The bad news is that everything "news" about the beta was covered during the Friends and Family testing period, before we were even allowed in. The good news is that I finally had the time to sit down and write about my experiences playing with the Wizard, the casting archetype of Diablo III. Along the way, we'll explore some interesting aspects of this decade's iteration of the series, up to the epic battle with the Skeleton King and including skills ranging from the powerful to the mundane.
Disclaimer: If you decide to read further than this line, you accept that I may divulge certain bits of information that some may view as spoilers. Beyond this line, I will make no effort, whatsoever, to hide this information, since that is counterproductive to the intent of an informative article.
Not much has changed in that regard except, perhaps, that our characters now have motives. Yes, my friends, our heroes have reasons to be where they are! Hoping to find the Fallen Star that landed in the ruins of Old Tristram, my male Wizard strode boldly down the path towards New Tristram, with nothing but Magic Missile and Frost Nova (Diablo III) at his disposal, ready to take on the hordes of the Undead and the legions of the Burning Hells. How very bold of him.
Risen appeared, feasting on a festering pile of human carrion (take that you Diablo-III-isn't-gory-enough crazies!). Body parts flew in majestic arcs through the night air as I slammed the unwitting zombie with Magic Missile, trailing the purple light indicative of arcane-elemental spells. Before I had entered the village proper, a veritable pile of the Undead was mounded before the gate. Diablo magic, I'd say.
Here I would like to note something of ghastly interest: Frequently enough, the Risen, as their name implies, rise again after they are slaughtered. Crawling forward with bloodthirsty intent, they drag their abdomens through the earth as their severed spines leak out vital fluids, nearing the unaware adventurer handhold by handhold. Moral of the story: When you kill a zombie, make sure it's dead.
News of the dead rising from their graves has not made every denizen of Sanctuary hop out of bed in the middle of the night and sprint out the door with an axe at the ready. Entering the village of Old Tristram, another neat new feature of Diablo III comes to light: Brother Malachi the Healer, a pious, fire-and-brimstone preaching ex-zealot of the Zakarum faith, is already screaming damnation for the world before I even had the presence of mind to click on him.
Kurast Docks, anyone?) Located in scenic downtown New Tristram, the waypoint is surrounded by all the most useful features of the fledgling village: the Blacksmith, a merchant to the upper right (not pictured), the location to hire your hireling, the entrance to the tavern (whose proprietor peddles potions and other odds and ends), and, eventually, the man himself: Deckard Cain.
The waypoint interface is also more useful, if somewhat cluttered. Collapsible menus now offer categorized destinations, as well as recent destinations. And, if you for some reason can't read your location off your mini-map in the upper right-hand corner of your screen, it even tells you where you are! Nifty.
Slaughtered Calf Inn and Deckard Cain's home.
Nearly all of the NPC's in New Tristram share one trait that makes them an improvement over the previous games: they don't just stand there all day waiting to give out a quest to whatever lucky adventurer wanders along the road. One can only wonder how much smithing Griswold actually did.
Despite all the cool things there are to take in when visiting the barely-hanging-on village of New Tristram, I was sent on my way nearly the instant I walked into the Slaughtered Calf Inn. Zombie syndrome seemed to spread like a disease, even among those in the village, and one impromptu battle later I was on my way from the inn and down the eerie Old Tristram Road. Murders of crows flapping dramatically off into the night? Check. Creaking wagon wheels moving all on their own? Check. Ruined homes with a murderous history? Check.
And some of them have nice little dungeons underneath. Oh, and Blizzard wasn't kidding when they said their random dungeons would be cool.
I must have been through ten random dungeons (sorry folks, I have other time commitments, too) in my various play-throughs of the beta, and each time they feel new and exciting. Entering one Musty Cellar below the ghostly ruins of an old farm home, I see a Quill Fiend poking around near the steps. Approaching it, and readying my Wizard to blast it to Hells with my l33t Adventuring Oak Wand of the Oracle, the little critters scuttled off into the darkness. I ran after him, spamming all kinds of flashy stuff, wondering where the rest of the monsters were, until the little guy scurried under a pile of debris in the center of a room down a hall.
The junk exploded and out poured the entire mob of the dungeon in one instant. Quill Fiends ran everywhere, doing that thing they do (shooting quills, if you haven't figured that part out yet.) One Frost Nova and a quick recovery later, I realized that the @#$%er had tricked me into following him to a whole nest of ravenous, twitchy little scoundrels.
Of course, there are other variations of the dungeon. Several times, my Wizard entered one such cellar, openly wondering where all the loot was. Rounding a corner, I saw that the Quill Fiends--those fiends!--had already broken open my chest and sacked the place. However, killing their leader dropped the loot that would have generated in the chest. And it gave me a sense of accomplishment. Two birds with one stone.
