Through hell and back again

‘Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls — 4/5 stars
‘Reaper of Souls’ expansion pack adds rewarding loot system, begins removing ‘auction house’

The release of “Diablo 3” was a complete mess. On launch day, I remember being greeted by an obstructing error 37 message, and when I did have an opportunity to play, I was bogged down by latency and lag issues. To top it all off, there was even the addition of an auction house where players could sell in-game items for real-world cash, which effectively undermined the game’s entire premise of playing, killing and looting.

The expansion “Reaper of Souls” was designed to return the franchise back to its former glory.

Blizzard Entertainment kicked off its campaign by releasing a free update for the base game before the launch of “Reaper of Souls,” which pre-downloaded the expansion and included an improved loot system that rewards players with stats that are more relevant to the class he or she is playing. The update also came packaged with skill and balancing changes across all five of the original classes. And most importantly, it began the process of removing the controversial real-money auction house.

The expansion adds an additional act to the original four of the base game. Malthael, the Archangel of Wisdom, has become one with the aspect of death and has mysteriously started attacking the city of Westmarch with his army of reapers. The new act took me around eight hours on master difficulty, making it the largest act in the game. It includes plenty of locations that are dripping with a dark, brooding atmosphere that pays homage to the earlier style of the series.

There are new enemy types and designs, and new enemies are introduced at a rate where you never feel like you’re getting into a rhythm. The expansion also increases the level cap to 70 from 60. I was able to get close to the new level cap with just one playthrough of act five, so that way I would be teased into getting the rest through playing “Adventure Mode.”

The Diablo franchise has never been a game with amazing characters and story. What makes the game so interesting is how well the existing content is recycled. Adventure Mode is unlocked after you complete act five, which opens up the world map and provides incentives to go back to locations across all the acts for “bounties,” which reward players with experience points, gold and a chance at rare loot.

Blizzard knows exactly what its fans want to do after completing the main game: Log-in, fight, loot and get paid. Adventure Mode allows players to do just that in sizable chunks or by completing five bounties in a single act to receive an even larger reward. You can even level your lower-level characters in Adventure Mode and pocket some of the rewards for use on your max-level characters.

Nephalem Rifts are the game’s answer to end-game group content. You can access these by taking five Nephalem keys, rewards obtained from Adventure Mode, to an NPC in town who will open the 20- to 30-minute dungeon. Nephalem Rifts take tile sets and enemies from across all acts and mesh them all together for endless replayability. The rewards from the dungeon are top-tier, and you’re almost guaranteed a legendary quality item after downing the last boss. These dungeons can also be completed solo, but you would be missing out on the experience of playing in a group and are forgoing a chance at better loot.

“Reaper of Souls” includes a brand new class, the crusader. The crusader is intended to be a holy fortress of fortitude on a quest to cleanse the world of the minions of hell. Instead, the crusader is a wimpy wet noodle when compared to similar classes such as the monk or the barbarian.

I enjoyed playing the new class, but the crusader’s skills felt ineffective, and I’ve heard the community complain how the crusader’s resource, wrath, was difficult to generate, and skills tied to it are underwhelming. I could still complete the game’s content with relative ease, but when switching to one of my other characters, I was quickly reminded just how inefficient and disappointed I am with the new class.

“Reaper of Souls” takes the franchise back to its roots.

The new loot system is one of my few gripes. Yes, I did receive more worthwhile gear from my foes, but I felt like I was not getting enough gear at a rate that felt reasonable. I would go for hours without getting a single piece of gear that was useful; instead, I found myself salvaging most of it for crafting components. Even legendary items felt lackluster and offered nothing more than a slight boost in stats over rare quality gear.

The expansion is a step in the right direction, but there is still much more to be done. What most fans forget is that “Diablo 2” was similarly unpolished and took an expansion pack and patches for it to become the juggernaut that it is today.

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