April 8, 2014
The story of Reaper of Souls picks up just after the end of the first game with the Angel of Death Malthael taking the Black Soulstone by force with the intent of draining all demonic essence from the land. It sounds like a pretty great deal until you remember that all humanity contains a bit of demon heritage, meaning that his plan will effectively kill everyone unfortunate enough to have been born a human. The race to stop Malthael's plan begins.
Of course, for as interesting as the story may be in the world of Diablo, it's really just an engine for dungeon crawling, and to that effect anyone who had a problem with Diablo III's visual or aesthetic design should find themselves more than pleased with the content within the expansion. Dungeons are significantly darker than earlier levels in game, drained of color and rife with shadow much like the original series. New enemies are also darker and more foreboding to match the new grey-tone of the expansion, from the fallen angels that follow Malthael to the new demons and undead you'll battle.
This darker theme bleeds into the newly featured Nephalem Rifts, part of the game's Adventure Mode that unlocks once the core campaign has completed once. Instead of making players go through the story all over again for new loot, it's now possible to cherry pick individual chapters, chasing down bounties and entering randomized dungeons with increased difficulty as opposed to grinding the same story over and over again. It's a welcome change, and something that really should have been implemented from the get-go.
Bounties are another core feature of the expansion that make Diablo feel less like a grind and more like an adventure, offering players key objectives that need to be completed. Clearing each bounty will earn players gold and Blood Shards that can be used as an alternative currency for artifacts and equipment. Completing a bounty will also give a Rift Keystone Fragment which is used to unlock the aforementioned Nephalem Rifts.
Alongside the new content comes a new class, Crusader, which exists in fantastic contrast to the darker themes in each of the expansion's levels. Aspects of light, brilliant flashes between weapon swings and the full weight of every explosive weapon swing adds to the game a heavy-handed melee character that fills the tanky playstyle far better than the Barbarian was capable of. Any player looking to enjoy the Crusader from start to finish will also find that Blizzard has done a wonderful job of integrating the class into the lore of the core game, adding NPC interaction to make the story experience feel more natural.
In addition to the new class each of the existing classes sees a boost to the level cap and some updates to keep things fresh and make sure that not everyone jumped ship to the Crusader at the start of the expansion. New talents, passive abilities, runes and a fourth skill slot is unlocked at lv 70 for every class. Predictably the amount of builds this extra slot opens up is a little ridiculous, and even if you've never been a fan of straying too far from a certain play style the temptation to experiment is pretty high.
Then of course there's Loot 2.0, the big patch that fixes many of Diablo III's item drop percentiles, RNG, and legendary item generation. In a lot of ways it's the one big thing that Reaper of Souls really does to fix the Diablo experience. It makes dungeon crawling more fun, playing with mixed classes more enjoyable, and grinding for gear more of a guarantee and less random luck. It's also not a feature exclusive to Reaper of Souls, making it something that every Diablo III owner can take advantage of.
The problem with Reaper of Souls is that the bulk of the improvements to the core game can be split from the expansion and labeled Loot 2.0, particularly since the system released a month in advance of the main game. When we look at what a product offers gamers we have to isolate what an individual expansion actually brings to the table for your dollar value, and most of Reaper of Souls is built upon the back of what Diablo 3 already has to offer. Anyone who owns Diablo III will be able to use Loot 2.0, which means that the expansion only really offers new ways to enjoy the existing content. It would be reasonable if it weren’t already so repetitive.
Nephalem Rifts, Bounties, the Mystic (who can alter stats on items), and the Crusader are all elements of the game that are meant to be enjoyed throughout all of Diablo III, and the new content in Reaper of Souls is almost pitifully short; for all its incredible design and layered detail the additional chapter can be cleared in a few short hours.
Reaper of Souls is an expansion in every sense of the word, but it doesn't really do enough to further the experience that Diablo 3 already laid the groundwork for. Instead the bulk of your playthrough is now spent going back to revisit locations we've been familiar with for quite some time now, only in a slightly different way than we were playing before.
Anyone who enjoyed the experience before and has been playing it since launch will probably find this expansion to be nothing short of incredible. But if you were wary of Diablo III before then Reaper of Souls may still not quite be what you were looking for. The new content is epic in its own right but woefully short, and if you tired of the game's dungeons before then it's hard to say that the Nephalem Rifts will be the deciding factor. There just isn't enough there, and what is there feels all too familiar.
Overall Reaper of Souls is an improvement to the formula laid down by Diablo III, and if further expansions down the line will take advantage of the changes here by simply building more content to be explored, then the franchise is on a good path. Anyone new to the series who has wanted to get in won't find a better time to start, and if all you were looking for in Diablo 3 was a different way to grind then Reaper of Souls has that solution for you too. For everyone else? Well, maybe it's best to wait just a little bit longer.