Late to the party, but I still made it! A huge gaming event sort of snuck under everyone’s radar this weekend (the lack of sarcasm font is crippling to my writing!). Not sure if anyone heard, but the Diablo III Beta went public for 72 hours. Guess who’s got 2 thumbs, and managed to sneak in a couple hours of demon slaying in between server crashes and busy messages? Me! I also have a blog, so I figured I’d write about it. The problem is I think pretty much anyone with a computer and an internet connection also played it, so this may not be news…
I live in Japan, so the time difference ended up favoring me, as I could download the game overnight Friday without worrying about anything. After spending a few minutes creating a “Battletag,” which is somehow different from your battlenet account, but also necessary, I was able to log into the game problem-free (the first time, and first time only). The music was almost comically bombastic and epic. It felt like listening to the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack on x…or e…whatever the slang term for ecstasy is. Eventually, the music settled down into dark/brooding, and I was able to really get into the atmosphere. There are 5 playable classes, but I settled on the demon hunter. I’ll go into a bit more details later, but as a friend of mine put it, the class is basically a “dual crossbow wielding John Woo archer.” It’s sort of Vayne from LoL in Diablo form. The female monk looked hot though, and I was almost tempted to pick her, but I opted for the loner/badass routine. Quick sidenote. Characters have a banner flowing behind them, which the player can customize. The banners show up during multiplayer, and it’s a neat little touch to add a bit of personalized flair to your demon hunting. Character customization itself is completely absent from the game. You pick a class, sex, and a name. That’s it. I named my demon hunter Geraint, after a favorite knight of the roundtable, and logged in.
The game starts abruptly, jarringly so. No intro video or exposition at all. Your guy is just sort of on a dark road, and there ain’t but one direction to walk. I quickly learned left clicking moves your avatar, while right clicking, and later left clicking also, attacks enemies. The first path offers only generic zombie fodder for your demon hunter’s crossbow. Eventually a reached the walled town of New Tristram. Generic dark fantasy dialogue revealed a meteor fell onto the old town’s cathedral, and ever since then zombies and the like have been haunting the region. A few standard “kill this many of this enemy” quests lead your character around the town, and eventually you meet a woman named Leah, and learn her uncle, Diablo I and II’s Deckard Cain, is trapped in Old Tristram’s Cathedral. Without going into too many plot details, your first short term goal is to rescue Cain. Then it’s too explore the Cathedral and discover the nature of the fallen meteor. The exploration is basic dungeon crawling at its most basic. It sort of felt like a better-graphics clone of Diablo II. You just patrol corridor after corridor collecting items and chancing upon random-feeling bosses.
I was only able to play about 2 hours total, since server issues made it tough to access the game, but I’ll go into my general impressions of the journey, as limited as they are. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but the game feels old. It plays like a 10 year old game. Having a completely locked camera was a bit jarring after all the LoL I’ve been playing recently. Also, as far as I could tell there was no hotkey to cycle through mouse click attacks, which was a bit off putting. But that may be something that comes into play later on in the game, as I never got past the “holding your hand” portion. Speaking of, the game was very easy for the first couple of hours. Again, that might have been intentional for the beta, but I think I used a potion once towards the end there, as nothing really posed a challenge. Most of the enemies were zombies (normal ones, and fatter ones whose guts are filled with snakes) who then graduated to skeletons, ghosts, and meaner looking monsters. Diablo III is very pretty though. It is very dark, but the environments and characters look great. Blizz went all in with atmosphere and mood, and it paid off. My Alienware m11x laptop was able to play it on mostly moderate settings fine for the most part. There were a few slowdown moments when I played multiplayer with a friend though. The dungeons did get a bit repetitive, but that’s sort of the nature of crawling through them.
The demon hunter class was very fun to play. All the abilities I was able to learned are geared towards slowing enemies and/or evading them, so basically you’re a kite master. Your abilities use 2 energy pools. Magic abilities like caltrops (slow enemies who step on the circle) and dash (long-distance dodge roll) use mana. Your offensive attacks use “rage” or “hatred.” I honestly can’t remember which one it was, but both get the point across I think. My favorites was “rapid fire,” which just mowed enemies down. Other attacks caused chain damage or slowed groups of enemies. The basic key setup is 2 attacks to your mouse buttons, and then other abilities numbered 1-5, which are hot-keyed to the keyboard. Most of them are locked at the beginning, so the game really eases you into the advanced stuff and managing abilities.
My friend who joined me for a brief foray into multiplayer opted for the witch doctor class, which seemed fun from what I could gather. His simpler attacks poisoned enemies, though how you can poison an undead creature is beyond me… He also had a cool attack that threw a jar of spiders at groups of enemies, which crawled around and did damage. I think that was the culprit for the slowdown my computer was facing. “Firebats,” other than being a wink wink reference to Star Craft, was another cool attack where the witch doctor breathes a cone of fire onto enemies. He could also summon death hounds and curse the ground to cause damage to enemies. The demon hunter/witch doctor combo proved pretty effective as nothing could near us without dying first. I would definitely hype the multiplayer over the single player experience. Accessing the multiplayer was as easy as logging in and friending each other. The menus and all that are simple, but very intuitive and easy to use.
My only real complaint deals with the server issues, but again, it’s a free beta so I doubt it’s really indicative of how the actual game will play come launch. I got tons of different error messages at every stage from the title menu, to logging in, to selecting a character. I saw “Error” 3004” prompts in my sleep all weekend. Hopefully, that was just some scam for Blizzard to drum up interest and demand, and not an actual sign for how servers will perform come launch. Also not having any apparent hotkey to cycle through your mouse-click abilities was not very fun. Overall…I’m a bit ambivalent. The multiplayer was very fun, if not a bit too easy for the intro parts. However, it just didn’t feel like anything new. And with games like Torchlight available for about $10 or $15, I’m not sure if I’m willing to shell out $50 for Diablo III. Again, I only experienced the smallest portion of what the game has to offer. I have no idea how expansive the world actually is, or how deep the combat and multiplayer becomes towards the end game. But just judging by those first couple hours, nothing really gripped me. If dungeon crawling is your thing though, or if you were a big fan of Diablo II, I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Either way, Blizzard will make their millions, I’m sure.