Review: Diablo III – Reaper of Souls

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Normally, I do not include separate reviews for expansion packs. But this time, I feel obligated to make an exception. I’ve had several weeks to experience the Reaper of Souls add-on for Diablo III and I feel this release deserved a post of its very own.

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, Diablo III was one of my earliest reviews. Looking back at that review now, I cringe to see just how poorly the write-up seems. I suppose my blogging skills have improved over time and interestingly enough, so has Diablo III.

When the game was originally released, D3 was a bit of a mess. There were server problems, performance problems, and lots of controversy over the direction in which the game was taken. Over time, a lot of these issues were resolved through patches and changes to the title. The long-promised PVP system was finally added, and not long ago, Blizzard made the decision to remove the auction house system altogether. In doing so, item distribution was radically revamped in the game. Fans rejoiced and I was no exception.

Even without the expansion, Diablo III is a much better game today as a result of these changes. So, what does the Reaper of Souls add-on bring to the table? Here’s a rundown of some of the more important additions:

New playable class: The Crusader
An extra chapter: Act V – Reaper of Souls
Maximum level increased to 70
“End game” content
Difficulty adjustment

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The game still requires an internet connection, but my criticism on this has softened a bit over time. The game servers are much more stable than they used to be, and it seems that Blizzard’s vision for the hybrid single-player/multi-player experience has become a little bit clearer over the last two years.

Aside from new content and patches, several core changes have really made for an all-around better experience. The old tiered difficulty levels have been revamped and replaced with a new system that seems to be a much better fit. The game now offers Normal, Hard, Expert and Torment options. With the hardest option being very customizable.

I was a bit skeptical at first of the direction that the expansion would take storywise, but that too came as a pleasant surprise. I don’t want to spoil anything, but naturally at the end of Diablo III it seems like everything has come to a satisfactory close. Blizzard did a fine job of adding a new angle and continuing the plot. Upon completion of Act V, it is also clear that the Diablo story is far from over.

All in all, I have to say that Reaper of Souls is exactly what Diablo III needed to help round out the rough edges and bring the game to perfection. When looked at as a whole, my original review is now superseded by the breakdown below:

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Difficulty: Varies –  As mentioned above, the entire difficulty system has been redone, and for the better. Normal – Expert modes seem to be a very nice fit. Although later in the game, they do seem to be maybe just a bit easier than they should be. Regardless, this all goes out the window once you’ve reached the Torment option. From here, you can crank up the abuse to your liking. Why would you do this? Well, the harder the game, the better the rewards.

Story: The original Diablo III had a fantastic story, this expansion only adds to that. A few loose ends are tied up and a whole new villain takes the stage. Excellent stuff here.

Originality: This is hard to gauge considering RoS is an expansion. The new Bounty system and Rift system that becomes available upon completing the main scenario is very fun and extremely well done. It really helps keep the game alive even after completion.

Soundtrack:  The new in-game music is fantastic. Very fitting and well done. For an expansion, no expense was spared here.

Fun: Reaper of Souls really does a lot to breathe new life into a two year old game. I’ve had more fun with Diablo III now than I did when the game was originally released. This is Diablo done right.

Graphics:  Not much has changed here. This game uses the same engine as it always has. The graphic options for Diablo III have always been well done. Lighting effects are used well, shadows are well done. Everything is and was beautiful since release.

Playcontrol: No changes here. The game still works and controls as it should. I tried a number of different mice and I encountered no issues worthy of mention.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4- This expansion and the patch the preceded it were EXACTLY what Diablo III needed to make the jump from being a good game to being a great game. The price of the core game has been reduced to a mere $20 in most places. The expansion will still run you $40, but together they still cost what Diablo III cost upon release. In my opinion, if you’re going to experience Diablo III, Reaper of Souls is a must have.

 Available at retail and through Blizzards Online Store

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls

Review: WarCraft III (Battle Chest Collection)

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Finally, I have reached the last “old school” PC game on my list. Honestly, we’re not really that old school anymore. WarCraft III is only about 10 years old, but it does mark the end of an era for me. This game, and its expansion are probably the last PC games that I played before my first child was born. As any parent can tell you, having a child changes your life forever. Your attention and priorities change considerably. Once my son was born, there was a period of time, lasting quite a while, that really put a hold on my PC gaming – but that is story for another post.

If you read this blog often, you’ll know that Real Time Strategy games are not my favorite types of game. In fact, I pretty much despise them. Regardless, Blizzard has a way of tricking me into playing their games. I played through WarCraft I and II, I completed StarCraft and while I could appreciate the games for their vision and quality, I never really walked away from them wanting more. WarCraft III is the first RTS game that changed that for me.

