Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls brings in a terrifying new villain with a frightening motivation. In a bid to end the eternal conflict between angels and demons, Malthael seeks to rid the world of demons by absorbing all of the demonic essence found in every living creature. Though it would bring some semblance of tranquility to the universe, humanity would be also destroyed, as a small part of each person's soul is demonic. Malthael, aware his plan will eviscerate all of humanity, in unfazed and torments anyone who attempts to stop him.
Just another day in Sanctuary. The fascinating objective that players contend with in Reaper of Souls is one that brings heroes to the darkest and gloomiest reaches of the world. Gone are the splashes of color that initially angered fans and inspired the secret level Whimsyshire, replaced with the gritty and devastated region of Westmarch, where players begin their battle against Malthael and his team of super jerks. Reaper of Souls' design is more reminiscent of the original games in the Diablo series, but still takes interesting new gambles. One section, for example, takes place on a moving battering ram, forcing you to face off against ferocious, elite mobs as the impressive environment smashes its way into the world of Pandemonium for the expansion's final battles.
Reaper of Souls increases Diablo 3's level cap to 70, and it adds fresh active and passive skills to each character class. The expansion also adds the Crusader class, a mid-range caster/melee hybrid with an imposing set of skills. Crusaders aren't just thrown into the mix, the class is intelligently woven into the existing mythology, with new dialog peppered throughout the main campaign to reveal the Crusader's history. I've enjoyed the mix of combat offered by the Crusader, in particular the ability to dash at a thunderous pace toward enemies and perform a devastating shield bash. The Crusader has defensive options as well, including the ability to blind and stun enemies, opening them up for a powerful sword strike. Prior to Reaper of Souls, I've only ever focused my attention on the Demon Hunter class, but I've already decided the Crusader will be my second max level character.
Diablo 3 was marred by a loot system that put too much weight behind its in-game Auction House. Playing Diablo 3 for over one hundred hours across each difficulty setting, I only ever saw one "Legendary" item drop – and it was a weapon for a different class. Loot 2.0, which was added to the original game prior to Reaper of Souls' launch, drastically improves quality drops and closes the auction house. While those without the expansion can still enjoy the new loot system, its biggest impact is felt in Reaper of Souls' most significant addition: Adventure Mode.
Adventure Mode is unlocked after completing the expansion. It adds challenges – called Bounties – throughout the original and expansion campaign. These are simple quests – clearing dungeons, beating bosses, etc. – but they offer very specific reasons to replay different sections. Namely, you'll find gold and experience bonuses and a seemingly endless supply of baddies to kill for precious, precious loot. Adventure Mode also introduces a new currency item, blood shards, which can be used to purchase random high-end weapons and gear at specific merchants.
Once you've unlocked Adventure Mode, you'll likely focus your attention here. It's bite-sized pieces of Diablo, focusing on its most important elements: plenty to kill and even more to collect. The narrative trappings are stripped out, and the entire map is opened, allowing players to teleport to any area and, in the case of Bounties, directly to boss battles and challenging dungeons. The emphasis here is how quickly you can jump in, accomplish goals and earn good equipment in a short period of time. Bounties also deliver bonus weapons and gear unavailable as drops in the main campaign. Furthermore, Adventure Mode paves the way to new areas called "Nephalem Rifts," visually striking randomized dungeons that present existing environments with new qualities – different lighting, and so forth – and unleash hordes of monsters to take down for quality items.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls doesn't reinvent the wheel in the dungeon crawling genre – it reinvents Diablo 3 itself. Gone is the diabolical auction house, replaced with a better loot system that rewards a player's loyalty. While Loot 2.0 is available as a free update for Diablo 3, it's Adventure Mode that helps Reaper of Souls stand above the original. With its emphasis on getting directly into the action with no interruption, Reaper of Souls brings Diablo 3 back to basics: A mouse-breaking, loot-craving killfest to Hell and back.
This review is based on a Battle.net download of the PC version of Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, provided by Activision Blizzard. Images: Activision Blizzard.
Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content and expansion reviews, with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the original release; See our review of Diablo 3.