PREVIEW – Diablo 3

Our hands-on impressions of Blizzard’s epic dungeon crawler, Diablo 3.

Mike Whiteby Mike White

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It’s been a long time since I wasted away nights in college doing Baal runs in Diablo 2. Those are surprisingly fond memories considering the repetitive nature of what my friends and I were accomplishing. It’s a credit to Blizzard that they kept the servers running and updated to this day. I still know people who get the itch and reinstall D2 to rehash the good old days.

Everyone I talk to seems to be looking forward to the third game in the Diablo series. As soon as the developers announced the option to sign up for the beta on Battle.net, I was there. Thankfully, my invite landed in my inbox over a week ago.

I’m happy to say, my excitement only continues to build. Your first moments back in Sanctuary drive home the familiar ambiance of the first two games. The lighting, music and sound effects all contribute heavily. Veering off the main paths to uncover clouded sections of the map kept me in a state of anxious excitement. I miss that feeling. Diablo, for me, always played up the suspense right before a hefty sequence of action-packed hacking and slashing. I don’t know if anyone does it better.

The beta is relatively short. A solid hour or two, depending on how much you explore and try out new features, will bring you to the end of your journey. Your arrival to New Tristam is coupled with an attack on the town by waves of undead. You are introduced to Leah, Deckard Cain’s assistant who asks you to help her find the old man in the nearby cathedral. After rescuing him, your final task is to defeat the skeleton king.

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Without giving away too much of the story, the beta reintroduces players to the wonders of Sanctuary, while easing them into the updates and changes. Diablo 3 brings back the Barbarian class and four new additions along with it. The Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter, Monk and Wizard all have familiar elements from previous Diablo characters. The new spell system is what redefines combat for me.

Instead of the previous system of toggling a large number of abilities through the mousewheel or hotkeys, spells are unlocked as you level and are limited in the number you can have active at any given time. This new style removes the need for talent trees and makes combat more manageable. Your active abilities dictate how your character plays, not your talent build. Swapping out new abilities can be done on the fly, but puts the new spell on a short cooldown.

The action bar now displays four slots for abilities (not potions) and has nothing to do with the belt you have equipped. The fifth slot is dedicated to healing potions. Your right and left mouse buttons can also be assigned to spells and abilities.

Monsters now have a chance to drop red life orbs after being killed. When you run over these, a small amount of health is returned to you. This allows you to essentially press through the map without taking any breaks. Gold also requires no more action to pick up than running over it. Weapons, armor and quest items are the only things that need to be clicked on to place in your inventory.

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Also removed from the game are scrolls of town portal and identify. Town portals are learned towards the end of Act One and are permanently affixed to the menu bar. Blue quality magic items were always identified as they dropped, while a new rare item type did require identifying — it was accomplished by right clicking on the item and waiting for a short cast time. I laughed a little the first time I tore down bookshelves in a dungeon, only to see a pile of scrolls with red and blue ribbons spill across the floor.

A completely new addition to the game is crafting. The towns blacksmith opens this ability up to you after a short quest line. Any blue quality or greater item can be broken down for materials used to craft new weapons and armor. Learning new items to craft means shelling out gold, but with the player’s stash being shared between all characters, you only really need to train on one.

Public games online are set at four players. Diablo 2 housed double that number, but there is plenty happening with the new spell animations with just three other people on screen. As much as I’d like to ride the beta all the way to Diablo 3’s launch, I know I’ll lose out on much of the experience when the full game releases.

I tried out the new classes, saw the new changes and now it’s time to let it rest. D3 has the potential to use up hundreds of hours of my time and I want the experience to be as pure as possible. Until then, stay classy Sanctuary.