Diablo 3 Hands-on Preview

Get a good look at what to expect from the imminent Diablo 3 beta in this hands-on report.

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More than three years since it was announced, Diablo III is finally getting closer to release. How close? Blizzard's Rob Pardo told us that their internal alpha of the game is finally playable from beginning to end, and that everyone on the team has been doing exactly that, over and over. That got the attention of everyone in the room. And then he called what we'd be playing shortly the beta--important word that. It's the last stage before a game is finished. My experience playing this Diablo 3 beta bore that out, revealing a number of refinements made since the last time I'd seen it, and a game shaping up for release. As a player of ranged characters, I went with the Demon Hunter class for my main playthrough of the demo. With my freshly created Demon Hunter readied, I jumped into the beginning of the game, on the outskirts of Tristram. It's been over twenty years since the events of Diablo 2, and a new city has sprung up in the rubble of the old. Merchants eke out a living supplying adventurers venturing into the cathedral in hopes of finding valuable artifacts. All that has come to a screeching halt, though, thanks to a zombie apocalypse caused by a recent meteor strike. As I made my way to town, it didn't take long before I got reacquainted with my old friend. There is no mistaking this game for what it is. Despite the high resolution widescreen monitors, one glance makes it obvious that this is the successor to Diablo 2. Although the most recent release was the Lord of Destruction expansion pack a decade ago, the visual evolution of D3 felt natural. It won't wow anyone, but it captures the visual feel of Diablo well. There are subtle tweaks to appreciate, not the least of which are the interface elements like the style of chat windows that come over from World of Warcraft.

See the latest Diablo III screenshots

It may look like Diablo, but once the action started, it felt like Diablo even more. Many games have sought to copy Diablo's action RPG formula. And while those titles can clone the various pieces of the game, it's Diablo's pace that makes playing it such an addiction. Within moments of starting this demo, I knew Diablo 3 had managed to capture that je ne se quoi again. The secret lies in the balance of rhythm of adventuring in the game. Encounter areas frequently feature large groups, yet never quite so many that I would get overwhelmed. It's a dynamic that gets the adrenalin going, and rewards me with a little downtime to poke around, uncovering the map, before hitting the next battle. Pushing the limits of what a character can take on also promotes learning how to use all of the chosen character's strengths and tools. Since the last time I saw the game, the skill system has been switched up. Characters will be able to ultimately equip a combination of six active and three passive skills. These slots open up with new levels. Everyone starts with two actives, and gains one additional at levels 6, 12, 18, and 24 to reach the full complement of six. The first passive skill unlocks at level 10, with the other two opening up at levels 20 and 30. The new approach may sound a little simplified. One of the points behind the change was to make it more flexible, and easily adaptable to situations in the game. As I progressed through the beta, I found this to be the case. Trudging through the swampy graveyards above ground, I found myself using a lot of snare traps combined with rapid fire to entrap and then take down groups of zombies. When the action shifted into the halls beneath the Cathedral, so did my plan of attack. Game director Jay Wilson described the combat as "layered," thanks to a tiered series of abilities. So-called "spammable" attacks make up the first tier, followed by "breakout abilities" that can't be used as often but disrupt the battle. Finally, each class has an "escape" move to allow them to regroup when it all goes wrong. In the case of my Demon Hunter, that ability was smoke screen, and when used it gave me a few seconds of effective invisibility, allowing me to get away from groups.

