I partly blame Blizzard for my disappointment at the Diablo III beta. To me, “beta” implies a complete but early build of a game. “Demo” implies a brief taste of a game. If the Diablo III beta had been called a Diablo III demo, I wouldn’t have been quite so surprised at the giant Diablofont message, “Conratulations, you have beaten the Diablo III beta”, after a couple hours of play. Fair enough. I guess Blizzard just wants a few of us banging on their servers. I’m happy to oblige.
But the more pressing issue is that, after playing through this beta twice, I still don’t have a character.
After the jump, this is not your older brother’s Diablo
The wizard and witch doctor I’ve played to level 8 or so aren’t really my characters. And I don’t just mean how Diablo III is built to be played under the watchful and jealous eye of Blizzard’s (Activision’s) servers. In Diablo II, we used to play on my LAN, with multiple characters shuffled around to various computers as needed. This was my game, and these characters belonged to me and my friends, all the product of a single copy of Diablo II and the expansion. We weren’t even online, and Blizzard provided for us having only a single copy of the game. These were earlier times. This was a different industry. Now a Diablo character requires a battle.net account, and it exists only on battle.net, with no option for monkey business on my part.
But the more damning way this isn’t my character has to do with gameplay. In Diablo III, I don’t get the sense of creating a character build. As you go up levels in Diablo III, you unlock a preset sequence of skills, and your attributes advance without any input from you. My friend’s level 20 witch doctor will have the exact same skills and attributes as my level 20 witch doctor. We might have different runes or glyphs or whatever to modify our skills, but these were things we found. They weren’t choices we made. We didn’t get any choices beyond what gear to equip and what gear to sell.
Diablo II carried with it a powerful sense of agency. My character was something I built. I put these points in this skill and not that skill. I focused on this tree and not that tree. I boosted this attribute so I could equip this item. My level 20 druid was nothing like my friend’s level 20 druid. Most recently, the finicky and almost obscenely detailed Sacred 2 appealed to this sense of agency. Sacred 2 had daunting but gratifying character advancement. It combined the choice of agonizing over how to spend your skill points with the randomness of dealing with whatever goodies you found out in the world. Treasure and DIY destiny. Fortune and glory, kid.
But that’s not going to happen in Diablo III, where the character builds seem as rigidly pre-determined as the quest chains and the dungeon layouts. That’s the impression I get from the beta, which isn’t much of a beta. It’s an appetizer really. If even that. More of a palate cleanser. And although I can’t deny a powerful sense of disappointment, I’ll still eagerly play Diablo III whenever Blizzard releases it. The graphics and animation look great, there are plenty of potentially addictive hooks in the new crafting system and loot chase, and it’s so thoroughly plugged into battle.net that I know I’ll end up fussing over my choice of character banner. But the end result of the Diablo III beta is that I really couldn’t care less when the game is coming out. I’ll play it when I play it. Whatever.
However, Diablo III was inspiring in one sense. It inspired me to reinstall Diablo II, which I’m doing in the background as I type these very word.