Diablo III: Reaper of Souls – Review
There are many times in life where it’s best not to listen to the opinion of the crowd. In the majority of cases, it’s best to forge your own path, make your own decisions and live with the consequences for better or for worse. Remaining true to your original vision may lose the support of some, but will inevitably lead to admiration and accolade from those that recognised your pure, unadulterated intentions. Of course, every now and then, if the majority of people are screaming from the rooftops that your stubbon adherence to your plan is naff, it may be wise to peek your head above the parapet and take a sense check. Fortunately, in the case of Reaper of Souls, this appears to be exactly what Blizzard have done.
Anyone with even a passing interest in Diablo 3‘s history will be aware that this is a game that has already built up a significant bundle of ill-will from players. From the initial launch problems, to the (still-present) always-online requirement, players had plenty to complain about. The introduction of both the virtual currency and real money auction houses also left plenty perturbed, although I personally approached this as a nice idea and way for me to sell on any loot that wasn’t useful to me. As time went on though, the community became vociferous in its criticism of the auction house for one simple reason – it broke the core experience of the Diablo series – the bashing of beasties and gathering of mighty loot (which honestly sounds like a brilliant name for a band). From personal experience, the amount of awesome loot drops that fell for me in my first 100-150 hours of playing the base game could be counted on one hand. It became clear that Blizzard wanted players to be ushered in to the auction house for their gear – leading to a nice tasty profit on each transaction for Acti-Blizzard. This led to an extremely unsatisfying end-game, and players left the game in droves.
The release of the console versions in Sepetember last year saw the introduction of a system dubbed ‘Loot 2.0′. Taken from our review at the time, we noted that “the controversial auction house is nowhere to be seen here, and as a result the loot metagame feels a lot fairer – much more like it did in Diablo 2, in fact. Loot drops are frequently far more useful than they ever were in [our] experience of the PC version.” The big change now, then, is that with the release of Reaper of Souls, Blizzard have backtracked and removed the auction house from the PC version, implementing ‘Loot 2.0′ in a free patch, fundamentally changing the game for all players – in my opinion, for the better. Reaper of Souls was clearly designed with this change in mind – everything about this expansion plays to the classic Diablo strengths of monster-slaying and treasure-grabbing.
The headline features then: we are introduced to a new character class in the Crusader (who I’ll come to later), and a new chapter of story, catchily dubbed ‘Act V’, in which you must stop Death from doing what Death does. Which is, erm, make people dead. Honestly, it seems a little unfair to be down on Malthael, formerly the Archangel of Wisdom, presently the Angel of Death, for simply doing what he does – but for some reason the people of Westmarch (the first of a few major new environments seen in Act V) are all antsy and up in arms because they’re being killed in their droves and converted in to soul reapers in their own right. What follows is a fairly standard story of finding a maguffin to stop a bad guy and therefore win at being a hero.
The story doesn’t stoke any fires, but this really doesn’t matter one jot. The campaign’s strength lies in the richness of the world and the sheer amount that there is to do. While Acts I-IV could become a bit of a drag, V’s is realised superbly. There are umpteen side-quests and areas to explore, each throwing up a unique scenario or monster, with a peasant uprising story threaded through the main narrative by these side-quests. The environments are beautiful and characterful, with the burning medieval city of Westmarch giving way to misty bogs and fantastical labyrinths. A fight atop a battering ram is a particular highlight here. Once the story is done and dusted, ‘Adventure Mode’ is unlocked – and it is here that Reaper of Souls makes the most sense. Adventure Mode opens the game up entirely, making every single locale accessible from the get-go, with randomly generated missions and objectvies spread throughout. Completing these leads to huge rewards in both loot and XP, and grants keys to the last major addition – The Nephalem Rifts.
The Rifts are special areas filled with high-level monsters in randomly-generated areas. They are generally composed of several levels which don’t have to be tied together thematically, with the sole (soul?) goal being to kill everything in sight. Murdering enough of hell’s legions spawns a boss monster, who, once taken down, will give up some of the best spoils to be found anywhere in the game. Adventure Mode, and the Nephalem Rifts included within, finally provide Diablo 3 with the end-game that it so desperately needed, especially now that the difficulty mode has been completely revamped. There are now five levels of difficulty to choose from, ranging from Normal through to Torment, and any of these can be selected from the start. If it proves too tough, the level can even be lowered on-the-fly in-game. For the truly dedicated loot hunters out there, Torment itself features six sub-levels of toughness, ranging from, so far as I can tell with my undergeared heroes, ‘Oh No Please Don’t Hurt Me Aaaargh’ right up to ‘….ok, I need to turn this down now’. With higher difficulty comes, of course, hightened challenge, but also greater rewards with XP bonuses and higher-level loot drops – the very best gear will only ever drop in Torment mode.
The new character class, the Crusader, is more than a nod back to the Paladin of Diablo 2. The Crusader initially works as being something to finally justify the inclusion of shields as an item type. A combined tank/damage dealing class, the move-set is a mixture of melee and mid-range attacks, with some abilities also designed to help cure the party in the midst of battle. Minute-to-minute gameplay feels similar to that of the Barbarian, but there is enough here to warrant the inclusion of an entirely new character type. Another minor addition is a new vendor, the Mystic , joining the Jeweller and the Blacksmith, who is able to re-roll one attribute on a piece of gear. The Mystic also brings across a World of Warcraft favourite called transmogrification (no, really) which allows the player to change the look of their gear – for a price.
It must be noted that the core shift in the mechanics of the game that make it so much fun now mostly come about because of the Loot 2.0 patch, which is free to all players regardless of whether they have the expansion or not. If it wasn’t for Adventure Mode being expansion exclusive, there would be little point in Reaper of Souls. The extra campaign chapter is a nice enough, but it isn’t even close to justifying this expansion, in true Blizzard tradition, retailing at around £30 at the time of writing. The longer-term changes do just about justify this at the asking price though.
The best thing, then, about Reaper of Souls is that it makes Diablo 3 the game that it should have been all along.The frustrations of having to constantly repeat the story in each difficulty for each character has gone, and now the loot that you find is actually worth a damn. The biggest testament that I can pay to this is that I have been playing all week in lieu of food, sleep, or feeding the cats. I’m hooked in a way that I never was when the game was first released, and that’s pretty much the biggest recommendation that I can give.Pros
- Act V is wonderfully atmospheric and is packed with things to do
- Adventure Mode and Nephalem Rifts keep you coming back for more
- The removal of the auction house returns that magpie-like loot obsession that we know and love
- A lot of the welcome changes are actually made by a free patch
- Expansion is arguably a little pricy for what it is
Reaper of Souls has sunk its claws deep in to me and kept me hooked with Adventure Mode and Nephalem Rifts. It returns players back to the simple joy of boshing beasties on the bonce in order to make them explode in to a geyser of blood, gore, loot and gold. For some, this will be too little, too late, but for everyone else this is a worthy expansion that will provide hours of fun.
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