D3: Some Initial Thoughts From Beta
And for ten or so years, Diablo 3 has been promising the same.
Myself personally, I played both Diablo 1 and 2, but never got as deeply into them as some.
I LAN-played Diablo 2 a few times, but we more stuck to 1st person shooters of the Half-Life: Counterstrike, Serious Sam, and Quake 3 Arena variety – games not requiring leveling or anything other than fragging other people. At the same time, my personal interest in games at that time revolved around RPGs (mostly D&D), such as the Eye of the Beholder series, the Might and Magic: Xeen games, Ultima Underworld, and the “newer” D&D titles that switched to 3rd person – namely the Dark Sun games, Neverwinter Nights, and Planescape: Torment.
IMHO, Planescape: Torment is still one of the best games with the best story lines to this day.
So that, and the knowledge that I play WoW (and previously, other MMORPG’s) gives you some background on where my gaming perspective comes from.
My counterpart, Laz, on the other hand, has always been a huge Diablo fan. Since we first began talking (erm, four years now?), he has been talking about D3 in anticipation of its release. It had almost become a joke between us, him talking about “when” it releases and me talking about “if” it releases. heh
So the announcement of a release date was exciting news for him. In fact, when he re-activated his WoW account, one of the first things he did was sign up for the Annual Pass for a free copy. I imagine he might still break down and get the Collector’s Edition, but we shall see. :)
So the game I had talked myself out of when Laz and I stopped talking, has once more been talked into. In fact, I was lucky enough to get Beta access – so Laz and I decided it was time to test out some classes, so that when the release date comes, we can jump on already knowing what toons to create.
Well, of course I could not play with the Beta without sharing my opinion on it. ;)
First thing you notice, obviously, is the graphics, and Blizzard has done a great job here. Even the log on screen and Character Creation are beautiful. The characters are rendered nicely and the world environment is dark and foreboding but still gorgeous in its depth. (Just remember to update your video drivers! My D3 was a little fuzzy in the chat boxes, which shows in my initial screenshots.)
The characters are straightforward, which has pluses and minuses.
Being true to its predecessors, D3 has limited classes and no character customization. Each class has only two options: male or female. Coming from someone who can spend over an hour in creating a character in something like Aion or Star Trek Online, this is disappointing.
But at the same time, this is a plus, as you can pick a character and jump right into the action without delay.
Upon entering the world with your new character, you immediately notice the drastic difference in navigation between WoW and Diablo. No camera turning, no head turning, no option of keyboard movement, and basic click-and-move mouse navigation.
Movement is entirely done by left-clicking the ground. (An option I have ALWAYS had turned off in WoW. lol)
At first, this was hugely disorienting to me, after so long playing MMO’s with in-depth movement and action options, but I soon found myself growing more comfortable. By Level 5, I was fairly used to the movement, but when I really got on a roll I would catch myself trying to revert to WoW playstyle and opening random windows.
Diablo 3 includes lots of stuff to interact with everywhere – barrels and stumps to destroy and loot, chandeliers to drop on mobs, bookcases to ransack, loose stones in the floor, corpses to checkout, and even random items that cannot be interacted with but can be destroyed by attacks. You are encouraged to mouseover and examine everything you come across!
Another bonus: D3 has LOTS of chests and weapons racks and such!
One thing the immediately threw me back to more retro RPG’s was the mapping in D3. I did not realized how much I missed reveal-as-you-go maps both in the world and dungeons. It was exciting to drop back into my old habits of all right turn exploration in dungeons – eventually you cover the whole dungeon. The new and fresh part of this map style? A WoW-like mini map in the upper right. The map also opens and you to scan across the entirety of your current area.
Another great change Blizzard made to exploring is teleportation. It is very easy to move around in the D3 world. Waypoints I remember from previous Diablo games, but they very well done in D3, they are in all the major areas. Also the ends of larger dungeon areas provide obelisks that teleport you out to the entrance. Last, there is the Town Portal. These used to require a reagent, but no longer! In D3 this is a skill you learn! (I want to say it was at Level 7?)
