Blizzcon 2008

Blizzcon 08: Diablo III Hands-On


Blizzcon 08: Diablo III Hands-On

Some people are here for Wrath of the Lich King, and some people are here for StarCraft 2 – some people are certainly here for both. But let’s not kid ourselves, here: almost everybody here at Blizzcon ’08 wants to get their hands on the playable demo build of Diablo III. It’s the gleaming crown jewel of the convention, even beside two stellar titles with massive, devoted fanbases in their own right.

I’ve been lucky enough to get the chance to play through the demo level twice now – once as a Barbarian, and once as the newly-announced Wizard class. Even with just this one level, in an obviously incomplete build of the game, there’s something that’s become crystal-clear to me (and hundreds of others here at Blizzcon):

Diablo III is going to be a masterpiece.

Before anything else, it needs to be stated – and cannot be overstated – that the fears that Diablo fans might have had about the direction of the game’s art and style are wholly and completely unwarranted. Anyone who was concerned that D3 wouldn’t be true to the grim and gothic tone of the first two games will be reassured from the first few moments spent running through the ruins of Tristram.

This is not “isometric World of Warcraft.” This game is a Diablo game through and through.

This isn’t to say, though, that the developers of Diablo III haven’t taken a page or two from the WoW playbook. It’s much more common to see abilities with short “cooldown” timers, for instance. One of the Barbarian moves, for example, is a devastating stomp that deals damage to all enemies in a small area around the character and stuns them. However, it takes 8 or so seconds for the skill to recharge, so it can’t just be spammed at will.

While players are still able to assign abilities to the left/right mouse buttons, the potion bar from Diablo II has been replaced by a hotbar for up to six abilities or items – you can put potions on it too, if you’d like. Since two skills can be mapped to RMB (Tab switches between them), this means that a possible total of nine skills and abilities are at the players’ fingertips at any one time.

While the core of Diablo is, is and has always been, spam-clicking on baddies, this adds slightly more depth to the gameplay. The developers have said that they want Diablo III to be a better action game; a game that isn’t simply about just running in and killing everything that moves. To that end, while the game can theoretically be played with just a mouse, smart use of skills on the keyboard makes it much easier.

For instance, while playing the Barbarian, I mapped the more “spammy” abilities to the mouse buttons, and saved longer cooldowns – like the stomp – for the skill bar. while adventuring in the catacombs beneath Tristram, some of the enemies hide behind thick shields, blocking my Barbarian’s attacks. While it’s possible to simply wear through the shields by sheer relentless assault, that takes time – and when they’re being backed by a squadron of archers, time is precious. So instead, using the stomp stuns them, making them drop their shields – and from there, they fall easily. Another enemy has a massive axe that does quite a bit of damage if it hits you. However, if you can bait it into swinging and dodge, the axe will get lodged in the floor, allowing you to counterattack freely.

Environmental destruction is a fun new part of Diablo III, and the first time I slashed at the chain holding a chandelier up, causing it to fall on my foes … that was a cool moment. Even the simply cosmetic aspect of the feature feels fulfilling: when my Cleave attack took out a chunk of the nearby wall in addition to my undead foes, that was really the first moment where I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that D3 would live up to its legacy and the Blizzard name.

Looks like it’s time to stretch out my mouse-clicking fingers. King Leoric isn’t going to just kill himself, you know.

…er, again.

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