Game, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Expansion
Reaper of Souls is the first expansion to the incredibly best-selling 2012 release Diablo III by Blizzard Entertainment. Often considered the pinnacle of the hack-and-slash RPG genre, dominating since Diablo I was first released in 1996, Diablo III was plagued by issues over the always-on DRM, real-money auction house, and poorly designed loot system, in spite of being the fastest selling PC game of all time. This expansion, which went live on March 25th, 2014 seeks to address these issues. It adds a whole new fifth act of main gameplay as well as a new adventure mode promising a real end-game progression feel, a new character class, and a revamped loot system. If you played Diablo III and were frustrated by any of those elements, come back. Things are better now. This is the game we always wanted.
Let me just begin by establishing my Diablo credentials: if it is attached to the Diablo franchise, I’ve played it. Diablo I and the unofficial Hellfire expansion, Diablo II and Lord of Destruction, as well as several major game-changing mods (Such as Nezeramontias and Median XL) and now Diablo IIIand Reaper of Souls. I wouldn’t even like to estimate how many hours I’ve played of Diablo games, but it’s easily several thousand. At the time of this writing, I had logged about 130 hours on my Barbarian, to the tune of Paragon Level 35 or so. Since Reaper of Souls, I’m up to Paragon 70 now, and virtually every free gaming moment since the 2.0 patch has been spent smashing my way through demons. So this is not a superficial look at this game.
Like many veterans of the Diablo franchise, I was fairly disappointed by Diablo III on release. You got to the level cap way too quickly and then had almost nothing to do but endlessly grind for gear that didn’t really matter since you were already done with the game. You almost never got any gear drops that worked for your character, and the best you could hope was to get something really good for someone ELSE that you could sell in the auction house to get enough gold to buy an upgrade for yourself. It was frustrating and led to me pretty much abandoning the game for months preceding the expansion coming out. Loot 2.0 completely fixed this problem. Almost all the gear that drops for a character is going to be itemized for that character. This makes finding upgrades a much more reasonable process, and allows you to make MUCH better use of the crafting system. Even better, Legendary and Set items don’t set their attributes until you identify them, so you could pass a piece off to another character to have it get stats good for them, meaning you could have a primary magic-find character who just farms pieces off to the other characters in your stable.
Since arguably the primary mechanic of the game is the loot, this fix singlehandedly turned this from, ‘It’s Diablo and prettier than D2, so I’ll play it’ to, ‘This is a great game, I want to play it.’
And it’s a good thing that the loot system is more important than the story, because good lord, the storyline in the new Act V was godawful. At the end of the base game, you’ve once again defeated Diablo (for the third time, but who’s counting?) and his soul is trapped along with all the other bosses from D3 in the Black Soulstone, which the angels whisk away for safekeeping. Now, we’ll just forget about how we permanently killed Mephisto in Diablo II by bringing his soulstone to Hephaestus’ forge and smashing it... which we could presumably do to the Black Soulstone, as well, and just end the whole problem. Whatever. Storyline, need for sequels. We’ll trap but not destroy Diablo over and over. That’s great. But at the start of Act V (which some later dialogue suggests is maybe a couple months after the events of Act IV, but which is played narratively as following -directly- from the events of Act IV) the very first thing you find out is “Oh, the Black Soulstone, you know, the one that has the souls of every evil demon ever in it? Yeah, gone missing.”
Now, any reasonable person, hero or not, is going to flip out when faced which this news. They had the damn thing for FIVE MINUTES and it’s already gone and we have to go, again, to save the world, again. Instead your PC just nods solemnly and sets out on yet another quest to save everyone from themselves. This is actually the saving grace of the Diablo storyline: you feel a lot better about how terrible the plot is because the characters are just so damned earnest the whole time. It is played so utterly straight that you can’t bring yourself to be mad at them for all of their stupid crap. I don’t want to spoil the ending of the act plot for anybody who has yet to play it, but they won’t be able to make Diablo IV unless there’s a way for Diablo to be the end villain -again-. Well, let’s just say they’ll be able to make a Diablo IV.
Aside from the story, the nuts and bolts of the game are vastly improved in this expansion. They’ve replaced the difficulty scale of normal, nightmare, hell, and inferno with a freely selectable scale of difficulty which goes normal, hard, expert, master, and torment 1-6. The monsters will always scale to the level of the game creator, so ‘normal’ stays equally difficult from level 1 through 70. Increasing the difficulty just moves a slider for the modifier to enemy damage and health. In torment 1, monsters have 819% health and deal 396% damage, and by Torment 6, they have 8590% health and deal 2540% damage compared to normal. This is what we needed for endgame progression. At level cap, even torment 1 solo is hard, and even a well equipped, skilled group will find it pretty slow going at the top end. Increased experience gain and magic find percentage offset the difficulty with greater, faster rewards.
The new adventure mode is fantastic. Each act of play has five bounties which are generally to kill a specific mob, or clear a specific event or dungeon. Doing so gets you a nice reward of gold and experience, ‘blood shards’ which are a currency to gamble for random magic items, and ‘rift fragments’ which open up additional adventure content. Completing all five bounties in a zone nets you an additional reward of more magic items and currencies. They push the game into easily digestible chunks. A run of one act’s bounties takes maybe 20-30 minutes if you’re still careful about picking everything up and exploring around, so it fits into a nice short-term, obtainable lunch-break sized goal, while allowing you to run all five act’s bounties in a row for a longer night of gaming.
There’s a new vendor as well, the mystic, who has two functions. The first, transmogrifying is a port directly from the functionality in World of Warcraft: you can make your equipment look like other equipment, just for the aesthetics. Her second function is by far the more interesting. The Mystic allows you to reroll a stat on a given piece of equipment. Once you’ve picked which stat you want to change, the rest are stuck, but you can reroll that stat as many times as you want. This really gives a lot more depth to the gearing and loot system, by letting you take nearly ideal equipment and try to patch it up to be better.
The final major addition to the game in this expansion is another character class, the Crusader. I haven’t spent too much time with it, only enough to get a feel for how it plays (very Tanky) and check out all the skills it ends up with. I’ve also played alongside a few that others have levelled to cap already. They have just enough Diablo IIPaladin in them to make me excited to play one, but also enough of the same tanky role my Barbarian already fills to make me not rush to do it. The game needed a second strength-based class, and for flavour, I’m never going to be upset at a Paladin in a game.
All in all, this is a fantastic expansion that brought a game back from the edge of playability, or at least replayability, into a game I’m enjoying as much if not more than Diablo II, a game into which I vanished whole weeks. If you’ve never played a Diablo game, this is a great time to get into it. Blizzard has an ability to find what people like and iterate on it over and over, until you’re left with this polished piece of awesome which is why virtually every game in this genre since the mid 1990s has been trying and failing to compete with Diablo.