See the latest Diablo III screenshots

Before facing off the Skeleton King, I encountered a crusading knight willing to join my fight. Followers can be thought of as "mini-heroes" that believe in the character and will fight alongside. In this case, the addition of a fighter to get out in front of my arrows proved invaluable. Diablo 3 allows the player limited control over the development of followers. They level up, and gain assignable skills at levels 5, 10, 15, and 20. I also found I was able to select my companion's weapon, so I equipped him with a heavy pike. But this customization does not extend to selecting their full set of gear. Followers also figure prominently into the storytelling scheme for Diablo 3. Lengthy monologues are gone, replaced by conversations held with the various people met along the way. One of more important of these is Leah, the adopted niece of Deckard Cain. As well as a potent archer, she serves as a narrative bridge between the volumes of knowledge we know Cain has from chronicling the story for so long and what we as players of the game need to know. When I finally reached the Skeleton King (yes, the legendary King Leoric who was cursed in death to serve Diablo), I took advantage of one more skill. Hitting him with "marked for death" boosted the damage my follower and I did to him, making it a little easier to bring him down while dealing with all the minions he had at his disposal. Fall he did, which meant the demo had come to an end. Much to my dismay, I couldn't continue down the glowing doorway that beckoned me on. It's undoubtedly a throwback, but if this beta is any indication, Diablo 3 is primed for recapturing its predecessor's addictive hold. It shouldn't be long before everyone gets a chance to play the beta and get a taste of it for themselves.
From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 1, 2011 9:00 AM

    Garnett Lee posted a new article, Diablo 3 Hands-on Preview.

    Get a good look at what to expect from the imminent Diablo 3 beta in this hands-on report.

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      August 1, 2011 9:06 AM

      Ugh, aren't we done with this stupid zombie trope? Preorder cancelled. Maybe Diablo 4 can take place in WWII.

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        August 1, 2011 9:09 AM

        Or on Hoth?

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        August 1, 2011 9:20 AM

        Your fighting demons and the undead, I'm sorry, but that's what Diablo is......I really wonder what you expected.

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          August 1, 2011 9:22 AM

          Well I for one expected something more original like Modern Warfare or Gears of War this time. Diablo, more like Diablow.

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          August 1, 2011 9:22 AM

          look what you've done Haxim

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          August 1, 2011 9:53 AM

          Sounds creepy.

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          August 1, 2011 11:45 PM

          He foolishly expected you to get the joke.

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        August 1, 2011 9:25 AM

        In Diablo IV you'll just fight DRM while they make you micropay every 5 minutes of play and join your (whatever facebook sustitute exists then) account with B.Net 3.0

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          August 1, 2011 10:24 AM

          and the game will be on the smellx3shitty

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        August 1, 2011 9:39 AM

        lol

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        August 1, 2011 10:15 AM

        Demons in sssssssSSSSSSSPPPAAAAAACCCCEEEEEE

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        August 1, 2011 10:32 AM

        roflmao

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        August 1, 2011 10:47 AM

        Diablo 4 is Space Marines vs. Zombies filled with QTEs and microtransactions. It'll blow you away. -IGN.com

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        August 1, 2011 10:52 AM

        Diablo liked zombies before it was cool!

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        August 1, 2011 12:20 PM

        Hi guys what's a Diablo game. I heard it came out in 1996.

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          August 2, 2011 1:24 PM

          Wow.

          A kid would could be born that year and be 15 now.

          This could be his first diablo.

          Fucking crazy.

          The little shits won't know what they missed in the golden age of gaming. Starcraft, terra nova, duke nukem 3d, diablo, quake, or hell even halflife!

          Damn.

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      August 1, 2011 9:47 AM

      This article makes the game sound like it's a bit of a letdown in the sense that the game felt all too familiar.

      "It's undoubtedly a throwback" the graphics "won't wow anyone, but it captures the visual feel of Diablo well."

      I'm buying d3, that's a given, but sometimes I wonder if they didn't shake things up enough. Blizz seems to not be taking chances with heir development as of late. I hope they come out with a fresh IP at some point that doesn't rely on preexisting mechanics.

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        August 1, 2011 9:55 AM

        the other D3 threads in this chatty make it apparent that they cant shake anything up because people will just bitch about it.

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          August 1, 2011 9:55 AM

          Dude, remember the Rainbowpocalypse? Shit gets real.

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          August 1, 2011 9:56 AM

          Time to add Diablo 3 to the winchatty filters.

          It's going to be worse than the DNF threads I think :(

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            August 1, 2011 10:07 AM

            And people wonder why so few devs make PC their main platform any more. its impossible to please the masses of fucking nerds

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              August 1, 2011 10:33 AM

              I'm sure Diablo 3 will do quite well despite complaints.

