Diablo III Beta Impressions

So, Diablo 3. It’s time to talk about that game again.

Once upon a time I was dead set against even giving this game the time of day. Everything that I had heard regarding the game, such as the inclusion of a real money auction house or the removal of stat points and skill trees, made me believe that the crew Blizzard brought in to replace the former Blizzard North developers had no idea what they were doing. I was actively discouraging people I knew from being interested in Diablo 3. Factoring in how I’m a former WoW player who now hatefully rallies against the MMORPG and, gee, it made me look like a pissed off ex-Blizzard fan. To an extent I was, even though I did buy and enjoy Starcraft 2 (I have a review of it up on here for anyone interested).

After applying for the Diablo 3 beta opt-in and not getting in since day one, I finally got a chance last week when Blizzard opened up Diablo 3’s beta to the public in order to perform a stress test. I went into the beta not expecting much, and my incredibly slow download of the beta only increased my nearly unjusitifed disdain for the game. However, after sorting out the issue causing the slow download (which was tied to Internet Explorer even though I use Firefox, go figure), I was able to hop into the world of Diablo 3 and experience a new adventure in the world of Sanctuary for the first time since 2001.

So what is my verdict of Diablo 3 after slamming it for over a year? It is fundamentally a different experience than anything Blizzard North offered up in the first two games but that hasn’t stopped the new development team from creating something really enjoyable. If the small bit of Act 1 that I’ve played is anything to go by, Diablo 3 is going to shape up to be one of Blizzard’s best titles that they have ever produced.

It’s already a known fact that a fair amount of gameplay aspects have changed dramatically since Diablo 2, but just how severe are the changes? As many are aware, stat points are gone and your statistics increase automatically as you level up. This change has been welcomed by almost everyone as just about every internet user I speak to admits that this will help cut back on the amount of “character screw ups” that occurred so often in Diablo 2. Face it, how many of us foolishly sank points into energy and vitality back in the early days of Diablo 2 only to realize that our characters ended up being unable to equip almost any new piece of gear due to low strength or couldn’t even hit monsters half the time as a result of having little dexterity? The only people who seem saddened that stat points can no longer be allocated are the people who felt that it added an extra layer of customization. Did it? No, not really. It just determined if your character was playable or just plain shit. Allocating those points didn’t do anything, they were just numbers that controlled how good your character was playing through the game the way Blizzard intended. That’s not customization!

Skill trees are also a thing of the past, which is surprising to say the least. After they proved to be remarkably popular in Diablo 2, Blizzard adopted them in World of Warcraft. However, talent trees were recently simplified in WoW and they do not appear at all in Diablo 3. So what do we have now? We automatically gain new abilities when we level up. For example, say the the sorceress from Diablo 2 was returning. At level 2 you would receive a message notifying you that you can now use fireball. At level 10, the game would indicate that firewall is now available. As you level, you will gradually unlock more and more powers to use and, since they scale with your level, you will never sink a bunch of points into one or two skills while neglecting many others. This guarantees that all skills are viable later in the game and, again, helps in preventing players from building poor or weak characters. You’ll also unlock runes as you level up that you can combine with your powers. By selecting a rune, you will change the properties of an attack and almost create something brand new. Runes can radically change the animation and performance of just about any skill, so they’re definitely worth experimenting with.

The inventory screen has also been revamped heavily. No longer will players be playing Tetris and shifting gear around to make room for more equipment. This is a fantastic change, as potions and other small items take up only one block on the invenory screen while pieces of equipment take up two. There was nothing good about having pieces of armor taking up upwards of a dozen spaces in Diablo 2 and organizing your inventory became an annoying chore because of it. Anyone who disagrees with the inventory screen revamp and prefers the old system is clearly looking back on Diablo 2 with rose tinted glasses.

Blizzard has also tried to cut back on potion spamming, which isn’t that bad of an idea. My favourite part of Diablo has always been the action and the strategy, and making several trips back to town to buy more potions for a hard boss fight in Diablo 2 was not a part of that. Potions now stack (yes!) and have only ONE slot on your action bar. You can hold as many potions as you want and, to combat potion spam, Blizzard has added a short cooldown on using potions which is also a good idea. Now, here comes something I took a serious stance against before playing the beta. Health orbs. When you’re in a big fight, there is a chance that fallen foes will drop red health orbs that will restore your life when they are touched. I thought that this sounded really gimmicky at first and wondered why an action RPG was being given platformer-esque power-ups. Well, after playing the open beta, I can definitely say that health orbs played a very small part in the overall experience. They never felt necessary to seek out and grab and, because of this, they almost became background objects to me that didn’t matter.

