Diablo III is a game that millions of gamers, including myself, have been anticipating for over a decade now. I used to dream about what this game would look like and how it would play compared to Diablo I & II, as well as what exciting new things it would bring to the table. Well after patiently waiting for all these years, I was finally able to give the game a shot thanks to Blizzard’s open beta that went live over the weekend. I was only given a small taste of the full game, but all I can say is that I liked what I saw. So stay a while and listen to my initial impressions of what will be one of this year’s biggest releases.
Now just to make one thing clear, I am currently without a gaming PC so unfortunately I had to play the beta on my less than stellar laptop. The game ran, but it was graphically sup-par and the frame rate dropped into the depths of Hell when there was too much action on the screen. So I will avoid mentioning too much how things looked as it’s not representative of what the game is actually capable of (the screenshots throughout will show as much). So while it wasn’t a pretty sight, I still trudged on so that I could see what mattered most to me, the gameplay, music and story.
So I loaded up the beta and right off the bat I liked the new character selection screen/dashboard. I could see my character, his stats, inventory, achievements, etc. It it is definitely an improvement over the old games and really streamlines the experience. I ended up choosing the Barbarian class and jumped into the first act. And then it hit me, that familiar acoustic tune that anyone that’s played Diablo will recognize, the theme of Tristram. Although newer and more fleshed out, it instantly set the mood and I felt right at home. The series has always had an amazing soundtrack and the third game is no different. I started my adventure by fighting off some lone zombies to get me accustomed to the combat. I quickly noticed that attacks have a lot more force behind them now; you can really feel the impact of your hits and they feel brutal. The enemies also react more and you can tell that they’re being damaged by your blows.
You will also quickly notice that the mana orb is no longer used by every class, in fact only the Witchdoctor class uses it for his spells. I didn’t get a chance to see what everyone uses, but my Barbarian had a Fury orb that filled as I attacked and took damage, allowing me to perform strong special moves. I do like this change as it fits the class well and makes the Barb a very powerful starting character with very little downtime. After slaying the zombies, I made it to New Tristram, a town basically built around the remains of the original. Like the past games, this is basically your hub where you get new quests and supplies. And just like previous games, New Tristram was filled with plenty of fully voiced villagers lamenting over the catastrophe that has befallen them.
The basic story so far is at this point is that a fallen star has crashed into the cathedral where Diablo first made his appearance back in the original game. Deckard Cain, the lovable old sage, had been studying there with his niece Leah when it happened and so it was now up to me to go find him. By this point in the game I realized that a lot of my fears about how Diablo III would end up were put to rest. The graphical style was not as cartoony as I expected and it was still just as dark and broody as ever. This wasn’t Diablo for casuals, this was the true sequel to one of gaming’s classic series. The beta eventually lead me to various locations such as cemeteries and dungeons which were all pretty well realized and fun to explore. Thankfully, that’s one aspect of Diablo that Blizzard got totally right.
Besides the nice locations and good story developments, there are a lot of nice tweaks which I also want to mention. For one, it appears that customizing your attribute points is a thing of the past. While some may have enjoyed the freedom, I would never know how to properly balance my characters stats and always felt that I was gimping my character. In Diablo III, I felt that my character was getting stronger with every level and it was nice not having to spend time thinking where to put my next stat point into. To offset this change, though, Blizzard introduced runes that can alter the effects of attacks and spells. So for example, my level 10 Barbarian’s runes, weapons and skills were set up to be able to stun enemies consistently. Another player of the same level might focus instead on dealing more damage or stealing health. While characters are not customized by stats anymore, they are still heavily customized by everything else; a nice change in my opinion.
In addition to that, your runes and and skills can be switched out at any time in order to better fit the situation. A good example with the Barbarian class is that he starts off with a Bash attack for single enemies and a then learns a Cleave attack for multiple enemies; I would switch between them depending on what I had to deal with. Assigning skills to the mouse and hot bar is also much more intuitive and streamlined than it ever was in Diablo II, another nice change. In addition to all of that, there’s the new health globes that can drop off enemies and quickly heal you, keeping the action fast and reducing potion spamming. There was also other things like the new crafting system which I didn’t get to play around with that much, and dozens of other small tweaks that improved the overall game but which I’ll leave for you to experience.
Finally, the last part of the beta I tried out was the multiplayer which was quite good. While there were of course issues with lag since the servers were getting hammered, the overall experience was pretty smooth. A new feature that I really appreciated is that the locations of other players is always made clear through these little flags in Tristam; these can also be used to instantly warp to their location for easy grouping. Since this was a timed beta, most of my teammates were just rushing through the game and skipping enemies, but even so it was still fun grouping up and destroying anything in our path.
The beta ended with an epic fight against the Skeleton King himself, the late King Leoric; which was a great story development for those who played the original game back in the day. In the end, after playing for almost 4 hours and hitting level 10 on my Barbarian, I gotta say that I’m very excited for the final game and hope to pick it up on May 15. Diablo is definitely back and it’s just as awesome as I remember it.