Thursday, April 12, 2012

Firsthand Experience with Diablo III Runes

With the release date of Diablo III fast approaching, we compare how much of a difference the newly implemented Rune system makes on the game's gameplay in regard to our previous tour through the beta a few months ago.
It has been a while since I'd played Diablo III beta, main reason is that most of the patches that arrived after my inital playthrough were in fact some minor tweaks, or had something to do with fixing/nerfing of class abilities. Then Blizzard started to talk about their Rune system being implemented, and how great an effect it will have on gameplay. Little did I know then that my main concern, Diablo III having only five classes to play, is going to be banished from my mind completely.

To illustrate this little bit better, I have to mention Titan Quest. The game had nine masteries to play with and upon reaching the eight level you got to choose another one, thereby gaining a class (two combined masteries). That engine enabled 36 combinations alone, and I don't have to explain the level of variability, uniqueness, brutal fun and difference in gameplay it offered. On the other hand, and I have to mention it again, Diablo III had five classes to play.

Nevertheless, when I played the beta for the first time, four or five months ago, I had an awesome experience, as was mentioned in the previous preview; but with the added perspective of the Runestone system gameplay – it feels as if I was playing some hollow version of Diablo III - a stripped game on crutches. You can read and theorize how it changes game all you want, but until you get to try it out, you just can't comprehend the difference it provides.

The runestone system also had different versions;  originally, it was item oriented, then Blizzard changed it in a way that when you level up - you gain access to new runes. Skill assigning was also changed so that four numbers on the keyboard correlate with schools of magic (or skills) that your class gains access to. In this text I will use the Witch Doctor (WD) as an example, as I played him to the highest level (13) accessible in the beta.
In this screenshot we can see schools of magic that WD has at his disposal – Defensive, Terror, Decay and Voodoo, in addition to primary and secondary skills which are reserved for mouse buttons.
So the first option for primary skill (usually spamable shit) is poison dart. It was a little bit dull in previous versions and I haven't found it interesting. But with the introduction of runes you have the option to, for example. fire three darts at once (splinters) or fire a single dart that has a slowing effect (numbing dart). So you get to choose your rune on gameplay that you prefer (or difficulty), within choice of skill in specific school tree, in this case primary, that you like.
Diablo-3-witch-doctor-runes-screenshot-4.jpgSplinters in action
Another really, really awesome thingy is that spell effect graphics change as you change runes! I can't wait until the desired level to fire snakes from that hollow gun thingy.
If you prefer a more swarming approach, corpse spiders are your friends. The Doctor throws some vases around and four spiders leap out from each one that last around 3-4 seconds. At first you have small white spiders, then you can advance to Leaping spiders which are larger and black. Those can jump around and instantly reach the foe, therefore becoming even more effective.
Diablo-3-witch-doctor-runes-screenshot-5.jpgLeaping Spiders
Next rune allows to summon Spider queen that births spiderlings on its own!
Ok, enough of primary shit, lets get to secondaries.

First in line is Grasp of the Dead, a static AoE damaging and snaring spell. If you want to deal more damage with it, eels are your choice (small green things cover the floor); if you want more snaring effect – choose Unbreakable grasp (undead hands break from the ground). 
Diablo-3-witch-doctor-runes-screenshot-13.jpg Diablo-3-witch-doctor-runes-screenshot-14.jpg
Eels beat skelletons
I don't know how the third rune really works (25th lvl...) or how it looks – but the description - dead corpses falling down from the sky - explains it all. GIEF!
If you desire active, real damaging AoE, look no further then the next in line – Firebats; this is a cone shaped AoE attack unlike Grasp that works in a circle. Truth be told, in previous patches I haven't used them as much, as I preferred the snare effect that Grasp provided; not to mention that those flying bastards need to be channeled so you can't move. But once you get the grip of it and acquire some dogs to steal enemies' attention, those little bastards blast your foes apart. Got cornered? Just channel the damn things in every possible direction. They burn mana a lot, to say the least.
Everything is fine and dandy until you unlock the first rune – Dire bats. Unlike cone-shaped Firebats, these big boys have more range, fly one after another and deal even more damage (crits are just sick) to anything that comes in their desired path. A well placed dire bat works wonders (as does Grasp also).
Diablo-3-witch-doctor-runes-screenshot-9.jpg Diablo-3-witch-doctor-runes-screenshot-10.jpg
Crittin' dire bats
I mentioned dags. You like dags? Dags? Ye, DAGS!!! This rambling brings us to the first spell school that I had available – Defensive. Obviously, it is meant for defensive purposes! Eureka! So, at first I had three zombie dogs that do shitty damage but are very, very aggressive and engage enemies really fast, thus leaving me quite cozy to throw some vases around and blast an occasional bat or two. Later on come rabid dogs that deal some moar poison damage. And look really rabidish (acid green). This school also consists of other, more subtle spell effects like Fear or Hex for example.
Diablo-3-witch-doctor-runes-screenshot-11.jpgRabid Dogs
Second, and the only other spell school available in the beta (grrr, they moved rotting zombies to Decay school, luckily, in previous patch I saw how beautiful these guys work) is Terror. Its first spell available is Soul Harvest, an insanely powerful buff that increases your intellect a lot. And by a lot I mean 140 intellect (on level 8?) if used properly. Another one is Sacrifice that blows your dogs up, does really nasty damage to nearby enemies and has an interesting rune to combine with dogs rune Final Gift (extra health globe drop rate).

So, lets imagine a situation like this. Three summoned dogs charge into enemies, you blow them up, each has 15% probability to leave a health globe (you can improve gains from health globes in passives). Furthermore, each has 35% chance to resurrect and be blown up again. Poor bastards, monsters and dogs. Well, that's just one thrilling combination I thought of just by looking at skill descriptions; dunno how it would work in-game but the options given are just mind boggling.
 Diablo-3-witch-doctor-runes-screenshot-15.jpg  Diablo-3-witch-doctor-runes-screenshot-16.jpg
Deadly Combo
Did I even mention passives? (first one has 5% chance to raise dog from corpses of killed enemies). Another evidence of how dramatically things change with new skills or runes acquired is leveling. Usually while leveling you will open up some new runes and acquire new spell. Your gameplay style after using just those two new cheesy stuff will set monsters fleeing for their lives, in painful misery, wishing that they never were programmed to be in Diablo III (at least on normal hehe).

And all this is just from the single-player in beta; without two other schools, without decent gear, without MULTIPLAYER!

That's all folks, they did it again. We are badly screwed - wives will moan, girlfriends will bicker, work and school will be distant past. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. Maya people fucked up with their calendar, it's not 21st of December – the end of the world as we know it comes on 15th of May 2012. And I cannot hibernate to make the wait shorter.

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