Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls Review (PC)
Loot addicts rejoice, the equipment-grind of Diablo III has returned in full force with a variety of upgrades in its huge expansion, Reaper of Souls. A lot of old school Diablo fans didn't embrace the third title as much as they did its previous incarnations; many cited that Diablo III's locations were too bright, that its grind was too easy or that it just didn't have the randomized, open-ended sense of exploration that Diablo and Diablo II had (along with Diablo II's expansion, Lord of Destruction). As always, Blizzard listened closely to its fans and critics about Diablo III, and with its newest expansion, Reaper of Souls, Blizzard seeks to reel in its former dungeon-grinding fiends who may have been turned off by Diablo III's initial release.
While Diablo III: Reaper of Souls adds a massive, fifth act to its storyline, it also attempts to redefine Diablo III's overall gameplay with a multitude of changes. The inclusion of pre-expansion patch, which added in the "Loot 2.0" item system, a month prior to Reaper's release helped give Blizzard just enough time to properly fix, alter and experiment with the loot system of Diablo III so that it was perfected by the time this expansion came out. Malthael's angel-gone-bad (for the greater good) and preparing to undo life itself reflects the lengths Blizzard went to change Diablo III with this expansion - its controversial Auction House was removed, cash transactions for gear were removed, its loot system was revamped and Reaper did exactly what Diablo III could not do. That's right, Reaper of Souls successfully rekindles the dark, dreary and suspenseful sense of exploring Hell on Earth, which was notably missing in Diablo III.
The first thing you will notice before you take to the darkened streets of Westmarch in Reaper of Souls is the addition of a new character class, the Crusader. The Crusader makes up for Diablo III's obvious lack of a Paladin class, despite having the skills and spells of Diablo II's Paladin being distributed among the Monk and Barbarian classes of Diablo III. Your Crusader uses both melee and mixed attacks, comprised of shield and new melee weapons (such as giant flails), which show that as defensive as the Crusader can be, he'll bludgeon enemies to death with his shield just as hard as the Barbarian can with a sword. Toss in an array of holy spells and light-based attacks (such as shining a light in front of you to blind your enemies), and the Crusader is one tough hombre. The Crusader is also a welcome addition when playing with party members, bringing the ability to heal, maximum HP raises and a variety of buffs along with the character's overwhelming physical prowess. Don't get us wrong, the Crusader is awesome on the battlefield, but he's not overpowered. For as strong the Crusader's shield and flails are, Reaper of Souls is going to take you to the brink, which is what we were hoping for.
Besides the addition of the Crusader class, the biggest change brought to Diablo III in Reaper of Souls are the graphics of its new campaign. Diablo III had you going through the deserts of Caldeum and the glorious (though demon-filled) skies of Heaven, which were much brighter locations than we have come to know and expect from the series, especially considering that Diablo I and II utilized dark, claymation-inspired graphics and had you literally trampling through Hell for hours on end. The Malthael-oriented storyline of Reaper will take you to Westmarch, which is both grim and beautiful at the same time. Gone are Caldeum's bright dunes or the High Heaven's glorious lights. Instead, Westmarch and the lands after it take you to locations where we were hoping Diablo III was originally going to take us. Westmarch had thousands of corpses littering its streets. Even when we were cleansing it of all demon activity, the second we entered a building or turned a corner, we found ourselves overwhelmed yet again with such drastic, environmental changes.
This sense of a varying backgrounds and environments helps paint Reaper of Souls in a new light that makes it stand out so much from the original four acts of Diablo III. Reaper's locations are grim and absolutely filled to the brink with demons, undead and monsters for you to slaughter. Even better is how randomized everything feels. You can explore the fifth act multiple times, and it never gets boring. This can be attributed to the sheer massiveness of its maps have mixed with how expertly Blizzard randomized everything you will encounter during each playthrough. Even the locations of each bonus dungeon, cellar or extra building you could explore just kept making Westmarch feel like a new experience every single time we ever visited it. This wild mix of adventure, horror and exploration reach a pinnacle when you reach the lands of Pandemonium, which you must first break into with what is arguably the most memorable sequence in Diablo history where you fight hordes of enemies atop a massive battering ram that repeatedly slams into Pandemonium's massive walls.
At first, Reaper of Souls meets your standard fair of expectations associated with a Blizzard expansion: level cap raised from 60 to 70, some new skills/abilities, a new class, a new campaign story, etc. These things are all fine and dandy and would have warranted a purchase for Reaper of Souls on their own. What Reaper also does, is completely revamp the post-campaign Diablo III experience. Before, there were higher difficulties warranting better loot, which got repetitive after a while. Now, Reaper of Souls' inclusion of Adventure Mode, Bounties, Nephalem Rifts and the Mystic artisan all help extend Diablo III's overall replayability moreso than anything Diablo III originally had to offer.
After beating the main story, you will have access to Adventure Mode, where you can do a plethora of 15-minute long quests, called Bounties, which tremendously change the gear-acquiring process. Bounties act as quests, where you have to kill a specific enemy, clear an area, kill a number of baddies or perform a specific action. After you clear the Bounty, you get loot, gold, crystal blood shards (which you can spend exclusively for powerful items) and you will also receive Rift Keystone pieces. Once you complete all five Bounties that are assigned to one specific act, you will get a Horadric Cache, which contains a higher quality of randomized loot along with two more Rift Keystone pieces. Once you have enough Keystone pieces, you can open a Nephalem Rift which are comprised of randomized areas from all the game's acts tossed into a blender and redone with a complete graphical makeover, warranting the best gear that Reaper of Souls has to offer. We must implore you to see just how impressive the Nephalem Rift areas look on your own, because they warp some of our favorite Diablo III locations into places that are downright amazing.
The last addition to the gameplay of Diablo III brought on by Reaper of Souls is extremely important to the loot process. The Mystic artisan will allow you to pick specific attributes of your gear and swap it out for a different, randomized statistic for a price. So let's say you find an amazing piece of gear, but it has one undesirable stat you don't care for. You can simply swap that statistic out and hope for a more useful stat, which you can do over and over (for a hefty price each time). The Mystic also introduces the Transmogrification process of World of Warcraft into Diablo III, so you can change what your gear looks like to make an awesome or hilarious-looking ensemble, while still keeping your favorite gear equipped. The addition of the Mystic is a godsend for people who obsess over their equipment and offers a chance to finely tune your gear without breaking the game due to how expensive the process is.
Ultimately, Reaper of Souls is more than enough to reel in former Diablo III players who went into a demon-slaying hiatus. More importantly, Reaper has the ability to appeal to the fans of Diablo I and II that were turned off by Diablo III. Reaper has the look and massive sense of exploration that was noticeably missing from the original version of Diablo III, and offers enough variety and changes to its gameplay, joined by the changes of the Loot 2.0 system, that any Diablo fan should be clamoring to play.
This review was completed using a purchased retail copy of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls for PC.