WellPlayed Preview: The Classes of Diablo III

Written by PhilPhoenix
Oct 03 2011, 11:27 AM EDT

alt text After playing through the beta for countless hours, the WellPlayed staff has compiled this preview to familiarize you with the ins and outs of each of Diablo III's unique classes. Even though we were only able to play part of Act I, each class proved to be unique and exciting, even at low levels, so there should be more than enough to please both Diablo aficionados and newcomers alike when the game is released!


Barbarian
by Newborn
Barbarian The Barbarian is the only returning cast member from Diablo II, and I think it was smart of Blizzard to provide at least one familiar face among the new characters. Veterans of the series will definitely feel comfortable playing the barbarian from the get-go, and I think his inclusion is a good way for returning players to orient themselves in the new game.

Playing the Barbarian, the first thing you'll notice is that he no longer uses Mana (which frankly never made much sense) and instead has a new resource called Fury. The Barbarian builds Fury by attacking with certain skills and by taking damage. When assigning your active skills you'll need to carefully balance abilities that use Fury and abilities that generate Fury so that you don’t end up Fury starved. An untwinked barbarian in Diablo II felt underpowered until you could stack enough Mana leech to keep your Mana globe full. Without leech, you were forced to either save your Mana-draining power attacks for unique monsters, or chain pot through the trash mobs. Early game you were just melee swinging, and bashing in a pinch. From a story perspective this makes sense, because you’re supposed to start out weak and then with experience grow deadlier. However, from a gameplay standpoint you’re delaying the player’s ability to use really fun skills until they get to a certain level of gear. The new fury system cleverly solves this issue and makes the Barbarian fun to play from the very start.

The second thing you'll notice is that in addition to the active skills at your disposal, you'll be unlocking several passive skills. Over the course of the first 13 levels in the Beta I unlocked four skills to potentially fill one slot: the ability to Gain 10% of all damage done as life, increased health globe gains by 100% and drop chance by 25%, critical hit chance increased by 5% and damage by 50%, and weapon mastery skill that has different buffs for different weapon types.

The ability to have 10% lifesteal at level 10 seems overpowered when you consider you'd be happy to settle for 3% at level 10 in Diablo II, and I think this is a testament to Blizzard's new desire to offer players tempting options and forcing them to make hard choices. Perhaps in hardcore mode you'd want to pick one of the first two passives, and in normal you'd opt for one of the latter two. Their uses are situational and their value varies from player to player.

Like all the classes in Diablo III, there are more appealing Barbarian skills than you have slots for, so you'll need to do some thinking and experimenting to determine which skill combinations are the most effective and enjoyable for you. Each time I leveled in the beta I had to reassess my active skills, and I found this to be a more stimulating way to play than the old skill tree system. It may seem counter-intuitive, but level by level there are actually more skill choices to make in Diablo III than in Diablo II. And with runes, the number of choices increase further. Sadly runes aren't present in the beta, but they will completely transform the way skills behave. Take a gander here http://us.battle.net/d3/en/class/barbarian/active/

To illustrate simply how Diablo III differs from Diablo II, let's take a look at your starting skill, Bash. They managed to take a relatively boring Diablo II skill and turn it into something that feels great. Every time you swing, the screen subtly shakes, and on a killing blow enemies go pinwheeling. In Diablo III, Bash’s damage scales with your weapon and the attack generates the Fury you need for flashier skills. You do have alternative Fury generators like Cleave but I preferred to use my single target attack and dump Fury with an AOE skill. Bash was a staple in my rotation, it's no longer just a prerequisite for something better.

After 20+ hours of playtime, the Barbarian was far and away my favorite class in the beta. It can't be overstated how cool it is to finally see the Diablo universe in 3D with a physics system. Smashing barrels and killing enemies for loot is a joy. It'd be a lie if I didn't admit the 13 levels of the Beta grew frustratingly stale after so many replays, but I'm eagerly anticipating the full game. I've got a personal mission to find out if The Immortal King set still comes with a badass aura.

Demon Hunter
by Scraps
Demon Hunter The Demon Hunter is a new class in Diablo III that doesn't seem to have a direct successor from Diablo 1 or 2. Unlike the typical idea of a Hunter from previous Blizzard titles, the Demon Hunter is a petless class, yet similar in that it is designed to inflict high damage from long range while evading, snaring, and kiting enemies.

