Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls feels less like the series finale of your favorite TV show and more like an exciting one-off episode. And as far as expansions go, that’s totally fine. If you’ve been playing D3 again in anticipation of all the new content, you might be left wanting. But for those who’ve lost touch with Diablo 3, Reaper of Souls polishes the gameplay to addictive kill-and-loot perfection, making this the most fun the game’s ever been.
Since you killed Diablo (yet again) at the end of Diablo 3, Reaper of Souls pits you against a new villain: Malthael, a fallen archangel who sees humanity as a scourge upon creation. As the Nephalem, aka the people’s champ, you’ve got to fight back against Malthael’s army of reapers and their raised minions in the added Act 5, starting with the burning city of Westmarch. While hacking and slashing your way through creepy cemeteries, overgrown swamplands, mystic ruins, and otherworldly battlefields, you’ll appreciate all the grisly little details (like alleyways overflowing with dead bodies) and the abnormal color palette of browns, purples, and deep blues. Act 5 may only have a handful of new environment types, but the majority of them feel markedly different from the Diablo 3 vistas you’ve no doubt played to death at this point.
If you’re looking for an epic tale concluding the war between angels and demons, Reaper of Souls’ plot will be a bit of a let-down. By chatting with your followers from the preceding game, you’ll gain access to nifty, Loyalty-style missions that further their subplots. Unfortunately, these feel annoyingly unresolved, even if they do offer a welcome bit of backstory. The overarching plot about Malthael feels similarly serialized: you get some interesting insight into the Angel of Death’s mentality, but Act 5′s ending comes off as abrupt and inconclusive. With all the cliffhangers, it feels like no attempts were made to hide the fact that–if everything goes according to plan–this expansion is just one of many. Hey, at least there’s a boss fight against a bazooka-wielding fallen angel along the way.
While the additional Act is entertaining enough, the new Crusader class is easily Reaper of Soul’s biggest strength. This platemail-clad knight engages hellspawn from melee or mid-range–but whichever you choose, the Crusader’s focus is always on fighting huge groups of enemies at once, soaking up damage with your shield before using sweeping AoE abilities to annihilate your foes. Smiting demons with the Fist of the Heavens or clearing out a room with Blessed Hammers made from holy energy looks and feels righteous, and the Crusader’s combination of tanky fortitude, utility spells, and ally-saving abilities make it a nice addition to Diablo 3′s roster.
On top of the Crusader’s emboldening playstyle, they’re also some of the most well-written characters in the game. Both the female and male Crusader voice actors are superb, portraying warriors with a deep-set loyalty to a religious faith without being overzealous or fanatical. They’re empathetic without feeling soft, and have a penchant for making witty observations that genuinely made me laugh. Listening to the Crusader’s dialogue across all the Acts (yes, it’s more than just Act 5) is a treat, and their savvy remarks sound decidedly more self-aware and relatable than the borderline-ridiculous seething of the Demon Hunter or the Wizard’s haughty quips.
Once you’ve conquered Act 5′s six hours of story content, the newfangled Adventure Mode is there to prolong your enjoyment of Diablo 3′s incredibly fun core gameplay. Instead of sending you down a linear, plot-driven path, Adventure Mode cuts out nearly every story aspect and assigns you with Den of Evil-esque quests, encouraging you to jump around the environments and kill monsters however you so choose. To spice things up, you’ll encounter Cursed Chests, timed mini-challenges that provide a nice spike in difficulty apart from all the elite monster packs. Between the reworked difficulty system (a game-changing improvement that we discussed in our updated Diablo 3 review) and high density of enemies in Adventure Mode, there’s never a dull moment.
Topping off Adventure Mode are the Nephalem Rifts, randomized gauntlets that crank the chaos meter all the way up (in a good way). These dungeons provide a kind of exhilarating, unpredictable fun, where daunting challenge (an assortment of crazy hard bosses and elite packs) mixes with thrilling empowerment (new Pylon shrines that provide absurd temporary buffs like max movespeed or 400 percent damage). As a whole, Adventure Mode feels like the perfect facilitator of Diablo’s addictive brand of action: getting loot so you can kill monsters quicker so you can get more cool loot.
And there’s cool loot aplenty. The Loot 2.0 system (which affects both Diablo 3 and Reaper of Souls) is worlds better than the previous arrangement. Every drop feels worthwhile, from the formerly crappy grey and white weapons that now serve as basic crafting materials to the exhilarating new Legendary items, which come packed with some build-changing buffs. Upgrades come along at a much better cadence; you’re given just enough time to get attached to your best items before finding even better loot, so you won’t suffer from new gear fatigue. It’s astounding how much this relatively small change enhances Diablo 3, so that playing at any level always feels rewarding and engaging. Less game-changing–but still appreciated–is Myriam, the new Mystic crafter who ensures you can enjoy your gear to the fullest, letting you tweak some stats or alter its appearance to something that fits with whatever outfit ensemble you’ve got going on.
Attributing a score to Reaper of Souls is tricky. It’s a game that I’d highly recommend to anyone, but from a cost analysis perspective, it feels like some of the expansion’s standout aspects (Loot 2.0, rejiggered difficulty, and the axing of the auction house) are already available to those that own the base game. That said, I put around 30 hours into the game on Blizzard’s test servers, knowing full well all my progress would be wiped–and I’m still psyched to level a Crusader all over again when the expansion goes live. No, Reaper of Souls doesn’t deliver the finality that Diablo 2: Lords of Destruction did–but when Diablo 3 is this fun to play, more content automatically becomes a good thing.