Otherwise known as Diablo 3: Again. This is the long-awaited expansion to the fairly popular Diablo 3, and one I was looking forward to quite a bit. If you remember my review of the core game, I left pissed off and disappointed, finding it to be too brown, too badly-written and too loot-driven, with an uncomfortably high difficulty level. Well, a lot of that's changed over time, and I'll try to cover most of it. As this is the review of an expansion, I'm not going to cover the original game except where it has changed. My old review, unfortunately, seems to be in cold storage with the old site content, but I'll try to search for it when I can get a hold of Pax.
On with the show! And expect a custom categories breakdown!
Reaper of Souls is the first expansion for Diablo III. It comes with one new character class, a whole new "Act V" adding to the game's story and content, a level cap increase from the previous one at 60 to a new one at 70, all new more powerful gear and a number of fundamental systems tweaks, including a radical redesign of the loot drops system and an outright removal of the real money auction house. And the world collectively exclaimed "About fucking time!" The core game's content is mostly the same, but it has undergone such revisions that it's a brand new experience. If, like me, you haven't played Diablo for a year, give it a try. It's a much more interesting, well-done game. Here are the things which are new, and why most of them are good.
Diablo 3 is an almost entirely loot-driven game, but Blizzard were being cheaky bastards by intentionally hiding some of the best stuff. You were supposed to buy it off the real money auction house and pay them a commission for it. Now that that's dead, drop rates for good stuff have increased TREMENDOUSLY. Previously, anything half-way decent would have to be a special boss drop and anything great just didn't drop for me. Within half an hour of logging in after the changes, I'd replaced all of my Wizard's gear with VASTLY better stock, raised my health by a factor of three, my damage by a factor of four and my protection significantly.
Moreover, loot is now "smart," meaning it'll drop items with the stats you actually need. My wizard, consequently, would keep getting stuff with Intelligence on it - her primary stat. Other effects, too, were separated into categories, with the less important ones limited to a scant few. All this means that everything which dropped was relevant to my character and usually pretty powerful. It's made the game considerably easier, yes, but I should have guessed "why." More on that in a bit.
The point is, the you are now expected to earn your gear, rather than "play the market" all day every day and outright buy it without ever setting a foot in the game. And it works like a treat.
This is probably the largest change. Originally, Diablo came with four difficulty settings - Normal, Nightmare, Hell, Inferno. Shitty monster balance on Inferno eventually made them introduce a "monster power" slider to allow you to make the game harder for more rewards. The issue was always that monster levels are "set" to the difficulty and their place in the campaign, meaning that once you were past "normal" you had no reason to play it. You HAD to go to Nightmare and up else you couldn't make progress. What this meant Diablo 3 put me in the same place that made me rage-quit Diablo 2 - as I grew stronger, I became weaker as I was forced to play on ever more unfair difficulty settings.
Well, that's gone! Difficulty now comes in five categories - Normal, Hard, Expert, Master, Torment, with Torment having a slider with 6 extra "ticks." The difference this time around is that any character can play at any difficulty at any time. Monster levels are no longer set - they scale with the player. You could play a level 60 character against "Normal" enemies and still fight just fine, get drops, experience, money and so on, and have fun. You don't HAVE to play on the hardest difficulty available because the game doesn't force you. Yes, it drops better stuff the harder you make it, but that's optional - do you value good stuff more than an easy game? 'Cause I sure as hell don't! So to hell with Torment, I'll play on as low a difficulty as I can that's still actually fun.
This is a MAJOR step in the right direction, as it allows you to tailor your experience to your comfort level. So why did it take them two years to think of this?
Previously, artisans - the blacksmith who makes weapons and armour and the jewelcrafter who makes jewels - were a complicated affair. Training them to higher level required a "Tome of Mastery" rare item drop, and it required that in large numbers. Making some of the higher-level items, too, required this special salvage. As well, the blacksmith had a zillion types of slavage all his own - low-, mid- and high-level versions of two separate types. Previous to the expansion this was VASTLY simplified. Nobody required any special Tomes of anything for anything. This once more made gold the primary resource required, as it should be. Additionally, all the Blacksmith's salvage broke down to three kinds - common, uncommon and rare, coming from common, uncommon and rare items respectively, when salvaged.
