Recapturing the nostalgia gamers have for a classic title is a near impossible task for developers to pull off. When it comes to a game like Diablo II - which many fans grinded away on for the majority of a decade - Blizzard had to really bring its A-game to deliver a sequel that felt fresh and next-gen, but still retained the feel of the iconic hack-and-slasher franchise. Although review scores came in pretty high for Diablo III, it didn't take long for the community to realize that the game lacked the replayability that made its predecessor so special. Blizzard set out to right that wrong with the D3: Reaper of Souls expansion and this time around, the powerhouse developer may have hit the nail right on the head.
Reaper of Souls works hand-in-hand with the recent Loot 2.0 patch (which is free to all players) to create an environment that encourages replayability, grouping, and never-ending demon hunting. The removal of the ill-fated Auction House system allows players to get back to the core mechanic that kept the Diablo II community thriving for so many years: kill monsters, get rad gear.
It's clear from the moment that the Reaper of Souls opening cinematic (one of Blizzard's best ever) hits the screen that Reaper is attempting to return to the dark tone of D2. That ominous tone carries into the game with the addition of Act V. The devastated zone of Westmarch is the perfect amount of dark, dreary, and intimidating. The additional area offers enough brand new monsters (reapers, skeleton dogs, and others that we won't spoil) to kill that it doesn't feel at all like retreading any of the previous acts. Act V is on the longer side and brings plenty of new battles to the game, including lots of optional areas to grind for experience and loot. The boss fights are challenging and entertaining, but not really different enough from anything the rest of the game has to offer to make them truly stand out.
Despite how well the cinematics and the landscape set the tone for Act V, the story still falls a bit flat. The return of some iconic franchise characters is certainly a nice bit of fan-service, but it's pretty clear nobody will be drawn to this expansion for the lore alone.
Although many players will be rushing to level their existing characters up to the new cap of 70 and explore the revamped end-game, the new class added with Reaper offers some great motivation to start the game over from scratch. The Crusader is sure to be a big hit for franchise fans that played the Paladin back during the D2 era. The versatile class offers a nice middle ground between the Monk and the Barbarian and gives players plenty of ability options to suite different play-styles.
The new class and appropriately-dreary Act V setting are definitely exciting, but as we said earlier, making D3 successful is all about incentivizing replayability. The new content is a blast to play through, but fans of Diablo know how incredibly quickly working through a new act can go. Blizzard's real success with Reaper of Souls is making recycled content exciting again with the help of Adventure Mode (unlocked with the completion of Act V), bounties, and rifts.
Adventure Mode successfully speeds up the replay process and removes some of the potential grind fatigue by trashing the linear narrative and breaking the content into smaller chunks. The more manageable content make revisiting old bosses far less daunting. The Adventure Mode missions are fairly straight forward and usually read something like, 'Kill this boss' or 'Clear this particular area.' Throw in the improved drop rates and the additional rewards that Adventure Mode offers and you've got plenty of motivation to grind on through those paragon levels.
Rift keystone fragments are perhaps the coolest reward that can be earned by completing bounties in Adventure Mode. Once a player has saved up five of the hard-earned keystones, he or she can open a Nephalem Rift and throw down against demons in a unique, new dungeon setting. The randomized rifts are dungeons made up of tile sets from familiar Diablo 3 locations. The randomized nature of the rifts' geography and enemies offer an additional layer of excitement each time one begins. The areas are chock-full of elite mobs and bosses that offer a new, challenging end-game experience for hardcore players.
Reaper brings a few other nice additions to the core game such as new abilities for characters to toy around with as they work through the new new levels (from 60 to 70) and a new artisan, the Mystic. The Mystic offers players the opportunity to customize loot by reworking specific stats on a piece of gear or changing the aesthetic appearance of an item through transmogrification. The new abilities vary based on class, but across the board they open up a whole new range of rotation options that could totally change the way you play your class. Also, the majority of them are really powerful and cool looking.
It may be impossible to win back over every original D2 fan who felt like D3 just didn't live up to their expectations for a franchise that they grew up playing, but Reaper of Souls does a damn good job trying. The expansion offers a great mix of new content and good reasons to revisit the existing demons in pursuit of better loot. The removal of the auction house, the improved Loot 2.0 system, and Reaper of Souls have put the action RPG franchise back on the right track. Reaper of Souls isn't going to draw in gamers who have never enjoyed the hack-and-slash franchise, but it does deliver nearly every improvement that the community called out for after the launch of Diablo 3. If you are (or ever were) a Diablo fan, Reaper of Souls is plenty worth the $40 price tag.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls is now available for PCs.
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