Diablo III Beta Impressions: Your Idle Hands Will Soon Belong to Diablo

For those of us who have been pouting and kicking dirt around, complaining about how Diablo III looked too much like World of Warcraft, or how it was taking oh so long to have a release date, I’ve got some news for you. It’s coming, and it’s spectacular. From what I saw in the beta (that ended May 1) – a beta that comprised roughly 3% of the game, if you can believe what you read on the Internet – I can safely say that I’m about to lose a chunk of my life in the next few weeks. Forget blacking out from drinking: I’m about to go on a full Diablo III binge.

Platforms: PC
Publisher: Blizzard
Developer: Blizzard
Genre: CRPG – Click-Happy Role Playing Game
Release Date: May 15, 2012
ESRB Rating: Mature

So what’s the same? Well, you’ve still got everyone’s favorite chatter, Deckard Cain (“Good day!”), and the same sort of gameplay: click click click, walk walk walk, gather gold, kill monsters. You still pick up quests, gain experience and level up, fight monsters, and have the option to team up with others locally or online to fight your way through the adventure. The game looks and feels smoother than ever, and while it’s got more color, it certainly still looks like a Diablo game.

What’s different? Well, just about everything else. There are new character classes (including the Witch Doctor), a new way to develop your skill tree, all new primary and secondary options for your weapons, and now you must be connected to the Internet constantly just to play the game. While this spawned a lot of controversy, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be changing anytime soon. After all, it’s Blizzard – not BioWare. You don’t scare them.

There are five character classes total, and each one can be played as male or female. While it probably doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to be able to play either gender, this is a huge change for the Diablo series. Instead of having the stereotype of males as melee and females as spellcasters, you’ve now got the choice – with really great character models – to make whatever combination you want. The classes themselves are interesting, while not that much different from those in previous games. The Witch Doctor is the new Necromancer, but far more disgusting and interesting (here’s hoping Corpse Explosion returns). The Barbarian is great for hack-and-slash, and the Monk is good for melee, fulfilling the desire of those who like their gameplay more physical. The Wizard is here to replace the old Sorceress (my personal favorite), while the Demon Hunter is reminiscent of the assassin, quick and deadly. The classes are general enough to have something that appeals to everyone, while being specific enough to tailor to your precise role-playing needs.

Aside from the character classes, the new skill tree is perhaps the most obvious change. Instead of gaining skill points and choosing which part of the tree to follow, as you did in Diablo II, you now unlock abilities in your skill tree and can choose which ones you want to use. So, for example, if you unlock a new primary ability you like, you can go into your skill tree and reassign your buttons so that it becomes your new primary. This seems severely limiting when compared to Diablo II, but there’s still some potential there for growth and choices.

While there is that aforementioned potential, the replayability becomes severely limited by this change. If you unlock all of the skills in each class and are able to switch between them after unlocking them, that changes the dynamic of the series. There’s no need to go back and replay a character, making different decisions in the skill tree (for example, in Diablo II, the Sorceress had several different types of magic in her skill tree, and each one made the playthrough different). Once you’ve played all the characters and unlocked everything possible, there’s not much of a reason to go back and replay them… unless you just want to replay the game on Nightmare. But even that is far more finite than the plethora options you had in Diablo and Diablo II.

The beta was relatively simple: you have to save your good pal Deckard Cain, and while you’re at it, do some side missions for the greater good of the people of New Tristram. I played the female barbarian, whose powerful thighs could intimidate even the beefiest of professional wrestlers. She starts out basically naked, but as you pick up generic pieces of armor, they change into more suitable pieces to fit her frame. I had a mace that lit my enemies on fire, which was something I enjoyed profusely. There are also some good statistics that pop up as you go through your inventory, showing you if an item is more powerful than what you’ve already got equipped.

One of the most impressive things I noticed playing through the beta was the environments themselves. They are more destructible than in previous games, with even more places to smash and find items. In one scene, as I was wandering around, I felt a thrill as monsters began crawling up from over the side of a cliff face, turning into a menacing flood that I dispatched as quickly as possible. There’s so much going on here graphically, and I’m eager to see what other beautiful tricks Blizzard has up its sleeve.

If you had any reservations at all about Diablo III, all I can tell you is that I, too, had my doubts, but playing the beta assuaged them all. I will be among the many faithful, patient legions who will be spinning the disc up the day the game comes out. It’s all we’ve been waiting for and more, and with what promises to be a gluttonous amount of content, I daresay that it’s been worth the monstrous wait. Prepare to meet your doom yet again, Diablo. It’s been a long time coming.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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