By: Leland Flynn III
Friends, I have a dark secret. I have played both but never completed the games in the Diablo series. I was young and very much into RTS games when Diablo was big (still am really). Before you burn me at the stake for heresy, give me a moment to gush if you would. I’ve always had fond memories of the first two games, but never quite made my way through them. If Diablo III is any indication of the world that Blizzard has been building over the past 15 years, then I have missed out on something amazing. I will soon be rectifying in preparation for this new release in attempt to atone for my transgressions but, enough about my pile-of-shame. On to the good stuff.
I may not know the lore of this series as well as most, but I know the feel of a Diablo game. There have been many clones, even a few very good ones (*glances in Torchlight’s direction*) but none can really compete. Within the first 20 minutes I felt like I was right back at 13 years old, clicking my way through a rich and dangerous world.
You probably don’t need me to tell you but, Blizzard is making something really special here. I was instantly sucked in by the ambiance created by Mario Vaira’s musical score; it is absolutely entrancing. This is even truer for the graphics and level design. This game evokes so much of the originals in its approach to art; characters and environments take on an almost painted quality. Even on my modest machine it looks absolutely stunning. The painstaking labor put into this game is evident in the most minor of details; from the lighting to the textures to the intricate dungeons, everything tells you that this world is alive and very much real.
During my quest I picked up a few companions, people with business to handle, some with fears to lay to rest, and others with missions to accomplish. Few games do so much to make their secondary characters feel alive outside of the times when they are important to the story. Diablo III is nothing if not thorough. Often while skulking through a dark crypt or dank dungeon one of my new friends might just strike up a philosophical (and simultaneously literal) question about the natures of dark and light or divulge some deep truth about their self. These are minor details sure but that’s the point, these are the things that really flesh out a story and a character, little things that give them some weight in the mind of the player.
I made it a point to explore as much of the beta release as I could. As of now I have played through the entire thing about 3 times. It can be knocked out in about 2 hours if you’re quick about it, but I made it a point to explore every crack and crevice that I could and was averaging about 3 hours per game. The three classes that interested me most were the Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter, and the Monk. I would have liked to play through all available classes but time was just not on my side there.
By far my favorite experience was with the Witch Doctor. As a pet/summoner class, the Witch Doctor is able to deal staggering amounts of damage and generally hang back and cast on his enemies. While relatively weak when it comes to direct combat he is certainly not defenseless. I really enjoyed exploring the dungeons in the beta with my zombie dog pets. My least favorite class was by far the Demon Hunter. This is mostly a matter of personal taste though as it played quite well. The Demon Hunter favors ranged attacks and traps that slow enemies and deal minor damage. I had expected to really enjoy this class but as I made my way through the dungeons I noticed that I was burning through health potions just to stay alive even as I collected an ever impressive set of armor. I’ll definitely be playing this class again in the final game though as it was ultimately a very action-oriented one. The class that surprised me the most here had to be the Monk. I enjoy melee classes from time to time but what I had seen in preview videos of the Monk in action did not excite me in the slightest. The Monk brings a play-style to the table that feels really fresh. He is able to deal large amounts of damage up close while still being quite nimble. If you’re unsure of what to play when the game comes out and think you might like something a bit different I would highly recommend giving him a try.
Combat is addictive and fast-paced and the special attacks that I leveled up with all of my characters felt very satisfying to use. I did find some attacks or abilities that felt downright useless but these were few in number and thanks to the game’s streamlined and open skill tree these are infinitely ‘respecable’. You should never find yourself stuck in some build that didn’t turn out how you had hoped. I’m sure most of you have seen this in gameplay videos by now but most dungeons are not shy about providing the player with destructible environmental traps. It felt really good to wait for a small army of skeletons to follow me into position so that I could hit a worn beam with an attack and crush them under the weight of a crumbling wall. A major gripe that I had though was with the crafting system. Functionally it’s just fine, even fun if you’re into that sort of thing (I am.) but I never seemed to produce or acquire recipes for any useful items. It’s entirely possible that this was intentional in the beta so that players weren’t just grinding for loot, crafting up the best gear and then plowing through the game. I do hope that this isn’t an issue in the full release though, if so I really couldn’t see much benefit to using it at all.
Overall I was highly impressed with this beta and I wouldn’t have expected anything less. There are certainly still some improvements to be made and balance issues to be smoothed out but this beta left me wanting more. The music in this game is near perfect in delivering just the right mix of tension and grandiosity. The graphics evoke the style of the original games to an almost eerie degree while still looking stunning and modern. The combat feels classic in its implementation without being boring or dry and the classes bring very modern, nuanced and interesting play-styles to the series that defined a genre. I feel confident in saying that not only will Diablo III raise the bar for Action-RPGs but it will redefine the genre.