First, let’s be clear, WarCraft III was released in 2002. The era of 3D accelerated gaming was in full swing. Blizzard is not ignorant. Despite being a Real Time Strategy game, WarCraft III is fully accelerated. The graphics retain the cartoonish art direction of it’s predecessor, but everything looks much better.  The lighting and environment effects are very well done, the textures are detailed and attractive, everything looks great here.

 

Also, now more than ever, the game is driven very heavily by story. Each chapter and scenario you play through in this title is filled with purpose and helps progress the story along. Not only does this make things a bit more interesting, but it found it helped motivate me and kept me interested in playing. For fans of the World of Warcraft MMO, this game sets up some very crucial themes that a large part of WarCraft lore.

In this game, there are a total of five chapters to experience. Two of these focus on the story of the Orcs. But there’s also a chapter from the viewpoint of the Humans, Elves and even the Undead. Each scenario presents a good balance of traditional RTS gameplay and story-related content. Each scenario also presents its own unique challenges. (The Undead scenarios were a favorite of mine.) Story elements aside, there’s not much to talk about gameplay wise. The game works and plays like the other titles in the series so far. There are some refinements of course. New features such a experience levels for heroes is a nice touch and helps bring some RPG elements into the genre.

While my recent time with the game focused mainly on the single-player campaigns, the game does feature a multiplayer mode. The community remains surprisingly healthy despite the age of the game. So if this is your cup of tea, you will not be disappointed. Community mods and custom content are plentiful.

Naturally, there is an expansion that adds additional scenarios. These days, the two titles are usually sold together either digitally or as part of the WarCraft III “Battle Chest”. The expansion picks up right where the original game left off in terms of storyline, and features some pretty impressive lore elements. Personally, it is my favorite of the two.

Having played through all of these games over the last several months, it’s quite obvious to see just how well Blizzard’s RTS games have matured over the years. From WarCraft to WarCraft II, on to StarCraft and now to WarCraft III – each game has become incrementally better. So much so that this title actually won me over. – No easy feat.

 

Difficulty: Variable–  This entry in the Warcraft series does offer variable difficulty. I played through the game on the normal setting and found some of the later levels to be quite challenging. Almost extremely so. The game does feature an optional prologue which serves as a tutorial, and the game offers tips and hints as you progress. These help at first, but by the end of the game, you will really need to be on your toes to win. First time players may want to play on the easiest setting until they feel comfortable.

Story: For an RTS game, WarCraft III has some really good storytelling. The story in both the main game and the expansion are very well done and interesting.

Originality: Despite being the third entry in the series, this game does offer enough innovation to maintain a fresh feel. The in depth scenarios, and introduction of colorful characters do a lot to make the game feel like a new experience.

Soundtrack: WarCraft III features an amazing soundtrack. Fully orchestrated tunes that really set the tone and direction for the game. The voice acting in the game is also very well done, albeit a bit overly comical in my opinion.

Fun: As someone who is not really a fan of RTS games, this title still managed to keep me entertained. For the first time in “craft” franchise I found myself actually really enjoying the game. That’s saying something.

Graphics: WarCraft III features some really good graphical effects. Top of the line for its day, the game still looks good in modern times.

Playcontrol: These games are played primarily using the mouse alone. I feel like the UI and overall control scheme here is very well done, if not perfect for the this type of game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – As far as RTS games go, WarCraft III is about as good as they come. Players new to the genre would do good to start here. I found the game to be a good balance of both RPG and RTS elements. Everything from the storyline to the sound and graphics are wonderful.

Currently available: Blizzard Online Store

Other Reviews In This Series:

Warcraft –    Warcraft II –    Warcraft III

Review: StarCraft

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Real Time Strategy games are not my thing. But there are some so popular that you can’t afford to ignore. Just like WarCraft, StarCraft is one of those.

Cashing in on the popularity of the WarCraft franchise, Blizzard took their winning formula and changed it from a fantasy setting to that of a space opera. Instead of Orcs vs Humans, we now have Humans va Aliens. The game actually features quite a detailed backstory that centers on three various factions of creatures; The Humans (aka: Terrans), The Protoss, and The Zerg. There’s a single player campaign dedicated to each race. Each campaign provides a detailed storyline for each faction.

As far as gameplay goes, the game works and plays very much like WarCraft II. Anyone familiar with that title will have no problem picking up StarCraft. In each mission a set of goals is provided. Build this, train X number of troops, seek and destroy the enemy forces, etc.

