Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls PS4 preview: the next crusade

Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls begins with Sanctuary under siege by an army of the dead, filled with unwilling mortal victims. To discover what's at the source of this attack, I went hands-on with the new Diablo 3 expansion at Blizzcon, taking a look at the PS4 version of the game, as well as the new class: the Crusader.

Reaper of Souls follows the end of the original Diablo 3 campaign, where a brand new evil has risen. A fallen archangel called Malthael has condemned humanity and is using the power of the Black Soulstone to transform unwilling humans into his undead soldiers.

The heavily-armored Crusader wields a mace and shield, with a passive ability that allows him to dual-wield a variety of other weapons. With such an ability, he plays like more of a melee-based tank, able to take loads of punishment while dishing out some major damage. It's easy to get overwhelmed by large numbers of enemies in Reaper of Souls, which is where the Crusader's magic proficiency comes in handy. The Triangle button will summon a ghostly fire horse, allowing the Crusader to quickly ride away to safety, while engulfing anything caught in its path in flames. He also has the ability to buff allies with an area-of-effect spell and call upon an elite ground pound attack that dishes out damage to surrounding foes.

As I played through the short 20-minute demo, I couldn't help but immediately be struck by the PS4's smooth visual fidelity, as it proudly ran at 60fps and native 1080p. Rundown environments looked gorgeous, as did the effects involving Malthael's minions turning humans into undead enemies. I quickly became accustomed to the DualShock 4 controls, noticing a smooth transition similar to our initial Diablo 3 PS3 impressions. There was just as much button-mashing of attacks as there would have been with a keyboard, as enemies swarmed me throughout my playthrough.

Reaper of Souls starts off easy enough, but will quickly ramp up its difficulty at a moment's notice. One instance saw me entering the nearby cathedral to aid allies, where a guardian angel boss character repeatedly called up minions to overwhelm me with sheer numbers. This happened again at the end of the demo, where I bumped into another boss that was conjuring up multiple spirits, while I was tasked with destroying corpse towers. Though the Crusader could withstand punishment, he fell in seconds. I'll grant, however, that I was flying solo in this area and that it's likely more suited to four-player tandems.

Though the PS4 will also feature DualShock 4 touchpad-specific functions for inventory management, I didn't find myself using them too much, as I focused more on trudging through with the abilities I had. Similarly, since I was playing solo, I didn't find much use for the light bar function, which is meant to help local co-op players keep track of who's who.

Reaper of Souls looks to be an interesting continuation of the Diablo 3 story, with the PS4 version marking a friendlier starting point for newcomers, thanks to its inclusion of the base game. It's set to release in 2014.