This became complicated again with Reaper of Souls as post-60 weapons again require bullshit rare salvage to make and artisans again require that rare bullshit salvage to level up, and items break into a brand new tier of item components and so on. Basically, they introduced a whole other currency on top of the existing one. Once again, I have money coming out my ears and nothing to spend it on because I don't have enough bottles of demon piss or whatever those damn things are. I thought they fixed this as means of putting in a fix, but instead they just "fixed" it to let the expansion break it again. Bloody grind creep!
A new "artisan" has been put into the game - a Gypsy... Sorry, "Veccin" woman who can enchant items. This comes in two forms. The much more accessible one is changing the appearance of items. This is similar to WoW reforging, in that you can make one item look like another item from the same category - one sword like another, one helmet like another and so on. The system will use any item you actually have, plus offer you a list of "generic" looks as well.
More interesting is the Enchant Item proper. This takes a single "stat" on a weapon that you may not like (say, +10% Arcane Orb damage when I don't use Arcane Orb at all) and "reroll" it as potentially a much more useful stat. The system is very transparent, allowing you to see what you can actually get at all and what range of numbers it can produce, as well as always giving you the option to back out if the new roll doesn't come up with what you want. Even with the "smart" loot drop system, even as good as my gear is, there always seems to be at least one aspect of an item that I just have no use for. Being able to ditch it for something cool? Now that's amazing! It also means that otherwise mediocre items can be made great since they're usually "mediocre" for missing a vital stat I want. Now I can have that... Sometimes.
Or rather, new skill - singular. Each existing class gains a new character skill which unlocks at level 61, and then gains a variety of "runes" (major skill modifiers) every couple of levels until 70. I've only seen the Wizard one - Black Hole. I found it largely uninteresting and abandoned it soon after. In addition to this, several new "passive skills" (semi-conditional stat tweaks) are unlocked, and a new, fourth passive slot unlcoks at level 70. The passives are, as well, not terribly interesting but the new slot is a major boon. Diablo 3's passive skills have fairly major numbers attached to them.
Overall, this strikes me as a token change just to extend character progression in the 60-70 range. As such, it's workable. I, sadly, know next to nothing about the new Crusader class, so I can't comment on it.
This is where Reaper of Souls fails HARD. It took me precisely 60 seconds of playing the new post-60 content to realise that difficulty was through the roof. I was playing on Master and dominating everything fairly easily. Come Act V and I'm all but useless. Enemies take forever to kill and I'm constantly running for health. New levels take millions of experience points to achieve and I'm getting my ass kicked hard. "Fair enough," I thought. I just need some of those fancy new super items to up my stats. NOPE! I started Reaper of Souls with ~120 000. By the end of it I was sporting 450 000 and I was STILL routinely getting punched for a third to half my health. Really? My damage went from ~40 000 to ~150 000 and I was STILL barely scratching the damn critters.
It was then I realised what had happened. Reaper of Souls' content - the 60-70 content - was built for the powergamers. You know the kind - people who've made their spreadsheets and calculated the most optimal everything in the game. People who've been playing it for hours a day for a long time and have squeezed out all the most badass, ridiculous pieces of gear the game had to offer. I mean, more power to those guys but I'm not that good. So to be hit with SUCH a massive difficulty spike seemingly out of nowhere was rude and very unwelcome surprise.
But you know what? Screw that noise. I can always drop my difficulty down to something more manageable. Which I did, and the game was still rock hard. At least now I had a fighting chance. If this keeps up, I'll go even lower, possibly right back down to Normal if it comes to that.
