Reaper of Souls, the highly anticipated expansion to Diablo III is finally out and does a lot to make an already good game better. Bringing three new additions to the base Diablo III game does a lot to strengthen and improve upon what is already there, and also gives the game plenty of new content and legs to make the endgame more meaningful.
"...what a proper expansion should be."
The first major addition in Reaper of Souls is the continuation of Diablo III's story with a brand new Act V. The story tasks you with stopping the fallen angel Malthael from destroying humanity. It's a pretty simple story, but it serves as a nice excuse to whisk you away to several new locations, fight new enemies and bosses, and consume more lore in the form of audio logs and conversations with NPCs.
This alone would make Reaper of Souls feel like a fairly big expansion. In fact, Act V in many ways feels like it is composed of a few smaller mini acts. The reason is that the locations you visit in this one all feel vastly different from one another. Each has a zone with a unique tile set, original enemies, and new events and side quests to do. While the story may not be the most memorable, the monster and tile set content that is introduced here adds a lot to the new Adventure Mode and Nephalem Rifts.
Adventure Mode is a new addition in Reaper of Souls that rips out the story experience and replaces it with a completely open map and a new bounty system. At any time in adventure mode you can pull up the map and instantly warp to any waypoint in any act of Diablo III with each act offering a set of five bounties. These range from completing an event to clearing out a specific floor of a dungeon and even beating a powerful boss. Completing all five bounties in an act rewards you with rare loot.
Another reward for completing bounties are the new Nephalem Rift Shards. When you collect five of these you can open a special portal in town that sends you to a unique rift dungeon. Rifts are great, offering a randomized collection of environments, monsters, and monster abilities that draw from all five acts of the game. For example, one rift I jumped into took place on Westmarch from Act V, but was filled with a mix of enemies from Acts I and II. It was quite surprising to walk down a narrow street and have three snake monsters suddenly emerge from the ground when I never expected that monster to be in this environment. Similarly, it was quite shocking when I opened a castle door and was met with a wild bull that suddenly knocked me back. When you have killed enough enemies in the dungeon to fill up a meter on the side, a rift guardian appears. Rift guardians are randomized high level elite monsters with unique abilities that appear along with other unique monsters in what ends up feeling like a fantastically crafted and challenging boss fight.
Adventure Mode helps to give new life to Diablo III's endgame and really mixes up the formally stale process of leveling up new characters. There is a nice flow to completing bounties for an act, earning big rewards, and collecting rift fragments in the process so that you can jump into a rift full of even more unique loot afterward. This kind of mode is endlessly replayable and easy to jump into and complete in brief chunks. Reaper of Souls really shines here.
The last big addition to Reaper of Souls is the new Crusader class. Blizzard describes the Crusader as a "knight in battle-scarred armor" and is basically a darker version of the Templar from the base game. In fact in the Diablo III lore the Crusaders and Templars have the same origins, but the Templars went west while the Crusaders went east. The new Crusader has a some solid voice acting and the character's personality would fit well alongside British officers in a World War II movie.
What sets the Crusader apart from the other classes, aside from personality, is that it functions as a true mid-range class. The Crusader has the right mix of melee, defensive, and ranged abilities to function well either from a distance or in the middle of a swarm of enemies. This range of diversity really allows you to tailor your experience with the Crusader. Plenty of players will use the Crusader purely as a damage absorbing tank class, but I found enjoyment using ranged abilities to dispatch foes from a distance before coming in close to sweep up the remaining stragglers. Crusader fits a role that was sorely missing from the base Diablo III game, and I truly enjoying using this class.
Other significant changes to Diablo III are not exclusive to Reaper of Souls, but have been rolled into the the base game. The Loot 2.0 system does away with the Auction House and adds a new smart drop loot system in its place. The difference is immediately noticeable for the better. When I played Diablo III, last year, I remember getting maybe two or three legendary items the entire game. Now on average I get a new legendary item every about every hour. Not only that, players are more likely to find great magical loot that is actually tailored the class that they are currently playing. This makes the loot grind in Reaper of Souls that much more satisfying, as I knew the next great item was likely just a few clicks away.
Another change is an adjustment to the difficulty system. Instead of replaying the story mode again and again on higher difficulty levels, you instead pick the difficulty level you want when starting up a session. Each difficulty is scaled to your current level, so even a low level player playing on Master or Torment can succeed with skillful play and the right mix of gear and gems. I found a comfortable medium on Expert, but eventually upped the challenge to Master on my main Witch Doctor. While clearly it was more difficult, I found it to be completely manageable and I just had to know when to back off from a group of enemies and heal. Being able to tailor the difficulty level on the fly based on your personal preference at the moment makes things so much more accessible for new players and veterans alike.
Overall, Reaper of Souls is a no-brainer upgrade for anyone who enjoyed Diablo III the first time around. Even if you didn't like the base game initially, the new Loot 2.0, adjustable difficulty, and Adventure Mode changes things up and improves the base experience so much that Reaper of Souls may be the Diablo game players wanted when it launched back in 2012. For me, Blizzard managed to take a game that I already liked and made it even better by eliminating nearly every complaint I had initially. Adding even more content was just a bonus. Reaper of Souls doesn't feel like a tacked on bit of DLC, but is instead exactly what a proper expansion should be.