Thoughts on the Diablo 3 Beta
I had a chance encounter the other weekend with someone who had some Diablo 3 beta invites. He asked if I was interested. "Sure, I guess. If you have extra." A few days later the invite email came; I entered my code on battle.net and downloaded the installer. Many Gigs later I had D3 installed on my laptop and iMac.
The beta covers the first quest line in the first act of the game. While it feels short for the beta, you can do it for each character, all of which are playable. You can also rerun any part of the quest line as many times as you like and even do boss runs for teh lewts.
What I like the best is how powerful your character feels. Two years ago, at Blizzcon, I remember Blizz saying that they wanted combat to have a visceral feel; I believe they are well on their way to that goal. Smashing enemies is very satisfying: monsters explode launching bits and pieces all over the screen. Killing a skeleton holding a shield will leave the shield spinning on the ground like a coin. The sound effects sound are excellent and add to that HULK-SMASH feeling. Blizzard's well known attention to details really shines here.
The way the story is told and integrated into the gameplay is done fantastically. The quest line in the beta is linear and leads you right though the story. Conversations with NPCs give you a look into the bigger picture. Found randomly in the dungeons are journals which give you backstory as you go. These backstories are presented as audio that plays while you continue about your way. I really enjoy how un-intrusive they are. You can be a lore nerd and keep on killing while you listen. Finally, the followers you can get will randomly start a conversation with your character. It's non-interactive but are context appropriate. They really add to the atmosphere. Another detail example: The quests that introduces you to the Templar follower in the beta, can be rerun while you have your templar following you; they have dialog talking to each other ("If one templar is good, two are better!").
Follower NPCs are Mercenaries++; they follow you into combat during single player runs and give you an extra hand when running solo. Support NPCs, such as the blacksmith, provide access to quality items and can be upgraded to provide better crafted lewts.
Skills (abilities and attacks, there are no skill trees) for each class are in the game and many are fun. As you level you get access to more skills and slots in which skills can be placed for use. For example, at level 5 you get a 3rd skill slot which you can place any of the 8 or so skills that have been unlocked. Skills can be swapped at anytime. In addition, every ten levels you get a passive skill slot. There are something like 30 passives to unlock as you level and you can switch between them at anytime, just like active skills. In general each class has resource generating powers, resource spending powers and buffs or situational skills. All that said, Blizz says skills are still in flux at this point in the beta.
So thats it. I'll have my laptop at D&D if anyone wants to take a peek.