Diablo 3 Beta Hands-On Impressions -- ClickclickclickclickclickBy Kevin Kelly - Posted Aug 01, 2011
Blizzard finally let us get our hands on the Diablo III beta, but then they did the worst possible thing of all: they wouldn't tell us when it's coming out. That's like dangling a present in front of a kid, letting him unwrap it and play with it, and then taking it back and saying you aren't sure when you're going to give it to them. Watch that kid cry their eyes out. Which is exactly what we did at the end of our time with the beta.
While delving through New Tristram and tracking down clues and quests, the story will unfold, and you'll be sent on quests like finding the Skeleton King's crown and having it repaired. You'll partner up with Leah for part of the trip and she'll fight alongside you, and you'll encounter another follower as well, the Templar. You'll also interact with the blacksmith in town, and if you manage to find enough pages during your adventures to combine into a tome, you'll be able to train him so he can create higher lever items. There are other vendors in town, but they'll become less important as you gain several special abilities during your adventures.
Three of those involve a revamped inventory system, which includes three new items: the Nephalem Cube, a Cauldron of Jordan, and a Stone of Recall that will port you back to the nearest town, much like the Hearthstone in World of Warcraft. The Nephalem Cube is different from the Horadric Cube in that it doesn't augment your inventory, it just breaks down items into their components so you can recycle those into different items. Picked up a sword you don't like? Drop it on the Nephalem Cube, and it will be transmuted into common scrap. If there's magic in it, you may get some "subtle essence" as well.
The Cauldron of Jordan saves you from having to head back to town every time you load up with stuff that you want to sell. Simply drop the item on the cauldron, and it will be sold for the standard market price. Also, if you sell something that you actually want back, you can head to town and buy it back from the appropriate vendor. Torchlight paved the way by having pets that could head back to town and barter for you, but Diablo 3 takes it a step farther with instant drop and cash. Additionally, you'll notice that your stash back in town has five tiers to it that can be unlocked throughout the game, with the fifth tier representing a fairly huge stash. No more inventory micromanagement!
While this isn't the first time we've had our hands on Diablo 3, it is the first time we've been able to play the beta all the way through. Blizzard made it clear that things might change when this beta finally ships, but hopefully not by much. By now you've heard about Blizzard's upcoming auction house system to allow real world money transactions for bidding on weapons, armor, and other things, but that wasn't working in our beta experience. However, it should be in the actual beta when that launches. We hope that will be sometime soon, but Blizzard still likes to say "When it's ready."
The beta covers roughly the first half of Act I of the game, and of course if you want to remain spoiler-free, you're going to want to stop reading right now. Although don't quit just yet, because I'll tell you that it was a lot of fun, and has us more excited than ever for the final version of this eagerly awaited mouse-clicker. But story-wise, we're going to cover a couple of things, nothing of which are particularly world-shattering in the story department. This is more of a "just in case" warning to those of you out there who want to go into the game not knowing anything.
In Diablo 3, it's been 20 years since Tristram was destroyed, and a New Tristram has been built on the ruins of the old, populated by people who want to get rich quick after hearing stories of the treasure and strange happenings. Fire has fallen from the sky in the form of a falling star, and now the dead seem to be rising from their graves and strange things are happening to some of the people in town. This is what brings the player characters to New Tristram, where they meet Leah, the adopted daughter of Deckard Cain. He adopted her when she was eight years old, and she has spent her life going into ruins and burial grounds, researching things and gathering artifacts. Basically, she does the things that Deckard doesn't want to do, and she's a brand-new part of the Diablo universe meant to fill the gap between what Deckard knows and what the player knows.
Each character has their own unique backstory in the game, and you'll be introduced to those in brand-new cutscenes that feature an entirely new look for Blizzard. We watched the Demon Hunter backstory, which unfolds in a series of pen and ink drawings on a parchment background. Each scene details the background of the class you've selected, and how it relates to the fallen start. With the Demon Hunter, since the dead are coming to life and demons are involved, they've sought out the fallen star in order to continue carrying out their plan to destroy ever demon in the world. For the Monk, they've been sent to decipher the meaning of the star, and so on. When you play through the beta, you're finding out what this event has done to New Tristram, eventually leading up to a conflict with the Skeleton King. King Leoric has been reanimated in skeletal form, and he's all that stands between you and the fallen star.
