Diablo 3 Beta Impressions

I recently got access to the Diablo 3 Beta test and have now logged upwards of 30 hours across two builds of the game (Patches 12 and 13).

Assuming you’re already familiar with Diablo I won’t waste your time.  It is the most Diablo-licious game to come out since Diablo 2.  Odds are very high that if you liked that game you’ll like this one too.  The music, environments, and atmosphere all evoke nostalgia for the earlier games while adding some nice new touches like destructible environments and more dynamic monster attacks.

The gameplay is the same mix of hack-n-slash and random loot that was so addictive in D2 and WoW.  As a recovering WoW player I found it entirely too comfortable to slip into old patterns and start min-maxing and hunting for new bits of gear to improve a particular slot.  This seems to be really helped by the addition of the AH as I was able to quickly spend some of my accumulated gold to buy some real upgrades.

The story starts off slow with the return of some elements and characters you’ll remember well from D1 and D2.  Yes, Deckard Cain once again thinks you should stay awhile and listen.

Perhaps the strongest compliment I can offer is that unlike Torchlight, which after the first 10 or so levels left me thinking “whatever” and turning the game off, I felt compelled by Diablo 3 to continue playing, tweaking my character, leveling up to get access to the next ability so I could try new strategies and new weapons, etc.  The story in the demo only hints at the real plot line of D3 but even a brief glimpse made me really wish I had the full game right there and then.

Changes

While I haven’t played Diablo 2 in a long time here’s the big changes from my perspective.

  • New classes (4 new ones and the 5th is the returning Barbarian), and you have a little more customization of appearance because you can select a gender (female Barbarians are awesome!)
  • New resource generation mechanics:  This will be pretty familiar to folks from WoW or who enjoyed the assassin from D2.  Every class has a different resource mechanic.  Barbarians build rage by striking enemies with certain attacks and then spend that rage to deal extra damage or perform special abilities (shouts, leaps, etc).  Monks have ‘spirit’ which regenerates to full but can also be recharged / spent using different abilities.  Demon Hunters have a dueling resources of “hatred” and “discipline”, Sorcerors have energy, and Witch Doctors have the old school Mana mechanics.
  • No stat point allocation: D2 required you to spend time putting points into stats like Strength, Dexterity, etc.  Of course there was typically one or two ideal builds and everything else was kind of gimpy due to the nature of the best gear and abilities for your class.  I think blizzard (rightly, in my opinion) identified that while die-hard players may enjoy rerolling characters constantly, that that level of punishing fiddly customization is not really giving you more choice but instead just more chances to do things wrong.
  • No talent trees: Instead abilities unlock as you level up.  You also unlock abilities slots, so the number of active abilities is initially limited but eventually expands to 6(?).  You can change abilities at any time.  Respec’ing your character just has a brief (15-30s) cooldown to force you to think ahead a bit.  Basically you don’t need to reroll your character after spending a few points on a skill that sucks.
  • In game gold / \$ Auction House:  You can now buy and sell items using in game currency or actual real world currency.  I like the notion of easy trading and a way to find items that just never seem to drop for you.
  • Online Requirements

So the class and resource changes are great.  I don’t love all the classes, but that’s always the case in games like this.  The sorceror, demon hunter, and barbarian are all really fun to me so the fact that I think the monk is sort of a wet blanket and the witch doctor is kind of gimpy aren’t really a big deal.  I’m sure others will love the monk and WD.

The changes to stat points, and abilities seem to be pretty controversial to hardcore d2 fans but as someone who enjoyed but didn’t love D2 I think it’s a HUGE improvement.  I will be able to play Diablo 3 and experiment with builds without fear that I’ll completely screw myself over in the harder difficulties and higher levels with a bad decision made on normal difficulty at level 10.

So while some are bemoaning the lack of permanent build decisions I’m really enjoying the freedom to customize and experiment.

Micro-Transactions

With the real money Auction House this’ll be the first Blizzard game to include micro-transactions.  I’m not entirely sold on the idea of buying and selling digital equipment for \$ but I realize what Blizzard is trying to do.  They’re looking for ways to help cover the costs of continued development and support over the life of a game like Diablo 3.  On every real money transaction Blizzard will take a small “listing fee” which millions of players and auctions should begin to add up.  Hopefully this means that D3 will be a more dynamic game with more frequent changes and new content.

Concerns

I am concerned that with some of this simplification that there’s perhaps something missing after you’ve played through the game a few times.  I think many players are concerned that the game won’t have the depth of Diablo 2.  While I share the concern that the game may be a bit simplified in beta (or even at release) I would encourage people to look at every other Blizzard game including Diablo 1 and 2.  They all went through large changes through patches and expansions.  I also doubt we’ve seen all the tricks that D3 has up its sleeve at this point.

However, I do have one major concern about Diablo 3:  The requirement for internet connectivity for every aspect of the game.

I realize that part of why Blizzard wants the game to always be online is to help deal with item hacking, cheating, etc.  I realize that they also want to prevent piracy and requiring folks to have an account and login to Blizzard is a way to do that.

Unfortunately, unlike Starcraft 2, which also requires players to login to their battle.net account to play the game, Diablo 3 seems to have serious gameplay lag when I’m playing a private game, aka single player, game while I’m uploading or downloading large files.  While in SC2 I still may have lag logging in to the game servers, and I may even be prevented from playing my game if I have no internet connection, but at least when I’m playing the game single player there is no lag.  Downloading large files and playing the Starcraft 2 campaign are completely compatible.

However, I was recently attempting to play the Diablo 3 beta while simultaneously downloading The Witcher 2 from steam.  (Great game, by the way! :–)).  As I was playing I found that the straight-from-wow connection status bar was red (indicating high latency).  Thinking that the connection to Blizzards servers was primarily for login, save games, loot randomization, monster spawns, etc I figured there would be no problem actually playing the game just some delays getting started.  Instead, I would walk my character up to a monster, click to attack, wait a second for the attack animation to play, wait another second for the monster to recognize that the attack had taken place, and then another second for the monster death animation and loot popup.  

Essentially, the game is like WoW in that every action is first sent to the server and validated.  I realize this is the right decision for a purely multiplayer game.  However, I think there should be a way to play Diablo 3 as a single player game in lower bandwidth situations without completely compromising the gameplay experience similar to the way Starcraft 2 seems to work.  Ideally there would be some way to play without any internet connection but I doubt that’s going to happen.

Conclusion

I remain excited for Diablo 3, as it is the most Diablo-ey game I’ve played in a long time (yes, I’ve played Torchlight!) but I’ve had to readjust my expectations to think of it as more of an MMO style game.