Personally, I find these types of games a bit boring and repetitive. It’s the “real time” part of “real time strategy” that bugs me. In this regard, StarCraft is no different. I still found myself sitting there, watching units harvest crystals or mine gas, waiting for the counter to get high enough so that I could build the next structure needed to proceed in the mission. To me, that’s a terrible experience. But It must just be me, people love these games. In Korea, for example, StarCraft’s popularity is legendary. It’s jokingly called the national sport. Players received corporate sponsorship and play for cash prizes. It is even broadcast on television. Seriously, it’s that big over there.

Despite my gripes about RTS games. I do understand the appeal. Just as far as I’m concerned, it’s not really my style. Regardless, I do have to admit that StarCraft features a pretty interesting storyline that was enough to motivate me to keep playing. In this regard, the game seemed a bit better than Warcraft II.

Once you’ve conquered the main game, there is an expansion called Brood War. These days, the two are bundled together – so chances are if you’re playing StarCraft you already have Brood War.

StarCraft features multiplayer right out of the box. Despite being an older game, there’s no shortage of multiplayer games either. The multiplayer community for this game still thrives. So if that’s your thing, the multiplayer community alone makes the purchase worth it.

In a nutshell, if you like RTS games and intergalactic conflict appeals to you, there’s really no better franchise than StarCraft. Even though it is not really my type of game, I can appreciate how well done it actually is. StarCraft is great game and it still holds up even after all these years.

Difficulty: Medium–  The game starts out fairly easy and provides a good amount of tips and pointers to get you started. Of course, as you progress through the missions things do get a bit tougher. The later levels in the game can be quite difficult and even pretty long. But if you’ve made it this far, you probably know enough to conquer most anything. Multiplayer however…. There are two difficulty settings; Normal Humans and Koreans. You’ve been warned.

Story: The story is told quite nicely both through cutscenes, mission summaries and in-game chatter. What starts out as a cut and dry “us vs them” scenario soon becomes more complicated and is actually quite epic by the end. It can be tricky to integrate good story telling in these types of games, but Blizzard did a pretty good job here.

Originality: At first glance is seems like StarCraft is really nothing more than a reskinned Warcraft. But once you get your hands dirty with the game, you soon realize that it’s certainly its own beast. Refinements and good storytelling elements really help the game shine above its predecessors.

Soundtrack: Surprisingly, this game features some really really good background music. The tunes are fitting and do a good job of passing the time. Sound Effect-wise, the game has some of the same annoying and repetitive feedback after each action that Warcraft did. But, I suppose it’s a necessary evil.

Fun: If RTS games are your cup of tea, there’s hours of fun to be had here. The masses have spoken and StarCraft is a winner. Often hailed as one of the greatest PC RTS games of all time. Personally, I found the game to be much more enjoyable that most other games of this type, but it still isn’t really my bag.

Graphics: For not being accelerated, StarCraft looks pretty good. In a weird way, a lot of the game art has a very Diablo feel to it in terms of art-style and graphics. The game certainly shows its age, but it holds up very well.

Playcontrol: These games are played primarily using the mouse alone. StarCraft doesn’t seem to experience some of the wild-scrolling that really bugged me about the Warcraft titles. I feel like the UI and overall control scheme here is much more refined than Blizzard’s older RTS game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – I know a lot of people will rake me over the coals for not giving this game a perfect score. But for me, the game just didn’t achieve that “perfect” experience. I’m really trying not to look at the game with a prejudiced eye, and I still feel that maybe a bit more could have been done improve the overall experience. But compared to WarCraft II, StarCraft certainly show that Blizzard had their sights set in the right direction.

Currently not available: Out of Print

Other Reviews In This Series:

StarCraft  — StarCraft II

Collective Review: Warcraft & Warcraft II

What trip down the PC gaming memory lane would be complete without mentioning the juggernaut known as Warcraft. These games help popularize Real Time Strategy games almost as much as the ever popular Civilization series, not to mention they provided a setting for what is arguably the most popular MMO of all time, World of Warcraft.

I should take a moment to note that I’m not really a fan of RTS games. There’s nothing wrong with the genre, I get the concept, but personally I find them to be a bit boring as a general rule. Obviously this is a personally opinion as many people love these games with a passion. That being said, if I’m forced to play an RTS game, I’m quick to go with a Warcraft title.

The concept of Warcraft is as follows. In the land of Azeroth there is a war brewing between two factions, Orcs and Humans. The Orcs come from another world and have recently invaded Azeroth through a magical portal. Their attacks on human villages and cities have increased in ferocity and the humans have began to strike back.

