I'm a bit self-indulgent at first, here, I admit. But stick with it, it has actual game stuff!
Waiting, like thousands of others, for the Diablo server to open at 7:01pm. My coffee is by my side, I’m awaiting my co-op buddy on Skype, and my 7.60GB client is downloaded, installed, troubleshot (don’t get me started) and ready to go.
Connecting to server.
EULA, EULA, EULA. (Yes, I really had to agree to three EULAS before I could continue).
Retrieving hero list...
Everything is incredibly sluggish, but it's working, it’s really working!
I’m in, ready to create my hero. I opt for a female Wizard named Akasha.
I click Create Hero and wait.
Error 30008 – server is busy.
Error 3006 – connection timed out.
I click Create Hero again, and again, and again. 20 minutes passes while Errors 30008 and 3006 and I become friends.
I hit the back button to take me to the login screen, since this worked, maybe once, while testing out the Beta.
Dumb move. Now I can’t log in. But at least my co-op buddy has joined me on skype so we can chat as we hit Ctrl-V, Enter like manic rats awaiting a pellet.
My partner in crime is a WoW player from way back, so he’s used to the rapid-fire password entry manouvre from the days of Wrath of the Lich King. He had to point out that I could use ctrl-v rather than retyping my password each time. Heh.
After a while, I start getting hungry.
“What time is it?” I ask my companion.
“How long does it take for RSI to start?”
“Mine already has. Go get some food. I’ll text you if I get in.”
I have a cup-a-soup and some rice crackers, after I discovered that the mere thought of walking up the road to the fish and chip shop gave me the “but I might miss out on a login window” panic.
A new message from Blizzard appears alongside the login screen. Apparently, it’s breaking news that the server is kinda busy.
It’s been breaking on Kotaku, Reddit and my Facebook feed for a while now.
Maybe it’s meant to be a pun: “breaking” news, broken server?
I start checking out Reddit threads and wondering what time folks in California will give up and go to bed, allowing us access to the server.
Diablo is apparently the most pre-ordered game in history. The stressed servers seem less surprising, as a result.
Suddenly, I’m in.
Apparently, 1:45am is the time that Californians decide that bed is a better bet than trying to access Diablo servers.
And despite all the error messages about Akasha having timed out, there she stands, ready for me to start the game.
My companion also gets in, and creates his Demon Hunter, which he calls Smexxy.
We’ve chosen these characters for very deliberate reasons. You start out in Diablo III with nothing but the clothes on your back, a class weapon and two healing potions.
We discovered along the way that it’s nigh-on impossible to get killed before you get into Tristram. Seriously, the monsters outside town walk away from you rather than beat you to death if you haven’t gotten to level 2 yet. That’s great for people just starting out and needing to get the hang of how to attack things in Diablo, but it doesn’t mean you have an easy ride of things. Some characters are notably weak until they get bonus skills at level 6.
After experimentation, we both felt that starting out with a ranged-weapon class allows you to survive long enough to build up a stash of gear and get past level 6. That stash of gear is shared between all your heroes, so once you have your first class past level six, it’s smooth sailing – you then create other class heroes and buff them with equipment to get them past the teething troubles.
We co-op up and head into the story together.
Co-op mode in Diablo III has a few quirks, but it’s pretty group-friendly. You get party chat, the ability to teleport straight to other party members, and – most importantly – everyone gets their own loot.
One of the things we realised from playing the Beta was that if other party members are out of sight, you get all the XP from monsters you kill (whereas, if all party members are on screen together, the XP is shared). We use this information to keep everyone levelling up simultaneously, so that we all go back to town to visit the blacksmith together, and so forth,
You can also join – or start – an 'open' game, in which you’re not co-operating with, but just sharing a map with, other adventurers.
The first 15 minutes of the game set up the story arc. It’s the time during which you locate Tristram, the tiny town that’s the centre of the drama, and chat to the main characters. Then you head out to start your first quest.
