Diablo 3 open beta

Last weekend it was possible for everybody to have a look at blizzard‘s upcoming Diablo 3. For blizzard, serving as both a stress test and for debugging purposes, players could get an idea of what the game is like, whether it runs smoothly on their systems and whether it’s “their” game or not. I gave it a go …

The beta actually started on friday, but I didn’t have time that evening. So the story starts on saturday at around 10 am. After registering an account I could download the client. A whopping 3.5 gigabytes to fetch at roughly 500kb/s meant lots of time to play with my daughter before getting some playtime myself. She got tired and we put her to bed for a nap at around 4 pm and that’s when I tried logging in the first time. Tried is the important word here. Apparently servers were too busy (error 37). Looking for technical information I quickly managed to find this post on the battle.net forums which explained the different error codes displayed.

At around 5 pm (CEST), they took down the servers for what I think was installing a bugfix version. Then my daughter woke up and I couldn’t get any Diablo play time in until around 9 pm when I managed to put her to sleep for the night. Patiently singing her to sleep when right next door the game I’ve been waiting for for a couple years wasn’t too easy but eventually I managed to soothe her and when I returned to the computer, I was actually able to log in to Diablo 3. Wow! After what feels like a decade (well, it almost is) since I last played part 2 it actually was a little exciting :-)

I always liked the barbarian character the most in Diablo 2 so it was obvious for me to start the third game with this char, too. I was kind of disappointed when I learned that the name is limited to twelve characters which was not enough for the name I had wanted to use so I just slammed the keyboard and enjoyed the atmosphere of the first minutes as “idbegazsh”.

On my current hardware I first of all had to tune down some video settings to get it running smoothly but it still looked pretty good after turning down shadow quality and particle effects.

The first encounter is a zombie like something and just like the barbarian in D2 it is a matter of mostl one hit per enemy for the first hour of play, except for special enemies. What I found terribly annoying was the sound effect of the barbarian’s standard attack. Just too much, too loud, too heavy in my opinion. The more standard attacks you execute, and you obviously do that a LOT, the more this pissed me off. Apart from the default attack, there is a secondary skill slot which is executed with the right mouse button and then there are “active skills” that are issued by keys 1-4. Those skills use “fury”, a power source that builds up from bashing enemies with the standard attack. So basically, Mana without potions and a different name. The first secondary attack you unlock is a hammer-like something that hits multiple enemies and is quite useful against groups of enemies but the standard attack sound is something that kept me sighing for the most time of the beta.

Other than that, the game did a decent job in impressing me. Although the graphics looked a bit like a comic book on first look, the atmosphere is nicely dark and feels about right. There’s plenty of loot to gather and a number of people to talk to, there are decent voice overs for all characters and one can even choose to play male or female characters. That’s some great steps forward. Unfortunately the game felt a bit laggy in some situations. My character popped from one place to another and enemies appeared out of nowhere without the usual “zombie crawling out of the grave”-animation. Hopefully blizzard gets this fixed before release on May 15th.

The main quest of the beta is to slay the skeleton king and the story development takes place quite unusually for a diablo game. Towards the final battle, you are encompanied by an NPC and while you’re crawling the dungeon, he and the player character talk back and forth about the quest while you’re walking from one fight to the next. That’s pretty decent and speeds up gameplay as you don’t have to sit through the dialog doing nothing like in the previous diablo games.

The first time I needed a healing potion was when I finally faced the skeleton king (playing as a melee fighter, diablo games always tended to start very easy) and what they did about healing potions … well I’m not sure I like that. The potions apparently have a cooldown time. So it meant that while trying to slay the bony giant, I had to spend most of the time running away from him while waiting for the cooldown to expire so I could use another potion, then run up against him, get in some hits, on the other hand take some hits myself, quickly lowering my health and so start running again. I found that pretty annoying and can’t really understand that design decision compared to older diablo games. Well, maybe it would have been even easier if I could have used a potion whenever I wanted to.

After having defeated leoric for the first time, I started over with a sorcerer for like ten minutes but couldn’t get any more playtime in since … well … family stuff … but mages are not my favorite way of action role playing anyway, so who cares …

All in all I can’t wait to get my hands on the full version of the game and beat the heck out of Diablo and his minions. We’ll see how far I’ll take it this time, I guess not as far as Diablo 2 in which I played several characters to level 99 on closed battle.net…

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