Despite the fact that Blizzard has shown "Diablo 3" to press plenty of times, last night was the first time I was able to sit down and play it. Yes, after getting word that I had access to the beta, quickly dashed to my computer, thrilled about playing the game I had been waiting 10 years for. Fair warning: This is a very different "Diablo."
NO MORE SKILL POINTS
You still level up by killing monsters and completing quests in "Diablo 3," but leveling up no longer grants you points with which to customize your character. Instead, hitting a new level can unlock either a new skill or a new skill slot.
Reaching the level requirement for a skill allows you to use that skill instantly. There's no need to spend a point to use it. You simply need to drop it into one of your skill slots and you're good to go.
READ OUR DIABLO 3 SKILLS GUIDE FOR THE COMPLETE LIST OF SKILLS
The skill slots is where the real strategy comes in. When you start the game, you'll only have 2 active skill slots, which means you'll only be able to use two different skills at any one time. You can pick different skills between battles at no cost to you, but unlike "World of WarCraft," where you might have a dozen skills assigned to hotkeys, "Diablo 3" limits this number based on your level.
NO MORE STAT POINTS
Another big change is that you won't earn spendable stat points every time you level up. It seems your stats (Vitality, Dexterity, and so forth) increase automatically based on your class. This also removes stat requirements for gear. There are, however, level requirements, and there's still gear that can only be used by certain classes.
NO MORE RISK OF MAKING A BAD DECISION
It's likely the crux of all these changes was focused on making sure that people didn't accidently build a horrible character. In "Diablo 2," for example, if you were a Necromancer and decided to spend all of your stat points in Strength, you were pretty well screwed for the rest of the game.
Since all of the changes in "Diablo 3" can be reverted, it allows you to test out every skill you unlock and see what works best for you. Much better than picking some awesome-sounding skill and realizing it's about as effective as throwing toilet paper at a Balrog.
WHERE'S THE CUSTOMIZATION?
Ok, so if everyone is able to use every possible skill they've unlocked, wouldn't every Witch Doctor be the same as every other Witch Doctor? Well no. The biggest differentiating factor is not what skills you unlock but rather what skills you choose to put into active slots.
The other big difference is Runestones, which don't appear to be in the "Diablo 3" beta. But, based on what Blizzard has said, Runestones allow you to customize your chosen skills with dramatically different effects. For example, you can give your Witch Doctor's dart gun ability the chance to shoot a poison snake, stunning an enemy for a few seconds. Since there are 5 Runestone modifiers per skill, you're looking at pretty massive variety between one Witch Doctor and another, even if they both pick the exact same skills for their slots.
Lastly, there are Passive Skills, which give your character benefits like mana regen or increased damage with summoning spells. Depending on which passive skills you select, your Demon Hunter might be more trap-centric versus playing as a ranged, sniper class. There are three passive skill slots (one unlocked every 10 levels), and 12 passive skills to choose from.
AND THEN THERE'S LOOT
Loot remains a huge part of "Diablo 3," and the gear you have equipped will certainly change you play style. Sockets also make a return, so you'll be able to stick gems in items to give them additional properties.
There's also weapon crafting. If you find yourself with a bunch of worthless loot, you can break it down into base properties and bring it to the weapon crafter. Based on his skill level, you can build more useful items using those base properties. This is extremely similar to "World of WarCraft," where rare ingredients will be required for the very best items.
IS IT ALL FOR THE BEST?
All these changes make it clear that "Diablo 3" isn't merely a prettier version of "Diablo 2." Blizzard was clearly willing to take some major game design risks and I think the changes are for the better. Thanks to these new systems, you'll no longer need to restart a new character after 30 hours because you realized you stuck a skill point in the wrong place, or allocated your stats wrong. It also makes "Diablo 3" far more approachable for new-comers, as they needn't worry about picking the right skills at the right time.
I've only spent about 3 hours with the beta so far, so expect more impressions in the coming weeks. Until then, happy looting!