My co-op buddy and I have completed the beta several times, and we’re both 'completionist' players – the sort who will clean out every critter and gold piece from every corner of the map before continuing. This means that we know exactly how long it will take up to get through the sections of Diablo’s Act I we’ve already completed – about 3.5 hours – and then we can get onto the new material that we’re dying to see.
I won’t speak too much about that first portion of Act I, because there’s already a lot written about it, and you can play it yourself in the Diablo Starter Edition.
Not surprisingly, at around midnight we see in chat that non-completist friends of ours have killed the first main boss – the Skeleton King. If you get a Guest pass or Diablo Starter Edition, this is as far as you’ll get.
For us, seeing our friends get to the new areas spurs us on – but not too much, since we still want to clean out every nook and cranny, of course.
Also slowing down our speed is the fact that we've taken to trying on and modelling every new type of armour and weaponry we find. Trying on new outfits has always been part of the appeal of Diablo, and with the new graphics and zoom capability, you can admire them more than ever.
"What do you think, does green suit me?"
"Turn around so I can see how it looks from the back"
"Check out my new bow, it fizzes red stuff!"
And I won't mention our desire to get every single achievement on the Diablo achievements list. Lets just say that we both got the "Overachiever" achievement that comes with completing every achievement possible in the Beta, and leave it at that.
I fire an Arcane blast into the Skeleton King and he goes down like a tonne of bricks. Bam!
“Now what?” I ask my friend on Skype.
“Did you not see the portal?”
Sure enough, there’s a gaping hole where the Skeleton King’s throne used to be. We venture downwards to discover the fallen star, and what lies at the centre of it.
By the time extreme tiredness hits us and we can no longer calculate the exact worth of any new item we find, we’ve realised that Diablo III is big. I mean, really big. We’ve played for four and a half hours and we’re not even halfway through Act 1. Given that there are four acts, there’s 40 hours of gameplay in here, at a rough guess. And that’s before you factor in the inevitable nasty boss that takes several attempts to kill.
In the new section, over an hour and a half, we’ve run into some old favourites – the goat-headed, axe-wielding Moon Clan, now in service to a new mistress (since we knocked off their old one in the last Diablo). They have a new mechanic, though, popping out of holes in the ground to terrorise you.
We’ve also found some new monsters.
The giant spiderlike Aranaea are awesome – they drop from the sky on webs, wrap victims up in sticky web, and spawn eggsacs everywhere. And some of them are REALLY BIG.
Also fabulous are the giant killer trees. Ents Gone Wild, anyone? One moment you're standing there minding your own business, and the next thing you know a tree has woken up next to you and is flailing wildly and spouting poison-emitting plants to trap you.
Talking of traps, one of the new skills that enhanced creatures have is 'walled'. So far, in the beta, we'd seen various 'enhanced' creatures, which are more powerful than their normal brethren. 'Nightmarish' enhanced creatures, for example, hit you and send you running away involuntarily.
Walled had us stumped trying to figure out what it could be. Until a wall appeared around us, essentially cornering us so that a mob of minions and enhanced critters could hammer us with attacks. Yikes! That's a mean skill (and not one in my Wizard's skill tree, dammit!).
Since my friend and I are completists, we also had fun blasting every single marble column on one particular map into smithereens. There were maybe 100 columns. Seriously.
There are new baddies, such as Maghda, shaping up to be the next Boss of the Act. As a shimmering and incorporeal fairy type, we haven't had a chance to thrash her, yet. So far, she’s beat us to the punch in collecting items once, and we’ve beaten her to the punch twice – with nice cinematics to go with it – but a check of the achievements lists suggests that even if we face her in the next map, there’s a couple more baddies and numerous maps we haven’t met yet in Act 1.
We also had a terrible shock. I can’t spoil it, but ... we were in disbelief. You’ll see.
I can’t wait to meet the rest of the game, but I really need sleep. It’ll wait for me.