Reaper of Souls is an expansion pack to Diablo 3 but it's also a reintroduction. D3 turned off long-time series fans for a few reasons. Reaper is Blizzard's chance to get them back.
The first improvement over the base game is apparent when you first log on. Unlike the base game, Reaper of Souls actually works at launch. It still requires a persistent Internet connection but I was able to log in without problems these past two days. What's more, I wasn't warping all over the battlefield due to lag . Maybe this is because there are fewer players in the game now. Blizzard's decision to include all the data for Reaper of Souls in last month's patch to iron out the wrinkles didn't hurt, though. If you updated your game in the last month, you can jump in immediately after buying the expansion.
The titular "Reaper of Souls" is Malthael, a former angel who wants to wipe out mankind. He's worth murdering but, like a lot of expansion pack villains, he really can't measure up to the villain of the main game. Malthael's like a stepfather except instead of trying to win you over by giving you baseball cards and offering to play catch, he's desperately trying to make you hate him. You don't fight the guy until the end of the expansion but he pops up periodically to remind you how dastardly he is.
Evil as his schemes are, though, I couldn't work up much emotion about him. Maybe it's because his dialogue is all like this:
If anything, I sympathize with Malthael. He wants to wipe out humanity because he feels it's the greatest source of evil in the world. He's not wrong, considering the storyline of the series. Humans ruin everything in these games. Here's a brief summary of some of the crap various humans have done in the series:
Though defeating Malthael isn't a very compelling goal, the journey's still enjoyable. The expansion's new Act will take players through the streets of Westmarch, the water-logged ruins of Blood Marsh and the Pandemonium Fortress. Each setting feels like a response to gamers who said Diablo 3 wasn't dark enough. You'll walk through piles of dead villagers and bogs drenched in blood. It's a grim but gorgeous trip.
"Immersion" is one of those terms that's been overused by developers and critics alike but the word fits here. I spent way too much of Diablo 3's main campaign either cleaning out my bags or selling items on the auction house. Blizzard's streamlined the game considerably with a new loot drop system introduced in Patch 2.0.1. You'll find fewer items but a larger percentage will be either rare or legendary. These items also have a greater chance at being suited to your class.
I found myself replacing most of my Barbarian's gear every few levels with drops from the world. It's a much more fun process than selling bags full of Monk or Wizard gear on the Auction House and using the proceeds to purchase upgrades. Slaying enemies and finding great loot among the rubble was always the most enjoyable aspect of Diablo. The changes to the loot system ensure that you spend most of your time in the kill-loot-kill cycle.
The new Mystic helps as well. This artisan allows you to change the property on one of your items to one of three randomized possibilities. It won't save a completely awful piece of loot but it can be the difference between a weapon being a slight downgrade or a worthy upgrade. The randomness of the Mystic's enchantments keeps the process from feeling as mechanical and lifeless as the auction house was.
The new difficulty system likewise keeps you moving forward. In the past, you had to play through the entire campaign on a difficulty level to unlock the level above it. Now, though, you can switch the difficulty level even in the same session. If you're struggling, just crank the game down to a lower level to keep going. While the open-ended zones of Reaper offer many optional dungeons and quests, you won't need to do them to grind up your level. I ran straight through some areas and didn't suffer as a result. The enemies' level is based off your level so you can beat Malthael well below level cap on Normal or Hard.
Reaper of Souls doesn't come to a screeching halt in the same way that D3 does when you finish the campaign. Blizzard has a firmer end-game plan in place now than just "Hey, go replay the campaign with higher level monsters!" Killing Malthael unlocks Adventure Mode, which lets you travel across all of the regions of the game and complete short quests like killing named enemies or clearing dungeons. Finishing these Bounties allows you to earn random rewards including equipment and crafting materials. You also earn keys to access Nephalem Rifts, short dungeons with randomized layouts, enemies and bosses.
I'm not sure whether Adventure Mode will keep my attention for very long. I've always been the sort of Diablo player who finishes the single-player campaign once and then drops the game cold turkey. Still, the randomized Bounties and Rifts should make the process of pushing your skills to the limit and acquiring better and better loot much more pleasant. It's a whole lot more appealing than finding a loot-heavy section of the campaign and just replaying it over and over. Adventure Mode should have even more staying power once Blizzard implements the Tiered Rifts as well.
Reaper of Souls feels like what Diablo 3 should have been in the first place. The story's still not great but that's not the point. Diablo's always been about killing and looting and this games makes doing those things as easy and enjoyable as they can. Rather than just tacking a few hours of entertainment onto the end, Reaper (with an assist from Patch 2.0.1) makes the full game better.
Platforms: PC, Mac
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Activision Blizzard