Every RPG that has been made after Diablo 2 launched back in 2000, has in some way or other been compared to the great RPG in the sky. Every developer has either strived to emulate Diablo 2’s success by making RPGs with similar mechanics or tried to “shake up the genre” by putting in radically different elements, but even those developers were doing so because of Diablo 2.
Make no mistake; Diablo 2 is a high bar to succeed, even for the company that made that very game. Many games have come close, but just like Counter-Strike is for the FPS genre, Diablo 2 represents as close to perfection as we can come to a computer game about clicking things till they died and collecting loot compulsively.
With Diablo 3 soon set to descend onto our computers and steal our souls, I’ve had a go in the open beta. Here is what I think and how it holds up to its holy older brother.
It is a slower game. It hasn’t got the hyper-frenetic feel that its predecessor had, although they’ve made wading into hordes of enemies and decimating them feel quite sticky and epic. As you kill enemies, things explode in showers of sparkles and color, tapping into that primal part of our brain that always likes a good spectacle. This is a new Diablo, far removed from the dark horror of its predecessor, more akin to its cousin World of Warcraft. The writing remains about Evil corrupting and laying waste to everyone and everything and yet, it is hard to take any of it seriously when dungeons are colorful and bright. In comparison, Diablo 2, back in the day when I was a wee lad, was genuinely frightening. Descending into corrupted cathedrals, dungeons or blood-spattered temples was a scary affair. Like it or not though, Diablo 3’s new style and color palette is here to stay. No use complaining and we know that the fans are going to lap it up all the same anyway.
Combat remains a matter of hyper-clicking the mouse till enemies are dead. But now they’ve expanded the number of skills present to you. You don’t just have the left and right mouse buttons to use, but also numbers 1 through to 4. This makes the game a lot more involving by virtue of pressing more buttons, and knowing when is the right time to use the appropriate skill. And boy, there were many fights where balancing your skills, their cooldowns, and your mana will matter.
I don’t know if it is just the beta, but there was nothing in anyway related to skillpoints that you get to place in any skill or attribute. There was no intricate skill or character customization; everything is just unlocked depending on level. The only choice you get is which skills you wish to use in combat. But at least the skills seem varied and interesting enough to play around with.
Oh and now, depending on the class you’re playing, they refer to mana as different things. For instance, the Demon Hunter has Hatred and Discipline, while the Barbarian uses Fury. Only the Witch Doctor uses the good ol’ Mana. It’s kinda’ funny, especially everytime my Demon Hunter goes “Not enough hatred” – it makes me wonder why she still fights the bad guys if she doesn’t hate them anymore. Might as well break out the hugs and hope Evil dies that way.
I didn’t like the inventory system. Stash space was uber limited, maybe that was a beta thing, and your inventory fills up with a lot of junk. And the weapons all look the same, or don’t feel as varied as in Diablo 2. And after all this time, they didn’t put in an auto-sort inventory button??! Call me old-fashioned but the inventory UI also looked a lot cooler in Diablo 2 and weapons took up space according to their shapes, not just placed in grids. Everything looked boring and I couldn’t tell what was shiny and what wasn’t. I honestly prefer the hyper-realistic look of Diablo 2 over the cartoony WoW-esque Diablo 3.
In conclusion, this beta hasn’t got my gonads tingling. I wish it did. In fact, for the longest time I’ve wanted it to. But when I finally got into a game, after long waits for maintenance to be done, or servers to stop being broken, it was definitely not the same experience as Diablo 2 once was. It didn’t help that this is a game that requires you to be continually connected to the Internet, so latency spikes will definitely ruin your experience. I just wished at least they had a way of letting you play over a LAN server with your buddies like back in the old days. But I guess time has moved on, piracy is too big of an issue for Blizzard, and this is the best infrastructure they believe to help them make oodles of money.
Anyway, the Diablo 3 open beta was still a bag of fun overall, and although solo play was a bit of a snorefest, cooperative play with 3 other friends was genuinely a good time. I like that you could drop in and out of a game, and fast travel to wherever your mates are if they’ve started on a quest already. But if they want to get my vote for Best Game of the Year, Blizzard better make the game that tops the one that took my breath away 12 years ago.
They still have time. 3 weeks to go.