Well ladies and gentlemen, the long path of Diablo 3′s restoration has finally reached a milestone. After all the patches, design team change, removal of the auction house, loot 2.0 and now the expansion pack. Reaper of Souls continues Blizzard’s tradition of adding both supplemental and new content to the experience and all in all it’s a great expansion, but the question remains: Is it worth the money?

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Death and Taxes:

There is a lot to go over with Reaper of Souls as both large and small changes have been made across the board. Let’s begin with the big one: Act 5. Taking place pretty much directly after the end of the regular game, the angel of death has appeared in the city of Westmarch to steal the black soulstone that houses Diablo’s essence, calling you and your followers to the city to kick death’s ass.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the art direction has taken a huge shift. The brighter almost cartoon like colors of the original content, have been replaced with duller and darker hues. Harkening back to the days of Diablo 1 and 2 and with better looker backgrounds.

The developers have rebalanced the game so that the loot and difficulty are almost like two different games — You have the level 1-60 content of the original game and then 61 to 70 of what Reaper of Souls adds. Once you hit 61, the loot that can be both found and bought has dramatically improved stats along with the new classes of gems. To further drive that point home, the requirements of level 61 and up gear requires new types of materials, making the old stuff obsolete for high level characters.

Besides crafting there is a new vendor that becomes available — The mystic. Who has two unique abilities, first is that she can “transmog” any piece of equipment to look like something else. Basically so that if you want to keep a unified style to your character. Second and more importantly is her ability to alter an affix on any gear.

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Enchanting gear to maximize the affixes becomes a major part of end game loot refinement.

How it works is that the rarer the item, the more expensive the change is. First you choose which affix you want altered and the game will show you all possible affixes that may be swapped.

After paying your fee, the game will roll two of those affixes (and any respective numerical changes to them) and you must choose between one of them or the original to complete the transaction.

Once an item has been altered, you may only swap out the newly changed affix for another one, and paying the fee again of course.

Playing in Act 5, I noticed that the enemies across the board seem to be stronger than the previous ones and I had to dial back the difficulty to stand a chance. The act itself is also longer than previous acts thanks to larger areas with a lot more random events to find.

Moving on to the classes, the original five have been given a new skill and respective skill gems , new passives and the ability to equip a fourth passive ability at level 70. Joining the game is the new crusader class which is essentially the middle ground between the raw power of the barbarian and the utility and variety of skills of the monk.

I like the idea of the class, but I think at the moment that the class’s ability to rely extra on shields and block damage is a bit too pigeonholed. In the sense that it’s all or nothing to get the most use out of it and still you’re relying on something that has a chance at happening, as opposed to a sure thing.

And not helping is that they are the only class with a focus on defense, meaning that they do less damage compared to the other classes. (Note: As normal routine for Blizzard, they will of course update the class and the others over time and this complaint may not remain valid.)

Going on an Adventure:

The final major change to Diablo 3 comes in the form of the adventure mode which becomes available once you’ve beaten Act 5. Billed as the “end-game”, adventure mode is essentially Diablo 3 minus the story: No cutscenes or NPC conversations, just you and the world. Playing in adventure mode, all the waypoints are available instantly and you can jump between any act at will while fighting any bosses of your choosing.

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Adventure mode was a great idea that removes all the fluff of Diablo 3 for pure hack and slashing across the world.

Besides fighting the bosses, you can revisit any area to find more enemy types and larger groups, along with being able to complete their events. To add some progression, quests have been replaced with bounties.

When you start adventure mode, each act will have five bounties for you to take on. Bounties take the form of mini quests and are about killing specific enemies or completing an event.

Finishing a bounty will award exp, gold, blood shards and possibly rift stones (more on those in a second.) If you complete all five bounties in a single act, you’ll be rewarded with a cube full of random items. Blood shards are used at the new gambler vendor in town, allowing you to trade them in for a random item. The item could be crap, a legendary or anything in between.

The world resets whenever you create a new game and is a pretty great way to log on, fight some enemies and then log off for the day. For players wanting more, those previously mentioned rift stones can be used to open up rifts in town at the cost of five rift stones. The rifts will take you to a randomly generated dungeon with each floor a different environment. The enemies are a mash up of different acts and you’ll never know what to expect.

The drop rate for rare and higher loot is also higher in the rifts allowing a party to clean house and get some good stuff in the process. Killing enough enemies in the rift will spawn the rift guardian, a supped up enemy who drops a lot of loot if you can kill them.

The new content that Reaper of Souls added doesn’t leave me with much to complain about, but it’s what hasn’t been added that hurts Reaper of Souls.

