Diablo 3 - A Hellraising Preview

Spend some points

There's no tree of abilities in Diablo – you don't pick talents like in WoW. Instead, you just choose from a list. And they're all good options. You're going to want Fan of Knives, Grenades, Bola Shot and Entangling Shot. You can equip up to seven skills, but there are over 20 to choose from. You'll want to upgrade them to their full potential, but you can't if you want them all, too. Making that choice is hard. It's complicated by the addition of runes. Every skill can have a rune added to it – sidegrades that turn something relatively fun into something gloriously absurd. Every other level, you'll also get to upgrade some of your passive abilities. Make fire-damage more burny. Make your armourstronger. Do more damage every time you swing an axe. The interface for making these upgrades is simple, but it masks a deep complexity.

There are five types of rune, each with seven skill levels. They're grouped into themes of colour; Crimson, Indigo, Obsidian, Golden and Alabaster. Applying a rune alters the skill, and although the Diablo III team have yet to drop the full list of what they do and what each theme means, there are examples. An Indigo rune applied to the Wizard's mirror image spell means that you'll get more than one mirror image. And the higher the level rune, the higher the number of mirror images. These runes apply universally. So if you get a level four Crimson rune, you'll have to make a choice. What skill do you put it in?

The level of sheer brain-melting complexity on display is joyous. A Wizard's magic missile skill goes from a single shot to a barrage of projectiles. A plague of toads goes from a few hopping monsters to a swarm, then to a single giant toad that eats zombies and shits out loot. Runes are hilarious – by far the best part of skilling up.

The power of this system is extraordinary. Combine the different skill builds, the passive abilities, the runes and where players spend points, and you're left with a big number ofpossible builds. Over 97 billion, in fact. Wyatt starts laughing as we talk this number over. “Yeah, it's silly. But we're convinced that at least 80 billion of those will be fun. Heads are going to explode with the possibilities.”

Aren't they going to be overpowered? Aren't they going to devastate your PvP? World of Warcraft has spent years trying to balance PvP powers with PvE powers. “Part of the appeal,” says Wyatt, “is finding that overpowered build. So we're not worried about someone finding a really good build.”

And PvP? “We're primarily a PvE game. We're not going to alter any of our PvE balance for PvP reasons.”

And that gets to the heart of why our PvP encounters in the Diablo III arena are such awesome fun, and why we're not smarting from repeated losses like we normally would. Instead, we're eager to dive back in for more.

The Diablo III arena is throwaway. It's there for shits and giggles, not to be some kind of drama-filled competitive, noob-unfriendly game. “The thing we want to really try and avoid,” says Jay, “is the natural instinct for everyone to turn it into a super uber hardcore e-sport. The problem is that it's never, ever, because of the nature of our game, going to be balanced for that. The point of it is to have some fun.”

Yes, there will be matchmaking. Yes, you'll get experience and ranks and rewards, like it's a Meteor Spellenhanced RPG version of Call of Duty. “But we're never going to compete with arena battles in WoW or StarCraft.”

As we complete our run through the Diablo III demo, the screen fades to black. The background is replaced by a black screen, over which a rainbow appears. We dance to avoid flaming meteors before, finally, we're splatted. It's hilarious. A bloody good time.

The queue is massive. But we're press. We call the attendant over.

“Can we have another go?”