The first expansion to Diablo III lays it all out for you in its subtitle, Reaper of Souls: If this release doesn’t consume your very essence for days on end, then perhaps random-dungeon loot-hunting isn’t your thing. For everybody else, especially fans disappointed by the original release of Diablo III, which has been heavily patched and rebalanced within the last several months, this is the definitive add-on that not only improves basic gameplay (actual and aesthetic customization of items through the new Mystic NPC, new boss mechanics), but also redefines the end game, allowing players to grind ad infinitum. Once players have completed the additional Act V scenario (the lengthiest of the bunch), “Adventure Mode” is unlocked, which not only removes barriers between each act, allowing players to farm any region at any time, but also incentivizes replaying specific dungeons and slaying certain foes by awarding bonus XP-granting “bounties.” Reaper of Souls improves so much, so quickly, that gamers may too engrossed to remember to resent Blizzard’s requirement that players remain connected to the Internet while playing.
The first mark that Reaper of Souls is a much-changed beast stems from its villain: Instead of facing twisted sorcerers and demonic lords like Belial and Diablo, you’re up against the righteous angel of Wisdom, Malthael. His plan involves killing every human, true, but that’s only because humanity, the nephalim children of Inarius and Lilith, carries a demonic taint. The truth of that is borne out through the side missions, such as bonus dungeons, which are both more commonly found throughout the new realm of Westmarch, and more interesting than the same-old-same-old siege encounters of the vanilla Diablo III. (This expansion also wisely resolves the storylines of your three in-game companions, taking you into the belly of the Templar’s secretive order, the between-worlds nightmares of the Enchantress, and the prisons that the Scoundrel’s been running from his whole life.) Malthael’s perverted death maidens and reanimated reapers are wordless monsters, but that’s sometimes better than the opportunistically human looters and murderers—even factoring in that some particularly infested areas of this twisted and twilight town are literally paved with corpses.
In fact, many of Diablo III’s colorful environments pale in comparison to those found in Reaper of Souls, which not only serves as a “best of” compilation (the Corvus ruins are more labyrinthine, the Blood Marsh is more miasmatic, and heavenly Pandaemonium’s battlefield is more besieged than their base-game brethren), but a literal expansion. One hard-fought sequence takes place atop a swinging battering ram; several other dungeons play around with new color palettes (like yellow) and graphical distortions (slowing down time) to maintain the otherworldly effect of trailing Death himself.
Beyond clever new enemy designs like the Gollum-like Boggits, avatar-chomping Hound Pack Leaders, and AOE-slowing Ghastly Seraphs, Reaper of Souls also introduces a sixth character class: the Crusader. It’s a mistake to dismiss this role as a heavily armored tank, the knight who taunts enemies into focusing them, as the Crusader also has a wide range of long-range skills and “convictions” (i.e., magic), plus the ability to instantly ride out of danger atop a spectral steed. Whether throwing a shield like Captain America or leaping into the air and out of danger like a dragoon, this hybrid role gives players yet one more reason to play through again, just as the redefined difficulty options and shared paragon points (experience gained beyond the level cap by any character registered to your account) allow even novices to power level.
Anyone who’s played a dungeon crawler knows the feeling that comes from finding or crafting a legendary new item. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls both offers and is that kind of game-changing elation—so say farewell to your free time.