Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Review!

               In 1996 Diablo was released by Blizzard and with this game a new sub-genre of RPGs was born: Hack & Slash, focused on monster slaying, leveling up and grinding for gear. 
               After the release of Diablo II in 2000, which took the gameplay of Hack & Slashes to a new level, the popularity of this sub-genre increased tremendously.
Diablo II was an amazing game at the time of its release and was greatly improved with Lord of Destruction expansion, these games are played by many players even today, more than a decade after their launch which is a testimony of their quality.
               You can imagine how excited everyone was (including myself) when Diablo III was released in 2012. The long awaited sequel was finally here and the hype was through the roof!
Sadly in more than 10 years and a reboot of development, Diablo III lost the fundamentals of the series and focused more on features and mechanics that are not so relevant for H&S games. On top of everything the game had a real money auction house which made it a pay to win game (a retail pay to win game…), which combined with the lack of character development, a laughable and cheesy story and a difficulty level that could only be beaten by buying items from AH/RMAH (chiching!) rather than grinding for them,  made Diablo III a mediocre experience, but a very good example that quantity is not the same thing as quality (people should know this!) as this game sold over 10 million copies .

               In March 2014, after a change of development leadership for the project, the expansion Reaper of Souls was released. This first expansion of Diablo III promised a better and closer to the roots Diablo experience.
Did Reaper of Souls deliver this experience and restored the Diablo series name?
Reaper of Souls adds an additional act to the story which takes place after the events of the original game. The action is triggered as Tyrael and a group of Horadrim attempt to move the Black Soulstone, containing the souls of all the Evils, into a secret location. The group is attacked by Malthael, the ex-angel of wisdom, which now presents himself as the aspect of death, he steals the Black Soulstone and starts attacking the Sanctuary forcing Tyrael to call for the nephalem (the player)!
               You start your journey in the city of Westmarch where you assist the city guards by fighting hordes of corrupted angels and undead in order to protect the survivors of the massacre that took place in the city. The player is also sucked in the battle for power over the kingdom.
After clearing the streets of Westmarch from the Aspect of Death lieutenants the nephalem tries to find out what are Malthael’s plans with the Black Soulstone, this leads you to the swamps near Westmarch where Adria’s hideout is located, to question the witch and bring her to justice for the death of her daughter Leah and for unleashing the Prime Evil in the world.
With the plans of Malthael confirmed the player takes a journey to a more melancholic area, the Pandemonium Fortress, where helped by Tyrael and even by Imperius, charges towards the fortress where Malthael is putting his final plan into action (do not expect a CGI for the ending!).
Westmarch is in serious trouble!

               The story of Reaper of Souls is much more complex than that of the original game, with less cheesy moments and not a single boss taunting monologue. The expansion shows the struggle for power in the kingdom of Westmarch and gives closure to the story of all the followers and NPCs that are helping the player in his journey. It was interesting to see the reactions of the templar Kormac finding out the truth about his order, the enchantress Eirena as she finds out what happened with her sisters and what was her master’s plan or the scoundrel’s Lyndon sad story.
The attention to story details in the expansion is admirable and gives the game much more flavor for those who want to see more RPG elements in this game.

               The gameplay mechanics in Diablo III were terrible in many aspects: lacking a proper endgame or an interesting itemization and a real character progression. Reaper of Souls addressed most of these issues in a good way.
               A smart loot system has been added to the game in the patch before the expansion, which tends to give the players loot more appropriate to the class they are playing.
               The difficulty system has changed as well from the standard system of the series and now the difficulty level can be changed from the beginning of the game at the player’s choice and with an increased difficulty comes a higher chance for legendary items and higher amount of gold. The difficulty can be lowered during playtime if players think they can’t handle the one they originally set to play on.
Legendaries drop quite often on game and as the chance to drop increases with the level of difficulty the game can get quite rewarding and keeps you hooked.
               A new game mode has been added to the game called adventure which has a special interface that allows the players to access any area in the game with all the bosses spawned. Two new options for grinding are available in the adventure mode: Bounties and Rifts.
               Bounties are special missions, five per act, which offer xp and gold rewards and if all five are completed a box with loot is given as reward. Bounties also offer keys for the Rifts.
Rifts are special areas for farming which can be opened with keys dropped from bounty missions and they are made of a group of random maps with random types of enemies. Rifts have an end boss which drops more loot, in order to spawn this boss a high number of mobs have to be killed inside the Rifts. Completing a Rift rewards the player with blood shards which can be spent on gambling for items. 
Rift boss.