In terms of actual gameplay, things are actually remarkably similar to Blizzard North’s Diablo games. Aside from newer technology allowing more complex character animations and environmental effects, this is definitely the same hack and slash madness that we’ve all grown to love. This is what I was most afraid the new team would mess up, but they did an amazing job. The clickfest battles are as fun as ever, looting works the same as before, and the integrals such as town portals and waypoints are back. Town portals are perhaps my favourite improved aspect of the game since Diablo 2. No longer will we have to deal with scrolls and tomes to take up to town due to anyone being able to make a town portal whenever they wish. The ability to create a town portal is now a spell that characters learn about forty five minutes into the game, and it’s a great thing to have. Having an unlimited number of portals to call upon, in conjunction with the improved inventory screen, makes mass corpse looting a true joy rather than a frightening chore like it was in Diablo 2.

Now, how are the classes? They are wonderfully varied! My personal favourite thus far is the monk, a genius martial artist who is able to obliterate foes with some truly flashy hand to hand techniques. The monk also possesses insane survivability. Aside from being a great melee DPS character, the monk is incredibly agile and also has healing abilities as well as auras that work similarly to what the paladin had in his arsenal in Diablo 2. I can see the monk being a huge fan favourite after release, because there seems to be nothing that this class does not excel at!

Demon hunter is currently my second favourite class. This class is a lot like the amazon of the first two games, a ranged fighter with a very bow/crossbow-centric skill set. The demon hunter has all sorts of cool ranged abilities with one exciting early game ability being a sort of spread shot that fires in three directions and tears through anything in its path. Also, while most classes only have one resource pool to worry about when it comes to using abilities (mana for witch doctors, fury for barbarians, etc.), the demon hunter has two. Hatred, the red resource, governs offensive techniques meant for obliterating foes. Discipline is a blue resource and it is more defensive, allowing the demon hunter to perform acrobatic feats to put distance between him or herself and their foes.

I didn’t spend much time with other classes, but I gave them all a shot at least. The barbarian is exactly what you’d expect, though he now hits harder than ever! Don’t be surprised to see enemies go flying across the screen as you pulverize them with your Hulk-sized arms. The wizard is pretty much the sorceress from Diablo 2 but, thanks to modern technology, the class can perform moe interesting spells such as a ray of frost that will shoot anywhere your mouse goes. The witch doctor is the class I spent the least amount of time with because, even from the get go, it felt really boring to play. Your initial ability as the witch doctor is nothing more than a poison dart gun, but you’ll soon be able to summon hellhounds and such which makes the class a little more bearable.

If I were to rank the classes in order from most to least enjoyable, it would go like this: monk, demon hunter, barbarian/wizard (too close to call), and witch doctor. The monk and demon hunter feel remarkably complete and are a true joy to play as while the witch doctor feels particularly lacking in the beta.

Overall, I had a great deal of fun in the open beta after playing it for as long as my weekend schedule allowed, which was eight or nine hours. The final battle against the Skeleton King (yes, THAT Skeleton King) was insanely enjoyable and, considering that it occurs only a third of the way through Act 1, I can’t wait to see what the big end bosses are like for each of the game’s four acts. I think that we’re all in for quite a treat!

So, is Diablo 3 good? Yes, and I’m ashamed of myself for ever criticizing this game so much. It’s pretty clear that this isn’t the Diablo we played back in the 90s and at the turn of the century, but Blizzard’s new blood created an amazing impersonation of Blizzard North’s successful formula. Diablo 3 is going to be massive when May 15 hits, and I expect it to remain so for many years to come. See you all in Sanctuary in three weeks!

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7 thoughts on “Diablo III Beta Impressions

  1. The word “automatic”, which is used in describing leveling and skills is extremely disappointing and takes away quite the degree of customization that was once present, though it doesn’t deter me from buying it but it does make me feel like Blizzard is catering to WoW players and overly simplifying things so the “Causal” player can have fun…leaving us fans in the dust, I just hope what they did, works. Good topic by the way, you have strong points I just don’t agree with automatic level of attributes and the unlocking of skills.

