Having spent a couple weeks with the Diablo III: Reaper of Souls beta, I’ll say I find myself genuinely impressed with the changes Blizzard has made. Upcoming changes like the new Adventure mode, which includes Bounties and Rifts, and the new Crusader character class along with a brand new story act, are certainly things you should be looking forward to. Include that with the revamped “Loot 2.0” system, which isn’t just a copy and paste of the improved loot system found in the consoles, and I think fans will be really pleased with what Diablo III has in store for the coming year.
First, let’s talk about the new Crusader class. Essentially a Paladin, the Crusader brings a tank/healer hybrid role to the table. This isn’t just a Barbarian with heals, instead Crusader excels at surviving dire situations, and will be a great addition for those that enjoy co-op in Diablo III. The Crusader comes with a set of interesting abilities, some of which were a bit broken in the early days of the beta, but have been quickly patched by Blizzard. One of the more interesting passive abilities allows the Crusader to wield both a shield and two-handed weapon at the cost of movement speed, allowing the Crusader to land heavy hits while not sacrificing block. And with a lot of abilities based around blocking, this is a character class that will almost always want a shield equipped for maximum potential.
The Adventure mode being introduced in Reaper of Souls is hands down my favorite thing about the new expansion. This mode allows you to play through various acts in the game, even with a level 1 character, with no restrictions on where you can go. You’ll bring up what is essentially an overworld map screen, showing different warp locations, and can teleport between these locations at will. Each act contains a number of bounties, which are essentially named elite monster hunts in different sections of an act. Completing a bounty results in a nice experience bump, and completing all bounties within an act will net you more experience, some new currency in the form of Blood Shards, and a Greater Horadric Cache.
Greater and standard Horadric Cache rewards are great ideas, as they’re essentially a randomized grab bag of loot that can be opened anytime. I’ve netted a fair number of legendary items from the bags, and you’ll often see a lot of crafting materials pop from these bags too. A Greater Horadric Cache is also rewarded upon completion of a Rift, another new element featured in Adventure mode. Rifts are gateways to randomized dungeons that typically feature monster combinations culled from all five acts. You’ll see Act III locations featuring Act V monsters and other mix-ups, and these stages are all about killing monsters to fill up a percentage meter, which once filled will unleash a special boss called a Rift Guardian. Rift Guardians can take on many forms, either Elite variants of standard foes or actual chapter bosses from various acts.
I actually ran my Crusader through Adventure mode without ever touching the story portion of the game, fully leveling the Crusader from 1 to 70 in a matter of days. That might sound disconcerting for some, but much of this was done prior to some balance patches for experience rewards, which have now been lessened quite a bit. But Adventure mode is still a completely viable option for anyone that wants to roll a new character but doesn’t want to slog through the story for the third or fourth time, and provides enough randomization and reward to make it worthwhile.
For Act V I opted to take my main character, a level 60, Paragon Level 37 Monk through the newest story addition. I won’t speak much for the story aspect, since the end boss isn’t present in the beta and upon arriving at the bosses’ location you’re simply greeted with a “Thanks for Playing” screen. But as far as layouts, new enemies, and side quests go, this is a definite improvement over Acts I through IV. It’s obvious Blizzard took some criticism to heart, as the new area features a darker tone and color scheme than the previous four acts. The layout for most sections of Act V is also more varied, giving lots of room for exploration and discovery. I also noticed that the various parts of Act V contained a lot of optional events to take on, which keeps players suitably distracted from just standard monster slaying. It’s also a well-paced act for that level 60 to level 70 progression, giving you just enough content to finish the Act right at the end of the level cap.
Other new additions to Diablo III found in Reaper of Souls include the new Artisan crafter, which can replace various stats on gear, or you can transmogrify gear to look like something else. The Artisan requires different crafting materials than those used for the Blacksmith, so you’ll be forced to choose between salvaging gear with the Artisan or the Blacksmith, giving you something more to do with the junk loot you come across. Existing crafters have a couple new levels to unlock, with new gems also being introduced that push well past the current level. Diamonds are a new gem type, which include resist all stats for gear, and can increase damage to elites when slotted into weapons. There are new Blacksmith plans, including legendary and set pieces, along with special ring plans that are available for crafting through the Jeweler.
Loot 2.0 is another big, welcome addition found here. I’m still not entirely clear if this will launch before or with the expansion, but it makes a marked improvement over the current state of Diablo III’s loot system. I was also pleasantly surprised that Blizzard didn’t opt to just copy the loot system used in the console version of Diablo III. With Loot 2.0 players will see less loot dropped from monsters, but when rare or legendary items drop, you’re more likely to see useful upgrades from those drops. Legendary items have an improved drop rate, making them more frequent but not nearly as plentiful as the console version of the game.
I replaced every piece of gear my Monk has been wearing for the past 40 or 50 hours in the core game within the 60 to 65 level span, and continued to find upgrades well past level 70. I had absolutely no trouble leveling and gearing my Crusader through Adventure mode, and the loss of the Auction House is never noticed in a negative way. You’ll have no trouble effectively gearing up new characters without it.
Needless to say, I’m pretty excited to see Reaper of Souls hit PC and PS4 in 2014, and I think Diablo fans will be extremely happy about the changes Blizzard has in store for the game. Pretty much every change or addition featured here is an improvement, and I imagine it will bring fans back to the game in droves. While there’s still a lot of room for changes to be made between now and launch, this beta has a strong foundation for Blizzard to build upon in the coming months, and fills me with hope that this expansion will be well worth checking out in 2014.