Rigor Mortis:

Reaper of Souls reminds me a lot of X-Com Enemy Within and how the expansion adds a lot of great content; however it doesn’t quite fix all the problems with the design.

First there is the question from the beginning: Is it worth $40? And I’m kind of hard pressed to give an answer to that. Reaper of Souls is a great expansion, but I’m not sure if its $40 or the cost of a regular PC game great. People have been comparing it to Diablo 2’s expansion: Lord of Destruction and comparing the two, it’s really as broad as it is long.

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The crusader features a variety of skills and in my opinion some of the best armor styles in the game. But could still use some skill balancing.

Lord of Destruction added in 2 new classes, one new act, new item drops and socketable items, but still didn’t have much of an endgame outside of Baal runs.

Reaper of Souls only adds one new class, updates the existing classes, new act, new items and of course adventure mode. But here, the loot design is definitely lacking compared to Diablo 2 but more on that in a minute.

I want to quickly touch on the class additions as this has been a sticking point from critics. I agree in the sense that I would have liked to have seen another class just to even things to having one new ranged, one new melee class. But I understand that the classes in Diablo 3 are a lot more developed compared to Diablo 2, thanks to the skills, skill gems, passives and resource generator.

And I still prefer Diablo 3’s swap in and out mindset as opposed to Diablo 2’s incremental changes. But it’s the loot that still has problems, even with the great changes of Loot 2.0 (which you can read about my thoughts in a previous post,) Diablo 3’s loot design is still lacking.

The problem is twofold, first is that it is still being constrained by the primary attribute focus. This means for a piece of loot to be useful, it must always have the primary attribute on it despite any other modifiers other than vitality. It’s so streamlined now that you can just scan across your loot to see if the three general variables of damage, toughness or healing are boosted by said item. Granted the new affixes that increase damage of skills or damage type is a great step forward, but we still come back to the primary attribute.

The second problem is that the loot of Diablo 3 is still so plain in its design. In the sense that all the swords, axes, daggers and so on mean nothing compared to the stats they have. Taking a massive two handed battle axe or a tiny dagger doesn’t impact how you fight as you’re only using skills to do damage. The only noticeable affect a weapon has on fighting is the actual attack speed of the weapon.

A perfect counter example would be Path of Exile and how every weapon class in the game had a unique modifier to it. For instance daggers had a greater chance to score critical hits; claws gave you life per hit and so on. Back to Diablo 3, each class’s unique weapon still doesn’t mean much as again, you’re only looking at the stats and not the weapon class itself. And with unique and rare weapons having a greater chance to get skill specific affixes, continues to limit your choices.

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Gambling is currently the only use for blood shards and just like in real life, I haven’t had much luck with it.

Once you score a rare item for a specific equipment slot, the chance that you’ll find a magic (or blue rank) item to replace it is very slim.

One possible alternative would be to have more unique equipment or alternate options such as a two handed Witch Doctor exclusive weapon or Demon Hunter specific helms and so on.

The problems with the loot design continue to limit your choices and reduce the loot choice into the previously mentioned three stats, up until you hit the level cap and only have to deal with one loot table of possible items. If the Torchlight series went too far with loot diversity and gave the player an overload of gear, Diablo 3 would be on the opposite end of the spectrum by not giving the player enough choices to define their character through loot.

Unfortunately this is one of those problems that I can’t see a clear solution for other than completely ripping apart the systems and rebuilding the design by having the non primary attributes also affect the player. But the chance of a second redesign happening in Diablo 3 is slim to none. And because of the issues with loot, they permeate into the endgame diminishing my desire to play through rifts and such for incremental improvements.

Stopping Death:

In the end I can once again compare Reaper of Souls to Enemy Within: What has been added thanks to the expansion is all great, but the original underlying problems with the design were not touched or improved upon with the expansion. If patch 2.0 recaptured your love of Diablo 3, then Reaper of Souls will complete the experience for you. But if you completely hated Diablo 3 or felt that patch 2.0 didn’t go far enough, then you’ll probably want to lay this one to rest.

Featured Game

Title: Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls
Developer: Blizzard
Publisher: Activision
System: PC

The Prime Evil rages within the Black Soulstone, its essence screaming for vengeance and release. Before the artifact can be sealed away forever, Malthael -- the Angel of Death -- manifests in the mortal realms with a deadly new purpose: to steal the Black Soulstone and bend its infernal power to his will. So begins the end of all things…

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“Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls: Don’t Fear the Reaper”

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