Loot was done well in Diablo 3. It sprays like blood into the air and onto the ground around where it originates (mobs, looted bodies and interactable items, and destroyed items). To pick up gold merely requires stepping over it. For gear, it requires something a tad more deliberate – you have to click-to the item (left-click).
One really nice feature? You can inspect an item before looting it! Holding down Control with the mouse over the item on the ground shows a inspection window identical to that you see on items in your backpack.
Also, the only form of currency in Diablo 3 is gold, and gold comes FAST! So if a merchant has a high priced item you would like, no worries! I had no problem buying pieces here and there while leveling.
The skill setup in Diablo 3 is quite different from anything I have fiddled with in other games myself. Like you would expect, leveling grants you new abilities, however, it is the way these abilities are executed that is different. At any given time, D3 allows you to ready only ONE skill from each category. At Level 1, you begin with a Primary (left-click) and Secondary (right-click) skill. The Witch Doctor started with a ranged Poison Dart (Primary) and a simple melee attack (Secondary).
Leveling brings new Primary and Secondary skills, as you see above, my Firebats replaced my melee attack. It also unlocks four other types of abilities – bound to keys 1, 2, 3, and 4. Bind 1 seems to be a cooldown slot for each class – in the case of the Witch Doctor, summoning three permanent-until-dead Zombie Dogs which fight for me (that occasionally notice mobs before me! heh). The additional skills and their keybinds come with higher levels – such as my 2 skill, Soul Harvest.
As you level, you also received Runes, which augment certain abilities. In the Secondary window I show above, you can see I know have Splinter augmenting my Poison Dart.
One really neat feature to use with ranged attacks is to hold down Shift while attacking. This will keep your character from running around if you click the ground instead of a mob. It is really great for cone or fan attacking, basically spraying your attack back and forth in front of you.
The questing and lore items were done to perfection in Diablo 3. Quests are fully voiced-over, with text boxes to read them as well. There are also lore items scattered throughout the world, mostly in the form of books you find and pickup. These books generate a voice-over with a window to stop them in the bottom right. The great part is these lore items go into a tab of the Quest Log to save them for later. No carrying of these books is required and if you wish to listen again later – you can! It is also good for working in a group, you can cancel the lore item and view it later, or even let it play… it will keep going while you do!
Quests do little to slow down the action. There are characters with yellow “!” but many of the questions self-complete and even self-update. So killing or obtaining a quest objective usually leads to the next quest beginning immediately.
Last night, Laz and I created a Monk and Witch Doctor – a very solid pair if I do say so myself. We leveled through the campaign as it is available in the Beta at this time.
What a story so far! And what a great, fast-paced medium to view it in. There is so much going on, endless waves of monsters for slaughtering, constant glowing at the tip of the mouse signifying interactables, lots of voice-overs, and a fast advancing story as you play.
In fact, the only thing that Laz and I came across to slow progress was leveling (and having to adjust skills as we received them) and loot. There was so much loot, all the time. So every twenty packs of mobs or so, we would pause to see if anything was an upgrade. There was also a fair amount of bouncing back to town to sell off. (Which does not bother me, since I pickup everything – even greys – to use, bank, or sell.) But if you prefer not to carry so much, take advantage of the Control+mouseover and only pickup what you will use.
Aside from loot and skills, the game play was fast, and we burned through mobs quickly. It was a refreshing bit of carnage, more like a 1st-person shooter pace than that of an MMORPG.
The Witch Doctor Class
I started a Witch Doctor, because she reminded me most of Effy (with a slight Warlock feel).
My initial thoughts on this class: wow and fun! She is very fast-paced and mobile and has lots of potential for a great CC class. She paired great with the Monk, as Laz would run into the fray with my Dogs and I would attack from range with my various abilities. I see myself enjoying this class even more at higher levels.
(I am still trying to convince myself to try another character before release…!)
Final Note: All this weekend, Diablo 3 has an Open Beta weekend, with a Level cap of 13. If it sounds interesting, go check it out! If I were to wager a guess, I would say Blizzard will likely be doing progress Open Beta weekends from now until release, but do not quote me on that. ;)
Also, D3 Beta is down and I cannot finish up my screenshots. :( Expect updates to those soon©.
UPDATE: More pictures added!