This year, not only did Blizzard announce its first expansion for Diablo 3, titled Reaper of Souls, but also the removal of the game's controversial auction house. They appear to be doing everything to make Diablo 3 the game fans wanted, but does its vision translate into reality?
Upon entering the selection screen, I was quick to select Crusader, not only because it's the new class for Reaper of Souls, but because it stands out. Its ornate armor looks fantastic, and its use of a shield makes it an easy choice for anyone who loved Paladin in Diablo 2. And, I mean really, who doesn't want to swing around a flail? Few games let you play with such a ridiculously dangerous weapon.
After making my character, I was very excited to select Adventure Mode from the menu. I spent over 150 hours running through the linear halls of Diablo 3's original acts, so being able to skip around the game world with new objectives is something that adds a whole new dimension to the game. As I expected, I was presented with tons of options. Blizzard's philosophy of "go anywhere, slay anything" rings true, as I was able to see every waypoint in the game displayed within an interesting view of the game's world map, along with a variety of kill objectives.
I chose one of my favorite areas of Act IV and was given the goal of slaying a minion with unique traits. Hunting down my prey rewarded me with a Rift Keystone, which afforded me access to the game's new Nephalem Rifts. These randomized zones are highly unpredictable and filled with monsters of all types. As a Diablo 3 veteran, it was like experiencing the original game without order. The map was as unfamiliar as the swarms of varied enemies that charged toward me. I would reap generous rewards from their corpses.
I then chose to enter Story mode to get a feel of what the new areas are like. The zone that I would leave in ruin after about 30 minutes of play was reminiscent of the first Act with dark, gothic visuals, but outdoor areas were much more prominent. The enemies felt very refined with mechanics that were deadly but observable. For example, the Summoner would defile the ground and summon ghosts, while the Punisher sought to smash me into the stone floor. Prioritization and awareness is as important as ever for surviving Reaper of Souls' challenges.
Entering one of the new area's dungeons I noticed that the map layout was different than another player sitting next to me. Blizzard has put a lot of work into a new dungeon map randomizer, and it's already impressive in its current state. This welcomed randomization means that Diablo 3 is less predictable and you'll feel compelled to enter the game's many optional dungeons. The days of stagnant grinding are hopefully a thing of the past.
During this time I got a good feel for the Crusader, and I'm happy to report that it fits extremely well into the current lineup of classes. In a way it's a hybrid that can perform admirably at close range with plenty of durability, but really shines with its mid-range prowess. Its skillset is very disruptive to enemies with knockbacks and powerful AoE attacks. It also interweaves useful support abilities that Monk fans will find delightful. It doesn't stray too far from Barbarian's Fury with its Wrath mechanic, but it does manage to feel like it has an identity by making use of a flail, shield, and flashy effects that Paladin fans will find familiar. Everything it uses is magical, even its Steed Charge that summons a magical horse to ride for 3 seconds—my new favorite ability in the game.
For those who haven't had a chance to play one of the console versions of Diablo 3, this expansion has a lot of surprises up its sleeve. It's still Diablo 3, but with the much-needed improvements to its loot system. There is no more auction house, and that means when you get a drop you have a greater reason to be excited. To balance this, drop rates have been completely reworked; I happened to come across 2 legendaries during about an hour and a half of play, and one was an upgrade for my Crusader. There was no thought about "how much can I get on the auction house for this?". Instead, it's about whether or not it's an upgrade for one of your characters or if one of your friends would find it useful. Diablo is back.
From what I can tell, the new loot has stylish design. A set of shoulder armor and a shiny new mace made me stand out from the other players playing Crusaders at Blizzcon.
I had a chance to play the game on PS4 and PC, and both were excellent. I must say that playing Diablo from a controller really is better than I ever would have imagined. It's a bit more relaxing to play without the micro capabilities of a mouse. That said, there's something about playing on PC that really makes you feel like a pro.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls is everything a Diablo fan can hope for from an expansion. It refines the core values of the game, adds a fun new class, and a wealth of new features to enjoy. Truthfully, when the expansion comes out Diablo 3 won't even be recognizable anymore. This expansion completely overhauls the experience to make it much more captivating.
You can enjoy what it has to offer next year when it comes out for PS4 and PC. Look out for beta details soon.