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: Hexen II

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The next stop on the nostalgia train brings us to another game designed using the Quake engine and the third installment in the Heretic/Hexen series; Hexen II.

As I mentioned, Hexen II was designed using a refined build of the GL Quake engine. Aside from out-of-the-box acceleration, we also a few new features such as semi-transparent water, interactive and destructible environments and an enhanced HUD.

Playwise, this game is very similar to the original Hexen. The hub-style level system is back. So is the ability to select a character class at the beginning of the game. In Hexen II, you can chose between Paladin, Crusader, Necromancer and Assassin. An additional option, The Demoness is also added for the expansion, Portal of Praevus.

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This game focuses on the world of Thyrion, home of the third and final Serpent Rider, Eidolon. This time around, the Serpent Rider has summoned forth the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. So naturally, these must be dealt with first. Each Horsemen resides of a specific region. So throughout the game you will experience a variety of terrains. The game starts out in a typical medieval European setting, but is followed by an Aztec or Mesoamerican region, an ancient Egyptian area, and finally an area that resembles a Roman or Ancient Greek setting. Once the Horsemen have been defeated, its time to confront the Serpent Rider himself.

A Mission Pack (expansion) was also released that features a new mega-boss and level hub to complete. In this scenario, an evil wizard known as Praevus is attempting to resurrect the Serpent Riders. So once again, the heroes are called into action. These levels are set in a Tibetan themed area. Also, as mentioned previously, the Mission Pack includes a new class option, The Demoness.

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Hexen II certainly features enough single player content to be worth your attention. However, there is also multiplayer Deathmatch to keep things interesting. The ability to select a character class helps Hexen II stand out from most other early FPS online play, as each class plays a little differently.

In addition to Deathmatch, another mode of Online play called Siege was also later released. This mode featured an interesting twist to online play at the time, Team Co-Op.  Unlike some of the Capture the Flag mods that had been developed for Quake, Siege focused on the invasion and takeover of the opposing teams castle. During its heyday, I sent a number of nights participating in Siege battles. However, these days, the game gets very little attention in its old age. So unless you have a group of interested friends it may be a bit difficult to find enough people to enjoy this content. If you do plan to try your hand at online play with this title, be prepared to have both the original game and the mission pack installed. Most players that still participate in online play, are playing with the full experience installed.

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Like many of these older games, it can sometime be difficult to get the to run well on modern system. Hexen II is no exception. Luckily, like many of these Quake-engine games, the sourcecode has been released and the gaming community has provided us with a solution. Personally, I recommend the Hammer of Thyrion version of Hexen II. This codeport allows for modern resolutions and also adds support for modern graphical effects. All this is done without modifying the original vision and mechanics of the game itself. The mod also includes support for the Mission Pack and Siege add-ons. For more information on this port, do a Google search for “Hexen II Hammer of Thyrion”.

Difficulty: Variable–  Like Quake, Hexen II features several options for difficulty for the single player campaign. The difficulty options feel very appropriate. Of course, when you play online, the difficulty is strictly determined by the skill of the other players.

Story: This game is the conclusion to the story set up by Heretic and Hexen. For the most part, I found the background and set up for the game to be very well done. It felt like there was a little more thought put into the set up for this game than most other FPS titles of the age received.

Originality: At first glance Hexen II may seem like nothing more but Quake in a fantasy setting. But in reality, it is much more. The HUB system is back and even more complex than before. The decision to include regional themes always felt quite refreshing to me. Also, your character is able to level up over time and improve their stats. This is something I had never seen in an FPS game at the time. I feel the creators of this game really put forth an effort to fashion a game that felt new.

Soundtrack: If you happen to have the original CD ROM version of the game, there is some very good CD Quality music that accompanies the game. The level themes are fitting an appropriate. There’s even a throwback to fans of the first two games.

Fun: I found my playthrough of the title to be better than I expected. While the HUB system is interesting and adds a new level of challenge, I’m not really a fan of it overall. But in Hexen II, it seems to be a bit easier to handle that it did in the first game. By far the environments and level design were the most enjoyable aspect of the game.

Graphics: Today, the graphics are a bit dated but at the time Hexen II represented the finest in 3D acceleration. If you can get past some of the blocky texture and sharp angles, the game actually looks pretty good. Unlike some, I have no complaints. It is what it is.

Playcontrol: This game was released during a time when FPS controls were shifting from arrow-keys to the new WSAD default that we are familiar with today. The default controls are bit antiquated for an FPS title, but are easily customized.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Hexen II is easily a four-star game for people that enjoy both FPS games and fantasy titles. It’s an odd mix of the two but it works well. Players who are just looking for carnage and are frustrated by puzzles may want to look elsewhere.

Currently available on: Steam (Mission Pack currently not available)Other Reviews In This Series:HereticHexenHexen IIHeretic II