  2. Though I want to make it clear, I am still excited for the game, just disappointing in some of the changes that were made.

  3. I think that your opinion about the stat changes are invalid. “As many are aware, stat points are gone and your statistics increase automatically as you level up. This change has been welcomed by almost everyone as just about every internet user I speak to admits that this will help cut back on the amount of “character screw ups” that occurred so often in Diablo 2.” That is probably coming from people how play WoW, or Lineage, or Guild Wars, which have all had automatic stat distributions. A game like Diablo 2 or Ragnarok Online which relied heavily on stat distribution is what made those games great for players to distinguish themselves from not only they’re rare items, but their hard thought out build.

    I’m one who has restarted characters in D2 many times from misplaced stats, but honestly how long did it really take to level up in Diablo 2? Not long. And the level you really know how your going is by level 30-60. After that point you know if you need to re-stat or skill, not to mention D2 has already released a patch that allows you to re-stat and skill 3 times for free in each act, and then by collecting items from bosses afterwards. If they added this feature into D3 than whats the point of a few misplaced skills if you can just re-stat yourself anyway?

    “Allocating those points didn’t do anything, they were just numbers that controlled how good your character was playing through the game the way Blizzard intended.”
    How is adding points yourself the way Blizzard intended? Its what YOU wants, which is why YOU messed up when you placed wrong stat points. Playing the way Blizzard intends you to play is by AUTOMATICALLY added the stat points for you. So, at level 0-60 every class will share exactly the same attribute points the way Blizzard intend them to be. For example, what if I want more health as a demon hunter then any other demon hunter? I cant because I cant add my own vitality.

    Whats the fun in playing a game to level up to just get a higher level then everyone else? When instead you fight to level up to add more points to make yourself use that sword better, or to have more health, or finally use that piece of armor? Stats being distributed automatically is exactly the way blizzard intended you to be, not the other way around. That’s not customization!

  4. As I’ve said a few times (mostly yesterday on MSN), there are more people embracing the change than slamming it. I’m not saying that having stat point allocating was a bad thing, but it isn’t a mandatory feature in RPGs. I respect that there are people who enjoy allocating points, but it’s a feature that appeals to people who like to micromanage. Just because it has been removed, reducing the possibility of micromanaging, doesn’t mean in any way that the game is catering to casuals now. I am one of the most hateful guys around when it comes to simplifying games and I’m quick to attack when I feel that a developer has sacrificed their integrity simply to increase sales via oversimplifying their game (thus alienating some fans as a result).

    Removing an aspect of the game that you (“you” referring to anyone reading this who wanted stat point allocation to be in) enjoyed but many others couldn’t care less about doesn’t mean jack. Fans even grumbled about stat points back in the day of D1 and D2, but does anyone remember? No, we all look back with rose tinted glasses. After recently replaying Diablo 2 a lot I can admit that the gameplay has stood the test of time, but there are a lot of technical aspects of the game which I can’t believe Blizzard ever threw into the game. Diablo (and especially Diablo 2) featured far too many unnecessary components such as poorly implemented point allocation, a terrible inventory system (I hated it then and I still do) but, despite these flaws, it didn’t really detract from the overall gameplay too much.

    The problem with stat point allocation in previous Diablo games was that, as I just mentioned above, it was poorly implemented. You could sink points into one category for ages and never reap the rewards because the changes were so miniscule. If one player would mess up their dexterity, it wouldn’t be until the second act of Diablo 2 when they would start to wonder why their attacks are failing to land about fifty percent of the time. The range that Diablo 2’s stats encompass is far too vast. As Scott mentioned yesterday, if they had implemented a system where you received one point per level to distribute, one point that would actually make an immediate difference, it would have been far superior to what had been used.

    Other games such as the Elder Scrolls titles will present you with an almost immediate different for changing a few numbers. The same also occurs outside of the RPG genre. Take a hockey game for example. Increase a player’s acceleration or checking abilities by a few points and you’ll notice a quick difference. Hop into a racing game and fiddle with a car’s brake bias or gear ratios by a few points and, again, a noticeable difference.

