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Diablo 3 for WoW Players Part 5: Gameplay

May 14, 2012

Woot!  Who here is excited for the Diablo 3 release tonight?  Eeeeeeeee!  😀

Welcome to Part 5 of my guide to Diablo 3 for WoW players.  If you’re just tuning in, here’s a recap:

  • Part 1 gave a synopsis of Diablo lore prior to the events of the original Diablo game, as well as a brief discussion of some of the similarities between the lore of Diablo and the lore of Warcraft.
  • Part 2 gave a synopsis of the lore of the first Diablo game and discussed more similarities between Diablo and WoW.
  • Part 3 covered the lore of Diablo 2 and a few more similarities to WoW.
  • Part 4 covered the Diablo class system.
  • This installment will cover some basic Diablo 3 gameplay and offer a few handy tips to help you start out.

The stage is set…

Sanctuary has fallen apart around you.  Your home, your family, everything you ever held dear, has been destroyed — ripped apart before your eyes.  The institutions that once seemed so secure, so reliable, are no more.  There is no government, no army, no force to uphold the law.  There is only the crumbling remains of society, small groups of people gathering together in what shelter they can find, scrabbling for existence.  Even the powerful religious and magical orders have deteriorated or dwindled away.

Everywhere you go you see evidence of death and despair.  Fields lie fallow, trade has ground to a halt.  Most people don’t expect to live to see another year.  They continue to survive out of habit, because what else is there to do?  Some attempt to fulfill their duties, despite being hopelessly overmatched and undersupplied.  It seems that everyone has turned mercenary.

You are not much better.  More powerful perhaps, better able to battle the forces of darkness that overrun your world than the common peasant is.  But you also callously loot the corpses of the fallen; barter your services in exchange for gold, gear and assistance; and are driven by despair, revenge or desire for power.  You know you stand alone in the face of all the powers of Hell.  At best, you can expect help from only a handful of others.  The odds are stacked against you.  If you fall, all is lost.

This is not the cartoon world of Azeroth.  Despite all similarities of theme and structure, you are entering a very different realm.  Sanctuary is bleak, macrabre, and darkly humorous.  Here is what you need to know in order to survive your travels there.

What the heck kind of game is this, anyway?

I’m not the best person to ask about game genres, but I’m going to describe it like this:  It’s an action/adventure RPG dungeon crawler.  It has isometric graphics that are very artistic, though you may be disappointed if you expect Skyrim-level realism.  It’s really a single-player with a multi-player option.  The max party size is 4.  You must have an active internet connection and a battlenet account to play.  There is no monthly subscription fee, just pay for the game once and you’re good to go.

Basically, it’s a game about killing monsters and getting gear.

So, you said you wanted a challenge?

There are four different levels of difficulty: Normal, Nightmare, Hell and Inferno.  You need to play through each one in order to unlock the next.  Your character will continue to level up through the first three difficulties and should hit max level before attempting Inferno.  Inferno is designed to be extremely challenging.  Apparently, none of the testers were able to beat it.

If you want an even more difficult challenge, you can create a Hardcore character.  Hardcore toons are deleted automatically upon death.  Yup, that’s right — if they die once, it’s game over.  I don’t think I’ll roll one myself because I get too invested in my characters, but if you’re up for the challenge then go for it!  (However, I think you need to have played through Normal mode once before you can roll Hardcore.)

Although they won’t be available at launch, Blizzard is also planning to release PvP arenas in a future patch.  If you want to test your skills against something more intelligent than a demon, this is your chance.

Diablo will also have achievements, just like WoW.  Ok, this doesn’t really have much to do with difficulty settings, but I wanted to mention it somewhere.

Your mouse is your new best friend.

Diablo is all about clicking things.  First of all, to move your character you left-click on the location you want to move to.  If you want to continue moving, (like, say, to somewhere off-screen), you can just hold your left mouse button down while pointing it in that general direction.  It can take some time to adjust to this if you’re used to moving WASD.  Don’t get too frustrated though — if you give it a chance you’ll soon get used to it.  (And then you’ll do what I did and come back to WoW and wonder why your character is stuck.)  >.<

To attack mobs you simply click on them.  This will also fire off your primary attack.  (I’ll explain ability keybinds below.)  You cannot tab through multiple mobs, you just have to keep clicking frantically on each one in turn.

You will notice that moving and attacking use the same button, which can sometimes result in a squishy ranged character running over to the big scary monster and shooting it at point blank range.  Generally, that doesn’t end so well.  If you plan to play a caster you need to become acquainted with the awesome shift+click.  Holding the shift key while you click causes you to stand in one place while attacking.  Very handy.

Clicking on everything in the environment is also highly beneficial.  Mouse over objects to see if you can interact with them.  If they become highlighted, go ahead and click.  Gold and magic items are hidden all over the place.

