Remember that excited feeling you got when you first killed a monster in the original Diablo? How you knew that this was going to be a game that ate a great deal of your life? And then Diablo II came out, and it was pretty much the same feeling as Diablo I, only updated for the computer systesm of the day, somehow maintaining the same level of excitement and fun as the original? Well I've just gotten a chance to play through a half hour of Diablo III, and damn if I don't have that same giddy feeling all over again.
Sure, the core concepts remain exactly the same as they did in the original game. You play a character that clicks their way through levels, hacking, slashing, and spellcasting your way through hordes of enemies. You still upgrade your equipment, quaff potions, and identify magic items along the way. In essence it is the same game we've been playing and loving since the very start, only updated to the point where we can look at it on today's systems and still go "Damn, this is an amazing game."
The demo starts off by allowing me to select a class. Currently available are male and female versions of both the Witch Doctor and Barbarian, as well as the female Wizard, with the currently incomplete male unable to be selected. I went with the Wizard, partly because of my affinity with the mage class but mostly because I like to play as girls.
I begin in a burnt out village of Tristam, overrun with undead. Entering the village proper the first sight I see is a person trying to crawl out of a cellar doorway. Approaching them causes them to be yanked inside with a scream that continues as blood splashes out of the opening onto the ground. Oh yes, things are pretty fucked up round here.
Soon you come across your first enemies, your basic zombies. The power mapping is pretty simple. You have a standard hotbar numbered 1-9, a left button power, and a right button power that can be swapped on the fly with the tab key. I had an electrical melee attack on my left button and magic missile on the right, at least until I got the awesome disintegration ray at level 2.
I come across a wounded soldier laying near an open crypt who warns me....somehow the fires have awoken him - The Skeleton King lives again. Feeling uppity, I plunge into the depths of the dungeon, ready to click some ass.
The monsters come in waves, dying with that characteristically satisfying feel of all Diablo games. They do an excellent job of making you feel like you're causing the damage directly. These aren't spell effects and death animations - these are beams of magical energy shooting from your hands, committing your enemies to nothingness. As I fight through hordes of skeletons, they drop reddish heart containers, and running over them replenishes my heath. There are still potions in the game of course...the pickups just add to the action a bit.
Eventually I get my first rune. The rune system in Diablo III allows you to slot stones you find into powers in order to increase their effects in specific ways. The minor power rune I pickup adds a bit more damage to my disintegration ray, whereas a multi-hit rune might very well split the beam into multiples. The developers have not only had to create the powers for each class, but determine how each rune you can pick up effects said powers. Each run has a cosmetic as well as functional effect on each power. It's a very ambitious system that I cannot wait to see more of.
At know point during my 3-level dungeon descent do I worry about the bright colours ruining my experience. It's still moody and pretty dark. The spell effects, on the other hand, are vibrant and colorful, and the death animations for the creatures I kill seem to vary depending on the power I use. Disintegrate actually disintegrates my enemies. No caned death animations here.
Along with the requisite zombies and skeletons I run into a few bigger creatures, like giant, bloated, headless bodies that explode in a cascade of maggots as they die, with several groups of the worms attacking you, perhaps a bit miffed that you destroyed their home.
Eventually I descend to the final level, where the skeleton king rises in spectacular fashion. Gates all around him open, the area is flooded with undead, and my disintegrate ray quickly runs out of mana, leaving me relatively defenseless and definitely dead. Oh well.
When I first saw Diablo III in action, my initial thought was, "How is this different?" Now, having played the game I realise that it isn't all that different, and it doesn't really have to be. It's got upgraded graphics, a new leveling system, and some new classes, but this is still Diablo, and that has never been a bad thing. If it was the sort of game we got a new installment of every year than it would certainly be less impressive, but with it being seven years since we've entered this world, familiarity is definitely a good thing.