Hands-On Preview: Diablo 3 Beta (PC)

For those that don’t know, Diablo is an Action RPG made by Blizzard Entertainment. I am fortunate enough to be included in the beta test that they currently have going on. Thankfully, they do not have an NDA, and are encouraging everyone in the beta to talk to their friends. This is a very smart business move in my opinion, not that Diablo really needs to be talked up. After all, if you have never heard about it or played it, you’ve lived under a gaming rock for a while. Keep in mind that this is a demo which only covers about a third of the first act at most. This is written from my own gameplay, with no research whatsoever into what may come out or change between now and the game’s eventual release date.

Graphics

First off, I have to say that this game is beautiful. From the rundown buildings to the trees, the environments look amazing. The character models….well they’re not quite as good. Don’t get me wrong, they still look great, but I think they could have done better. They are, for sure, a step up from D1 or D2, but overall I think they look a bit on the bland side. I also have a bit of a pet peeve with character models who, when talking to each other or have dialogue with a vendor, don’t actually look like they are talking. Is it really too much trouble in this day and age to get the lips to move on a character? I would like to think not, especially when the environments are so stunning. Another nitpick is that you can zoom in on your character, but it is a set zoom. In this day and age, is it really that hard to give me an adjustable zoom and free camera to look around the environment? Again, I think not.

Gameplay

The gameplay here is standard Diablo fare. You use the mouse to move, attack, open things, etc. Thankfully you can map your keybinds to pretty much any key of your choosing, along with the mouse or keyboard. Mouse buttons one and two are generally used for your attacks. When clicking on an enemy, you can execute your moves on your foes. For me, I use button one for my attacks that ramp up your spirit, and button two for moves that use your spirit. As you progress in the game, you open up more skills that you can map to either button, or to the hotbar at the bottom of the screen. The way skills are done is a bit wonky in my honest opinion. You gain skills at certain levels, but you can’t use ALL the skills you gain all the time. Here is where you have what I will call skill slots. As you progress in levels, you gain these slots at certain times. In these slots you can place a skill, but you only get five slots total (at least at this juncture). It kind of irked me at first, but then as I played the game, I realized that most of the skills they give you, are things you probably won’t use anyway. So having full access to them all, at all times, really isn’t necessary. I’ve actually found that, so far, I only use two skills at most: one to heal, and another to attack with. MAYBE I’ll use the occasional defensive skill on the hotbar, but usually it’s just the ones I hit the mouse with. At this point, my character is level twelve and I have three of the six skill slots open, four of the six spirit generator skills, six of the eleven spirit depleting skills, and two of the four mantra skills available to me. (Mantra skills spend spirit for a limited duration buff, placed on the hotbar when selected into a skill slot).
At level ten you get a passive skill, and every ten levels thereafter you get another passive skill. (10, 20, 30. At this time anyway, it stops at 30.) Passive skills have their own slots and are active all the time. There are eleven of these and at level twelve, I currently have three of them to choose from.

You can switch these skills out at any time, so being limited to a certain amount only stinks if you are going to use a ton of these skills, but you probably won’t. My guess is that, like me, you will find a few that resonate with you or at least suit your playstyle, and you’ll use those alone. Heck, I barely ever use the mantras just because I’m too busy just beating the doors down with the two regular skills I love.

As far as death goes, at this level it’s just a durability loss. I’d assume, like D2, at the higher levels, you’ll may have a gold penalty and/or xp penalty.

Here’s where I get on a soapbox about customization.

Apparently, there isn’t any at this time. You don’t level up anything, at all, ever. Again, this is a beta and some things are not implemented. I know they are supposed to have some kind of system where you can customize your skills with runes, but apparently, they didn’t want us to get that much of a first look at that part of the game. Also, you cannot, at any time, allocate stat points. You get what you get, when you get it. To me, this is all but idiotic. You want to play a Barbarian who dodges rather than using armor and brute force? Nope. Granted, I had no problem with hit points, killing things, etc, but as an RPG player, the fact that I can’t allocate points the way I see fit just boggles my mind and really gets under my damn skin, especially since this was a mainstay in D1 and 2. It’s part of the fun of building your own character.

The experience system is pretty standard for the most part. You kill things, you get experience. You do quests, you get experience. The Developers have also incorporated a few twists like, “If you kill X number of enemies with one blow, you get extra XP. If you kill X number of enemies within a certain time, you get extra XP. If you kill X number of enemies with the environment, you get extra XP.”

Yes you read that correctly; you can kill things with your environment. If that wall looks too rickety to stand on its own, you’re probably right. Knock that sucker down and let it fall on your enemies. Not only is it satisfying–it gives you extra XP! If that chandelier looks like it could fall, there’s probably somewhere you can release it from. The breakables in the game are EVERYWHERE. Not all of them do damage to foes, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that one of the most fun parts of this game is breaking things and watching the debris fly. Unlike D1 and 2, where if you hit the alt key all breakables highlight, this button( or wherever you map it to, mines button four on the mouse) now just highlights drops and gold.

