Two weeks ago I received my invitation to the closed beta for Diablo 3, the much-anticipated next chapter in the extremely popular Diablo series. Blizzard does not disappoint. During the open beta last weekend, I had the chance to continue helping Blizzard stress test their servers with a few friends via Battle.net.
In a departure from earlier Diablo games, D3 will only be playable with an internet connection, which has many in the gaming community upset. Blizzard’s reasoning for this direction seems to be twofold: not only does it limit their losses due to piracy, it also helps them prevent people from hacking game files to boost characters and grant items, which would give them an unfair advantage on Battle.net. Thus far, I have no complaints about the online-only nature of this game. As time goes on, I doubt many people will feel differently. These days, internet outages are few and far between.
Lets get to the meat-and-potatoes of the game. There are five classes: Barbarian, Wizard, Witch Doctor, Monk, and Demon Hunter. Here are some quick thoughts on each class from my perspective. I encourage you to visit the official site for videos and ability lists for each of the classes.
Wizard – The spells are dynamic, graphically stunning, and just flat-out fun to use. Each version of every spell (changed via the “rune” system) has its own animation, which I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate. Your left mouse ability will generally have a low cost, and is a great go-to while your resource pool is quickly auto-filling. Right mouse will hold a mana guzzling ability that packs quite a wallop. Currently the spells available through hot keys also consume a fair bit of mana, but it depends on which spells you select. One of my favorite little things about the Wizard class is the sparkly purple mana pool (called Arcane Power). It differs from the Witch Doctor, but not in the way it is used.
Demon Hunter – This is a ranged class, but it has a rogue-like style of gameplay. It can fire point-blank or make use of slowing abilities while destroying from afar. The abilities are extremely unrealistic from a “reloading” stand point, but let’s be honest; this is all high fantasy anyway! The hatred/discipline duel resource pools were an interesting design choice, but unique and fun. Hatred refills quickly, while discipline takes a bit longer.
Monk – A hard hitting melee class with some visually appealing abilities — this class really packs a punch. If you are an fan of close-range fighters, this one is for you. Your left mouse skill generates spirit (akin to warrior rage), and right mouse skills quickly spend it.
Witch Doctor – I won’t say I’m disappointed with this class, because I believe there is a lot of potential here, but for some reason it just isn’t as much fun. Throwing jars of spiders is unique and creative, but just doesn’t seem to be as fun as shooting, chopping, punching, or blasting the mobs. I am reserving final judgment until I can play to max level, but as of this moment, it is my least favorite class. All credit to the designers for their creativity, though. A quick note about mana: left mouse skills have just a small mana expenditure that is quickly outstripped by the very fast mana regeneration, which makes me wonder why they even bother giving those spells a mana cost in the first place. You can use it constantly and still regain mana. Right mouse and the hot keys will control heavy-hitter spells and summons.
Barbarian – I saved this one for last so my words would have maximum impact on anyone trying to decide which class to play. I don’t usually play warrior classes. I don’t find them nearly as much fun as spell-slingers. But in the case of Diablo 3, the Barbarian is amazing! Left mouse will hold a Fury Generation ability, while your other skill slots will focus on ways to spend it. As one would expect, fury does subside over time, so keep swinging!
In short, I am even more excited to play all the classes come May 15th, and this is the first game in my career to make me feel that way. Usually I pick my squishy mage and that’s it, but right now I fully intend to play all of them. I was only able to play to level 13 in the Beta, but having achieved level 13 with all five classes, I eagerly look forward to reaching max level with all of them.
There are male and female options for each class, but no way to further customize your avatar –which is fine with me. Each of the 10 character choices is fully voiced by a different actor, but there are no dialog choices (a la Dragon Age) — just a single, linear story line.
The User Interface (UI) is extremely simple. In a departure from games like Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, where you could easily fill up 6 bars with skills/abilities/consumables, D3 has a fantastically simple ability selection system. You can bind skills to the left and right mouse buttons and the 1-4 action keys. Q serves to activate health potions. Early reviews have some gamers saying this is too simple, and that they don’t like being restricted, but I appreciate the simplicity. I don’t miss having 900 different buttons to click depending on the situation, which generally just leads to gamer stress.
One of my favorite parts of this game, as silly as it may sound, is that gold is automatically picked up when you walk over it. It makes me want to kiss the developers. It’s that awesome.
Town portal is a spell you get around level 6, and it has unlimited uses (read: no scrolls).
Item identification is currently only needed on rare (yellow/gold) items. A quick right-click and 2.5 seconds of waiting identifies the item for you (again: no scrolls!).
For you min-maxers out there, the UI has a “details” button which provides more information about the game than its predecessors. Blizzard wised up and realized that making such an option available would really win over their more cerebral and hard-core players while still keeping things simple for more casual players.
Battle.net play is seamless. Playing with friends is as simple as two clicks. You are immediately put into their game, and all your quests are brought up to exactly where your friend is. Much of my time in the Beta was spent in public games, joining three random strangers for a dungeon rush of the last quest (The Skeleton King). One of my favorite parts: if you get separated from the group, and you need to catch up, you simply teleport back to town. It dumps you out at the waypoint location, which is surrounded by players’ banners. Clicking on one of the banners will instantly teleport you to that player’s location. Brilliant!
If you are a fan of the Diablo series, high fantasy, swords-and-sorcery, or just good games, you need to pick this up. This is a graphically beautiful game with enhancements that will forever change gaming.
Blizzard has done it again.
See you all in Hell!
Writer: Christopher Daniels
Editor: Jeff Boehm