To say the Diablo III launch was a bit of a mess is an understatement. Not only did poor servers make the game near un-playable for days but the controversial auction house and low item drop rates alienated many fans of the series as well as newcomers. So when, back in August, Blizzard unveiled the Reaper of Souls expansion, many fans hoped they would finally listen and fix many of the errors they made with the original game.
Fortunately, Reaper of Souls (combined with the loot 2.0 patch that launched a couple of weeks before the expansion) goes a long way to fixing many of the issues. The auction house has been entirely removed, meaning better loot can no longer be purchased for in-game (or real) money. In order to make sure players still have access to decent gear the item drops have been changed for the better.
Within an hour of playing Reaper of Souls a legendary item dropped, within three hours I had 2 and within five hours I had 5 legendary items drop. To put that into perspective in my 100+ hours with the standard game I had 3 legendary drops and by all accounts that was relatively lucky. Its not only legendary items that are more common but also rare and magic items; in fact at times it can seem like magic and rare items are the only ones that drop as they are so common. That’s not to say rubbish drops aren’t present, but they certainly aren’t as frequent as before.
New items also have many more affixes that can change the way you play. My current barbarian sword of choice has a high chance to deal lighting damage that can bounce to numerous foes. Sure I have other swords that may do slightly more damage but the ability to take out numerous enemies at once means I will be sticking with it for a while.
A new artisan has also been added who has the ability to change certain properties of items, for a price of course. If you don’t really need that life on hit bonus you could swap it out with a different affix, randomly assigned from a predetermined pool which you can see beforehand. She can also change how items look, so creating the meanest looking barbarian or the coolest looking wizard is an easy task.
So then, the auction house is gone and the loot system is better than it has ever been, but what about that always-online component? Unfortunately it’s still ever-present and still causing issues. Although the initial launch day was smooth, a week later the servers were hit with DOS attacks making the game unplayable for some time. The expectation that Reaper of Souls might remove the always-online component may have been unreasonable, but it would have been very welcome.
Content-wise, the new expansion adds a new act to play through (Act V), which sees the angel of death, Malthael, utilize the power of the Black Soul Stone to wreak havoc in what is unfortunately a lack-luster and mostly forgettable plot – although the ending is quite interesting. Malthael himself is a worthy foe but is not used enough throughout the act. There is always a high threat level that is felt, unlike with Diablo, but a few more interactions with Malthael himself would have made him a much more menacing and well-rounded antagonist.
The streets of Westmarch, where you start your quest, have an eeriness not found in any other place in Sanctuary. The streets are lined with dead bodies, which thanks to Malthael’s powers can quickly turn into Reapers ready to launch an attack straight towards you. Further locations only add to the darker tone and eclipse almost every other area we visited in the original Diablo III experience.
The reapers themselves are the main new type of enemy, which branch from standard ghostly rangers to some frankly awesome reaper dogs that will pick you up and throw you around, just like a giant evil dog would do. The expansion features three main boss fights concluding with Malthael himself. Each of the fights is very unique and throws in some interesting ideas, but while they are a lot better than previous boss fights there is still some room for improvement.
Also included in the expansion is the brand new Crusader class. The variety of skills (which can still be changed on the fly) on offer result in a number of viable builds. Firstly, I went for a bit of a tank build, with a 2 handed sword in one hand (thanks to a passive skill) and a giant shield in the other. For the most part it worked but once I jumped into multiplayer it became clear that other abilities would be more beneficial. I transitioned into a crowd control menace: while my damage wasn’t so high, my ability to control a group of reapers was un-matched, something my party were very happy with. Playing a Crusader is extremely satisfying, and I expect to take mine all the way to the new level cap of 70.
The final main addition is the Adventure Mode unlocked after you beat Act V. Adventure Mode is the answer to the poor end game of Diablo III which sees you head through locations from all acts collecting bounties that may see you fighting a edited boss, clearing a dungeon of monsters or helping out a farmer, among other things. Completing these not only offers up more loot but also a passage into a Nephalem Rift, a randomized dungeon that sees you fighting the craziest of enemies for the craziest loot. While the core Adventure Mode is what you will mostly be playing, the Nephalem Rifts offer a great change of pace and add a lot of entertainment.
It goes without saying that the Adventure Mode is what many players will put hundreds of hours into. Finally, we don’t have to continuously replay the campaign over and over again. The Adventure Mode, combined with the 10 or so new difficulty levels, offers replayability like we have never seen in Diablo before, primarily because it remains great fun even after hours of playing.
VERDICT: Reaper of Souls turns Diablo III into the game that it should have been at launch. The Auction House is gone, the loot system is fixed and we finally have a proper end-game that will keep both new and experienced players fighting for many hours to come. Unless you play as a Crusader there is almost no change to the core gameplay, so if you didn’t like it first time round you wont like it now. But for those of us who loved the original game, Reaper of Souls is the perfect excuse to jump back in and indulge in hours of loot-collecting, monster-destroying, good old-fashioned fun.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher.