Diablo’s dungeons are Blizzards Lego sets and they just figured out a bunch of new ways to put things together. Reaper of Souls is the first expansion for the Diablo 3, and it adds a new class (the crusader), a whole new Act for the campaign (bringing the total to five) and Adventure Mode, a new game mode allowing for more end game content for those determined to be the most powerful adventurer on Sanctuary.
Act V, Reaper of Souls’ addition to the campaign mode, takes place immediately following the events of Act IV where players defeated Diablo and sealed him inside the black Soulstone with the rest of the Prime Evils. In Act V, Malthael, the corrupt Angel of Death steals the black Soulstone for his own ends and brings chaos to the land of Sanctuary, players have to defeat metal in his fortress of Pandemonium and reclaim the black Soulstone to save all of humanity. The basic plot seems to make sense, but the way some elements are introduced lessen the impact a little, with the Pandemonium fortress in particular being referenced several times before any relevant exposition explains what it actually is. Admittedly, it has been featured as a location in previous Diablo games, but considering that the series’ previous installment was released 14 years ago, it might be asking a little much for the many series newcomers to have any experience with it.
It seems strange for Blizzard, one of the most highly regarded and popular developers of recent years to still be releasing rather old-school expansion packs in the modern era of downloadable content, especially when considering Reaper of Souls retails at £32.99, which seems a little much for one new Act and a new class.
The feeling of being ripped off is exacerbated at first glance, as the theme of Act V seems to be ‘the same as Act I-IV, but more’. It’s certainly more of an evolution than a revolution. The Act itself is easily the largest in the game though, with both enormous individual environments for players to explore, and more side-quests and additional, longer, dungeons to explore. While going some way to justifying the price tag, quantity alone isn’t enough to make it worth your time.
Thankfully, the world of Sanctuary isn’t just bigger, it’s better. In particular the visual design of the environments is incredible, with lighting and weather effects ramping up the atmosphere so even when there’s not a pack of fearsome monsters waiting round the next corner, it always feels as though there is. The fearsome monsters themselves have changed as well, with a huge amount of new enemy models for players to slay, although the basic enemies in some areas do seem to be variations on the series theme of skeletons or massive flesh ogres.
The new class available in Reaper of Souls, the crusader, is thankfully more than capable of dealing with the almost numberless horde of flesh ogres. Having both class specific weapons (the single and double handed flails) and new crusader only shields, the crusader is reminiscent of the Paladin class from more traditional RPGs. The crusader generates wrath, similar to the barbarian rage and the monk’s spirit, which can be spent to unleash more powerful strikes with both weapons and shields. It’s not all rosy for the crusader, though, as it’s the only melee class not to benefit from the 30% damage reduction enjoyed by the monk and barbarian. The class feels fun to play, and has a lot of potential for different builds, without seeming inherently unbalanced.
A particularly welcome feature in Reaper of Souls new Act is the addition of companion and npc quests. It works well to round out the stories of the companions who adventure at your side throughout, and breathes a little life into a game world which at times feels like you’re the only living participant surrounded by talking dolls or RPG standard quest-givers who have their feet nailed to the floor.
The expansion, and the patch that preceded it, may not have done much to change up Diablo 3’s traditional dungeon-crawler RPG format, but there have been a host of improvements in what was originally one of Blizzard’s weakest releases of recent years. Both the real-money and in-game gold auction houses closed down a week before the Reaper of Souls hit shelves, and the difficulty and loot systems, which in a dungeon crawler, represent key elements of the experience, have been completely overhauled in favour of a more streamlined and easier to access experience.
The new system of difficulty settings in particular is a vast improvement, allowing players to adjust their game to any one of ten difficulty settings and having the game scale the enemies to the correct difficulty, no matter what level the character or the section of the game you’re playing. However, while this new system allows players to move up difficulties more quickly and find more powerful items and enemies, it does go some way to removing story progression as a necessity.
However, there are still underlying flaws which Reaper of Souls is powerless to completely fix. The game world lacks some of the charm of the more successful Blizzard franchises and after you’ve played through the story once, there’s a grind towards the endgame, which, with PvP still failing to take off in a big way, is just the satisfaction of having better gear than anyone else.
The new addition of the Adventure Mode seems to be a move to stave off boredom in the endgame though. Adventure Mode allows players to go back to any Act they’ve previously played and collect bounties on specific bosses and dungeons (exactly which bosses and dungeons change frequently), in order to get bonus loot and experience. It’s a nice idea, which gives players a bit more freedom to quickly find new challenges rather than having to wade through filler quests in the traditional campaign, and it’s a lot of fun to boot, but at the end of the day it’s delaying the inevitable rather than dealing with the problem.
That said, while you’re actually playing, Reaper of Souls is very enjoyable, the combat works well and there’s enough variation in the class abilities and upgrade runes to build each class a couple of different ways. The loot changes make sure you get items which are actually useful for your class (although this can make gearing your companions slightly tricky if they require different main stats to your character.
This is both the games biggest strength and its biggest weakness. It’s fun to play, especially if you play it with a few friends, or set up a clan with people you know from other Blizzard games, and you’ll have a good time while you’re playing. But the game doesn’t really go anywhere, and after you’ve played every class to a decent level, it’s just a matter of time until the fun wears off. This isn’t unique to Diablo by any means, it’s something a lot of games struggle with, but by putting the emphasis on continued play with the harder difficulty levels (Tormet 2-6 are particularly nasty) players will want to embrace the challenge, only to find that, at some point, the challenge stops being fun.
Overall, Reaper of Souls is a great addition to Diablo 3, the new Act is a nice expansion of the story, minor plot confusion withstanding, and it’s good to see Blizzard trying to change up the endgame with the addition of Adventure Mode. Underneath it’s still the same experience, and while fun, it won’t last forever, although this does stem from certain genre limitations. If you enjoy RPG’s or hack-and-slash games, it’s definitely one to try.
- Combat is fun and intense.
- Great control of difficulty for players.
- New class feels great to play.
- Act V is huge.
- Environments nicer than ever (the very last one is a particular treat).
- Eventually game feels samey.
- Endgame is the same but harder.
- Second half of the Act feels like a race to the end.