Thoughts on the Diablo 3 Beta

Blizzard opened up the Diablo 3 beta to everybody for the weekend. I found out when I got home from the circus on Friday. Basically played from then until about 1 o’clock in the morning. I played Diablo 1 and 2 a lot, back in the day. Far more than I should have, no doubt. There’s just something about clicking things and making them explode into a fountain of gold and treasure that is immensely satisfying. When I heard that a third installment was coming at last, I had high hopes.

Of course, I was also realistic. There have been quite a few “heir to Diablo” games out since the second one came out back in 2000. None of them have really managed to recapture the simplistic yet complex awesomesauce of Diablo 2. I’d bought Hellgate London based on hype alone, and I was let down by it a great deal.

So what if the third one stunk?

It didn’t stink. It was different, but in a good way. The biggest change was how much more streamlined the leveling process is at first. I gained a level, and it unlocked skills. I didn’t get to choose which skills were unlocked. I didn’t get to choose how to allocate my stats. It all happened automatically. And I was confused. And kind of upset. One of the things I’ve always liked about games is building a character the way I want to build him. Who was Blizzard to force me to build a certain way? How was my character going to be any different than anybody else’s? This seemed like an awful decision.

But I kept playing.

Because the loot was there, and the clicking, and the exploding. And once I gained a few levels, suddenly it all became clear. Multiple skills were unlocked at once, and I got a glimpse of how it could be. The game lets you use six skills at once. You get to choose which skills. Each skill has a slew of different flavors. There are something like 30 skills. Changing what skills you use can be done at any time, for free. This is huge.

Before in a game, if you wanted to change your character, you had to essentially relevel a character. With this change, you basically just need to level one of each flavor character, and then you can experiment and tweak to your heart’s content. Before, I was always kind of stressed when leveling. What if I made a bad choice? What if that messed up my character forever? Yes, that made each decision really important, but it also meant I kept going online to study up how I should level to be the best I could be. I would have loved to do some trial and error, but I just didn’t want to risk it.

With Diablo 3, I don’t need the internet to tell me what to choose. I can make choices on my own. If they work, I’ll know it, because I won’t be dying all the time. If they don’t work, I can change it. That’s fantastic, as far as I’m concerned. And no need to keep releveling the same characters? Super.

So while the new leveling system really caught me off guard at first, consider me a believer now.

What else did I think about the game? The graphics could be cool, but my computer isn’t up to them. The characters seemed distinct and fun to play. I was a bit disappointed that you’re forced to be the archetype of the character you choose, however. What I mean by that is that you can’t be a sword-wielding witch doctor. You can have a sword. but you basically just carry that sword around with you. You can’t use it. You use spells to attack always. That’s a bit of a bummer, but we’ll see how big of an effect it has on endgame. I loved how many different types of characters you could make in Diablo 2. I’d like to see more of that in the sequel.

The loot was a lot of fun, but I didn’t run across any uniques or set items–two things I really enjoyed in Diablo 2. However, it appears those items do exist in the game–I just didn’t come across any in the bit of time I played. Good.

I didn’t get to test out the social aspects or the auction house or anything. I only had time to take the game mechanics for a bit of a spin. But based on my experience playing for the little time I had, I’m definitely buying the game, and I think it’ll be awesome.

Beware the Ides . . . of May? Works for me.

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