    The fact that you can respec characters in Diablo 2 is a fairly meager point considerng that, for several years, being able to reset your points was an impossibility. It took nine years for Blizzard to patch a respec option in, a very helpful option that they actually borrowed from World of Warcraft. For years, if you wanted to respec your character, you had to download a character editor and manually reset your points and then add the appropriate number of distributable points to them. If the ability to respec was available from day one, or even as early as the Lord of Destruction expansion, then it would be a great point. However, players had to wait a grand total of nine years, which is long after many people stopped playing the game.

    What Blizzard has done with Diablo 3 is shift the overall customization away from stat points and towards abilities and equipment. This is pretty much the standard for roleplaying games these days, as many developers have completely abandoned the archaic system of allocating stat points (which hails from the early days of tabletop games/D&D). Gear is now more important than ever in Diablo, which is definitely the way to go. Diablo has always been about itemization and the hunt for better pieces of equipment, not following cookie cutter builds that Joe Somebody said is the best way to beat Hell difficulty with whatever class he’s preaching about.

    I’m not going to go off on a tangent with the following statement, but it truly does irk me greatly when someone says that having no stat point allocation makes a game less hardcore or more casual friendly. This is nothing more than complete nonsense. Have these people played any game without stat point allocation in the past decade? When someone says “they’re making it more like WoW” it makes me want to smack them upside the head, especially when it’s coming from people who haven’t played World of Warcraft or have only checked it out for no more than a few levels. That doesn’t give anyone enough grounds to make a comparison between Diablo and World of Warcraft. The comparisons between the two are ludicrous anyway. What does Diablo 3 have that WoW has as well? An auction house. Anything else? No, not really. Everything else is pretty much the industry norm. And why pick on WoW anyway? After all, there are dozens of other MMORPGs on the market which are pretty much identical in terms of how they operate. It’s no secret that Blizzard pulled some of their artists and designers from WoW so that they could work on Diablo 3, but that doesn’t mean jack. They’re two different games that play entirely different, and they are so vastly different that it’s silly to say that Diablo has been dumbed as a result of WoW existing. And this is all because there’s no stat point allocation? I don’t get it. People who like micromanaging need to get over the fact that micromanaging is a minor feature in the grand scheme of gaming and that more people are happy without it. Need proof? Read any post regarding the loss of stat point allocation on any Diablo 3 board that draws hundreds of people. The people who don’t care that the system has been scrapped understand that Blizzard did a shoddy job of even introducing it in the first place. If you have to wait several hours to reap the rewards, there is a problem.

    Diablo 3 without stat point allocation is a good thing. Blizzard can now focus exclusively on perfecting the itemization aspect of the game without having to worry about stat points getting in the way. The most significant benefit is the fact that nobody will run into the issue of not having enough dexterity or strength to be able to equip a certain item anymore. The second benefit is that it allows us, the players, to focus on equipment to a greater degree. As a game that is all about finding better pieces of equipment to tackle newer and greater challenges (especially at higher difficulties), it makes a great deal of sense for the game to prioritize gear.

    If anyone wants customization, Diablo 3’s got it. Socketing armor is still in and is supposedly better than ever. There’s also item enchantments which alter the properties and statistics of weapons. Next we have runes which allow you to completely alter the performance of some abilities to such a degree that they could be considered entirely different skills. Fourth and most important is the gear. There is more gear than ever before with special bonuses and stat increases.

    Honestly, getting long replies going off about nothing more than stat point allocation is pretty telling to me. RPGs featuring the micromanagement of stat points are a minority in this day and age, and this has been the case since at least the turn of the century. Believing that a game has been dumbed down for a “lesser audience” merely because stat point allocation is out the window is a very sour attitude to take. It isn’t a mandatory feature and people who appreciate micromanagement are in a minority in this day and age. People aren’t playing Diablo just so that they can click on little plus symbols and watch numbers increase. Poll several dozen people and ask them why they play Diablo. Nine times out of ten you’ll have them tell you something along the lines of it being for the fiercely intense gameplay, the excitement of being surrounded by dozens of monsters at once, etc. I never liked stat point allocation in Diablo, but I was a huge fan of both Diablo and Diablo 2. I could play them religiously despite the fact that I didn’t like the subpar implementation of stat point allocation in the game. I mean hell, who even sinks points into energy in Diablo 2 these days? Again, stat point allocation isn’t a bad thing. Diablo 2 just had a poorly implemented version of the feature.