Map exploration.

Most of the dungeon maps are randomly generated.  There are a few special maps that are always the same, but generally you will get a new map every time you replay an area.  You will have to explore around to uncover the map and figure out where things are.

If you take only one piece of advice from me, let it be this: Explore everything.  Open up all areas of every map and clear each zone.  If you find your quest objective early, do not leave half the map unexplored.  Why?  Well, for one thing, you want to get as much XP as possible.  Otherwise you’ll run into trouble at higher level and have to pause to grind XP for a bit.  More importantly, the best loot is often found in random chests or is dropped by unique (rare/elite) mobs, not the bosses.  It’s worth your while to clear everything.

Another good reason to explore is to make sure you find all the waypoints.  Waypoints are portals from one place to another.  They look like white, square landmarks made of stone.  Walk over a waypoint to activate it and open a list of all the places you can teleport to.

Part way through Act 1 you will also learn an ability called Town Portal which will automatically create a two-way portal between town and wherever you are.  Stepping through the portal takes you to town and stepping back through it takes you to where you just were.  Makes vendoring loot a snap!

Abilities and keybinds.

As WoW players, we’re all used to the idea of pulling any ability out of our spellbook and keybinding it to whatever button we feel like.  Get rid of that idea right now.  Diablo abilities work in an entirely different manner.

Abilities in Diablo 3 are divided into categories.  The categories have slightly different names for each class, but each class has 6 categories.  You can only have one active spell from each category at a time.  This means that if you have 4 spells in the Defensive category, you have to choose one of them to put on your bars and the other three remain unavailable to you.  However, you are not locked into your choices and can switch spells out at any time.

Let’s take the Barbarian as an example.  At level 3 the Barbarian has three abilities:

  • Primary abilities: Bash and Cleave.
  • Secondary abilities: Hammer of the Ancients.

Primary abilities are always bound to left-click.  Our Barbarian has to choose whether he wants to use Bash or Cleave.  If he chooses Cleave, then he cannot assign Bash to a key.

Hammer of the Ancients is a Secondary ability, which are always bound to right-click.  Our Barbarian can use both Cleave and Hammer of the Ancients at the same time, because they are in different categories.

Categories 3-6 are bound to keyboard buttons instead of the mouse.  Category 3 is bound to the number 1, category 4 to the number 2, etc, etc.  It is possible to go into the settings and change which button a category is bound to, but you cannot ever bind more than one ability from a category at a time.

Complicating matters further, as you level you will unlock runes that modify abilities.  There are 5 runes per ability at max level.  Again, you can only apply one rune at a time, but you can change runes whenever you want.  Eventually you also get passive abilities, and at max level you can have three passive abilities active at once.  This system allows for an incredible amount of ability customization.  You can tailor your character to your playstyle, to the composition of your group, and to the demands of any particular encounter.

I’m honestly boggled at the sheer number of possible builds for each class.  I had my physicist husband help me with the math, and we calculated the number of possible Barbarian builds at endgame to be 60,197,437,440.  Yes, that is over sixty billion.  Now, obviously some of those builds are going to be terrible, and my husband assures me that theorycrafters will be undaunted and still come up with the best builds for us all to copy.  But still!  Over sixty billion possible builds for the Barbarian class alone!

Before that thought frightens you away, let me reassure you that the game walks you through the process of choosing abilities in a very user-friendly manner.  Don’t worry if it seems confusing now, you’ll get it when you see it without any problem.

A few handy combat tips.

  • Although there is no damage meter, you can turn on floating combat text and monster health bars.  The bars are like name plates in WoW, but they only show up over mobs that have already been damaged.
  • Unique mobs are the equivalent of elite or rare mobs in WoW.  They are more dangerous and harder to kill than normal mobs.  They are usually a different color than other mobs of the same model and have a sort of glow effect around them to help you identify them.  Most will have a special ability like “teleports” or “horrifies”, which is listed right in the mob’s name on it’s nameplate.  Unique mobs drop extra gold and have a higher chance of dropping magical items.
  • Health Globes are red spheres that drop from many monsters.  Walking through a Health Globe will heal everyone in your party.  They were plentiful in the beta, but I imagine they will get more scarce at high level.  You can also buy health potions from vendors.
  • I have no idea what happens when you die, because I never died in beta.  However, in D2 there was a pretty steep Death Penalty: You lost all the gold you were carrying and a portion of your XP.  You also respawned naked in town and had to run back to your corpse to get your gear, which was being conveniently guarded by whatever had killed you in the first place.  I have heard from other people that the death penalty is not as severe in D3, and is now only a 10% durability loss and you respawn at the nearest Waypoint.  Don’t quote me on it though.  Try to stay alive just in case.

