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My Hands-On With Diablo III Beta

When I first got my grasp on Diablo III beta, I was ecstatic, simply because it was the opportunity to experience a bit of the sequel of one of my favorite games of all time. Of course, there was roughly 3 gigs of data to download before I could have a go at the beta without any hitches, and the waiting was by far the toughest part of the entire experience.

Right when the download got to the ‘playable’ level, I slapped the ‘play’ button, hastily entered my account data (the haste resulted in me getting it wrong the first time), and found myself staring at the character screen.

After a few quick adjustments to the graphics and sound, it was time for me to select my hero. In case you didn’t know, or simply forgot, Diablo III has 4 different types of heroes, with each type available in both genders.

There’s the Barbarian – the only hero class that made it from Diablo II, and though the looks defer, the basics are almost the same. Then there is the Monk, who is an enhanced form of the Paladin you could say, but with much more agility and melee-focused skills.

Necromancer fans will be glad to see the Witch Doctor, who is a crude form of the dead-raiser from Diablo II, and Amazon/Assassin fans will look forward to the cool looking Demon Hunter class. The Wizard is a refined form of the Sorceress, and like all classes, comes in both male and female gender.

Being a Barbarian veteran in Diablo II, my instincts told me to click on select the massively built male version (the female version is just as massive, mind you) of the class. But I always loved the Necromancer and Druid as well, and since there was no real synonymous class to the Druid, I naturally picked the Witch Doctor.

On the Hero creation screen, the Witch Doctor looked pretty mysterious and threatening with his over-sized ‘ooga-booga’ mask and the freaky Wanga Doll clenched in his left hand. But when I finalized his name, I saw a bald, half-naked male with pupil-less eyes, plenty of piercings and a fat oval stomach.

At first I was a bit upset, simply because I was naturally comparing it with the looks of the Necromancer, who I dare say was very sophisticated and cool looking.

However, the more I stared at the shaking figure in front of me, the more I understood its simplicity and what it depicted. The Witch Doctor has a shaman-like appearance – a native figure that practiced the dark art in purer and more benevolent forms.

After a bit of philosophizing and wonder, I decided to start the campaign, and that’s when I took control of the weak-looking but powerful figure which I later started regarding as one of the most powerful heroes in the beta.

The beta campaign starts you off just outside New Tristram. The environment is morbid, has an aroma of sickness and evil in it, and just taking a few paces forward on the linear road you start off on shows you the horrors of the night. Zombies eat on the dead, and I naturally pressed ‘1’ to activate my first skill, though I had no idea what it did.

To my surprise, three undead dogs arose from the ground, and immediately ran towards the closest zombies, slaying them with a few bites. I grinned at the satisfying site of gold flowing out of the bodies of my enemies, and how the undead dogs came back to me after finishing their dirty work.

I then marched on, exploring the only town in the beta and having a look at the NPCs. Thankfully, in Diablo III, the important people aren’t the only clickable ones. You’ll find that most of the NPCs – important or not – have something to say, and listening to them really brings out the RPG flavor of the game.

After moving about and asking questions from a few folks, I resumed my explorations, which were quite restrictive since most paths were linear and unlike Diablo. During my journey, I managed to level up a few times, thanks to the ample amount of zombies and undeads wandering about. This is when I was first exposed to the character development system of Diablo III.

The character development system was perhaps one of the few things that didn’t quite impress me – simply because it was highly limiting. Every time you leveled up, your stats would automatically increase, and one skill in the skill tree would automatically unlock.

There was no liberty of unlocking the skill you desired first like in Diablo II. Another limiting factor was the ‘active skills’ slots. There were only a certain number of skills that could be activated at the same time.

Other skills would not be usable, either through the hotkeys or from the mouse left/right clicks. That means that even though you might have unlocked 6 different skills or abilities in total, you can only use two at a time. There was a way to unlock more active skills slots, but that would require attaining certain levels.

In the beginning of the game only 2 active skills slots are available, capping the amount of skills you can use at a time to two. At level 6 you unlock the third active skills slot, and similarly you could unlock up to five, one being unlocked every 6 levels. There were also three passive skill slots, of which the first would be unlocked at level 10, the second at level 20, and the final at level 30.

The fact that I wasn’t able to prioritize one skill over the other was a bit of a disappointment, and the skills slots system made me indecisive about which combination of skills to keep active. It would’ve been much more convenient had a character development system similar to that of Diablo II’s been implemented instead.

Either way, my disagreement with character development system wasn’t enough to stop me from playing the beta further. After some zombie-hunting I was forced to explore the cathedral, where the true form of the game revealed itself.

The beta, for the first time, felt like a refined form and rightful sequel to Diablo II. The cathedral dungeon was quite vast, and though it wasn’t too hard to navigate in it, it consisted of a variety of enemies, and even super enemies that exploded or left poison smoke when killed, giving valuable magic items but also challenging my survivability.

From here onwards the rather generous beta felt like a true sequel to Diablo II, and though there were a few bugs here and there, the experience was captivating and satisfying.

The beta ended while exploring the lower levels of the cathedral, which became increasingly confusing and complex, like this in its predecessor. The final battle was quite entertaining and satisfyingly felt like a Diablo boss battle.

Though it took some intelligent casting and healing, my powerful undead dogs and the surprisingly adept abilities of the Witch Doctor were enough to finish the beta without having to die even once.

YOU HAVE DEFEATED DIABLO III BETA was what appeared on the screen after I struck the final blow. Uh, yeah; it’s definitely a strange statement, but I totally understand what it means.

I still had the liberty to explore any unexplored region in the beta, but I decided to exit the game as a satisfied man, eagerly planning to have a go at the cool-looking Demon Hunter class the next time I decide to play it – because believe me, it still has the replay value that Diablo II was known for.

Summing it up, I’m very satisfied with the good one and a half hours of Diablo III fun. Personally, the character development system doesn’t quite cut it for me, as I do believe in the more conventional and open-ended development system that was there in Diablo II.

There were also some issues with the server connection. Let me remind you that in order to play Diablo III, both the beta and the future retail version, you need to be connected at all times to the servers, even if you are playing singleplayer.

This is truly painstaking, because hitches in the server or a problem in your personal connection means bye-bye to playing Diablo for a while. The rest of the ride was smooth and engaging, and boy can I not wait to get my hands on the retail version. Hope you come soon, 2012!