Diablo III: Incredibly Early Impressions

By John Walker on September 21st, 2011 at 2:22 am.

Oh no! Colour!

The Diablo III closed beta has just begun, and we’re fortunate enough to have access to it. (Which is a shame, as I was supposed to be getting married on Saturday.) So I’ve of course put aside that silly plan of going to sleep and blitzed through the first couple of hours to bring you the very earliest of impressions of what’s on offer.

I’m writing this as someone who played Diablo 2 long ago, thoroughly enjoyed it, but never obsessed over it. And certainly only ever played solo. (Which may well describe my life after this weekend if I’m not careful.) Here I’m going to give you my initial reaction to playing the third game of the series, tonight.

Playing as a Demon Hunter, because I always prefer ranged, non-magic when I’m crawling through dungeons, the opening of the game has mostly been about shooting arrows into zombies. (A highlight of that so far? One of the walking dead falling to the ground after I’d re-killed him, then the top half of his torso ripping away from the bottom as it desperately clawed its way along the ground via the accompanying arms.)

It’s a bit more of an RPG than my withered hack-n-slash brain was thinking it would be. That’s not to say it doesn’t get straight into the attacking – it certainly does. But it’s regularly interspersed by chats with the locals, all fully voiced of course, setting you your quests, or giving colour to the world. Things begin in the New Tristram, where after a star fell from the sky, the dead have started rising, and the villagers are understandably concerned. But you, whoever you are, have turned up and prove a surprisingly decent combatant to this attack. You seem the right person for everybody in the world to ask to do everything.

I’m also loving how loot springs from dead bodies like a geyser, gold erupting from a corpse then splashing down next to it. And the journals you find. Rather than a screen of text to awkwardly read in the midst of battle, instead they’re narrated as you play on. Also narrated is lore, appearing as an optional button, and explained to you, again, as you play. What a splendid touch. And you can blow up the pumpkins.

In fact, much of the scenery is destructible, wagons can be pulverised, and even buildings can crumble as you explore them. It’s bizarre to experience, doubled by its being bizarre for destructible environments to feel so unusual in this genre. But this of course means I now feel obliged to demolish every table, cart and chair I encounter. I must smash. Smash all. And it’s worth keeping an eye out of any interesting switches or levers, as giving these a tug might bring down some more ceiling furniture on nearby mobs.

Killing my first Grotesque, a giant, stumbling, bloated zombie, I instinctively knew to run away once it hit the deck. That’s the sort of thing that messily explodes. Although I didn’t predict the Corpse Worms that would come crawling out of it and slither toward me. Ew. In fact, there’s a lot of ew here – it’s impressively creepy from the off. And for those fearful that this was going to be Rainbow Brite meets Crayola, it’s also pretty dingy. Clearly I’m in spookily infected towns, attacked by greying corpses, at night time, so it’s possible it could brighten up. But this is definitely not the Nickelodeon affair many were rather zealously fearing.

Pretty early on you’re rewarded with the Cauldron Of Jordan – this sits neatly in the bottom left of your inventory and acts as a portable shop. It magically melts any object down to gold, you see. But not so melted that you cannot buy the last few back by visiting a merchant. Magical. And neat, too. And that’s helpful, since after the first few areas the locations start to get pretty big. Large, sprawling dungeons, multiple wings, occasional distractions into smaller side-lairs, and nothing but the all important application of your assigned skills to take out the uninvited company.

The skills work pretty traditionally. You have your basic attack, improved as you level, and then can assign two special skills on top. Either mapping one to replace your standard attack on the mouse, or as a number key press. So I’m currently enjoying a standard attack on the left mouse, and Fan Of Knives on the right, that sprays out an insane circle of blades when I’m dangerously surrounded. Bola Shot, that fires an explosive “bola” at enemies is on 1. But I’m promised that at level 6 I’ll get an extra skill slot available, with more at 12, 18 and 24, as well as passive skills at 10, 20 and 30.

A bit later comes the Nephalem Cube – another inventory add-on that lets you break down unwanted items to their constituent parts. Which can then be used for crafting. But that shall wait until we’ve all had a bit longer with the game to tell you all about.