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                August 1, 2011 10:34 AM

                Of course it will.

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                August 1, 2011 10:35 AM

                Oh I know it will, I just cant imagine being a dev and dealing with such a large consumer base of whiny babies.

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                  August 1, 2011 10:45 AM

                  It's the same for any popular franchise.. Whether is on PC or Console.

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                    August 1, 2011 11:03 AM

                    I dont think so. Maybe its because the console gamers on this site arent as vocal, or because there arent as many changes to console game franchises. Halo Reach went through a pretty heafty amount of changes and I dont remember there being any reaction similar to what you see in these threads.

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                      August 1, 2011 11:25 AM

                      Oh, believe me, go to GameSpot or IGN and you will see many complaints of console games. But there are also a lot of people who will just accept whatever the devs give them and defend them to the death.

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                      August 1, 2011 12:41 PM

                      That's because console gamers don't mind being treat like mushrooms. Kept in the dark and fed shit. It's all they expect and/or want. Another clone of a game year after year after year after year...man, console gamers are just so, basic.

                      I'm not saying you don't get stand-out console games, hey, Metal Gear Solid was amazing! I'm hard pressed to think of any console exclusive since then I've been envious over.

                      Excuse the PC Gamers here from actually wanting a worthy sequel.

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                  August 1, 2011 1:50 PM

                  Stop acting like the shack is some unique entity when it comes to criticizing games. The Halo Reach forums on release were hilariously bad.

                  It's the same everywhere for all platforms.

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              August 1, 2011 10:38 AM

              haha yeah that's the reason

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              August 1, 2011 10:41 AM

              thats totally it maulla you have your finger on the pulse of PC gaming

              fucking lol

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              August 1, 2011 11:39 AM

              [deleted]

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              August 1, 2011 12:27 PM

              LOL clearly the problem is people who like to play games on a PC. Console players greet devs with a "Good day sir!" and welcome everything new with open arms.

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        August 1, 2011 10:02 AM

        Well, if they are smart, and I think we both know they are, they will make an improved iteration of the classic, and then tinker/improve it over time, trying new things, removing things that don't work, and making sure that interest for the first expansion stays high. WoW is a very different animal from day one. Now, WoW has more impetus to stay fresh, since it's pay-to-play, but I am confident that Blizzard know's what's up.

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          August 1, 2011 6:31 PM

          I can tell you 100% this is how things have moved forward, at least since I got here. Constant iteration with a tight focus on maintaining gameplay that feels like it should. Nothing is held onto blindly.. if it's not fun, or is overly complex, or useless.. it's out.

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        August 1, 2011 10:05 AM

        replace D3 and Diablo with SC2 and SC and you could make similar comments, and SC2 is pretty goddamn awesome

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        August 1, 2011 10:13 AM

        why would you take chances? we see what happens in the FPS world, they tank horribly.

        gotta be careful what you wish for in terms of "FRESH IP" stuff. diablo 3 shouldn't be too innovative or fresh. it's a sequel.

        plus it's clear they are shaking up a LOT, given that real money can change hands through the game...

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        August 1, 2011 10:27 AM

        Sounds EXACTLY how I felt about Diablo 2

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          August 1, 2011 10:33 AM

          I got lucky in that I came into the Diablo series with D2. Probably a good thing because at the time it was totally fresh for me and the experience had already been refined from the first one.

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        August 1, 2011 10:38 AM

        there is a single reason i am not playing diablo 2 right now. it looks like ass on my 1080p monitor. they could literally change nothing except implement higher resolutions and i would pay 60 bucks. i don't want anything to change. diablo 2 is the perfect game.

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        August 1, 2011 10:50 AM

        Take your concerns in another light: Anyone who expects crazy innovation and cutting edge graphics out of Blizzard is unfamiliar with the company and why so many people like their games.

        Blizzard always tends to emphasize polishing proven gameplay and removing components of negligible value over heavy innovation. Graphics wise they always tend to favor art direction and scalability over high-end wow-factor.

