Prior to the beginning of the Diablo III Beta, Blizzard spokespeople said that it was roughly the first half of Act One, with a few minor edits to remove story/plot info, and that the beta ended where it did partially since a lot of story info was encountered soon after the death of the Skeleton King. That much seems accurate, but I think the situation is much more interesting than that.
It’s my contention that the Diablo 3 Beta is a specially-constructed play-through that differs considerably from the full game. It’s much less than half of Act One, numerous sections of the Act One are skipped over in the beta, whole quests and levels have been removed, events are presented out of sequence, big changes have been made to the monsters that spawn and the loot that drops, and the location and timing of the Skeleton King quest has been relocated from where players will encounter him in the final game.
I’ve seen pieces of this theory here and there in forum posts, but the main credit goes to Grug for presenting the argument to me several weeks ago, during the early days of the beta test.
Here are the key points to this argument; click through to see them fleshed out and presented with supporting data.
- There are many more levels in Act One that are not in the beta than the levels that are in the beta.
- Monsters lack variety of progression, and the Cultists are almost entirely excluded.
- The 3 special inventory items are presented without any support story or quest connections.
- The Templar quest is rushed and incomplete.
- Leoric appears much too soon, with most of his story presented in areas (apparently) reached after player have defeated him.
BTW, before the hate brigade floods the comments, let me make clear that I don’t necessarily object to these beta modifications. This isn’t some kind of “the beta sux!” editorial. It’s an investigative examination, all of the points argued in it are open to debate, and some are probably wrong.
While I join most other beta testers in wishing there was more content, I don’t think the Diablo III beta is a waste or a disaster or anything like that. I do think there should be more to do — if not more of Act One, then some kind of mini-Nightmare difficulty to increase replayability. And yes, of course Blizzard should have included access to the Arena — both to give players a reason to keep playing, and to test out the Battle.net PvP matchmaking and character ranking systems.
As for the main issue in this article; the removal of story from the beta… I don’t really mind that. The developers have revealed much less of Diablo III than the Diablo II team did, prior to that game’s release, and that’s fine. It’s nice that we’ll still have plenty of story surprises when we finally get to play the full game.
SPOILERS!!!1! Not so much. There are a few minor spoilers in this article, but only when they served as useful supportive evidence for the arguments being made. Bigger spoilers are sometimes hinted at, and some links point to pages with big spoilers, but there are warnings before you click them, again where those are necessary to bolster the argument.
Click through for the whole thing.
Act One Levels
In my estimation, the beta is a lot less than half of Act One. Just counting all the Act One levels from the game code, (spoilers galore at that link!) there are 38 areas in the demo, and that includes some very small and short ones, some of which are counted more than once as your character revisits them; the little zombie fight area just in front of Tristram, for instance, and the Cathedral Garden waypoint area where Cain leads you, then heads back to town.
Thirty-eight might sound like a lot of levels, but there are 55 Act One levels that are *not* seen in the beta, and given how the levels grow larger as characters progress through the early areas, it seems a safe bet that many/most of the larger dungeons and levels in the Act are among the 55 we have not yet seen.
Furthermore, the levels in the beta are not presented as they will be in the final game. The first half of the beta is probably very close to the final game, but there are clearly some story and lore elements chopped out, and the later portions of the beta content skip entire quests and dungeons, before the Cathedral levels and especially the Skeleton King are moved up from later portions of the act, to provide a conclusion to the beta.
The Special Inventory Items
The Nephalem Cube, the Stone of Recall, and the Cauldron of Jordan are highly-useful items that are essential possessions to characters in the game. All three are available in the beta, and all three are basically thrown at your character without any lore, story, quest connection, tutorial, or anything appropriate for their unique nature and importance.
Remember how the Horadric Cube was obtained in Diablo II; there was a whole quest for it, with the cube found on the lowest level of a special dungeon. We’ll surely have quests like that in the final game for all three of the Diablo III special inventory items.
In the Beta, the Nephalem Cube is the only one with any kind of presentation at all, and even that’s quite skimpy. The Blacksmith just hands it over after you complete the (very simple) first portion of the Shattered Crown quest by killing his zombie wife. There’s no lore for the item, no info about where the Blacksmith obtained it, not a word about how powerful it is or how your character should use it, no mention of the Nephalem (who seem to be a key element of the game’s plot), etc.
