With the upcoming release date of May 15th rapidly approaching, Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo III is sure to sell like wildfire when it launches on PC and Mac. To test the waters before launch day, Blizzard opened up the beta for everyone to experience this past weekend. And experience I have. The game is nearly completed, so what was available for gamers was a nearly finished product, albeit with some limitations and restrictions due to its beta status. Regardless, Diablo III had many good things going for it. And here they are for you all, just in case you missed your chance to slaughter countless demons a few weeks early.
The Character Classes
There are five classes to play with in Diablo III (at least there are in the Beta): Wizard, Monk, Demon Hunter, Barbarian, and Witch Doctor. Unlike Diablo II and the original Diablo, you can choose the gender of each class. Notably absent from this lineup are the Assassin and Necromancer classes from Diablo II, but it seems their talents have been incorporated into the Demon Hunter and Witch Doctor classes, respectively. Each class looks, feels, and plays differently than the last, giving each character a definitive role in the game. I was running with a party online as the Demon Hunter, with a fellow Demon Hunter, Barbarian, and Wizard rounding out our team. The Demon Hunters stay back and fire at enemies with crossbows and throwing weapons, while the beefy Barbarian ran into the fray and whipped around his axe to kill foes, with the wizard launching firebolts and spells into the pile of enemies. It’s definitely early in the games life, but I like so far how the classes play well together. Hopefully we can avoid the game being nothing but Barbarians and Hammer-dins like in D2.
Combat & Gameplay
Remember to keep in mind that this is just based off the Beta of Diablo III and not the actual completed version. That being said, Diablo III was incredibly fun and addictive. The basics of combat are the same here as in past games: move you character with the mouse, find stuff to kill, then kill said stuff. It’s that simple, but when you add in layers and layers of depth you get that experience that only Diablo can give you. Enemies usually come up in groups, with occasional “Elite” monsters giving you a harder challenge. Just about everything you kill, break open, or search gives you something, be it gold, armor, weapons, health potions, or something else even more valuable. The insane loot-driven gameplay is intact and will push players to continue playing well past their stopping point. Remember how people thought the guns in Borderlands were addictive and varied, and made you want to keep playing to see what you could get? Yeah, that all started with this series, and D3 keeps the treasure train rolling.
Where the game differs from the past two iterations is in execution. No longer are you given points to distribute out to your character upon leveling up; instead this increase is done automatically as determined by your class. What you do get though is a handful of skills and runes to tinkering around with. Two attacks are mapped to the mouse (left-click and right-click), and you can set two of the determined skills the game allows you. Upon reaching new levels you unlock more attacks that do more than just hurt foes: slowing shots, electric damage, and multiple targets are just a few. Further leveling unlocks Runes that you can slot into each attack. Runes add more depth to attacks, granting extra abilities like more damage, more mana/rage/hatred generation (the points you need to perform special attacks), and leeching life of each hit. Passive skills can also be unlocked that, as their name suggests, remain active no matter what. Lastly there are special skills that are unique to each class. These will be familiar with past Diablo players, as they are most representative of previous classes abilities. As the Demon Hunter I was able to lay caltrops to slow enemies, as well as roll to safety or go invisible to slip past enemies (like D2’s Assassin class). Diablo III does a good job distinguishing itself from itself, not feeling like it’s relying too heavily on the past and yet retaining much of the magic that made the series so popular.
The Environment & Setting
I have always been a fan of the Diablo series’ art direction and setting. The creepiness of each dungeon, the frightening enemy design, and the horrific settings in hell and beyond are intriguing attention grabbers that lure you in and don’t let go. Diablo III feels largely the same because, well, it is the same. You are still going around killing reanimated corpses, walking skeletons, and hellspawn, but everything looks way nicer than it did in 2000. Outdoor environments are large and open, like the beginning areas cemetery, while the caverns of each tomb or dungeon are narrow halls that reek of death and despair. While I like how the game looks overall, things aren’t perfect.Diablo II’s superb graphics laid the groundwork for the hellish scenario, and maybe it’s an innate appeal to the original, but Diablo III doesn’t have that same awe factor seen in the original game.
So the game’s visuals don’t pack the same punch as the first two games did, but they are still pretty damn good. I liked how just about everything in the environment was interactive. Swinging your blade at a table will smash it to pieces, shooting as a fixture of candles will extinguish the light in that area, and there are even chandeliers and bookcases you can drop on your enemies. I may or may not have spent a few minutes in a particular tomb just shooting arrows willy-nilly around to see what I could break (moreover, there’s an achievement tied to environmental destruction!). Everything runs smoothly as well, never slowing down with the action like past games (you know what I’m talking about if you played with a Necromancer online), so that’s a big plus.
The story of Diablo III is up in the air with me. I have gone on rants with people gushing over how much I loved the story of the first two games. Diablo’s corruption ruining the happy ending of the first game, and the chaos created by Baal in the second causing a war between Heaven and Hell is just awesome writing. Diablo III will really need to impress me with its narrative, because after the Beta things aren’t looking too intriguing. Deckard Cain is still doing well in the game, with his niece Leah making her first appearance and not nearly as badass as Deckard (he raps for god’s sake!). The story has you exploring familiar locations like Tristram, and has you killing (again) the Skeleton King Leoric (who was responsible for the destruction of Tristram).I like the nod to past lore and am interested in seeing the direction the game takes.Tyrael and the angels should play a large role, and I wonder if we’ll see Baal or Mephisto rear their ugly heads again. Time will tell, but I’m optimistic.
What to look forward to
There were plenty of features that weren’t available in the Beta. The Auction House will allow players to buy and sell just about anything they come across the in the game to each other, which could be a godsend given how many weapons/armors/items that can be randomly generated. Skills were not all available due to a level cap of 13 and most abilities being unlocked with further gameplay. PvP wasn’t a thing yet (unless I just somehow missed it). Banners that you create and customize to represent your character during multiplayer sessions (among other things) were not entirely available to customize in much the same fashion as skills were limited. Rushing (getting a character leveled extremely quickly) wasn’t a thing yet, and I honestly don’t know if it will be a thing for this game.
Overall the Diablo III Beta was just that: a Beta. It was a chance for Blizzard to test out how much stress the game is going to bring to its servers while giving the fans a chance to lap up every bit of the game before it’s full retail release on May 15th. Things were limited (as they are in every Beta) but what was there was entertaining, intriguing, and left me wanting so much more. I can see this game being a huge success due to its simple yet addictive gameplay, that “just one more level” attitude, and a multiplayer game that’s a blast to play with friends. I cannot wait for this game to come out, and if this Beta has done anything it has just given me an appetizer for the main course I so desperately crave. Bring it on, Blizzard, I’m ready to click away
hours days of my life.