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Diablo 3 beta is short, sweet and a sign of great things to come (hands on)

The beta for Blizzard Entertainment’s next potential hit, Diablo 3, finally landed yesterday. We got a chance to blitz through the beta with each of the character classes and try out just about everything available, and it looks like Blizzard Entertainment has hit all the right buttons.

Diablo 2, the last game in the series, was immensely popular when it came out more than a decade ago in 2000. Blizzard Entertainment only released one expansion pack for the game, but it came to define a lot of tropes that now commonly appear in online games — such as reliance on loot-seeking behavior and frictionless communication between friends and players. Diablo 3 has been in the works for some time, and expectations are high for a repeat performance by Blizzard Entertainment.

The Diablo 3 beta includes the first “act” of the game, one of several large chunks of the game, that consists of part of the game’s main storyline. The game will consist of several of these acts, though Blizzard Entertainment hasn’t made it clear just how many there will be. Diablo 2, the game’s predecessor, had five acts altogether. The whole act takes around an hour and a half to complete, so if there are five acts, like in Diablo 2, the game will be somewhere between 7 and 8 hours long to complete a main quest. But that’s not really the heart of the Diablo ethos.

The Diablo games allow anywhere from two to eight players to jump into discrete games in randomly-generated dungeons. The goal is to prevent the forces of hell from taking over the world by defeating Diablo, the lord of terror, and his cohorts. Players chase after powerful items and weapons to use against other enemies and players or for trade.

You drop into a game and fly through an act. Or if you like the entire game, you can select a specific difficulty and go in search of the best loot. Each game can last anywhere from 5 minutes to several hours, depending on how well the group meshes together. I saw my share of groups where no one said a single thing throughout the quest. I also played with groups that instantly turned into friends, where we talked about how the game looked or how the Philadelphia Eagles completely ruined our fantasy football leagues.

The whole experience felt like a throwback to Diablo 2 — which will be great for veterans from the predecessor. At the same time, Diablo 3 enjoys a decade of experience and sophistication in video game development that Blizzard Entertainment has picked up by working on World of Warcraft and real-time strategy game Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. If the final version is anything like what we’ve seen in the beta, gamers are in for a treat when Diablo 3 comes out sometime early next year.

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