7 things we love about Diablo III (and 7 we don't)

Diablo III Beta is here, and we've given it the GOOD or BAD treatment, assessing every change from every angle.

NameDiablo III
Games Info:Developer: Blizzard Entertainment; Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Test Platform:PC

We’ve played the beta, we’ve moulded our heroes from their creation through to level ten, and we’re here to tell you what’s good and bad about the new Diablo III, before you get to play.

It’s worth noting that we’ve played through the beta as a female mage and a male barbarian (yes, you can choose your sex for any character types now), but we’re aiming to complete the full set of character types before the end of the week. We’ll let you know if this story gets updated.

Every new change has it’s upsides, and it’s downsides, so we’ve outlined both for each of the new changes, below:

  1. With Diablo, you know what you're going to get
  2. Levelling up is now easier than ever
  3. You can retrain in your skills, whenever you like
  4. There are even more ways to craft items
  5. Improved graphics
  6. Your stash now has improved handling
  7. Respawning and recovering your body is hassle-free

You probably know Diablo, but just in case...

There's this small town -- okay more like a village -- called Tristram. And Tristram gets shit rained down on it regularly. Like, this will be the third time it's been wiped off the map in entirety. There's a character wandering around the tatters of Tristram in Diablo III saying "I came here to study the fall of Tristram, but this is a little close for comfort", which should give you some idea.

So anyway, you're the hero who comes in and fixes everything up. You can't make Tristram unfallen, but you can kill the current big bad terrorising the village. Then, inevitably, it will turn out that the big bad was only a bit part role in the Diablo drama. You then need to go and kill off five or six other big bads who turn out to be the bosses, and uberbosses, of Tristram's big bad. Somehow this is all interlinked, via a series of ancient scrolls, prophecies and the usual palaver.

The game progresses through a mix of dialogue, quests, and hack and slash. Your mouse fingers will get a great workout. you rely on vitality and a class-based stat -- if your life runs out, you die. You can top up life with health potions, and your class-based stat via class-based activities (So for mages, it's mana for spellcasting, for Barbarians, you earn rage points by beating critters up). Also, you discover cool gear, and you can even make some of your own, thanks to a few artefacts you'll pick up along the way.

You have a backstory, and there's a plot in this "RPG", but it doesn't much matter. Just keep clicking.

GOOD: It’s same old-same old

You’ve played Diablo and Diablo II? Then you know the drill. Make your character, then get out there and start mousing like crazy. Left click for your regular attack, right-click for your special attack and number keys for special skills, attacks or potion deployment. It all feels so familiar that you can slot right in as though you never stopped playing the previous version, and you can just enjoy the new eyecandy and updated skills.

It’s not just the game mechanics that are familiar, either. Remember Deckard Cain? He’s still around, doing his thing. There are mentions of Horadric items, Zakarum, and other familiar cultures. Not only that, but a few old favourite characters get the Wirt treatment (Not familiar with Wirt? He hung around the first Diablo, being a nuisance, and turned up as a corpse, with surprise treasure, in D2). So anyone who has been playing the entire series gets a sense of the layers of material from the first and second games.

BAD: It’s the same old, same old

If you were hoping for shiny new game mechanics, wildly different monsters or revamped skills, you may want to look for a different game. Oh, there's variation from previous versions, but Diablo is Diablo, and you know what you’re going to get. If it wasn’t your thing already, it’s not going to win over any new supporters this time.

GOOD: Levelling up is simplified

Remember the days of picking what skills you were going to spend your new level points on? Strength, Dexterity, Vitality and Energy aren’t terribly hard to divide your points between, admittedly, but the new Diablo III goes a step further. You just level up, even if you’re in mid-combat. It boosts your skills by a set percentage, increases hitpoints and mana, and that’s it. No stopping to add points, no dithering over where to spend them.

BAD: Levelling up is simplified

So you wanted to have a mage who preferred to beat people with her staff, rather than use it to cast spells at them? (Yes, I played through with that character in D2.)

Yeah, not so much any more. Character customisation now seems all-but-dead, especially with the new skills (see "Skills are now presto-change-o", below). You can still take the Barbie-Diablo customisation route, though.

GOOD: Skills are now presto-change-o!

Remember in Diablo II when you made that mage who maxed out her cold spells, and then found the Barbarian Wastes level, where everything was cold resistant? You were kicking yourself about then, weren’t you?

Well never fear, because now you can change which skills you have access to whenever you like. As you level up, you get access to new skills and once you have access to a tier of skills, you can select any as your quick access skills. The only downside is that you only get access to a set few at a time, dependent on how many slots you have spare, but you can go back and reconfigure as needed. So, when I took my mage for her battle with the Skeleton King, I switched out my “Electrocute” spell for “Frost Nova” (ahh, good old Frost Nova). I had access to three skills from any tier at the time, so I could just as easily have switched out three low-level mass-kill spells for three higher-level single-target-focused spells.