Save the world?  Nah, I’m just here for the loot.

Just as in WoW, loot is conveniently color coded by quality; however, the colors are different:

  • Grey: Junk items.  Vendor these, unless you can use it in an empty gear slot.
  • White: Normal items.  Essentially, these are also junk.  Vendor them, unless you have an empty gear slot.
  • Blue: Magical items.  These are roughly equivalent to WoW green-quality items.
  • Yellow: Rare items.  These are roughly equivalent to WoW purples, except that you find low-level yellows as well.  If you think of each Act as a gear tier, it will perhaps make sense.  At the end of each Act you’re likely to get a few yellows, but they won’t be as good as the yellows you’ll get from the next Act.
  • Orange: Legendary and Set items.  Old school Diablo players will call these “Uniques”.  “Legendary” is a term introduced to D3 from WoW.
  • Green: Quest or lore items.

To collect the gold that drops from mobs, simply walk through it; however, you still have to click on dropped gear to loot it.  You don’t have to worry about party members stealing your loot either because separate loot drops for each individual.  Party members can’t see your loot drops and you can’t see theirs.  You can still trade items to each other, but there’s no way to ninja an item.

Magical items have random stats and a random amount of each stat (within a range).  The same item could drop twice and have completely different stats.  Or one could have +4 strength and the other +1 strength.  Random stats are random.  There are dozens of possible secondary stats that could appear on gear.  Don’t stress out about it too much.  Try to wear gear with your primary stat on it, or something that improves your resource regen, survivability, combat stats, or resistances.  If all else fails, extra gold from monsters or a better chance of finding magical items is always nice.

Inventory and Storage

Your character comes with a certain amount of personal inventory that cannot be increased.  Your backpack will always be the same size.  Small items take up one space, large items take up two.  This is a vast improvement on D2 where there were about 6 different sizes and shapes of items and looting always devolved into Tetris.

There is an option to turn on auto-equipping, which will make your character automatically equip usable gear if it matches an empty gear slot.  This can be very handy when you’re first starting out.  Don’t forget to check to see if you pick up better gear later on.

In the middle of town you will see a large wooden chest.  This is your Stash, the equivalent of the WoW bank.  However, unlike in WoW, your Stash (and your gold) is shared across all characters on your account.  Use this knowledge to your advantage.  A really awesome yellow-quality bow dropped for my Monk on beta.  She couldn’t equip it, but she put it in the Stash.  When I rolled a Demon Hunter I then instantly had an overpowered weapon and ran around one-shotting mobs for several levels.  It was like budget heirloom gear, and was totally awesome.


Early on you are going to open up the Blacksmith artisan who can craft gear for you.  Thing is, he needs raw materials to do so.  In order to get raw materials you have to give him magical items to salvage.  Salvaging an item is exactly the same as disenchanting it — you break it down into its components which destroys the item in the process.  I opened the blacksmith right after I’d sold all my random magical crap.  I suggest that you try to save as many random blue-quality items as you have space for until you open him up.  Only vendor greys, whites and whatever blues you can’t store.

Later on we’ll open up a Jewelcrafter artisan as well.  Artisans can be trained to make better quality items.  Training costs a lot of gold, but gold is pretty plentiful in Diablo games.  Artisans are also shared across all the toons on your account, so you only have to pay to level them up once.


Just like in Wow, you go to vendors to sell your junk and have your gear repaired.  Unlike in WoW, vendors might actually sell some gear worth buying.  Vendor gear is randomly generated every so often, and sometimes you’ll get lucky with a really good item.

Auction House

As I’m sure most people know, D3 is implementing two different auction houses: A normal, gold-based AH and a real money AH.  I did not get the chance to check out either on the beta, so I have very little commentary.  I did notice that the AH is not accessible in town.  You have to log out of your game and go to the AH from the main menu.

I’ve also heard that the real-money auction house allows you to cash out to your Battlenet account, and that this may be a very bad idea.  Apparently there’s limitations on what your Battlenet account can be used for.  For example, you can’t purchase WoW game time with it.  I’d suggest being very careful with the real money AH and doing your research before using it.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!

If you are playing D3 in single-player mode, you will eventually gain access to various NPC companions (called Followers) to assist you:

  • Templar: Melee NPC, has some tanking and healing abilities.
  • Scoundrel: Ranged NPC, damage dealing, damage buffs and a cc ability.
  • Enchantress: Utility NPC — cc, shields, buffs.

You can have one active Follower at time.  In the first Act, you only have access to the Templar.  The Templar is very helpful to ranged classes, as he can offer them some protection.  Once the Scoundrel is available, it’ll probably be best for melee classes to choose him, since he’ll be able to attack ranged enemies that might be out of reach of melee.  I have no idea how useful the Enchantress will turn out to be.

