Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls Hands-On Preview
For much of the past year, it’s been fashionable to use Diablo III as a standard for other action RPGs, but probably not in the way Blizzard intended.
Players of Torchlight II occasionally voiced dissatisfaction with the series’ Pixar-esque aesthetic, but developer Runic Games’ effort was almost universally praised for its singular focus on loot drops over Diablo III’s auction house convenience. Adventurers in Path of Exile occasionally bemoaned its forgettable story–not to mention the absence of pants–but lauded its grim ambiance that hearkened back to the glory days of Diablo II.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls looks designed to shift perceptions back in Blizzard’s favor. BlizzCon gave me the chance to sample much of the core content for the expansion, with technical artist Julian Love and technical director Jason Regier on hand to answer some of my questions. While the strict time limit and the incomplete build prevented a truly clear picture of what to expect when Reaper of Souls launches some time next year, what I did see suggests that beleagured Diablo fans can look forward to real improvements in the core Diablo 3 experience.
Reaper of Souls is certainly darker than its predecessor, or at least so far as I could tell from the roughly 20 minutes I had to play the new content before a timer blocked further access. Diablo III had its own moments of mature content—most notably in the gallery of tortured giants that lined the stairwell of the Tower of the Damned—but here the gray corpses lining the streets of Westmarch ooze a sense of despair that even the zombies of Act I never attained. New enemies abound, such as the aptly named “Summoner of the Dead” whose hooded form emerges from the cobblestones and wastes no time in living up to his job description. Human death comes fast and easy in Westmarch, and mere minutes pass before a miniboss named Kasadya cuts down a fleeting commoner.
More literally, there’s also just the mere fact that scenes like this unfold on a background drenched in shades of gray and black. But Love claims such a design wasn’t crafted in response to calls for a “darker” Diablo; rather, that’s just how Reaper of Soul’s tale of the Angel of Death led them. “It can’t be a happy place,” Love said. “It just lends itself perfectly to that ultra-dark Gothic thing.” Love also responded to criticisms that the core game wasn’t “dark” enough by emphasizing the need for balance. “If we gave you a 100 percent dark game back to front, it gets old pretty fast. You have to refresh people’s palettes.”
But what of the story itself? Twenty minutes is hardly enough time to form an impression of the quality of the narrative, unfortunately, although there’s enough to suggest that the content I played takes place but moments after the events of the cinematic. Tyrael, still in mortal form, wants you to chase down a sliver of the Black Soulstone to learn of Malthael’s intentions, and naturally you come running to his aid. What follows is an entertaining romp filled with new enemies like the Exorcist, who pulls energy from the ground around him to and flings it at the Nephalem, along with new behaviors for enemies like archers, who move around to avoid you.
Fun stuff, but the demo was at its best when it showed off the powers of the new Crusader class. How good was it? Put it this way, twenty minutes with him was enough to make me decide that I may have found my new favorite class. Abilities like Fist of the Heavens called down energy from the sky, causing demons to shrink in pain from the holy light. With Steed Charge, the Crusader leads astride a swift, summoned mount that left holy flame in its wake, while yet another skill sent him flying to the heavens, unleashing devastation upon foes unlucky enough to be in the path when he falls back to earth. I’ve never really been a fan of paladin types, but this guy feels like more of a badass than the barbarian. Let’s hear it for the good guys.