BAD: Skills are now presto-change-o!

The downside of instantly reconfigurable skills is that there’s less character customisation. Let's face it, your level 12 mage is going to be the exact same as everyone else's level 12 mage. Whether this is a drawback for you personally will depend on how much your gameplay is about game-style -- are you a melee-fighter or a ranged-weapon geek? -- and how much about character development. At least one of my friends hates the new skills setup enough to avoid D3 – for a month or so, at least.

GOOD: Crafting items has a new mechanic!

You would have been used to the whole gems, runes and sockets rigamarole, if you played Diablo II. In fact, some wags dubbed it 'Barbie 2', because of the massive amount of gem collecting needed to make higher powered items. We’ve been told that gems and runestones will reappear in D3, but Diablo III also adds a new round of Barbie-styling. In this case, however, it requires breaking your toys. If you pull apart items, you get basic craft pieces, called "Scraps". If you disassemble magic items, you get a craft piece and a magic piece, called subtle essence" , in essence. You can take these along to a blacksmith to craft into special items for you, with more power and magical bonuses than standard items of the same type.

As before, there are several variations of items, ranging from cloth through to serious metal, with varied degrees of protection, but the items seem to have less differentiation between different quality versions than in D2.

BAD: Crafting items has a new mechanic

Actually, I don’t think it’s bad at all. Well, except for the fact that you have to destroy items to get new items. Other than that, the only bad bit is that in the beta, you’re only at the early stages of the game, so I haven’t had chance to play with it enough to find out everything I want to.

GOOD: The graphics have improved immensely

Diablo II required a patch to get it running at a resolution higher than 640 x 480, and only certain resolution patches were permissible on Battle.net. I mostly play single-player, so I upped my resolution as high as a patch could buff it, while others who played multiplayer weren’t so lucky.

Older players will notice the fog and smoke effects, the higher detail for skeletons and other critters, the fact that you can now destroy scenery when you beat up critters (it helps to be a mage for this – I could blast gravestones, tables and more as a Mage whenever I liked), the no-longer-square topology, and more. In many ways, the scenery feels much less like a cookie-cutter landscape, and more organic in nature. Barriers, in particular, have been used well.

BAD: The graphics have improved immensely

The sad part about Diablo’s improved graphics is that they still look a bit lacklustre. I’m comparing here to a similar scope/view in Might and Magic: Heroes VI. One of the more disappointing aspects is that your character isn’t clear – you can’t see their face, or their carefully designed outfit, as well as you might like.

You can’t zoom in or change camera angle, in the beta at least, so your character is still a smallish blob of colour on screen. The creatures are more detailed than before, as you’d expect, but they aren’t blow-your-mind cool. In short, it’s good. But not great.

GOOD: Your stash

Remember the days of juggling items around in your backpack, and ditching the ones that were worth the least money (you hoped) so that you could cart the rest back to town at the next waypoint?

Good news! First, all the items take up much less room now – even a massive bardiche will only take up a couple of slots in your pack. Sure, it may not be realistic, but packspace is packspace, am I right? Additionally, in Diablo III you get what’s called a Stone of Jordan very early on in the adventure – hint: talk to the blacksmith first - so that you can sell items no matter where you are. Hey presto! No more overstuffed pack! Just click on the Stone of Jordan, click the item, and it’s replaced by precious gold. Just don’t get too trigger happy: remember that you may want to pull items apart for parts, too.

BAD: Your stash

Your stash – the big chest stored at the main campsite or city – now comes with a puny amount of slots. Really puny. It’ll take maybe ten wands. Disappointing, eh? Fortunately, you can add extra slots by spending gold – 2500 for the first pack expansion, and for the one after that. As you may be able to tell from the image blow, though, you can expand it out to 5 saddlebags worth!

GOOD: No retrieving your body!

Remember dying in Diablo II? Your body keeled over, all your carried items and gold were output at your deathsite, and you had to start back at the city to recover everything. With significantly worse gear.

Now, you respawn after three seconds, in single-player, at least. I can’t speak to multiplayer, though I’ve heard that as with single player you don’t lose gear or gold. Your gear loses 10% durability, and in single-player you appear at your most recent checkpoint, and that’s all the penalty you get. Nice one!

BAD: No retrieving your body!

There was something to be said for starting back in the city and heading out to recover your own body. It was satisfying, for one. But, uh, we’re pretty solidly on the side of GOOD with this one.

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Tags gaminggamesblizzardBlizzard Entertainmentdiablo iii

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Zara Baxter

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