allies until they are used in battle.
By far my favourite thing about the Crusader is the passive ability Heavenly Strength, which allows them to use a two-handed weapon in one hand with a shield in the other. Though this comes with the loss of fifteen percent movement speed, it is well worth the trouble, especially since the Crusader has access to several dashing abilities that can make up for it.
Rushing through Acts I through IV, I managed to make it to Act V in about four hours, enjoying the new loot system along the way. Though some of the terrain and enemies in Act V are recycled from previous content, the majority of it is set inside the city of Westmarch, which is significantly different from previous environments. The areas in Westmarch tend to be pretty big in scale and include a quite a few events and small dungeon areas.
Act V also seems to include a hell of a lot more summoning monsters, which can be very difficult on harder difficulties, especially so when combined with the narrow paths in Westmarch. Just like in previous Acts, there are several boss battles before the final boss in the Act, each of which has it’s own strategy. I found the three bosses of Act V to be much harder than those in previous acts, especially since all three seem to be especially unfortunate for close combat builds. Over all, I was actually a bit disappointed with the plot of Reaper of Souls, mostly because it seemed a little too obvious.
With the reworked items, crafting system and loot mechanics, Reaper of Souls manages to make much better use of the huge variety of items and stats, providing far more rare and useful drops. On top of that, the new artisan, the mystic, can provide an expensive enchanting service that allows you to replace unwanted item stats with better alternatives.
While item enchanting is expensive in terms of both gold and crafting materials, the removal of the auction house and limitations on legendary trading mean that there aren’t very many other ways to spend your gold anyway. Another service that the mystic provides is called transmogrification, which allows the player to customize their gear’s appearance, though not its function. Since legendary items can’t be dyed, it’s nice to be able to wear something other than bright pink and neon green while battling demons without having to change items.
Possibly the most exciting feature introduced with Reaper of Souls is the new Adventure Mode, which can be obtained after beating Act V in the campaign. Adventure mode provides five quests per Act called bounties, with each one imparting a unique item called a Rift Keystone. The bounties are randomized for each play session and can include objectives such as kill a particular enemy, complete and event or loot a specific chest.
Once all five bounties have been completed, returning to talk to Tyreal in town will award a random grab-bag of loot, often containing legendary items. Using the five Rift Keystones obtained during the bounties, the player can then approach the Nephalem Obelisk that sits in town, spending the Keystones to open up the rift, which is essentially just a randomized dungeon. Once inside, the player is tasked with killing a certain number of enemies, with a progress bar showing the percentage completed. Upon reaching 100%, a Rift Guardian appears and must be defeated to obtain the rare loot that he drops. With the bounties and Nephalem Rifts randomized in each new session, Adventure Mode provides a far less repetitious way of doing loot runs and is also just as useful when it comes to grinding experience.
All in all, Diablo III: Reaper of Souls went a long way to restoring my faith in the game’s future, in terms of both single player and the PvP system that is still to come. Before the major class overhaul, it was almost impossible to imagine a balanced PvP system, mostly due to the insane ability synergies that made the whirlwind Barbarian and critical mass Wizard popular.
While it still might be possible, it is now much harder to perpetually spend and regenerate casting resources, which brings a much greater element of precision and skill to the gameplay. Even more impressively, the class changes mean that most, if not all, abilities, runes and passives are viable, finally allowing for the build diversity that the rune system was intended for. Of course, some builds will be better rounded than others, but at least it doesn’t seem like each class has ‘required’ abilities like they used to.
With so much new and different content in Reaper of Souls, I’m sure I’ve missed some of the things I intended to mention, but my point remains the same; Reaper of Souls is the game that Diablo III should have been all along. Now, off I go to play some more Adventure Mode!