Both these new grinding methods are more enjoyable and rewarding than the old system of the game and improve the replayability quite a lot.
               A new crafting profession has been added, named enchanting, which allows the players to reroll one of their stats on the items between some set parameter in order to modify an item for better usage. The rerolling costs a set number of materials and a increasing number of gold per roll. Enchanting also allows players to change the skins on their items with the skin of any item of the same type they looted once and works with their class. All the other crafting professions have received new recipes and improvements, making crafting more useful.

All the features mentioned above are complemented by an amazingly looking and well organized UI in the Blizzard style.
The new chapters map.

Gold sinking for better stats...

               Crusader is the new class that has been added to the game and can be played by those who purchased the expansion. Crusader is similar in many ways to the paladin of Diablo II, the class has a complete story and many things in the game have been changed to accommodate it.
All the other classes have received changes and a new series of skills which can be unlocked by leveling the characters to level 70, the new level cap, while the itemization has been reworked completely so that legendary items have a wider variety of stats and more interesting properties.
These two major changes now allow for a larger variety of builds (still way behind other games at this chapter) and a more fun gameplay. Some classes still do way better than others and the balance is a work in progress.
The Paragon system received some modifications as well, it is now unlimited and gives a point for each level up to be spent in sixteen different stats up to fifty points in each, but this system doesn't cover up for the fact that the game doesn't have a proper passive skills system that allows for lots of builds like Diablo II or Path of Exile(and is insane!).
The new Paragon system.

New itemization.

               The last new feature I would like to mention is related to the interaction between players, namely the clan system. This system allows the players to communicate faster and track their progress and loot.
               The list of gameplay improvements is even bigger, but these are the major changes and the ones that affected the game the most. It’s worth mentioning that some of these features came with the patch released just before RoS launch and players of the original game can enjoy some of the new features. With all these changes the quality of the game increased a lot but also became more casual as legendaries drop more often and can now be farmed in multiple ways, while the difference between most of the difficulty levels isn't that big. There is also nothing to lose in this game, if you die you have the choice to respawn in three different places and the only penalty is the repair gold which isn't that big. Some would say that the gold sinking in rerolling stats on items is the penalty of the game, but that’s just RNG and is not taxing the player for gameplay mistakes (…).

               The graphic fidelity in the expansion is similar to Diablo III, the game lacks the graphic features of a modern title. On the other side, the aesthetics are top notch with great attention to details, the level design has improved and the overall look of the new areas is better than the ones in the original game, but still lacks the grim look of the first games in the series.
               The sound quality of Reaper of Souls is exceptional and reflects the high production value of the game. What bothered me about the sound is the fact that I found some of the song choices for some areas quite odd as they didn’t reflect well the action and feeling of those maps.
Next-gen textures!!!

               Blizzard did a really good job on improving the game from quite a mediocre state, but this has been done without adding any innovations to the game, all of the new features and mechanics in the expansion have been done in other games before Diablo III. The itemization system with items that have special properties which can modify the way a class plays, the rerolling system and the Rifts are all inspired from Path of Exile which had these features years ago, even some of the features from future patches are inspired from this game, which is ironic considering the fact that Path of Exile was inspired by Diablo II and is made by fans of that game.
Now the question remains, why didn't Blizzard do this with the original game and an expansion was necessary to add such features, especially when other games had them and they worked so well (?). Looking back at Diablo II Lord of Destruction, the game had more complex mechanics and a way better story with deeper feeling than Diablo III had even before the expansion.
Did Blizzard spend more time and resources building a Real Money Auction House for the cash grab instead of focusing on the quality of the game? The leadership of the project did change and the RMAH was closed before the expansion, but I can’t get fooled anymore by these cheap marketing schemes.
For me Diablo III will remain the retail game built to be a pay to win cash milking machine, the clear example of the greediness of this industry.
               Blizzard developers keep a close eye on the game now and many changes and balances have been made since launch according to the players’ complains. Lots of improvements have been promised through future patches, like: ladders, seasons, new legendaries and more. There is no PvP at the horizon and I think players should forget about this completely.
               Overall Reaper of Souls is a huge step up from Diablo III, but I wouldn't say it’s at the same level as Lord of Destruction was at release, but it can get there. Times have changed and players have waited enough, Diablo III didn't deliver what many were expecting and now Blizzard has to do a lot more work to make up for the disappointment, but they are on the right track.

+ High production value
+ Aesthetics
+ UI
+ High replayability
+ Attention to details
+ Rewarding
+ Countless hours of grinding

- A false sense of character development
- No actual innovations
- Casual
- Server related problems
- Classes balance


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