Sunday, March 04, 2012

In Which The Warlock Revisits Tristram...

If you follow this blog regularly, you're probably well aware of my fascination (read:  utter obsession) with Diablo III.  The PlatinumChick, I'm sure, has gotten sick of me watching videos of beta footage before bed, ranting about rescheduled and reschedule release dates, and agonizing over my inability to play the beta. 

While the first two might remain true...the third?  Oh, there's been a change...

Thanks to a quick trigger finger on my F5 key and the generosity of the fellows at Vox Gamers, I managed to win my very own beta key!

Now, while I'd been lucky enough to play through once, thanks to WoWSonya's husband Sean, this meant that I could really immerse myself in the full Diablo experience, rather than just rushing my way through on a computer that wasn't mine.  I could sit back, relax, and let the monster-slaying, loot-snatching carnage begin in earnest!

Firstly, though, a caveat.  My laptop is nearly 4 years old and is beginning to show its age.  I'm missing two keys, with two more super-glued on.  My dual-core processor, while hefty for its time, is quite out of date now, as Intel's "i3/5/7" series of processors were state of the art when I bought this machine.  My graphics card is still reasonably useful, though my sheer lack of processing power is a definite detriment.  When I get my car paid off--three payments to go!--I'll be looking at a serious upgrade, but until then I'm stuck.

Sith Lightning for the win!
My first play-through was using the Wizard, whom I had been eyeing up for months.  The sheer awesome-factor of "Electrocute" was simply too much to pass up--I mean, who doesn't want to shoot lightning from their fingertips?!  And, while I wasn't disappointed with the Wizard, I had to let out a complacent sigh:  with the changes made the most recent patch, Electrocute was moved to level 11, while the level cap remained at 13.  When I defeated Leoric, the Skeleton King, I had just barely managed to make it to level dreams of Sith lightning would have to wait for another playthrough.

That said, the Wizard was a blast to play.  Arcane Orb, runed shortly after getting it, produced bluish-purple explosions that sent enemies flying in pieces.  Zombies splattered apart into meaty, rotting shards with the concussive force of my arcane might.  Oh, what fun!  I tried using Shock Pulse over the old standby, Magic Missile, but found that the range on Shock Pulse was simply too short.  Enemies at the range of my screen would stand there, oblivious, as my bolts of electric power fell short of them and fizzled out.  Frost Nova, as well, was something as a let down, as it dealt no damage.  I quickly replaced it with Wave of Force, which sent enemies' corpses flying away from me in a most delightful manner.

This is, however, where my technically-lacking computer came into play.  While playing the Wizard, the numerous particle effects slowed my computer down significantly.  I'd often go through the casting animation, with the actual spell effect only taking place a second or two later, resulting in misses and several near-deaths.  However, upon the advice of ChaoticFrederick, I shut down several background processes and programs, resulting in much smoother playthroughs on the subsequent characters. 

A Demon Hunter unleashes Multishot.
I tried out the Demon Hunter next, which was a class that I'd had my reservations about.  As I started my playthrough, I found myself underwhelmed.  I had no area-of-effect skills, and my Hungering Arrow shot seemed underpowered.  That is, until level 5:  Rapid Fire.  Suddenly, it was as if someone had handed my wanna-be ranger a P90 and let her rip through the dungeon!  Retching Mothers spun as if riddled by automatic weapon fire, before slumping to the ground in a heap.  At one point, I fired up a set of stairs, shearing a zombie in half across its waist...and its upper half slowly tumbled down the stairs, arms akimbo, leading a trail of blood until it stopped, about three stairs from the bottom. 

With a combination of a runed Hungering Arrow (an increased chance to pierce through enemies really helped this one), Rapid Fire, Strafe, and Caltrops, my Demon Hunter blasted her way through the Skeleton King with near impunity.  I'd almost say that the DH is a touch overpowered--while her Hatred resource is meant to be a slow-regenerating one, I found myself mowing down enemies with Rapid Fire almost at-will. 

My latest playthrough was with the Monk--a class that I'd been looking forward to for a while, as I typically played a Paladin in Diablo II.  The spiritual successor to that class, the Monk came loaded with Mantras (echoing the Paladin's Aura skills) and numerous martial arts skills.  However, the Monk came off as very low-impact compared to the other classes.  While the Wizard was a sheer force of devastation and the Demon Hunter ripped apart enemies with incredible speed, the Monk was more methodical and much less visually impressive.  While I could attack numerous enemies at once, the effects were much less spectacular and I felt like it took much longer to kill a pack of enemies with the Monk than its long-range counterparts.

Case in point:  the Monk's resource-generation skills are all combo skills, which have varying effects if used several times in sequence.  However, when using any skills, the Monk's weapon is stowed on their back, in favor of fist strikes!  Even the Wizard manages to actually swing their sword or dagger, when casting a spell.  I don't feel like it'd be unreasonable to have the Monk actually use a staff or weapon, along with their combo skills, but such isn't the case. 

Diablo III  also brought quite a few new features to the party, which I'd been eager to try out.  The crafting mechanics, for one, were at the top of my list.  Rather than using the ubiquitous Horadric Cube to piece together rares or use the nearly-worthless gold to gamble on items (that were nearly-universally useless), DIII's crafting mechanics allow you to break down useless magic items into crafting materials, which can then be used to make whatever you like.  Even rares and (supposedly) uniques are on the table, should you level your blacksmith up enough!  Between expanding my stash, leveling up my blacksmith, and crafting new items, I always felt like there was something to purchase, even outside of the vendors (who had some fairly useful items, particularly early on!).  This is a spectacular change, as it gives a reason for gold to stay in the economy.  No more Stones of Jordan as trade-bait!

Plus, this also gives a pile of options in the Auction House.  DIII has come under a fair amount of fire for its use of a real money--that is, you pay in actual dollars, to purchase an in-game item--but also has a gold-for-items auction house as well, which allows you to find that item your Witch Doctor needs, but you haven't quite been able to find yet.  While I have no intention on blowing real cash on items that only exist on a virtual level, I definitely plan to make use of the gold-based auction house!

The only real issue that I have with the Diablo III beta right now is the skill interface system.  In previous patches, you could view every skill simultaneously, choosing from the ones available at your level.  In this new UI, you're only able to a few skills at a time, grouped together somewhat arbitrarily, based on their function.  This makes it difficult to compare skills and decide upon which suits your character best.  But really, this isn't a deal-breaker for me, and the visceral gameplay and multitude of class/skill/gear options make this one an auto-buy for me.  Can't wait for this one to come in!

As I play through with the rest of the classes, you can be sure that I'll keep you updated here!

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