As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I’ve never played any of the Diablo games. I have, however, played the original Torchlight, which naturally takes many cues from the two Blizzard games. So it was with a mixture of wariness and interest that I downloaded the D3 beta yesterday in preparation for this open beta/stress test weekend. I’ve had D3 preordered through Amazon.co.uk for a while now, because it’s under £30 on there whereas it’s £45 through Blizzard’s store. My experiences with this beta will finalise whether I go ahead with the order or cancel it.
My very first impressions are, perhaps, rather unfair. I tried to log in for over an hour last night, but the Battle.net servers kept either going down or were very busy. This is not surprising with a stress test, of course, but I just thought for a moment that maybe Blizzard should have anticipated this a little better — as if it hasn’t learned anything as a company over the seven years or running World of Warcraft. Still, I’m not going to hold it against them. Last night I’d just finished a long day at work, was grouchy and impatient, and in no mood to be complementary about any product, from Blizzard or otherwise.
I flicked back and forth through the available five classes: barbarian, demon hunter, monk, witch doctor, and wizard, before plumping eventually for a female monk. This shunted me into the game world — after a couple of errors that said it couldn’t connect, but apparently did anyways…
To New Tristram & Beyond
One of the biggest issues I have with not having played the previous two games in the series is that I am completely ignorant of the lore. This means I’ll miss a lot of details, cool easter eggs and the like, that players of the previous games will get a kick out of. D3 needs to stand on its own, of course, so I’ll be writing from that viewpoint.
As my monk made her way through the fog-shrouded landscape, I had pretty mixed thoughts on the graphical quality of the game. Nothing particularly blew my mind. In fact, I’d rather have liked a slightly closer viewing distance, because everything was slightly too hard to see considering the dim lighting. That being said, the lighting effects themselves were excellent, and there’s a real sense of atmosphere with the mist-shrouded landscape.
The dungeon/crypt levels too are very well-designed and atmospheric. Loose flagstones hide loot or enemies, jars of ashes are everywhere, and lecterns hold rare scrolls and journal entries. The dungeons are also infested with enemies, from huge shambling undead that explode into maggots, to tiny imps and carrion bats that swarm you. Combat doesn’t exactly feel challenging in these first few levels, but that’s no surprise.
One thing I am particularly fond of are the health orbs that drop from enemies. This curbs the huge reliance on potions that Torchlight features, granting a real sense of momentum as you battle down through the levels of the crypts.
Speaking of momentum, I’m very chuffed with the feeling of progression in the first 10 experience levels of the game. Every level unlocks something new, be it a new type of ability slot, a new ability for an already unlocked slot, or a new rune to add to one of your abilities. Couple this with the constant trickle progression of slightly better loot the further you get, and you have a game that invites you to keep on playing so that you can power yourself up. It’s obvious carrot-on-a-stick mechanics, but it works.
Another thing that adds to this is pictured to the right: you get bonus XP based on what is essentially a kill streak — how many enemies you can kill without there being a significant portion of downtime between them. The 68 monsters killed “massacre” to the right was from an event called the “Jar of Souls” which spawned an absolute ton of pretty weak skeletons to kill. I was about level 7 at the time. Nothing came at me in such big numbers again, which is a shame as I would have liked to see if I could beat it. Bear in mind that you don’t need to beat your record to get the kill streak XP, you just need to get a proper kill streak.
Unsurprisingly, the weakest link in the game so far (for me) is the story. Admittedly, I don’t expect masterwork storytelling in a dungeon crawling loot-a-thon, but a little bit of intrigue goes a long way. The mysterious “falling star” mentioned multiple times that has ploughed through the cathedral in New Tristram is a nice hook, but I hope there’s a more-layered narrative in the final game.
So Will I Be Buying It?
I honestly don’t know yet. The lack of real character customisation on an initial aesthetic level bothers me a little, as does the fact that you need an always-on internet connection to play it. Sure, I’ll have one, but always-on connections mean that if the game’s servers hiccup for whatever reason (like they’ve done several times this morning) then you get kicked out of play. For a single player experience, I personally don’t think this is on (and it’s one of the reasons I dislike Games For Windows Live so much).
Still, I enjoyed the experience with the Monk, and I’m hoping that the next character I try will be a completely different experience, so that the feeling of repetition doesn’t set it.