At BlizzCon 2013, I was lucky enough to sit down at one of Blizzard's demo machines and play through the first part of the new Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls expansion as the new class, the Crusader. This article will have some spoilers for the new content, so if you're trying to avoid that, beware.
The demo character was a male Crusader, set at level 33. He came with a few powers preset, which I used for the demo. For the left mouse button, a single target Slash attack struck the enemy with holy power. For the right button, Fist of the Heavens sent a huge beam of Holy Energy from the heavens around the Crusader, followed up by electric bolts that split off and attacked any enemies still standing. This right click, of course, cost Wrath, which is the Crusader's resource and regenerates like a combination of a rogue's energy and a death knight's runic power from WoW.
I found the play to be intuitive and fun as a ran through the streets of Westmarch. The left click helped me build up wrath, and just when I was surrounded by huge waves of risen skeletons, I unleashed Fist of the Heavens to finish them off. When I needed to escape, I activated my steed, which summoned a spectral horse that carried me right through the mobs to safer ground. I also had an aura that increased my attack speed, a consecration type ability that put a damaging area on targeted ground, and Falling Sword, which causes the Crusader to teleport above the targetting spot, and slam to the ground for more AoE damage.
The style of play for the Crusader came across very well. He has the beefiness of a melee, but his ranged and AoE abilities came in very handy when I needed to back off of the massive brutes and their stuns, or the summoners and their AoE defilement. The visuals and sound for the Crusader had a very meaty sound them as well, with the crunch of weapons and shields combined with the massive blasts of holy energy. It felt like I was playing a great mashup of my WoW Retribution Paladin and my Diablo 2 Paladin. I had the auras and massive blocky shields and armor of my Diablo 2 Paladin with the massive gouts of holy power of my WoW Paladin, topped off with a massive physical presence that makes the Crusader feel like a true holy warrior, with an emphasis on the "warrior" part. My only real complaint is that it was hard to aim my Falling Sword to actually hit anything, as the monsters had often moved on by the time I landed, but I imagine that will get easier once you have other players, a companion, or higher monster density to wrangle them for you. I also got a small taste of the loot 2.0 system on my journey, seeing a legendary amulet drop along with a nice rare shield upgrade.
The way to Westmarch
The demo began with the hero running up to the gates of Westmarch to find the forces of Malthael had the city under siege. The Horadrim Mage who Tyrael told to find the Nephalem in the trailer did, in fact, find my hero, and told him he needed to find Tyrael and help him recover the Black Soulstone. The hero, however, told the mage to find Tyrael and bring him here, as he needed to go save the townsfolk of Westmarch.
The Hero then enters Westmarch's capital city, where he proceeds to kill a variety of dark angelic minions of Malthael - cloaked wizard summoners who create undead, angelic maidens with scythes who raise the bodies of the townsfolk they kill, and the skeletons they both summon, along with massive brutes who jump into the frame and stun you if you're near their landing point. Westmarch itself is very much a dark medieval city, with cramped, claustrophobic sidestreets covered in fog, rows of stone buildings looming overhead. While I was never big fan of the argument, I can't help but think Westmarch may have been designed, in part, as an answer to those who complained that Diablo 3's art direction was too bright and cheerful. Regardless, I loved the look. It reminds me a bit of everything I loved about Gilneas City in WoW.
The hero rushes through on the pursuit of an angelic maiden, a lieutenant of Malthael who is harvesting souls. On the way, I found a few side streets and mini-dungeons where events had me rescuing peasants and clearing cellars of Malthael's troops. I picked up a few lore documents that suggested Westmarch's King was not well-loved by his subjects. Eventually, I came to a massive Cathedral, where the angel had summoned a massive black-hole like structure that was sucking in the souls of a group of refugees who had taken shelter there. Upon killing her, the Courtyard in front of the Cathedral became my new "town" area. Tyrael was there with a shard of the Black Soulstone he hoped to use to track the real thing. Each of the companions had an intriguing new piece of dialogue that is likely to lead to a new sidequest. I was also able to talk to a few members of the Westmarch resistance, and the Horardrim Mage.
Overall, I can report that the gameplay of the expansion appears solid. Unfortunately, I only played on normal difficulty, so it was a bit easier, so hopefully the difficulty gets better as it ramps up to Inferno. I can certainly see how it would. Other than that, though, I'm satisfied. The Crusader feels like a solid class, and I love the combination of heavy melee with enough ranged and AoE capability to feel like a versatile and effective killing machine, and the atmosphere of Westmarch is well constructed enough to provide a fun background to bash monsters and collect look. I look forward to playing it next year.