They say that it's hard to overcome first impressions. Well, if that's the truth, then Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls is going to be a runaway success story for Blizzard. It is simply that good.
Blizzard is ready to deploy the first expansion to Diablo 3, Reaper of Souls, sometime in Quarter 1 2014. In many ways, it is less an expansion than it is a "do over". Many of the things that some players complained about most harshly have been overhauled and retooled to make this Diablo 3 the successor that everyone wanted.
This is not to say, however, that Diablo 3 in its current iteration is a bad game. It's not. It's just that it became so much of a grind to continually have to slog through the story to raise new characters and the auction house was too much of a necessity for a player's success or failure.
Enter Reaper of Souls, the first expansion to Diablo 3. Reaper of Souls is clearly about bringing F-U-N back into Diablo 3, replacing, among other things, the grindy game play and overpriced, hyper-inflated auction house. The auction house is removed. Playing through the story to raise a new character is an option, not a requirement, now that Adventure Mode has been introduced.
In short, Blizzard has admitted its mistakes in developing Diablo 3 and has gone back to correct those missteps.
Reaper will introduce a new character class, the Crusader, a dark paladin of sorts. In fact, the D3 team has indicated that the Diablo 2 paladin and the Crusader are two sides of the same coin, with the latter being the more zealous of the two in ridding the world of evil. The Crusader is a much more focused, much 'heavier' character in terms of story and also brings a host of pretty sweet skills to the game as well.
Starting Crusaders begin with a basic flail and the now-familiar black and white shield. The mid-range melee attacks are to die for, especially for those who have 'suffered' as up close fighters. The Crusader can whirl that flail at a short distance and damage any monsters in its range thus making the class a terrific crowd controller. Add in wicked shield bashing/throwing skills and it's easy to see how much fun the Crusader will be to play and how much it brings to the table.
We'll have a more in-depth preview of the Crusader later but, in the meantime, check out Mike Bitton's impressions of the class from Blizzcon.
Importing my level 60 Monk, level 60 Barbarian and a smattering of smaller characters into the game gave me the opportunity to check out the new Adventure Mode on a higher difficulty setting than my new Crusader could access. Adventure Mode allows players to travel to any zone in the map, to any waypoint within that zone and to, if desired, defeat any boss in that zone all with the click of a mouse button. In addition, the map offers players five "bounties" to complete that will yield amazing amounts of gold and experience.
Adventure Mode features several levels of difficulty, something that will appeal to those who felt that D3 was too easy. Players can take on Normal, Hard, Expert, Master and Torment levels while in AM. Thinking that my current 'toon was pretty well geared, I started her off in Expert mode, something described as being for those who have a lot of experience playing their characters and some good gear.
Even the trash mobs hurt like a biatch and the mundane yellow bosses/minions are painful beyond belief. Remember how much all elemental damages hurt in Inferno level? Multiply that times a hundred, a thousand, and you begin to see that the 'toon of yesteryear isn't going to cut it until gearing up in the lower levels of Adventure Mode.
Reworking your 'toon's skills is going to be a must as well. Cookie cutter builds from D3 as it is today won't cut it in Reaper of Souls. It will take time and effort to find the best combinations of skills to take down monsters on higher levels of difficulty and the game play will require much more strategy than previously. It only takes a few frustrating and immediate deaths to convince you that you need to back down the difficulty ladder to look for better gear.
Ah, gear...the Diablo player's fondest desire. Blizzard has done well with allowing players to feel a sense of "WHOOT!" again when even the most ordinary yellow drops are tons better than what you already have. My monk, for instance, was well-geared in the Inna's set with tons of resistances, high damage weapons, great life on hit, etc. Within about a half hour, I'd taken all of that off and replaced it with yellow gear I found in Reaper. Re-dressing your companions is essential too and, as with my own gear, simple.
Good on Blizzard for all of this. It's made heading into the game exciting to think that something awesome will be found and hearkens back to the first and earliest days of the franchise.
My monk's skills have undergone a shift as well. Fists of Thunder not only teleports the monk to the targeted enemy, but it does so in such a fast and wicked fashion that she can jet all over the map. The caveat here is, of course, not to jet into too many monsters, particularly bosses.
Speaking of bosses, there are new elemental attacks as well. Silly me...poison damage in D3 isn't deadly enough. Now Blizzard has added a new and improved version. Bosses also have access to new and horrendously damaging elemental skills like this one:
The reward for finishing the five bounties is a Greater Horadrim Cache that can yield some seriously awesome stuff...well, at least that's what I've heard. The one I was able to finish gave me a ton of gold, crafting components and a pretty great piece of armor. No legendary yet, though, as said, the hunt is on, baby!
Game play in Diablo 3 has taken on a whole new meaning and is a ton of fun again. With all the cool stuff to be found, the new and amazingly difficult game play options, new boss skills and more, D3 once again becomes the king of the ARPG hill.
Companions, Crafting, & More
Companions are now more fun than ever. Some of the dialog options are so funny (be sure to check out the Templar's and the Enchantress's dialog in Westmarch!) that it sometimes becomes necessary to simply stop and listen.
Monk: Have you met any nice women from here?
Scoundrel: Aren't you from here? *eyebrow waggle*
Also, your crafting companions can be raised to level twelve with new recipes to be found that are appropriate for that level. In addition, the Blacksmith can now make tokens for your battle companions which is a small, but great touch.
I must admit that I haven't tried out Mystic's abilities much yet, though I did change out one of my item's stats for a new one. She will need to be trained to make her worthwhile to use on high level characters. But the transmogrification, stat alteration, enchantment stuff looks really good. I'll have more on that next week.
One interesting thing, speaking of small touches, is that healing potions are all a generic size now: No matter your character level, 60% of health will be restored when using one. Nice, huh?
Concluding Thoughts After a Couple Hours
Those who left Diablo 3 thinking that it wasn't good enough to be called Diablo will definitely want to come back to try out Reaper of Souls. It brings back the fun and excitement that the first two games embodied and it brings a LOT more to the game as well.
Those who like Diablo 3 as it is will absolutely love the expansion. Guaranteed.
Blizzard has made good on its promise to "fix" and "enhance" Diablo 3 in ways that are beyond what most of us would have expected. With all there is to do, with all the new content, the new abilities, crafting and all else, players will be kept busy for a good long while.
Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis next week!
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.
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