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Here is Part 2 of our look at the Diablo III beta!
As longtime Diablo fans know, the game’s art style has attracted a fair bit of controversy over the years. Some of the earliest screenshots showed a bright, autumnal world that struck some fans as out of place in a dark and gritty series like Diablo. However, if the beta is anything to go by, fears of a shiny and cheerful Diablo are unfounded.
The outdoor environments are decidedly somber, featuring a dark color palette and macabre touches (such as hanging corpses swinging from nearby trees), and the dungeons are littered with the mutilated corpses of townsfolk. True, the art style is rather stylized: the game designers have repeatedly said that they were aiming for a ‘painterly’ aesthetic.
If you are looking for cutting-edge, photo-realistic graphics, you should probably look elsewhere. However, Diablo III’s graphics are stunning, and they have their own grim charm. Judging from the beta, this is going to be an incredibly atmospheric game. The designers have rendered the world with a loving attention to detail that was lacking in previous games.
For example, in Diablo II the outdoor areas were randomly generated, which usually meant that they were large rectangular areas adorned with random bits of scenery. While the map varied from playthrough to playthrough, the world did not really come alive. In Diablo III, the wilderness areas are static, which allows the designers to create a much more detailed landscape. In order to keep things from getting boring, the designers inserted dynamic areas within each map that change each time you visit.
A cellar that was boarded up tight on your first playthrough might be open the next, allowing access to a mini dungeon. I also found myself interacting with the world like never before. Much of the scenery can be destroyed: tables can be smashed to bits and wrought-iron chandeliers dropped on the heads of unsuspecting monsters.
Sometimes, the scenery will attack you. While walking through the catacombs, it is not uncommon for plaques on nearby vaults to spring off as cackling skeletons crawl forth to do battle, and if you stand too close to certain ravines, you may find yourself surrounded by zombies. On higher difficulty levels, moments like these could become quite perilous.
Speaking of peril, I have to admit that the beta is actually quite easy. There were very few “oh, crap!” moments where I felt like I was in danger of dying. Patch 10 has increased the difficulty somewhat, as I have noticed more packs of ‘champion’ monsters that present more of a challenge (though that is offset by an increase in character hit points).
On the whole, the difficulty is not onerous. That might not necessarily be a bad thing, considering this is the very beginning of the game. While series veterans would undoubtedly appreciate a bigger challenge, the game also has to be accessible for people who are completely new to the series, or even the action-RPG genre as a whole. I imagine that later parts of the game, and the three additional difficulty levels, will present players with the challenges they seek.
Despite its limitations, the Diablo III beta has been an enjoyable experience. Blizzard has put together a solid game that shows signs of being just as addictive as its predecessors. Now if only they would finally release the $^@! thing!