Wretched Mothers. These puketastic baddies seem to be stuck on a perpetual hangover, vomiting their guts out--maybe in a literal sense. Not only is it disgusting, but the vomitus propagates another zombie. Until the Wretched Mother is killed, the process continues. TLDR: Kill the Wretched Mother first and save yourself some time and effort.
Leah in pursuit of her mother's old hut. Yes, Diablo I's witch, Adria, returns. Or at least her house does. And she's got a nice little piece of real estate out in that forsaken sixteenth of an acre of no-man's land. But one of the coolest things about this encounter is that Leah follows you, chats with you, kills monsters with you, and interacts with game world objects. Some of the Wizard's characteristic scholarly mindset sparks up here and other places. It's amazing how fixated the guy is on the Fallen Star.
The journey from here on out is something of a trip down memory lane.
Ah, the Cathedral, how I've missed thee! Kael Rills is long gone, of course, and I do miss the blood-red light knifing through the dark. But maybe the deceptive serenity surrounding the Cathedral is what makes it most unsettling. Its depths are anything but serene.
The Fallen Star finally makes its reappearance. In its wake, it's left a tell-tale trail of otherwordly blue flames and a crater big enough to stuff over nine thousand McDonald's regulars. The journey down the old Horadrim bastion is crawling with the Undead. Ravenous Dead prowl the halls, often in groups. Carrion Bats stalk in clouds, swarming my Wizard with their annoying little zaps (reminiscent of Diablo II's Bat Demon (Diablo II)s.) And, of course, the Grotesque (Diablo III).
While not particularly the most dangerous of enemies, the Grotesque sported a few elements that might prove tricky, especially in later difficulties: a reasonably large amount of health, a corpse explosion guaranteed on death, and a mobile army inside its stomach. Okay, a handful of killer Lampreys (eels) wasn't really that dangerous, either, but it was just freakin' weird. Later in the game, the Grotesque was more likely to expel a number of Imps, though these, for the most part, ran off in random directions until I sniped them down with Electrocute.
Eventually--inevitably--Cain popped up. Uncle Deckard had decided to go dumpster diving in the Cathedral for some esoteric lore in his never-ending battle against the forces of the Burning Hells. What a harmless idea.
Cain's addition to the mix brings another cool feature with Diablo III's take on story-telling: NPC's that talk with each other. Back in town, Cain and Leah catch up on old times: doomsday prophecy, demonic lore, the usual. Their interaction occasionally mixed in the haughty attitude of the Wizard. Were any other character to be the hero in the discussion, he, too, would add his character's flavor to the discussion.
But Diablo III isn't all idle chatter and zombie pounding. The climax of the beta culminates in the battle with the Skeleton King, a point which Bashiok has specified as a third of the way through the first act.
While the battle was not really that difficult (this is, basically, "easy" mode for testing purposes), King Leoric's ghostly remains had a few tricks up its sleeves.
The battle is initiated by clicking on the King. I started every battle by popping a few Diablo III Potions to boost my resistances, attack, and defense. The buffs are minimal and last only several minutes, but every little bit helped.
Leoric has three primary modes: a whirlwind attack similar to the Barbarian crossed with a I-don't-know-how-to-swing-my-weapon frenzy mode, a teleportation spell, and a simple swing attack with his massive mace. Periodically, he disappears from the fray, leaving a rabble of Undead minions in his wake. Of particular use during the skeleton waves was the Wizard's Wave of Force.
Returned and Forgotten Soldiers away from me, the fragile caster, and off into my patient comrades. Oh, and did I mention the +50% speed impediment?
Ice Armor or Diamond Skin (we're not even going to talk about Storm Armor, since it lacks any defensive buffs.) While Diamond Skin is better for straight damage reduction, its relatively short duration (five seconds) makes it more of a cast-in-the-moment-of-need spell. Frozen Armor, while not a big damage absorber, does increase the Wizard's armor significantly (50%), lasts for two glorious minutes, and chills every enemy that attacks you--including the Skeleton King! This also works great in mobs, allowing the unwary Wizard to escape with his skin intact in certain sticky situations.
From a safe distance, I could then spam them with Electrocute, which works exactly like Diablo II's Chain Lightning, or Energy Twister. (Oh, clever hint: Energy Twister is perfect for kiting. Cast and run, baby!)
And that about wraps things up. If any of you were fortunate enough to have played the beta yet, we'd love to hear about your experiences playing with the Wizard--any crafty spell tips, survival scenarios, or witty lines the Wizard is so prone to imparting.
And, if you still can't get enough Wizard (*cough sign of addict cough*), we prescribe Force Gaming Strategy's excellent Wizard playthrough videos on YouTube. Here's one to get you started: