For a game where item stats make all the difference, an increased level cap is initially a mixed blessing. A few little numbers in the right spot and your character goes from zero to hero, with the transformation being almost instantaneous. From being only good for smashing open a few clay pots and collecting a few pieces of gold, the right item with the right numbers means your character can now actually make a dent into the health bar of an elite monster with each and every hit. The right numbers can also have your character stand right in the middle of a poisonous or molten pool for more than a split second without melting into a makeshift gravesite. For an action RPG this is the stuff that keeps people coming back hour after hour, and was a big part of the longevity with Diablo III. And perhaps, the only part.
An expansion at its most basic level means more of the same, and for the most part Reaper of Souls fits this bill quite nicely. New and more powerful items, increased crafting options, new skills and abilities, and much better numbers. A typical Diablo III player would have a chest full of the best and rarest items they’ve found or most likely purchased via the Auction House over the past couple of years, and an expansion like Reaper of Souls makes a lot of that stuff now seem, well, tame. Once you start progressing even just a little bit into the new content and progress a few levels past the previous cap of 60, pretty soon those precious numbers in the right spots won’t mean all that much anymore, and your character will now go from hero to zero in no time at all. Also, all your gems become pretty much worthless.
This means that you’ll need a whole new set of gear, especially if you plan on playing on the harder difficulties like Torment. This is of course expected, but it’s always sad to see a sword that was previously a beast amongst other lesser swords, now joining their ranks. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Which is why just before the release of Reaper of Souls, Diablo III was given a fresh start. It was very much this same out with the old and in with the new approach, and it changed the overall game for the better. In what was dubbed Patch 2.0, it not only overhauled the entire loot system in the game, but it also changed how it was fundamentally played too.
These changes, and the closure of the misguided Auction House, were all welcome with open arms. Too many it felt like a new game, and with the new loot system players were startled with the fact that they were now actually being rewarded for their skills and efforts with great items that previously they would have never seen outside of the Auction House. But these changes brought only half of the story that is the new and improved Diablo III, with the rest coming with Reaper of Souls.
You know that new difficulty system that allows you to adjust the challenge and consequently the level of reward? Well with Reaper of Souls it makes perfect sense only once you unlock the new Adventure Mode that comes after you finish the main campaign, including the new Act. Adventure Mode essentially opens the game world allowing you to complete missions for reward as well as tackle randomly generated dungeons. It’s a simple setup, and description alone doesn’t do it justice, but once experienced you can immediately see why Patch 2.0 cut out the previous setup that had people playing through the campaign, over and over, in a linear Groundhog-day like fashion.
One of the biggest drawbacks that came from completing Diablo III and reaching Level 60 was a general sense of, well, now what? Were you simply going to keep playing the same campaign Acts over and over to get gold to buy new items from the Auction House? The answer was yes, and that was the expectation set by Blizzard. Reaper of Souls is different, and even feels like an apology tour, as once you complete the new Act the end game content is now designed to reward players whilst also providing incentives and incremental goals to reach.
This means that you will actually find plans for legendary items, set items, each requiring ingredients that will take quite a bit of play to discover. And with regular item rewards players can also make use of enchanting to better tailor a weapon to their current build. As you get more powerful increasing the difficulty slider on Torment will also increase the reward, and this is all whilst playing through Adventure Mode and the randomised action of the Nephalem Rifts.
The new level cap of 70 is also a bit of a misnomer too, as all that means is that once you reach 70 you’ll no longer be unlocking new skills or abilities. After this point you begin unlocking Paragon Levels (or points) which are based in that high level stuff serious action-RPG players love, numbers. With points rewarded in a number of categories players can add points to basic things like Intelligence or Dexterity but also more strategic ones like Attack Speed, Critical Hit Chance, and Life On Hit. And as an added incentive to have players reroll and try out a new character class, Paragon Levels are account-wide and adjustable for each of your characters. Brilliant stuff.
Now this is a polar opposite approach to endgame content than the almost non-existent one seen in the original release, and quite possibly well overdue too. Diablo III came out in 2012 and for some Reaper of Souls may look like a case of too little too late. So with that in mind when you look strictly at the new content, the stuff you can see in the promo screenshots and videos, like the new character class of the Crusader and the new Act, Reaper of Souls is still a success.
The fact is, Blizzard are still one of the most talented developers of PC games in the business, and the level of polish and overall quality seen in each of their games is commendable. Reaper of Souls is no different, the new act which takes place in the burning and gothic setting of Westmarch is a visual feast, with fantastically realised locations and some brilliant production values in the form of atmospheric lighting and a great musical score. The story, although traditionally clichéd, is a great addition to the Diablo III universe and the new threat and menace of fighting Death himself, Malthael, is a great choice for the expansion.
It’s no surprise that Diablo III was a troubled release for Blizzard, and even though it was critically acclaimed it did leave a lot of fans of the series a little cold. There’s no denying that it was a great game, but the simplification of the skills and levelling system meant that there was little incentive there to keep players coming back for any considerable amount of time. To their credit Blizzard listened to feedback and kept making changes to the overall experience with each new patch being released, but these changes were pretty small and few and far between.
The best way to sum up Reaper of Souls is to unfortunately badmouth the original release, as this is the definitive version of Diablo III, which makes the version we all played two years ago seem like a work-in-progress. Everything has been changed for the better, and when you factor in all the new content and the fantastic new Crusader class, you have what is arguably the best entry in the series. Or at the very least a worthy sequel to Diablo II, which after all, is what a lot fans wanted the first time around.
A note about Aussie servers, as an aside
Just before the release of Reaper of Souls, Blizzard announced local servers for Australian Diablo III players. In a calculated move the local servers only carried instances of Australian-made games, with players still logging into American servers when loading the game, so they can keep their characters and chests full of cherished loot. In hardcore gaming terms this meant that player pings went from sitting in the 200 plus region to now sitting well below 50. In terms of the game this means very little to no delay at all between casting spells or using skills or even timing when to use a potion. It’s more than a welcome change of pace, it’s a fantastic one, and all but eliminates cases where you die and then let your party know that it was due to “!@#@! lagggggggggggggg!!!!”. The only downside to this new low ping Diablo III is that you can no longer blame lag when you die amongst a large group of elite enemies throwing all manner of mortar and poison in your direction. To survive that you’ll need to build up your resistances, so get to it. Because the days of lag, are seemingly over.
Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician with an album releasing very soon.
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