I reinstalled Diablo III the other day... and I'd suggest you do the same if you have the time.
It's my job, of course. Blizzard pinged us a code for the long-anticipated expansion, Reaper Of Souls, which launched last night with nary an Error 37 in sight. Offering a new class (the brilliantly cathartic Crusader), a new act with Blizzard's first attempt at procedural urban environments, some great new bosses and a massive adventure mode for item hunters, the new content is matched my a seriously hefty price tag. Naturally I reinstalled Diablo III well ahead of time to make sure that I could take several classes straight into Westmarch to test their tasty new level 70 skills - and our full review will be ready soon. Spoiler alert: it's pretty decent.
However, the last time I mentioned Reaper Of Souls on-site, readers suggested that we took another look at Blizzard's controversial dungeon crawler due to some utterly enormous patches. Update 2.0 revamped Diablo III in numerous key areas earlier this month, rebuilding its progression, loot, difficulty settings and the core gameplay experience in fundamental ways. Some early critics even appear to be giving Reaper Of Souls credit for things that are actually included as totally free updates.
The net result being that Diablo III is now a vastly superior game even if you don't spend a single extra penny. And definitely worth another look.
Before we begin, I probably ought to clear something up. I liked Diablo III a lot and said so in our review. It neither rocked my world nor blew my mind, but while it lasted, I found it to be tremendously entertaining, satisfying and streamlined in all the right ways.
You've already noticed the key phrase "while it lasted," which translated to roughly 30 hours for me. Sadly the lack of endgame content, overly streamlined character progression, dreary item hunt, auction houses and other insidious concerns made a mockery of my review over the months that followed; cracks that widened into yawning fissures and swallowed even dedicated players. So we all uninstalled it and played Torchlight 2 instead.
Thankfully, Patch 2.0.1 (and its successors) have given the campaign a complete tune-up for the bargain price of absolutely nothing.
Where to begin? Well, starting small, my personal favourite feature is a selection of new champion abilities that force you to constantly move around the battlefield rather than just mindlessly bludgeoning through the hordes. Or, as someone who usually plays a Wizard, standing still and annihilating everything with Arcane Torrent. Now that foes can lock areas down with flaming chains, poisonous grids or even rotating spires of energy, it often feels like a shooter as you weave and dodge through the flack, much more engaging and enjoyable as a result. Cursed chest events are a fun new addition too, throwing us into timed battles against crazy odds for a big juicy reward.
I said I was starting small. Looking at more fundamental features, though, the difficulty settings have been totally gutted, rebuilt and rethought from the ground up. We can now choose difficulty from the off and change it at any time, which scales with us as we play; allowing us to get involved with any level. This paves the groundwork for Reaper's adventure mode, but even now, it's a quality of life improvement that feels utterly fantastic. After all, Normal difficulty is child's play, and starting a new character now feels like a new challenging adventure. Do yourself a favour and select 'hard' from the start - especially if you're planning on doing some serious Crusading.
The auction houses are all but gone, petering out once most players have claimed any outstanding items or gold. Good riddance. Blizzard's dream of a self-sustaining money printing machine will not be missed, and the new management seems to actually know what they're doing. Diablo is and has always been an item hunt - so cheapening the whole idea of loot was never a good idea.
Speaking of, let's finally talk about Loot 2.0. It doesn't make for particularly exciting reading, but the new Smart Drop system means that you'll typically find gear that benefits your character (as an example, practically everything my Wizard picks up boosts Intelligence, Stamina and spells), while rare drop rates have been drastically improved and legendaries drop with more interesting properties. I worry that the draconian new restrictions on trading legendary gear are a bit of a knee-jerk in the opposite direction, and that completing sets is now going to be an absolute nightmare, though I won't look a gift horse in the mouth. Plus, it'll make finally finding the perfect gear taste all the sweeter.
Beyond the item hunt, the Paragon experience system does the business in terms of late-game appeal. There's no limit to the number of Paragon levels you can attain, and brilliantly, they extend to all characters on your account. Feeling the benefits across all your toons is great, rewarding you for your service, and making your characters feel more unique as opposed to clothes horses. Effectively Diablo III now has Badass Ranks.
Mind you, I did find myself booted from the game a couple of times due to connection hiccups on my end. Do I ever miss Diablo 2's offline mode.
Reaper of Souls will go further, of course. Adventure Mode turns the entire game into a single interconnected sandbox world to rampage around, with auto-balanced difficulty ensuring that each area presents a challenge. New Bounties and Nephalem Rifts are on hand for insane randomised battles and hard-earned rewards. Westmarch and two more areas (trying not to spoil things here) give us new places to explore and enemies to fight, including some great bosses. And that Crusader... damn. They can basically turn themselves into an ion cannon.
But compared to Diablo III's new raft of updates -- or, erm, Path Of Exile -- the expansion might feel slightly overpriced for many potential punters. If you fall within the legions of gamers who abandoned Diablo III and aren't sure whether Reaper's worth buying, consider reinstalling and discovering how the original game has changed before taking the plunge or ignoring it outright. It might just surprise you... and even if you still don't enjoy the retooled experience, you've only spent a little time finding out, not money.
Stay tuned for our Reaper Of Souls review.