The limited three day open beta for Diablo III has drawn to a close, and while some players weren’t crazy about all the game disconnects and the need to sign up for a Battle.net account, others were thrilled to give the game a try before its wide release on May 15.  We spent all weekend running through the beta, and even though it was only limited to a level 13 cap and one major boss encounter at its conclusion, it definitely delivered the goods.

Diablo III retains all the goodness of the previous games when it comes to combat and looting like a bandit.  You choose from one of five character types (like the ones we had broken down in a previous article) and then take part in a series of action/RPG style battles, using whatever abilities your character is best equipped with.  It’s played from a slight top-down angled perspective, similar to previous games, but looks way better than before.  Enemies actually splatter blood on the floor this time around, rather than just dying unceremoniously.  What’s more, it’s easy to spot whatever goodies they drop, which you can add to your collection and help level up your character.

Yes, you will level up.  Like crazy.  Diablo III enables you to gain experience points with each enemy you kill, along with every ability you execute.  You can also build statistics with item pick-ups, including armor and weapons that are left behind by baddies.  Looting also makes a welcome return, and to keep things fair with fellow players, the rewards are actually divided up if you’re playing in a co-op session.  No more arguing about, “Hey, you got more money than me off the guy I killed!”  This may not be a huge plus for everyone, but there’s no question that Blizzard has the balance figured out.

In addition to increased stats and abilities, Diablo III also provides a new set of rewards that will be familiar to Xbox Live players – Achievements.  Over the course of the game, you’ll be given tasks that will help you unlock Achievements that you can share with other players.  Some are more difficult than others – like tracking down a Jar of Souls that doesn’t appear in every game, and not entirely out in the open – but nevertheless they add some difficulty to the game, along with a reasonable amount of purpose.

Even with occasional glitches and servers that were less than reliable, Diablo III managed to hold up a pretty strong performance during the beta.  As mentioned above, the animation is impressive, especially when you leave an enemy spurting blood on the floor.  The environments are cool too, offering a bit of freshness, while also paying tribute to the Diablo games of old.  Still, the voicework left something to be desired.  Some of these folks just sound a little out of place for the Diablo world, most notably Deckard Cain, who comes across like an extra from The Cabin In the Woods.  Regardless, fans should enjoy the presentation.

The only downside to Diablo III is that, at the moment, it’s exclusive for PC play.  This is a game that we feel would be right at home on consoles, with its action/RPG style set-up and the ability to work with others online – something that would be a huge feature for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.  Maybe sometime in the future, Blizzard will give console a second look and share the joy.  But, for now, PC owners can relish in the exclusiveness.

Thanks to Blizzard for giving us a chance to roll through the Diablo III beta.  Though it was limited (level 13, really?), it does set the stage for the more epic experience coming in just a few weeks’ time.