Other changes are welcome, such as improvements to buying and selling. Town portal scrolls have been replaced with a town portal stone instead. You no longer have to use scrolls to identify items, but are able to do it yourself. A very nifty crafting system for the blacksmiths and other merchants has been added which makes it fun to have them create gear from broken down magic components. Gold automatically picks itself up when you walk near it. Items highlight themselves for a few moments after dropping, so no more holding down the option key and running around everywhere to make sure you didn't miss anything. Your inventory auto arranges, so you don't have to constantly shuffle things around to fit in that last helmet or spear before going back to town to sell stuff. You also get achievements for doing certain things like killing so many epic monsters, or picking up so much gold. This earns you new things to use on your personal banner. Everyone gets one and it's used to identify you in co-op as well as serves to instantly teleport you to a certain player from town. There's also a rather e-bay like auction house where you can bid or "buy out" items for your characters. I didn't buy anything but I seemed to have 50 "B" currency. I believe you will also be able to use real world money to buy things as there is a "currency" selector which is disabled in the beta.
The last and perhaps most significant change to your game, and the way Blizzard is using the always online requirement, is that your game is actually multiplayer at any given time. It's just a matter of "privacy" options which sets it apart. You can have invite only, meaning no one joins your game unless you invite them. This essentially is the single player option. Then you have a game open to people on your friends list, and lastly a "public game" which anyone can join at any time. Creating a public game is permanent and can't be changed, but you can change the other options as you like. I prefer my Diablo single player but of course I wanted to give co-op a try. You can have up to four people per session and it turns out it's actually rather fun. In Diablo 2 I found multiplayer actually decreased my level of enjoyment, largely because everyone fought over XP and loot. D3 cleverly takes care of this by automatically sharing experience to everyone nearby, even if you didn't kill the monster yourself. And concerning loot, what you see on the screen is for you and you only. That's right, everyone in the game gets individual loot drops no one else can see. It's brilliant and keeps things flowing along nicely. Of course, you can trade with characters as you like at any time, or put things up in the auction house. Overall, it changes the multiplayer to true co-op rather than competition, and for me it's a welcome change.
As usual the more people you have in a game, the tougher the monsters are, and the better the loot is. I found the most fun games to be when the group included varied classes, since having more than one of a class in the game was fairly boring, given we all basically used the same skills. But, mixing it up was more entertaining. There's a global chat system which is handy, and it's easy to find people even if you are far away. Generally speaking you will want to stick together, but you can wander off as you like. It would be nice to have a voice option for your friends, and of course a mute option if you were in a public game and someone was annoying. I don't know if that's something to be implemented, but for now text chat works fine. Overall, multiplayer was smooth, though the game slowed down a few times when the screen got monster and effect heavy. Still, in the end I prefer to play alone and to that end I was disgruntled by my internet going out a few times and disconnecting me from the game. It boots you back out to the login screen, and you have to enter your password again, then load your character and quest point. This doesn't take long, but it is stupid. One time the game didn't boot me out, but rather froze the game world, except my character then returned about 30 seconds later. There really should just be a "single player" and "multiplayer' option as there was in previous Diablo games. Sure, there are lots of benefits and uses they make of always being online, but darn it, maybe I don't want them. Maybe I don't need all your fancy friend and integration and your platform pushed on me without a choice. Maybe I'm traveling and don't have net. Perhaps my net isn't that stable. There's a variety of reasons, but Blizzard isn't going to change this. It only hindered my playing twice, for but a minute, but it was still there.
So, I have some complaints about Diablo 3. I have a few reservations as to how things are being done with the skill system, and how I have to login every time. For me there's been a very logical and clear progression of more awesomeness with all Blizzard games. Warcraft 3 was better than Warcraft 2. Diablo 2 was better than Diablo. Will Diablo 3 be better than Diablo 2? Probably. Very likely. It's still super fun and addictive as hell (no pun intended) so that's good. There's some stuff that's bothersome and may or may not get in the way of you having fun, but that's how it is.
Blizzard recently announced they are looking to ship Diablo 3 this spring. That's not too far off and I can believe it. The game feels very polished despite being in closed beta still. No doubt they will release a demo at some point at or after release, so anyone can try it for themselves. I for one am very excited and can't wait to get my hands on the full game. Obviously, the beta only includes a small fraction of the game. A number of features and options are not even available in the beta, such as the player vs player arenas, gemstones, runes and other modifications. Blizzard always says it will be "done when it's done." Here's to hoping that it keeps the release date and we can all be happily hacking and blasting monsters come Spring.
Jon Carr is an IMG writer who also hosts the MacGameCast and enjoys conducting interviews, previews and writing all the features he can think of. When not reviewing games or scheming world domination, he's probably playing a new game in Bootcamp or keeping up on all the latest game and tech news. He builds websites for a living but spends all the time he can furthering the Mac game community.