Diablo III
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Really? But I waited 12 years for this day

We wanted to bring you in on our first experiences of Diablo 3, so here is a preview to whet your apetite before the final review at the end of the weekend.

Unbelievably it’s been 12 long years since we hacked and slashed our way through Diablo 2, scrounging for the best possible loot and swapping nonsensical comments with our great mate Deckard Cain. At 8am GMT yesterday we thought the torturous wait was over - the Diablo 3 servers finally went live, and millions of gamers the world over hit ‘Play’...only to see the following glorious screen.

[SCREEN: ERROR 37]

Error 37 quickly gained infamy, trending on Twitter and causing exasperated fans on Blizzard’s forums to denounce their heroes and demand a refund - a tad dramatic, but we certainly felt their frustration. After all, we may have been waiting over a decade for Diablo 3, but the final couple of days have been bloody painful. Some fans managed to get straight in, but others - us included - were left humming the bloody theme tune over and over, as it repeated for the 362nd time.

Character building

We tried for well over two hours before we finally got to level two of Diablo 3 - the character creation screen. After wetting ourselves a little, we plunged straight in. This isn’t like the majority of RPGs - you don’t spend the best part of a day painstakingly picking your charcter’s skills and changing their physical appearance, so they resemble Justin Bieber with pecs/Katie Price with double Z boobs and a soggy tissue for an outfit. All you choose is your character’s class, sex, and name. And that’s it.

The Game-Debate Diablo team consists of myself (Seebaruk), and GD grand maestro Felix. I chose a Barbarian (nicknamed ‘Bosh’ because he likes to hit stuff), who despite his wrinkled, grizzled appearance, still looks like he could smash bricks using just his taint. Felix went with a Demon Hunter called Darsillan, a crossbow-wielding bomb-chucker who proved surprisingly dexterous. Our strategy is simple, a time-honoured tactic: I storm in like a tank, swinging my massive hammer, and Felix sits back and arrows/bombs the bastards while they’re busy kicking my arse. Simples.

First few hours with Diablo 3...

After a super-brief cutscene you’re thrust straight into Diablo’s world, and series fans will love that your first port of call is the troubled town of New Tristram. It seems the new version is about as luckless as the old one, as leagues of the undead are storming the city walls when you arrive. We smashed our way effortlessly through them, and after chatting with the citizens, quickly learned that an old pal of ours, the indefatigable Deckard Cain, had been kidnapped and dragged to the local monastery. After buffing our boots and oiling our nipples, we headed out to save Mr Cain and reap bloody vengeance...

Diablo fans will love the little nods and references to the first two games, including familiar faces and folklore that pops up from the very start of Diablo 3. In the very first Act you’ll take on old bosses, visit the ruins of Old Tristram, and take on hordes of recognisable enemies, from those flappy bat things to those pesky imps. In fact, one early section, charmingly called the ‘Fields of Misery’, was almost a carbon copy of Diablo 2’s Stony Fields/Cold Plains - a muddy grassland infested with goatmen and gargantuan beasts. Homage, or just plain lazy? You decide...

Gimme my loot!

Gameplay too has evolved only slightly from those early days. You team up either with a real-life buddy or an NPC, then take off on a quest - usually ‘bring me this thing’ or ‘kill this dude’. After hacking your way through swarms of gribblies, you do your thing then teleport back to town, where someone else gives you yet another task they can’t be arsed to complete themselves.

Of course, by keeping the gameplay straight and simple, Blizzard has allowed us to focus on the things that matter. In a word, loot. Fans will not be disappointed by the enormous amount of stuff you can pick up and stick on your character, from boots to braces, axes to armbands. Magical, rare and unique items all make an appearance, and if anything we were finding far too many magical pieces - I was only wearing my magic pants for three minutes before I found an even better pair, and I swapped weapons around twenty times in the four hours we played.

Let’s play fair now

If you play co-op, you’ll be glad to know that each character gets their own loot and gold drops. In other words, you and your mate will each get individual loot, which the other can’t see or pick up, thus avoiding mad grabs for decent kit. Of course, you can still trade with each other if you find something the other player might need. We’re glad loot drops were handled this way, because as much as I love Felix, I’d have to kill him if he stole my magic pants.