What I’m noticing most of all is just how right everything feels. In my experience, dungeon crawling hackfests (as I believe the genre should be known) tend to frustrate in a few niggly ways. Perhaps they make loot gathering a chore, or forget to let you usefully compare items. Sometimes it’s simply the screen furniture, or the frustration of having to read so much in a game focused on frantic fighting. But Blizzard, perhaps not too surprisingly, really are getting it right here.

The map is zoomed just right. The camera angle and distance from the character is spot on. Loot is instantly accessible, and easily gathered. Combat feels extremely powerful, but there’s still a sense of battling against being overwhelmed. Levels come incredibly fast at first, letting you quickly expand your attacks, making sure it’s very quickly interesting. The inventory has abandoned the tertris in favour of simple rectangles for almost everything. And the item comparison windows have been designed so brilliantly to let you see which is better in a split-second, thanks to absolutely giant damage or armour numbers. Very simple, very clever. Talking of which, and this one’s tiny but so excellent, when equipping inventory items you don’t have to click the replaced item back into your inventory. It just pops there, because – well – what else was going to happen? Streamlining things like this makes the whole experience more fluid, and more fun.

The only frustration for me so far has been not being able to find a way to hold down a button to see everything interactive on the screen. It’s a bit of a shame when there’s an awful lot of irrelevant decoration around, meaning you have to sweep the cursor around a lot if you want to distinguish between someone’s journal and the other papers scattered around the rest of the tables. It’s possible that such a button does exist and I’m just being thick, of course. (There is a key for labelling items on the ground, but it doesn’t seem to cover anything other than already exposed loot.)

It’s already great at making me feel powerful. Finding those traps for taking out mobs is a great treat, perhaps shooting out a beam that holds up the wall, so it collapses on them and I avoid the fight. But on top of that, it then throws up “records”, letting you know that you’ve pulverised more enemies in one go than previously, and giving you some bonus XP. But crucially, they don’t feel like “achievements”, but instead like personal bests.

Oh good grief, it’s half an hour since I wrote anything and it’s 2am and I just want to finish this crypt and I… Oh dear. It’s got me.

We will have lots more to say about Diablo III over the next few days, going into more depth about what the new game offers.

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218 Comments »

  1. KilgoreTrout_XL says:

    I played through it last night with a Demon Hunter. It was fun, but really, really easy. I finished it only dying once, when I got up to take a piss. It’s so simple, in fact, that it just doesn’t really grab you. When it was over I went back to playing Gears of War 3.

    It’s only the beginning, I know. And everything is very very slick. Everything looks nice, gameplay feels great, and it ran superbly on my PC, which can’t run witcher 2 for shit. I especially liked the audio lore button that pops up so you can listen to the stuff that is usually in the books you might ordinarily not read in an RPG while you keep killing monsters.

    But then you 3-shot the final boss and feel like the beta kinda played itself.

    • Plivesey says:

      Well, think that he isn’t really ‘The final boss’ in any sense in the full game. It’s only a small part of Act 1. I rarely die to Blood Raven and can do the first two quests in Diablo 2 in like 30-60 minutes, without dying. I am hoping it gets harder!

    • Azradesh says:

      Yeah, because the first 1/3 of Act 1 in Diablo 2 is SO hard. In fact it took me several years just to kill Blood Raven!

      Come on people, you had to *try* to die in Act 1 of Diablo 2 on normal.

    • KilgoreTrout_XL says:

      Relax. I’ve never played Diablo 2, and didn’t say that I had. I *did* say I played the beta for Diablo 3, however. I thought it played like a charm, but that it was so easy getting through it hardly feels like an accomplishment. I’m sorry that that offended you.

      I played through with the barbarian last night, which was more fun and a little trickier (you can’t kite every mob like you can with the DH). Probably not “Blood Raven” tricky, though. That dude sounds like one mean fucking oversized crow.

  2. Big Daddy Dugger says:

    The in game auction house works like this: you pay real life money for auction credits. When you purchase something with auction credits the house takes a small percentage auction house cut and removes it from circulation and the person selling the item recieves the rest of the credits only good to spend on more auctions. You can exchange real currency for the credits but you can’t trade the other way around, there’s no way to make some of your money payed for the game back by grinding because any and all real life money invested in the auction house gos straight to blizzard.
    Also, no mods?! Have you ever tried playing WoW without mods? Blizzard is one of the worst companies I’ve ever seen at making U.I.’s

    • Zepp says:

      So what’s the point? Those auction credits may be useless when nobody will put items on so called real cash AH when normal one with in-game currency is availible for free.

