Diablo III Beta Thoughts

Through some unbelievably fortunate quirk of fate, I received an invite to the Diablo III Beta (oh, so that’s where I’ve been). Over the last week or so, I have played through the Beta relentlessly, completing it with each class – some classes multiple times. Without further adieu, and with relatively limited spoilers, here are my thoughts:

1. First and foremost, it’s good to have the Diablo series back. Honestly, I never considered myself that much of a Diablo fan… but I’m clearly deluding myself, as I have had two periods of extensive Diablo II play in the past year alone. By the way, has anyone noticed how unbelievably slowly you walk around in Diablo I? Painful.

2. Taking things a step at a time, the DIII interface is excellent, as you would expect from Blizzard. It’s slightly clunky how you switch between your active characters, but it looks nice and it works.

3. I still don’t quite understand the thought process behind the available character classes. Only the Barbarian returns from the previous Diablo games, and I suppose the Monk from Hellfire… while the new classes are, for the most part, non-archetypical (yes, I do believe I just made up that word).

The Wizard, of course, is a no brainer replacement for the Sorcerer of DI and Sorceress of DII, and plays about how you would expect. The Monk is an odd amalgamation of DII Paladin and, well, a Monk. The Demon Hunter feels like a World of Warcraft Hunter, sans pet, with a lot of Rogue/Assassin flavor – but no combo points.

And then there’s the Witch Doctor. I’m sure there are people out there that love the whole Troll mojo theme in WoW and the jungle shaman theme from Act III from Diablo II. I am not one of those people, and, in fact, I don’t know any of those people personally. What’s so frustrating is that I so dislike the Witch Doctor thematically, while I actually enjoy the class’s in-game gameplay. But the voice, and the hunched over movement, and the obsession with, frankly, goofy abilities that clearly mimic their familiar counterparts annoys me.

4. When I first fired up the Beta, I was struck by how much I felt like I was simply playing more Diablo. To be clear, this was not a positive first impression. However, the more I’ve played the Beta, the more I’ve wanted to play – and not only to play the finished product, but I’ve also been playing more of the Beta itself (it’s a vicious cycle). Therefore, my “just more Diablo” impression turned out to be slightly wrong, as DIII is definitely far more than that, which is a Very Good Thing.

5. Along the same vein, the skill system felt overly simplistic at first glance. No longer do you plan progressions and builds from character creation, nor do you hoard your skill points for 30 levels or so – mostly because there are no skill points. Instead, you gain abilities at preset levels, and assign them to skill slots, which also increase with your levels. Very basic stuff, but after playing for a while, I’ve grown to appreciate how streamlined the new system is. It’s forgiving, which, when you get down to it, is nice.

6. Every damage ability of every class scales with weapon damage (…I think). This is a grand departure from how every game I’ve ever played functions – sure, we’re used to this for the physical damage types, but from casters? It’s odd. Again, however, it works. I also think this helps to balance the game, as now every class must focus on maintaining an up to date weapon. On the other hand, I can’t wait until I see the first Barbarian rage over a Wizard rolling on some beefy great axe.

As a sidenote, I’ve found that, consequently, dual wielding is rather underwhelming as compared to lugging around a hefty two hander. I definitely have not done the math, and I imagine there are exceptions, but with my Barbarian and with my Demon Hunter, the big sticks were the way to go.

Of course, the caster classes are slightly different, as generally their offhand gear would increase damage and their other bonuses beyond that of an equivalent two handed setup. And Monks are also slightly different, as their Spirit Generator abilities cause an extra effect every third attack… Hey, these are early impressions, what can I say?

7. The Diablo III Beta, at least, eschews the wide open zones so common in Diablo II for relatively focused paths from a starting point to your objective. To explain more clearly, think of Act I in Diablo II: the first zones are more are less large rectangles with some walls in the middle. You can follow the road to the exits, or explore the entire zone. In Diablo III, your first experience is walking along a highly constricted path towards the town, and then your first quest takes you along another highly constricted path towards the quest objective.

It’s actually rather refreshing. Of course, one, this is just the Beta, and two, even in the Beta, there is at least one relatively wide open area akin to a DII zone.

8. From my experience, the area of effect/multi-target abilities are either absolutely necessary or somewhat overpowered – I’m not sure which. Regardless, it feels as though the game doesn’t really start until your character receives his first AOE ability (which for Monks isn’t until level 8, sadly).

Considering that Diablo games have always pitted your hero against a veritable horde of undead, demons, and worse, I suppose this only makes sense. Somehow, though, it almost feels a little sad. I think I was traumatized by AOE spam in Wrath of the Lich King.

9. The crafted gear from the Blacksmith is absurdly superior to any gear I’ve found in the wild, with the possible exception of the rares dropped by the Skeleton King. The crafted gear is so much better than I can’t help but wonder if the Blacksmith will receive an overhaul before release.

10. And lastly, the Auction House. First, the interface isn’t quite as friendly as the WoW Auction House, at least not yet. As in, you can’t just type in an item and search. Instead, you have to navigate various drop down menus, with very few opportunities to type specific criteria at all. That said, I expect the Auction House will evolve over time.

Unfortunately, at this point it’s difficult to get a grasp on prices, as Blizzard gave each Beta tester 50 Blizzard Bucks (Schrute bucks?) for testing purposes. Frankly, I can’t imagine these crumby low level items going for $5.00 a piece once people are no longer using monopoly money… but we’ll see.

I haven’t yet had the chance to test the gold (read: not real money) Auction House. I believe that as of now it is limited to the Friends and Family Beta. I imagine the Auction Houses will mirror one another, but that may not be the case.

Fin.

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