The good thing about the beta is that it doesn't pound you over the head with story, since most people will be using it to see how their favorite classes handle. For me, that was the Wizard, which will most likely be the first character I take through the game. But, after playing with the Monk, the Witch Doctor, and the Demon Hunter while partnered up with a Barbarian, there's definitely a lot to like here. Game director Jay Wilson took us through the streamlined skill system that's in the place in the beta.
During development, the team decided to stay away from the skill trees that lock you into one path for your character. Now you have six slots for active skills that unlock as you play the game. The first two active slots are unlocked when you start, and then additional slots unlock at levels 6, 12, 18, and 24. The three passive skill slots unlock at levels 10, 20, and 30. According to Wilson, "Diablo is a lot better when you can swap out things." Skill points are now completely gone, and traits have become the passive skills. This system allows player to mix and match to find a style of play that suits their preferences. Once you add in the runestones (which weren't in our version of the beta), that adds an exponential level of skill customization to the game.
The developers took us briefly through all of the classes in the game, and showed off some of their new and enhanced skills.
This class is a rough and tough, rumble melee character who likes to get in close and go toe to toe with multiple enemies. They are very durable, and are fueled by Fury which is generated by attacks or taking hits. The Fury fuels their most powerful attacks.
Some of their skills include:
- Frenzy: This attack increases the more they hit, leading up to a frenzy.
- Leap Attack: Leaps into or away from battle, and can be used once every 10 seconds.
- Ancient Spear: Pulls enemy closer. The barb doesn't have range, so this pulls creatures in close and looks like Scorpion's chain from Mortal Kombat.
- Seismic Slam: Does a straight line of ground damage
- Ground Stomp: Stuns enemies, helps them get out of a tough jam (all classes have something like this)
- Wrath of the Berserker: The Barbaran turns giant, scary and awesome for a brief period of time.
This is basically the pet class. The doctors are all about voodoo, snakes, toads, and more. They also have Mind Control. Meaning that enemies don't really know what's real and what's not when they're around. They are fueled by mana and many of their mechanisms are focused on recovery. They have lots of abilities that allow them to output damage and then let their resources recover. Big damage healer. Their pets are meant to be a distraction. and Blizzard considers this class the best for people just starting the game.
Some of the Witch Doctor skill include:
- Firebats: This generates a stream of flame with bats in it. Hoses out bats on fire.
- Soul Harvest. For every enemy near, the Witch Doctor gets a stacking buff that increases his damage.
- Big Bad Voodoo: Puts a shaman totem on ground which gives bonuses to you and your party.
- Hex: Summons a shaman that turns monsters info chickens.
- Pets: Witch Doctors can summon pets ranging from fetish creatures to zombie dogs to a huge Gargantuan that brawls and tanks for your Doctor.
This is essentially the mage archetype class. They can control weather, time and space, and can conjure things out of thin air. The downside is that they are very fragile, so they need to keep enemies at arm's length. They are powered by Arcane Energy which regenerates quickly.
Some of their skills include:
- Electrocute: This is a basic lightning attack, and can jump from enemy to enemy.
- Diamond Skin: This armors the wizard by conjuring diamonds out of thin air that then fuse to the wizard's body.
- Slow Time: Creates an orb that slows down enemies and projectiles.
- Meteor: This is a powerful area of attack that summons a meteor from the sky. It takes a few seconds to impact, so make sure you lead your enemies with it.
- Disintegrate: This is a powerful sweep ability that blasts out like a laser.
- Archon: Turns your wizard into a different form and changes the way they play. Comes with enhanced version of disintegrate. Each time you kill enemy an, it increases the duration. Very powerful attack, but it also has a very long cooldown.
The Monk is the other melee class, and is focused on speed and agility. They are all about up close melee attacks. Lots of elemental control as well: wind, water, etc. They are fueled by Spirit, which is mostly used for defense. Spirit is a precious resource to the Monk, and is usually saved for bad situations.
Some of their skills include:
- Deadly Reach: Attacks with a focused force-push. Allows combos through mouse clicks and has reach to it.
- Exploding Palm: This is a combo that starts with two small hits, then the third hit does damage over time on the enemy. If they die during that DoT, they explode. More of a "finesse" ability.
