The difficulty in reviewing Reaper of Souls resides not in articulating a list of pros and cons, but rather ceasing to play the game long enough to compose one’s thoughts on the matter. That time could be spent playing more, and though this is a credit to Reaper of Souls, it is also a credit to Diablo 3 and how it has changed in a recent patch. If you played Diablo 3 before the past few months, your impressions regarding difficulty, items, skill balance, and progression are significantly outdated. The Auction House is gone, item drops and crafting are much more rewarding, and the old difficulty system of playing the game multiple times to unlock the next level is gone, replaced with a traditional selection menu.
This is the new foundation that Reaper of Souls resides upon, and it is a strong one with which to introduce a fifth full length episode, new character class, and a new game mode which greatly extends the post campaign content. The storyline picks up immediately from where it let off in Diablo 3, so if you want to experience Act V as the Crusader, you will need to play through the base game with that class first. This may be tedious to some, but it lends a strong familiarity to the class before encountering the forces of death, and allows you to experience some of the new events added to the original campaign.
Though Diablo 3 has several strong character classes, none of them ever seemed to sit quite right in the Diablo mood or aesthetic to me. The Crusader slides almost perfectly into that role. Covered in armor, sword and shield in hand, the Crusader is built around walking resolutely into the maw of evil in all of its forms and defying every blow rained down. The Crusader’s role is most easily simplified into that of being a Tank class, or Crowd Control. Health can be regained by dealing Holy Damage with a passive skill, striking an enemy may increase your block chance, your armor can be increased by your block chance, and you can sacrifice your Dodge ability to block even more.
The Crusader is married to their shield, such that a passive skill, Heavenly Strength, will allow you to wield a two-handed weapon in a single hand (at the cost of 15% movement speed) simply so you can continue to bear the shield. You block, strike with, throw, and even reflect light to blind with it. As a Crusader of the Zakarum, you may summon ancient warriors to fight alongside you, bring concentrated heavenly light, bombard your foes with burning pitch, or even absorb the damage taken by your allies for a brief time. The Crusader is the ultimate cooperative class for Diablo 3, residing somewhere between the Templar hireling, and Diablo 2’s Paladin.
It can be easy to role play with the Crusader if you are all about vanquishing evil, but eventually efficacy interferes with imagination, and I found myself most successful with the fire and lightning variants of my skills. Though satisfying to employ, the screen was quickly filled with magical effects, rather than the grit, sweat, and blood of orthodox perseverance. My Crusader had become a Wizard, or at least a magic focused Cleric. Later the role transitioned to that of a summoner almost, utilizing the Lord and Commander passive to increase the damage of my Phalanx and cast Bombardment more often, I focused on abilities which exposed my enemies to these abilities, and allowed my hireling to dish out more damage. I greatly enjoyed my time with the Crusader (all 54 hours of it), but it started simplistic and slow, and grew into something I didn’t expect the class to be.
The Crusader strives for purity, and the perversions at the heart of Act V are perfect fodder for this approach. With the fall of Diablo and the rest of the Prime Evils, the angel Malthael sees an opportunity to resolve the Eternal Conflict by removing the most potent remaining strain of demon: humanity. As humans in the world of Diablo are half-angel and half-demon, this stands to reason if you are looking for eradication. Thus Malthael invades with his host of reapers, angels, and handmaidens targeting Westmarch.
The result is akin to that of exploring a Pieter Bruegel painting. This is made abundantly clear as you walk the winding streets of a demolished city lined with piles of corpses, to the extent that the ground texture at times is nothing but human bodies. The imagery of decay runs throughout the act, as you finally depart from the city to travel through foul swamps, and an abandoned ancient city, to arrive in the eternal battleground between angels and demons. Over the course of this you will experience three boss fights, all of which have an emphasis on damage evasion.
There are a host of unique but voluntary side events, some of which include a political battle within the city, illustrating the foolishness of playing class warfare when faced with a supernatural invasion bent on destroying your entire species. There is enough unique but random content that it is worth replaying the areas of Westmarch at least twice, a commendable trait to be had. You also have the option to go on special quests for the Templar, Scoundrel, and Covetous Shen, which progress their own stories. I did not encounter such an opportunity for the Enchantress, though she speaks much more of her history, and current desires. Perhaps there is another expansion planned where you can delve further into her character?
The fifth act is populated by a whole slew of new monsters, including summoners, enchanters, the undead, specters, ancient creatures, and Malthael’s host. Rat Callers command hosts of vermin, who perplexingly appear as small as your shoe but cannot be stepped over. Swamp creatures make their presence known from off screen by flinging scores of smaller animals at you, and ancient beasts that have managed to survive the scarred landscape of the Eternal Conflict bob and weave through battle (in particular, the Barbed Lurker), or tunnel away to escape and emerge clad in armor made from soil and rock. Act V is remarkably comprised of fresh content, enough that could have filled another game.
