Things rattle and perish in screaming blood and bright color, dropping swords and staffs which we immediately attach to ourselves. It’s strange we find it so comforting, but that’s exactly what Diablo has been throughout its multi-decade run. It’s a cool-down game, your personal violent retreat. When the real world isn’t giving you an inch, you always return to a world where you pry legendries from a demon’s cold, dead hands. Reaper of Souls exists to bring you closer to that warmth.
There’s always been something a little traditional to Blizzard’s design theory. Like Everquest? Here’s a simpler, brighter and better structured version called World of Warcraft. Do you like real time strategy games? StarCraft has been polished to a mirror shine. Want more of that? Don’t worry, Starcraft II won’t leave you out in the cold. For their well-deserved fame and recognition, Blizzard has rarely rewritten the book. When Heroes of the Storm drops later this year, it’s a pretty safe bet that it will be the best version of DOTA you’ve ever played. Simple, thoughtful edits to a winning formula.
The best example of that in Reaper of Souls comes with the brand new Adventure mode. Log in and find all the story elements to be vanquished, with the wide world of Sanctuary open to your free travel, and newly stocked with all sorts of randomly generated goodness. With one fell swoop Blizzard completely rejuvenates Diablo III’s co-op, and makes those old haunts feel treacherous again. It cuts downtime significantly, and creates something a little more persistent, justifying the always-online requirement. I’ve always had a difficult time justifying a loot grind when I knew it was all just a march to the end of the campaign, but in Adventure mode the challenges feel competitive. When I know we’re all out here hunting bounties, the thirst for gold, loot and superiority leaves me far more determined than exhausted.
Crusader, the new class, swings a massive flail, bringing entire realms to their knees, and standing proud as perhaps the one true tank in the game. You’ll find a story continued into a new fifth act, with bodies stacked impossibly high. You’ll also find a whole bunch of heady, technical changes. Loot 2.0, which is actually included in a free pre-expansion patch, dramatically increases the amount of rare and legendary plunder you’ll find on a playthrough, and a new NPC called the Mystic allows you to re-roll statistics or change the appearance of a specific item, taking a page out of World of Warcraft’s well-studied philosophy.
But honestly, those are all changes for the hardcore fans. For me, Reaper of Souls gives me an endless repository for slaughtering. It’s never been easier to take on the burden and the thrill of a whole heap of bloody heroism. Let the splatter reign free, on deserts, cobblestones and graveyards. I equip the sword that has the highest number, and chitter gleefully at the carnage. Blizzard has made more Diablo for the people that love Diablo. It may not be subtle, but it is wise.
Luke Winkie is a writer and former pizza maker from San Diego, currently residing in Austin. He writes about music, sports and videogames for The Austin Chronicle, Red Bull Music, Myspace, The Village Voice and Salon.