Prior to the beta test, Bashiok said that the Blacksmith was the source of the Nephalem Cube, but that doesn’t mean the NPC just tosses it to your character like a stockbroker throwing the keys from his Beemer to a parking valet. In the full list of Act One levels (spoilers in that list) there’s a three-level dungeon called the Nephalem Cave. Perhaps the Blacksmith tells your character to travel to that cave to obtain this amazing item, (or to bring the Blacksmith something that he’ll trade you the cube for) and that portion was left out of the beta since it’s got plot and story detail the devs wished not yet to reveal?
As for the other two special items, there are both handed over without even the minimal quest connection the Nephalem Cube enjoys. Neither has any lore or a tutorial other than the item tool tip, and none of the NPCs say a word about them in quest dialogues. Neither item seems as tied to the game plot as the Nephalem Cube, but there must be *something* more to those items than them just being awarded you via some random, unrelated quest, as they are the case in the Beta.
Cultists have been one of the most common types of monsters in all previous Diablo III gameplay movies and Blizzcon demos. They featured prominently in the original WWI 2008 gameplay movie, they were included in the 2008 Blizzcon demo (which took place in many of the same early Act One levels that the beta does), they were legion in the Blizzcon 2009 demo, and they absolutely filled the Burning Halls level in the Blizzcon 2010 demo.
So where are they in the beta? Only on Cathedral level 3, in relation to the Templar. Half a dozen Cultists are casting some kind of energy beam to hold him prisoner, while a seventh stands around with nothing to do. That one attacks your character when you draw near, as do various skeletons who are summoned (by nothing) and appear around the Templar. There are only so many skeletons though, and if you just stand there and wait, about a dozen will appear, in groups of 2 or 3. And then… nothing happens.
The six remaining Cultists hold the force field indefinitely, no more monsters appear, and nothing attacks your character. You can even kill one of the six Cultists, and the other five will keep doing their force field thing. Forever. Eventually you have to smack them to free to Templar though, and when you do they die very easily and quickly. A few screens later you find 3 more Cultists “guarding” the shiny chest that holds the Templar’s gear, and they die just as easily. They have no attack spells, no summoning ability, and they hardly even bother to fight before they die.
(Incidentally, why are regular melee Cultists be the ones holding the energy beams on the Templar? They can’t cast spells. It should be some of the Cultist mages or summoners, at the very least, and I bet it will be, if that portion of the Act is at all the same in the final game.)
The Cultists are featured on a bestiary content page on the official Diablo site, and there is a cultist lore entry in the game, but it’s not available in the beta. In short, we’ve seen Cultists galore in every Blizzcon demo, where the monster type has always been the key monster for quests and story. It’s not like Cultists are high level enemies; they were present in great numbers in the Blizzcon 2008 demo, which took place in the same levels as the beta. In that demo the Skeleton King’s broken crown was actually obtained by killing a special Cultist boss, and the Cultists had names and even some voice acting.
Why the developers removed Cultists from spawning in early areas, I do not know. Perhaps they are tied too tightly to the overall game plot, and their story info was spoiler-y. After all, something fairly major must have happened to bring large groups of humans to worship and openly serve the Demons. It might have something to do with the corrupted state of Sanctuary since the destruction of the Worldstone? We shall see.
The Templar is Rushed
Speaking of Cultists, how about their captive Follower? In the beta, players find and rescue the Templar on the third level of the Cathedral, and as described above, it’s ridiculously easy. You free him by killing a few very weak monsters, and once he’s free you almost immediately run into a huge glowing chest which holds his gear. You can’t help but click it to get the Templar kitted up, and after moving through a lightly-populated dungeon with no side routes or detours, you find the Bone Wall-blocked stairway, the Templar breaks it, and seconds later you’re battling the underpowered Jondar, the Necromancer NPC who betrayed the Templar.
Jondar dies quickly, the Templar does his, “Betrayal can never be forgiven!” stabby stab thing, and that’s it… Two minutes after you first rescued the NPC you’re heading down to Catacombs 4 and you’ve got to decide if you want the Templar to come along or not.
