Yesterday evening, I received an invitation to the Diablo 3 Beta. Hint: for all you afraid to open sketchy e-mails, the invitation is now directly on your Battle.net account, so if you’re wary of clicking on links, just log into Battle.net and there should be a new option under Game Management to download the Diablo 3 beta client.
As I observed through the various articles on the Diablo 3 Community Site, my impression of D3 was that it’s taking tons of the elements of WoW and making it into a single-player click-hell game. After playing for a few hours, I feel justified in my conclusion, and what a glorious conclusion it is. There’s no more skill tree/skill stacking like in Diablo 2 or Torchlight, all the skills are learned at a certain level and scale with your weapon damage (which is a bit strange for the Wizard, but I guess it evens out every class’s desire for weapons with high damage output).
You can only “equip” a small number of spells when out in the world, similar to Guild Wars, assigning 2 abilities to your left- and right-click mouse buttons, then having the rest (with an option for consumables) accessible with the 1-5 number keys. Being Diablo, there’s no targeting mechanism necessary, so pressing the number key will launch your spell in the direction of your mouse cursor, as though you had clicked a mouse button to cast the spell. This is pretty slick compared to the extensive shortcut mapping I used in Diablo 2 to manage the 6-7+ abilities needed on my Trapsin :) or having Bartender4 manage 5 bars worth of hotkeys for my warlock in WoW. Sure, there’s less flexibility this way, but balancing the game around each class only using 6-ish abilities at a time should be much easier for Blizzard, and it’s less confusing for players who otherwise get overwhelmed with a multitude of abilities that can be used at one time.
I’ve so far gotten a level 7 Wizard and level 5 Demon Hunter. Each class having unique resource management is pretty neat. The Wizard’s Arcane Power regenerates pretty fast, not fast enough to offset the beefier spells you get (Arcane Orb), but fast enough to let you cast your primary ranged attack (Magic Missile) without fear of actually depleting your AP. Frost Nova and Wave of Force are your standard close-range AOE attacks, but they are timered (similar to Warcraft 3’s flashier hero abilities), so are more similar to one-use abilities. The Demon Hunter has 2 resources, Hatred and Discipline. I have only unlocked a few abilities for him, so I’ve only gotten to use a couple “Hatred Generation” abilities, a single “Hatred Depletion” ability, and my only Discipline ability is pretty lackluster, so I haven’t bothered equipping it (you can only equip 2 different abilities until level 6; you unlock the 6th equippable skill slot at lvl 24). It’s definitely been easier to play the Demon Hunter in the early levels, since it’s easier to find a good weapon for him than it is for the Wizard, but it’s definitely more fun with the Wizard overall.
D3 has done away with Scrolls of Town Portal and adopted a more similar concept to WoW’s Hearthstone with the Stone of Recall. You automatically receive it once you complete a certain quest, and it both warps you to town and creates a portal to resume where you left off. However, it is not instant, like scrolls were, so you can’t use it to get out of hairy situations; you can’t even hotkey it (to my knowledge)! You get a crafting implement, the Nephalem Cube, pretty early as well (not sure if this is only in the Beta or what), but I don’t see a way to partake in crafting yet. Waypoints are back, as seen in the screenshots in this post.
As in WoW, each piece of equipment changes your character’s appearance. It does seem like different equipment has a different icon based on your character’s sex, which is interesting. There is no “unique” loot though; I’ve found plenty of “other class-only” items so far, and a fair amount are just white equipment. There is an option for item names to appear when they drop, and the names disappear shortly after; you can still use the Alt key to highlight items on the ground. So far, I have yet to use a single health potion, though I’ve collected a ton. Enemies drop instant health pots often enough, and I take little enough damage, that it hasn’t been an issue. I’ll see if that’s still the case after I try out the Barbarian and Monk classes.
The graphics are quite pretty. As seen in the demo videos, Blizzard was very proud to use a physics engine to enhance gameplay, with corpses flying all over the place when I use an AOE ability, and stuff like walls breaking and chandeliers falling doing additional damage to monsters (and granting achievements as well!). There’s even a “M-M-M-MONSTER KILL… KILL… KILL…” function, where you earn additional experience whenever you decimate new records worth of monsters in a short time period (I think my record is like 11 monsters? I don’t know what the time limit is). I certainly found the game more engrossing when I donned my headphones and turned up the volume, since the game does use a directional sound environment.
The game does lose some nostalgia value without stacking skill levels, and you don’t get character attribute points anymore, just straight stat improvements à la WoW. However, I do agree that, when you don’t understand how to maximize your stats and skills, you “incorrectly” create your character more often than not and, back in the day, when there was no respec, you were forced to recreate your character from level 1. Something also bothers me about “Risen Dead” vs. the traditional “Zombie.” And I haven’t seen a single Fallen yet :/ Despite the loss of the nostalgia factor, the game is still addicting in its click-and-slash ways, and I am certainly eager to plumb the depths once the game comes out for retail!