Diablo III beta impressions

by: Chuck -
More On: Diablo III
For some reason I was selected as one of the lucky ones who gets to play the Diablo III beta first. This is probably causing much consternation to Mr. John Yan as this franchise is near and dear to his heart. More invites will be going out in waves as Blizzard ensures that their system can handle the load. This is a good thing as my first attempt to sign on and download the beta resulted in waiting on the Battle.net website load. One hockey game later and everything was up and running smoothly.

The beta allows you to play each of the five classes of the game through the first act of the game. Since I’m a melee kind of guy I picked the Barbarian and entered New Tristram. It turns out that something has fallen from the sky and landed in the Cathedral of New Tristan and has caused the dead to rise. So yeah, zombies. The goal of the first act is to recover the fallen item although there’s not a lot of detail as to why (or I skipped over it in my zest to start the game).

The core Diablo mechanics are there and the familiar clicking to move, attack, kill, check inventory, and what not are all there. You will want to learn the hotkeys as you progress but the first few levels can be played with a beverage in your non-mouse hand.

As your character levels up you gain new skills and unlock skill slots to use them (initially you’re limited to only two slots but a third unlocks around level five). The game does a fantastic job of introducing you to the core mechanics and new features without forcing you to go through a tutorial. There are gentle guides there if you need them but honestly if you’ve played one of the previous games you already know what you’re doing and the game seems to recognize that.

I will admit the first twenty minutes or of the game were a little underwhelming. Sure it’s Diablo with updated graphics but it just felt like the same game I’d played before wrapped up in a shiney new package. Then slowly but surely the game started to unfold all of the cool little things it has in store for folks.

The physics really add to the feeling of the game. There’s nothing like doing so much damage to a zombie that the various bits explode all over the screen. Another cool example is that there are places where you can use the environment to take out a group of enemies. One example is in part of the cathedral where a few boards are holding up a section of the wall, if you take them out the wall crumbles and falls on them. When you search a bookshelf, a book doesn’t just flip onto the floor, the entire bookshelf collapses and you search the ruins. Some

Other nice modern touches abound like the ability to immediately turn an item into gold instead of humping it back to town to sell. It’s certainly nice to get rid of all the misc crap that you find along the way and it’s something that most modern games of this type have been doing for a while in someway or another.

The game does give you an alternative to gold which is that you could break that item down into core components, and then have the the Blacksmith turn them into something better when you unlock him later in the game. Items break down into Common Scrap and if they are magical you also get Subtle Essence. The blacksmith can then mix these into new magicla items for you. I haven’t gotten far with the crafting but I’m guessing it will be as deep as the system in Diablo II once I get a little further in.

Another cool item is that when you discover new creatures you get a well done voice over that tells you a little about the monster.  The same with the journal entries.  Sure audio journals are all the rage after Bioshock but these are exceptionally well done and cleverly written.

Another interesting feature is that I was able to start playing the game before it had finished downloading to my computer. Once it got past the initial setup I was able to hop right in and start playing. I did get some odd skipping that felt like lag while playing the game (I reduced my video setttings a few notches and still had the same issue so it doesn’t seem to be a performance issue with my PC) and I’m hoping that it’s related to not waiting to install the full game or because of the server hit. I’ll double check tomorrow after the rest of the game (total install is around 3GB or so). Turns out that it was streaming and once I downloaded everything it played perfectly without skipping. Pretty cool that you can play before the thing completely downloads though.

I will have to say that I love my little Barbarian. Instead of mana he has rage which builds as he attacks enemies. Once you get enough mana you can start unleashing his more powerful attacks which is where the real fun starts. The game rewards you for wiping out large numbers of monsters with XP bonuses so it’s worth your effort to find large groups of bad guys and go nuts. The only downside is that you sometimes get overwhelmed and die but death penalty isn’t to harsh (10% drop in the durability of your items) and you can re-start almost immediately.

I haven’t had the chance to try playing it online with others yet but I’m hoping to try that as more people (including John) get access to the beta.

Those first disappointing twenty minutes quickly melted away as I was consumed by the game. This was the first time in a long time that I’ve actually had a “gaming blackout” where I completely lost track of what time it was. It got to the point where I finally had to force myself to quit the game to see what time it was. It turned out it was well over two hours and well past 1:00AM. I’m going to be playing a lot of Diablo III over the next few weeks but before I do I’m setting up a clock so I don’t lose track of time again.