Review: Diablo 3 + Reaper of Souls

If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been silent on this site over the last few weeks, you can blame one game and one game only for it.

Diablo 3.

Well, more precisely, Diablo 3 and its expansion pack, Reaper of Souls. In what can only be described as digital crack, Blizzard has created a game that is intensely shallow on the surface, but so very, very enjoyable.

This review will review both the base game of Diablo 3 and then focus on the recently released expansion, Reaper of Souls. It is a review based on the game post Patch 2.0 but prior to Patch 2.05. As such, I’m excluding the Auction House from the review. Anyone who experienced the Auction House knows it sucked, but since it’s now gone, there’s little point in mentioning it.

Diablo 3

Diablo 3 is an action role playing game in which you play as a mighty hero who sets forth to save the world (known as Sanctuary) from evil. Being the third game in the Diablo series, there are plenty of call backs to previous games and events in the series. Newcomers needn’t worry, though, as these call backs to earlier games never interfere with what you need to know or understand to enjoy Diablo 3’s own story.

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Indeed, the story in Diablo 3 isn’t exactly deep stuff. It starts out with an invasion of low level monsters which is quickly revealed to be a small part in a bigger story that deals with a plan from some higher level demon lords to destroy the world. But really, the plot is secondary to Diablo 3’s main draw card – killing monsters, leveling up, and grinding loot.

Your interaction with Diablo 3 will never be much more than moving your mouse to a point in the screen to tell your character to move there or kill something. Occasionally you’ll find yourself hitting one of the quick key bindings on your keyboard to activate a special power or use a health potion. It’s supremely shallow in that respect. But when you’re character is in the middle of a huge horde of demons, using your special powers to chain kill combos, it’s strangely satisfying. When you see an epic monster, it’s staggering how quickly you’ll drop everything to kill it in the hope it’ll drop a piece of legendary loot. And while that legendary loot drop is rare, when It happens, you get the sort of endorphin kick that is usually only reserved for chocolate or your favorite meal.

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At one point in my play through of the game, I found myself in a situation where I had activated a totem giving me 30 seconds where every monster I killed would yield me 25% more experience points. Rather than my slow, methodical exploration, those 30 seconds turned into a run where I would find as many monsters as I could, get them to follow me to form a bigger monster group at which point I’d unleash my special powers to chain kill combos and get upwards of 1000 points bonus experience. The game is a master manipulator in that way. It’s almost degrading how it manages to so completely control your actions, and yet is so very satisfying.

In short, as I said earlier, it’s digital crack.

It’s addictive, too. I remember one session where I had been playing for about three hours and realized it was time for me to have lunch. “I’ll just level up one more level” I told myself. Another three hours later, I had leveled up about three or four more times and finished an Act of the game.

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Part of that addiction is the near constant action. Another part stems from the aforementioned satisfaction one gets from loot drops. But another aspect is what is basically maths. Yes. Good old fashioned mathematics. Loot, which is basically armor, weapons or rare amulets and magical rings, all provide stat buffs. Put another way, you may find a weapon that provides 7% more damage than the weapon you’re carrying more, but will reduce your characters healing abilities by 12%. Do you equip it, hoping that the damage bump will be enough to offset the healing dip? Or do you also equip a piece of armor which ups your damage by 15%, reducing your toughness by 3%, but also ups your healing by 10%. Doing the maths in your head, or on paper, you realize that together the armor and weapon together would even things out for the most part, so you equip both and then watch as your character decimates opponents with ease. Again, hugely satisfying, despite the fact the whole experience is essentially shallow.

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Another fun, though less addictive part of the game’s design is Crafting. As you advance through the game’s campaign, you will eventually meet a blacksmith who can forge weapons and armor for you. You can chose to train him (by spending gold) and increase his skills, which in turn yields better armor and weapons. Even later in the game you meet a jeweler who can turn jewels you find in the game into better jewels, which can be put into weapons ad armor with sockets to up their stat buffs. Training the jeweler yields similar results to training the blacksmith; more skills means he can craft better quality jewels with even better stat buffs.

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Sound is used to great effect in Diablo 3. Beyond the usual clanking of swords and demon growls, explosions thunder through your speakers and music is suitably epic. Voice acting is superb. Despite the source material, every voice actor really owns their part, and even the shop keeps and minor NPCs do a great job.

