Return to Sanctuary – First Impressions on Diablo III

This last week was the first open beta for Diablo III, a chance for the public to take a look at what the press and closed testers have been going on about. Being a longtime fan of the Diablo franchise, I quickly dove in for an opportunity to take a look through the veil and experience first-hand the goings on in the world of Sanctuary. My first impressions of Diablo III were that this game, while it is a continuation of the Diablo saga, has been refined in terms of control and graphics, but doesn’t feel very different from its predecessors.

And I’m OK with that.

Diablo III is a 2.5D top down hack n’ slash game that is the third installment of a franchise heralded by many as the quintessential PC gaming series of the 90s and early 2000s. Diablo III returns to the world of Sanctuary 20 years after the heroes vanquished Diablo and his brothers Mephisto and Baal. The public beta returns you to New Tristram, where your new hero’s adventure begins by speaking to Deckard Cain’s niece, Leah. Cain has gone missing and she requests that you search for her eccentric uncle, fearing the worst. A new foe, the Skeleton King is involved; you must vanquish this corrupted soul and find out the link between him and the bright star that has fallen outside of the ruins of Old Tristram.

In the public beta of Diablo III, you’re given the opportunity to create a character and customize a banner for them. The numbers of options, while limited by most of today’s standards, are far less so than the previous two installments. You can choose one of five classes: the Witch Doctor – which is equivalent to the old Necromancer class, only they use Voodoo skills; The Barbarian returns to smash and bash their way through Sanctuary; The Wizard is essentially akin to the Sorcerer or Sorceress of the previous games; The Monk, which is a melee attacker that uses martial arts skills; and the Demon hunter, which combines the Assassin and Amazon classes of the previous games. You can now, of course, choose the gender of your class which is a plus.

There have been a number of refinements to the gameplay that are notable. Environments are destructible in certain areas allowing you to collapse walls and chandeliers on unsuspecting beasts. Achievements are also available which unlock different things such as banner patterns, emblems, and titles, with presumably more things to unlock that are not yet detailed. Skill trees are still present; however, you can now use multiple skills and hotkey them to the number keys.

The general feel of the game, however, is the same.  It’s very apparent that Blizzard was intent on maintaining the same look and feel that so many people are familiar with, which is exceptionally smart on their part. Thousands of people still play the original two games and it wouldn’t be the wisest move to make any radical changes to a formula that’s kept players coming back to the franchise for going on 16 years. Fans will be happy to know that playing Diablo III is like returning to someplace familiar, yet unsafe, without feeling like a cheap copy.

To my amazement, I found that Diablo III ran on my Alienware M11X v2 with a Core 2 Duo processor and Nvidia GeForce GT 335M GPU, all of which were able to handle the game quite comfortably, even though the system is going on two years old. This is a nice twist from the typical “buy a new game, buy a new PC” mentality that I’ve become so accustomed to with big AAA titles outside of the console realm.

Overall, my brief experience in this newer, higher-definition world of Diablo III was like sitting down with an old friend that you haven’t seen in many years. It’s a familiar world, but time has changed it and we’ve all matured, but nonetheless, it was an experience that I look forward to repeating soon. In just three weeks’ time we’ll once again don our armor, and charge towards the fiery gates of hell – and I can’t wait!

Look forward to our full review of Diablo III in just a few weeks!

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April 24, 2012 - 8:00 am