Saturday, September 17, 2011

VIDEO GAMES: Finally got my hands on the D3 beta!

About a week ago I received an invitation to the Diablo III beta and I was pumped! Ready to be one of the first people to try out the game I fired up my computer and found, to my dismay, that both my desktop and laptop were too crappy to run the thing! So I patiently waited and today was able to borrow a friend's computer and test out Diablo III! And guess what, it's freaking awesome. So here's some highlights and a plethora of screen shots that I took from the experience. Enjoy! Oh and click the images for full size high rez versions!

Enter if you dare.
This is going to be an insanely successful game. Seconds after entering the world it becomes evident that Blizzard has taken the time to make sure they get D3 right. Incorporating what worked best in Diablo II and what worked best in other Blizzard games, they really have created something awesome. The opening character selection screen is easy to navigate and lets you check out your heroes. As you can see I decided to play a Witch Doctor to see what kind of damage some voodoo magic could do.

Once you select your character you begin the beta. Now there is a very limited amount of gameplay available for now but it is more than enough to get a feel for how the game works. Let's talk about the most noticeable change from D2, the visuals. Diablo III is all about the environment. The spell effects, monsters, equipment glows, lighting from torches, destructible environments, and much much more all help display a truly beautiful world on the screen. It quickly became apparent why my computers, which are about 3 years old, couldn't quite handle it. I'm excited for the full version of the game since some of the beginning spells looked incredibly awesome and I know that the end game stuff will be truly epic.

Playing as a witch doctor I specialized in a combination of demons and poison/dark magic...yea it was awesome. The first spell the Witch Doctor has is the ability to summon 3 demon dogs which aid the doctor in combat. Through my minimal time playing I unlocked the ability to unleash poison frogs in an area, deadly spiders to devastate enemies, a kamikaze demon which would run forward and explode, and a poison cloud that slowed enemies while damaging them. The standard attack that comes with the Witch Doctor is shooting poison darts which right off the bat do a decent amount of damage. Although I died a couple times, I felt like the Witch Doctor will be one of the most damage heavy classes in the game.

Another awesome aspect of the game was the new and improved hotkeys. As you can see in the image above, players are no longer limited to only two attacks, one bound to each mouse button. Now players can also set spells/potions/etc. to numbers 1-5 on the keyboard. Borrowing from WoW, this makes attacking much easier and less restrictive. However, you must level up to unlock the ability to place more spells on the task bar. If you look at the image above you can see that I only have one spell hotkeyed to the "1" spot and a potion set to number "2." There are certain levels you must reach in order to place more spells on the bar. The image below shows the levels required to unlock new spell placements. Levels 6, 12, 18 and 24 will grant you a new slot to place something awesome like "Plague of Toads." Not only does this make combat simpler and much more enjoyable, but it will also make the game require more skill as players now have a greater selection of spells to instantly choose from. Will this group of flesh chomping zombies in front of me be greater affected by a blast from a suicidal demon or the slow poisoning of my cloud of green death? See, decisions decisions decisions.

Let's talk inventory. The image above shows the new inventory screen which doesn't seem all that different from the inventory in D2. But there is one awesome perk indeed. See the cauldron looking thingy on the left hand side of the inventory? That's called a Cauldron of Jordan . What does it do? Well it allows you to sell any item as if you were at a vendor from any location in the game. Yup, you can be surrounded by demonic monstrosities in the middle of a cave with no civilization in site and you can pull up your inventory and start selling stuff to make room for more. Does it make sense? Not at all. Is it useful? You freaking bet it is! If you played 5 minutes of Diablo II, you know how much of a problem it was to keep inventory space available. Constantly dropping items to make room for new ones was a pain in the butt! The item above the Cauldron of Jordan is called Stone of Recall and it allows you to return to a city from anywhere in the game, a la Hearthstone in WoW. The third item on the left is called the Nephalem Cube and it allows you to create crafting materials from items that you no longer need. These crafting items are used for professions like Blacksmithing to create weapons. The new inventory system is extremely easy to navigate and lets you worry less about dropping items for no gain at all and worry more about the hundred bad guys that are about to rip you to shreds.

What next? How about looting and the map? Ok. Remember in D2 when you had to go around and click every pile of gold to loot it? Remember how that was annoying? Well Blizzard understands. In D3 simply run over a pile of gold and watch it magically insert itself into your wallet. No more clicking, clicking, clicking and more clicking even when you're not in combat. Although more serious items, like the "Cloth Pants of the Ox" in the image below will require you to give them an extra click to be looted. Yes, the game is still centered around clicking every other second but it just doesn't feel as tasking as it did in D2. It's all the little changes that Blizzard has made that will blend together in the long run to make a much more streamlined experience. Also the map is much easier to follow. Keeping a helpful mini map in the top right hand corner of the screen lets you keep track of where you are in a dungeon and pressing "M" will pull up a full size map of the dungeon to look for places you have yet to explore.

One of the things that got people both excited and upset was the announcement of an in game auction house. Utilized in WoW, the auction house allows players to purchase items from other players for gold. When Blizzard announced that people would be able to use real life money to purchase items from the auction house as well, people flipped out. But the point isn't what I think about being able to use your own cash for in game stuff, the point is that I've seen the auction house in action. Although it is available in only limited functionality I did get to see how it will work. It is nicely organized so it is easy to buy/sell/browse items that you may be interested in. You first can search by your character, then item, then perk, etc. until you are looking for a specific upgrade. The beta did however limit me to searching equipment as gems and other stuffs were still unavailable. Personally I love the idea of an auction house and I'm excited for the full implementation of it.

Want to talk about the actual story in the beta? Of course you do. Well there's not much to it actually. You spawn and enter the main city of New Tristram. From there you visit some outlying crypts, caves, etc. and end up hunting down a lost crown. I was more interested in the gameplay and functionality of D3 so I didn't take time to read all the information regarding the quests. But I do believe there is a pretty absorbing story waiting for those with more patience than myself. The end brings you to battle with a fallen king whom you've upset. Near the end you free a warrior who joins you until the end of the beta. The combat actually got pretty difficult at the end and I was inches from death against the king...but I prevailed! The point is that the story moved along well and it always felt like you were accomplishing your goal and moving on. I did take the time to explore each cave and dungeon to its extent looking for items/gold/cool enemies and all that good stuff and there is no shortage of extras for those who wish to be explorers. 

Freeing the warrior.
The King Rises
The King falls!!!
Sweet sweet victory!
So what are my final impressions after getting a taste of Diablo III? Well they are mixed...but not really. The game is going to be incredible, addicting, and pure awesome. A story that moves along briskly backed by excellent voice acting that actually made me start to care about my character make the game extremely intriguing. The only downside is that it may be released this year and with Gears 3, Skyrim, MW3, BF3, Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7 and some other titles on the horizon my funds will probably be stretched to get it...but I will. Whenever D3 does decide to grace the shelves of our local Best Buys I know we'll have a pretty awesome game waiting for us. So whine and complain about the real money in the auction house or the constant internet connection required to play the game for now, because once you get it and start getting pulled into the world Blizzard has created, I think you'll see how petty these complaints really are.

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