Diablo 3 is coming soon. As of the time of writing this, there are just over 20 days left. Blizzard was kind enough to have an open beta weekend this past Friday through Monday, and I was keen enough to participate in that, playing all five classes to the beta level cap of 13. I don't know if it was actually Blizzard being kind or Blizzard covering their asses so that the full release goes smoothly with all the servers and such, but I'm leaning towards the latter. The servers were down or overloaded for the better part of the weekends. Still, that's a good thing; it means there shouldn't be as many issues at full launch, and that is much more important.
All that aside, however, let's get to the gameplay. The beta is a tease at best. People are decrying the franchise because of the small amount of content in the beta. Well, that's what the real game is for, isn't it? You haven't paid Blizzard yet (well...maybe), so quit your whining. It's a test. Blizzard needs to fix stuff before they go live. If you want all the features, play the full game.
Oh wow, look at that, I got to ranting again. Gameplay! I promise this time.
I lied. First, we're going to go into all the things that weren't in the beta, that will be in the full release. And this list has me much more excited than anything I actually did see in the beta.
- Character levels 14-60, and all the class skills that go along with this. To put this into perspective, let's examine the Monk. The monk unlocks 18 skills, runes, and passives by level 13. He unlocks 122 more from levels 14 to 60. This means that we have seen only 12.8% of what the Monk is capable of in the beta. The numbers are similar for other classes.
- The rest of Act 1, the other 3 acts, and the other 3 difficulties. Whoa, that's a lot of content. Keep in mind that the difficulties are not only going to be more difficult, but they are going to introduce new content as well. New items are available in nightmare and hell difficulties, and new monster affixes are available in each new difficulty as well. Who knows what else they have in store?
- Speaking of monster affixes, we only saw two or three in the beta. Champion groups could teleport or knock you back and...that was about it. In the full release, there are supposedly 50 or more possible monster affixes. That's a lot of stuff to prepare for.
- Gems and socketed items. Remember, there are a ridiculous number of gem levels in this game, not just the 5 from previous games. Gems actually seem to be items worth putting in your equipment now, rather than being kind of meh like they were in Diablo 2. Amethysts were the worst; I hated those things.
- Set and Unique items. And more? Who knows. We'll have to wait and see how this all plays out.
- More item affixes. We haven't see anything that increases specific skill powers and barely anything class-specific. Most beta items are pretty mundane and samey, but they promise to be much more unique at the full release. One problem that people were worried about was what happened with items in Torchlight. Essentially, you could repeatedly craft the same item in Torchlight over and over, adding more and more attributes to it. This made all items into pretty much even copies of each other, as they all got the same affixes just in different ratios. Diablo 3 looks like it will not have this problem by having more affixes and no stacking mechanic. Once an item is crafted, there it is. Take it or leave it. No further adding more ridiculousness. Items look to be a unique way to customize your character.
- Shrines. It's a minor thing, really, but shrines are neat. In the beta, we got 3 shrines: experience gain, attack speed, and armor. In the full release, there look to be 50 or more different kinds of shrines available.
But, however cool the sheer amount of content in this game is, it's all pretty much worthless if the game isn't fun to play.
Luckily, it is fun to play. It's got a different focus than Diablo 2 did, but it's got its own charm and its own appeal and it's most certainly a blast. I was especially delighted to play with some of the skills that I had read over and over in the calculator, but never gotten to actually see or use before.
Let me say this: the skills are much, much more satisfying in game than they sound like they'll be when you read them. I don't know if there were any exceptions to this. Corpse Spiders, for example, sounds absolutely pathetic. Why would I ever use this? But this wound up being my bread and butter. Spamming the stage with 16 or more spiders at a time that swarm your enemies and slowly siphon the life out of them is fun.
Another thing that pleasantly surprised me was the profound effects even a subtle-sounding rune could have. For example, I fully expected every reasonable Monk to run Deadly Reach. I couldn't even fathom, in all my theory, why any Monk would opt for any of the other generators over this. That was, until I actually used the other skills. Fists of Thunder seemed like one of those skills I would never look at twice. But when I unlocked the first rune, Thunderclap, I decided to give it a shot. I never went back to Deadly Reach. The description of this rune just doesn't do the skill justice. The small boost in AoE damage has much more of an effect than you would guess. The teleport before the first strike is absolutely incredible, and increases your mobility to ridiculous levels. It was the best feeling in the world to find out through experimentation that my theory was wrong. Both skills are viable. It comes down to preference. What are you trying to do with your character? Well, you can do that. And it will work.
When's the last time you saw a viable Holy Fire Paladin in Diablo 2? Or a Spearazon? Or a double-throw Barbarian? There were skills in Diablo 2 that just weren't useful, or were completely outclassed by later skills. Diablo 3 doesn't have any of these issues. Skills are all situational, and it's on the player to figure out which skills he wants for which situation. This is because damage is all normalized, yes, but it increases tactical options and satisfaction. Damage is normalized in other games, whether it's behind the scenes or it's as obvious as it is in Diablo 3. The difference here is that Blizzard can use the normalization to their benefit and make tons of interesting abilities, instead of fearing that one will become incredibly imbalanced.
The last point I want to make for now, because this article is turning into an absolute monster, is about strategy and tactics. In Diablo 2, your strategy choices were few. For each class, there were 2 or maybe 3 ways to viably build that class, and everything else was worthless. Your strategy was to follow a guide and build as you were told. For most classes, your tactical choices consisted of spamming your main ability nonstop. All those other skill points you spent? Synergies, powering up your main spell. Nothing more. I remember killing Uber Diablo by using frenzy for a few minutes, literally doing nothing but holding my mouse button down, while my friend did the same with his meteor Sorceress. I'm not trying to talk down about Diablo 2--there were interesting sections of that game which required a more tactical approach--but Diablo 3 seems to take this to a whole new level.
Strategy isn't as limited in Diablo 3. There are still going to be bad builds, but the good builds are going to be much more plentiful and diverse in Diablo 3 than they ever were in Diablo 2. You can't just pick any 6 skills you want and expect to succeed, but if you give it some thought and come up with creative ways to use the spells at your disposal, you'll assuredly be able to come up with a unique build that fills its role and is successful. Tactics in Diablo 3 (partially because of the implementation of the cooldown for some skills, but also just naturally because of the nature of the skill system) are much more diverse. You don't just constantly spam your meat and potatoes spell nonstop all battle every battle.
For example, as the Witch Doctor, at one point I was using Corpse Spiders, Grasp of the Dead, Soul Harvest, and Haunt. In each battle I came across, I would use these skills in a different order, or skip one or more of the skills completely. If I was against 3 larger enemies, I might slow them with Grasp and Haunt them, leaving them alone to die at their leisure. Against a larger group of lesser enemies, I could Soul Harvest a bunch and finish them completely with empowered Corpse Spiders.
Overall, in case you couldn't tell, I am excited. I am counting down the seconds until I can play this game, and I have been ever since the date was announced. But now that I've played the open beta, and spent time with each class and each skill up to level 13, I am more excited than ever. Getting to level 13 and knowing that I couldn't get any further yet was painful. I just wanted to unlock that next skill, get to that next area, keep going just a little bit. And I know I will again, and again, and again.
I don't know how often I'll get to post during the early days of Diablo 3, because I will be playing, but hopefully I'll get some post-launch impressions up here reasonably soon afterwards.