If there were a universally correct way to spell non-stop squeals of happiness, this preview would probably be well summarized by it.
In all fairness, I grew up on a heavy diet of Diablo 2 (and its “Lord of Destruction” expansion), during a time when a steady internet connection wasn’t even a thing yet, racking up sky-high internet bills on my parents 56k dial-up modem every month for almost half a year. And since then, the game has always been one tiny little nostalgic reminder from going back to dedicating 30 hours a week on doing Magic Find Baal-runs, trying out new obscure builds and in general just playing the crap out of Diablo 2.
Since then, just imagining an announcement for a sequel has sent chills up my spine. Since it was announced, every passing month without a firm release date has actually increased my anticipation, imagining the attention to detail and general strive for perfection Blizzard must be putting towards this next entry. Well, now I’ve finally played the beta, which is a very small part of an at least near final build of the game, and from what little I gathered during my time with it, I’m very impressed.
After waiting for about 3 hours after the beta launch, Blizzard finally allowed me to log in. I created my very first Witch Doctor which I played together with fellow MonkeyPhatt colleagues, vicious Barbarian Linke and deadly Monk Kiwiofdoom.
The game started at the outskirts of New Tristram, which is the town area for the first act, and the main hub for trading and finding and turning in quests. After moving up to the barricaded city gate and quickly disposing of some attacking zombies, you learn that the recent meteor which struck the Tristram Cathedral in the 2011 Cinematic Introduction Trailer has awakened demons from the underworld, and begun bringing the dead back to life.
The first thing that struck me when I first went out into the wilderness was the meticulous attention to detail that has been put into the creation of the world. Some of you might remember the controversy surrounding the vibrant and colorful graphics that were shown of the games new environments last year, but let me reassure you, Diablo 3 is still a very dark game. The trees are decorated with dead bodies, and every path and environment is littered with recently killed warriors and villagers that have fallen victim to the evil forces recently unleashed upon the world. You explore and loot mass graves, discover abandoned homes overrun by monsters and continuously find short stories of people wrapped up in demonic possession, murder, betrayal, and the loss of family and friends. The atmosphere is highlighted by eerie music that is carefully faded in and out with the overall pacing as you wander through the various areas of the world. So while still having colorful, contrasting visuals that really play up the characters, enemies and action on the screen, the mood manages to be very bleak, while still being beautiful.
The game only gets truly visceral in its combat. Enemies are very well designed for only being viewed from so far away, and most of the time being covered in the visual effects of your characters abilities the few seconds before they die. “Ghouls” moan, gurgle and shamble towards you, “Wretched Mothers” vomits on the ground to summon more zombies, and the obese “Grotesques” explode into a cloud of slimy worms when given the killing blow.
Finish your enemy with a particularly heavy strike or skill and they will turn in to a splat of bloody mist. In short, Blizzard has played heartily with the bodily fluids of dying enemies. Also, there seems to be a certain amount of unique death animations for enemies struck with different types of skills. I.E, throw a fire spell and the monster will erupt in a ball of flames and explode across the screen on his way out. Very nice touch!
This leads directly in to more gameplay related territory. The normal weapon attack is now a thing of the past. You will always have access to a “signature skill” which is used as your main attack button, and you complement these attacks with other, resource draining abilities. The simple act of clicking on a screen is rarely this satisfying. Every hit carries great weight in animation, impact and sound, which makes it a joy to take down mobs even in the earliest levels with a limited amount of skills.
The uniqueness and variation of the classes also adds a lot to the experience, like the melee oriented Monk throwing every righteous fist with a boom like doors being slammed off their hinges, contrasting with the crawling, croaking and clawing of the Witch Doctors summoned minions, whittling down mobs in a matter of seconds.
On the subject of the Witch Doctor, he could be the most bizarre RPG class ever devised in a video game. Blizzard really went to town with this one, and if they weren’t able to fit in every absurd idea they could possibly come up with for this character, I’d very much like to see what was left out of the design doc.
With the skills available in the beta, the Witch Doctor seems to be a master of crowd control, with a few damage dealing spells to take down the more difficult mobs.
You very early get access to the first summon, which is a trio of Zombie Dogs, and the next skill you unlock is a normal “signature skill” which is throwing a jar that breaks and unleashes four pet spiders that attack on your behalf. This can be infinitely spammed, and although the spiders all die after a few seconds in the free, you can still produce a pretty impressive carpet of critters at any given time. At higher levels, you gain access to skills like a suicidal exploding zombie bear, a collapsing tower of zombies or a rain of poisonous frogs. This kind of insanity is very appealing to me, at least.
My Witch Doctor synergized very well with my melee oriented teammates, since I could slow down mobs to half movement speed inside my “Grasp of the Dead”-curse and continuously pound them with damage over time with my “Jar of Spiders”, while they mopped up any stragglers and then went in for the slaughter. I also managed to hold my own every time we decided to walk down different paths, my pet dogs keeping the enemy mobs from realizing I was even there as I rained hellbats upon them.
In short, I had a great time with the beta, and it has fanned the flames of my anticipation for the full release to critical levels. I hope you also got to try it out this weekend!