I was privileged enough to have the chance to play the beta of Diablo 3 for the first time yesterday. I had spent the better part of the last month hyping this game up in my head, consuming all manner of related media, watching beta playthroughs, making up builds, and everything else I could do to make sure that I kept thinking about the game. I was just starting to get bored of it when I had the chance to play.
Despite all my proclamations that I "needed" to get into the beta, the excitement had already worn down and, at first, playing the game seemed more like a formality than it did an adventure. After all, I had watched complete playthroughs with all five classes, so I knew where to go and what was coming every step of the way. I even taught a thing or two to the friend of a friend who was so kind as to give me a chance to play.
All that said, I still enjoyed my time with the game immensely. I was able to get two complete playthroughs in, with the Witch Doctor and the Monk. Some skills I was looking forward to (Zombie Charger) were disappointing, and other skills I had looked at skeptically (Grasp of the Dead) really won me over.
I can't really give it a fair comparison to Diablo 2, because I have spent countless hundreds of hours playing and mastering every aspect of Diablo 2, and I spent about 3 hours playing a tiny fraction of Diablo 3. My desire to get into the beta has subsided, but I'm looking forward to Diablo 3's full release even more now than I was in the past.
One thing that stood out in contrast to Diablo 2, even at low levels in Diablo 3, is just how versatile your combat experience can be. The first few levels are a bit repetitive because you have so few skills available, but it's mostly a masked hands-on tutorial and it does its job of introducing you to the new class. As soon as you unlock that third skill slot (which really doesn't take long at all), a world of opportunity opens. Even with three slots, I couldn't justify skills like Hex or Blinding Flash, because I was pressed for time and needed to focus on offense. In my release playthroughs where I can afford to be patient, I will certainly experiment with these skills as well. By the time you unlock the fourth slot, the options expand exponentially. Each new skill and each new slot adds to the possible combat options, and even after hitting level 30 and having access to everything, the number of (theoretical) viable builds is staggeringly huge.
Diablo 3 gives choice at every turn, and the action is much more active and engaging than it was in Diablo 2. It's more about timing and positioning and flow and strategic choices, whereas Diablo 2 was more about min/maxing and proper skill builds. Diablo 2 was a great game, and I still continue to enjoy it to this day. Diablo 3 is different, and each one has its own merits and detriments. I can say with confidence that I will play Diablo 3 for a very long time, and I will enjoy it from start to finish. And when I get bored (which I will, eventually), I can go back to Diablo 2 and play that and enjoy it just as much as I always have.
Even with only 8 or 9 skills available, with only 3 skill slots, with no runes to speak of, Diablo 3 gave me options upon options for how I wanted to fight. Once the full game is out, there will be no end to the creative possibilities.
I can't wait.