Review: Diablo III: Reaper of Souls refines a proven formula
This review contains Diablo III plot spoilers.
When Diablo III released in 2012 it was disappointing by most accounts. While some of that disappointment was surely due to overblown expectations of a sequel to a beloved 12-year-old game, much of the criticism had merit. Server issues plagued the game at launch and during the following days. Elites were often bestowed with affixes that only masochists would enjoy defeating. And the poor loot system forced players to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the auction house(s) rather than actually playing the game. These issues and more have been addressed since then, and Diablo III has grown into an enjoyable game by any standard. Recently, Blizzard Entertainment released its Reaper of Souls expansion to Diablo III, adding a new class and chapter and focusing heavily on end-game content. While some may balk at the MSRP ($39.99 US at the time of this writing), RoS adds enough new content to take the sting out of the price tag.
For gamers who have been playing Diablo III in the last few months leading up to the release of RoS, the core gameplay remains unchanged. Loot 2.0 is as generous as ever, dropping legendary items with enough frequency that gameplay always feels rewarding. Elites are still challenging, but manageable, though sometimes players will still get a bad affix combo to deal with, like a waller and arcane enchanted Elite in tight corridors. And the game still maintains its streamlined flow, keeping players playing instead of wasting time on in-game chores. The additional content further refines on this experience.
The basic set-up of Reaper of Souls hits on many familiar divine and demonic notes. After the Prime Evil was defeated by the Nephalem in Act IV, the Soul Stone that contained all of the Lords of Hell was taken by Tyrael from the High Heavens and hidden away by the newly restored Horadric order so that not even the angels could find it. One angel did, however – Malthael, once the angel of wisdom, now the angel of death. Obsessed with ending the ongoing war with the demons, Malthael will destroy his enemies by capturing their essence within the Soul Stone, but in doing so will also kill all of mankind in Sanctuary because their blood is tainted by demon essence as well. So it’s up to the Nephalem to save the world by defeating Death itself.
Act V is just as grandiose of a story as was offered in Acts I – IV. As if the stakes weren't high enough with saving the High Heavens, now players have to save all of humanity. RoS does an excellent job of making players realize the human toll early on as they walk across the piles of ashen corpses that literally fill the streets of Westmarch, which is the home of Kormac, the Templar. This is not a short Act, either. There are multiple, lengthy sections, each made longer by the various instances and events that pop up on the map. There are so many places to explore that players may find themselves skipping a few locations just to get through Act V sooner and activate Adventure Mode.
Adventure Mode is where the majority of end-game players will spend their time, since it offers easier access to all the locales in every Act and gives players more chances at getting better loot without necessarily having to grind for it. For instance, Bounties is a new mechanic that has players fighting specific Elites for increased experience, gold and a new currency: Blood Shards. Blood Shards can be spent at a new merchant who sells randomized equipment of each type, which could result in legendary or even epic gear. Complete all Bounties in one Act and get a crate full of treasure.
Another new currency of sorts is the Rift Keystone Fragment, which gives players access to Nephalem Rifts. These rifts are populated by tough mobs, but also feature new pylons that overpower players with new abilities, like 400% damage. In short, the end-game should prove fruitful one way or another.
Finally, RoS adds the new Crusader class, which is primarily a tank but offers some support role abilities as well. I had little trouble leveling a new Crusader to the new level 70 cap, increasing the difficulty every 20 levels or so. The Crusader is refreshingly well balanced, with enough health and primary resource regenerating skills to stay in the thick of battle for a long time.
There are also several escape options when plans go awry or players are faced with an affix they aren’t spec’d to resist. If anything, the Crusader might be too focused on tanking, which could lead to some boring encounters during solo play. My Crusader was nigh invulnerable against the Skeleton King in Adventure Mode on Torment difficulty, but could only chip away at his health a little bit at a time. This resulted in having to stand in one place for 10 minutes, clicking and holding and waiting for the inevitable outcome. These moments notwithstanding, the Crusader experience is generally satisfying and the class will be very useful in group play.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging Diablo III: Reaper of Souls:
#1 Replay Value -- 10/10
Diablo 3 is all about grinding through the same locations over and over again in the hopes of finding marginally better equipment. RoS doesn’t mess with the formula and adds functionality to ease the chores of grinding while offering more chances at making it rewarding.
#2 Length -- 9/10
Act V is supremely long, with a surprising amount of locales to explore within each segment of the Act.
#3 New Content -- 8/10
Act V aside, the rest of the new content is more akin to a user interface revamp than it is to bona fide new content. Adventure Mode makes it easier to enjoy end-game content, but it mostly isn’t actually new content.
#4 Value -- 7/10
The MSRP cannot be ignored and it colors the opinion of the other criteria. Whatever the game offers must be proportionate to the price of admission. The current price is a little steep for what gamers are getting.
Overall Score: 8.5
While its current value is questionable, Reaper of Souls will most likely maintain a higher value than most games over the long run. And if Diablo III has as long of a life as its predecessor, then the few extra dollars spent now will have been a wise investment.