Monday, 23 April 2012

Preview: Diablo 3

With the Diablo 3 open beta weekend I finally got the chance to get stuck in and try out all that the beta has to offer, and overall I was very impressed. I had briefly played on a friend's account before, but never got into it by myself as it wasn't running very well; these issues were resolved by this weekend and being able to play through with a friend was great. So far I have played the Wizard, Demon Hunter and Monk, so I will talk about them after going over my initial impressions of the general game play, graphics and presentation.

I like the way Blizzard has taken away ability trees and slowly gives you new abilities and runes instead; it means that you can't spend ages chasing down the wrong branch only to realise that you have made a massive mistake and are way less powerful than other characters of the same level as you. In RPGs I often go for the coolest sounding spells only to discover that in practice they aren't as cool as they sounded and regret it for the rest of the game; Blizzards new approach gets rid of that and makes how you play important.
Getting new abilities every level also makes levelling up exciting every time; no longer will you have to save up a couple of levels to get the points to purchase an awesome ability, you know when they are coming. What is now important is the loot that you pick up as this is what will truly set you apart from other players, and there seems to be plenty of ways to get items; from drops, friends, by forging or purchasing in the auction house. From what I have seen there is a nice range of character types from melee, to ranged, to crowd control and everyone who plays should be able to find a class that suits their style.

I was a bit disappointed by the graphics at first as they are quite bland and drab, but I think they do a good job of creating a bleak atmosphere which is supported by the music. I think that the spell and ability effects are great as they are bright and flashy and this juxtaposes beautifully with the environments to reinforce that you and your team are the only people who can stop the dark Lords. There are large portions of the game to still be revealed so I'm hopeful that later hubs may be brighter, like the Desert city in Diablo 2.
I liked the relaxed way the story is told; it's there for people who want it, but for people in groups or who have heard it before it's easy to skip quickly through. The story is told through characters and audio lore logs with solid, if slightly melodramatic, voice acting throughout the game. Generally I found the sound to be phenomenal in the beta and very reminiscent of Diablo 2, which can only be a good thing. It would have been nice of the NPCs to react more to which class you are, but this is only a small complaint.

The first class I played was the Wizard, which I loved and was my favourite character overall, though I do normally learn towards spell casters in RPGs. The Wizard surprised me with it's ability to get stuck in and take quite a lot of damage, I found myself running into groups of enemies to use AoE attacks without fear of dying; it's refreshing to get to be a mage without being excessively easy to kill. By the end of the beta I felt like quite the badass as the Wizard and having played some of the other characters have decided that is what I will play in the final game. I didn't like all of her abilities but each slot had something that I would use often; I cannot say that for the other two races that I tried.
The need to scoot and shoot with the Demon Hunter really appealed to my Terran sensibilities (StarCraft) but some of it's abilities really annoyed me. I did not like the Vault ability, that causes you to dodge away, as there is a short delay before it happens and so it felt slightly unresponsive, though this may have been because I had high latency. I found that I only really used the primary and secondary attacks and had to remind myself to use the Demon Hunters other abilities, which at their lower levels didn't really help. I liked the Demon Hunter but found it bland compared to the Wizard. The Demon Hunter controls groups of enemies by slowing them down and that just isn't how I like to play; no colourful explosions, no thank you.
I really enjoyed playing as the Monk but I can imagine it getting pretty repetitive quickly as their primary attacks get into a rhythmic three attack combo. Out of the classes I played the Monk was the most different as it is so close ranged and agile; I loved the Tempest Run ability, which causes you to charge through enemies, knocking them back and allowing you to reposition. For a long time I thought the Monk was supposed to be unarmed so I didn't equip a weapon, but I still felt deadly efficient. Overall I think the Monk has the potential to be one of the most interesting classes in the game; it just relies on it's later abilities not being too similar. From what I have played and seen the Monk will be my second choice.
Diablo 3 was always a day one collectors edition purchase for me and the beta has only further increased by excitement. Unfortunately for me May 15th falls in the middle of my final year University exams, so May 21st cannot come fast enough. Thank you very much for reading, you can follow this blog from the pane to the right and find me on Twitter here. I will have plenty more Diablo 3 content after the game is released.

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