Diablo 3 Open Beta Weekend Report

 

It’s been quite a while since I last played Diablo 3 — it was late September 2011, in fact, when I reviewed the closed beta. Since then, there have a been a number of wholesale changes to the game. This past weekend, with the release date looming, I hopped back into the open beta to see how things were doing.

Many of the changes have been largely uncontroversial — UI tweaks and various streamlining measures. Scrolls of Identify have been removed, in favor of a short channel bar that has largely the same effect without requiring consumable items. The Cauldron of Jordan and Nephalem Cube, which allowed players to sell and salvage items on the go, are also gone. Players will still hawk common items and break down magical, rare, and legendary items into their component parts, but will now have to make a trip to town in order to do so. These jaunts will come courtesy of a dedicated Town Portal button on the action bar, right next to health potions, which now also have their own dedicated slot and hotkey.

More contentious are the changes to the skill system. I was a fan of Diablo 3′s endlessly customizable character builds last fall, and I still am — I have little sympathy for people who yearn for the days of accidentally gimped builds and the hours of grinding it took to try new playstyles. That said, Blizzard might have overreached a little bit by dividing skills into 6 class-based categories, each of which corresponds to a mouse button or a hotbar slot. Though this change makes it easy to combine six skills into a usable build, and was clearly designed with inexperienced players in mind, it feels very forced. Thankfully, an optional “elective mode” allows players to select and deploy any six skills, regardless of category. This should assuage fan complaints.

The rune system, which gives players a choice of six powerful effects to apply to each skill (knockback, fire damage, increased duration, etc.), adds another layer of welcome customization. It also ensures that you’ll get some sort of upgrade every level, and often more than one. Since attribute points are assigned automatically when you level up, providing a more tangible reward every time is a wise move by the developers.

 

I was impressed by the automated matchmaking feature — simply choose a quest, and Diablo 3 drops you into a game with other people who are working towards the same goal. You join a party automatically when you join the game, and banner-like portals in the center of town enable you to teleport directly to your cohorts in the field.

Crawling dungeons in groups of five was not without its faults, however. My least favorite new feature is the variety of garish, technicolor spell animations that have been added since my initial playthrough. Belonging more to World of Warcraft than Diablo, they are tolerable for solo play, but quite distracting in groups — five players casting spells in one area can quickly turn the action into a confusing mess. This is all well and good at level 11, but I can imagine it driving high-level and particularly hardcore mode players up the wall. On a more personal level, I really missed the old animations of the Monk class, which I enjoyed in September and therefore rolled again this time around. They were simple, brutal, and easily visible — everything that the current crop of colorful chaos is not.

I also suffered from persistent and precipitous frame-rate drops, something which I never experienced during the closed beta. This might be attributed to growing pains on the part of Blizzard’s new Diablo 3 servers, but in the frenzied world of Diablo combat, every second counts, and I hope the issue is resolved before release. The spell animations, I fear, are here to stay.

The true test of Diablo 3′s success will be measured first by evaluating the entirety of its content, and then by keeping an eye on its longevity. Despite my misgivings about some of Blizzard’s new innovations, however, my excitement for the game is undimmed. The developers seem intent on paring the game down to its bare essentials — using magical abilities to hit monsters where it hurts — and their mastery of that endlessly satisfying feedback loop is still complete. Now I have three weeks to decide which class to pick on May 15th.

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5 Comments on Diablo 3 Open Beta Weekend Report

Underlaw

On April 25, 2012 at 3:46 am

Sorry but this is not diablo 3, this is an old hack slash like Street of rage, but look, i love street of rage, its wansome to say FURIAAA! But this is a Diablo 3 an RPG, not hack slash, im not mindless to play 30h, with no real consequences. I Played the beta, and look, my mage use a 2-H Sword, becouse all skill damage are calculated in damage of weapon….. this is ridiculous, mages cant use 2-h swords, they dont have str to hold! But with this new auto stats point…and auto skill point, and auto pick, and health globes, and no blood animation, and no scrolls. LOL if you can conjure infinite portals, this mean u have infinite mana, and infinite power….. so why u are fighting to lv up??? Diablo 3 FAIL > Mass Effect 3 ending FAIL

John

On April 25, 2012 at 6:56 am

In reply to Underlaw
First of all Diablo 3′s changes are not worse than ME3 endings. Diablo 3 has been a long time coming just like SC2. It will do well enough to pass by, but unless the battle net system is amazing I don’t see it sticking around long. So they auto level up? You still collect loot and gold. As for a mage holding a two handed sword grow up please that’s a game mechanic complaint not a lore complaint. I will be buying D3 and also I thought those epic lag problems were just me, but I can run it on high just fine.

max

On April 25, 2012 at 7:18 pm

lol… i don t know why he miss the old animations…. the game is fine now………….. i never had lag…. his cpu must be pretty bad

max

On April 25, 2012 at 7:21 pm

but ill have to admit the part where u dont use skill points sucks………… NO MORE CHOICES WHEN U LVL UP

xetir

On May 7, 2012 at 12:10 am

people hardly used their own bulds anyways it was all about the cookie cutter build to get maximum dmg, it seems this way the game will be more about skill than who can spam their skills faster. And about the portals. it kinda seemed pointless to have more than one scroll that said the exact same thing over and over, wouldn’t one just do? I am super stoked about playing this game is going to take many hrs from my life… time well spent.