Seeking Sanctuary: The Definitive Diablo III Preview

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Introduction

Diablo III is the sequel to one of the most popular games of all time; its launch on May 15 could cripple college graduation rates, triple the number of insomniacs worldwide, and slash national productivity. Believe us--we know. We've spent about six weeks with the beta and have just recently escaped from Khanduras to detail our findings.

This time, there's a twist, however. Our preview is written in two parts; a big-picture examination of the game and a fine-grained, behind-the-scenes look at how Diablo 3 deals with some of the problems and design flaws endemic to its predecessor.

End of Days


Diablo III's story begins here, in Tristram's old cathedral.

You arrive in New Tristram roughly a week after a falling star smashes through the old cathedral (shown above). The town is beset by rampaging hordes of undead, and loremaster Deckard Cain is lost in the depths of the old Monastery where the Lord of Terror first awoke decades earlier. The player's first task is to rescue Cain and end the undead threat.


Deckard, from a Diablo III storyboard

Deckard, already old in the first game, now bears a passing resemblance to a Shar Pei and is convinced that the Falling Star heralds the End of Days. His adopted niece, Leah, is less certain. It's been 20 years since the archangel Tyrael destroyed the Worldstone atop Mount Arreat (the conclusion to Diablo II: Lord of Destruction), but the intervening decades have been dark and troubled. New heroes are needed to prevent the rise of Azmodan and Belial, and the road to Hell begins in the moldering ruins of Tristram.


Zombie Steve Ballmer makes an appearance -- you can almost hear it moan "Developers..."

These early events play like a love letter to fans of the original Diablo. Unlike Diablo II, which only sent the player back to the ruins of Tristram for a single mission, Diablo III's first act is threaded with the journals and letters of the original townspeople. The nameless hero of Diablo I who became the Dark Wanderer of Diablo II was originally named Aidan. He was the son of the Mad King Leoric, who returned to Tristram in the original game to right the wrongs of his father. In the first game, the Skeleton King was a unique boss encountered in the upper levels of the Cathedral; he returns as the first boss in Diablo III.
 

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