The game doesn’t feature whizz bang 3D graphics, but it’s all the better for it. Adopting a 2.5D isometric perspective, Diablo 3 feels more like Baldur’s Gate or Titans Quest. But unlike those games, the art direction in Diablo 3 is superb. Although it tends to suffer from infusions of too much brown or red in some levels, it still looks great. There’s some fantastic lighting effects in there too. The end result is a superb adventure experience that will run on many computers, but will look even better the more powerful your computer is.diablo3-4

There are downsides, however. Chief amongst these is the requirement for an always on internet connection. This was a huge downside for the game back when it launched, as server issues culminated in many people being unable to connect and therefore play the game they had paid for at all. The best example of this was this Angry Nerd rant. But at this stage of Diablo 3’s life, those server issues are largely a thing of the past. There was only one point during the 2 weeks or so it took me to play through the game that I found I was unable to log in due to server load; an inconvenience, to be sure, but not a huge one. But the fact is, a requirement for an always active internet connection is a restriction that uniformly harms user experience, not betters it.

The biggest way this requirement will harm you now is when your internet connection drops out. This happened to me several times as I played the game. And you’ll know when this happens. My experience was that the monsters would suddenly just stand there, as if frozen, not attacking me and unable to be attacked by me. My character could still run around, but the world around him was to all intents and purposes frozen. Eventually your connection will reassert itself. When this happens, it’s as though the game is catching up in fast forward; a flurry of activity happens in super speed. If you’re lucky your character will only have suffered a small drop in health. If you’re terribly unlucky (say, you happen to be fighting an epic monster or a boss), chances are you’re going to suddenly find yourself dead.

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Or worse. One time (and only once) I had sunk about two hours into the game and had found piece of legendary loot. Suddenly I was booted from the game entirely due to server issues. I tried reconnecting but couldn’t. Apparently server load was quite high. I was unable to connect for a few hours and when I was able to get back on, that piece of legendary loot I had found was gone. I was gutted, to say the least.

There are different servers you can log onto, some located in America, others in Asia. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good if your preferred server is overloaded, since it means you can keep playing Diablo 3 if you wish. But it’s also bad because characters you play on one server aren’t saved on another.

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If there is an upside to the server requirement, though, it is multiplayer. Playing with a friend is a fun way of experiencing the Diablo 3 campaign. Smartly, Blizzard has created a system where players can’t steal loot from each other. The only loot you ever see is the loot from monsters your character has killed. Another smart feature of multiplayer is monsters become tougher when playing with a friend, which gives this mode a shaper challenge to make up for the extra human brain being used to defeat the game. However, the only way to chat in game is through text; an integrated voice chat feature is missing.

My other major gripe is the in-game economy. Things are so expensive to buy and make, but selling loot you find barely turns a profit. For example, a piece of rare armor would set me back around 5000 gold from the average merchant, but a Legendary Belt I ripped from the cold dead arms of Diablo himself is only worth only 580 gold to the same merchant? Really? These guys are worse than Cash Converters.

And training artisans like the Blacksmith or Jeweler is profoundly expensive. As in, 10,000 or 20,000 gold pieces to level up their skills a pop. This would seem worth it if their output was something one could readily equip, but sometimes they lack the materials you need or produce weapons that are far outside your level to be usable. Needless to say, I rarely bothered getting the Blacksmith to produce me anything, and the jeweler got more money out of me than he was probably worth.

These are small gripes though, as the ultimate amount of enjoyment one gets from Diablo 3 ultimately outweighs all of this. It’s a fantastic game that is hugely satisfying to play and well worth the cost of entry. Depending on your level of addiction, most players will probably finish the game at around Level 40 or 45, and will find replaying through the game to make it to the level cap of 60 very enjoyable. Just make sure you’re ready to devote your life to this game because it will consume you.

Overall Score: 9 out of 10

Reaper of Souls

Reaper of Souls (RoS) is an expansion to Diablo 3 whichadds a single new act (Act V) to the story. Picking up where Diablo 3 left off, your defeat of the Prime Evil has exposed Sanctuary to the whims of Malthael, the Lord of Death. Reapers are roaming the street, claiming thousands of souls. Sounds like a job for a hero. Luckily, that’s just what you are!