    If I could choose from one of the following…
    A) Diablo 2 stat point allocation.
    B) One stat point per level that makes a noticeable difference.
    C) Diablo 3’s current system.

    Well, I’d go with B. That is the proper way to do stat point allocation. C would be my second choice, and A would be a very distant third choice. Blizzard North could have done much better with the stat point allocation, but they didn’t. The majority of Diablo fans admit this (I’m not talking out of my ass on that point either, take a look around the internet). B would have been a wonderful route to take, and it’s essentially the same way that other RPGs such as Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls titles work.

    Oh well, this isn’t the biggest evil in the game and it’s not Blizzard dumbing down the game for casuals. I am very happy with the changes that they’ve made and am glad that stat point allocation is gone. Does this make me an inferior or lesser player? Does it make me a casual? As two people who know me to some degree, I think the answer should be a fairly obvious no on that one.

    Anyone who doubts that this game has superior customization owes it to themselves to give this a good read: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/forum/topic/3811455085

  5. Honestly, your correct about how pathetic the amount of points to get a change in diablo 2, and 100+ strength might be 50 more attack…so if the new gem system is adding stat points I’m sure it’ll be ok, now let may 15th happen and begin the magic finding.

  6. I do agree with Scotts idea of how stats should work. It would still add the layer of character customization, as well as drop the brooding and sometimes intimidating aspect of what points go where and how many.

    I also mention WoW because it has become so household, and common that anyone should know it. I’ve played Lineage II as much as I have played Diablo, and in Lineage II the stats worked the same as WoWs points were placed for you on level up. Im not picking on WoW, its just the easiest to relate to when in comes to MMO/Rpgs.

    I’m skeptic about how this gear heavy D3 will work out. I understand Diablo was largely about items, but I’m I am eager to see how they will improve the character customization by adding these features.

    I guess my point is eventually there will be a time that everyone will find whats the best item and gear setup for each class type and how they wanted to build that character. I will just miss the fact that if I wanted a “tank demon hunter” I look for the gear, runes, skills, ect. to make myself that, and then the other “tank demon hunter” I find will more than likely have the same gear as I do and the only thing that would of set me apart was my custom build of stats. I guess I was upset that some young person can get all the same gear, and mash away on their skill buttons and are just as likely to kill me as I am them, when in Diablo 2 or any other game with some kind of stat allocation would research their class, their build, and figure out the game mechanics to skillfully play their characters and builds to come out on top.

    If you entered any high level D2 dueling game for example, I could run down to a group of barbs and everyone would be wearing the same gear. I could just guess what it was by looking at it. But there was always one guy among all the clones that could destroy everyone because he spent the time to research his build and skillfully place his points where he needed them, whether he had help through the internet, trial and error, or friends.

    Im just getting the vibe that even at level 60 everyone’s class will have the same gear, and items and there will be no uniqueness to any of them. A cookie cutter build will eventually be when every class shares the same level up stats(of its own class) and use the same gear and items that they use to do whatever it is they want with their characters. Yes there’s all kinds of runes, and gems, and items, but there will be eventually the best combo. There always is. So how can I properly compete with all these clones.

    I like micromanaging my characters. I feel like I have more control over how my character advances and upgrades. Even if they have some kind of miniscule type of level up stat allocation like Scott suggested. But that wont happen. I just feel by taking it out there’s a lot of thought process taken out over character advancement as well. So basically some 12 year old who picks up the game and plays for long enough will become just as good as any hardcore fan that plays to win. I’m just tired of every rpg/mmo becoming nothing just a button mash, button mash, level up, repeat.

    I’m still waiting to play the hell out of this game. I just do believe they simplified this game somewhat to help transition many of Blizzards WoW players to Diablo without the intimidation of actual thought into how you setup your character. Honestly the golden age of Diablo was the trial and error period when everyone was fighting to be the first to figure out the best build and gear to properly play. The game was massive, the people who like this change to D3 are the people who didn’t *really* play Diablo. Revamp the stat allocation, but just to take it out completely? I think they forgot the point behind why Diablo 2 was so successful.

  7. Diablo 2 was successful, why change something that to DATE people still played, yes if it works for WoW and is a good idea, it doesn’t mean they have to put in Diablo 3, it also is what made it different from all the other kill/loot games, and the Auction house is fine but buying with real money ? and other players making real money via PayPal ?? seriously….wow botters heaven.

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