When you say “Diablo”, something magic happens in the mind of a gamer. The storied hack-and-slash action title has ripped its way through history and earned a spot as one of the most influential and enjoyable PC games of all time. A tale of Heaven and Hell, Diablo brought communities together and allowed players to have countless hours of fun and stories to tell.
The problem with having a series so close to the hearts of millions is trying to repeat your success. The last Diablo title shipped in June of 2001. That’s TEN YEARS, people. When Diablo III was finally announced in 2008, I wasn’t sure if it was going to match the immense legacy its predecessor left behind. Announcement of a real money Auction House, the lack of mod support, and other decisions kinda steered me further away. A few days ago, I got a Closed Beta key.
Diablo III is, without a doubt, one of the best games to look forward to next year.
Preview: Diablo III
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
Release Date: TBA
At a first glance, you might not see a slew of things to set this game apart other than a solid graphical engine and some really nice physics. The UI looks pretty similar, the core gameplay is very familiar and if it wasn’t for all the details under the hood, along with the fact that the game is now in full 3D (as opposed to the semi-isometric but ultimately 2D games before it), you might not see what all the fuss is about.
I’ve invested a hefty amount of time into each of the five classes that Diablo III is planning to launch with, and I’m pleased to say that all of them feel pretty unique. Every class starts off very similarly, with only one basic direct attack. Just about every level until you hit 30, you’ll unlock a new ability that will pretty quickly ramp up your arsenal, but you won’t be able to use all of them. Instead, D3 takes a pretty big cue from Guild Wars: players are able to select a certain number of abilities, with the ability to have more skills at one time as your level increases, up to a maximum of 6.
The abilities for each class fall into three different categories, generally speaking – for most classes, there are “energy” generators, “energy” spenders, and more situational abilities for each class. Monks can project auras, Barbarians have a series of area-of-effect powers, Witch Doctors summon a horde of monsters and other support powers, and Wizards can quickly shut down enemies and alter the battlefield significantly. Demon Hunters are possibly the only exception from this rule through their reliance on two separate pools of energy, Hatred and Discipline. Discipline mostly involves defensive abilities and making the player more mobile, and this dual-energy component definitely sets this class apart from the other four.
In addition to these “active” skills, players also slowly but surely build 3 passive skills as they level up. The Closed Beta only allows access to the first slot, but these talents (and let’s get real: they’re talents) can really switch up how to play a character. I can’t really comment on how drastically they’ll affect a player’s specialization options, as I did only have two to pick from, but it seems like they’ll be pretty interesting.
The Closed Beta right now consists of the first four main quests, culminating in the defeat of the Skeleton King Leoric. It took me just about two hours to get through it alone, and over the course of the quests I ended up seein’ quite a bit of fun micro-dungeons and the first multi-tiered dungeon, the series staple of the Cathedral. There seemed to be quite a bit of variation in terms of how the Cathedral was laid out, and I never really felt like I had seen the same dungeon twice. In actuality, it felt a lot like the rooms were based on a tileset – there were a series of rooms that popped up repeatedly, but it never felt stale or overused.
The other big aspect that sets up the Diablo series is the endless mountains of loot that flow out of just about every monster imaginable. This is…actually something I’m worried about with D3, to be honest. Loot dropped in the Cathedral. A firestorm of loot dropped during my many, many dives into the dungeons. My problem, however is the fact that I didn’t really seem to need any of it. Sure, at the start and through my first hour or so I made a few important upgrades, but once I unlocked the Blacksmith, the first of the game’s three professions, I don’t think I actually found a single item from the dungeons themselves that was an upgrade to what I was using – everything ended up in a scrap heap to make my own items.
To get back to the quest flow, it’s an interesting and rather open-ended affair. While you can play through the quests in a straightforward manner as Blizzard intended, you also have the opportunity to play through the same quest over and over and over again. Before you actually hit the “Play game” button, you can select whichever major quest you want to start on, as long as you’ve already completed it. Yes, you might be set back a little bit in the grand scheme of things but you can just as quickly jump back to the most recent quest. This also applies to the multiplayer aspect, which has really solidified the game as a true successor to Diablo 2 for me.
Joining a co-op game is quick. It’s seamless. It never took me more than 15 seconds to join a game, and once I did, there were no limitations on just how far apart we could be. When picking the last quest in the chain, I was able to go in a completely different direction, even clearing out other dungeons while my co-op companions were busy actually doing work and progressing with the storyline. You can instantly teleport to your party members from any town by clicking on their banner (picture above for example), and the teleportation is just about instantaneous. When everyone is all together, it’s classic Diablo in every way. Monsters scale to how many people are along for the ride, and with a full group it can get really challenging, but not overwhelmingly so.
All in all, there are very few games that have so thoroughly been ingrained into the fabric of gaming history as the Diablo series. Blizzard had a lot to live up to when they decided to make another installment, and I’m really happy to say that everything they’re doing right now is living up to the series. I’m immensely thrilled with what I’ve seen so far and I really, genuinely think this is going to be one of the biggest titles of 2012 – if it comes out next year, of course.
We’ll have more news on Diablo III as it approaches launch, including the opening cinematic trailer sometime after the VGAs. Big thanks to Blizzard for tossing us a pair of beta invites.