Reaper of Souls is, then, in many ways more of the same. Move, hack, grab loot, rinse, repeat. It has increased the Level Cap from 60 to 70, and added a new character class, the Crusader, said to be the toughest class in the game.

If you finished the base game at around Level 40 to 45, as most people did, you may either have grinded for loot and levels by repeating the game on a harder difficulty, or you may have moved on to other games. Either way, you’re probably asking “how the hell would I ever reach Level 70?” The new Act in Reaper of Souls will probably push you up around an extra 10 levels or so, depending on your play style. Thankfully, after that, there’s an interesting new way to get your level up.

This is called Adventure Mode, which Blizzard calls a “sandbox mode”. Basically it opens up every way point in the game allowing players to go wherever they want, whenever they want. Feel like going back to the Pinnacle of Heaven to kill Diablo again? You can do that, over and over and over again. Best of all, all the waypoints in all five Acts have what are called “Bounties”, which are basically a series of objectives for you to complete. If you do so, you’ll gain a huge chunk of experience (usually around 35,000XP) as well as some loot. You’ll also gain a Nephalem Stone.

Gain five Nephalem Stones and you can enter a Nephalem Rift. These rifts are giant, randomized dungeons, each of which takes around 20 minutes to play through. The difficulty in the Rifts is ramped way up, with monsters from every Act in the game lumped together in large numbers to try and kill you. If you survive, you will get a loot-splosion, which usually always contains a Legendary item or two. It’s well worth your time, especially as it helps you get closer and closer to Level 70, and the awesome new powers and skills these higher levels let you obtain.

RoS also changes the Paragon system, which was a feature Blizzard added to the base game with the 1.0.4 patch. Originally, the Paragon system was a way to help players maintain interest in Diablo 3 even after hitting the Level 60 cap. After Level 60, you would start gaining experience in Paragon levels, providing you with extra strength, dexterity and so on, as well as a 3% increase to magic and gold finds. Paragon Levels were capped at Level 100. RoS changes this to allow players to gain as many Paragon levels as they like.

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There’s a new Artisan to suck the gold out of you as well; the Mystic . This artisan can help you enchant magical items to change some of their magical properties. Don’t like the fact that rare sword has only a +3 Wrath for Crusaders? The Mystic will let you “reroll” one (and only one) magical property on an item. Before you spend your hard earned gold to do so, it will give you a list of possible outcomes. While you can never guarantee the outcome, you usually end up with something better than you had to begin with.  And even if you don’t like the outcome, you can spend more gold to try and reroll that same property again. With enough gold, you can eventually get what you need.

It’s an interesting new mechanic, but like the artisans in the base game, using and training the mystic costs way too much gold. Especially if you keep rerolling on the same magical property. One item I tried to enchant (to lower the minimum level required to use it) wouldn’t get me the enchantment I needed. As I kept trying, I eventually gave up because enchanting the item would have cost me upwards of 50,000 gold. Meanwhile the Mystic was expecting me to train her for 20,000 gold. It’s insane that artisans cost that much to train and use, especially when they rarely offer you something you can actually use (the jeweler excluded).

Basically, RoS is an expansion pack for everyone. It gives the jaded casual fan of Diablo 3 who finished the base game a new campaign to play through, and gives them the awesome new Crusader class to play with, which in turn makes the original campaign appealing to play through again. It gives the obsessive loot and level grinders more loot to find, and more levels to progress through. And it gives the ultra-obsessive Diablo 3 addicts the limitless Paragon system, to let them play the game to their hearts content forever, likely destroying the left click button on their mouse in the process. And if you like spending obscene amounts of gold on artisans, hey… RoS has got you covered.

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If you liked Diablo 3, I can heartily recommend you get Reaper of Souls. It’s the rare expansion pack that adds value and refines the core experience, making it well worth the purchase. Although the new story is still paper thin, and the new campaign will be over before you know it, there’s something for everyone to enjoy here, and it adds a tone of replayability to help you keep enjoying Diablo 3 for a long time to come.

Overall Score: 9 out of 10

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