The gameplay focuses on medium to large groups, some battles consisting of as many as 150 monsters vying for your attention. On Normal, it is casual to the extent of decisions not being a factor. I started with Normal, changed midway through Act I to Hard, and then going up to Expert at the end of Act II for the remainder of my playing. Playing at this rate, I hit level 60 exactly as I struck the killing blow against Malthael, a battle which took a second try. Fighting Malthael is almost akin to a bullet hell game, as he floods the environment with roaming area of effect damage and boasts a substantial amount of health.
I found myself struggling while dishing out mild amounts of damage, despite having cleared the previous area casually. At the end of the fight, we both had a sliver of health. I made a dash for the health well on the side of the arena, but upon reaching it, nothing happened. Malthael stood still, my health did not replenish, and the well did not empty. Then I was repositioned a few feet below the well, no longer within reach, Malthael caught me and struck me dead. Lag, in my single player experience of the campaign.
I know it is a subject that has been done to death, but for it to happen in the final fight, resulting in only my second death in the entire campaign, makes for a jarring experience. With the Auction House gone, the requirement feels much more arbitrary, especially with the story being so focused around the notion of a single hero, rather than a party of heroes. I try to not let it mar the experience, despite it having prevented me from playing a few times, namely during peak hours, and on scheduled maintenance (Tuesday mornings, which sounds like an innocuous time, but it is ideal for those with a family and a full time job). These hiccups were rare for me, though at times severe, but others have reported far more common disconnects to this day, so your mileage will definitely vary.
Though I touched upon replaying areas earlier, Reaper of Souls makes the act more natural with Adventure Mode. In this, the whole world is opened up with random bounties. Bounties can concern killing a boss, defeating a particular elite monster, cleansing a cursed chest, or participating in an area’s unique event. Completing a bounty will grant you experience, gold, and a Nephalem Rift Key Fragment. If you complete every bounty in an area, Tyrael will give you a Horadric Chest which contains random items. If you complete every bounty available in a whole session (they are randomized and repopulated each session), well then, nothing at all happens. Don’t waste your time trying to do that like I did.
The bounties themselves are enjoyable in terms of providing a short term direction to justify monster slaying, and after getting five Nephalem Rift Key Fragments. You can open up a Nephalem Rift, which is a large multi-tiered dungeon packed with monsters and much more powerful shrines to help you out. After killing a large but unspecified quantity of monsters, a powerful monster will be summoned. Killing this monster and exiting the rift causes it to close. It is a simple cycle, the bounties and rifts, but it provides a variety of scenarios beyond the campaign to try builds and look for loot. Ultimately the Adventure Mode is a direct nod to the fact that Diablo 3 is less so an Action RPG, and more so just a direct Action Game.
Reaper of Souls represents a capstone to the Diablo 3 experience. The patch which came before it refined the game as a whole, and the expansion’s contributions rounded out the class options, expanded NPC interactions, and solidified the scope of the story, even if the lore is a bit confusing. The Crusader is a strong class, but more variety in the aspect of strong melee battle skill would’ve resulted in a more satisfying experience. Similarly, Adventure Mode seems a solid addition that needs a little more variety thrown in such as timed events, or larger scale challenges with matching rewards.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?
Yes. Reaper of Souls is not perfect, but it is solid and consistent entertainment. You will get your fill of laying waste to hordes of demons, undead, and the dead alike. One can speak negatively of class roles, or disconnection issues, but the fact remains that I poured well over fifty hours into it without realizing, and I don’t regret that time either. If you even casually enjoyed some aspects of Diablo 3, Reaper of Souls is worth the money.
UPDATE: Blizzard has done substantial patching since the playthrough that this was written from, and the time from writing to appearing on the site. I do still stand by the positive tone of this review, and will note that their changes to the Crusader have been positive ones. He is all the more the character class for wading steadily into an ocean of foes to ensure their demise. In doing this, Blizzard did change some skills completely (Nephalem Majesty, or was it Glory?) became Fanaticism, Fervor retained its name but not its behavior, Finery was scaled more appropriately, and so much more). The Crusader does feel a bit meatier, a little less magical now, which I very much enjoy. Also I got some more experience with the particularly unique attributes thanks to the birthday loot drop boost for Legendaries. I recently acquired a shield which makes my Shield Glare skill take effect in 360 degrees instead of 90, significantly shaping how I use my character (and really encouraging getting into the thick of it even more).
Blizzard has done substantial patching since the playthrough that this was written from, and the time from writing to appearing on the site. I do still stand by the positive tone of this review, and will note that their changes to the Crusader have been positive ones. He is all the more the character class for wading steadily into an ocean of foes to ensure their demise. In doing this, Blizzard did change some skills completely (Nephalem Majesty, or was it Glory?) became Fanaticism, Fervor retained its name but not its behavior, Finery was scaled more appropriately, and so much more). The Crusader does feel a bit meatier, a little less magical now, which I very much enjoy.
Also I got some more experience with the particularly unique attributes thanks to the birthday loot drop boost for Legendaries. I recently acquired a shield which makes my Shield Glare skill take effect in 360 degrees instead of 90, significantly shaping how I use my character (and really encouraging getting into the thick of it even more).