Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls wouldn’t have been quite so highly anticipated if it hadn’t been for the fact that the original Diablo 3 was a broken game with a terrible loot system and an unwelcome auction house. For the past couple of years Blizzard has been scratching their heads, trying to figure out what to do with the game, despite the community having told them what they needed to do prior to the original game’s release. Action was finally taken with some leadership changes on the development team, and the road to the expansion’s launch began.
Diablo 3 had its problems despite receiving rave reviews when it launched. The problem with nearly all of the reviews was down to the reviewer, and what they expected from the game. There are two types of Diablo player; one who loves to run through the game then move on to something else, and the other who expects to be continually entertained by a Diablo title for years, as has been the case with Diablo 2. Diablo 3’s features catered for the more casual player and Diablo 2 players were left scratching their heads wondering what went wrong. Before the release of the original game the signs were there that were going to be problems. Sadly, they went ignored by Blizzard. Staying true your convictions and visions has its place but alarm bells should have rung at some point.
So here we are, two years on and there have been some monumental changes to the core game. First with Loot 2.0, and now with the additional features that have arrived with Reaper of Souls. No longer are players grinding through the game looking for elusive legendary items. Loot 2.0 makes Diablo 3 a more rewarding experience with less white trash item drops and more rare drops with better stats, often appropriate to the class that finds it (smart drops). I started playing Reaper of Souls with a level 52 Wizard and within an hour a couple of Legendary items had already dropped. Quite a difference.
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Blizzard needed to address the problems with the loot system and thankfully Loot 2.0 has been applied for all players whether they have the expansion or not. Anyone who thought the loot system was poor should fire up Diablo 3 and check out the changes (RoS not required). Chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Reaper of Souls brings new content in the shape of Act V, which is a romp through new areas of the game. These are “darker” than most of the zones in the original release. The new content returns to the more Gothic style with the dingy streets of Westmarch and the Pandemonium Fortress. The new act is not exactly huge, as you can run through all the new content in around 4 hours with an existing character solo; and then it’s on to Maltheal for the inevitable boss battle. Act V is enjoyable, but over too quickly if you play through it with an existing character, even if you do all the events that are dotted about the new zones.
The other major addition is the new Crusader class, a ranged and melee character with sturdy strikes and mighty throwing abilities. Diablo 2 players will see this class as the closest thing to the Paladin with throwing hammers and holier than thou skills. The Crusader was a pleasant change from my usual Wizard character and allowed me to get stuck into the packs of mobs with my Wrath-generating skills and abilities such as the mighty Blessed Hammer swirling around my general vicinity.
If you get the skill combination right you can effectively keep your hammers swirling nearly all the time. This is a bit annoying for other players but great fun when playing solo. The Crusader feels like a mix of some of the other classes which is probably why I’ve enjoyed playing it so much over the past couple of weeks.
I also think I’ve enjoyed playing this new class even more thanks to Adventure mode. After completing the expansion as the Wizard I jumped straight into Adventure Mode with the Crusader. Not having to endure the disappointingly average storyline and work through the whole game in a set order just to level the character up was excellent. It was also great that I didn’t have to listen to some of that terrible dialogue again.
With a new class and Act RoS is decent enough, but the real meat and bones of this expansion are the features that most seasoned players would have expected to see in the original Diablo 3. Adventure mode is probably the most notable addition, which brings new world maps of Sanctuary. This allows players to hop to wherever they want in the game world and take part in a series of challenges throughout any of the acts, in the search for better gear. There’s also Key Fragments to open Nephalem Rifts (more on those shortly,) and Blood Shards (these too) as rewards. The good news is that these challenges change, so there’s plenty of replayability in Adventure Mode. Sure, you’ll come across some of the challenges again and again but there’s enough to make it feel reasonably fresh. It will probably be the way all fans play the game moving forward.
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The Key Fragments acquired after the completion of a set of Act Bounties in Adventure mode challenges give access to the Nephalem Rifts. These are randomised levels pieced together from all the different tilesets in the game. They can only be entered in Adventure mode through each Act’s town hubs.
Not only are these Nephalem Rift levels randomised, so are the mobs. This means you never know what’s around each corner. The level may look like something from Act 1 but the mobs could be a combination of mobs from other acts so it keeps the experience novel each time you play through a Rift. When inside the Rifts there’s a small bar indicating how many mobs need to be disposed of. Once you’ve got them all then it’s time for a Nephalem Rift Guardian boss fight. Once defeated, there’s loot to be gathered and then back to town for more experience and a cash reward. Huzzah!
The other resource collected from Adventure Mode Bounties are Blood Shards. These can only be used to “gamble” with an the NPC in town. I say gamble but its not really gambling because the only use for Blood Shards is “gambling” at this NPC. So not much to lose, really. It’s just another way to get more items but this time you’re blind to what you’ll actually get. So far nothing decent has popped out from the NPC for me, so it’s proved a bit of a waste of time. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky.
Enchanting items is another new Reaper of Souls feature, and this enables you to switch out a stat from an item for another stat, courtesy of a new Artisan NPC named Myriam. Incidentally, she was supposed to be released with Diablo 3 but was put on the back burner. This is costly on all resources (essences, tears etc) and you can only enchant Legendary and Rare items. In the past this would have been a problem but now both of these item types are dropping at a reasonable rate and Rares are now the most common drops for high level players. There is a caveat. You don’t know exactly what stat will replace the one you’ve elected to overwrite until, so it may take a few tries to get it perfect for an individual item. Still, it works well and it’s a great resource sink for Blizzard which keeps players playing.
The Paragon levels have also been expanded with Blizzard removing the 100 level cap. The system has been reworked and Paragon points can now be collected to augment your character’s abilities. Players can now actually create slightly different builds by assigning points to four areas of specialty: Core, Offense, Defense and Utility. Applying points into these Paragon categories will bring everything from increased movement speed to increased AOE.
Happily, these can also be reset for no cost. With Paragon levels now account-wide these points will have to be reset depending on which character you’ve decided to take for a jaunt around Sanctuary. This is a real incentive to keep playing and also keep playing with all your different characters.
A further significant change to the game is the difficulty scaling. The Monster Power setting has now been removed from the game with mobs now scaling. This might sound like it’s not a big deal, but it actually is. Everything feels just right when fighting the monsters from hell and it all scales depending on level and difficulty. There’s a handy page illustrating how things have changed which is probably better than me trying to explain how it all works. Read that? Good.
There’s still more to come with the announcement of a ladder system, which was a feature sorely missed, and also the addition of Tiered Rifts where players will be challenged to “get the farthest” by clearing Rifts. These will both be added to Reaper of Souls in the weeks ahead according to Blizzard.
Reaper of Souls has brought the Diablo franchise back on track and the best thing Blizzard did was bring Josh Musquira onto the team to sort it out. When Jay Wilson stood down as game director he looked a broken man. It was obvious the game was not going down well with the fans, or for Jay. Bless him. His talents are being put to good use elsewhere in the company.
I have enjoyed playing this expansion now the game is in a better place, but my major gripe is the price of around £32. Blizzard has obviously spent significant time fixing the core problems in Diablo 3 but you need the expansion to enjoy crucial aspects like Adventure Mode (though not the Loot 2.0 fixes.) In fact, you really need this expansion to enjoy Diablo 3. Blizzard knows this expansion is a game changer and have priced it accordingly. I’m a sucker for Diablo so I’m prepared to pay for it. Blizzard know that.
I can safely say that Diablo 3 is back on track and if you’ve put the game down after enduring the original and vowed never to go back, dig it out and reinstall. It will be worth the effort. Diablo is fun again.
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