Another look at the Diablo 3 Beta – The Devil’s in the details

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Are you crying in the dark, waiting for Hell to erupt once again? The wait has been long and hard, with many traps along the way. With all those leaked release dates, a few April Fool’s and far too many times hearing “Soon™” from our friends at Activision-Blizzard, your weary soul may have broken. Fear not, because unlike all those crazy Mayan calendar nutjobs, the apocalypse will be soon, but it will be totally online, hidden in dark rooms with glaring screens, the sounds of whirring fans almost lost behind the frenetic sounds of mouse clicks.

Even if the end of the earth occurred, very few of us would notice, as long as our internet connections stay undisturbed. We would survive the apocalypse, fuelled by the need to grind, to kill, maim and destroy our way to become the strongest and fastest. We are survivors. We survived a decade of torment, and in the interim, we have prepared.

Technology, games and gamers have evolved. With proper gaming pads, high accuracy peripherals and mind blowing graphics, we have become a rather needy group that requires instant gratification, better graphics and accolades for completing tasks, complete with a score to be proudly displayed, a badge that announces exactly how large your digital *cough* ego is.

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Some have been lucky enough to gain access to the beta and despite losing characters after major patches, I must admit. I am addicted. Not enamoured or infatuated, but needing a visit to the funny farm addicted. I sneak away from the yoke Geoff is so insistent us staff members all wear (Don’t even get me started on the dress code), place a line of beers from Gavin’s desk to the parking lot and I load up the beta. My mouse skills are returning to almost surgical precision, after a long hiatus thanks to consoles, a comfy couch and a nice TV. Despite the relative shortness of the beta, the game has me worked up. My memories of Diablo II come flooding back: a commune with 5 machines all working to find the best possible gear; the long, arduous quest to get through Nightmare; the Cow Level; a number of unexpected deaths at the hands of a teleporting, lightning burst, mana thieving elite pygmy and the exultation when finding the final piece of a set of equipment. Those were the days when day and night cycles were ignored, where time became irrelevant, as long as the experience points and gold totals continued to accumulate.

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When I first saw the Diablo III website, my heart sank. “My machine can’t run this! Time to order an arc reactor,” I said. Luckily, Diablo III delivers and looks amazing on my current machine. Besides looking and sounding great, the game has stayed faithful to the isometric view that just worked so well in Diablo I and II. Besides being able to zoom to ogle your wizard admire the new gear you just acquired, there are no other camera controls. This game is about killing the denizens of Hell, and there is no room for nonsense!

While I am generally opposed to the streamlining of RPG systems for more action, I will allow it, however reluctantly, if it works well or doesn’t detract from the experience. Instead of extensive talent trees and attribute points, Diablo III levels your character the same way that WoW does: several stats increase, based on your level and class. While I miss the talent trees, the new level of freedom is exhilarating. The number of skill slots available is limited by level, and skills are level dependant too. Skills can be swapped out in the field, with the only penalty being a short cooldown. Skills are broken down into broad categories, based on their resource usage. For example, the monk has spirit generating abilities, spirit using abilities and mantras. Spirit generators are generally your default left click attack, and, as the name so subtly implies, generate spirit. Once you have enough of the bright white goop accumulated, use it to perform feats of amazing agility and speed, knocking enemies senseless as you whizz around the battlefield. The buffs that mantras confer apply to nearby party members too, making a monk a great class for those who enjoy making a good party great.

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The monk is not the odd one out either. Moving away from mana, each class has its own resource. Barbarians use rage, which is built through certain abilities and by taking damage from enemies. Barbarians don’t get tired, they just stop being angry! I will leave the other classes for another time, before your heart gives in.

Add in slightly destructible environments, which can be used either to kill monsters or just add some weight to the atmosphere of the game. Entering old Tristram is especially well done, with the buildings rotting and crumbling as you disturb them.

Several awesome additions, like a shared stash chest, auction house, runes for customising skills and having a blacksmith that can be levelled up and learn to craft certain items, all add extra depth to the game and make running several characters a lot easier to manage.

The massive elephant in the room is: Can Diablo III deliver after such a long time, or will it meet a similar end to Duke Nukem? Only time will tell. But the beta gives hope in the darkness. We will endure. We have prepared. Soon™.

Remember, you stand a chance of nabbing your very own Diablo III beta key, just by entering here.

Last Updated: March 9, 2012

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