Blizzard released the 2.0.1 patch on February 25, 2014 as a prelude to the Reaper of Souls Expansion. I wrote a review of this patch because it was so monumental it changed the very core of the game, including the classes, the paragon system, item drops and overall playability. The Auction House closed forever on March 18, 2014 and Reaper of Souls became digitally available at midnight March 25, 2014 EST. As of today, Reaper of Souls has sold over 2.7 million copies.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls Expansion
Created By: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: March 25, 2014 Game Type: Fantasy ARPG (Action Role-Playing Game) Custom Features: Nephalem Rifts, Bounties, Clans
Let’s begin this review by first giving credit where it is due. The previous Director of Diablo 3 (Jay Wilson) stepped down in January of 2013. No real details as to the “why” were given, but there was quite a bit of controversy regarding the broken end-game play of D3 and the Auction House. Luckily both of these issues (and more) have been fixed by his replacement, Josh Mosqueira. The results are very apparent as the expansion has a much more refined feel than the original game; it’s also more balanced, and the quality of the new content is a step above what we received with the initial release. Josh and the other D3 team members are also responsible for fixing the core of the game by enhancing character progression, item-based rewards, and the overall gameplay experience.
There are many enhancements from the 2.0.1 release that I will not be covering in this review because they aren’t part of the expansion, but are important enough to catch up on if you are returning to Diablo 3 prior to the 2.0.1 release. As such, I recommend reading about the changes here.
Many players were concerned that D3 couldn’t be “salvaged” to become the great game that it could (like D2), however I think the team pulled it off with the combination 2.0.1 patch and the Reaper of Souls (RoS) expansion, which features a continuing storyline, a new level cap (70), the Crusader Class, Act V, Bounties, Nephalem Rifts, and the Mysic (Enchanting and Transmogrifying).
The new Crusader class, Act V content, and the endless playability offered through Adventure & Bounty mode and Nephalem Rifts has greatly enhanced the game. Add on to that the item customization features of Enchanting and you have a solid foundation for end-game enjoyment.
As with the original release, RoS is designed so the Storyline drives your progress, but doesn’t have to be given attention in order to enjoy. Essentially, after Diablo was defeated, Malthael steals the black soul stone to “destroy humanity” to end the eternal conflict, and once again the Nephalem must pursue a crazy super-being (in this case a fallen angel) bent on world domination through the very domains they have corrupted. Westmarch (the new act) is in ruins, and the progress in pursuing Malthael takes the player through the burning city, through the swamp, through the eternal battlefields (where angels and demons forever wage war), and finally to the Pandemonium fortress. Malthael shatters the soul stone, taking in the seven evil souls (which makes for an interesting end-game battle), and once Malthael is defeated, the souls are released. This lends merit to the next expansion focusing on the possible return of Diablo and the other demons previously vanquished. There are also side stories including the coup against the king of Westmarch, details of Adria’s past, and the creation of sanctuary and the Nephalem. There are also new stories from the companions (e.g. templar, scoundrel, enchantress), and we finally get to kill a key character from the initial release.
The new Crusader class is based on holy damage and fairly unique compared to the other classes. The closest association would be a hybrid mix of a tanky Barbarian and Monk with some new magical flare, balancing both single-target and AoE. The class features holy damage attacks, group buffs, and special abilities like a charging horse and energy strikes from the sky. Attacks are a combination of melee and ranged, and a lot of focus is placed on shields and provoking your enemies. This class can also wield a 2h weapon and a shield at the same time with one of the passive skills. While end-game survivability (Torment) is good, there are some concerns about damage output, but like any online class-based game, I’m sure we’ll be seeing refinements to not only the Crusader, but all of the classes over time now that people are playing level 70 content.
In my opinion, Act V is now the most refined act in all of Diablo 3. The visuals are top notch, and it is designed around numerous sub-sections (e.g. caves, houses) and events. There are also vast amounts of breakables spread throughout each new area. Act V is broken into three sections: City, Swamp and Pandemonium. Westmarch is a dark demon-ridden cityscape to explore with numerous sub-areas including the Briarthorn Cemetary which is breakable haven. The Blood Marsh is full of bog-laden critters, numerous traps and damaging pools, and the Battlefields of Eternity are chaotic and fun. The final boss fight with Malthael is extremely well-done and difficult. My only wish is that they would have created a region based on the starting and very small Westmarch Overlook forest area.
