At last year’s BlizzCon, yours truly had some hands-on time with Diablo 3 where I essentially just hogged my play-time with the then newly announced Demon Hunter Class. Her agility, traps and tenacity just rang true with me, and I found playing the class to be incredibly satisfying. So much so, in fact, I was sure the other classes just wouldn’t appeal to me.
After sitting through our intense Diablo 3 presentation at Blizzard’s Irvine campus in California though, and seeing just how far each class’s skills have come since BlizzCon ‘10, I realised I’d better invest some time elsewhere. So, shunning my previous favourite, I immediately took control of the Barbarian, who looks like a cross between The Incredible Hulk, Darunia, leader of the Gorons and Techno Viking
(the latter two of which have a bit of a dance fetish).
But really, he’s all business. And all class (his idle animation is to hock up a dirty loog).
and powerful, the Barbarian moves with deliberation and purpose. His shoulders seesaw with each step, as if ready to shoulder barge anyone or anything that might get in his way. From the outset of our demo, we were charged with seeking out Deckard Cain’s adopted niece, Leah, who acts as a sort of bridge between everything Cain has learnt since the first game and now (which we’re also assuming will help newcomers come to grips with the series’ complex and deep lore). But before we can find her within the city walls of New Tristram, we must help the city’s soldiers fend off hordes of attacking undead, brought to life by a “Fallen Star”, the catalyst for what will invariably be the long Diablo III journey ahead.
The Barbarian, as was described to us by Rob Pardo, is a warrior “looking for a foe worthy of his blade”. Death doesn’t scare him, rather, he invites it at every turn, provided it’s an honourable, hard-fought one. But in saying that, death won’t find him quickly thanks to his tenacious attitude and abundantly powerful skillset. The game has gone something of a grand metamorphoses since it was first announced. Skill-trees are gone in favour of a skill list and UI where you can have six active and three passive. These can obviously be hot-keyed as you see fit to numerical keys and your two base mouse buttons. However, you need to unlock skill slots as you progress via levelling up, so while you might have four active skills to choose from, you might only have two skill spots to place them in in the early goings of the game, meaning you’re always going to be mindful of what you’re bringing into play, and experimenting for the best set of actions against certain foes and areas.
Further to this, though we unfortunately didn’t have a chance to play with any of it, is the addition of Runes, which you can add to active spells to fundamentally change them. This was demoed to us in our presentation, but it was highly suggested it’s in place to help in the overall customisation component of the game, despite the removal of skill-trees. It will definitely be interesting to see how Runes actively affect the way you play.
In addition to skills, each character has a basic “mana” of sorts, and in the Barbarian’s case it’s “Fury” where even when being attacked he gains more. You can then perform uber attacks with Fury, and this can also work in conjunction with “Frenzy” where each successful attack creates a faster string for the next one - stack these for greater effect, but Frenzy can be broken by missing a consecutive strike or being struck yourself. There are also “Breakout” and “Escape” abilities for all-important crowd-control or just basic breathing room. The balance here was really tight, even at this stage in development, and I really felt like I could control the countless enemies on-screen, despite the Barbarian not having very much in the way of ranged attacks. A lot of this was a result of carefully using his stun attacks (area of effect) and a pretty decent lunging move called “Lead Attack”, which I used to both escape hairy numbers, or as an early attack ahead of generating a Frenzy combo. On top of all this, you can also perform parries with a well-timed mouse-click, which of course opens your enemies up to a pretty good bludgeoning, which when performed properly felt really satisfying.
Throughout my time with the Barbarian I probably only died three times over the course of close to two hours, and that was because I wasn’t managing my health properly, and that isn’t to say the game’s not challenging, because it really is. It’s just a fundamentally manageable experience for visceral players - Blizzard game design through and through.
The basic goal of our actual demo was to receive a handful of quests (delivered in pretty close fashion to WoW quests, only with more depth and actual lines of dialogue to choose from for a bit of inter-character banter), the main of which was to face the Skeleton King Leoric, who has also been brought back to life from the Fallen Star. All dungeons are randomly generated, as are enemy-encounters and loot, but this is to simply keep things interesting for multiple play-throughs, and I obviously noticed the system more so on a second play-through where we actually dabbled in four-player co-op (and I played as a female Wizard).
There’s definitely a massive difference in playing the game solo or with a party. Pacing changes, and action becomes pretty frenetic when there are more of you. There’s also the idea of combined abilities and working as a team, although I will profess we all just basically powered through; playing a game of follow-the-leader. The enemy scaling seemed pretty tight for four-player co-op versus single-player, but maybe just a tad on the easier side. Hopefully it’s something fixed through the beta - more of a challenge when teaming up with human players is definitely the order of the day.
Moreover, in single-player, I will admit the Checkpoints were a bit off. The only reason is there are no respawns of the enemy, so there were at least two occasions where I died pretty close to my next Checkpoint and was set back aways, only to walk through empty corridors with nothing to do but listen to the echo of my footsteps - I hope this is broached in a more dynamic way for the final game with an incremental system based around player-progression.
Beyond most of what I’ve mentioned above though, the game is very much Diablo. There’s a ton of improvements across the board, but specifically in the UI and character micro-management department. Everything is easy to navigate, sell, equip, compare, combine... you name it. People can complain that a more accessible approach cheapens the game, but from my experience it simply streamlines the process of getting in and kicking demonic ass. I’ve never felt more satisfied to click my mouse-buttons so much than in Diablo III, and I absolutely cannot wait to get into the beta and final game proper.
Obviously there’s a ways to go yet before the game is finally delivered to us, but it’s more than on the right track. Be sure to keep checking back in with us for the full low-down on beta details, changes, Battle.net and all the media we can get our hands on.