Diablo 3 Open Beta Impressions

Posted on 24 April, 2012

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Diablo 3

The first (perhaps only) Diablo 3 Open Beta has now drawn to a close.  The beta appeared to go relatively well.  At times logging in was difficult as servers were going up and down, and the total concurrency was being scaled, all part of the test.  But what about the game?

I started with the class I’d most been looking forward to, the Demon Hunter (since my beloved Amazon did not survive the designer chopping board en route from D2), and headed off.  My initial reaction was that the game was extremely easy, the class-relevance of weaponry extremely lacking, and the skill unlocking rather a disappointment.  Even the story came across as unimaginative, relying on the fan friendly Tristram as the starting location and King Leoric as the first big bad.  None of the Demon Hunter’s opening skills (Hungering Arrow, Caltrops or Rapid Fire) particularly caught my imagination, and I completed the beta in about two and a half hours

Unperturbed I grabbed the Wizard and instantly felt more powerful.  The basic magic missile runes up nicely, and the Arcane Orb adds a useful splash damage attack.  In combination the wizard rapidly felt tangibly more powerful than the Demon Hunter.  As before however, there was very little sense of danger.  The beta as it stood this weekend was a walk in the park.

Two classes and two playthroughs complete I grabbed the Witch Doctor.  This class hadn’t previously appealed, and if anything appeared to be against my usual class preferences and playstyles.  However, it soon became the most fun as the skill combinations dovetailed in to each other.  Grasp of the Dead can be used to slow enemies whilst you hurl jars of leaping spiders at them.  Add zombie dogs in to the mix and that’s a weird but beautiful combination.

Consequently I ended up completing the beta twice with the Witch Doctor, once solo, and once in a group of four.  My run through in multiplayer was particularly surprising.  The pace was absolutely brutal, with us completing in just over an hour.  Sadly that reduces the relevance of the content, as it simply speeds by in a blur.  At these low levels there was also no class interaction to speak of.  All four players just carried on playing as if they were playing solo, and it got the job done extremely well.  Hopefully more strategic thinking will emerge towards the latter levels of co-op play.

Whilst I also had a taster of both Monk and Barbarian I didn’t reach the end with either.

Reflecting back my initial feelings were very negative.  The skills didn’t feel that engaging, nor the way in which skills are acquired and chosen.  Similarly the gathering of weapons and gear didn’t feel particularly special or new (despite the introduction of a blacksmith you can invest in to level up).  Starting the game in Tristram felt too obvious, and the rise of King Leoric didn’t come across with any particular conviction.  The experience conspired to create a lightweight cartoon version of its previous self, lacking the difficulty and dark tone of the previous versions.  However…

…Further playthroughs reveled some nice features.  The blacksmith exists across all your characters, which makes a lot of sense and adds huge value to the investment required in him.  The art, environment design and creature design are all technically executed to perfection.  With so few levels unlocked within beta limitations it would be easy to dismiss the skills and gameplay as simplistic, but digging deeper in to the skill trees you can imagine how play should become more engaging (and characters more unique) the deeper you go in to the game.  One must assume it will become suitably difficult as well.

As such I feel confident that my initial concerns will quickly disappear once the full game arrives.  The gameplay is as compelling (addictive) as ever, and my only lasting concern will be how engaging the over-arching narrative turns out to be.

As the beta ends the latest class trailer is released, featuring the Witch Doctor, arguably the most interesting of the five classes available.

Diablo 3 launches on May 15th, and I will be playing.

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