Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Which The Warlock Drools All Over the Keyboard...

This past Saturday was one of the more relaxing we've had in a while, as the holiday season has been rolling on.  The PlatinumChick and I, along with ChaoticFrederick and GeoMike, headed off to Columbus to see the WildLights exhibit at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.  Also joining us was the PlatinumChick's good friend WoWSonya, who we don't see nearly often enough.

That made for a great afternoon, but the bigger treat came for me that night.  You see, friends and neighbors, WoWSonya's husband Sean had recently received a beta key for Diablo III!  Oh, man!  The envy, it must have been streaming off of me when I first heard the news.

Luckily for me, Sean is of the generous sort, and once we returned from dinner, he logged me onto his account and let me have at it!  I'm pretty sure that you could see my grin from orbit, as I slid into his computer chair and started my quest. So, as you might expect, here are my observations on a single playthrough of the Diablo III beta!

 I wanted to be able to jump into the action as soon as possible, without having to worry about fragility or spells, so I knew the Barbarian would be a great fit.  I typically played a Paladin in Diablo II, and tend to favor melee classes in most computer games, and I wasn't about to change here.

First up, the gameplay feels like I'm sliding back onto a comfortable couch.  The feel of the game immediately brings back memories of Diablo II, with primary skills attached to left and right mouse buttons, and other skills linked to hotkeys.  But, while the gameplay felt familiar, it simultaneously felt more...advanced?  That's not the right word, but it's close.  It was incredibly easy for me to pick up, though I did move around my hotkeys, setting my non-mouse skills and potions onto the home keys, for easy motion.

The mighty Barbarians of Mount Arreat
In Diablo II, characters typically advanced one or two skills--my Paladins typically favored an offensive aura like Holy Shock or Holy Freeze, coupled with Zeal--a low mana cost skill that delivered up to five incredibly fast melee hits with a slight damage buff on each.  In DIII, however, you have an entire range of skills at your disposal, which you can swap any time you return to town.  While I enjoyed trying out all of the offensive skills--I didn't care much about buffs or defensive skills--I quickly found a combination that worked well for me:  Cleave (a multi-hit swing that generated the Barbarian's resource:  Fury), Hammer of the Ancients (a close-range, massive-damage Fury-spender), and Weapon Throw (a long-range toss of a barbed axe, dealing tons of damage and "snaring" the target).  I did, however, trade out Hammer of the Ancients for Ground Stomp, which dealt sizable damage and stunned all enemies near my barbarous avatar.

Since none of these skills were reliant on skill points or the like, they always worked at their full capacity.  Really, there's very little number-crunching necessary in Diablo III.  Even the four primary stats are simply representatives of how much damage, critical chance, health and the like your character has.  While some have decried this as a lack of customization, it really serves to get you back into the action faster--there's no need to stop the zombie-smashing!  And, really--by the time I finished the beta, I was level 10 and had about 12 skills to choose from, which made for plenty of choices already.  And with the rune system still on deck?  Yeah, choice won't be a commodity here.

Hammer of the Ancients smashes a Cultist
in the Diablo III Beta!
One thing that struck me, however, is how beautiful this game looks.  Details are everywhere, and nearly everything can be targetted and destroyed.  I was in awe of the blood spatter as I smashed a zombie into the ground with Hammer of the Ancients, then followed up with a Cleave that sent the zombie flying back, with its head neatly severed and spinning on the ground.  After acquiring the services of the blacksmith, Haedrig, I picked up an enchanted two handed sword.  At first glance, the detail was quality, with a sharp-looking wavy blade and a squared-off hilt, but when I zoomed in, I found that not only did the hilt have a uniquely-designed pommel, but also an etching of an eye on the lower portion of the blade!  Gorgeous!

The visceral nature of combat, though, may be the best part.  Watching zombies ragdall as I Cleaved through them, hacking my way through barrels and watching the rings scatter across the floor, stomping the ground and seeing baddies stagger backwards...this is the visceral, full-bodied feel of a game that's never going to be tiresome. 

Whenever it manages to come out, Diablo III is going to be a massive blast.  Can't wait!

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