I had the pleasure of taking a stab (and a hack and a slash) at an obscure little game called Diablo III during last week’s BlizzCon and, well, it was pretty nifty. How nifty, you ask? Well, let’s see, I think I abandoned my infinitely stealable laptop to play the demo, oh, four or five times. (Happily, my laptop remains safe-and-sound. How anyone could refuse the allures of its sexy 900 MHz Celeron processor and cutting-edge integrated graphics card, though, is beyond me.)
So, Diablo III’s shaping up quite nicely. If you were afraid (or… hoping?) Blizzard might finally stain its spotless reputation with a sub-par game, you can put those fears to rest. Now then, without further ado, let’s dive into the specifics of Diablo III’s diabolical brand of fun.
The demo I played opened with my character in a small desert outpost. Other characters told me that leaving the outpost would mean certain doom and all that jazz, so – of course – I completely ignored them and dove headlong into the sandy deathtrap. As I strolled about, clicking on things until other things came out (usually blood, loot, or some combination of the two), I quickly noticed something: the desert was enormous. A departure from Diablo’s usual linear dwellings, it presented a plethora of potential paths, and without that medieval global positioning system sometimes known as a “map,” I would’ve gotten all kinds of lost.
Fortunately, my semi-aimless wanderings were anything but uneventful. When I wasn’t poking and prodding enemies until they erupted into gore geysers (more on that later), I was partaking from a veritable buffet of sidequests. One saw me avenging the death of a girl who was both exploited and exploded (no joke) by cultists, while another sent me into a rapidly deteriorating tomb to raid its treasures before its time -- and mine -- ran out. Better yet, from what I could tell, a number of tombs – basically, mini-dungeons – littered the demo's landscape, each with its own treasures and objectives. If you want mission variety, Diablo III looks to have it in spades. And knowing Blizzard, I’m sure my Aladdin-style collapsing cave encounter was only the tip of iceberg.
During my many runs on Diablo III’s demo station, I toyed around with each of the game’s thus-far-announced classes, but for the purpose of this preview, I’m going to focus on the recently unveiled Monk – partially because I’m assuming you guys have already dug up and devoured plenty of information on the other classes, but mostly because the Monk is awesome.
Really, I can see why he’s chosen to devote his life to whatever religion he practices; I mean, its main teachings involve pummeling people into putty, and, well, I certainly wouldn’t refuse a pamphlet from a religion like that. The upside of this? The Monk cuts through hordes of demonspawn like a hot knife through butter. He’s a damage-dealing machine, and – even better – he’s fun as hell to play.
Remember when I said we’d talk about the “gore geysers” later? Well, that’s happening now. The Monk’s default combo ends with a strike that causes a “bleed” symbol to appear over enemies’ heads. If those enemies happen to eat one too many knuckle sandwiches while bleeding, they explode into a bloody, chunky mess, damaging nearby enemies with their airborne giblets. The Monk does have other attacks, but I nearly didn’t notice.
That's not the only "combo" in the Monk's repertoire, either. Many of his strikes can be chained together, with each strike having different effects on your enemies. The "exploding strike," as it's known, then, is merely the end strike on an already devestating combo.
Also useful is the seven-sided strike, which Blizzard described as “chain lightning, only you’re the lightning.” I have to agree with that assessment. The attack sees you warp into the fray, bathed in holy aura, bouncing from enemy-to-enemy in a Tasmanian Devil-esque ballet of violence. The strikes themselves aren’t too damaging, but it’s a nice attack for closing distance, and it’s fun to watch, to boot.
Gear-wise, the Monk can’t equip much, which may give loot lovers second thoughts about playing him. In fact, during the demo, I didn’t even encounter a single weapon he could actually use. However, if you’d rather forget all those complicated equipment-based distractions and focus on the pure art of demon-slaughter, the Monk’s probably your man.
Be warned, though: Even when the Monk is clad in his finest threads, he's still no Barbarian. The Monk's best defense is a good offense, but when the going gets too rough, he tends to crumble. Watch your health meter; you may feel all high and mighty with all your blood inside your body now, but within a few seconds, that might not be the case.
With all that said, Diablo III’s looking great. Really, the BlizzCon demo was so polished that I’d have sworn it came from a completed game. Sadly though, that’s not even close to being the case. Blizzard’s keeping its lips sealed in regard to an exact release date, but since the developer hinted that a fifth Diablo III class will probably be revealed at next year’s BlizzCon, I’m not getting my hopes up for anything earlier than a late 2010 release.
So, uh, Blizzard, do you need any beta testers? Huh? Why am I asking? Oh, no reason. Just curious.