Diablo III BlizzCon 2009 Hands-On PreviewBy Brian Leahy - Posted Aug 24, 2009
The doors to BlizzCon 2009 opened up at 10am and I had an hour and a half before the opening ceremony, which I decided to fill with some hands-on time with Diablo III. The game was playable at BlizzCon 2008, but this would be my first time playing Blizzard’s follow-up to one of my favorite games of all time.
I started out with a Barbarian, who now uses a rage system similar to World of Warcraft’s warrior class. I was dropped into a desert zone with some of my skill tree pre-filled and a new UI to learn. There is a permanent minimap on the screen and Tab will now swap the skills mapped to the right mouse button. It’s probably the most jarring change: years of instinctively hitting Tab to check my map in Diablo II led to a lot of accidental skill swapping during my demo.
I quickly got a quest to eliminate a cult that had taken over a city and moved deeper into the desert through from the cliffs. Enemies swarmed from offscreen and on top of the cliffs and were quickly dispatched with my dual-wielded maces, one doing fire and the other doing cold damage. The first items dropped and I was hooked all over again. It was at this point that I looked up to find that the opening ceremony had started, not realizing that I had already spent an hour and a half playing. I was driven by my desire for loot and hadn’t noticed the time. Luckily, the Monk class was revealed and enabled for BlizzCon 2009 so I got to put more time into Diablo III later.
My initial reaction to Diablo III was similar to my first time with StarCraft II two years ago at BlizzCon. It has an overwhelming ability to remind you of the classic experience. At the same time, it feels completely new and innovative, even though the core gameplay is fundamentally the same.
There are some changes to the gameplay, however, that should go a long way in differentiating Diablo III from its predecessor. Loot drops, for example, are instanced and are created on a per-player basis. No longer will you fight for drops in multiplayer games. Gold is picked up by walking over the piles, though you can click each one if you’re feeling nostalgic.
Character progression comes down to the skill trees. Attributes now grow along a set path and are handled by the game. No longer will players risk ruining characters by putting too many points in the wrong stat. I’m told there will eventually be a system to customize characters beyond simple skill points, but it was not in the current build.
Blue items, which traditionally needed to be identified, now drop as identified, usable gear. Rares will have to be identified, just like before. The inventory system has been streamlined, with only two item sizes to manage: a single box and two vertical boxes. Quest items get their own inventory and will no longer take up valuable space in your main inventory.
In addition to potions, some enemies will drop health orbs that heal some HP over time, much like in God of War. It helps reduce the reliance on potions, but isn’t a full replacement for them. Health potions now heal instantly, like the rejuvenation potions in Diablo II. Besides health and mana potions, elixirs will drop that increase certain statistics for a set amount of time. Belts are no longer used for organizing potions and there is currently a dedicated health potion slot on the new quick bar that will automatically use your best potion when activated.
Diablo III looks gorgeous, plays smoothly (on high-end BlizzCon machines), and makes good use of a new physics system to add a good deal of satisfaction to your kills. This year’s demo featured a large outdoor area as well as a few dark dungeons to explore. The mix works well and the art style lives up to Blizzard’s high standards. The increase in resolution is the most welcome change, since PC hardware has improved considerably since Diablo II: Lord of Destruction unlocked 800x600.
The spell effects are incredible and definitely led to some jaw-dropping moments. Just check out the Monk’s Exploding Palm ability, which puts a damage over time debuff on enemies. If they die while the debuff is active, they explode in a gory sphere of blood and guts, hurting nearby enemies. It’s awesome.
The Monk plays a lot like Diablo II’s Assassin, but is a bit more fluid and relies not on combo points, but on chaining attacks together in a free-flowing order. His abilities have different effects based on whether or not they are the first, second, or third hit in a chain. The third hits tend to be pretty devastating, taking the place of the Assassin’s finishing moves. The Monk also gets magical abilities that use mana, which can deflect projectiles back an enemies or blind nearby foes.
It’s an extremely rewarding class to play that requires a lot of ability management to get the most out of his damage output. He is much weaker than the Barbarian, however, and will need to be played with a bit more of a hit & run style. His attacks are fast and many hit multiple enemies.
Diablo III’s level of polish, even while still in development, is scary. There’s no solid release window and there’s still one more class left to be revealed, but the development team is hard at work on creating content for the game. I just hope it isn’t too long before Blizzard releases new media and information on Diablo III. I’m not sure I can wait for another BlizzCon to play it.