Diablo III Beta Impressions
There are few titles that invoke such a high level of nostalgia as Diablo, its very name having been used to all but describe an entire genre since it first saw release. Similar games have never just been ‘dungeon crawlers’ or one of the myriad of words often used to describe them; instead it was always, and without fail, Diablo style. This is a sequel to a game that was released so long ago that by the time it actually finds itself sat on store shelves it’ll likely have been twelve years since the previous iteration of the series appeared – a fact that, when compared to the current churn out of yearly sequels, is simply mind boggling. The gulf in time can be identified by looking at the PC on which I played Diablo II; a Pentium 200Mhz beast which, compared to the systems used now, is fairly tame by today’s standards, such as a dual core Intel 3.5Ghz.
The apprehension in going into the beta revolves around whether Diablo will remain the same, and whether it will still have that ‘Diablo’ feel to it that many games have tried so hard in the past to replicate, but have never quite managed to achieve.
All five classes are on offer: Barbarian, Monk, Wizard, Demon Hunter and my own personal choice, the Witch Doctor. Setting foot into the game for the first time you’re instantly hit with that sense of nostalgia; from the very moment you’ve walked just a few meters you know you’re back in Sanctuary. The opening section plays out like a tutorial, teaching you the basics, but it never really holds your hand, instead, opting to just give you pointers as you progress.
Graphically the game holds up as well as you can expect and the character models look smooth but it’s the lightning and shadows that really help set the scene. The atmosphere they create draws you in, with the faint flicker of shadow on the floor more than enough of a reason to venture off your given path and uncover what could be hiding amongst the fog of war. Even after all these years I still find myself running around the landscape looking to uncover as much of the fog as possible, the single blotches of black lingering like a plague upon the landscape. If anything the rather obsessive nature of my gameplay proved a good time to test out how the combat worked. The short answer is “exceptionally well”; the slightly longer version is that Blizzard have taken the simplistic nature of combat and just refined it until it feels exceptionally smooth and fluid. At the very core of it is a sense of fun; running into a group of enemies while exploring isn’t so much a chore, instead it’s just another reason to put your spells and abilities to the test as you lay waste to the Undead hordes.
Dungeons, caves, tombs and derelict monasteries are very much at the core for Diablo, so it was a pleasure to see that they feature in abundance and were not just constrained to places to go as part of the main storyline. While running around the countryside, if you happen to stumble across an abandoned house then you could find yourself exploring the cellar, potentially uncovering some long lost treasure or awakening an (up until now) dormant demon of untold power. It’s that sense of exploration that really adds to the feeling of freedom the player has.
If you don’t quite fancy hightailing it straight to your next quest checkpoint then some exploration could just be what the (Witch) Doctor ordered. Diablo III isn’t a linear game as such, but then it also doesn’t quite do enough to earn the label of sandbox, with the end result meaning it falls somewhere between the two. You never quite feel restricted in your movement and the locales you do visit are plenty big enough for any explorative needs you feel yourself overcome with.
It’s the little touches which really add to the experience that Diablo III brings to the table – things like the “New Lore” button that appears when you encounter a new enemy type. A simple click of the mouse and you’re given a brief vocal introduction from one of the game’s resident lore keepers; it’s a fantastic way to expand the storyline and is a feature that crosses over when a journal or diary is found.
No RPG would be complete without a magnitude of random books to be found, and while the case may be that you’ll never have time to sit and read every last one of them, having the tales they keep spoken to you as you play is an exceptionally nice touch. If you’re the type of person who just likes to plough into battle, get the loot and doesn’t really care who or what you kill in the process it’s likely not going to be something you care much for. That said, if you do savour the narrative experience and enjoy getting clued up on the world you inhabit then it’s a feature you’ll likely fall in love with.
When the words “Congratulations you completed the Diablo III Beta” appeared on screen, I couldn’t help but feel a hint of disappointment in knowing that was my lot and, until the release next year, it would be all I’d be getting. However, the sadness is swiftly eroded with a sense of relief – this is very much Diablo in every sense of the word. It plays like it should, feels like it should, sounds and looks like it should – a true sequel that will not only appeal to long-time fans but to fresh blood alike.
All hail the return of Deckard Cain.
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