“Last” may be something of an exaggeration, but it sure has felt prior to today that I was the only one on the internet who had yet to be waived through the door at the Diablo III nightclub. Today I finally got the nod from the Battle.net bouncer and started downloading the beta client. Unfortunately there are still a few rough spots in that process. For one, the installer failed in Windows 7 x64. I had to try a second time because it required administrative access to modify the Program Files directory, even if you’ve chosen to install it elsewhere. Second, for some reason the downloader was using up 60-70% of my quad core processor non-stop for the entire 2 hours it took to pull down all ~3GBs of game data. That is, frankly, absurd.
Luckily, the game itself is a lot better than all that. Aside from the occasion stutter when a new area is loaded, the game runs like a dream. And it’s a think of beauty, to boot. Any fears about the WoW-ification of Diablo’s art design are completely unfounded. It’s not a sepia-toned nightmare — there are colors — but the levels are still dark, moody and atmospheric. The monsters are suitably gruesome and the sound design is incredibly effective. I was also surprised by how long the beta actually is. I had heard it was very short, but I got a good 3 hours out of it with my first character. That was long enough to gain a follower, unlock quite a few abilities and play around with the cool crafting system.
I’m not enough of a Diablo aficionado to comment to closely on the differences between this game and the previous entries. I appreciate the ejection of town portal and identify scrolls from the franchise. The instant ability to re-spec characters also struck me as a really smart move. I’ve only played a Barbarian so far, but being able to experiment with different play styles without starting over from scratch is pretty great.
The story also appears a lot more fleshed out than in previous games. There are a number of Bioshock-style audio diaries to be found in the levels and the writing and voice acting was pretty sharp. There’s also a good deal of banter between the Templar follower in the demo and the player character. Despite Blizzard’s amazing cut-scenes, the story in Diablo II couldn’t hold me. Diablo III is far more promising on that front.
In all honesty I wasn’t particularly excited about a new Diablo before today. My interests had drifted to Torchlight and whatever the Titan Quest devs are cooking up next. But the Diablo III beta makes a really compelling argument for Blizzard’s commitment to quality and gameplay. And unlike Star Craft 2 which was slavishly devoted to the original’s mechanics and play style, Diablo III feels incredibly modern and unafraid to discard even elements that have been considered synonymous with Diablo in the past. Whether or not the old school fans appreciate the changes doesn’t really matter to me. The game they’re making seems pretty damn good.