This is not one of those huge reports I write, but just a quick rundown of the PvE demo at Blizzcon. As we reported Friday morning, the PvE demo was the beta (albeit an updated version), with new players starting off at Clvl 1, right outside of Tristram. Just like you’ve seen on about 50 beta playthrough videos over the past six weeks.

    Despite that fact, the lines were much longer for the Diablo III PvE demo than for the PvP demo. Why? Well, you need to realize that Blizzcon is still primarily a WoW-fan event, and while most of those attendees know about D3, they’re not following it closely yet. Thus they’re not sick of the beta, and since they aren’t used to playing an isometric ARPG, they wanted their first play experience to be the real game, with quests and story and a gradual learning curve. Not a PvP match where someone like you would hand them their ass, over and over again, in the DiabloWikiArena.

    [Update: People are choosing to read WoW bashing into this, when it’s not intended. (For once.) Every Blizzcon since the first one in 2005 has been primarily directed towards and attended by WoW players, and most of those people have not yet played D3. Of course players getting their hands on an unfamiliar game for the first time are going to choose PvE instead of PvP. See the comments for more.]

    As I said, the PvE demo was not the same thing beta testers have been playing online for a month and a half. It had the same basic content, but it was a much updated version of the client with many bug fixes and game changes. The biggest were the DiabloWikiDemon Hunter skills changes, (now with Hatred Spenders/Generators), and the fact that all Wizard and Witch Doctor skills used weapon damage and speed in their output calculations. With just 15 minutes to play on the show floor, no one could really test out skill damage variance from weapons, but that should really change up the play style and equipment choices for those classes.

    The most interesting thing I heard about the PvM demo came from Jay Wilson during the Open Q&A panel, when he said that a big beta patch was coming up soon, and that after it went live they were going to start adding lots more testers. There’s no ETA on that patch, but it’s great news for bored beta testers eager for some game changes, and better news for most of you guys, still waiting on your beta invites.

    Click through for some notes on the differences the new Demon Hunter skill system made for that class’ play style and speed.

    The Demon Hunter skill changes made a big difference in even the very early beta play. The short play time of course limited the testing, but in addition to the DiabloWikiHatred spenders and generators, the skill order has been much changed around. The class now starts out with DiabloWikiImpale, which is a huge Hatred spender. It is basically a one-shot kill on anything, with a slow firing rate and no AoE. It also costs 40 Hatred per shot, and with a total pool of 100 and the DH’s new much slower Hatred regen rate, you can do the math on how seldom the DH can bang one of these out. Fortunately, as you’ve no doubt seen in gameplay videos, a new character hits Clvl 2 while still right in front of the gates of Tristram, and it’s not as if anything more than regular attack is needed for those opening zombies battles.

    DiabloWikiHungering Arrow comes in at Clvl 2, with HA serving as a 5-per-use Hatred generator. So yeah, you’ll need to fire about 6 or 7 of those, plus the regen, to get enough Hatred for a single Impale. On the other hand, HA is a very effective skill, and can now be used infinitely without any resource deprivations. Even though it’s got a low Hatred cost in the current DH design, you can empty your bulb in seconds when using dual xbows… which means you’ll be able to fill it nearly as quickly in the new Hatred generating system. Note that Hungering Arrow has a new graphic too — the projectiles now glow with a sparkly white color, not unlike Guided Arrow in Diablo 2.)

    DiabloWikiCaltrops is also added at Clvl 2; it’s a trap that you throw to a targeted location. It activates when an enemy is near, slowing the movement speed of anything in the fairly small radius of effect. DiabloWikiEvasive Fire at Clvl 3 and DiabloWikiBolo Shot at Clvl 4 are also Hatred generators, and the machine gun delight that is DiabloWikiRapid Fire arrives at Clvl 5, though it matches Impale’s 40 Hatred price.

    It’s kind of a weird progression, with many lower Hatred cost spenders at higher levels, while the big 40 spenders are the first two enabled; both giving pretty much instant overpowered killing ability, but costing so much they can only be used occasionally. It’s going to be very interesting to test out a DH with the new layout, and compare the class to how it plays now. Hopefully quite a few of you guys will be doing that… in the immediate future.

    Thanks to Grug, Nizaris, Wolfpaq, The Eliminator, and several other anonymous sources for sharing their play experiences with me via Skype and IM.

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