Diablo 3 Preview
An early peek at the long-awaited third installment of the legendary franchise.
On May 15 one of the most anticipated games of the year, which has been in development for an unusually long period of time, finally gets released to the public. I’m talking about Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo 3. It’s been twelve years since Diablo 2 was released and this third installment in the incredibly popular franchise was announced way back in June of 2008. This past weekend Blizzard had a free public open beta for Diablo 3 to stress test their servers and so forth so I used the opportunity to give the game a once over to see if it’s something assistive technology users should be looking forward to. And of course I wanted to see if the game lives up to its predecessors and perhaps improves upon them.
For whatever reason Blizzard has decided that you will need a constant Internet connection to play Diablo 3, even if you’re just playing single player mode. I’m not certain if this is solely due to piracy concerns or if it has something to do with all the online features integrated into the game? Or perhaps a combination of both? Either way when news of this broke a fair number of people weren’t too happy about it. Since I would be playing the game on a desktop with an always on Internet connection it makes no difference to me but if you plan on playing it on a laptop that doesn’t always have an Internet connection then you might have a problem with this. So be forewarned! You’ll also need to make a BattleNet account with Blizzard upon installing the game if you don’t already have one. It’s also probably a good idea to check the system requirements before purchasing this game. It’s not one of the most demanding of games but it’s not one of the least either. I’ve heard of people that were in the closed beta complaining of poor frame rates, particularly in the Macintosh version. I personally do not see any slowdowns at all while playing. I maintained an average of about 30 frames per second which is perfectly fine in my opinion but I’m using a 2009 27" I7 iMac. Not exactly top-of-the-line anymore but still pretty decent.
There’s a number of new features and additions to the Diablo franchise. There’s four new classes (the Wizard, the Witch Doctor, the Demon Hunter, and the Monk) along with the returning Barbarian class. I tried the Wizard and Witch Doctor during the free open beta. I have to say of the two I preferred the Wizard. It seemed like I was able to sit back more from a distance and wreak massive amounts of havoc with that class which is what I prefer because melee combat isn’t my forte. The Witch Doctor has some interesting spells as well but they just weren’t as powerful to me. However bare in mind that I only got to play the game for around eight hours before the free open beta ended. Other new features include skill runes, followers, crafting and artisans, and PVP arenas that will be added post-launch. You can read all about the new features in Diablo 3 here.
The presentation in Blizzard’s games is always of the highest quality and that tradition continues with Diablo 3. In the free open beta I traveled through dank swamps, ancient cathedrals, and creepy dungeons, among other things, and they all looked absolutely fantastic using Diablo’s customary isometric viewpoint. The characters and monsters are detailed and the animation is fluid. The world is also filled with destructible objects (also new to the Diablo franchise) so you can knock walls down and even pull chandeliers down on top of your opponents. It’s an impressive sight and quite gratifying. Interestingly there doesn’t appear to be any prerendered cutscenes like in past Diablo games. However, there are short cutscenes of sorts using the in-game engine that advance the storyline. I read somewhere that Blizzard no longer wanted long prerendered cutscenes that interrupted the flow of play or something like that. I can understand where they’re coming from but I think I would prefer if they had kept those in. Either way it doesn’t affect gameplay though.
But of course what’s most important is how accessible is Diablo 3? If you’ve played the previous Diablo games you should be right at home because it’s pretty much the same. Blizzard has always been good at making game interfaces as simple and basic as possible and Diablo 3’s is no different, and perhaps even improved. If you can left click and right click, and perform those kind of clicks quickly all over the screen then you can play Diablo 3. You left click on the spot you want your character to walk to. You also left click on monsters to attack them with your primary ability. Left clicking is also used to interact with NPCs and various game menus and windows (such as your inventory and skills windows). The toolbar at the bottom of the screen is quite large with big buttons that are easy to see and click on. There are four skills buttons that you can left click on to activate each given skill and you can also drink potions by left clicking on the large potion button. These all have keyboard equivalents if that’s your sort of thing and they’re conveniently listed right under each button. You have a secondary ability that you can activate by right clicking on a monster. Both your primary and secondary abilities are shown in the toolbar as well but they are not buttons that you can click on. They’re just represented there to show you which abilities are currently assigned to the left and right mouse buttons. There are some keys on the keyboard that might help but aren’t really necessary. For example, you can hold the shift key down while clicking on monster to perform a ranged attack while your character stands in place. I don’t really see the point in doing this because I was also able to do the same thing by just left clicking on a monster. I know it’s supposed to prevent your character from moving towards a monster while attacking from a distance but it didn’t seem to make that much of a difference. So that’s basically all you need to be able to do to play. However if you get into multiplayer you’re obviously probably going to want to have access to a full keyboard so you can communicate with other players. Blizzard has added built in shortcuts on the numeric keypad that make your characters speak out phrases such as “follow me” that come in handy when playing with other people.