XP is also shared between everyone, regardless of who got the kill, so you don’t need to stress if you’re more of a ‘hang back and heal people’ player.

Mad skills

Diablo 3’s core gameplay may be very similar to Diablo 1 and 2’s, but there are a few tweaks. One of the biggest is the skills system, which has been massively overhauled. In Diablo 2 you were assigned points upon levelling up, which you then pumped into a skills tree. You were stuck with your choices, unable to change your mind.  In Diablo 3, the skills unlock as you gain levels, but you can activate and deactivate them whenever you want, so there are no permanent choices.

For instance, Bosh started with just a single skill, ‘bash’, which is pretty self-explanatory. This is a Primary skill, meaning it’s assigned to the left mouse button. After I gained a level, I received a Secondary skill, which is assigned to the right mouse button. This was called Hammer of the Ancients, and is basically a more powerful swing.

A few levels later, I had new Primary and Secondary skills I could use - I replaced Bash with Cleave, an attack that swipes out in an arc, hurting lots of beasties at once, while Hammer of the Ancients went out for Rend, which makes enemies bleed for extra damage. But at any time, I could revert back to Bash and HotA, simply by entering my Skills menu and selecting them. You aren’t punished later in the game for choices you made early on, which is a huge relief.

You get up to six active skills, assigned to the left and right mouse buttons, as well as the 1-4 number keys. In addition there are lots of passive skills which boost certain traits, unlockable at levels 10, 20 and 30. I’ll write more about the skills in my full review, but so far I’m impressed. It’s great that Blizzard has offered such flexibility, so you can try out different character builds without starting the game all over again. Hardcore purists might not like it, but then they’re hardly ever pleased, so there you have it.

You’re real purdy

The fully 3D graphics are undoubtedly a massive boost - stick a Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 screenshot next to each other and Diablo 2 suddenly looks all kinds of ugly. But it’s not just looks that have improved. Now the environment is completely destructible - swinging your sword in a  graveyard will cause gravestones to shatter and trees to splinter and tumble. You can hack down chandeliers to crush hapless demons, or smash pillars to bring down entire walls on their stupid, bulbous heads. Ha!

Little tweaks

Blizzard has made a few other interesting little tweaks here and there also. The addition of health orbs has meant that we rarely struggled in our first four hours, as most tough battles result in at least two or three of these life-givers dropping. They’re basically instant health potions, restoring most of your life so you can battle on. Only twice in our mammoth session did I think I might snuff it, despite wading into every battle care-free. I’m sure that Diablo 3 will get more difficult as we power on, but so far it’s been a cake walk. In fact, the hardest part by far was just getting onto the sodding servers.

Health potions themselves have changed too - now there’s a ‘cool down’ for each potion, so you can’t use a ton of them at once (a popular Diablo 2 tactic for tank characters). This should make boss battles and other tough fights more interesting towards the end of the game - Barbarians will have to plan their life-reviving skills more carefully, to avoid being surrounded and obliterated.

There are also no town portal or health scrolls. Instead, you can skip back to town using the ‘T’ key at any time, while unidentified items can be simply revealed back at town by clicking on them. So far we’ve only found one unidentified item each, a drop from a boss character. Mine turned out to be a rare and rather rubbish shield, while Felix got a sword that was also disappointingly not as good as some magic gear we’d already grabbed. Still, that’s Diablo’s loot for you - it’s all a roll of the dice.

Finally, my personal favourite - the loot-dropping imp. This little dude is an obvious homage to Golden Axe, a sack-wielding gribbly who drops gold and items as you smack ten bells out of him. He runs pretty fast though so you’ll have to be quick, and if you don’t abuse him enough before he teleports away, that loot is lost forever...

Back into battle...

We’ll be kicking the collective arse off the legions of hell all week, so expect our full Diablo 3 Game-Debate review to crash land this weekend. Pass the nipple oil, ma....it’s pain o’clock!

Darsillan The Demon Hunter, Also known as Felix