Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Reaper Of Souls is brilliant.
It makes Diablo III feel like a full game, complete, floating on a raft of exceptional patches. With Jay Wilson now a footnote in franchise history, Blizzard cut out the fat, replaced it with muscle and used the new expansion to genuinely expand their dungeon crawler. The new act and class are pure gold, while Adventure Mode turns the campaign into a glorious interconnected sandbox ripe for the pillage, giving the game an unpredictable personality and solid backbone. Effectively Reaper Of Souls is to Diablo III what adamantium is to Wolverine.
Unfortunately it also costs thirty British quid. Is Reaper Of Souls a rip-off or a devil's bargain?
That's a lot of money for 25% more story and a single new class, so I'm delighted to report that you're paying for quality. Act V is easily the biggest, best and most interesting segment of Diablo III hands-down, both in terms of art direction, enemy variation, storyline and some fantastic bosses. Blizzard has pushed the boat out on memorable set pieces (such as a dramatic showdown atop an active siege weapon) and thoughtful new foes who require different tactics to defeat. Plus, we get to tie up a massive loose end in the most violently cathartic way possible, while learning about exactly why The Angel Of Wisdom decided to go rogue.
All three new chapters are visually distinct, bleak and darkly fascinating - offering a surprising amount of extra content if you take the time to leave the beaten track. The procedurally-arranged streets of Westmarch teem with bizarre and rewarding diversions down its grim alleyways, while enormous ancient portal-creatures stalk the Pandaemonium battlefields, transporting you to another realm when killed - just for starters. You can run the all three chapters in 2-3 hours, but it's better to explore each area to the full and get your money's worth over 6-8.
The Templar is equally fantastic and slots perfectly into both gameplay and canon. A 'tank' in the most terrifying sense of the word, they're able to both withstand and dish out an inordinate amount of damage, smashing through the battle lines like a Challenger 2. Their array of shield attacks, useful support abilities and even some surprisingly powerful ranged skills (fuelled by a straightforward wrath resource) make for a deceptively versatile and satisfying combatant. Halfway between Paladin and Barbarian, they're tremendously enjoyable to play as and brilliantly designed to boot.
Better yet, the male version sounds just like Iain Glen. Wonderful. And nearly enough to distract me from the fact that Reaper Of Souls should probably offer more than one new class for £30. At least the new level 61 skills for existing classes are interesting and nuanced to wield; less powerful than earlier abilities but packing handy situational effects such as crowd control or debuffs.
We do have another new character in the form of the Mystic, who's by far my favourite artisan of the lot. Once you rescue her during the storyline, she's capable replacing unwanted item properties and changing how gear looks when modelled on your hero. If you want your embarrassing floppy wizard's hat to resemble Leoric's Crown and match the rest of your outfit, that's not a problem. What sounds like a small feature is actually one of Reaper's most exciting additions.
For £30, though, it's still a case of quality over quantity. Which is where Adventure Mode changes everything you know about late-game content.
Once Act V is complete, you're able to access what promises to be Diablo III's new addictive status quo. Every waypoint is unlocked, available directly from your map, turning the entire world into one giant sandbox. You can go anywhere at any time, chasing randomised 'bounty' events that challenge you to fulfil a range of varied objectives. Well, killing stuff in the main. This keeps the action fresh and unpredictable, further improved by time-sensitive optional challenges and cursed chests that reward slaughter with bonus loot. When you've got a few friends in tow and pump up the difficulty, it's fantastic fun.
Each successful five bounties lets you open a Nephalem Rift: a randomly-rolled dungeon populated by enemies taken from throughout the game and ending with a major boss. At best it's a fascinating way to see how critters from different acts compliment each other, though Rifts can sometimes feel slightly overlong and can get a little repetitive depending on the foe selection. Still, it's a damn sight better than grinding away against exactly the same content over and over again. Repetitive 'runs' are a thing of the past, and good riddance too.
The numerous free improvements made in Update 2.0.1 totally seal the deal, and pour concrete into the cracks that ran through Diablo III's foundations. Difficulty now scales to your character and can be changed at any time, allowing you to to be challenged by all the content, all the time, on your terms. The Paragon system rewards max-level play across all your characters. Auction houses are a thing of the past, making gear valuable again, while the new Loot 2.0 system ensures that you'll find gear that benefits your hero. There's more besides: not limited to new champion abilities, a Nephalem Glory system that actually makes sense, rebalanced class skills, clans and crafting tweaks.
Great as Reaper Of Souls is, a few niggling problems remain. The simplistic relationship between skill and weapon damage means that you'll ignore more interesting gear in favour of higher numbers all day long, turning equipment into a shallow calculation rather than a meaningful choice. In the long-term, this could be fatal compared to games where gear can facilitate totally different play styles (such as Path of Exile).
I can't believe that I'm about to type this, but you'll also pick up far too much rare/yellow loot at present, clogging up your inventory within minutes and totally devaluing them as a result. We're nearly there and the drop rate can be tweaked in future patches - but Blizzard still hasn't quite found the balance between a monty haul and a massive grind. The restrictions on legendary trading also seems draconian, and perhaps a step too far in the opposite direction. At least the legendary drop rate feels much more appropriate now.
And then we have to talk price. That seemingly ridiculous, crazy price. £30 is a lot of money for a small amount of premium content and a new way to experience content you've already bought, especially since the biggest improvements are delivered free with Update 2.0. Indeed, I can't help but wonder whether Adventure Mode would have been more appropriate as a free patch for Acts 1-4, or delivered via DLC. £5 for the Crusader, £10 for Adventure Mode, £15 for Act V - that way we could pick and choose. For many players, Reaper Of Souls will cost too much to get involved and comes too late to reignite their interest in the fun yet once-flawed dungeon crawler.
But for those who've remained faithful... or better yet, those who've desperately been waiting for an excuse to get back into it... Reaper Of Souls will be one of the best £30 you've spent in months, and unlock dozens of hours of fun dungeon delving. If you're on the fence, be sure to reinstall the game, try out Update 2.0 and see whether the totally-retooled experience grabs you.
- Act V is excellent - the high point of the entire game
- The Crusader and Mystic fit into Diablo III perfectly
- Adventure mode is fantastic fun, adds amazing replay value for the long haul
- Update 2.0 does the business
- One class. One act. For £30.
- Loot drop rate still needs tweaking, gear can feel one-dimensional
- Nephalem rifts can vary in quality and fun factor
- Two years too late?
The Short Version: Reaper Of Souls costs a bomb, but shakes up Diablo III so drastically that it feels like a different game. A truly superb new act, great new class and useful artisan will be worth the price of admission for many, while Adventure Mode sets the stage for an entirely new addiction over the coming months.
It isn't cheap, but if you're itching to get back into Diablo III or willing to give it another chance, Reaper Of Souls will ultimately be a bit of a bargain.