The Demon Hunter has two different resource pools that fuel its abilities: Hatred and Discipline. Each serve slightly different purposes, and while items and gear can increase the size of these resource pools, Hatred starts at 100 and Discipline starts at 30. Hatred is used for offensive abilities and Discipline is used for evasive and defensive abilities. Hatred regenerates quickly (zero to full in ten seconds) while Discipline regenerates much more slowly (zero to full in about 26 seconds).

While the game is still in beta and subject to change, this initial design of the Demon Hunter seems a bit clunky. I found the Discipline abilities to be underpowered and I never placed them on my skill bar. Having defeated the beta in two-and-a-half hours at level 8, I was never able to have more than three abilities active on my toolbar at a time, so naturally I only kept the most directly useful abilities.

Mechanically speaking, I find the Demon Hunter to be the weakest class in the beta. Diablo has always been designed to be a game that likes to throw surprises at you in the form of huge packs of dangerous monsters, attacks from multiple angles, and little room to maneuver. The Demon Hunter does not excel at dealing with any of these three scenarios, especially when they are combined.

Here are a few abilities that I think best highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the class:

Hungering shot (15 Hatred)
Does 140% base damage and has a 50% chance to pierce its target. What "piercing a target" means is that after it hits a target it has a 50% chance to continue on to another target for full damage. These shots also seek out enemies if you completely miss; they will turn around mid-air and target a nearby enemy. This ability is an efficient upgrade to your standard ranged attack as it has a low Hatred cost. I used this as my bread-and-butter ranged attack throughout the beta.

Fan of Knives (8 Hatred)
An incredibly useful and spammable ability that deals AoE 3-5 damage per target and 35% snare for 4 seconds. Aesthetically this ability doesn't make a lot of sense to me for a hunter, but since there’s no Rogue class it's almost like someone on the development team loved the concept of this ability and had to put it in the game somewhere. It also has low per-target damage, meaning that on harder difficulties you would have to sit in melee range of multiple monsters and spam this ability many times while potentially taking serious damage from multiple targets, which seems like suicide in serious situations. I expect its only role will be as an emergency AoE ability against lots of weaker swarming enemies. It sure is fun, though.

Evasive Fire (5 Hatred, additionally costs 4 Discipline)
This is a fantastic ability and a good use of both Hatred and Discipline pools. This is a shot that does 135% weapon damage to a single target, but if there is an enemy nearby, you will also back-flip 15 yards away from the direction of the shot. This is the primary ability I used to take down dangerous tank monsters and bosses closing in on me. It deals good single target damage while automatically kiting, making it a perfect Hunter ability.

Grenades (30 Hatred)
Three grenades are thrown out towards the area near the mouse pointer, dealing 10-17 damage per grenade. They bounce along the ground and off walls and are a nice opener to clear packs of enemies. I found them to be a little too expensive, slow, and clunky compared to other abilities. Mechanically though they are a nice ability – easy and fun to use accurately.

Marked for Death (6 Discipline)
The third Discipline ability has a screen-wide range and allows you to 'Mark' any enemy, allowing it to take +20% increased damage for 30 seconds. In the beta, only the final boss fight lasted close to 30 seconds, so I guess that's one place it could be used. 20% increased damage is a huge damage increase and if this ability remains this way into launch, it will likely find a home in harder difficulty levels.

Monk
by RockBobster
Monk The Monk is a predominantly melee fighter with a number of skills similar to those of the melee assassin of Diablo II. In addition, he also has a number of support spells which can blind opponents and heal allies. Rather than using Mana to cast his spells, the Monk uses “Spirit,” which can be regenerated either by waiting or by using specific attacks which generate Spirit themselves. The Monk does not excel on his own (at least not during the first ten levels) – his attacks all require him to be in close range, but he is not nearly as robust as the Barbarian in terms of life total, nor does his damage output really make up for the low health.

To play the Monk well, I felt like I had to do a lot of hit-and-run, where I would knock back all my enemies using a Lashing Tail Kick and kite them while I regained health or switched my abilities. Items may also have played a role in this, as I could only find mediocre weapons for my character during the quests, which made his abilities significantly worse since they all do damage based on a percentage of weapon damage – though even this probably would not have helped all that much.

At low levels, the restricted ability slots hurt the Monk more than any other character. He was unable to go on any killing sprees because of his limited abilities and his innate single-target attacks reduced the total experience he gained because he could not hit any bonuses. Because of his low life he almost always needs his heal handy, but this takes up an ability slot that could be fitted with another offensive ability, which causes his damage output to fall quite a bit, making everything seem like much more of a grind.

