Malthael threatens to undo everything you fought for, Nephalim. As Tyrael and the six Horadrim take the Black Soulstone to the tomb of Rakkis, first King of Westmarch, the self-proclaimed "Angel of Death" ambushes them. With the power of the stone now in his hands, the trapped souls of... ah, who are we kidding? You're here to talk numbers.
Numbers which define the rare item loot drop frequency. The level caps. The Passive ability cooldown modifiers. And perhaps most importantly, the price.
Except for the odd Lovecraft hobbyists who insist on styling their name with two middle initials, nobody's shelling out £35 ($40) to find out if the Nephalim can once again overthrow the forces of evil. Of course they can. This is a video game.
Few will have high expectations of the narrative arc in Reaper Of Souls' all-new act. Which is just as well, because it whizzes by in a flurry of exploding coins and gore, not touching the sides any more than its base game did.
Chief antagonist Malthael is a particularly forgettable foe, popping up too frequently to utter some stock bad-guy rhetoric: "Foolish Nephalim. You are weak. My success is inevitable".
Then, putting down the '80s VHS box he was reading his lines from: "I sure hope I'm not setting myself up for a fall with all this self-assuredness".
However there are some moments along the way, particularly those involving returning characters, which have the potential to shock, affect, and command attention. Overall, however, Reaper of Souls' writing never shines bright enough to stop players thinking solely about the loot a boss will drop when killed.
This is absolutely fine. Story is just one means of motivation, and obsessive-compulsive item-hoarding is another. Arguably the idea that a particular enemy is holding you back from some super-rare magic boots with two gem slots is even more motivating than some dialogue explaining why they want to rule the universe.
He totally is holding you back, by the way. That is to say, there's a better chance than ever that the next kill will improve your character in a meaningful way. The level cap for every class has been hiked up from 60 to 70, for example, giving you a reason to dip back into dungeon crawling if you thought you had it all sewn up.
"The new Diablo 3 patch works brilliantly for returning players... but it's free to anyone and not exclusive to this expansion"
Once the big 7-0 is reached, players unlock a fourth passive skill slot (and of course a congratulatory letter from the Queen), and there are numerous new active and passive skills, in addition to shiny new runes, to try out along the way.
For example, if players place Unwavering Will in a passive slot when it unlocks at level 64, they'll get a 10 per cent damage increase, a 20 per cent boost to all resistances and a 20 per cent armour boost just for standing still for 1.5 seconds. Meanwhile, Mages get the excellent Black Hole active skill at level 61, which somehow manages to outshine the already beautiful Archon.
These new skills are useful not just in enabling you to trounce the perpetual waves of gore-bags in an even more convincing fashion, but to give you more powerful tools to take on the increased difficulty and thus increase your chances of digging out Legendary gear.
Blizzard had overhauled Diablo 3's difficulty system just a few weeks before Reaper of Souls' launch, via a "pre-expansion patch", which proved to introduce significant changes to the game. Along with the aforementioned toughness redesign, the update also introduced 'Loot 2.0', which rebalances the game in light of the Auction House's closure.
In summary; loot drops are now less frequent, but rare items are a tad more abundant, and players are more likely to pick up something useable for their class. The Paragon level cap limit has also been removed and is shared across all characters.
The patch represents some serious renovations to Diablo 3's aging frame, and the rebalance works brilliantly for returning players - but it's free to anyone and thus has very little to do with this expansion.
It's important to make that distinction, because if you are playing Reaper of Souls after a hiatus, you'll have a lot of good vibes that are in fact not exclusive to the £35 ($40) expansion pack. As such, it's trickier to single out praise specifically for Reaper of Souls - is it merely a new playground to enjoy the update in? Is it the enabler of the overhaul? Is it responsible for the improvements?
Certainly, players won't reach level 60 by playing Diablo III once, so to the more accomplished players, Reaper of Souls' new environments and enemy types are a medieval banquet of non-grinded content.
That's another way of looking at this expansion - a facility in which to ascend through the levels and accrue the sexiest loot as painlessly as possible. In this sense it's a resounding success, offering a wide variety of environments in its five-plus hours of campaign, most adopting a sombre tone closer to Diablo II than its successor.
Plus, when you're done with that there's Adventure Mode. This gives you the entire world to roam around, accepting bounties and exploring new 'Nephalim Rifts' for advanced items to acquire.
But that free pre-expansion patch continues to be a double-edged sword. If Blizzard can rebalance the whole loot system for free, one imagines the Adventure mode could have been thrown in too.
Its steady flow of new enemies will also hold your attention as you journey towards the new level cap. The Death Maiden, Scarabs and similar nasties don't have anything as repugnant or interesting as the base game's Grotesque in their ranks, but they look just as pretty sliced Julienne by your Bastard Sword of Slowing.
"Who's in a position to take price out of the equation?"
If there's one addition that stands out, it's the new Crusader class. Sadly you can't leap straight into Act V (Reaper of Souls' new campaign content) with one, but the shield melee and mid-range magic attacks he gains even as early as Act I make the journey down that well-trodden path worthwhile. He's a walking shotgun, essentially, and his shield bludgeoning is as satisfying as any other combat in the game. His voice actor is also among the least annoying, which is no small consideration when embarking on another twenty hours of right and left-clicking.
There are a number of ways to look at Reaper of Souls. At an elemental level, it's an extension of Diablo III's lore with about five to six hours of new campaign content. For high level players, it's a chance to increase the difficulty, gain new abilities and ramp up the probability of legendary item drops. And for the lapsed mid-level types, it's a great excuse to get to grips with the significant changes the last patch made to the landscape.
However, there's no way of looking at this £35 ($40) expansion and appreciating the value for money. It's practically the same price as the base game, and it offers nowhere near as much content.
If one takes price out of the equation, Reaper of Souls is an expanded incarnation of Diablo III and thus is the most polished dungeon crawler out there, though still lacking some of Torchlight 2's features.
But who's in a position to take price out of the equation?
Offering rebalanced systems, increased level caps and a new class, Reaper of Souls is worth one last crusade if you can stomach the price.
- Crusader class is a walking shotgun
- Rare loot drops are more frequent
- New Adventure Mode
- Too expensive considering content
- Forgettable narrative