I was able to try out the Diablo 3 beta when it first started. Since then, Blizzard has done a ton of work to update the mechanics of the game and make it better. The biggest problem that had to face with this game is to not just make a great addition to the Diablo series but also be better than all the “clone” games that came out since 2000. Titan’s Quest is still, in my opinion, the best “Diablo clone” game out there. However, it gets a bit more heated when you talk about another game that is coming out relatively close to Diablo 3: Torchlight 2.
Blizzard has added some controversial features to Diablo 3 that made the D3 vs. Torchlight 2 debate gain even more spotlight. In order to combat things like always-on DRM, no offline mode, real money auction house, only 4-player multi-player, and no mods Blizzard has to rely on the franchise reputation and the bevy of changes to the game to help it take off.
There should be no problem having Diablo 3 sell really well. The name alone carries a weight to it that just gets people excited. In the end it won’t matter what the scenery looks like, how you have to play, or if you can make it your full time job or not. People love the Diablo series. It does what it does really well and the story never falters. We want to kill hellspawn. All day. Everyday. However, since the beginning of beta Blizzard has been hard at work perfecting the game to make it not only better but also streamlined, simpler, and more fun. Those terms may scare you but believe me it does a great job at getting you back to the game faster.
You won’t be finding yourself writing down the best spec for your Hammerdin or trying to make the best Meteorb Sorc. As you level up your character will receive all the new spells and they will be automatically added to your list. No trainers. Almost every level there will be something new for you to choose. It may be a spell, it may be an active skill, a passive skill, or a rune. Every one of those works differently and it makes the experience more unique. Spells are obviously your main way of fighting the hordes of hell. You have a Primary and Secondary skill for both the left and right mouse buttons. Each button gets its own set of skills. You can’t switch Shock Pulse to the right mouse button as it is considers a Primary skill. You gain four spells in both the Primary and Secondary sections as you level up. Next you have active skills which will be contained in your action bar (numbers 1-4). They are broken down into four categories: defensive, force, conjuration, and mastery. You unlock these as you level up and just like spells, each category has four (or some cases, more than four) spells attached. This is significantly different from the early versions of Diablo 3. However, putting the skills into separate sections and labeling them as specific types actually makes sense. It gives all of the skills a place in the game. Whereas before we’d look primarily for skills that enhance our favored ones with synergies.
At level 10 you unlock your first passive skill. You gain one for every ten levels up to a max of three. There are 15 total passive skills that unlock as your character grows. You can freely change these up to any available passive skills at your leisure. Blizzard really fixed that respec problem this time around by letting you switch things up freely. The runes are actually skill runes. These are different from the Runestones you’ll find. Skill runes unlock for each skills with different levels. They can enhance skills or change them altogether. Runestones do something similar but are different from the skill rune attributes. For example, the Wizard’s Ray of Frost unlockes a skill rune at an early level that switches it from a sustained ray to a swirling sleet storm that damages any enemy it touches. These skill runes add much more unique properties to all of the classes.
Blizzard has done a great job at taking something that was originally a bit controversial (taking out attribute points, getting rid of defined specs, etc.) and making it one of the best features in the game. The way the spells and skills work out is awesome and really gives you more wanting to just do one more dungeon to get that level and unlock a new rune or active skill.
As for the gameplay, each class feels so different. You won’t get that feeling of the same melee mechanics attached to each class and slightly different skill use animations. Going from the Wizard to a Witch Doctor is a big transition. Even the Barbarian feels different from the Monk, two melee-heavy classes. One class may have magic-only, a combo system, or two separate pools of “mana” that function differently. Every class has a health pool and a resource pool. It isn’t always mana. The Monk, for instance, uses Chi. The resource pool is only spent when using specific skills. Primary spells for your left mouse button don’t actually spend any resource during use. You can spam these spells as your default attack. For most classes this replaces melee altogether but with the sheer amount of available skills it makes sense to do that.
The game functions like a Blizzard game. You go to a town, pick up a quest or two and carry out its mission. Through your journeys you’ll also some more changes to the series. Town portals and identification processes are now available whenever you want and the scrolls are gone. You gain the ability to use Town Portal pretty early in the game but before that you have to rely on waypoints. Whenever you pick up an unidentified item, you simply right click on it in your inventory and ta-da! This gets rid of the books and gives more available inventory space and the need to run back to town every 5-15 minutes to get stuff looked at. You can see a recurring theme here in Diablo 3: keep you playing. Blizzard doesn’t want you running in and out of portals doing boring stuff when there are demons to hunt.
Additionally, there is a blacksmithing station in town that allows you to craft, salvage, and forge items. If you don’t want an item you have another option instead of just selling it for scraps. You can salvage it and obtain ingredients to make things. Earlier in the game’s beta, you gained access to artifacts that helped you out and tried to streamline your play. There was the Nephalem Cube that allows you to salvage items for ingredients anytime you wished, a Cauldron of Jordan which let you sell unwanted items for gold on the fly, and the Stone of Recall which was replaced by the more known Town Portal spell. This was all apart of Blizzard’s massive update to the games mechanics, user interface, and overall enjoyment of the game. Those items took away reason to ever go back to town. With the way things are now, you barely have to but they didn’t want you to never go back. Towns are a vital part of the game and while they may not be as important as they were in D1 and D2, they are there for a reason.
Overall, Diablo 3 is shaping up to be the game we’ve been waiting for. Though the experience may be bogged down by the online-only aspect, Starcraft 2 players should like nothing has changed. You won’t be able to play when the internet goes down but Blizzard is setting up Diablo 3 to be ever-changing and the already implemented evolutions to the game have proved that even before release. Come May 15th, you’ll be battling the hordes of hell once again in the same dark and damned world that we got sucked into way back in 1996. Oh wow, that’s sixteen years ago.