New Story Content
Diablo has always had interesting ideas for a story... Written in the worst possible way. I lambasted D3's story for being awful when in reality it was pretty cool. They just didn't execute it well at all. The same is true for Reaper of Souls. The scale of the story is breath-taking, the adventure epic and the characters very interesting... All of it delivered through some of the worst, most melodramatic and wrongheaded dross I've seen in quite some time. This is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow levels of bad writing... But at least CLOS had the excuse of Konami being Japanese and probably not very fluent in English. Blizzard should be made up of Americans who ought to know better than this... Although it might explain why the game's new villain is basically Sephirpth... "There is peace in death, therefore I will kill everyone." said every anime antagonist ever, and Malthael, Angel of Death was taking copious notes. Speaking of which:
At the end of Diablo 3, I hit Diablo in the head with an axe 150 times and he "died." At the start of this game, it turns out he didn't... Which I could have told you at the end of the last one, but whatever. He's still trapped in the Black Soulstone and Tyrael - former Angel of Justice, goes to hide it in a cave. Malthael, the former Angel of Wisdom now turned Angel of Death shows up, steals the Black Soulstone and proceeds to send "Reapers" to kill everyone on Earth while making people sound like they're recounting the events of Mass Effect 3. "We have to stop the Reapers!" "The Reapers will kill us all!" From there on, it's a fairly simple chain of events - stop the invasion, find out what Malthael wants, find a way to hit him in the head with an axe 150 times, sequel bait. Because this is only ONE of two planned expansions. The story takes you to the "Realm of Pandemonium" where the eternal conflict between angels and demons still rages on, so you can do the impossible and defeat death itself. It's epic, I just wish I didn't have to listen to the various plot-critical characters talk about it. Diablo 3 has a way of getting the absolute WORST performance out of otherwise pretty decent actors. Poor Jennifer Hale...
More interestingly - at least to me - you also get some payoff for the character development of both your companions (the NPCs you take with you) and your artisans (the crafting NPCs who stay in town). Lyndon the "Scounderl" is worrie about his brother in jail and you eventually accompany him in a bid to rescue said brother. Kormak the Templar can't make peace with the sins of his order so you accompany him to confront his chapter master. Eirenna the Enchantress is haunted by visions of her dead sisters and you help her on a quest to find out why the prophet's magic failed to protect them. In all three cases the resolution is convoluted, silly and sequel-baiting, but I'm still happy to see it. Like in Mass Effect, I'm starting to like all of these characters. Even Lyndon, against my better judgement.
Overall, the story is a good place to draw ideas for better stories if you're interested in writing your own - which I am - but execution holds it back. The dialogue is often silly and usually forced and the things people say are melodramatic and ornate to the point of clunkiness. It's not BAD, however, in that it doesn't take away from the game TOO much. It's just not as good as it could have been.
That's about it, really. The expansion comes with a new class, an overhaul of the loot and crafting system, a few new powers, A LOT of new content, some decent new story and a reason to play Diablo again. Is it worth the 40 Euro/$ price tag? Well, that depends on whether you have and enjoy Diablo 3 otherwise. If you already played the original game and didn't walk away from it sour recently, then Reaper of Souls is definitely worth the price of admission. If you don't own Diablo 3, it's pretty cheap right now - 20 Euro/$ last I checked, so you can snag the full package for the price of a AAA full release. Trust me, there is A LOT of new content in the expansion easily justifying its price tag.
If you hated Diablo 3 like I did, I'd say give it another shot. Much has changed even without the expansion. You can judge for yourselves if you want more of that afterwords. If, however, you don't like the Diablo-like genre of games at all, then Reaper of Souls will not change your mind. It's more of the same in a very real sense, and it relies on investment in the core product.
Me, I'll definitely take Diablo 3 + Reaper of Souls over any of the genre clones like Path of Exile, Torchlight or - God help me - Marvel heroes. I HATE Diablo 2 and everything it represents. Luckily, Diablo 3 is moving farther and farther away from that. This alone is worth the asking price.