Overall, it was an interesting class to play, but also frustrating at times. I certainly plan on making one when the full retail version comes out, though, because once all of his ability slots have been unlocked and I have a better variety of abilities to choose from, I think his combos will be incredibly fun to play with.

Witch Doctor
By RockBobster
Witch Doctor The Witch Doctor is a powerful spell caster that can call minions to fight for him in addition to having a variety of utility spells (rather than just a bunch of nukes). He seems rather similar to the Necromancer of Diablo II, though much less reliant on the minions for the most part. He uses Mana like a traditional spellcaster and has a number of interesting abilities to get himself out of sticky situations. I chose not to use his zombie dogs after the first couple of levels because I thought his other spells were too much fun to use (I couldn’t let the dogs take all the kills, and they will pretty much clean up everything if you let them).

The Witch Doctor’s skills were some of the most fun to use out of the available characters. His AoE root spell not only looked pretty sweet aesthetically, but it allowed for massive bonuses for both non-stop slaughtering and multiple kills with a single blast when used with his explosive toads spell (which releases three toads that explode on contact with an enemy, much like our beloved Banelings). He also has a short-range, AoE flamethrower spell which does considerable damage, though it generally forces you to be much closer to your enemies than you’d like.

If you’re more about practicality, there is a spell called “Haunt” which allows you to shoot an enemy from afar for impact damage as well as damage over time. This spell can be cast on three targets at a time, and if a monster dies while the spell is active, it will automatically jump to a new nearby target. Much like the zombie dogs, though, this made things almost too easy because the Mana regeneration on the Witch Doctor is quick enough to let you spam the spell and not worry about getting the maximum efficiency out of the DoT. The more interesting spells, in my opinion, were the ones that had a cooldown associated with them.

Because of his large number of damaging spells, the Witch Doctor is able to solo perfectly well, wreaking destruction as he goes, but he is also incredibly well-suited to play in groups because of his utility spells, such as his root and “Horrify” which causes all monsters in the vicinity to flee for a short time.

All in all, the Witch Doctor was an incredibly fun character to play and I would not hesitate to make another when the retail version comes out.

Wizard
by PhilPhoenix
Wizard As the only class that has in essence been in every Diablo game, the Wizard is an ideal representation of how the general gameplay of the series has shifted from the first installment to Diablo III. Gone are the days of struggling to fit both Health and Mana Potions in your precious belt slots; Mana has been replaced by Arcane Power, a resource that rapidly replenishes itself, requiring not a single potion and never keeping you out of the fight. In the early levels when all you can muster is a steady stream of Magic Missiles, this will seem almost unbalanced; you can shoot missles as quickly as you can click without ever coming close to emptying your pool. However, as you rise in level and begin unlocking more spells – especially area of effect spells – the reasoning behind the change makes sense.

By widely varying the cost of spells based on their function, it’s possible to create a Wizard that fits a very specific play styles. For example, a Wizard who focuses on using Magic Missile and other “rapid cast” spells will be better suited for focusing on individual enemies, while a Wizard with spells like Frost Nova and Arcane Orb will be adept at crowd control and area of effect damage. There are also a number of defensive armor spells to choose from in order to enhance the Wizard’s staying power, though I never needed to use them (keeping my distance from the fights seemed to work well enough). The beta only allows access to less than half of the Wizard’s arsenal, so it will remain to be seen how the higher level spells like Blizzard and Meteor will work with the flexibility of the class’s playstyle. For now it seems like the single-target rapid cast Wizard will really only be useful in the earlier portions of the game, as almost all of the high-level offensive spells can damage multiple enemies at once.

What will really define the way a player wields this class is in which utility spells they choose. There are the aforementioned armor spells which make the Wizard harder to kill, but there are also spells like Mirror Image and Teleport, which increases survivability by giving the Wizard ways to escape dangerous situations. The most exciting utility spell is the Archon spell, which transforms the Wizard into a being of pure energy, granting increased protection and new abilities. Unfortunately I didn't unlock any of these spells, so I can't comment on how they function, but just reading the descriptions is enough to get my gears turning with all of the possibilities. Each spell in this category is wildly different, which will undoubtedly make skill choices for the six slots particularly agonizing for this class. Add the passive skills on top of that, which do everything from aid in regenerating Arcane Power to speeding up cool downs on evasive spells after taking a particularly damaging it, and the Wizard is a swiss army knife in terms of the range of the class’s possibilities.