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          August 1, 2011 2:04 PM

          You're right, except I disagree about the scalable part. Blizzard games tend not to scale; scalability implies that it runs on an average machine but you can crank various settings up to maximum and get a vastly better visual experience out of it on a higher end rig. Their games have always had average-below average graphics even on maximum, in part because they are always delayed. The exception is SC2, while the graphics are not amazing, we have reached a point where "average" looks pretty damn good.

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            August 1, 2011 2:51 PM

            Scalability implies that it can run on a range of hardware, with graphical improvements on better hardware.

            It does not, however, imply that the range starts at average and goes up to high-end -- this is just the most typical approach you see with AAA PC games.

            It seems Blizzard's approach has typically been to set the range start at the low-end go up to slightly-above-average... with hardware beyond that having negligible difference.

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        August 1, 2011 11:37 AM

        They don't need to shake it up really. If they came out with another expansion to D2 today, I'd buy it on the way home and take the rest of the week off of work.

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          August 1, 2011 12:44 PM

          I did, it was called Torchlight... I swear after playing it again recently my burning desire to play d3 is more like an itchy rash of desire.

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      August 1, 2011 10:33 AM

      'Je ne *sais* quoi' (sorry, don't hit me)

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        August 1, 2011 11:59 AM

        Bugged me more that the next sentence goes about defining what this intangible "secret" quality really is.

        Actually wait, that whole paragraph is pretty much barf.

        It may look like Diablo, but once the action started, it felt like Diablo even more. Many games have sought to copy Diablo's action RPG formula. And while those titles can clone...

        Firstly, the tenses are fucking confusing and don't fit with the rest of the piece. And the "even more" refers, by comparison, to the previous act of looking, but instead the act of feeling gets thrown in just for shits and giggles and more confusion. After that, the second sentence really needs to hold hands with the third so it doesn't further break the flow and look like something my 6th graders would throw down.

        Not sorry. Go ahead and hit me. I'm bored as fuck and could do with a punch in the face.

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          August 1, 2011 2:57 PM

          This is video game journalism. You may as well complain about plot and character growth in a porno.

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            August 1, 2011 3:08 PM

            Why can't we have standards in video game journalism? For the most part, I think the Shack does an excellent job, but if you start to excuse poor work with 'lol games', then you end up with shit like Kotaku.

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          August 1, 2011 11:34 PM

          The article was poorly written. I think he rushed it. It didn't even really have a structure to it.

          How 'bout these lines:

          The secret lies in the balance of rhythm of adventuring in the game. Encounter areas frequently feature large groups, yet never quite so many that I would get overwhelmed.

          Uhh...what?

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      August 1, 2011 10:48 AM

      I wanna know how it compares to Titan Quest. That game still looks good and had some solid improvements to the formula.

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      August 1, 2011 10:50 AM

      So today was the Official Announcement Date for the Announcement of the Annoucement Date for the Official Beta After Which the Release Date Announcement Day will be Announced but not Released?

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        August 1, 2011 10:56 AM

        More of an "Official Implication Date for the Announcement of the Official Beta Date, But Honestly, Don't Hold Your Breath for the Announcement Date of the Release Day, Which, Despite Being SOON™ Still Doesn't Technically Fall Within the Definition of Soon."

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        August 1, 2011 11:14 AM

        the shift in gears from cruise to full-bore for the blizzard media machine was almost palpable

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      August 1, 2011 11:07 AM

      when are we going to see another long gameplay video I thought that was part of this.

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      August 1, 2011 1:45 PM

      any bitching aside, im sure its gonna be addictive as fuck

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      August 1, 2011 3:14 PM

      i cannot WAIT to play and make some money!!! WOOHOO being unemployed never felt so good!

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      August 1, 2011 6:35 PM

      Sounds amazing, looking forward to starting my beta adventure.

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      August 3, 2011 1:49 AM

      Nice work Garnett I enjoyed that...got the juices floooooooooooooowing

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