Weekend at Deckard’s

I spent a significant portion of this past weekend along with other gaming enthusiasts trying to set fire to Blizzard’s Diablo 3 servers. At times, it seemed we were successful in this endeavor. Those times were spent frantically punching in battle.net login credentials over and over in an attempt to reach through the net and into the alternate world where, years ago, we were once guests, brave heroes, obsessive compulsive corpse looters.

When I finally returned into this alternate world, I called for Eberlin, the necromancer who once commanded an army of skeleton warriors and mages. Eberlin, who augmented his troops with the reanimated corpses of fallen enemies. I missed the sights and sounds of exploding corpses, the high pitched whir of a spirit projectile tracking down its target, and the distinct gurgling noise that only a golem made of coagulated blood could make as it loyally walked alongside its creator. I called for Eberlin but he was not there. This alternate world has done without necromancers.

In their place were the witch doctors. Alkor from old Kurast must have found his friends. Though not as mighty a summoner as the old necromancer, the witch doctor was a fun class in its own right. Pierre was able to summon zombie dogs along with a seemingly limitless supply of bats, spiders, and frogs. One can assume that he has a well-worn discount card at the New Tristram pet store.

A wizard came forth, and presented himself as Eberlin. He had long dark hair and a confident swagger that almost seemed like what a necromancer in his youth would have looked like before the call to study necromancy deprived him of sunlight and empathy. He, too, was a formidable hero, thanks to a new system that provided ample, though definitely not over-abundant arcane energy to cast magic missiles and lightning bolts.

Though there were other classes, the wizard and the witch doctor drew most of my attention as I attempted to fill the void left by not having a necromancer available in the game. Within the limits of the beta, the spell choices fell into two offensive weapon categories: the sniper rifle (deal heavy damage to one enemy) or the shotgun (deal smaller damage, but to more enemies at once). Having to deal mostly with mobs of cannon fodder, the shotgun method was the best approach. Spells that hit multiple enemies, or explode for area-of-effect damage were more efficient at clearing out multiple attackers. The one exception was when dealing with special enemies where a strong, focused attack was needed on a single target. Even then, explosive splash damage had proven to be very effective.

The leveling system seemed nice, no longer having to worry about wrongly allocating stat points and suffering the consequences for the rest of the character’s life. Spells can be reconfigured and the runes that augment their effects can be swapped out. The artisan crafting system seems like a more controlled version of the old merchant “gamble” options but from my limited experience, constantly gave better items than most anything I had picked up from adventuring.

The storytelling, as expected from all things Blizzard, was intriguing and well done. The ability to quickly join a friend’s game is great, and the banner system which transports friends from town to a friend’s location in the adventure area is a hazardous, but welcome work-around to the new teleporting dynamic. My biggest issue to multiplayer is that there is no built-in voice chat. I had to yell across the room to the wife who was wearing headphones to ask for help from her barbarian. How analog is that? Yes, I know there are canned num-pad voice cues, but I don’t have them memorized just yet. Yelling “this is for you” when I meant “help me!” is a very “uh, oops” moment.

Overall, if the beta gameplay is any indication of things to come when the full game is released, Diablo 3 will be another amazing, lengthy trip into the Diablo universe. Hopefully the high amount of traffic we generated and the fires we set during the open beta were helpful in uncovering and ironing out any issues Blizzard may have had with their servers.

How Deckard Cain managed to survive through catastrophe while necromancers did not is a story I’d like to hear. Maybe it is a story Mr. Cain will share, in time, to the new Eberlin as they face new threats in the new chapter of the old Diablo storyline. It will be fun to fight evil once again. It will be fun to don magic-find items and do loot runs again. It will be fun to stay awhile and listen again.