On another note, while Westmarch is probably my favorite new zone, many of the other areas don’t feel truly “unique”. Even the Eternal Battlefields (which I think are fun and graphically beautiful) and the new Swamp area feel like a D3 zone more than a unique experience. I would have liked to see zones that had great ambient sounds (e.g. insects, calling animals) that conveyed more mystery and exploration. A number of people have also commented on how they would have liked to have seen more content than Act V provided. It’s important to keep in mind the new D3 team had to not only release an expansion with new content, but also fix a broken game. I believe their balancing of the two was very well executed given the circumstances.
The Battlefields of Eternity is a fantastic place to farm white armor pieces and the Ruins of Corvus is great for farming white weapons for crafting.
Adventure Mode is part of the new end-game content that focuses on Bounties and Exploration. Once Act V is complete, this new gameplay mode opens up to all characters, allowing the player to travel between each act seamlessly through the map while tracking down creatures and events to obtain bounty rewards that include gold, experience, and Rift Keystone Fragments (which are used to open Nephalem Rifts). Blood Shards are also awarded, which are a new type of currency that can be used at the Blood Shard merchant to purchase unidentified items that can be blue, yellow, legendary or even a set item. But it’s random and essentially a form of gambling. Adventure mode still has all of the events and bosses you would find in Campaign Mode, but it also adds different cursed chest and shrine events that can spawn small groups, elites, or a single boss (in addition to normal the “kill 100” or “clear all 5 waves” cursed events). Each act offers 5 different bounties, and they are different each game, but one of the bounties will always be to kill one of the end-act bosses. There are always two acts which are “bonus” acts (which can be seen on the game world map). Completing the bounties in these acts will reward twice the blood shards as the other acts without a bonus. Difficulty also impacts the number of blood shards you will receive. You may only get 1 in Expert, but 4 in Tormet for the same bounty. If you complete all 5 bounties in an Act, you receive bonus experience and gold and also a Horadric Cache reward. When you right-click on a cache in your inventory, it is opened and items spray to the ground, often including blood shards, legendaries and rare set items. Depending on what act the cache is from, you have the chance of obtaining unique legendary items. A full list can be found here.
You can only have 500 blood shards at any given time, so be sure to spend them as they build up!
One of the great things about Adventure Mode is the fact it will take you everywhere, which also includes seeing new events and potentially fighting new monsters you’ve never seen before (or need for an achievement). Also, with the new legendary material requirements for end-game item crafting (covered below), players can slowly acquire those hard to find materials required to build some top notch gear.
The items that come from opening a Horadric Cache are based on the class and level of the character opening it, so you can run bounties and obtain numerous caches with one character, and then switch to another to open them.
While the Blood Shard system only allows you to purchase unidentified items, it would be nice if Blizzard allowed you to purchase specifically focused items for a much larger number of blood shards. It would also be nice to get crafting plans from the Blood Shard merchant.
You can get a quick glance of the 5 bounties offered in an act by moving your mouse over the appropriate act in the world map. This snapshot is very good for determining if you want to run the bounty gauntlet for an act, or restart the game in order to get a different set.
Nephalem Rifts are the second part of the new end-game content, and they are a blast. To open a rift, you must have 5 Rift Keystone Fragments (which are obtained through Bounties). They are essentially random dungeons packed full of elite mobs and a Rift Guardian boss which appears once you’ve killed enough creatures. The Guardian often has special attacks, and explodes like a loot piñata when you kill it, spraying out both items and blood shards. Rifts are based on all of the existing maps and tilesets throughout the game with randomly selected creatures and lighting, so you can be tossed into a rift that looks like the Weeping Hollow but has a completely different lighting scheme and monsters (for example) from Act IV or V. The rifts also have pylons in them, which are uber shrines. You can find Shielding (which makes you invulnerable), Power (which increases your damage), and everyone’s favorite: Conduit (which does massive lightning damage to your enemies). You can also encounter cursed chests in a rift, but there are no events. Some of the rifts are mediocre while others are packed so densely with mobs it’s either deadly or crazy fun. And yes, you can even encounter monsters (and tilesets) from Whimsyshire. Many rifts have multiple levels, and it can quite often be worth continuing to run the rift after the guardian is defeated just to kill more elites and continue exploring. At this time it’s not known how many Rift Guardian bosses there are, but the achievements show there are more than 20.