  3. Shooop says:

    I still don’t understand the complaints about the game being too bright and colorful. Sure there was vegetation in some screen shots, but it definitely wasn’t Dead Island.

  4. Tenver says:

    I just want to comment.

    I have bought Torchlight and played it a bit… I found it extremely repetitive, because IIRC it seemed like there was a few base map types that then had their contents somewhat randomized (though they started to look the same for me in the time I played). There was little interesting for me about it, because it was so alike throughout the game. The same few things randomized. I found it too boring after I played 8 hours looking on steam.

    I’ve played some D2 throughout the many years, sometime mods like Hell Unleashed, in fact mostly that because normal D2 got too bland and moot, really. Some months here and there.

    I find D3 in the beta videos to be non-fulfilling of the hope for the same kind of buzz that D2 had where many things in it seemed really cool. Blasting your way through it, could get slaughtered in no time. Though, it has been a long time since I played through much normal D2, so it may be bland too, since the mod Hell Unleashed often lived up to its name. But anyways.
    D3 seems to me from looking through the british youtube doods Simon & Lewis video once to not have a special feeling of wow, that is cool. It seems a promising game and like a well-developed, sensible title focused on fun, smoothness and “coolness”, but it does not come through. In any case, I am likely not gonna play that or any other game for whatever time as I don’t have the money and other things are higher priority. I am digging BF3 though lol… chopper, planes, tanks, infantry… its cool :D, but also a personal preference.

    On the whole shebang about, Diablo 3 does not allow single-player or offline LAN, and not even a single-player, disconnected character world (how much of it is piracy, modding and intended game functioning reasons is then what it is). I know and understand that there are many people who would like to play D3 and do not have internet access, and it sucks for them that they cannot even play it, because they don’t have that. I think though that it is moving in the always-online or online check-at-start direction and I think that is a good way to combat piracy for game developers. About the duping/hack stuff, well, whether your account (or CD-key in D2) cost 50 bucks or 10-20 for D2 nowadays, that is just the price of refreshing your account after getting banned. The anti-duping/hacking measures depend on their actual measures. Do they catch or not? It makes little difference whether you ban a game required account or cd-key.
    If piracy is to be combated somehow, I think that an online check is one of the better ways to do it… An always online check may be quite harsh for nowadays conditions… I think that if they wanted to do single-player and LAN, some kind of online check every 30 or 60 days may be alright. Then those that did not have access to internet at all or rarer could not play and those who could verify their account somehow f.ex. by taking the PC to a mate with internet could play.

    Of course, if they don’t want to make a single-player experience, then there is no single-player, or LAN in this case, and it all happens online. I don’t know the reason that they don’t want that or whatever. Haven’t read about it/can’t remember.

    I think that going overboard on judging the game on the always-on DRM (or just not any single-player at all? In doubt) does not work that well. It is an issue, but judge the rest of the product also.

    You will only see more internet requiring features and, slowly, games in the future as cheap, functioning, stable internet spreads.

    In general though, I think the game lacks a bit buzz. It didn’t seem like oh wow, that is cool much. There is too low difficulty and too little innovation and new stuff. That may be its biggest problem once it releases and the peek-a-boo sales have been going on for a year. It didn’t seem like the game that was hyped by its predecessor.

  5. Lunsku says:

    Have to say, I’m totally stoked for D3 after watching some of the beta videos that have cropped up this past week. The game just looks so very enjoyable clickfest with plenty of skill and build options to go for, and the atmosphere of the beta areas seems solid with plenty of small, cool details around.

  6. RandomGameR says:

    Oops, meant to reply. My only gripe about being excited for diablo 3 is that it will cut into my skyrim playing…

  7. SquareWheel says:

    I’ll buy it if I can play it without an internet connection.

  8. Iconik says:

    Ugh. You DRM whiners make me want to down a bottle of bleach. D3 online only is fine. If you don’t have an internet connection at this point (and you do because you’re online bitching about this shit….again), then I don’t know what to tell you.

    For all the griping though, I’ll see each and every one of you online regardless.

    • Dominic White says:

      I have a 20meg always-on internet connection.

      It has already failed, briefly, once today already. It usually hiccups 2-4 times a day. Y’know what? I’m not going to buy a singleplayer game that is going to kick me out because of technical problems that I have no power over.