Tagging along with the MMO Report on their annual trip to BlizzCon came with a couple perks: The ever dynamic John Walsh baffling many gamers with off-the-cuff humor, the ever present danger of being mugged for your goodie bag and most importantly, the pleasantly well-thought out press room offered up by Blizzard.
Nestled high and away the press room became a sanctuary over the chaotic alternative of the main expo floor to experience Blizzard's new offerings. Finally with some down time (press lunch was beginning) this plucky member of the G4 team promptly made a B-LINE towards the demonically awesome Diablo III demo.
The Diablo III demo gave you the choice between three character classes: Wizard, Barbarian, and Witch Doctor. Each class can be either male or female, although the male Wizard was locked in this demo. I picked a female Barbarian aptly named Barbara and jumped into multiplayer alongside a female Wizard. The demo starts off in what’s left of Tristram, a place familiar to returning players. You’re immediately greeted by a soldier who gives you a quest that involves venturing into a cathedral and smiting a baddie called the Skeleton King.
The voice acting is high quality as you’d expect from a Blizzard game and the ambient sounds and music create a suitably creepy atmosphere. What stands out is just how alive the environments feel. Every location includes details like worn old structures crumbling as you pass and a variety of destructible elements on top of the familiar barrels. In the church I saw a fixture on a wall attached to a chain. Smashing it caused a chandelier to fall from the ceiling, which might have been useful if I hadn’t already cleared the room of monsters beforehand. Earlier on the outside I spotted a soldier standing near a well. Just as I approached, a zombie appeared from out of the well, grabbing the poor soldier as he screamed, and the well soon erupted with blood like a scene out of Army of Darkness. Quaint little touches like this go a long way in keeping the experience lively. Presentation overall is top notch. Locations are large, and moving from one to another was near instantaneous on the demo machine.
On the way to the cathedral I managed to finish up a sidequest. I encountered a ghost mother wailing about her daughter’s missing doll, which I found in a nearby treasure chest. Further exploration of the area turned up the ghost of the daughter, who instantly took the doll from my inventory.
Gameplay is streamlined in little ways that add up to better flowing gameplay. Gold can be picked up by simply walking over it, and doing the same with potions instantly replenishes your character’s health or mana. Playing as a Barbarian, I didn’t have as many moves to play around with as the spellcasting classes, but melee powers like Frenzy and Berserker state use the Barbarian’s version of mana which is orange instead of blue. Levelling up triggers a flashy explosion that damages nearby enemies. Rather than distributing points to different attributes, that part is handled automatically (right?) and all you have to do is pick which way you’d like your character to go on a skill tree.
As you’d expect, the bulk of the game involves hacking through hordes of enemies, and a few of the varieties in this demo showed off some interesting attributes. Just like in real life, zombies simply refuse to die. Even if you cut down a whole horde, some of their bodies will continue to writhe on the ground, and some will even grab onto you character if you get too close. Another type of enemy I fancied (and many agree) in particular were large, ogre-like creatures called Grotesques. Killing one will result in its body swelling up and exploding. As if that wasn’t disgusting enough, out spills a swarm of slimy, eel-like Lampreys. A giant leap from previous installments in the series as these details really kept the game lively and all of a sudden it doesn't really feel like "fighting through a horde". Dare I say it, it felt like an adventure.
On the second floor down in the cathedral, we encountered the Skeleton King. His spirit entered his physical body in a very epic manner and the fight ensued, with the king summoning several skeleton archers and shield bearers to fight for him. Once the king and his forces were defeated, the demo ended and the Wizard and I commenced our overly nerdy cheering to a small group of Press who had finished their lunch and were anxious to play.
Diablo III left me confident and excited with the fine-tuning and upgrading Blizzard has done with this legendary franchise. The game is just ALIVE. The hub-bub over the art-direction I can fully attest to being unwarranted as the game's atmospheric tones can be felt through and through effortlessly. With no release date on the horizon all I can say at this point is that the ol' Blizzard "it's done when its done" is there for a reason. While painful to endure I'd gladly wait years if that meant every second of the full version of the game was as spectacular as the demo. In the meantime, I'm sure the "other" offerings from Blizzard will tide you over for quite a while... maybe you've heard of them?