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First Impressions: Diablo III

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Diablo III is out May 15th. Buy it, it’s really good.

You want more than that? Fine: Here’s what I learned from playing the beta, which is Act I of the game. There won’t be very much in the way of story spoilers.

Diablo III is the first Diablo game I’ve played, but not my first foray in the genre. That honor would belong to Dungeon Siege by Gas Powered Games, which was a lot of fun. I won’t get into specifics of my experiences playing Dungeon Siege, mostly because I’ll want to reinstall and play it again. In more recent history, I’ve also played Magicka and Bastion, which left me with the impression that they were inspired by Diablo.

Diablo III is an interesting game because there is a lot of clicking and action happening. It’s really simple to sit down and play with very little introduction, but I can see that there will be quite a skill ceiling on the game. That makes it a great game by definition, as it brings something for everyone without making the overall game rubbish. Personally, the biggest appeal to the game is that simple control scheme. Walk up to a group of monsters, click a few times, and watch them explode in a glorious burst of gore. There is a therapeutic quality to the game, where you can just click and click, getting lost in the play. I was having a bad day during the open beta weekend, so I played Diablo III for half an hour. By the end of it I felt better and my problems really didn’t matter. When you’re not actively thinking about something, your brain is still working on it; this is why some people say they have their best ideas while they’re in the shower. Playing Diablo III is a lot like that, and I love it. It is a modern re-envisioning of Tetris for me.

Let’s talk about the actual game.

I was in love with the game the first time I kicked a zombie.

Combat abilities are, as Tim Rogers might say, crunchy. There is the perfect bit of delay when you hit your enemy that conveys it was powerful and it really hurt. It’s backed by these great sound effects. Getting into combat never gets tedious or boring. You’ll hit a monster and then you want to hit it again because of how good it felt. When everything is dead you want to go find more and beat the tar out of them. You’ll do this because of how good it feels. There isn’t any tactile feedback for this process; you play with a mouse and keyboard.

Blizzard starts you off light. You’re only up against 3 zombies—sorry, 3 Waking Dead. You get just a taste of combat and then you’re finding it awfully hard not to go back for more. You start to build up a tolerance for it, so what little was enough to sustain you before isn’t enough. You round up more and more just to feel the rush and the exhilaration of it all. I imagine Diablo III ends with you turning tricks in Hell just so you can get into a fight with the Lord of Terror himself. It’s like cocaine in that regard.

Luckily, you just have to buy it once on May 15th and not have to face your dealer month after month without shame or dignity, paying for just one last hit to keep you going.

He doesn't feel so good.

The Diablo series is best known—at least in my mind—for its randomized environments. Random environments means that no two play sessions will ever be the same, as loot and monster distribution will change even if the dungeon layout doesn’t. For instance, going through the Cathedral on your first playthrough you might not see a civilian. On your second, he walks up to you and says he doesn’t feel good—just before exploding in your face. I once found a dark cellar on my way to the Cathedral, but on a new character I saw a well that had gone dry. On my third character, I didn’t see any such diversion.

As far as I can tell, Diablo III constructs its environments from premade pieces. There are some locations (I’ll call them “set pieces”) that were purposefully designed such as the town of New Tristram. Diablo III links these set pieces together by constructing the terrain around it. Going from New Tristram to the Ruins of Old Tristram is a randomized play space. From what I could see, these set pieces are linked together by waypoint hubs. This lets players return to town quickly after a dungeon or revisit places they’ve already been to. Going into further detail of how it all works is another discussion, but it is quite fascinating to see in action.

More impressive is that, even though it changes slightly, there is still order to the chaos. Monsters will never overwhelm you. There is clearly a designer at work behind the scenes working with the generation system. Again, it’s fascinating. I mention this because inside of the Cathedral—a random environment—there are mini set pieces. You’ll find a chandelier hanging above a cluster of monsters, and you can set it free to drop on them. These are never found in the same places nor are there always going to be monsters underneath the chandeliers. You can get the drop on them and earn an achievement—which had to be designed—or you might not. Diablo III walks an impressive line between procedurally generated content and designed content. It’s chaos layered on top of order on top of chaos on top of order. It’s fascinating and perfectly fitting with the series’ theme.

Inventory is built around a system of squares. Some items may take up one square, while others may take up 2 squares. Larger items might even take up 6 squares. Inventory management like this is very basic and has been seen in many games since the first Diablo—I first saw the system in Dungeon Siege. It prevents you from picking everything up while at the same time offering a sort of believability as to what your character can do. Who would have thought that having a tangible and somewhat limited amount of inventory space is what makes your character seem real? (In that same shot, you can see magical—blue—items are also randomized. Notice that the stats are in line with those of the area and the other weapons and equipment you can find. Chaos on top of order.)

It wasn’t available in beta, but you can sell whatever magical items you want at the “Real Money Auction House” which is exactly what it sounds like. You can farm the best items and if people want to pay you to have them then they can. Blizzard takes a cut of the sale and your profit goes into your balance for your Battle.net account—money which can go towards other Blizzard games, the store, or even your World of Warcraft subscription. Your dealer understands. They don’t mind if you’re turning tricks in Sanctuary just so you can visit Azeroth every once in awhile. I hear the Pandaren have the most amazing opium.

Diablo III comes out May 15th on PC and Mac.

I'll see you in New Tristram.

One comment

  1. “I won’t get into specifics of my experiences playing Dungeon Siege, mostly because I’ll want to reinstall and play it again.”

    Oh no! That would be a shame. Dungeon Siege was also my first foray into the genre and the co-op in that game was some of the most fun I’ve had in any co-op game. Playing during the open beta weekend, though brief, brought back much of those memories. I’m very hopeful about the entire experience.

    “It wasn’t available in beta, but you can sell whatever magical items you want at the ‘Real Money Auction House’ which is exactly what it sounds like.”

    Technically it was >.> I don’t know whether you could actually buy things (as I wasn’t foolish enough to try) but the auction interfaces allowed players to search for items on the gold and real money auction house, both of which returned search results. The items were listed for absurd amounts though and I can’t imagine anyone purchasing an item for real money when beta characters get wiped out before the game launches.

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