Trying out a new character in an action RPG is par for the course for most avid players. A new class to try out is always a lot of fun, there are new skills to learn, items to equip, and enough variation to usually mean that you’ll be playing the same game but in a different way. The most basic spectrum of this change is going from a strict warrior type class who takes damage head on and usually wields a large axe or hammer, to a wizard type character that keeps their distance whilst conjuring up spells and buffs that would make Harry Potter seem like a rank amateur.
But when the variation in play styles is so different, as in the example above, individual preference usually means that players would go one way and skip the other entirely. It’s also the reason most players tend to stick with the more in-between classes on their second playthrough, the ones whose play-styles sway only slightly in either direction. In Diablo III this would be the Monks and the Demon Hunters.
Introducing a single new character class into Reaper of Souls, the first expansion for Diablo III, raises the question as to where on the spectrum the character lies. The Crusader, by mere extension of job title, feels like a melee character, but one who would support other players and perhaps even wear enough armour as to be comparable to a medieval tank. They would have buffs and protection spells befitting of a holy warrior with ties to a higher power, which in a way would make them feel like sophisticated Barbarians -- the apex of sheer brute strength in Diablo III character terms, with a dash of Wizard. The Crusader class in Reaper of Souls can and does fit into this mould but they’re content to break free of its trappings at regular intervals.
The Crusader is comfortable keeping their distance, hitting enemies from afar, with attacks that can hit multiple enemies at once whilst also causing some electrifying area damage. The Crusader is comfortable wielding a two-handed weapon in a single-hand with a comically oversized monstrosity of a shield in the other, and using both to pummel and daze enemies at close range. The Crusader is comfortable with the notion that at certain times they can open the skies and conjure up an actual meteor strike to reign down and cause serious damage on the larger and more troublesome groups of monsters they come across. The Crusader is comfortable healing their allies and causing diversions to try and buy extra time for their teammates to mount an effective killing blow. The Crusader is comfortable whenever you are, and that includes the use of pink dye to colour each piece of their armour.
As a new addition the Crusader class makes a lot of sense, especially as they serve as a sort of descendant or bastard child of the popular Paladin class from Diablo II. At their most basic, the Crusader can take a pummelling whilst dashing out helpful buffs to companions, but their main attraction is their versatility in being able switch between spell casting and melee strikes quite easily. Also they look great in their class specific armour, which is always a plus. And there’s no denying the sheer awesomeness of being able to wield a two handed weapon in one hand and a large shield in the other, a passive ability so good it’s worth mentioning twice.
The Crusader by nature is a holy warrior, one looking to purge the world of evil, and their skill-set reflects this by being full of special attacks and skills that deal in holy damage – a category separate to the more common fire, ice and lightning, that although look similar have the distinct advantage of righteous fury. Their Fist of the Heavens secondary attack is not only powerful but a great piece of visual carnage as a chunky lightning bolt hits multiple enemies causing pretty big splash damage -- making it perfect for crowd control. The same goes for the Falling Sword attack, which sends the Crusader momentarily to heaven itself for some extra demon slaying juice where they can even call on a few friends to help out when they fall back down and crash headfirst into a group of demon spawn – a pretty common sight in Westmarch, where the expansion’s new Act takes place.
Act V in Reaper of Souls in many ways is a darker and more gothic version of Diablo III, perhaps itself like the Crusader class, a nod to grim environments of Diablo II. The city of Westmarch, being overrun by monsters, demons and death itself is pretty grey whenever it’s not burning down all around you. Some of the sights are also pretty intense as early on you’ll be fighting mini-bosses in buildings whose floors are made up of corpses -- a sight the tourism bureau of Westmarch somehow glossed over in their sightseeing guide. But thankfully, unlike the covers of many death metal albums, the description sounds a lot worse than the actuality of seeing it for yourself. It’s worth noting mainly due to the stark contrast between the new setting of Act V versus, say, the wind swept desert sands of Act II.
Apart from the new visual and grim setting of Westmarch, a city overrun by death and demons in the form of new menace Malthael, the areas themselves although linear in design are immediately more varied and open than those from previous Acts. From the city itself with its multiple streets, alleyways, and houses to explore, to the large cemeteries and expansive swamps, each area feels less like a corridor or dungeon and more like a huge landscape. Although the overall length of the new Act is similar to Act II or III of the main campaign, for those players who need to explore and uncover every square inch of the map, there’s definitely a lot of new content here. And a lot of new monsters to fight too, with the cemetery section of Westmarch proving to be one of the most action-packed areas in all of Diablo III. Seriously, it’s crazy, not only are there hundreds of corpses but there are new enemies and monsters raising their own skeletal warriors to fill up the screen in no time.
As the Act progresses, dungeons seem to be equally expansive and equally overrun by monsters. Still being in beta, however, there are a few glitches and bugs that you normally wouldn’t see in a Blizzard title, mostly towards the end of the Act, with some large enemies deciding to change career paths mid-battle – going from evil incarnate one second to motionless evil punching bags the next. As your adventures in Westmarch progress you also get the chance to head into Pandemonium, a post-apocalyptic wasteland that served as the epicentre of creation many years ago, which in its current form serves as a massive warzone that will somehow determine the fate of mankind.
In fact, as the pacing picks up considerably in its final stretch, the beta ends abruptly right before the last area and final boss battle – leaving the door open (or closed, as it is in the beta) to what we have to assume is a final boss battle to rival the very gods themselves.
Click here for a full gallery of screens from Kosta's hands-on with The Crusader
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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