Getting hands-on with Diablo III at BlizzCon 2010 was pretty much my highlight of the show (excluding seeing Tenacious D live). And for anyone who has ever played a Diablo game, you’re essentially, at a base, fundamental level, going to know what to expect.
The great thing here is this is Blizzard Lite, at least in terms of control complexity. There’s more than enough depth in character and class levelling and customisation, but you’re basically just utilising your mouse and a few hot-keys to action your way through the myriad dungeons on offer. The right and left mouse buttons act as your equipped weapons, attacks or spells respectively, while you can also hot-key specific items to use with the number keys. The rest is simple - just click the immediate spot you want your character to move to, or the enemy or item you want to attack or interact with and you're done. If you have agility moves, just hover the mouse in the direction you want to go and activate the move.
We played a new dungeon on offer at BlizzCon - Leoric’s Hall of Agony, which -- from a lore perspective -- is the abode of King Leoric, the monarch who Diablo attempted to take control of in Diablo 2, but his will was so strong that he managed to resist. However, even having contact with Diablo sent the king mad, and these halls are now stomping grounds for hell’s legions, along with narrative moments detailing the king’s downward spiral to madness (the event I came across saw him decapitating his wife with a guillotine).
The entire concept of “play, don’t tell” was very prevalent all through the halls, and I picked up a quest that saw me entering cells to free tormented spirits from the in-between realm, each time receiving a small smidgen of story. Moreover, while the dungeon itself was crawling with Diablo’s armies, the architecture was based on the king’s decent into darkness. Each and every part, despite being randomised (I played through the same dungeon three times and it generated differently each time), revealed more and more of the twisted demise of King Leoric. So much so that even on the BlizzCon show floor, with bustling crowds, glaring lights and loud noises, I honestly felt for the man.
In terms of classes, I spent most of my time with the newly announced Demon Hunter. Time on demo machines was limited however, and although I dabbled with the Monk for a bit, I switched back to the new class to get the most out of it.
Currently there’s no male Demon Hunter model, but that was okay, because the female model kicked ass anyway. I had her bola shot and a leg trap equipped to right and left mouse buttons (remember, she can dual-wield too), and her shadow vault on the 1 key. These tools, despite being a fraction of what you can use once you get deeper into the game to higher levels, were more than enough to take on the hordes that came at me. I found that vault drained her mana quicker than either the leg trap or bola shot, which was kind of cool because with the latter two, I could crowd-control the numbers quite easily and felt like I was in charge; making tactical decisions and not just spamming. It was also really easy to manage the different enemy-types, of which there were a few. The game does a great job of making you feel powerful, despite being swarmed by quite a lot by enemies.
Obviously there was a stack of loot to be found, and among those goodies I also found expanded lore items. You’ll also come across lore books in the game-world that you can read and school your Diablo-self up on. There are random item drops throughout, though we were told during a lengthy Q&A session that chest and loot placements weren’t random -- they were all hand-placed and based on rational environmental or gameplay spots. You can also pick up scrolls that enable you to break certain items down to cold, hard cash -- just in case you’ve picked up the same item twice, or just found something of a lower level. This obviously frees room up in your inventory and gives you money without the need for merchants, keeping things tightly streamlined for the best dungeon crawling experience.
I didn’t really have enough time to really delve into the depth of loot or items unfortunately, but I did manage to level up twice in the space of about 20 minutes. I’m hoping this isn’t the case with the final game, obviously. But it was great to see how the system works. You refill all your vitals, and then earn new abilities and skill points to invest in those abilities. There are also the traits I talked about in my in-depth Diablo III development update piece
, and while on paper it could seem slightly jarring or intimidating to some, the UI they currently have was actually super-easy to navigate and understand. The system just makes sense from a levelling/RPG perspective -- it’s really satisfying and I’m hoping that doesn’t change too much for the final release.
From a visual stand-point, the game looks awesome. The engine is super smooth, and I never saw a hitch in performance -- even with copious enemies on-screen at once with all the crazy powers I was using and gory explosions. Also, for anyone who was worried this was Diablo with “WoW art”, seriously don’t. Just don’t. It’s not even close to that. It’s gory
. It’s bloody
. It’s brilliant
. It looks and feels like Diablo, only with more processing power under the hood -- so more detail and less blacks -- but it’s still very dark in tone and art-direction. And it's honestly the best looking game in Blizzard’s current arsenal.
Beyond all of that, it’s just fun to play. The action comes in thick and fast and the story is told to you through that action and minor moments of exploration, but still feels fulfilling. There’s a deeper sense of tactical play here, and small things like solid voice-acting and great writing in the lore department are really going to draw players into the world. The characters each have something unique to offer, and will be telling their account of everything you put them through in your Quest Log, providing a deeper sense of connection and differentiation between them. It’s also gory, satisfyingly interactive and super-easy to pick-up-and-play. What’s not to love?