Diablo 3, or at least the PC version of the game, was almost universally considered a disappointment when it initially released back in 2012. The final version of the game felt undercooked and rather rushed, mainly due to the sheer lack of direction the game suffered from once the titular Diablo had been slain. It’s taken nearly two years since then, but Diablo 3 is no longer what it was, and Reaper of Souls is the mark of Diablo‘s full rebirth.
Reaper of Souls instantly feels more canon-related to Diablo stories of old, which is something the third entry didn’t do all that well. The Archangel Malthael has cast aside his old ways and adopted the mantel of the Angel of Death, with the aim to burn through the mortal world. Enter franchise-familiar Tyrael (now in his human form) and the player-controlled Nephalem; only they stand between Death and the destruction of new location Westmarch.
As expected, the Angel of Death brings forth a horde of various undead creatures to suck the souls out of the Gothic Westmarch. This is where things feel distinctly Diablo–a dark tale set upon a highly Gothic-infused location littered with grim imagery and hints of the occult. The whole Westmarch act feels almost alien to the rather bright locations of Diablo 3‘s core campaign. Westmarch, and the Reaper of Souls story, has a much more darker tone, fitting the game’s art style perfectly.
The core of Diablo 3 has also been reworked as part of the pre-expansion patch known as Loot 2.0. The majority of character skills have been tweaked, as well as the loot tables from level 1 through 70. The skill tweaks have a profound effect on the gameplay, as veterans will find themselves testing new builds and tweaking their previous. The loot table fixes one of the biggest issues of Diablo 3‘s original release, with players are no longer being stuck using the same items (most of which never changed in terms of aesthetic until level 50+) for long stretches of the game.
The new loot system now means players will receive loot more relevant to their class far more regularly than they did pre-patch. Gone are the days where you could grind for hours in the hopes of discovering a legendary item only for a Wizard item to drop instead. Well, mostly, anyway. Top-geared players from Diablo 3 will find their items quickly replaced with rare items, while legendaries simply blow most pre-patch items out of the water, still.
The sense of satisfaction and enticement when a legendary item drops brings with it a sense of joy to Diablo that was missing in the original release. Legendary items become so alluring that they will often entice a player to rethink their build. The most decent legendary items often play host to effects that are tied to a certain skill; creating a build to cater for one of these effects can truly optimize a player’s ability in-game in a noticeable way.
The previously mentioned patch gives Reaper of Souls a sense of progression that was often missing during the original Diablo 3. Most of the previous builds that were universally accepted as the best have been tweaked, giving each skill a sense of legitimate worth resulting in more options and room to play when it comes to creating a successful build. The one gripe with having so many options, however, is the lack of a ‘save build’ feature which would compliment the experimental nature of the new skill system were it present.
Further changes extend to the Paragon system, known as Paragon 2.0. Once a character has hit max level (now level 70 in Reaper of Souls), they can begin to earn Paragon levels which, with the new system, give one stat point to put into a predetermined area. These points can be spent on increased damage, defence, or quality of life stats which carry over to all characters on the account.
Paragon 2.0 gives players a long-term goal and an incentive to continue playing after the core level cap has been hit and the top-end gear has been acquired. It’s perhaps a feature that may appeal only to the hardcore player (it is, after all, a mammoth grind to reach the 800 cap), but it’s nevertheless a welcome addition to the core game.
Reaper of Souls may only offer one act, which is rather short, but the addition of Nephalem Rifts and bounties more than makes up for it. Players can choose to either play the campaign or venture out into Adventure Mode. This new mode allows players to go out on bounties which grand rewards consisting of experience, gold, rift keys, and blood shards. Bounties are simply objectives marked out within an area across all the acts of Diablo 3–including Westmarch. While these bounties are simply doing an already existing event/boss, they give Diablo a true sense of an endgame that strays away from the dull farming that the pre-Reaper experience offered.
Nephalem Rifts are opened via rift key fragments and act as the game’s main endgame challenge. Players enter the rift and slay everything in their path; the monsters are buffed and the bosses are plentiful, creating a true challenge. Each rift climaxes with a boss being summoned, who, upon death, drops a generous amount of loot, including a blood shard. These shards are used to buy random items from a vendor that have random stats–similar to gambling system in Diablo 2.
Both the Rifts and Bounties are enjoyable to embark upon, acting as a way to truly test your character’s power or simply level-up. At the end of the day, it’s repeating the same thing over and over, but oddly it rarely becomes repetitive as both options just feel so engaging, rewarding, and ultimately fun to play.
The biggest addition, or at least the most obvious, is the new playable Crusader class. At it’s core, the Crusader is a versatile wrecking machine equipped with some truly awesome skills and passives. Their skillset feels fresh and unique from the other classes’ this is not a simple re-skin that some had feared. The Crusader’s attacks range from various close-range single/multiple target attacks, to more heavy area-of-effect skills, as well as the curious ability to summon a spiritual steed. The ability to hold a two-handed weapon, as well as a shield, is an empowering skill that gives players a legitimate choice to make. The problem with just how fun, effective, and well-crafted the Crusader is, however, is that the already existing classes feel rather flat in comparison.
Reaper of Souls feels like the complete Diablo experience that was lacking in the original release. While it’s frustrating that Blizzard took such a long time to make Diablo 3 what it should have always been, it’s nevertheless appreciated. Every update, tweak, and addition to the game has allowed Reaper of Souls to truly feel like the end result of Blizzard’s hard work. The new environments are distinctly in line with the Diablo of the past, the loot system is far superior to what it once was, and the Crusader is the poster child of the change and improvement of Diablo 3. Even the minor addition of the ability to change items stats and cosmetic look feels like a nod towards Blizzard’s attempts to make peace with their disgruntled fans.
The results of months of patches, fierce criticism, and growing competition in the market, Reaper of Souls is what Blizzard originally promised us in Diablo 3–and it more than hits the mark. Extra praise is warranted for boss battles actually feeling like boss battles now. Tight gameplay and mechanics, along with a huge amount of replay value, makes Reaper of Souls worth checking out–even if Diablo 3 left a sour taste in your mouth.