Diablo III Preview

Prepare to face hell all over again

17 December, 2011 by

The next installment of the popular Diablo franchise will be returning soon to wreck havoc on our social lives. We were fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to get a sneak peak of this most anticipated game. Within you’ll find a detailed but spoiler free run through of what Diablo III has to offer.

Again, it’s quite rare of me to be writing about video games on this site but I do recognize that there must be a certain crossover of video game fans with our site’s audience. In truth though, the first two Diablo games stood as testaments to certain points of my own life. So engrossed over them that I spent countless hours each day re-exploring the dungeons and (later on) locales that the games had to offer.

World of Warcraft inspired login screen.

As a rough guideline to my obsession for those familiar with the series, in time I had accumulated two accounts full worth of high level characters on servers while introducing various feasible and novelty skill builds to the Diablo community. Note that I am not bragging, for the release of both games coincided accurately with both my grade and high school examinations. Regrettably, as a teen I lacked the foresight not to return home from examinations each day and continue my battles against the minions of hell.

Alas, after a long absence, Diablo III will return again early next year to finally claim its stake on my social life. Somehow I suspect that the technological limitations of the first two games, prevented the lords of hell from fully destroying my life. Regrettably, between the new internet speeds and pre-emptive network principals that were introduced in Warcraft 3 and later refined in World of Warcraft, there is nothing holding Diablo III back now.

All of the basic archtypes are present. The monk will please Naruto fans.

Asiasoft Corporation has teamed up with Blizzard Entertainment to distribute the Diablo III experience throughout Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. With their servers set up here, Asian players will no longer need to endure the 200ms odd pings that plagued the previous title.

Thanks to Asiasoft, the folk at Supermerlion were given access to Diablo III’s beta some time ago and had the opportunity to play through the first parts of the game. The beta boasts most of the full features, but limits the access to just the initial story arc of the first campaign. Character growth is also capped at level 13.

A constant connection is now necessary. But the interface and infrastructure makes joining games pain free.

I can foresee the game being quite the life engulfing force that the first two games were. For despite the limitations, I have witnessed hundreds of other testers playing through the short scenario repeatedly, if only for a taste of some of the character’s later skills, or the driving force of the game, loot.

Players familiar with past games will find many familiar concepts that they will enjoy. While I was initially worried about the sparsity of monsters in gameplay videos, that fear is now gone. At its core, Diablo III is still the same hack and slash adventure game that fans have come to love, and there are indeed ample monsters to fall.

A rich but suitable presentation.

While not something that I took issue to, others complained about the new art direction that threatened the gothic style of the series. I can attest that the graphics in the game, while not groundbreaking, are beautiful.

In this built, dungeons in the game are sufficiently dark, while outdoor areas shine with the impressive amount of polish that fans have come to expect of the company. Perhaps everyone was simply overreacting based on nostalgic false memories, since Diablo 2 boasted its fair share of bright outdoor areas, though I suspect that Blizzard did indeed take into consideration fan feedback.

You can see how the atmosphere varies with each area.

Diablo III draws more than just artistic parallels to recent Blizzard ventures. Many usability breakthroughs that had been tried and proven by World of Warcraft find their way into this new product. You can see the similarities between their user interfaces and players are now eased comfortably into game mechanics. Though veterans shouldn’t have much of a problem jumping in.

Achievements and crafting systems find their way into the new product. Forming a party and jumping into the heat of battle becomes instantaneous, with the ability to “port” over to any other player in the game from town. Players tend to work a lot more cooperatively as a result.

But the single biggest gameplay change comes from the way skills are handled now. Gone are skill trees, as are talent are stat points. Instead, Diablo III opts for a more forgiving means of customizing the characters. Players learn all skills now and at the base, all players hold identical characters. A limited number of skills can be “equipped” at any point, players can change these freely from special pillars located in towns and at the start of prominent dungeons.

ew skills and slots to equip these skills are automatically unlocked as you level.

However, this wouldn’t be Diablo without abundant opportunities to personalize one’s characters. Skills are now customized by players acquiring one of 5 types of Runestones that can be “inserted” into skills. The effects of these runes add special properties to the player’s skills or in many cases, completely alter the skill itself. So while each character learns only 20 odd skills, the actual variety is far more.

Also interesting to note, is that all skills scale better and much more transparently now. Even for casters, skills are now all based off a percentage of the character’s weapon damage. To counter a glaring problem, almost all classes now get “free” skills that basically replace their normal attacks, with caster skills scaling better with weapon damage.

The much improved stash.

Because individual character classes no longer fit a particular mold, it seems players are having a hard time choosing one to play. My suspicion is that many players will rotate between playing all of the characters. Though this is only is supported by the behavior of the beta players. The low level cap does help this model and as does the inclusion of a global stash that is shared among all characters across a player’s account.

This stash can be upgraded repeatedly through the game to expand to become quite the virtual warehouse. Players can now easily pass that shiny new weapon they found to another classed character and experience the short novelty that it brings, rinse and repeat for maximum addictability.

Diablo is a series that is already heavily dependent on equipment but it’s apparent that the third game places even greater emphasis. It’s no surprise with Blizzard’s decision to provide players an online auction system where they can trade and deal with items that they have found in game.

Players can merchant their findings through the auction house in the main menu.

As you would have no doubt heard by now, players will be able to sell their spoils in all of their randomly generated forms, for not just in-game currency but real money as well thanks to Blizzard’s partnership with internet banking giant PayPal.

While completely skippable, hidden behind the game is still the rich lore of the Diablo universe. Storytelling has generally been improved, with an impressive amount of meta events scattered throughout the short beta experience, which I am told is less than 1/16th of the overall plot. Based on this, it would seem that the overall length of Diablo III will outdo that of the previous game and its expansion combined. Though I suspect we will be seeing more than one add on to the series this time.

Diablo III is currently schedule for a first quarter launch in 2012. Before you take on the end of days though, you’ll want to prepare yourself, hardware-wise that is. So far my attempts to run the game have showed that you will probably need a computer that was made within the past two years in the least.

For now, I’ve never been quite as eager to go to hell.


Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.