One of the more interesting trends these days is for a game to be released to less-than-critical acclaim and to subsequently be taken back to the literal and physical drawing board for a makeover. This has happened a few times in the last year or so, most notably with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
Enter Blizzard Entertainment and one of its three powerhouse titles: Diablo III. Since being released in 2012, the game has been successful but seemingly less so than its predecessors. Now with the first expansion, Reaper of Souls, Diablo III is finally the game it should have been all along.
The original Diablo and its first successor, Diablo II, both featured a dark, gritty world. As more and more became known about Diablo III, many long time players took umbrage at what was considered an overly bright color palette. For those who felt this way, Reaper of Souls will come as a welcome relief.
The premise of Reaper of Souls is that, post Diablo thrashing / High Heavens saving, Archangel Malthael rebrands himself the Angel of Death and sets out on a campaign of wonton destruction. He has clearly overstepped his bounds and it is up to Tyrael to bring the Nephalem hero back into play to stop the destruction of Westmarch.
Malthael brings along a host of the undead to take on the forces of the living that literally suck the life out of those who are trying to defend themselves from the coming of death. Westmarch sports a very dark, very gothic look. The mood of everyone in Westmarch is dark. The environments are dark. The music, gorgeous as it is, is dark. The entire episode seems to take place at night. In short, Act V is much more of a horror story than it is a journey of self-sacrificing discovery as the preceding four acts were.
Those who love the Diablo III lore and story will love Reaper of Souls. There is more background, more information about the Angiris Council, and more to learn about the Nephalem. Even though Malthael is the defacto end boss, it is finding and reacquainting our characters with Leah’s mother, Adria, which will bring many players the most satisfaction.
Skills & Builds
As part of the pre-expansion preparation, Blizzard release patch 2.0.1 that brought in a huge number of changes. Most significantly for the purposes of Reaper of Souls was the tweaking and reworking of most of the character skills.
Players who have played through Diablo III and feel themselves well-geared will find a challenge in Reaper of Souls. Gone are most of the “flavor of the week” builds and playing through the much more difficult, scaled expansion will require rethinking how to play.
Adding to the new and/or remastered skills and runes is the new Paragon 2.0 system that arrived pre-release. Once a player’s first character has reached max level (60 prior to the expansion, 70 for players new to the game after release), they will begin earning Paragon points. These points are available to all characters on a player’s account and are spread in four categories: Core (Dexterity, Intellect or Strength, Vitality, Movement Speed, Additional Character Resource), Offense (Attack Speed, Cool down Reduction, Critical Hit Chance, Critical Hit Damage), Defense (Life, Armor, Resist All, Life Regeneration) and Utility (Area Damage, Resource Cost Reduction, Life On Hit, Gold Find). Paragon points are essentially unlimited, though there are certain stats that have a +50 cap. They definitely give a new character a boost if, for instance, the main character has earned 200 Paragon, the new character can immediately put those 200 points to use in the aforementioned categories, giving them a significant boost right out the gate.
Blizzard has done a masterful job in giving players a chance to try out new and different ways to experience the game. Each character has many more options at their disposal and there is even adequate evidence to suggest that changing skills on the fly to meet specific challenges is viable.
The one drawback to so many different ways to play is the necessity of changing skills often. While not difficult, it would have been nice if Blizzard had allowed players to save builds or at least given them the ability to create more than one skill bar to toggle between.
Loot 2.0, so-called “Smart Loot”, also arrived with the pre-expansion patch. For the most part, the days of receiving a legendary item with no discernable connection to the character picking it up are gone. Players will find items that have relevance to their class and it doesn’t take long in Reaper of Souls to replace all of that level 60 gear so lovingly collected over the preceding months, even years. For reference, during an earlier beta event, I imported my monk, fully geared in top level gear. Within about a half hour, all of that gear, and I do mean all, was replaced with, for the most part, rare items, not legendary.
Players will also find that certain legendaries will create the need to rethink and respec characters. As an example, I picked up a legendary amulet that reduces my damage by a big chunk but gives me 100% resistance to arcane damage and that damage taken from arcane lasers actually heals my monk. Now she can stand in the middle of the purple laser light show with a sneer on her face while my bestie takes out the boss. That one find was a game changer in specific situations.
Blizzard has also made taking apart the world piece by piece worthwhile. Legendaries drop from boxes, barrels, overturned bodies and mundane trash mobs. Sure, they also drop from bosses but the chances are really good to find them just meandering around the world.
While finding legendaries is amazing…nothing like hearing that CLANG, it would be nice if stats on them were specific to the class that identifies them. Finding a legendary sword with a Demon Hunter is not very useful if, on identification, it’s got amazing damage with a dexterity stat and there is no inclination to start a Monk that can use a dex-based weapon. As luck has it, this can be altered by the Mystic (see below) but it would be even better if the stat was tailored for the character identifying the item.
Another welcome addition to Reaper of Souls is the inclusion of gambling. Players collect blood shards and can spend them at special vendors for a chance at a “mystery” item. More often than not, these items are pedestrian, but there is always a chance for something epic. In short, it’s everything gambling represents.
Still, the best part about Loot 2.0 is the fact that it has brought back a core mechanic for why people love action RPGs in general and the Diablo series specifically: The quest for bigger, better, tougher, more powerful items. Difficulty, Bounties, Nephalem Rifts:
Players will have a lot more options in how to play Diablo III now that Reaper of Souls has arrived. It will no longer be necessary to tediously play through the entire game multiple times in order to unlock the highest level of difficulty. In fact, brand new level one characters can, if at least one other character on a player’s account defeated the game, start right off the bat in Torment if they choose. Not the brightest move, mind you, but it can be done.
There are five game difficulties: Normal, Hard, Expert, Master and Torment. Torment also has an internal difficulty setting from I-VI that scales things to make them exponentially harder. With the increased danger comes great reward, however, and those intrepid souls who take on the game’s highest difficulty will find greater chances for epic loot.
Be warned: Marching into Reaper of Souls with level 60 gear, even top end stuff, and trying out a bounty on Torment level will be….interesting to say the least. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Bounties & Nephalem Rifts go hand-in-hand and is probably one of the single most interesting new features for Diablo III. Players will no longer have to play through the game’s story line but can, instead, choose Adventure Mode which essentially opens up the entire map. Viewing the world map will reveal twenty-five bounties that are offered, each with a specific set of goals to accomplish and big XP boosts. On completing each Act’s bounties, players can return to Tyrael for a reward package that can include some pretty amazing things, both gear and for crafting.
The one complaint I have about the Bounties themselves (I’ll get to the Nephalem Rifts in a bit) is that they are largely the same terrain, the same monsters, the same bosses that have been fought through countless times over the last two years. There is no randomization here. If, for instance, a player takes on the bounties in Act I, they will be sent to various points on the map, slog through the monsters that have always been there, jet to a specific location, kill a specific boss or complete a specific task and then move on to the next one. Random, in the case of bounties, isn’t really random.
Nephalem Rifts, however, are much more random. When I played through Act I’s bounties, I was rewarded with enough rift shards to open a gate to a randomized location. For instance, I was teleported to an Act V map packed with Act II monsters. Bosses cropped up around every turn and after filling the “summoning bar”, which took quite some time, the Rift Guardian was summoned. These bad boys are just that: B-A-D. Not only do they have huge amounts of hit points, but they have special and unique attacks that can be very difficult to overcome. But, again: With great difficulty come great rewards. While a legendary isn’t a guarantee, they can drop. They will always drop a lot of items, including very rare crafting materials.