In these games, you can play campaigns as both the Orc Horde and the Human Alliance. Each campaign is filled will a number of scenarios. For example, you may be asked to construct a specific number of buildings to help train troops to defend against an upcoming invasion. To do so, you will first need to harvest lumber and mine gold to finance the operation. Once you have enough, you can build a barracks to train soldiers. As your soldiers explore and defend their territory, your laborers can continue to mine and harvest so that you are able to bolster your defensive and offensive capabilities. As you progress through the games, the objectives increase in complexity and difficulty.

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Warcraft: Orcs and Humans

The original Warcraft was released in the days of DOS and shows its age quite a bit. Despite this, the game was actually quite advanced for its day. Both the audio and graphics were really top of the line at the time. In fact, this is what first captured my attention about the game. Admittedly, I never played the original Warcraft all the way to completion until this review, but there were many nights in my High School days spent wasted on this game instead of doing things more productive. That’s the sign of a solid game.

Despite everything that I enjoyed about the game, it quite honestly got on my nerves pretty quickly as well. The feedback that you get from your units when assigning tasks is repetitive and frequent. I found myself playing with the sound off as a result. The UI also feels a bit basic and loose at times. Also, the game tended to drag on a bit and had an overall “rinse and repeat” feel to it.

Regardless of some of its shortcomings, Warcraft was a huge success. Naturally, a sequel was released that provided a better all-around experience. Warcraft II took all of the great elements of the first game and made them even better. Aside from enhanced graphics and audio, many complaints about the original game were addressed. The storyline also received more of a focus and as a result, the game is bit more engaging for those who are into that sort of thing. Most importantly, Warcraft II also brought with it a multiplayer experience.

warcraft-2-tides-of-darkness-3-5B1-5D1     Warcraft II: Battlenet Edition

Warcraft II spawned an expansion that added a new settings and two new campaigns and multiplayer enhancements. A definitive version of the game was eventually released, The Battlenet Edition. This version compiled both the main title and its expansion, as well added support for Blizzard’s Battlenet Network. Playing online was now easier than ever.

Difficulty: Somewhat Variable–  The original Warcraft is pretty straight forward. It has its difficult moments, but the enemy AI is fairly predictable and easy to thwart if you’re willing to plan ahead a bit. Warcraft II is a bit of a different story. This game seems to be a bit tougher in the long run, but there are some settings that can be adjusted in the main menu that makes things a bit easier to deal with. For example you can adjust the game speed or disable the “fog of war” feature.

Story: Most of game story of the first title is found in the game manual. The second game does a slightly better job of providing lore in the game itself. The backstory for these games is actually quite detailed. Novels were written that provide more information than you can shake a stick at. If you enjoy the games, and fantasy storytelling, there’s actually lot to see if you’re willing to do a little digging.

Originality: While RTS games were nothing new, the Warcraft series really gave a new approach to the genre. Warcraft really laid the foundation, while Warcraft II provided the polish to make the series shine

Soundtrack: The first game features crude, midi based music but some surprisingly good speech effects. The music in Warcraft II is much improved and features some really well done, epic music to accompany the gameplay. My only complaint with both titles is really the frequency and redundancy of some of the in-game speech. Assigning a command to nearly any unit is followed by a ridiculous reply. This gets old after a while.

Fun: If RTS games are your cup of tea, there’s hours of fun to be had here. Unless you’re a completest or a rabid Warcraft fan, I think its safe to suggest that you skip right over to Warcraft II for the best all around experience. Even with myself not being a fan of RTS-style games, Warcraft II is quite enjoyable.

Graphics: By today’s standards both games are somewhat crude, but at the time these games were released the graphics were astounding. Warcraft II takes a noticeably more “cartoonish” approach that the original game. I assume this was done for clarity, but it eventually became a staple of the series.

Playcontrol: These games are played primarily using the mouse alone. The speed in which the screen scrolls around seems a bit too accelerated for my tastes, but it’s easy to get used to. Warcraft II is a dramatic improvement over its predecessor in terms of UI. Still, it always felt a bit “off” to me.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Great games overall but not without their quirks. Warcraft II is by far the most accessible of the two for new players. Multiplayer games can be a bit hard to find these days unless you’re using Battlenet. As I said before, I’m not a fan of these types of games as a general rule, but even I can see what makes Warcraft a great gaming experience.

Currently not available: Out of Print

Other Reviews In This Series:

Warcraft –    Warcraft II –    Warcraft III  –    World of Warcraft