Diablo III Demo Beta!

In Video Games on April 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Ostensibly a stress test, last weekend’s open beta granted access to those of us that hadn’t yet been included in D3‘s beta schedule. Judging from my own personal experience I’m sure we all know more than a few people that had been included thus far, who have regaled us about this highly anticipated sequel, but to actually play it. well…

There’s an article in that.

Diablo III reinforces that Blizzard exists in its on little universe, one where its games are only ever measured against and compared to its other games. It doesn’t matter that “third-person looters,” PC RPGs, multiplayer click fests and every other spawn of D2′s wild popularity have significantly evolved since its release in 2000. From Sacred to Torchlight (1 and 2 for both), and Divinity to The Dragon Knight Saga, we’ve seen significant success built both within the narrow confines of being a “Diablo clone” to games that have forged significant deviations while still scratching that same itch. But in every way, Diablo III — by developers, gamers, fans and everyone else — is only ever compared to its predecessor.

Success is almost a foregone conclusion at this point, because all Diablo III needs to beat is Diablo II. Which it does, almost directly addressing my every complaint I made about the game and tossing in a few issues that I’d have taken exception to if I’d have been lucid enough in those days.

Diablo III is an incredibly polished experience that doesn’t let anything, least of all itself, get in the way of you playing it (except for needing to be online all the time). Just to rattle everything off that I saw: no mindfuck stat distribution or allocation, no permanent commitment to talents or skills (resulting in a borked character if you mis-clicked), quest state is selectable at the character select screen (meaning you can go back and play from the beginning without starting a new character). Each player in multiplayer has a banner in town that lets you teleport directly to them. All characters get an innate town portal ability. Items have equip-compare popups that also show effective difference. Casters have low or no mana cost abilities so your wizardess never needs to whack enemies with her staff. All abilities scale with weapon damage anyway, so casters need to have good weapons instead of stacking one stat. Gold is picked up by walking over it. Skills are acquired automatically at levelup, as are skill-altering runes. Character names are no longer unique across, but just to the account making them, so you can name your characters whatever you want.

I could go on.

Graphically, the game has a clean, colorful and dark style. Everything is so varied in animation and modelling, and everything is so well sculpted that there’s very few moments where I am reminded that I am playing a game comprised of 3D models animated across a 3D landscape. It just looks good. Not Crysis good, more like storybook good. But good nonetheless.

As mentioned above, the beta (and base game) need to be online at all times to function. People have reported getting lag in their singleplayer games. I never played Diablo II offline, so this is just one of those things. Despite the might of Activision Blizzard beyind it, the stress test buckled and broke their modest servers, something I find to be very distasteful, and I was unable to access the beta for most of Friday and Saturday.

So all this really comes off as being is a really, really well-polished Diablo II clone. Like I said, other games have come and gone and offered this same experience but better, or with more creativity, or with an eye towards doing something differently.

The classes all have the whiff of their counterparts in the game’s predecessor. The Amazon became the Demon Hunter, Paladin the Monk and Necromancers became the Witch Doctor. Classes have unique mechanics — requiring arcane energy, hate and discipline rather than just mana — but these mechanics tend to boil down to managing MP for all their thematic differences (though it is nice to see it approached differently). You’re locked into an isometric viewpoint and can’t zoom out or rotate the camera at all. With friends, the experience becomes one where you zerg dungeons, hoovering up loot and portal back to town every couple of minutes to empty your bags and fill your purse.

It’s fun, and well done, but I honestly don’t think it has any longevity in it. Even the story might be irritating to scrutinizing gamers; you begin in “New Tristram”, a town built next to and on top of the ruins of quite possibly the most doomed down in all of video game history. I’m not even sure if there’s a pithy analog I can compare it to. The town was literally destroyed and under constant siege for two games, hosting elder prime evils and their minions. I can’t imagine what settler would park on top of that.

I had, for a time, thought that Guild Wars 2 would see this game as more its contemporary than World of Warcraft but this experience just feels so discreet and limited, so well defined and narrow, that there’s no way you would think of this as an MMO rather than just the online RPG it aspires to be.


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