After the rather lack-luster release of Diablo III on the PC back in 2012, both Blizzard and their fans were dying to find a way to fix what was once known as one of PC's most beloved franchises. After almost two years, Blizzard's answer to the problems of Diablo III came in the form of the expansion pack: Reaper of Souls. One month later, after a score of patches, hotfixes, and general stabilization of the game, the question remains: Was Reaper of Souls enough to save Diablo III?
As is the case with most Blizzard titles, the soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal. While the music in Diablo III leaned so far towards being background music that it became unmemorable, the soundtrack for Reaper of Souls is much more lively and emotional. The city under undead siege feels mysterious and tense, the marshes feel lonely and helpless, and the boss fights feel like... well, like someone's butt is going to get kicked.
Reaper of Souls, along with patch 2.0, almost completely changed the game as far as loot is concerned. To compensate for the removal of the Auction House, loot drops are now targeted specifically for the player's current class. In addition, while it was possible to go through the original Diablo III for many levels without ever running into an upgrade, the numeric ranges for attributes on gear have been increased across the board, making it much more likely for players to stumble upon upgrades through regular play.
At higher levels, two fantastic features were added: transmogrification and enchantments. The transmogrification system is borrowed from World of Warcraft and allows players to customize the physical appearance of their character's gear. As players level up their Mystic, the NPC that is in charge of handling both transmogrifications and enchantments, more and more possible armor and weapon skins open up. Alternatively, players can find legendary items scattered throughout the game, which unlock their respective skins for the customization of future items.
Enchantment, the other new system that is also handled by the Mystic, allows customization of gear's attributes. Players now have the option of picking one specific attribute on a piece of gear and either rerolling it to try to get the maximum possible bonus, or they can exchange it for something else entirely. This not only solved the problem of players becoming frustrated by being just one stat away from a perfect piece of gear, but it also made the loot game seem that much more entertaining. Every piece of gear is now filled with possibilities, and could be changed to work to the player's benefit.
The expansion pack also added in one more class: the Crusader. The Crusader class fills in the gap left in the class system, adding a second strength-based melee class to the mix. The class is based largely on the Paladin class from Diablo II, even sharing some of the armor styles and skills. Luckily, the class seems to have something for everyone, but is still focused enough so that it doesn't lead to the class's detriment. While it's certainly possible to be a ranged or melee damage dealer, most of the emphasis on the class hangs around support and tanking.
While it could be argued that the Barbarian class already covered the Crusader's focus of melee tanking, the Crusader's overall aesthetic feels different enough to warrant its addition to the roster. The Crusader feels much more like the "traditional Paladin," in the sense that it blurs the lines between caster and melee. In addition, most of the skills that the Crusader uses are dependent on its shield, to the point where a new shield type, a "Crusader Shield," was added to the game.
The story in Reaper of Souls is where the expansion begins to fall apart. While the plot in Diablo III left quite a low bar for the game's future story-telling, Reaper of Souls doesn't take the opportunity to better the overall plot arch. The question Tyrael poses to the Malthael, the game's antagonist, of "Malthael, why?" echoes throughout almost the entire game. The answer is glossed over at best, and turns out fall into the "good guy doing bad things with good intentions" cliché. While Blizzard has pulled this sort of cliché off fantastically before in other franchises, such as with Arthas or Illidan, the betrayal of Malthael is so unconvincing to the point where it's distracting.
Not all story elements in the expansion are bad, however. All of your companions get new and fantastic dialogue as well as small side-missions where you help them with their own personal quests throughout the city, both of which serve to deepen back-stories immensely. While the emotions evoked from these stories can be rather depressing, they all end on a satisfying note that both tidies up that arch of the companions' individual stories while also leaving the player invested and hungering for more.
After completing the new act for Reaper of Souls, players are allowed to enter Adventure Mode, the brand way to earn experience, money, and most importantly, items. Players can change which act of the campaign that they want to play in, and each act has five randomly generated objectives to complete. Once all five objectives are completed, players return to Tyrael to get a chest full of loot along with some Keystone Fragments, which are used to open up the second half of exploration: rifts.
Rifts are essentially a series of never-ending dungeon, spanning across multiple floors and dungeon types. Players are given a progress bar as soon as they enter which indicates the number of monsters they killed. Once the bar is filled completely, a large boss comes out that, when killed, drops a number of items, once of which is Blood Shards. These shards can be turned in for random items at a vendor back in town.
The problem with Adventure Mode is how quickly it becomes tedious. While exploring the maps can be fun, some of the objectives require players to repeat things that they've already done in the story mode—typically, this is in the form of story-related bosses. Rifts, on the other hand, have no direct theme, instead just choosing a random format from level to level. On the first level, players could be going through an ice temple, while on the next they're travelling through a volcano. In addition, the density of monsters is randomly generated as well, making the all-too-common scenario of "floor after floor of barely any monsters" possible. These two factors in combination are distracting enough that it can make the rifts feel like a hastily put together loot treadmill, and make the whole end-game feel cheapened.
Throughout the month since its launch, Reaper of Souls has undergone a series of patches aimed at fixing some of the various exploits that people have found in the game. While these have varied in intensity, all of these patches essentially had a knee-jerk reaction overtone to them.
As an example, people found out that going after white chests rather than rare chests, if done quickly, gave better loot. As a result, Blizzard reduced the number of spawning locations for non-rare chests—a decision which seems rather strange in a game all about finding treasure. Another example would be all but removing the loot table from one type of item entirely when people found out that they could get items marginally faster from that.
These decisions seem incredibly brash and poorly thought out. There are other massive changes, such as with class balance, that have come completely out of nowhere, and it seems like it takes Blizzard at least two patches to rectify a problem they caused by overreacting, by which time they've already overreacted in other places.
There is no trading. The ability to trade in Diablo III is all but dead, with the exception of some very low-leveled, low-quality gear. Gold, gems, enchanting supplies, and generally most things needed for high level play cannot be traded. Even high quality items can't be traded to players who weren't present when the item dropped—and even then, there's only a two hour window to do so. The removal of the Auction House, for whatever reason, also meant that any ability to exchange equipment or currency also had to go. Again, this seems like another poorly thought out decision, and essentially ended one of the main social points that are so critical for this genre.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is a bit of a mixed bag. If you didn't like the design change from Diablo II that took place in the main title, this expansion pack has nothing worth your time. If you didn't mind Diablo III's original gameplay and story, however, Reaper of Souls might be worth your attention. Just keep in mind that Blizzard has been incredibly fickle with their balancing changes, usually leading to some unsavory problems with the game.