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Chris Carter avatar 1:11 PM on 05.21.2012  (server time)
Some Diablo III Thoughts – Stay awhile and listen

I’ll give it to you straight: if you've played the Diablo III beta, you’ll notice that the game seems fairly limited and droll. Thankfully, the beta itself was probably one of the worst snapshots of the full game.

One of the most deceiving things about the beta is how limited the rune system was at the time, which lead to player outrage for limiting certain skills to certain quick-slots. Essentially, this required a rigid construction of your character, to the point where people called Diablo III “dumbed down”, and vowed to ignore the retail release. This assessment couldn't be farther from the reality.

Most people probably aren’t aware of the game’s “Elective Mode”, hidden tactfully underneath the veneer of the gameplay options menu. This allows you to put any skill in any slot you want, and completely customize your build the way you want it. Hilariously enough I was included in that naive group, as I didn't even discover the option until after I beat the game for the first time.

In addition to the robust skill system (which gives you more abilities as you level up), you’ll immediately notice that the “Rune” system and passive ability system allow you more customization than any dungeon crawler to date. This mechanic would be tiresome if it weren’t for the fact that Runes utterly change how each skill plays out.

For instance, a skill that replenishes your mana may be further augmented to replenish your health as well, changing when the skill is best used in the middle of a hectic boss fight. Alternatively, it could be modified to give you a mana increase over time after activation, which can be helpful in more attrition-oriented fights.

Another Rune may make a non-damaging skill like a trap or an evasive move inflict damage, or root enemies instead of just slowing them; and so on. You can respec instantly at any time (respeccing changes your abilities – this usually costs in-game currency and the use of an NPC in most RPGs, but it is free and clear in D3).

Respeccing mid-fight can be extremely exhilarating, but Blizzard cleverly rewards players at higher levels of difficulty by giving them a stacking “magic find” (a statistic for finding better loot) buff for NOT respeccing during a certain amount of time – genius.

So what good are fancy skills if there are no interesting boss fights to be had? Thankfully, D3 delivers on that front. Bosses are no longer kite, kite, kite, kite, kite, kite; don’t get hit. They’re basically full-on raid encounters, a la your standard MMO – but in a good way.

Unlike most MMOs that require you to have a guild or assemble a swarthy crew, pretty much every boss in the game outside of maybe Inferno Mode can be soloed, provided you have the skill-set.

Typical MMO boss tropes like “stay out of the fire” apply here, but there’s also a number of different circumstances that will require quick thinking, split-second reflexes, and most of all – the drive to keep moving, to avoid various traps. Unlike Diablo 2 (or most dungeon crawlers in general), pretty much every fight is environmental, which means that some sort of other-worldly hazard is out to get you while you’re locked in combat with your foe.

It makes for a pretty interesting gameplay experience, and honestly, the higher levels of difficulty really change the way developers should look at dungeon crawlers as a whole.

To clarify, there is a Normal, Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno Mode, with a maximum player level of 60. At the end of Normal, you should be around Level 30. At the end of Nightmare, you could be anywhere from 45-50 or higher. At the end of Hell, you should be 60, ready to tackle the 60-only Inferno Mode. Right away in Nightmare, I noticed a stark contrast in terms of difficulty – I can’t wait to see what Hell and Inferno are like.

My main character right now is a Demon Hunter. I’m nearly finished with Nightmare Mode right now at level 48, and I’m feeling really good about my first character choice. The Demon Hunter is essentially a ranged rogue of sorts, and is the very definition of a glass cannon. He can get in (and out) of danger at a moment’s notice, but if he’s overrun, that’s pretty much it.

Thankfully he has a ton of traps, slows, escapes, and various other tricks at his disposal to be a more effective force on the battlefield. You don’t have to go the traps/trickery route though, as you can go full DPS by changing up your passive skills to accommodate.

Although the Demon Hunter is the only character I have above level 30, I do have one of every class above level 10. So far what I’m noticing is that the Barbarian just utterly dominates. He has a ton of abilities to hit groups and single targets, and the fact that him and the Monk take 20% less inherent damage than all other classes is pretty insane. I can't complain of course because he can't do *everything*, as every class has their unique signature on group combat. I especially can't complain because I plan on having a level 60 Barbarian myself on day!

The Monk is more of a group-centric character (he has mantras and the like that can heal, and buff the group), but he’s still viable on his own depending on your build. The Witch Doctor is similar to the Demon Hunter in that he’s a major glass cannon, and has a bunch of tricks up his sleeve.

Tactically, the Wizard is just about what you’d expect out of a typical Diablo spell caster, but he has a few really cool abilities (like a time slow dome) that sets him apart from the rest. Surprisingly, although there seems to be a bit of a slant towards the Barbarian (based on my higher level play with my friends), every class is fairly balanced, and I’ve seen success with every type of player.

I also had an opportunity to do Diablo III’s “Cow Level” (I don’t want to ruin it here): suffice to say, given that I spent three hours of preparation grinding for the materials and the 150,000 gold to do it, it was fairly disappointing. Despite the let-down, however, it’s nice to know that you can enter it an unlimited amount of times; unlike Diablo II, where you had to sleaze the system by refraining from killing the Cow King, and could easily do it accidentally with an errant Frost Orb.

So what about the DRM issues you've no doubt been hearing about? Well, as I've stated above, in less than a week I've nearly beaten the game approximately 6 times. I honestly haven't had major issues with the "always-on" requirement, as I've only been dropped from games a few times -- thankfully, my checkpoints were always extremely close by and I only lost 5 minutes of time at maximum (although my XP and gear were completely fine; it was just my short amount of progress that was lost).

I'm not one of those people who generally believes that "even the most minor inconvenience is unacceptable", but I completely agree that always-on DRM is pretty absurd for the single player portion of the game. At the same time, I haven't seen any evidence of duping or account training, so I'm willing to put up with this inconvenience in exchange for the ability to play one of the best dungeon crawlers to date.

Additionally, Blizzard has a good habit of supporting their games, and if Warcraft III and Starcraft I are still being supported, I'd say Diablo III's future is set in stone. If you're taking a stance against the game on principle, I have no issue with that, but at least try the soon-to-be-available free trial if you aren't keen on giving Blizzard any money at this point in the game.

All in all, I’m extremely happy with Diablo III. I plan on playing with all five classes to supplement my Demon Hunter, and I have a swarthy group of friends who plan on doing the same. I’m very excited for Torchlight II, but at the same time, I’m thrilled to see that D3 clearly has legs past the first month of play. If you like dungeon crawlers, you may not be blown away by Diablo III, but you will probably enjoy it.

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