Followers have their own abilities you can choose from.  You can also equip them with gear.  However, as soon as you join a multi-player party your Follower will disappear and head back to town.

It’s possible to open up your game to random players, or to join open games yourself, though I’d personally rather play with people I know.  By default, your game will be set to “quick play”, which allows people on your friends list to automatically join you without so much as a by-your-leave.  If you’d rather not have people popping in unexpectedly you can turn that option off.  Every time a player joins a game the strength of the monsters increases to compensate.  This prevents a full group from completely overpowering the content.

Every player in a party is represented by a banner that appears in town next to the Waypoint.  Clicking on a player’s banner will teleport you to their location.  This means you don’t have to wait for your friends to catch up to you if they join a game in progress.  Banners are similar to guild tabards as you can customize the look of them.

What fun is a game without a story?

As in WoW, the Diablo story advances through quests.  However, Diablo questing is extremely linear.  You will pick up quests from NPCs, but the quests will automatically update as you complete them.  The game is very good about telling you where to go and what you are supposed to do next.  Quest objectives will be displayed as a blue pulsating circle on your map when you get close to them.

What’s really awesome about D3 is how the lore has been integrated into the game.  For instance, whenever you kill a new type of monster a little window will open up in the bottom right corner of your screen and a voiceover will offer a little tidbit of lore about that creature.  You can stop playback if you don’t want to hear it at that moment, and then later go into the Lore tab of your UI to replay it or read the text.

While exploring and clicking on everything you can, you will also find various books that will trigger a similar voiceover with additional lore.  Again, you can stop playback if you like, or replay it through the lore tab.  Some of the books I found on all my characters, while some others appeared to be more rare.  Definitely keep an eye out for them if you’re a lore junkie!  (Hint: Frequently check both Deckard Cain’s house and Leah’s room at the inn.)

You were not prepared!  But now you are.

Well, there you have it.  I’ve prepared you for D3 the best I can.  I hope this information helps you as you begin your adventures.  I’m sure I forgot a few things, but probably nothing important.  If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

I might also do one last post on D3 lore, and clarify a few things that other people asked about…  We’ll see.

Good luck and have fun!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Aralosseien permalink
    May 14, 2012 6:08 pm

    Hey, just wanted to say that your series on this has been great, especially this last post – I can go in now knowing all the things I’d have ended up googling, so thank you! Makes it a lot easier to just be excited 🙂

    • May 14, 2012 6:14 pm

      You’re very welcome! I know that everyone would eventually figure this stuff out on their own, but I figured I’d try to spare people part of the learning curve.

      May your install be smooth and your servers stable!

  2. JD Kenada permalink
    May 14, 2012 8:38 pm

    Click based games? Oh God if I get this I’m sooooo going to die a lot. But if I ever beat it, I’m sure I’ll start hardcore mode because I’m a glutton for punishment.

    • May 15, 2012 7:19 am

      Haha! I could never bring myself to start a Hardcore character. The thought of putting hours of work in and then losing it in an instant is too painful.

      • JD Kenada permalink
        May 15, 2012 7:48 am

        You might not have been following my blog long enough, but for a little while I was doing “One Life To Live.” If the WoW character died, I deleted it. Once again, just got too busy to continue with it.

      • May 15, 2012 8:52 am

        You sir, are crazy!

      • JD Kenada permalink
        May 15, 2012 9:34 am

        Well, DUUUUUHHHH.


  3. May 15, 2012 12:42 am

    Great series! Didn’t have much of a clue about Diablo 3 (or any Diablo games) before the Beta, so this is perfect to get me “up to speed.” Thanks for all your work!

  4. May 15, 2012 11:14 am

    When do you think you’ll know if you’re doing a final part? I want to feature this series when it’s finished! 🙂

    • May 15, 2012 12:34 pm

      I think I will do a final part. It feels unfinished as it stands now, and there are a couple corrections I want to make to the Gameplay installment. (I was inaccurate on a couple details. Serves me right for trying to rely on my memory weeks after the beta ended.)

      I’m not sure how quickly I can get it done. It’s tough for me to write posts on raid days, but I’ll try to finish it over the next couple of days.

      Also, thanks for wanting to feature me! 😀

    • May 23, 2012 2:14 pm

      Uck, if you still want to do that feature you might as well. I just haven’t had time to write anything lately. Sorry! 😦

  5. June 18, 2012 10:53 am

    So far I am very happy with Diablo 3, but I am not sure if I like the AH situation. It seams that the AH will make the game far too easy to play for the unskilled and inexperianced player which makes becoming a seasoned serious player not very beneficial. I don’t know for sure ,we’ll see I guess.


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