I was a latecomer to the Diablo scene, I’ll admit that right from the start. While all of my cooler friends were trying to explain to me why a Necromancer could raise an army of the dead large enough to lag spike someone into next week, I was playing with Lego. It was a no brainer then that in my adult life, the moment I finished constructing my first PC, Diablo II was the first game on my list of many to finally get my hands on. I loved it, and developed a particular pleasure in cleaving groups of enemies to shreds with the Barbarian. Eleven years later, and still a phenomenal game. That’s the kind of legacy that makes a franchise like Diablo, but can also be an Achilles’ heel in that the only way to move forward is to do better. Thankfully, luckily, skillfully – whatever you want to call it – the Diablo III beta is evidence that Blizzard, and the next step up in the series, will do just that.
When you start the game for the first time you’ll be greeted with plenty of customization during the character creation process. This is clearly the result of the desires that have been adamantly expressed by Diablo fans. Gone is the static line-up of character classes to choose from, and in its place are class, gender, and emblem choices. Though the number of options isn’t quite as plentiful as something like World of Warcraft, what control you do have over your character is enough to make it feel unique to the player without sacrificing the feeling that this is a dungeon crawler, not an RPG. Diablo III does a very good job of ensuring that it stays within its comfort zone, and feels nothing like either of Blizzard’s other two flagship titles.
This time around, choosing a character is a process that will require a little trial and error or some homework on the player’s part. Unlike its prior installments, Diablo III’s classes perform based on entirely different mechanics, all with different resource pools (mana isn’t for everyone anyways) and honestly feel very different from one another. This is a difference that you’ll feel the first time you electrocute an enemy or cleave them in two, so don’t be afraid to invest a little time in testing out the waters – you’ll definitely find the class that speaks to you without too great a time investment.
The Barbarian plays similarly to how it used to: a slicing, spinning, roaring, bleeding behemoth. It does however, function on a much different mechanic than it once did. In the Barbarian’s arsenal are ‘rage generating’ and ‘rage depleting’ attacks. For instance, if you hope to slice a lumbering zombie in half with an epic attack, you’ll first need to generate the required rage using some less impressive maneuvers first. This gives the Barbarian a unique and defined sense of momentum and resource management that may not be for some people but feels rewarding once you get into the groove of it.
Think Sorcerer, but more badass. My personal favourite, this baddie can burn, electrocute, teleport, explode, and even slow down time. All this on a manageable budget of Arcane Power, a violet coloured resource pool that drains and regenerates per second, but also capitalizes on Arcane Power-regenerating abilities, similar to the Barbarian’s, called Signature Spells. This guy (or gal) is truly the glass cannon of the game, and if you’re into fireworks, you’re into the Wizard.
If each class has a flavour of characters gone by, then this tribal, poison-flinging, zombie summoning force of nature would be the Necromancer and the Amazon, all wrapped up in a nice little package ready to wreak havoc on anyone who underestimates the weirdo with the mask. Though the class is the only one still violently clinging to a mana system, it’s far from boring. If summoning a plague of toads that explode for poison damage, running with a pack of undead dogs, or sending not-so-friendly spirits to haunt your enemies sounds like your particular brand of murder, then strap on your tribal mask and hop on the Voodoo train, the Witch Doctor is for you.
If ever a character class appeared underwhelming, it was the Monk. Wielding nothing but a wrap of cloth covering his unmentionables and his own two fists, this hand-to-hand juggernaut quickly evolves into the swiftest flurry of death-blows the series has ever seen. The class may be minimalistic visually, but stringing lightning fast combos to generate spiritual power, and then finishing with a blazing roundhouse kick is an empowering feeling that will start and end before you’ve even had time to blink. Thankfully, there are plenty of enemies out there begging for a second helping, and if things ever get too hectic, just toss in a heal or two and you’ll be ready to dish out the punishment for as long as the game can keep producing enemies. This is one for the arcade fighting crowd.
Finally, we come to the Demon Hunter. A double-crossbow wielding stalker of anything that moves the wrong way, this class utilizes two resource pools that are housed within one globe: Hatred and Discipline. Think of Hatred as the fast-filling fuel for anything that flies through the air and either impales, slices, or explodes. Discipline, on the other hand, regenerates slowly and is used for strategic abilities like traps, flips, dark companions, and otherworldly powers. Adorned in dark armours and demonic bones, this is a good choice for the meticulous and the solo player, as the Demon Hunter requires patience and planning in most cases, and an affinity for staying just one jump out of a demon’s reach.
With your character made it’s time to get into the meaty stuff, and this is where Diablo III has really shone, thus far into the beta. Visually, the game makes Diablo II look like it was doodled on a piece of cardboard. Sure it’s been eleven years, but I’m not talking about raw graphical improvement. Diablo III stays entirely loyal to the settings and tones set by its predecessors, but enhances them in a way that is simply gorgeous. Dark cities are illuminated with crisp edges of detail and life that make them a pleasure to explore, taverns light up the night with glowing candles and grumbling bartenders, everything is destructible (see a cluster of zombies? You can bet your next spell that one or two of the walls surrounding them can be used to crush the lot), and all of it feels visually appetizing without abandoning the colourful storybook appearance that makes for a great tale.
Blizzard’s currency-based Auction House has been the subject of much conversation since it was announced. The premise is that items found in game can be sold using the Auction House for gold, or for real world currency. Though this may sound unusual, it works as a very effective counter to ‘gold farming’, making the process an unviable one for the scandals who seek to manipulate the system. Cheers to that.
Combat is quick-paced and feels smooth and rewarding. You’ll have to take some time to consider which of your abilities you’ll take into battle – skill slots only open up as you level your character, and will only provide access to a fraction of your skills when maxed. This means each character you bump into while playing (which is where the real fun is) will most likely be played in a different way than the last, giving your character yet another layer of personalization. Along with three passive-skill slots that are made available every ten levels, and can be filled with a variety of different passive bonuses, the icing on the cake is the ability-augmenting runes that change the effect and appearance of your spells based on their element. Long story short, your character will be unique to your tastes in more ways than one.
Though I wasn’t able to get my mitts on any PvP arena combat, higher difficulty settings, or the currency-based Auction House, from what the Diablo III Beta has shared, this is definitely a title that will keep you busy for at least as long, if not longer than its predecessor has, and is sure to bring in a wave of newcomers while keeping the veterans salivating.