Note: The following comes from impressions and thoughts about the beta. As such, it's possible things may change upon final release.
So, last week I was playing Heroes of Newerth - yes even with the horrible sound bug in Lion, by which I mean there is no sound whatsoever. This did indeed make gameplay difficult, but I'm an addict, what can I say. The relevancy of this is that while playing I received an email. And, yes, I check email while playing games in case it's something important. And what did I have? Why, a Diablo 3 Beta invite, that's what. I applied ages ago and forgot about it. I wasn't expecting to get in at all, so it was a pleasant surprise. I quickly shouted out to the other players in the game how amazing it was (all in caps of course) that I had received a Diablo 3 Beta invite.
"There goes your weekend," one said.
My weekend? Never mind my weekend, there went my night. I promptly set it up the install, which required a few gigabytes worth of downloading. It featured a nifty installer laced with Diablo 3 images that showed the progress. At a point you could start playing before it was fully done, but I decided to wait. I was excited, but I wasn't desperate. Finally, it was done. I think it was like 2AM but I hit play anyway. And upon loading and hitting the start screen/menu here is where you encounter Diablo 3's first caveat to awesomeness. You require a battle.net account just to load the game. This means you have to be online. All the time, no matter what. Even if you never touch multiplayer or the auction house or anything else you must be online. No net, no Diablo 3. That simple. This alone will exclude some people who either don't have steady internet, or simply are too outraged by the notion of an always online game no matter how single player your experience is. But, this is Blizzard we are talking about, and they can and will get away with it in the name of pushing Battle.Net as a platform.
Next was the login. I have a login because I've been a longtime Blizzard fan. I can't remember my password offhand however, and here we encounter the second annoyance of simply trying to load the game. It refuses to allow you to remember your password, forcing you to type it in every darned time you want to play. I know Blizzard is particular about security, but they really should allow you the option. Always online is a stupid requirement, and so is this security paranoia. It's my security. I should be able to choose how fussy I am about it. So that's two stupid things before I've even opened the game properly, but this is Diablo 3 and I suppose it can get away with a certain amount of stupidity just because.
After the game authenticated my account, my connection and retrieved my (nonexistent) hero list, you actually get into the game. You can start and make new characters, view achievements, check out the auction house, find out the status of your friends, as well as set game options and all that fun stuff. I promptly maxed everything including the resolution to 2560x1440. I wanted to see how this looked, being a 2012 game and see how well it would run on my mid 2010 iMac. At the character creation area we have a few changes. For one, you can only have 10 character slots, which is enough to allow you 2 versions of each class, say male and female. Not sure why there is a limit, maybe it will change out of beta. It also seems to leak an exceptionally Warcraft-ish vibe with the character sitting in the middle, performing actions while info on the right describes what the class does and is good it. I wasn't too keen on this. I love Warcraft, but this is Diablo darn it and I don't want Warcraftian overtones in my Diablo game. Sadly, there's more of it in and out of the game. It seems Blizzard has taken some cues from World of Warcraft and inserted them in subtle ways into Diablo 3. Maybe this isn't an entirely bad thing, and I just speak from the perspective, experience and even expectation of a longtime Diablo 2 fan. But it annoys me, and this is my beta writeup so it's going to be mentioned.
So, I made a male Barbarian to start. I hated the Barbarian in Diablo 2, I thought he was exceptionally boring and couldn't hold a candle to the other classes. The D3 version seems much more interesting. I started out, my giant manly figure clad in nothing but a big white beard and a loincloth. Apparently, I was seeking The Fallen Star which had fallen near the town. The game looks good with environments and colors and effects all being sharp and well done. The inclusion of physics is particularly entertaining as skeletons and zombies don't simply crumble or die, they get smashed and go flying and bouncing or exploding around. My only complaint is I thought the character models would, I don't know, just look better. It's as if they aren't as high resolution as everything else in the game. Performance was smooth throughout my beta runs, which was nice to see.
After saving the guards from a horde of zombies I was directed to the captain of the guard who directed me to Leah who had apparently seen the star. Turns out Leah is the niece of Deckard Cain, a central character from previous games, and who you may fondly remember as identifying unknown items for free. Cain is missing, last known to be investigating the star, and must be found. Leah of course, wants you to rescue him. So sets off the beta's quest chain, from finding Cain, to obtaining the crown of the skeleton king, to destroying the king himself. As far as towns go I preferred (old?) Tristram, but this one was fine. You even get to rummage around old Tristram later on and it's fun to see old cues like the busted up sign to Griswold's shop with a weapon rack inside the dilapidated building. In the meantime I rummaged around Leah's room, read her journal and paused briefly before leaving to contemplate what her uncle would think of a giant, sweaty, mostly naked man hanging around in his niece's bedroom.