If you've ever played a Diablo game before, you pretty much know what to expect from Diablo III. There will be hacking. There will be slashing. Enemies will drop piles of gold upon death because apparently hell doesn't have a bank. Been there, done that. Shamefully walked into Hot Topic and bought the T-shirt.
When we went to BlizzCon, we were pretty much in the same boat. But the devil's in the details, and Diablo III's newly announced PVP Arena system is a detail the size of the big red guy – no, not the Kool Aid man – himself. Better still, in some ways, it legitimately surprised us. How? Well, let's run down the list.
1. The chaos – Sure, we expected three-on-three Diablo matches to be pretty wild, but we were still a bit taken aback when our tiny four-sided arena exploded into an ocean of fiery wizard magic, witchdoctor hell hounds, and barbarians hopping around like steroid-fueled, axe-wielding bunny rabbits. Basically, there were more than a few moments when our character keeled over, and we just paused, blinked, and said, “wait, what just happened?” However, confusing though it may occasionally be, it's also wildly exciting. Matches have their share of tactics, sure, but this is no chess match. If you get bored while playing this game, you might want to check your pulse, because you're probably dead. 2. The balance (or lack thereof) – Between the masterclass in RTS balance that is StarCraft and the incessant tweaking WoW's classes constantly undergo, Blizzard's not a developer that takes balance lightly. So it was a bit shocking to hear Blizzard announce that Diablo III's PVP will almost certainly have instances where players get to pick on someone who isn't their own size. The reasoning? Thanks to Diablo III's rune system – which allows for all sorts of modifications to each of your powers – there will be approximately 97 billion builds for each character class. We're not exaggerating either. Blizzard's words – not ours. Which is not to say there won't be any balance. Blizzard's tweaking the numbers on certain skills to emphasize counters over crowd control. In our experience, this held mostly true (teleport escapes and feign deaths being the best examples) – except with the Barbarian, against whom you essentially wind up playing tag. But in order to tag you, he uses a stun attack, and then you get diced to tiny pieces faster than an outlandish ingredient on Iron Chef. 3. The rewards – Traditionally, Diablo's preyed on the fact that – on the inside – we're all still slobbering children who love pinatas. We like to hit stuff and make other stuff come out. In Diablo's case, of course, that “other stuff” is loot and gold. Amassing a treasure trove of shiny things, then, is one of the series' central hooks. Satan who? Man, we just want more medieval bling. In the Arena, however, Blizzard's done away with loot and gold entirely. Instead, you're risking life, limb, and – thanks to constant flashy spell effects – the occasional epileptic seizure for achievements and titles. Before you hop on the message boards for some good old-fashioned ranting, however, hear Blizzard out. The developer told us that it wants players to slaughter each other in the Arena because they enjoy it – not because it's a mind-numbing, carpal tunnel-inducing grind for the best weapons and items. Vaguely sociopathic implications implications of that last sentence aside, that sounds like an excellent plan to us.
If It Ain't Broke...
1. The simplicity – While Diablo's more cerebral than most hack 'n' slashers, it's still – at heart – a game about fast, simple fun. The Arena definitely subscribes to a similar philosophy, and if you can click a mouse, odds are, you can have a blast with it. For now, the game's only mode is a team deathmatch sort of affair. No fancy flags to capture or 45-minute Leeroy Jenkins-style pre-match formation talks. You charge in, weapon held high, and then you come out with either a hand raised in victory or slumped limply in defeat. But even if you kick the bucket within the first 15 seconds of a match... 2. The pace – Diablo III's PVP matches move at a clip that makes other multiplayer games look downright glacial. If, say, DOTA walks and Quake runs, then Diablo III teleports. Matches last a minute or two on average – maybe more depending on how competitive it is. The most obvious benefit here, of course, is that even if your main strategy consists of running at your enemies, screaming a bunch, maybe wetting yourself, and then dying, you can still hop back into the fray moments later. It also contributes to... 3. The addictiveness – We would sell our soul to the real devil to play more of this game about the fake devil. Seriously. The rapid-fire pace combined with the gruesome satisfaction that comes part and parcel with Diablo's particular brand of carnage had us glued to the screen right up until the moment we had to leave to make way for other players. We considered beating up a particularly impressive Worgen (WoW) cosplayer and stealing his outfit for another go in line, but his axes looked suspiciously real, so we decided not to chance it. Point is, Blizzard's definitely not phoning in its PVP multiplayer arenas, and – while we're not counting on it – we really hope Diablo III launches within our lifetime so we can leap back into the fray.