"Diablo III's" demon hunter excels at long-range attacks.

Note: My column in Friday’s newspaper was about beta tests, specifically gamers’ reactions to the somewhat rocky beta for “Battlefield 3” and my own reaction to a chance to play the beta for upcoming PC game “Diablo III.” For the blog, I’m writing a little more on each game and splitting the column into two posts. This is the “Diablo III” post. The “Battlefield 3” post is here.

Having played my share of in-development software, I went into Blizzard Entertainment’s closed beta test for “Diablo III” expecting to have fun for a few hours, write about it and play my tiny part in a blockbuster game’s development.

While some of my expectations were set by experience, my invitation to play “Diablo III” included an email from Blizzard detailing exactly what the beta was designed to test, the kind of detailed communication that might have helped clear up some of the misunderstandings about the “Battlefield 3” beta. There was also a link to a detailed frequently-asked-questions page.

I played the first three hours of the new game, beginning from my female demon hunter’s arrival in New Tristram, a rebuilt version of the town from the earlier “Diablo” games.

Upon arrival, I was asked to help fight off some newly arisen undead, who apparently were triggered by the arrival of some kind of meteor. Once that was done, I was quickly enlisted in the campaign to help end the undead menace plaguing New Tristram.

As with past “Diablo” games, the action uses a top-down view of the battlefield with the mouse governing movement and basic attacks. If you want to send your hero somewhere, click where you want her to go. If you want to attack something, click it. The basic attack is mapped to the left mouse button, while the right is used for a special attack.

In the case of my demon hunter, the initial basic attack was a standard crossbow bolt, while the special attack was called Hungering Arrow. It has a 50 percent chance to ricochet to the next target after a successful hit. This appeared to be a cumulative thing, meaning that after the second hit, there was a 50 percent chance for the shot to ricochet to a third target, and so on. However, I might have just been spamming the attack a little too relentlessly.

Another ability I unlocked later in the game, Fan of Knives shoots blades out in all directions and is meant to aid the demon hunter if enemies surround her. The demon hunter’s abilities are keyed to two different meters, “rage” (for offensive abilities) and “discipline” (for defense). The meters deplete quickly if you spam your attacks, but they seemed to refill absurdly early that I found myself using Hungering Arrow indiscriminately. The whole thing felt a little overpowered.

If you slaughter all these dudes really quickly, you'll get an experience-point bonus.

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While you’re slaughtering everything, “Diablo III” will track your kill patterns. If you can string a bunch of kills together with a minimal amount of time between them, you’ll unlock experience-point bonuses and level up your character faster. The game will also inform you if your streak hits a new personal record and reward you accordingly.

Using my mouse to click on and kill hordes of enemies in the game’s early phases was immensely easy and a satisfying break from dying over and over again in “Dark Souls,” the game I’m playing for review.  

In fact, the “Diablo III” beta in general seemed a bit too easy, with few penalties for dying and few spots that really required much skill or strategy. But given that I know that “game balance” is one of the things the beta is designed to test, I’m not really holding that against the game at this point. There’s plenty of refining still to be done.

Part of the draw of the “Diablo” games is their emphasis on all manners of loot. As someone who gets a bit tired of the loot grind after a while, I appreciated some changes brought to this game. Two items you can carry, the Cauldron of Jordan and the Nephalem Cube, allow you to sell your useless items without going back to town or to convert them into component parts used in crafting.

To pick up gold, you just walk over it. If walking over to the gold is too much for your feeble mouse-clicking fingers to handle, you’ll frequently come across scrolls that will summon an animal companion who’ll pick up the gold for you. I found myself obsessing over these little critters. The first time I used the scroll, I ended up with a golden chicken. The second time, I got a snake, and I later got a rat.

I became a fan of Fan of Knives, one of the demon hunter's unlockable powers.

 

Another frequent drop you’ll get, besides the Scroll of Companion is the Page of Training. These are torn from a Tome of Training and when you assemble five pages, you can use them to boost various non-player characters’ abilities.

If you’re one of those freaks like me who’ll spend a half-hour reading codex entries in the “Mass Effect” games, “Diablo III” has you covered there, too. Every time you meet a new enemy type, you unlock a lore entry in your journal to enable later nerdery.

If you’ve paid any attention to “Diablo III” before the beta, you probably know the initial screen shots for the game set the Internet ablaze because Blizzard dared to release (gasp!) colorful screenshots. If you’re one of the people who freaked out and thought the screenshots didn’t look the way a “Diablo” game should look, I pity you. But you’ll be pleased with the beta. The visuals there are appropriately dark and drab.

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While you’re slaughtering everything, “Diablo III” will track your kill patterns. If you can string a bunch of kills together with a minimal amount of time between them, you’ll unlock experience-point bonuses and level up your character faster. The game will also inform you if your streak hits a new personal record and reward you accordingly.

Using my mouse to click on and kill hordes of enemies in the game’s early phases was immensely easy and a satisfying break from dying over and over again in “Dark Souls,” the game I’m playing for review.  

In fact, the “Diablo III” beta in general seemed a bit too easy, with few penalties for dying and few spots that really required much skill or strategy. But given that I know that “game balance” is one of the things the beta is designed to test, I’m not really holding that against the game at this point. There’s plenty of refining still to be done.

Part of the draw of the “Diablo” games is their emphasis on all manners of loot. As someone who gets a bit tired of the loot grind after a while, I appreciated some changes brought to this game. Two items you can carry, the Cauldron of Jordan and the Nephalem Cube, allow you to sell your useless items without going back to town or to convert them into component parts used in crafting.

To pick up gold, you just walk over it. If walking over to the gold is too much for your feeble mouse-clicking fingers to handle, you’ll frequently come across scrolls that will summon an animal companion who’ll pick up the gold for you. I found myself obsessing over these little critters. The first time I used the scroll, I ended up with a golden chicken. The second time, I got a snake, and I later got a rat.