When the first trailers and screenshots came out a couple years ago, internet whiners went into petulant rage at the supposed brightness and light-heartedness of the game’s aesthetics, which apparently reminded them that they were children. Of course, as usual, the internet was wrong; the game’s atmosphere is blacker than a honky’s heart. You can’t see a bloody thing anywhere, but it’s still not GRIMDARK enough for the babies who want to look tough by playing “mature” games. Instead, you get pandas.
I was in the Diablo 2 beta in 2000. My computer only had 32 megabytes of RAM and the minimum requirement was 64. But I’m not going to wax nostalgic about it because old computers were crap. I got into the Diablo 3 beta rather early on because I got an invite from a friend, but I didn’t feel like writing about it until now. However, it is my responsibility to review incredibly highly-anticipated games.
One cliché used by internet tough guys who are afraid to commit to anything is “cautiously optimistic”. Well, I’m not even that. I don’t believe that Diablo 3 will be as big an improvement over 2 as 2 was over Diablo 1. But a couple of things are better.
What made Diablo 2 so enjoyable for so many years was the seemingly infinite variety of skills and items. The Diablo 3 beta doesn’t offer much, but it is only the first section of the game. The beta has some new features that are most welcome. Town portals are an inherent ability; they no longer need to be bought/found and do not waste space in the inventory. Dungeons often have a stone at the end that teleports the player back to the entrance. These streamline the process of traveling back to town to sell loot.
The inventory screen is simplified; perhaps too much so. All items now take up one or two slots, which means no more playing Tetris with your items. This means that there is less charm and personality to your inventory and stash screens, but it is overall more efficient.
They also address one of the biggest issues I had with Diablo 2: The stash. Namely, it being way too small, even in the expansion. I had to use a third-party program to manage my items, and even that was only possible with offline characters. Some of the defenders of the infinitesimal stash argued that it’s supposed to encourage the player to pick their best equipment and ditch the rest, but I don’t buy it. All sorts of useful items went to waste unless you were able to trade then with another player or one of your alternate accounts. Collecting set items was nearly impossible given the cramped space available. There should have been multiple huge pages available, like what the merchants have when selling you stuff. The tiny stash space was just an all-around bad design decision.
Diablo 3 allows players to spend in-game gold to increase the amount of storage space for their characters. And that is excellent.
Picking up gold happens automatically when walking over it, though all other items still have to be clicked on as normal. Defeated enemies often drop orbs that heal or restore mana (Or one of the many other resources available, depending on your class) which means your sustainability is higher and you don’t have to return to town or use healing potions so often. As long as you survive the current encounter, you can get restored most of the way, though this is probably only likely for the early, easier parts of the game. Weapons also give the number of attacks per second as well as the damage per second, which eliminates the math needed to figure out how much damage your character deals. The overall practice of picking up, selecting, and storing loot is highly streamlined.
Skills can be swapped in an out, though there is a limit to the number that can be equipped at once as well as a delay after doing so to prevent quick players from abusing the system. This is a good change of pace from Diablo 2’s no-takebacks policy on selecting skills, but it also encourages generic builds. Every member of your class (Which are similar to Diablo 2‘s with minor changes) can do all the same things at the same level of proficiency. Your barbarian can only be separated from other barbarians by level and equipment. Stats from level-up are assigned automatically; no choice is given. Whenever a new overpowered skill setup is found, everyone will be able to switch to it. There is the option to use “skill runes” to upgrade your skills in certain ways, and hopefully this will result in a bigger variety of character builds.
The skill selection is also limited in the fact that you cannot assign one of the two mouse buttons to a regular physical attack without sacrificing one of the slots you would use for magic. In Diablo 2, I could just scroll through my available skills with the mouse wheel, including the basic attack. If you pick a character like the witch doctor who is all ranged attacks or summons, you will be complete unable to attack nearby enemies or smash open barrels with your equipped weapon using any decent setup. (Yes, you must often use a high-mana spell in order to break open pots to find loot.) It usually won’t be necessary, but I want the option to be available.
Quest destinations are usually shown on the minimap though there are occasionally areas where the destination is not revealed but only the general area. Though some will complain that this is pointless hand-holding and I do miss wandering the wilderness of Diablo 2 to find my goal, the purpose of Diablo games (As in all Roguelikes and derivative thereof) is to run around, kill monsters, and collect loot so you can kill stronger monsters. In Diablo 3 you are still free to meander around to places other than the big exclamation point on the map.
I went through the beta with four character classes; the barbarian, witch doctor, sorcerer, and demon hunter. Each was unique enough to make for a different experience. Hopefully they will create more classes, though, as they did in Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction and the little-known semi-official Diablo 1 expansion Hellfire.
There is little creativity to be found in the monsters or the demo’s single dungeon. Diablo 2’s first area was not a generic forbidding castle but barren, blackened forest. Pathfinding has improved, however. Your character and his minions will navigate passageways to get to enemies (And vice versa) rather than getting stuck in every corner. This was a big problem in Diablo 2 and even bigger in Diablo (Where one valid tactic for defeating bosses with short-range attacks was to get them stuck behind a gate and pepper them with arrows until they collapsed).
There are achievements, but–as they have no in-game effects that I can determine–they are mere fluff that should not concern the average player.
The Diablo 3 beta is basically an upgrade of the beloved Diablo 2 without any huge changes. I want the final product to be something more interesting than a rehash of a great game. What they have now is just a minor refinement of previous efforts. Blizzard is capable of great things; they need to get their act together. If you’re reading this, though, you’re probably so hyped for this game that my criticisms mean nothing. It will undoubtedly sell fifty trillion copies and who knows? Maybe it’ll even be good.
If you make a sequel it should significantly improve on everything from the previous game. Diablo 3, so far, does not. If Blizzard fans just want a graphics and UI update every few years, Blizzard will happily deliver and collect your money. Diablo 3 holds the position where fans will be happy, it’s basically a decent game, but it’s no fun to reviewers and professional complainers.