I did not like Diablo III. It was polished to all hell, in the way Blizzard always does with its products, and on the surface played like a Diablo game. But in the core design something was flawed. The whole game was built around this online Auction House, which just ruined the game inside and out. Blizzard took what had been a basically flawless loot treadmill in Diablo II and just threw it all into the trash. Forcing you to rely on the Auction House for level-appropriate gear due to enemies dropping under-powered crap, an extra layer was added to the gameplay loop that had no business being there.
However, in this age of digital delivery and patches, there have been companies out there willing to take their games that were misguided, miscalculated, or just bad in some of their features and tweak, or in some cases change aspects outright in order to bring the product more in line with consumer expectations. Blizzard has done this a lot over the years with their World of Warcraft product, remaking the game with every expansion in response to evolving design challenges and player expectations. This attitude has since been brought over to the Diablo product, with the Reaper of Souls expansion. Definitely a good choice.
Shoving in a ton of new features, and deleting others, the leadup and release of Reaper of Souls has transformed Diablo III into a different game than what was released in 2012. The biggest improvement is probably the feature that isn’t even tied to the expansion itself, but it heralded its release. Loot 2.0 saw the Auction House become a redundant thing of the past, and returned the classic Diablo gameplay loot of kill, loot, sell/salvage. Items that drop from enemies are actually level appropriate, and actually balanced to the class you are playing more often than not. While it still happens occasionally, it is rare for instance to find an Intelligence-based dagger while playing on your Barbarian. This creates a very satisfying loop in which a lot of the items that drop have the potential to be better than what you’re currently using. Even if this isn’t often the case, it’s still great that I have to check all my rare drops before I salvage them. On top of this, the difficulty system has been changed, further ensuring you get items well-leveled for you. Instead of the distinct tiers of difficulty that you have to play through in order, you now have enemies that level with you, but their abilities and difficulty is determined by a new difficulty system that one can change at any time. Instead of having to go harder to get level-appropriate gear, going to harder modes now allows you to gain experience faster, as well as other material rewards. It’s a lot better, and doesn’t force you to go through the story over and over again.
The new Act V is more of the same Diablo fun, it’s honestly nothing outstanding compared to the first four Acts featured in the core game. Westmarch has a great darker tone about it, definitely more reminiscent of the first two Diablo titles, which should make a lot of older players happy. There are also a ton of new enemy types, which was a refreshing change of pace. Blizzard could have easily just reskinned existing assets, but the team decided to go the extra mile. Probably the one odd thing about Westmarch is the large amount of little side things to do. There a ton of optional scenarios, usually tucked away in random houses. They add quite a bit of flavor to the story, along with the special follower quests, which finish off their individual stories. Don’t get me wrong, all the lore in the game is completely throwaway, no matter how much Blizzard wanted you to care. It’s interesting and actually rich if you want to throw yourself into it, but those who choose not to lose nothing in their fun.
There is a new class in the game now. The Crusader has shown up to Paladin up the place, and it has quickly become my favorite class in the game. Unlike just about every class who will eventually ditch their shield for either another weapon, or some weird off-hand item. The Crusader however, relies on those shields, and even has a special class of shields that all look amazing. The whole feel of the class is something that feels really at home in Act V, and really takes the aesthetic of Diablo II’s Paladin, but makes them much more a force to be reckoned with. I enjoyed Diablo II’s Paladin, but it always felt too passive, like it was really there for buffing other players. While the Crusader can buff other characters, it is really meant to wade right into a group of enemies and use that shield both for defense, as well as offense.
The last big change to the game is the addition of Adventure Mode. Unlocked once you finish the story once on any character, this becomes available for the entire account. Ditching the story aspect of the game for smaller, bite-sized missions, Adventure Mode closes the loop of the game even further by cutting out the narrative. You can travel to any area of the game, and engage with bounties, which have some variation, but really it always boils down to the general click to kill. Doing these bounties earn you a new currency, Blood Shards, when can be traded in for equipment you cannot see the stats for. It’s a neat little lottery system. The other major reward are the Keystone shards, which allow you to open Nephalem Rifts, which are totally randomized dungeons featuring what are basically never-ending swarms of enemies, culminating in a long boss fight, usually putting story bosses to shame in terms of health. Beating these get you huge chunks of experience, which go a long way whether you’re still climbing to the new cap of 70, or gaining the newly revamped Paragon levels, which now offer account-wide bonuses. This new system greatly improves the endgame for Diablo III, making what is essentially an infinitely replayable experience.
This is really what expansions should be. Blizzard was confident with all their new online bells and whistles when Diablo III came out in 2012 and they felt a lot of pushback from consumers. They were not happy and were listened to. Now Diablo III is a game that I find myself playing all the time, and it has become the game it probably should have been in the first place. While I commend Blizzard for having a vision with the core game, that vision was crap. It takes a dedicated, and talented group of people to be able to reverse course so hard on a game with so many online systems baked in. They put the time in, and the effort, and made a game that not only they can be proud of, but fans can be proud to play for hours on end.
Final Score: 5/5