Diablo 3 Beta ImpressionsSeptember 20, 2011
While the public beta of Diablo 3 has just started, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of playing the closed beta for the past couple of weeks. “Beta” is kind of a misnomer here, though; the word is thrown around so often that it has lost all meaning. What you’ll get is access to all 5 of the character classes (Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor, and Wizard) and the ability to play up to the first major boss, the Skeleton King. Think of the Diablo 3 beta as the appetizer—just a tantalizing taste before a sumptuous meal.
That’s not to suggest that there isn’t plenty to do in the Diablo 3 beta, however. There are scores of enemies to click into oblivion, tons of loot to collect, and a pretty good amount of areas to explore. Like the previous game, most of the environments are randomly generated, although I did notice some key areas are fixed across all play-throughs. You’ll start near the town of New Tristram, but you won’t waste any time before you’re slaughtering the risen dead en masse.
Diablo 3 takes quite a few cues from World of Warcraft, for better or worse. It’s most noticeable in the user interface; the map, HUD, and even the design of the menus recall WoW. For my part, having only played a small amount of Diablo II, it is a welcome change, and makes the game extremely easy to manage quest goals, locations, and inventory. Handy items like the Cauldron of Jordan allow you to sell items from the field, not unlike the pets in Torchlight, and you can even break down items into crafting components with the click of a button. All of this usability allows you to get to the action and the loot, and isn’t that what Diablo 3 is all about?
Let me assuage any doubts about Diablo 3 that you may have had right here—this is an intensely satisfying and addictive game. Blizzard is one of those companies that takes forever to release a game, but that’s because they spend those months and years getting everything “just so”. Diablo 3 feels complete already (at least, as complete as any PC game), and the game feels right, from the movement speed of the characters to the bone-crunching feel of smashing through hordes of undead. Abilities are easy to swap in and out, although I would like to note that the game feels a bit on the easy side at this time. In my first run through the content, I died twice, and one of those was due to my neglect of the health potions. Part of the ease of difficulty comes from the fact that enemies now drop health orbs randomly, and in the beta these orbs drop often, almost eliminating the need for health potions. Of course, this varies by character class, and I did have a much tougher time managing enemies as the wizard. My barbarian, on the other hand, is an axe-wielding personification of death, even at level 10.
Also featured in the beta is the crafting system, which is a pretty cool addition to the Diablo franchise. I normally steer far away from crafting in games, but Diablo 3 makes it easy and rewarding, not unlike the crafting in (you guessed it) World of Warcraft. You’ll find materials and recipes in the field, but you can also use an item to break down useless loot into crafting materials. Then it’s just a quick jump back to town to craft up some awesome gear; nearly every piece of armor that my main character has was crafted. It doesn’t take any time at all, and even the most casual players should be able to make some decent stuff for their characters. The mind boggles at the type of epic gear that will be possible to create once the game launches.
Thankfully, that epic gear is going to look incredible, too. Diablo 3 is a gorgeous game, even at lower settings. I’m playing it on a fairly recent laptop that is by no means a gaming machine, and I’ve been able to run it at mid to high levels with wonderful results. The environments are intricately detailed, with tons of little touches that smash apart in oh-so-lovely ways as you pillage in the pursuit of gold and treasures. The characters are big and detailed, and the art design creates the dark, creepy vibe that fans were hoping for. Forget about those early complaints that angry gamers had about Diablo 3 looking “bright and cartoony”—this is a grimy, blood-soaked adventure. Add in some incredible sound design (oh, such delightful squishing and gurgling the enemies make!) and you have the real deal.
As is par for the course with Blizzard games, it will be released “when it’s done”. Fortunately for aspiring dungeon hunters everywhere, Diablo III is looking like it will be done any time now.
Check back soon as we delve into the wild, wacky world of multiplayer.