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Diablo 3's expansion pack Reaper of Souls is a day away and so are the reviews. The review copies sent out to press won't unlock the expansion until 12:01 a.m. on March 25th, the same time that everyone else will get to start playing.
Blizzard, if you recall, did the same thing with Diablo 3 itself back in 2012 and StarCraft 2 in 2010. Rather than hosting special review servers, they're asking the press to play on the official servers along with everyone else.
This is probably for the best. While pre-launch reviews can be convenient for gamers who want to find out whether a product's worth purchasing on day one, an advance review of Reapers would be unable to judge a crucial part of the expansion: the servers' stability. While Blizzard's made many changes since to D3 since 2012, they haven't removed the always-online requirement. You'll need to stay connected to the game servers the entire time you're playing Reaper of Souls, even if you're not in a co-op match.
This was what caused the issue with Diablo 3 at launch. The huge influx of new players overwhelmed the login servers, causing outages for some and lag for others. The lack of an offline mode meant that many players' first few days with the game were spent staring at an "error 37" message. If reviews for Diablo 3 had been published before the game came out, they wouldn't have been able to address this problem.
For what it's worth, Blizzard says that Reaper of Souls' launch will go smoother.
"Here's the beautiful thing about this launch compared to [Diablo 3]: what people are playing right now is Reaper of Souls," Mayberry told Gamespot. "It's just Reaper with Act V, and the Crusader class, and adventure mode turned off. But it's all live. It's running. It's been running for a few weeks now."
The data for the expansion was included with the huge Patch 2.0.1, released late last month. While the biggest features of Reaper aren't active yet, the patch brought big changes to the game. The difficult settings, Paragon progression and loot drop systems were all revised. Clan and Community support were also introduced.
I imagine that there's going to be a smaller amount of players for the servers to handle as well. While Mayberry said elsewhere in the interview that the D3 player population shot back up after Patch 2.0, I doubt that the launch for Reaper will be as crowded as the base game's. The excitement for the expansion just can't compete with the decade of hype for D3 itself. Many veterans are going to wait to hear what reviewers or their friends think.
You shouldn't have to wait too long for the first reviews to arrive. Some press and community members were given access to Reaper's closed beta, which included almost all of the expansion's content. The only thing missing from the beta was the final boss battle, so I'm sure there are a few nearly-complete reviews sitting on hard drives across the world.