What can Diablo III bring to the table after over a decade?
The Diablo III beta is still a fairly limited snapshot of what's to come. A trigger-happy user can blitz through its first act - the only one available - in a little under an hour and a half, showing if anything Blizzard has worked out the art of brevity. By the end of the beta you'll have likely reached level nine, with a small clutch of quests and abilities, an introduction to the nostalgic home-hub of New Tristram, and one boss battle in the form of the Skeleton King under your belt before the game thanks you for your time and shows itself the door.
Ignoring the limited playthrough, the success of Act I lies with just how much it still conveys. That old "don't judge books by covers" adage can be roughly translated as "don't judge games by demos" in this industry, and needless to say the beta is just a fraction of the final product due out next year – but even without a multi-hour play session, the changes since the last time we saw the series are still deeply apparent.
Blizzard's new engine drags Diablo from the depths of last-millennia graphics, and the studio has decided to move on from the darker, gothic tendencies of the earlier games' art style for a bolder Warcraft-influenced direction - something 64 thousand or so users have actually petitioned against in a plight to protect the original sensibilities of the franchise. Everybody's a critic. The result, as the beta shows, is a colourful sort of macabre. Blue-green environmental lighting, the odd exaggerated weapon or attack, Diablo III re-interprets the Diablo aesthetic with a few more stylised gestures.
So welcome to New Tristram, built out of the wreckage of Diablo's original Tristram. Unfortunately for its denizens, a meteor has hit the old cathedral and raised an army of dead ruled by the Skeleton King, whom older players should remember from the original game. The first few quests snake into the lower, randomly-generated depths of the Cathedral, beginning with a rescue mission to save series stalwart Deckard Cain, then further tasks you to summon and kill Act I's final boss.