It might be that way in the final game, but it seems weak design to have so little build up and development on that first Follower quest/interaction. Virtually as soon as the Templar explains who he is you find his gear, and then just as soon as he explains that he’s out for revenge you find the betrayer. The whole process seemed rushed and abbreviated, and that impression is only extended by the Skeleton King coming so soon after the Templar joins you. Most players don’t even have time to equip the Templar with a decent javelin and a pair of rings before the beta is ended, though that’s more about Leoric coming early than anything else.
Incidentally, there’s not a hint of the other Followers in the Beta, nor of the other Artisans. I don’t think those are big changes, though. The Scoundrel is found in the Wortham area, reached by the ferry out of Tristram, Karnya the Mystic (and her broken wagon) is rescued in the Leoric Highlands later in Act One, and the Jeweler is found in Leoric’s torture chamber levels, near another famous D1 returning boss monster. Only the Enchantress isn’t (obviously) found in Act One.
I don’t doubt that the Blacksmith and Templar are the first two you encounter, I just think it’s unlikely that the Templar mission will unfold in the final game in the rushed, seemingly-incomplete fashion it does in the beta test.
Leoric Comes Too Soon?
Yes… that’s what the queen said. *rimshot*
The beta test ends with a battle against the Skeleton King. That was known well in advance, and as previously stated, the Leoric battle came at the conclusion of the Blizzcon 2008 gameplay demo as well. (Though the levels and quests you passed through to reach him varied quite a bit from what we see in the beta.) This does not, however mean that Leoric will appear at this point, maybe 1/3 of the way through Act One, in the full game.
There are a lot of points of evidence that point to the Skeleton King encounter coming much later in the game than it does in the beta. (At least these points argue that it *should* come later. Maybe it doesn’t, though that would seem weird, from our present knowledge.)
As we saw in the Blizzcon 2010 demo and gameplay movie, there’s a huge, fiery, red-tinted dungeon full of blood and gore and torture devices and flames coming up through the floor. Though it was officially called the Halls of Agony, the whole place was clearly King Leoric’s torture chamber. In the game code there are actually 6 levels associated with the Halls of Agony. Three normal dungeon levels, 2 related to a special boss, and then a 6th where you apparently find/rescue one of the Artisans.
Also in the Blizzcon 2010 demo was a large blue-green colored jail level, which was inappropriately named The Torture Chambers of the Mad King. That level’s quest was to aid the headless ghost of Queen Alyssa, and at the end of the level a ghostly cinematic showed her execution at the hands of Lazarus, acting on Leoric’s command. (While that demo only showed one, the game code lists 4 Jail levels, 2 of which are related to a key Diablo 2 NPC.)
All those things; the quest events about freeing the ghosts of the Queen’s loyal servants, the lore about Leoric’s madness, the lore about Lazarus’ betrayal, the cinematic showing the Queen’s death, and the general theme and tome of the dungeons, argue strongly for it being encountered in the game *before* the final battle with Leoric. All of this material builds the story towards the final battle with the king; it explains events to the player, it develops Leoric’s character, etc. By any logical method of storytelling, all that would come before the player battles Leoric, and it’s weird and anticlimactic to put it afterwards.
Therefore, I think the battle with Leoric must come much later in the full game than it does in the demo/beta. The question then, is how much tougher must Leoric be if he’s found so much further along in the Act? A lot of fans have complained that Leoric is too easy; that he doesn’t hit hard enough, that his AI makes him easy meat for ranged attackers, that he doesn’t summon skeletons quickly enough to assist him, etc.
Those may or may not be valid arguments (The “Diablo III is too easy” debate rages on), but it’s entirely possible that the easy nature of Leoric is due to him being turned down in savagery, due to him being moved to much earlier in the beta than he should be in the final game.
What’s left to say? There are a number of pieces of evidence that point to the Diablo 3 Beta being a much modified version of the final game, rather than just an un-edited first half of Act One. We know Blizzard has spent a lot of time setting up self-contained demos for each year’s Blizzcon, and we’ve seen how hard they’ve worked to avoid spilling any story details in advance. Thus it’s no surprise that they’ve put in the effort to craft a beta/demo version of the game that’s got content, and a logical progression of events, but that nearly-seamlessly removes monsters, quests, levels, and other game features that would give things away in advance.
As much as some beta testers are annoyed at the lack of content, I think I’m more impressed at Blizzard snipping out so much of the content and rearranging other aspects of the game to give us a playable demo that provides a nice introduction to the game, without including anything that would give players deeper hints to how events will unfold in later portions of the game.