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Diablo III - Blizzcon 2010 Preview

By Jeff Buckland, 11/19/2010

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Blizzard disappointed a lot of fans last year when they announced that Diablo III wasn't going to be released until 2011 at the earliest. At Blizzcon, it had a very strong showing, with a highly-polished demo with four of the five playable classes ready to be tried out. But that's just the way Blizzard's Diablo team works, and while their polished pre-release demos are a rarity in the game industry, I think I can assure you that they've been busting their butts to make it even better.

Diablo III looked better than ever at Blizzcon 2010, with the fifth class - the Demon Hunter - being probably the biggest announcement of the whole show. This class merges elements of the Assassin's traps and the original D2 Amazon's bows, all with a cool, confident style and a pair of small crossbows, one in each hand.

Of course, that's not the only thing gamers got to try this year. Diablo III was playable alone, in cooperative multiplayer, and in the new PvP arenas, where 3v3 setups pitted people against each other in fast, brutal, but also fair matches.

The best part about Diablo III so far is simply its slick move into the third dimension while keeping the core gameplay just as simple and addictive as it's ever been. But now, you'll also be descending into dungeons, and you'll even see places down in the distance that, later on, you'll be traversing directly. It's a fantastic way to preview a really epic-looking dungeon, and it looks fantastic in 3D. We didn't get a chance to grill Blizzard about the innards of the demo PCs, but it seems likely that Diablo III will be very accessible both to its players and to the machines it runs on.

Each class feels very different from the seven that were eventually offered in the Diablo II Lord of Destruction expansion; the Witch Doctor has airs of the Necromancer, but he's got an air of crazy recklessness and a hands-on approach that affects all of his spells and abilities. The Demon Hunter channels some of the coolest Amazon moves, but her defensive abilities are vastly different. And while the Sorceror seems the same as we saw in D2 on the surface, the arsenal of spells is entirely new.

During some extensive demo time, I got to do a good amount of dungeon crawling in a particularly dank and nasty place with lots of traps, zombies, cultists spawning up demons, and more. Ranging from a locked-down prison to a winding underground abyss and dungeon, the atmosphere was was pretty unpleasant - in a good way. I also got the chance to take my character outside for a breath of fresh air, and was immediately struck by the quality of the visuals. As we've seen in Blizzard's other games, their artists are masters at squeezing the most artistic detail out of scenes that are highly limited from a technical perspective. Anyone can draw art at super-high resolution and toss it into a game that only runs on a $2000 PC; the challenge is in scaling that back and making your game work on older and slower machines as little of a loss in detail as possible. And in that respect, Diablo III is nothing short of amazing, even if no one is really positive on what the system requirements will turn out to be. For what it's worth, even at last Blizzcon, the game was running at silky-smooth frame rates on PCs that didn't seem terribly powerful.

While the vaguely-official 2011 release date does mean we're all in for the long haul - and we imagine that the end of the year is most likely at this point - we may even have to wait until 2012. Still, this is one of those games that looks very much like it'll be worth the wait. From the fantastic, satisfying new abilities available to all five character classes to the delightfully sadistic demons, undead, and other twisted hellspawn you fight, it all comes together nicely in a way that will surely addict you the way Diablo II did. It seems very likely, at this point, that this game will live up to just about every expectation that has been set out for it.



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