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Is Blizzard Launching a Starter Edition of Diablo 3?

Early Wednesday morning, the closed beta of Diablo 3 -- which finally comes to a halt on May 1 -- suddenly opened its doors to anyone with a account. Gamers were actually able to download the client and play until Blizzard caught on to the glitch and shut everything down, including access to the closed beta. As of this writing, the beta is still unavailable until further notice.

Additional reports on Wednesday claimed that around 6am EDT, gamers gained access to what they called a "Starter Edition" which included all the features of the closed beta, but didn't require a beta key. Currently beta testers have access to all five characters and the first Act which concludes by defeating the Skeleton King. The ending is epic in relation to the short journey, but there's talk that Act I doesn't actually conclude at that point.

That said, closed beta testers have likely been playing a Starter Edition -- or rather a really meaty demo -- all along. Gamers who gained access Wednesday morning said that they were given an option to buy the complete game, mimicking the Starter Edition Blizzard provides for World of Warcraft. The MMORPG's "unlimited demo" allows gamers to level up a character to 20 while also allowing them to play in a limited area indefinitely. Eventually they'll grow tired of the same thing every day and subscribe to the game, or go find another free-to-play MMORPG for their leeching pleasure (guilty).

Blizzard also currently offers a Starter Edition of StarCraft 2. Replacing the previously released demo, it provides the first four missions, the first two challenges, and four multiplayer maps that are playable with owners of the full version. Like the Starter Edition of WoW, it's completely free to play for as long as the gamer wants.

That in mind, it's presumed that the Diablo 3 Starter Edition will allow gamers to play through the campaign with all five characters up until the encounter with the Skeleton King, and then nag them to purchase the full game. Even more, the Starter Edition will probably only allow characters to reach a certain level, and block some of the social features the full game will provide.

"The Diablo 3 beta is currently unavailable until further notice while we continue to work to resolve an issue affecting the beta accessibility," Blizzard said Wednesday afternoon. "We will provide an update at approximately 3pm PDT (6pm EDT). Thank you for your patience."

We covered the closed beta back in October when it was just hatched -- long before the Diablo 3 team made changes to the core systems -- reporting our experience playing each of the five classes, and hacking through the first Act in both single-player and multiplayer scenarios. Looking back, the beta felt like a demo, offering a beginning and an ending without any sort of cliffhanger. If the beta is in fact a Starter Edition, then gamers will have a serious gem on their hands... and for free.

For more hands-on information, here's all five parts of our beta coverage:

Diablo 3 Closed Beta Part 1Diablo 3 Closed Beta Part 2Diablo 3 Closed Beta Part 3Diablo 3 Closed Beta Part 4Diablo 3 Closed Beta Part 5