Hands-on with the Crusader in Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls
Article by Kat Bailey
Why the Crusader? Why not the Amazon? Or, heaven forbid, the Necromancer?
That question was on the minds of many Diablo players when the Crusader was first announced. Looking over Diablo III's class list though, you can almost hear the gears turning in the heads of the developers at Blizzard. Up until now, Blizzard’s emphasis when designing Diablo III’s classes has mainly been on damage output, with the Barbarian leading the way.
The Crusader is tankier and more supportive—a knight clad in heavy armor that’s a bit slower than the rest of Diablo III's warriors; but makes up for a lack of speed with some interesting passive skills and party buffs. Having played through a chunk of the opening portion of Reaper of Souls’ new story chapter, Act V, it’s apparent that Blizzard wants the Crusader to be a defensive juggernaut. Its starting skill is Punish—a melee attack that increases the Crusader’s blocking chance by 50 percent when used. Later on, the class unlocks skills like Iron Skin—which temporarily renders them invulnerable—and Provoke, which restores Wrath while drawing the attention of foes. At higher levels, passives like Heavenly Strength make it possible to equip both a two-handed sword and a shield, though at the expense of a drop in speed. For group situations, it has abilities like Laws of Valor, which grants a 10 percent increase in attack speed for the Crusader and its allies (5 percent when used passively). And we shouldn’t forget Shield Bash, a stun-attack staple from the earliest days of roleplaying.
For the most part, the Crusader’s skills feel both intuitive and powerful, especially early on. Its defensive buffs give it a high degree of survivability; and unlike the Demon Hunter, Monk, or Witch Doctor, the Crusader has no problem wading into the middle of a mob and dishing out major punishment with attacks like Consecration—a fiery circle that can set enemies ablaze with the right rune while healing the player and their allies. In that way, the Crusader should make a great starting class for anyone picking up Diablo for the first time.
With a month left before Reaper of Souls' final release, though, I’d love to see Blizzard tune a few aspects of the Crusader. Its biggest weaknesses are probably its relatively long cooldown times and the seemingly limited options for generating Wrath—the resource that fuels most of the Crusader's abilities. Combined, these limitations could make it tough to maintain sustained damage output, which I expect will put it at a disadvantage at higher difficulty levels, especially when playing solo. It's easy to imagine a newcomer picking up Reaper of Souls; rolling up a Crusader and finishing the campaign, then struggling to compete with higher level monsters on a second playthrough, even with decent gear.
But of course, that's what the beta is for; and the right amount of tuning should be enough to resolve the Crusader’s resource issues. At the moment, there's nothing to suggest the class will be overpowered; certainly not to the degree of the Barbarian, who until recently was so strong that the class' playstyle was derisively referred to as "spin to win" by fans. In a weird way though, being relatively balanced may be its Achilles heel. Neither as ridiculously powerful as the Wizard nor as memorable as the Witch Doctor, the Crusader occasionally feels stolid to a fault.
Thankfully, the Crusader isn’t all that Reaper of Souls has to offer. With the addition of truly random dungeons; a much more open world in Adventure Mode; and the removal of what were functionally "pay-to-win" auction houses, hardcore players can now grind for loot and battle the forces of the underworld to their heart’s content. Legendary gear is much more prevalent now, and if you don’t like an item’s stats they can be re-rolled through the newly-added Mystic artisan. Diablo III still has a story to tell; but that story no longer subsumes its Rogue-ish roots. In many ways, Reaper of Souls looks like the game that fans wanted all along; it’s just being released a little later than expected. With the new expansion, endless loops through the campaign and underwhelming loot drops should be a thing of the past, much to everyone’s relief.
Reaper of Souls puts Diablo III on a more even footing with Diablo II, which of course remains the gold standard for the series. These additions offer reason to believe that Diablo III will have much more longevity than anyone might have imagined in 2012, when it was busy getting absolutely crushed by fans around the Internet for all of the issues described above as well as for requiring a constant connection to the internet. Reaper of Souls doesn’t fix the latter point; but it does do much to address the other issues, which ought to go a long way toward ensuring that Diablo III has the sort of replayability that made its predecessor so beloved. In that, even if the Crusader’s issues are never resolved, Reaper of Souls will have been a success.