If you’re a user of KeyStrokes or SwitchXS you’ll have no problem accessing them while playing. Just like Blizzard’s previous game, Starcraft 2 (which I reviewed for this site) there’s three different video modes for you to play in and KeyStrokes and SwitchXS are accessible in all three. There’s fullscreen, windowed, and something called fullscreen (windowed) mode. The latter is something I absolutely love and wish more developers would implement in their games. In that mode it basically makes the game look like it’s in fullscreen mode yet you can still access the Mac OSX Finder menu bar by moving your mouse to the top of the screen. So this essentially means the Finder is still there while playing which also means KeyStrokes and SwitchXS stay floating on top without any issue. The windowed mode allows you to play the game in a window, with that window being the size of whatever you have the game’s resolution set on. So if you prefer to put the game in a smaller window so you can use KeyStrokes, for example, without blocking any of the game window you can. To my surprise I discovered that both KeyStrokes and SwitchXS are even accessible when the game is in fullscreen mode. For that to happen you have to go up to the “Mode” menu and set KeyStrokes to “Game Mode” which forces it to float on top of running applications, like fullscreen games. It doesn’t work this way in Starcraft 2 but it’s nice to know it does here. However because of the nifty fullscreen (windowed) mode I’m not sure why anybody would want to do this.
I did run into one unexpected problem with Diablo 3. I’m still using a Headmaster Plus which can only perform left clicks. For right clicks I usually use KeyStrokes to do a command–click or control–click combination which is often present for single button mouse users to perform right clicks. To my surprise it’s not present here. This is actually the second time I’ve seen this in a game in the last few weeks (the other being The Witcher: The Enhanced Edition). Apple hasn’t shipped Macs with one–button mice in quite some time now so I guess it was only a matter of time before developers stopped catering to this ever shrinking crowd. So I had to do something about this because I needed to be able to use the secondary ability in Diablo 3. I tried using the Dwellix window in KeyStrokes to perform right-clicks but that was both awkward and flaky (it would get stuck occasionally and keep repeatedly right clicking). Using Dragon Dictate to perform a right-click by voice can sometimes be another option but Diablo 3 is just too fast-moving to do it that way. Besides I would have to play the game with headphones on to even attempt that or else Dragon Dictate would get confused by the sounds from the game. So what I ended up doing is using a virtual mouse app for right clicks. There’s tons of these kinds of apps available for the iPhone and my iPhone is already mounted on my wheelchair armrest and easily reachable so this was the best solution for now. However I wish there was an app that allowed you to make the entire iPhone screen a right mouse button because the mouse buttons in all these virtual mouse apps are small because most of the space is used for the trackpad. So I don’t always hit the right button but it does work. Perhaps I’ll look into getting something like the Swifty with one of those big ability switches attached to it for right clicking. Sooner or later I’m obviously going to have to do something about this. In the meantime I’ll just have to make due. And if you’re in a similar situation keep this in mind.
Update: The developer of "HippoRemote Pro" for the iPhone got back to me and says you can make custom profiles with fullscreen buttons with the Pro version of this app. I purchased it (for $4.99) and haven’t had any luck in doing this. In fact I don’t see any way to alter the mouse buttons at all. I’ve sent the developer another message about this but have yet to hear back from him. If I learn anything I’ll add another update.
I didn’t yet talk much about the multiplayer and social features of Diablo 3 but they’re a big part of the game. In fact while I was finishing up the shortened beta campaign with my wizard character a friend of mine popped in unexpectedly and asked to join me with his barbarian character! It was instant and completely seamless and just like that we were off to slay the Skeleton King together. It was quite satisfying having my wizard character cast his freeze spell on a group of monsters and then watch my friend’s barbarian character sliced through them with blocks of ice and body parts flying all over! I wasn’t able to talk to him while simultaneously moving my character but I did use the numeric keyboard built in commands I mentioned above to have my character speak some short phrases to his character. Dragon Dictate is something that usually works well in chat room type situations but I’m so busy clicking (which for somebody like me means constantly blowing into a tube) that I’m not able to talk much until my character stops moving in which case I then can just use KeyStrokes. Obviously voice chat might really come in handy here but it’s not built in. However you could use one of the third-party solutions like Skype or Ventrillo. Either way, one way or another, there is definitely fun to be had with multiplayer for whenever you get tired with the single player portion of the game.
So even in my limited time with Diablo 3 I can say that if you’re even remotely interested in these types of games then this is something you’re going to want to check out when it’s released on May 15. Constant Internet connection and right click issues notwithstanding this is another winner from Blizzard Entertainment and I have no doubt it’s going to be wildly popular.
Diablo 3 will be released on May 15 for both the Mac and PC. You can pre-order a copy now from the website.