Hands on: Diablo 3 Beta

With less than six weeks until Diablo 3 hits our shelves, it seems the perfect time to take a look at the latest version of the beta — a real treat with a bag of tricks.

 Gloomy Watercolours

The first noticeable aspect of Diablo 3 (D3) as it stands is its simplicity. Blizzard has refined everything from the skills system to the menus, to such an extent that the result is uncluttered and unadulterated fun.

The graphics won’t blow you away at first, but the gloomy watercolours presented show off an art design that is both dark (as the fans wanted) and cartoonish. The end product is enhanced by really impressive physics, with a mostly destructible environment, and thoroughly entertaining ragdoll effects — the world of D3 comes alive. There is nothing more satisfying than your final blow throwing a creature’s body across the screen while wood and stone fly up around you.

The interface is bold, clean and efficient. With most RPGs these days cluttering your screen with information crammed into little text boxes; it’s refreshing to see the king of hack and slash do just the opposite.

From Diablo 2 (D2) to D3 you’ll see that the inventory and character screen has been merged. Now you can equip your hero, manage your inventory and see your attributes and damage all in one neat place. Likewise the skills tree has been done away with and has been replaced with more of a ‘perk progression’.

The mini map and camera angle from which you play seem perfect in their design. The mini map guides the way without interfering with your precious screen space, and important information only appears when you near it physically. Your quests have been restructured to only show your current objective. This console-esque design actually works perfectly for a game like Diablo. After all what more do you need to know other than what you should be doing right now.

The sound and music are also slick. They seamlessly aid the atmosphere, and that’s the sign of something working well. The monsters sound unique, all the important NPCs are voiced and even your character is vocal this time around. This helps to separate the character classes even more as it’s built into the narrative and not just the gameplay.

Progressive Play

But how does Diablo 3 play?

Well the game holds all the core mechanics of earlier Diablo titles. You are still clicking to kill and still using hotkeys to engage powers, but now your choices aren’t punished as heavily when levelling up. It seems variety and flexibility is given extreme importance.

The designers have scrapped the popular skill tree system used in D2 for a ‘perk progression’. The best way to understand this system is to think of it like pizza. Yes pizza.

The five character classes: Barbarian, Monk, Demon Hunter, Witch Doctor and the Wizard are your pizza bases. Each character class has six active skills (and three passive), assigned to both mouse buttons and the numbers 1-4. These skills are your tomato and cheese of this Diablo pizza of death. They are essential to each character, and make them all unique.

Furthermore, you can augment each skill using Skill Runes (five per skill). These are your toppings. They are what provide variety and individualisation to your characters. There are rumours that gems will also play a part in the skill system, adding a bit of spice to this already delicious meal.

The most important thing to say about the new skill system is that it encourages experimentation because you can change skills at will, and vary which active Rune you use at any time. You are likely to change your style of play throughout the game, or at the very least play with a lot of different skills and varying combinations of these skills rather than focusing on just a couple. If you order a Hawaiin, and then want a Regina, no one’s going to stop you; just change your toppings and off you go.

The inventory and equipment changes ensure another element of surprise. The blacksmith can now be trained, which unlocks more items and upgrades for you. He can ‘Craft’ too, which is basically breaking down magical and rare items into their raw essences. These essences can be used to build unique items. Once gems come into play it’s almost a sure thing that this new gameplay mechanic will shine.


Introducing Lore

The story isn’t revealed that much in the beta. However the way the story is presented is interesting. There is a lot less text this time around; the designers have made use of audio clips in the form of lore that explain enemies and the history of the world to you. This means you can listen while you play, learning about the world as you happily slash away.

This keeps up the trademark Diablo pacing without sacrificing an engaging storyline. There are also in-game cutscenes which, thanks to the new technology, still look great but maintain the pacing. However we all know how amazingly Blizzard do full motion videos, so here’s hoping they haven’t dropped them completely.

Battling the Net

Finally a mention must be made about the Battle.net experience. With an auction house (not unlike World of Warcraft) built into the game and a frontend experience very similar to Starcraft 2, it should be a pleasure playing this game. The auction house will see items bought and sold for in-game gold as well as real money.

The online-only means that you have to be online to start up D3, no two ways about it. This makes a lot of sense for Blizzard as it can combat piracy; patch versions easily, run the auction house and obviously provide the servers for online gaming. From a gamer’s perspective: as long as it provide a good service, meaning you can invite friends and always find servers to play on there shouldn’t be a big uproar. It is 2012 after all, and games are heading in this direction whether you like it or not.

Still Diablo

And so that is the D3 beta in a nutshell. With the final game coming out in less than six weeks, it is safe to say that this version should be quite similar to the final product. But with 70% more items coming, as well as the entire storyline, and the fact that your characters can go above level 13 there is a lot left to be excited about.

Blizzard has added enough that is new, it’s refined the golden oldies and left the rubbish behind. From its dark atmosphere to its deceptively engaging new skill system, from saving Deckhard Cain to click click clicking away, this is a Diablo game through and through. So fear not purists, Terror is coming.

Tested on: 4096 kbps connection (some lag on US servers)



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