“Malthael – Reaper of Souls” by ArisT0te
When Reaper of Souls hit I was of course thrilled by Blizzard’s CGI introduction which is infused with more allusions than I can unpack. The Diablo franchise had always considered what it would look like if hell broke loose in a medieval realm, where the most fantastic element besides the presence of demons is magic. DIII raised the stakes in its imaginative ambition though a plot that attempts to justify the powers that the player character classes utilize. In the realm of Sanctuary, there is no god, but the citizens of heaven and hell for some reason are destined (or doomed?) to be engaged in an Eternal War over the Worldstone. A defector from each side, Inarius from the High Heavens and Lilith from the Burning Hells, decide that they no longer want to be engaged in an eternal war, and convince like-minded individuals to join them in their christening of Sanctuary. Their offspring would become the Nephalem, and with half angel, half demon blood, they would be bastardized by both heaven and hell, yet also be foreordained to become more powerful than denizens from either side. In other words, the forces of heaven and hell would be gridlocked in a stalemate for infinity, and then humanity would emerge as gods to break the tie.
This also means that in the realm of Diablo, concepts of good and evil are not binary, but equivalences. Heaven and hell are “neutral” despite the obviously favorable interpretation of heaven in Act 4 compared to the decent into hell in both Diablo and Diablo II. The depth of the ontological problems this premise creates are beyond the scope of this post, let alone Diablo itself. After all, the player does not chose sides; s/he embarks from the beginning to save Sanctuary from the Burning Hells invaders despite Imperious and co. being ungrateful jerks.
RoS exhibits a surprisingly conscious attitude toward the humanities. Malthael’s method for reaping souls is reminiscent of depictions of the Underworld River Styx (did you watch the hotlinked video above? Here’s another chance to do so.). Malthael embodies the role of death itself, and in the opinion of he and his allies, humanity is forever stained by its demon blood—in spite of the angelic portion, similar to the one-drop-rule that shames American history—a bizarre pairing . So then RoS borrows heavily from religious sources, including the idea of humanity “being born into sin” from the Bible and the Angel of Death from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Lastly, one has to be careful in referring to Malthael as a “fallen angel.” That would make him a demon like those of the Burning Hells. So then should we think of Izual as a demon? A possessed Angel? Simply a renegade Angel that chose to ally himself with hell?
Such confusion is the product of retroactive continuity and being more ambitious in plot than this genre of video game can support.
But enough with the story. Is the game fun?
From the onset of Act V, it is apparent that the developers were trying to recapture the mood of both the original Diablo and dungeons from Act 1 of vanilla DIII while showing off a more dynamic camera. I wish there were more areas in Act V that utilized the zoom from the opening, but that’s fine, because its art direction more than compensates. Throughout the act, the terror and chaos of Westmarch’s remained palpable as men and women (but never children!) would stand guard or flee for their lives as the angels of death descend and perform their Sheng Tsung impersonations. The soulless corpses lining the hallways of the Westmarch Chapel certainly set the tone of the Act if the prior rapture-like introduction to the campaign did not. And if that wasn’t convincing, a couple foreboding quests to destroy soul siphons will force you to tread upon entire cemeteries spiritless cadavers to dreadfully stirring music.
Atmosphere is important. After all, DIII is the kind of game that one is expected to sink HUNDREDS of hours into, so it would be prudent to provide interesting environments for frequent exploration. The first Diablo was convincing in establishing its feeling of dread through its dim-lit corridors, and DII made even outdoor areas hostile. Blizzard tried to expand upon DII’s environments but thwarted itself by using a texture filter similar to that featured in World of Warcraft. Some generous modders amended Blizzard’s mistake (but use at your own risk!!! D3D IS NOT OFFICIALLY SANCTIONED BY BLIZZARD!!!), though Reaper of Souls in its own right proves not just adequate in establishing mood, but exceptional. This expansion, in every way, offers the kind of production value that gamers have come to expect from Blizzard.
Music in Reaper of Souls puts that contained in vanilla DIII to shame. I only remember two songs from Diablo III, and only care to find one of them as an example, and it’s more of a “note” than a song . On the other hand, every track in Reaper of Souls sirs the senses. In particular, I love Urzael’s theme and coda , as well as Malthael’s theme, all of which are appropriate for a boss battles.
I hope you already knew that you were going to fight Maltheal. After all, you always fight whomever is the featured Diablo artwork. So please do not act surprised.
Speaking of bosses, I must say that the boss battles in RoS are no joke. Actually, they make jokes of the boss battles in DIII. It’s possible to stand in one place and “tank” the DIII bosses, even in Torment 2, my difficulty level of preference. But the boss designs in RoS force players to strategically navigate the boss rooms. In fact, all of Act V was challenging for my Witch Doctor as I leveled her from 60 to 70, and I actually did have to drop the difficulty to while fighting Maltheal, which took me about an hour (twenty minutes straight if I cut out all the deaths) to kill on Torment 1. First-time players of the campaign will find a challenge IF they choose not to be sissies and play on weaksauce difficulties as I have seen them do.
Beating Act V for the first time is a prerequisite for unlocking the most anticipated feature of RoS: Adventure Mode. This mode was promoted to reduce the monotony of repeatedly playing through the campaign for farming gold, experience, and legendaries by cutting out any semblance of story in favor of emphasizing the “action” element of this ARPG. Players can choose among a wide variety of quests (“bounties”) such as killing a specific boss or elite creature or clearing an entire dungeon floor. These quests allow players to be more selective about which acts they want to play while collecting blood shards to be gambled and Horadrum Caches for completing all the bounties for an act in a single game. If that’s not enough, one will accumulate rift keystone fragments while completing bounties in order to access the game’s ultimate “bonus round,” Nephalim Rifts. Here, Blizzard promised randomized layouts, but in my experience, I have found the layouts to actually be preset maps that are supposedly random in their encounter rate. So some of those open desert areas from Act 2 can unfortunately make their return as often or not as the Pandemonium Fortress. In three hours of “rifting,” one may never see the same dungeon twice, or, might see the same dungeon repeatedly. There has been an instance when I did a rift and the jail showed up twice out of three areas.
Blizzard has been patching this game faster than I have been able to play the game and write this post. Since the release of RoS, Blizzard has buffed the drop rate of legendaries in rifts as well as the rate in which Kadala awards legendaries for blood shards spent. Blizzard, through a series of blue posts isn’t shy about rifts serving as the “end game” for players. Yet while rifts do not match the rapid pacing of DII MF runs where a single run of all the areas I mentioned earlier (minus Baal) could be completed in ten minutes, and, should the MF runner not find anything, could simply restart a new game with renewed hope. Rifts are a grind, whether one is one-shotting everything in TI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mDEiF0hufs#t=120 or challenging themselves in TIII and above. For me, the former too boring and literally puts me to sleep while the latter takes more time yet provides me with a sense of accomplishment after defeating wave after wave of elites. (CHART HERE Risk/reward). Regardless, RoS always provides an uncertain sense of anticipation because we know that legendary drops are hard-coded to a timer in case one gets stuck on the low statistical end of RnG. But the more fortunate, well, rack ’em up while you can! At the same time, the combination of rifts and bounties has provided players options to do what Blizzard wanted all along:
In other words, yes, Diablo is back!!!
*(they hotfixed people doing “chest runs” in T6, or simply running through areas of the game such as Arreat Crater doing nothing but opening chests which, before further hotfixes, was more profitable than killing mobs)