Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Beta Impressions!
Editor's Note: This review concerns Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls BETA and is not necessarily representative of the final release.
Blizzard's big-name sequel to the beloved Diablo franchise received, on release, fairly lukewarm reviews. While the gameplay was solid and the aesthetic was nice, it lacked in content at higher levels and, honestly, was just far too easy. Diablo III has been a fun game to play with friends, but outside of its initial widespread play, it definitely fell by the wayside as far as Blizzard games go. The game was highly anticipated, great fun for a while, but in the long run fell short as exciting loot drops meant very little next to the huge auction house, and the difficulty just never hit a satisfying level.
I spent a great deal of time with Diablo III early on, levelling a Monk to 60 and running around on Inferno difficulty until finally giving up on finding a point to continuing. I didn't find the other classes to be much fun after my Monk, and just really couldn't find much life to the game. Gearing up was easy with some time farming gold and a couple of Auction House purchases, and I was never really challenged. The nature of the gameplay forced me into a high-tank, low DPS position in which, while I could kill everything and never die, it took me forever to get anything done. Overall, Diablo III became boring, and I don't think my experience was at all unique within the Diablo III playerbase.
Definitely had some fun times in Diablo III!
Recently, I got the opportunity to play in the Diablo III: Reaper of Souls friends and family beta test; this began on November 19th, and will continue until Closed Beta testing begins by the end of 2013. I was excited to see what they had done, and admittedly went in expecting little more than an extra class, an extra Act at the end of the regular game, and some cool new items. I was definitely in for a surprise.
The changes to the game are fairly comprehensive, though I'm not sure how much difference you would see until higher level play. The Crusader class was added, and is definitely a ton of fun as a flail-wielding smite-happy paladin type of class, straddling an interesting midground between the Barbarian and the Monk in a satisfying kind of way. Act V, the new act added after the events of Act IV, follows the Reaper of Souls color theme of dark blues and greys, a big change from the deep reds and golds of Act IV, and follows the fallen Archangel of Wisdom turned Angel of Death, Malthael.
Reaper of Souls' Act V is dark, gloomy, and about as morbid as you could hope.
The first thing I noticed on entering that late-game with my level 60 Monk, copied over from my regular NA server account, was that the game is harder. The difficulty system has changed, with a setting for easy, medium, hard, expert, and master, and my Monk was woefully outclassed on master difficulty. I found a nice ground on expert and have played there for most of my time in the beta; but until I really worked on itemization, it was still immensely difficult.
The lack of Auction House has allowed Blizzard to unleash Loot 2.0. Essentially, the items that drop are going to be more tailored to your class, and overall much better. This became clear when a level 61 rare item cleanly outcast my level 60 legendary fist weapon; it took only a couple hours to swap out almost every piece of gear I had for the new and improved loot, quickly bringing my Monk to the level he was supposed to be for the difficulty. I wasted no time getting back into the action, and found myself having a blast trying new skill combinations.
Another addition to Reaper of Souls is the Mystic. The Mystic is a new crafter, who offers two different services; one is to enchant your items, another is to transmogrify them. Enchantment allows you to take an item and swap out one attribute for another, comparable attribute. For example, a "primary stat" like armor or vitality, could be swapped out for things like other attributes (Dexterity, Strength, etc...), additional armor, or various special bonuses to skills. The new stat will be slightly random and levelled to you. I have put a vastly underlevelled item in with 90+ Dexterity and Enchanted it to have closer to 400. What this does is it gives you a little bit of leeway with what items you find. It's not nearly as much as the auction house, which is a good thing. The new system has some random qualities as far as what you are able to re-enchant on an item, but allows for more customization than before.
The Enchanting interface is easy to work with, and very helpful... but you don't always get what you want out of it, and that's a good thing.
Transmogrification is simple but satisfying. It allows you to take an item and change its appearance for a very small fee. As you level up the crafting station, you get more options for appearance changes. With this you gain the ability to coordinate your armor to look amazing at any level, and as a player who focuses heavily on his character's aesthetic, this is an awesome feature for me.
Adventure Mode is a new feature added to the game, which was clearly intended to increase the amount of replayability once the acts had been completed on higher difficulties, while avoiding just grinding the same act boss over and over again. Starting your game in Adventure Mode gives you access to a map with which you can teleport to any zone at any time, without the need of a waypoint. Every day, five zones are given a quest icon, which can vary between killing 50 minions and a named boss in the zone, to getting through an area and fighting a story boss from the campaign. Completing a quest gives good rewards in experience and gold, as well as Blood Shards. Blood Shards can be used to purchase randomized items from a pair of new merchants in the game, and further serves to help get your gear where it needs to be early on.
Adventure is a nice change of pace from the regular Campaign, and definitely gives the game a bit more life.
The mode's rewards are very good and they remain varied enough to be interesting, with the rewards scaling higher depending on your difficulty. I haven't had a chance to play this with a group of friends, but I expect getting together with some buddies and knocking out the Adventure Mode quests would keep a bit of variety to a game that is, by its nature, already very grind-heavy.
A number of new elite powers appear in the game, and some combinations prove to be devastating, as it used to be. Dodging beams of arcane energy, wildly roaming sparks of electricity, and regions of superheated ground all while being trapped in small, contained spaces by Wall enemies requires quick thinking and the correct use of abilities at the right time; simply stacking elemental resistances and tanking all the damage isn't going to work, and it's this level of difficulty that really gives this style of game its strength; Diablo III was lacking here, but Reaper of Souls makes you show your skill with your class to survive.
At its core, Diablo III is still Diablo III. It is certainly more casual-friendly than Diablo II, but Reaper of Souls will bring content that both casual and hardcore players can enjoy. The game will likely not be seeing long-term, hardcore fanbase that the prior Diablo games did, but Reaper of Souls really does a lot to give the game life again and help shore up many of the issues plaguing its predecessor. Loot is more rewarding, defeating powerful enemies is more satisfying, and overall the Blizzard has done a lot to get Diablo taken seriously once more.