The Mystic was also added with RoS. She provides two key services, the first is item Enchanting. This allows a player to select one property of an item to re-roll for a chance at a different modifier for a cost that includes gold and materials. Once an item is selected in the Enchant slot, you can see the different modifiers available for replacement by clicking on the little ? button to the right of each modifier. This gives a nice overview of what can be rolled. Once you select and roll for a new modifier, the item becomes locked and only able to re-roll that chosen modifier, so choose carefully. The good news is when you do re-roll a modifier, you are presented with 3 rolls to choose from, which is nice given the number of variations that one can get. Each time you re-roll a modifier, the cost goes up. Enchanting is a very big deal as it allows a player to augment a “near perfect” item to be perfect. You can even re-roll the main stat modifier of an item to match a different class, so a 1H sword that has fantastic universal non-class specific modifiers on it (crit, vitality, etc) can have its main stat changed as you pass it from one character to another.
Transmogrifying is the second Mystic service that allows you to change the look of an item into something similar. For example, if you like the look of a specific sword, you can assign it to another sword that may not be as visually appealing. Want to dress your crusader in gear that makes him look like a Monk or Witch Doctor? No problem! When you find a new legendary or set item for the first time that can be used for transmog, a banner appears at the top of the screen informing you of the discovery.
Crafting has evolved with RoS. There are all new gems, plans and materials, and in addition to requiring white items to build something (thus making white items valuable at end-game), there are 42 unique legendary crafting materials that only drop from certain (and often rare) monsters. For example, if you want to build Captain Crimson’s Silk Girdle, you’ll need an Archon Sash (white item), and Essence of the Twin Seas (a legendary material), which drops from RazorMouth or Moontoth Dreadshark from Act II (Black Canyon Mines). So if you find an end-game plan for a level 70 set, that’s just the beginning. You then need to find the base white item, the legendary rare material, and then have the proper support materials that can often include expensive gems (which are much more powerful than their predecessors and also one of the biggest money sinks).
Mechanics & Gameplay
Level Cap, Skills, Account Bound Items, Difficulty, Progression, End Game
The new level cap has changed the difficulty of the game quite a bit, making the difference between Torment I and II greater than it was prior to RoS. The new skills are fun, but don’t really impact gameplay overall. Progression and reward is solid as the end-game revolves around Bounties and Rifts. The only negative aspect of this “new” diablo is the inability to trade items with clan members or friends who aren’t in your party.
The level cap is now 70, and it took me roughly 4 hours in a group to get from 60 to 70, so it happens very quickly; but don’t mistake that for representing only 4 hours of new content in the expansion, that was just the time it took me to get one character to 70 and start experiencing Adventure Mode and Rifts. New skills were also introduced with the expansion. Barbarians have Avalanche, Demon Hunters have Vengeance, Monks have Epiphany, Witch Doctors have Piranhas, and Wizards have Black Hole. I’ve found some of these skills to be fun, but none of them were really game-changing.
Unfortunately, there’s really no reason to build another character of the same class you have already built up except to get an achievement, which really doesn’t reward anything. However, Blizzard has announced that Ladders and Seasons will be added to the game in an upcoming patch this summer, which will entice players to create new characters. You can read more about it here.
While it was introduced in 2.0.1, nearly all item drops are now Account Bound Items except for some crafting materials, white items and gems. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t create any synergy of helping each other through a clan or friends list unless you’re actually in a party with somebody. Many times I’ve had a legendary or set item drop that would be perfect for a friend or clan member who is not online, thus rendering the item useless to me, bound, and destined for salvage when another could have benefited from its effects. Ultimately this means the best items in the game can only be found, crafted or given by a party member (of which is limited by a trading timer).
The Difficulty of the game has changed with the new level cap. Characters that could easily run Torment I or II prior to RoS can now easily get iced in Master even with level 70 gear. One complaint I have regarding gameplay is the problem with stacked frozen orbs that you cannot see. With many builds, in the heat of battle it’s often impossible to see the 5-sphere buildup and explosion until it’s too late, often resulting in a 1-shot death for characters that must fight up close and personal. Blizzard should address this by adding some additional visual representation and sound FX for the exploding frozen orbs.
