Two days ago, Blizzard finally launched the closed beta of its highly-anticipated action-RPG game, Diablo 3. Due to time constraints, I was only able to complete the entire beta over the course of two nights, the first of which I tooled around with the video settings to get an acceptable framerate. Because my gaming rig is currently out of commission, I'm currently testing the beta on my Toshiba laptop which in itself features a dual-core AMD Athlon II P340 clocked @ 2.20 GHz, an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250 GPU and 4 GB of RAM. That said, we not only wanted to see what the game offers in regards to content, but how it plays on a mainstream, non-gaming laptop.
For starters, the game claims that my level 8 Wizard has been played for around 3 hours so far. I've seen videos on YouTube showing players charging through the game's ACT I scenario in just over an hour. I personally like to take my time and see the sights, and there's plenty of that here. It's not an open world by any means, but as with the prior two Diablo installments, there's enough loot and action spread out to entice players into exploring every inch of the virtual world. Barrels, crypts, graveyards, dead bodies... there's lots of virtual real estate to pillage and plunder.
But before I get into that aspect of the beta, let's cover a few basics. As seen in previous screenshots (and seen above), the main screen presents two options: Campaign and Versus (the latter disabled). Underneath those, players can switch a hero out, create a new hero, play around with the game's options, or exit out of the game. On the right side of the main screen are options to create a party banner, and to invite friends to the current campaign. Along the bottom of the screen is a chat window, a button leading to the auction house, a button leading to your achievements (not active in the beta) and a Social button which allows you to view info on friends, friend requests and recent players.
To be honest, there's one aspect about Diablo 3 that I’ll have to disagree with: the constant Internet connection. Sure, I get that the game offers features which require a constant connection, and I get that Blizzard doesn't want anyone hacking into the game. But as I’m sitting here typing out this first segment, the servers are down and I’m locked out of the game. There's no playing Diablo 3 whatsoever, not even the campaign itself. The only thing gamers can do is wait or tool around with the options. Is it not possible to allow gamers to play offline, and have the game re-sync the info once an Internet connection is re-established? That doesn't seem to be in the cards, unfortunately.
On a hardware aspect, I eventually found a sweet spot that offered nice visuals at an acceptable framerate. When I first loaded up Diablo 3, it warned me that my drivers were out of date. Naturally there’s nothing I can really do about that: OEMs like Toshiba are typically reluctant to release a driver set every time a GPU manufacturer spits out a revision. Forcing a laptop to accept drivers not released by OEMs can be bad news for the portable rig's overall performance -- been there, done that. So the only thing to do in this situation is to (reluctantly) use the outdated driver provided by Toshiba, tweak the settings to a satisfactory level, and hope for the best that the OEM will eventually offer an update. The only real problem I've seen with this beta so far (outside my laptop's lackluster specs) is the actual memory consumption: with the game currently loaded but disconnected from Battle.net, it's idling at 823 MB. That's a sizable chunk, but then again, this is a beta.
As previously stated, I chose the (male) Wizard as my introductory class. I'm a big fan of casting magic from afar, and this class is perfect for that kind of distanced assault. When starting a campaign, players can choose to keep it invite only, open it up to friends or open it to the entire Battle.net collective. To some degree, it's fun to explore on your own - you're not following behind other players who have stormed an area and chopped down every enemy in their path. Then again, having real players pop in and help you take down a horde of zombies is a great experience too. Blizzard gives you the option of playing either way, and you can even browse for games hosted by other players simply by clicking on "Public Games" and pulling up an in-game browser. And for those who don't care to play with loot hoarders, there's nothing to worry about here -- whatever falls on the ground is yours, and yours alone.
For now, this is where I have to close this initial installment, as Diablo 3 is still down and a lot of what I wanted to cover requires an internet connection. With that, more will come shortly.