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BlizzCon 2008: In-depth Diablo 3 hands-on

Kevin Kelly

When we weren't taking photos, sitting in Starcraft 2 panels, or watching the closing ceremonies at BlizzCon, all of our available free time was devoted to Diablo 3. It was the first thing we played within minutes of the grand opening, and the game they had to pry us away from when the doors closed. Yes, it's just that good. Plus, we still have two character classes that haven't been revealed yet, so who knows what else this has in store for us.

We were happy just to be able to return to the world of Diablo after seven years since the Lord of Destruction expansion set was on store shelves, and it was worth the wait. Find out everything we could during our exhaustive hands-on after the break, and be sure to check out the galleries below that show off in-game screens and concept art. Plus we're sticking that gameplay footage in again, because it's the only way we can enjoy Diablo until there's a beta, or some sort of miracle occurs.

Gallery: BlizzCon 2008: Diablo 3 | 16 Photos

"A Captain Rumsford greets you in a different manner each time, depending on your sex or class."

It was pretty hard to jump into the Wizard class (we chose the female, natch) and pay attention to the story, so we didn't even try. We just started blasting everything in sight, thinking we'd go back later and pick up the pieces we'd missed. What we learned by doing this was ... there isn't much story in the demo! You're dropped into the game just outside Tristram, where a Captain Rumsford greets you in a different manner each time, depending on your sex or class. There's a silent man in the background heaving dead bodies onto a bonfire, and you're off to explore.

Before we get ahead of ourself, here's the details on the interface. If you played Diablo, it'll look familiar to you. There's a minimap circle in the upper right corner which is more of a proper map and not the translucent mini/maximap from Diablo 2. The hotbar still lives at the bottom of the screen, and it has the familiar big red health sphere on the left, and the blue mana one on the right. In between you've got six numbered slots and three buttons that let you assign attacks/spells to the left mouse button and the right mouse button. The third button is for your tab key, and it'll cycle between whatever you have selected on it, and whatever is slotted in the right mouse button spot.

Gallery: BlizzCon 2008: Diablo 3 concept art | 6 Photos

"... We could've sworn that one of his arms flew out of the hole, along with a gout of blood, but then we noticed it was actually his head."

Above that is the experience bar, and above that you have six round buttons that are, from left to right: Character Info, Inventory, Skills, Quests, Social (this was not able to be selected in the demo) and Settings. They're pretty self-explanatory and function like their counterparts in World of Warcraft. The mouse button and tab keys are a bit different, and when you right-click on one (Even more than the last games, Mac users are really going to want to invest in a good two-button mouse) it pulls up your skills, and you can select which one gets assigned to that key. It's an easy way to have three different attacks ready, although keep in mind that one of them has to be your melee attack unless you're planning on going all magic.

So back to Tristram, which is now all murky and foggy, and something out of a horror movie. As you explore, you'll come across several zombies, dead bodies, and one poor adventurer who cries out for help and then gets sucked under the earth and dismembered. The first time we played we could've sworn that one of his arms flew out of the hole, along with a gout of blood, but the last time we gave it a try, we noticed it was actually his head. Ouch. You'll also encounter at least one "random quest" in the area. You find a battered old chest and when you open it, a broken doll falls out. It's a quest item, and a wailing ghost appears, lamenting the loss of her daughter. Drop the doll in the wishing well (you can hear ghostly cries emanating from it if you find it before you find the chest) and the daughter's ghost/soul floats out, now freed. Creepy.

Eventually you find a dying adventurer outside of the Tristram Cathedral, and he tells you about the horrors going on inside. Cue the demo quest. Head into the Cathedral and into jump inside (your character literally falls from the sky once the instance loads, which is pretty funny when playing with a party) and you're off on your adventure to kill the Skeleton King. The Catacombs are several levels deep, and along the way you'll encounter tons of creatures, find the Skeleton King's crown (it acts as a key and you won't be able to progress without it), can explore tons of rooms, find lots of loot, break up a demon summoning ritual (the demon isn't too happy about it) and eventually confront the Skeleton King, who comes to life when you put that crown on his ol' noggin.

"When we were getting swarmed while playing in a party, it really got messy and confusing on screen."

We played this demo through the the end several times, both with a party and solo, and it's definitely a lot more fun in a group, Unlike the Starcraft 2 demo, this wasn't timed, and you could confab with your party, exchange items, formulate plans, and take time to read up on your skills. When you play solo, it's more of a clickfest in an effort to stay alive and slay everything on screen. That happens when you party play, to some extent, but when you send four characters into the fray, it's easy to quickly get lost and have no idea what you're clicking on. Hopefully Blizzard will find a way to sort that out, because when we were getting swarmed while playing in a party, with spells going off, blood and gore spattering everything, and a huge Barbarian pounding everything, it really gets messy and confusing on screen.

Here are the highlights of the different classes that they let us play:

  • Tough, big, powerful
  • Has skills like Battle Rage, which increases damage 100%, and Iron Skin, increases his/her armor by 20%, and a slew of other melee-based skills
  • Can dual wield weapons
  • Makes a perfect tank
  • Wasn't too different than the Barbarian from D2, although it sure looks a heck of a lot better, so we didn't spend too much time with the big brute. Still, when you just need someone to kick ass, you can't go wrong with this one.
Witch Doctor
  • Incredibly creepy and cool, and has a nifty Cajun dialect
  • Extremely fun and imaginative spells like Zombie Wall, where a wall of undead rise from the ground and both blocks and attacks your enemies.
  • Uses toads, locusts, and even spiders to swarm and vivisect enemies
  • The Skull of Flame spell makes an excellent ranged attack, and does area damage. Plus, it just looks cool. In the videos they showed us (but not in the demo), when you slot the Multistrike Rune in this spell, the skull bounces, and does big area damage with each bounce.
  • The Wizard was the only class that had the Rune system working, and we put it to extensive use. It truly changes your spell, and you'll be mixing and matching a lot.
  • Make sure you select Disintegrate early on, because it's an extremely powerful spell. Your character locks in place while you hold down the mouse button, and you mouse around in circles to aim at your enemies and melt them.
  • Can use items like Wands and Orbs
  • Has melee and ranged spells
We did find a few rare magic items along the way, most notably an axe called Wasp Slayer that glowed brightly, which was a nice touch. We also found some socketed items and gems, which are still in the game. A few other players reportedly came across a wounded Paladin in the Catacombs who sent them on a short quest, but we were told that was a random adventure and wouldn't show up each time. We never saw it. We found a Small Bag a couple of times, which adds inventory slots if you equip it in your inventory, which will probably be the way they circumvent the Horadric Cube. Mostly we were just mousing over weapons to see if we wanted to trade them out, and then tossing them on the ground if we didn't want them.

Final thoughts? The only negative thing we could see was the messy screens you'd get when playing in a party. If you have a Witch Doctor in your group casting Locust Swarm, and a ton of enemies are massing around your group, you'll start frantically clicking at any and everything on screen. Otherwise, Diablo 3 looks amazing, and we really can't wait for it. This will definitely be at the top of our "must buy" list ... whenever it comes out.

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