I used the Diablo 3 Beta as a chance to explore each class, but my first 48 hours with the real game were thwarted by the login boss. Blizzard clearly had a few problems out of the box, but by Wednesday or Thursday things were mostly stabilized.
I rolled a Barbarian as my main. Thematically, I’m more a Witch Doctor type, but I didn’t love the indirect style of gameplay so I debated Barbarian or Wizard. Both were fun to play, but ultimately I went with the Barbarian because he seemed tougher (theoretically less dying) and his “jump right into the middle and kill” style was very satisfying. Over the next three weeks I played through Normal, Nightmare, and Hell, and have just started on Inferno.
The game is pretty easy on Normal Mode, probably easier than Diablo II (it’s hard to remember). Personally I think the difficulty here is about right, there’s really no reason to be punitive given the game is intended to be played multiple times. A couple mechanical changes make for less downtime than previous games: You don’t have to corpse run. All you lose when you die is a bit of time and the cost of repair. Champions save the health you left them with, so zerging is possible. In normal I barely died, perhaps only 5-6 times.
Each play through took about a week of fairly casual play, with the increasing difficulty being matched by increasing familiarity. The end of Act I and Act II seemed the hardest. Bosses seemed pretty easy. Act IV very easy.
The game is long and very linear. It feels about the right length. Acts I and II go on and on. Even on the second and third play throughs I kept saying to myself “oh yeah, this again” as I had forgotten all the varied sub areas. The random generation does mix it up fairly well. I, myself, usually explore every level completely, milking every last chest, monster, and elite out of it. This makes the game considerably easier than if you force ahead at the fastest rate. The way I did it, the leveling was perfectly paced, I reached level 60 just as I hit the last boss of Act III on Hell Mode.
The plot as told in D3 is a bizarre mix of voice over quest text and three kinds of FMV. There is a brown ink on parchment style, in game boss talk, and the fully rendered advanced CGI style. I found only this last compelling. The full-rendered character models, notably Leah, are pretty awesome. So are the angels. The boss speeches are pretty laughable, almost Scooby Doo style. “Muuuhahhaha. Now I have become the prime evil!!!!”
The quest structure is pretty good, if entirely 100% linear. You can skip everything for repeat listening (or not). I also enjoyed the comments of the companion followers. They are well acted and occasionally amusing. Still, they do get a bit repetitive.
None of this detracts much from the game as it’s more about the combat and the overall mood than it is about the specifics of character and plot. Nevertheless, as a writer I suggest that Blizzard could use to… ahem… hire one. This is no Uncharted with regard to story.
Barbarian Build 1
It takes until about Act II of Normal Mode to really get enough of your skills for a full sense of the class. Once you do, the Barbarian is a real badass. Wading into a giant group of trash is very satisfying. Blood and bodies fly everywhere. I tuned my first build for maximum AOE damage output. Given the difficulty level of Normal this was fine even for champions and most bosses. Occasionally, I had to swap a skill for bosses.
Cleave (usually with Rupture) – This is a no brainer, it’s the AOE fury builder
Either Rend (usually with Ravage for extra range) or Seismic Slam (with Stagger) – More AOE. Rend is a little more practical, particularly against elites and bosses, but SS is so much more fun. It’s particularly exciting with huge groups of mobs.
Leap (with Iron Impact then Call of Arreat) – Great for opening a fight, or getting a brief stun, or escaping
Revenge (with Vengeance is Mine or Best Served Cold) – a combo fury-free heal/aoe
Battle Rage (with Marauder’s Rage) – a pure damage buff
Call of the Ancients (with the Council Rises) – If you get overwhelmed, this will sop up some monster attention and burn them down
Passives: Ruthless, Weapons Master, and Berserker Rage or Brawler – all of these are straight DPS increases
Follower: Enchantress, speced for buffs and DPS
For bosses I would sometimes swap Cleave out for Frenzy (Sidearm) for more single target DPS and COTA for Wrath of the Berserker (Insanity) to burn bosses down.
This basic build served me fine through all of Normal and Nightmare.
The second difficulty level doesn’t really feel any harder than the first. It’s more fun too because you have a much more complete set of abilities. In general, in both Normal and Nightmare, I would kill bosses in one try, maybe two. I barely noticed champion packs and would usually only die if I caught an Elite or Champion at the same time as a huge pull of trash mobs.
In Hell Mode, after the Skeleton King, things start to change. Suddenly, champion packs of three start to become a problem. Single elites and their minions can also be tough, but generally I found these much easier than champion trios with certain abilities. In Diablo, champion packs (usually 3) and elites roll from certain sets of abilities. Generally, they will have three or four. For melee classes like the Barbarian some of the worst are: Molten, Plagued, Fire Chains, Waller, and Frozen. If one of these movement impairing or area of effect skills is combined with something like Horde, Extra Health, Illusionist, or Shared Health it can be a real problem. Lethally a movement impairing effect, an AOE damage, and a health/numerical increase. The strategy here is to pick off the minions and then focus down one of the three champions, all the while keeping out of the deadly stuff. In Hell Mode, even a well equipped melee can die in seconds if trapped inside the bad zones.
