Diablo III Beta Impressions – Saying Hello To An Old Friend

It’s been a long wait for our return to the world of Sanctuary, and after 12 long years, Diablo III is right around the corner.  With the open beta taking hold this past weekend, I was finally able to jump back in and feed my loot addiction. 

Ok, the bad news first.  Since this was an open beta, Blizzard was using this as a time to stress out the servers and troubleshoot connection issues.  Because of this, the beta was prone to connection issues, servers being down, and a large amount of lag.  While disappointing, it’s not something I’ll hold against the game because in the end, it is a beta and these issues are necessary to ensure that they don’t occur when the game launches.

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff shall we?  The best news is that Diablo III feels like a traditional Diablo game.  Everything is back from the clicking to move/attack/interact, to the isometric camera angle, to the dark and medieval style world you remember.  It was great returning to the world of Sanctuary but also tricky remembering everything from my Diablo II playing days 12 years ago.  It is like riding a bike though so after a few minutes, it all came rushing back.

I remember the large backlash about the “colorful” art style and just from this beta, I didn’t see it.  The colors were dark, gothic, and fit perfectly into the Diablo universe.  The action picked up with your character looking for a fallen star that conveniently fell on the old Cathedral in the town of New Tristram.  The dead have begun to rise and the casualties began to pile up in the town.  You seek answers to what has happened and that’ll put you in the path of our old friend Deckard Cain and his niece Leah.  Better yet, you’ll get to square off against the Skeleton King Leoric, who you may remember from the very first game down in the depths of the Tristram Cathedral.

From what I could tell, the maps don’t seem randomly generated like they were in Diablo II, but the dungeon placement within them didn’t appear in the same spot each play through.  So there’s that. The graphics are not going to make your eyes weep for joy, but the game’s atmosphere, lightning, and mood are fantastic.  It does look like an upgraded Diablo II and there are some interesting elements going on here including destructable structures in the world and fantastic shadows and lighting.  Besides, the gameplay is king here and like the previous games, it’ll suck you in and never let go. 

The biggest change and one that really shocked me is how your character’s skills, leveling up, and attribute systems are completely different from the other two games.  There seems to be less management on the player’s part as the attributes are auto applied based on what class you’re playing as.  So classes like the Monk or Demon Hunter will gain Dexterity at a faster rate than a Wizard would.  Also surprising: skill trees are completely gone as well.  As your character levels up, you gain 2 mouse skills (left and right mouse click) and 4 active skills assigned to numbers 1-4 on the keyboard.  You’ll unlock new skills at specific levels and can respec on the fly as you see fit.  At most, you’ll have 6 active skills and 3 passive skills being used at one time out of a possible 24 active skills and 16 passive skills.  It’s different for sure, and will take some getting used to but I’m sure once I get more time with it, it’ll make more sense.  The biggest reason for the change is to try to open up the amount of choice for the player.  Blizzard also wanted players to be able to experiment and play around with their class without causing them to make a commitment to something and unable to go back if a mistake is made or the nerf bat comes down via a patch.  While some people may be turned off by this as it reduces the importance of choice, I believe this new system should be given a chance as it gives us a large amount of freedom and customization to really make the character unique to your playstyle.

Overall, I’m very happy with the game and it’s like a nice pair of pants you have not worn in a while but still fit perfectly.  While things may have changed slightly in terms of how your character levels, the health orbs being dropped by monsters, and the skill system, the core elements are all here and refined to a perfect shine.  There’s so much more to talk about and I’ve barely scratched the surface here.  Trust me on this, if you’re a fan of the series, Diablo III will be right in your wheelhouse.  I have no doubt this open beta weekend will go a long way to helping the overall technical issues that plagued it, so the experience will be a great one when it releases in May.  Evil is back and I can’t wait to jump in and save the world of Sanctuary once more.

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