First Diablo 3 Hands-on Impressions: Hell Yeah

Diablo III does look very different from Diablo II. It does. You notice when you're playing. Stylistically, graphically, much has changed.

But after a few seconds of playing, I was back in the same feverish loot-hording mode, locked into a clickfest of nostalgic proportions. Diablo III may look different, but it has the same tactile feel of the original games, the same satisfying feedback of swords and spells.

Starting out in the Tristram Woods, my demonstration began by taking a quest titled the "Return of the Skeleton King." It was my job to make my way through the ghostly woods, enter the old Tristram Church, and destroy the renewed Skeleton King, a throwback to the original Diablo. Playing as a Wizard first, and then a Barbarian, I got a fair sampling of the available classes.

In either case, Barbarian or Wizard, the game's systems currently work wonderfully. Spells are arrayed in a WoW-like interface, instantly added after being gained through the three large talent trees. In addition to your standard attack, you can now instantly switch between two primary spells by either scrolling the mousewheel or hitting "Tab."

After a very short trip through the pale blue forest, passing by a completely demolished building with only a half-hanging sign left as evidence--"Griswald's Shop"--I found the old Tristram Church. It was at this point that I lost my mind.

Inside the ruined church, zombies of every sort rambled out of their holes, as is expected in a Diablo game. The difference now is that there is more variety to the combat, in every respect. Ogres wait inside small culverts, bursting forth in ambush. As you fight, the environment is destroyed all around you, providing a great sense of total carnage.

In fact, as laser-focused as the original Diablo games were in the realm of combat, I dare say this sequel has appropriately been improved in that arena. Playing as the Barbarian, slamming zombies with crushing Bashes and axe strikes, the screen shakes violently. 3D zombies are hewn apart in a way that 2D sprites couldn't be, bloody spraying everywhere. Even leveling up causes a huge explosion, rocking the area.

After quickly meeting my end, I was instantly resurrected back at the entrance of the church--a result of the game's new checkpoint system. Little improvements to the Diablo formula are found all over. For example, now loot text is always visible by default, removing the necessity of holding alt. Loot itself is player-based, removing the necessity of ganking your friend's pile.

If I had one caveat to my gushing, I would have to point to the movement speed. Rather than the unrealistic, instant point-to-point movement of the original titles, characters in Diablo III make a slow turn when clicked toward another area. It's more realistic, but not quite as snappy as I'm used to.

Still, my lasting impression of the game is one of absolute pleasure. Diablo III is coming, and it feels fantastic. I'll be playing the game much more over the next two days--be sure to check back for a more thorough preview.

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