By the post Skeleton King section of Act I, the “real bosses” (uniques) are no longer the problem. It’s these champion groups.
Build 2: Dealing with Hell’s Champions
For a while, in late Act I and early Act II Hell Mode, I was dying too often. Clearly I needed more survivability.
Cleave (with Broad Sweep) – I still wanted an AOE main as there are far to many enemies to single target down
Hammer of the Ancients (Smash for max damage) - This turned out to be a more useful way to spend fury. It allows for slamming down champion and elite health in a more focused manner
Ground Stomp (with Wrenching Smash) – This turns out to be a pretty awesome skill. Against trash it’s a great way to gather in a group for Cleave or Revenge and against champions it allows you to keep them stunned — briefly.
Revenge (with Best Served Cold) – a combo fury-free heal/aoe. The increased Crit helps you really smash and destroy
War Cry (with Invigorate) – exchanging the damage buff for this increased armor really helped survivability, and even better it has a self heal.
Furious Charge (with Dreadnought) – A short cooldown escape/closer with a heal and stun. This extra heal (besides your health potion) can really keep you alive.
Passives: Ruthless, Weapons Master, and Nerves of Steel – Replacing the last DPS buff with increased armor and gemming and gearing for more Vitality, Lifesteal, and Health per second really helped keep me alive.
Follower: Templar, specced fully for healing. Really, as a Barbarian, anything that heals you is good. If you can stay alive, you will prevail. The Templar also has a nice WOW Warrior style charge and stun.
For bosses, I would usually change out Cleave for Frenzy (Sidearm) and Ground Stomp for Wrath of The Berserker (Insanity). But at level 60, the need to keep up the Valor stacks (which reset when you spec) made me stick with the usual build. It wasn’t a problem, just without WOTB bosses took a bit longer.
This build worked wonders for my Hell Mode champion problem. With the first build, I would die again and again on certain champion abilities. Once I learned to play this build, use everything on cooldown, and keep moving, I rarely died more than once or twice on even a tough group.
One of the weird things about gear in D3 is that while rare drops come in a fairly steady stream and blues are a dime-a-dozen, it’s very unusual to find an upgrade in the game. The gear available on the auction house was almost always better and cheaper than finding or making it in game. I suspect this is because of the random factor. As a Barbarian (or any class) you only really want certain stats. Any Intelligence or Dexterity (or a host of other stats) on gear is near useless. The odds of perfect Barbarian gear dropping is low. But with millions of players the AH is choked with it. Same goes with the crafting. At first in Normal Mode I leveled the Blacksmith. But it gets very expensive by Nightmare and for the cost of just one skill level you can buy one or two better things on the AH. This trend, frustratingly, seems even more true in Inferno. You have to play inferno to earn gold to buy better gear on the AH, not to actually win better gear (unless you are very lucky). I don’t think this will be good for Inferno. The relationship between play and reward is too disconnected.
I’ve only had a day or two to play Inferno and have only done so in the easiest section of the game, but it’s clearly a lot harder. Even normal trash hits for a wallop. I came across a champion pack with Fire Chains, which along with Molten, are my least favorite. They crushed me. You have to get in close as a Barbarian to do any damage and they just cross those chains over you — near instant death. If this persists I will experiment to changing all my passives to survival and stacking my gear with more resists. Still, I think it will be hard.
The multiplayer system is great for hooking up with your battlenet friends. I did a bunch of that. I found cooperative a little slower, but perhaps more fun, than solo play. You often have to wait for the other person to do something, or go back to town and sell, etc. In solo, things go at your own pace. I played a couple of times with mismatched levels. This works but isn’t very fun. It was either hard to stay alive (if I was too low) or way too easy (if I stepped down). I suspect that once a bunch of my friends reach Inferno it will be easier. I was often concerned with not messing up my solo game or having to repeat. If you exit the game to join another and you aren’t at a checkpoint you’ll have to backtrack a little to wherever it lets you reset the quest to.
I also think to progress in Inferno will nearly require group play. We’ll see.
The game rocks. As I mentioned in my beta preview, it isn’t the most graphically advanced game. The camera is incredibly conservative and never changes POV. But the game is impeccably smooth and the responsiveness of the skills and varied monster deaths are awesome. The overall feel is exciting and it’s extremely gratifying to destroy demons en mass. Stuff destroys all over the place too, which is awesome. Class balance is also very good with a wide number of cool and useful abilities and play styles. Most games are really lame in this department and it doesn’t really seem to matter which skills you use and how you combine them. Not so here, there are all sorts of interesting synergies and the builds feel distinct.
Makes me wonder if I should level a Wizard!