Progression has changed quite a bit with the inclusion of the new gems. While leveling my Crusader, I was able to take my damage from 350 to 4,000 by throwing imperial strength gems in my items. This allowed me to run Torment III while leveling up, which was a ton of fun; but it didn’t last forever. Once I was in my high 40’s my toughness wasn’t high enough (even with the damage output) to survive the hits, and I had to revert back to Master difficulty. This changed again when I gained access to my level 60 “reduced level requirement” 1250 dps legendary sword, which bumped me from 6,500 to 30,000 damage. The result was a massive gorefest of gleeful fun allowing me to easily run Torment II until I hit my mid-50’s. But once a character reaches 60 and beyond, the game grows more difficult with each level. Once 70 is achieved, unless there is some solid gear in the stash, Expert and Master are probably the best choices for survivability until better gear can be found, and regardless of the difficulty one plays in, the progress of building Paragon level feels balanced and rewarding.
RoS really is all about the End Game, and by introducing Bounties & Exploration, Nephalem Rifts and rare level 70 legendaries, set items and legendary crafting materials, they have set D3 up to be replayable for quite some time. Another enhancing factor are the custom modifiers to end-game items that can greatly enhance certain class skills, enticing players to change their builds based on the items they find. With these additions, D3 now directly contends with other “unlimited play” ARPGs like Torchlight II and Path of Exile (both of which have an end-game map systems to sustain unlimited playability at max level). As mentioned above, the variable nature of Rifts are a blast, and doing bounties is both fun and rewarding, and quite often lead the player to a very rare event or named monster that may be needed for an achievement or a legendary crafting material. While some people may think Act V doesn’t provide much “content” for an expansion, adding all of the enhancements and ways to experience all of the content throughout the game represents a substantially larger playable experience than most realize.
I do wish they did something more with Achievements and the points you earn through achievements. Titles, transmogrifications, pets, and other bonuses would be very cool and easy to implement (and would not impact gameplay).
The clan and community features of D3 are the first step to bringing players together, but could use some expansion. The graphics and music of Act V are beautiful. There are a few minor bugs, but nothing impacts the overall gaming experience.
While Clans were introduced prior to RoS, I wanted to make a point of saying they should have done more to bring people together, like adding a Clan Stash, the ability to share found items with clan members, or announce additional details (e.g. making a paragon level or killing a unique boss). But I don’t want to downplay what we do have, which can serve as the foundation for a much more expansive system in the future that will likely include enhanced features, options, and collaborative efforts. With the addition of Communities, there are now some with more than 10,000 members. To address the size and influx of messages, players are broken into groups of 90.
The Graphics of RoS are top notch and a step above the original release. The expansion is beautifully crafted and fluid, and the little details are fantastic. The Interface hasn’t really changed at all except for the Paragon redux from 2.0.1, the Enchanting and Transmogrification options, and the World Map which allows a character to travel between acts during Adventure mode.
The Sound is just as crisp as the original, and the new Music is beautiful and just as good as the original, if not a little better. Although I was hoping for a new piece similar in nature to the nostalgic Spanish guitar pieces from Diablo 1 & 2.
At the time of writing this, there are a few bugs. The Firestorm event in Plague Tunnels Level 2 is a big problem, often killing you without any visual indication. Sometimes companions will also go idle in the middle of combat. While I haven’t experienced the following issues, I have also seen screenshots of tilesets that failed to load, a character that was warped into a wall by a monster, and the occasional item drop that can’t be picked up; but I believe these quirks to be very rare overall. Diablo 3 is a very solid product, and I must acknowledge how smooth the launch of RoS was.
Given the state of the original release of Diablo 3, this expansion had to do more than just add to the core game; it also had to fix a very broken product, and RoS does exactly that. The combination of the 2.0.1 patch and RoS has revitalized Diablo 3 to the point of essentially being a new game, and even though the expansion is $40, it’s worth every penny; not only because of the content it provides, but because of the new systems put in place that let you experience all of the content in a different way.
I believe the greatest enhancements to D3 with RoS are Adventure Mode and Rifts, and by removing the Auction House and enhancing the item drops, item modifiers, adding the crafting and enchanting system, and redesigning the paragon system, the game is now designed to be what every game strives to be: fun, addictive and rewarding.
My hats off to the Diablo 3 RoS team; the game is now excellent, and I recommend it to my friends. The D3 team has created a fantastic expansion, and I look forward to the continued bright future for the Diablo franchise.
Below is a list of additional resources D3 players may find useful.