- Mantras: These are abilities that are unique to the Monk that put a buff on them, which can be extending to allies and their pets.
- Inner Sanctuary: Creates void on ground that creatures cannot pass through. Can use to path and cause choke points.
- Seven Sided Strike: This is a big spirit spender, one of the few Spirit moves that is an attack. It makes the Monk invulnerable, and does massive damage to nearby enemies.
The Demon Hunter is the conventional ranged class. Bows, traps, and shadow magic. They are fixated on destroying all demons and are fueled by Hatred (fast regeneration and used for basic attacks) and Discipline (slow and used for defense).
Some of their skills include:
- Rapid Fire: Shoots a stream of arrows through dual-wielded hand crossbows.
- Strafe: Demon Hunter's version of Whirlwind, shoots in all directions.
- Sentry: Puts up a crossbow turret that fire automatically.
- Spike Trip: Drops a trap on the ground that slices up enemies.
- Smokescreen: Drops a smoke bomb and they turns invisible for a short period of time, allowing them to escape. I'm calling this one the "Batman."
While the Rune system wasn't present in our build of the beta (we were told that runes start appearing in Act 2, although they are listed in the Beta FAQ and information), they did show them off to us. Runes are items that drop in the world that can customize items and abilities. These will allow you to do things like build a Battle Mage, which is a melee wizard (something Jay Wilson does not recommend) that is equipped with things like Spectral Blade: an up close melee attack with ghostly blades. You can slot a rune into this that makes it heal each time it hits. The Diamond Skin skill can have a rune put in it that makes it reflect damage, and so on. With five rune variations per skill, it's a no-brainer to say that people are going to have a ton of fun playing around with different runes, and in seeing the different graphic effects that they generate.
During our time with the wizard, we battled hordes of creatures, both with and without our followers, witnessed cruel events like the blacksmith's wife becoming infected and zombified right in front of him, so that he to kill her, and collected tons of loot that we sold, transmuted, and tucked away for later. One nifty feature is that the stash is shared, so that you can roll a Monk character, find an awesome wand with that character and tuck it into your stash. If you roll a Wizard, you can visit your stash and outfit yourself with that wand.
Speaking of which, wands make an excellent ranged attack weapon for Wizards, so once I had collected enough pages, I formed a Tome of Training, upgraded the blacksmith, and then had him craft me a new, more powerful wand. No doubt that crafting and finding tomes and recipes for the crafters in the game will create another facet to the entire loot game. While it's not an enormous part of the beta, it will probably become a bigger factor when you're deeper in.
At least, we hope so. Because the beta is extremely easy to get through, even up to the final encounter with the Skeleton King. I only died once in my first playthrough, and that's because I wasn't paying attention to my potion count. Blizzard tells us that the beta is meant to be easy, and we did notice that there was nowhere to change the difficulty in the game. That's something that will definitely be in the final build. But because things were easy, we went through it multiple times, trying out each class, and finding multiple places where you can trigger environmental damage to enemies. We also marveled the graphics throughout, which includes the random yawning abyss that drops away into a glowing blue nothingness.
We also played a lot with the interface, which will be extremely overhauled with Blizzard's Battle.net 2.0. While one major drawback is that you now have to be online to play Diablo 3 (no more single player offline), you're now always connected to your friends. Battle.net has persistent friends list just like StarCraft 2, cross game chat, and it uses the Real ID system. You'll be able to quick join your friends, find PVP via matchmaking, look for public games, and jump into co-op. We used this to co-op with four players, and found that the beta definitely ramps up the difficulty when there are more players in the game.
The new Battle.net for Diablo 3 also includes a Banner System which will visually express your accomplishments. There are limited amounts of customization over your banner, but it's mostly meant to give visual feedback based on how much you play the game and what you've achieved. When you meet a friend or someone new in the game, you can glance at a banner and know how much they've played.
While Diablo remains a clickfest that you can literally play with the mouse alone, that doesn't change the fact that the entire series continues to be very addictive. After four complete runs through the beta, we still weren't tired of it, which bodes well for a game that we're seeing such a small chunk of. Throughout the game, initial contact with enemies would generate lorebooks that you could listen to in order to find out about each enemy, which was nearly enough to keep me glued to the beta. But once the loot started dropping, that's all I cared about. Diablo, I've missed you a ton, but I've missed your loot even more.