On my third playthrough, I finally realized something. Every dungeon I went into was not only randomly generated, but there were also different things to do almost every time. I found two quests, one in each of the playthroughs, that were definitely not there the first time around. I think that’s pretty kick ass. Also on the first playthrough you get a follower, who helps you kill things after you rescue him from his situation. I found this made the game almost too easy to play. After gaining him, I had zero worries of dying. You can choose whether or not to use him as well. If you do not use him, he will wait in town until you want to go get him. Another cool thing I found was that after I didn’t use him on the second time through the demo, on my third playthrough his quest was still in the game, but there was dialogue making it seem like he was another templar just waiting for you and your compatriot to come save him. I thought it was pretty forward thinking for the devs to let the two templars have a conversation basically explaining away why you already have him in your party but yet a duplicate person is still needing to be saved.

It made me chuckle.

Treasure and Crafting

Yep, crafting. With D3 comes some more changes, but I think you will agree, these are for the better.

At an early level you get an item called the Cauldron of Jordan. With this cauldron, you can sell equipment for gold. If you sell something by mistake, relax. Just go back to town and hit up a vendor as your sold stuff shows up on their buyback lists. Think of the cauldron as a travelling vendor that you can only sell to. But as you’ll find out, you may not want to use this as much as you think.

The next item you get at another point in the game is The Nephelem Cube. This neat little artifact breaks down your treasure into materials for crafting. At this point in the demo I have seen three different types of crafting materials but have only used two of the three types.

You unlock the blacksmith with a quest. After this quest, this becomes your crafting place. Thankfully, after one playthrough, not only is the blacksmith always there, he is shared across your characters so you will only ever have to open him once. After he is opened you can craft “apprentice” items. When crafted, you use X and Y materials to make whatever you choose at the time. The item gets two or more random stats. For Example–at level one, I had my blacksmith make me Apprentice Rope Fists. He works his crafting magic and voila: they come with 12.5 dps, +18 to attack, and the sell value is increased by 325%. I thought, “Hey that’s nifty, but sell value is meh. What else can I get?” I craft again and this time I get 12.5 dps, +25 to attack and +3 to base XP. Of course then I remember that I’m playing a monk and can just use both, one on each hand. So as you can see, crafting is probably going to be the best way to get your phat loots. You also collect what are called Training Pages as you break things, search pedastals and rummage through bookshelves. When you collect five, they create a book. You bring this book to your blacksmith along with some gold and it gives him some XP towards his next level of crafting. Do this repeatedly, and this is how you level up your ability to make better Armor and Weapons. As far as treasure drops go, what I got at the beginning was absolute crap compared to what I ended up crafting. If you disassemble almost everything, you’ll have PLENTY of mats for crafting. At this point in the game, you only have a blacksmith but I know later on you will also have two more artisans to craft other things. Believe me, I still had plenty of cash to spend on storage…..

So, here’s the deal with storage. Instead of the old, “Here’s your box; this is how much you can store.” It’s now, “Here’s your box, it costs X gold to expand this box to Y.” You can expand it four or five times I believe, before you can open yet ANOTHER box. As it looks right now, it looks as though you can open up a total of five boxes, or tabs, beyond the first. These work the same as D2. Whatever you put in takes up X amount of blocks, thus using up space. A great thing about this storage as well is that it is also shared throughout the game with your other characters. So say you find this kick ass item with your monk for your sorcerer, you no longer have to cry. You just throw it in your box, log into your sorcerer and wham! There it is!

Overall, the gold drops are many but they are low in gold (anywhere from one gold to twentyish with each drop in my three playthroughs). You definitely won’t be hurting for gold but it’s not as easy to come by as past games. But again, this is a demo and only very early in the game. Items are pretty much junk once you get to a certain level in crafting. I can see that just from my playthroughs that I’ve got under my belt right now, but that’s ok since those drops turn into mats and cash money. With three plays of the demo, I got my blacksmith to level two, so it will be interesting to see what happens when we have access to the other artisans and how high the crafting goes.

More pet peeve time–

I think the biggest drawback for this game is going to be that you have to have a constant connection to the internet and always be logged into battle.net to play. Yep, if the server is down for whatever reason, sucks to be you. If your ISP is giving you crap, sucks to be you. Hell, even with Steam, if Steam is down you can play offline. Not here buddy. No online, no play. Hopefully they add some opening movies and some opening music as well, because as of this demo, there isn’t any. I know that they want to save the story for the full game and cut out stuff so they wouldn’t spoil things, but no opening movie at all? Not even to showcase the game? Kind of a bummer.

Closing Thoughts

Overall I’d have to say that this game is addicting as hell. If you were a fan of Diablo or D2, I’m pretty sure you’re planning on buying this game. If not, you really want to. I’ve had this game for a few days and I’ve already begun thinking about how many hours of my life are going to go into it. Three playthroughs of a demo? That’s pretty impressive. Not only did I love killing enemies and completing quests, I loved finding bits that weren’t there the first time, and smashing things is always fun. Yes, it’s a huge bummer that I can’t allot my own skill points, and that without an internet connection you can’t play, but seriously, how often will the battle.net server go down? I’d say almost never. As it is now, most of the downtime is only on Tuesdays as this is the day they upgrade and maintain both Battle.net and WoW servers.

Bottom line–if you can get over the stat point thing and the Battle.net thing, you NEED this game.

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