Introducing the Barbarian
I have always played Barbarians. In Diablo 2, the Barbarian was my favorite class to PvE, PvP and even magic find with; there's nothing like standing in the face of evil and swinging a giant sword into it. Even moreso, there's nothing like looting the corpse of a mob twice and finding a Windforce no other class would have gotten. The Barbarian is the only class that was grandfathered into Diablo 3 but how much of the Barbarian "feel" has carried over?
First things first, the Barbarian is still what he has been in Diablo 2: Big, strong and buff. Around this framework however, a lot of the core class mechanics have changed. The main resource for special attacks is no longer Mana but Fury, which works much like it does for the Warrior in World of Warcraft. That is, certain attacks create Fury and other attacks use it. If you leave combat, it slowly depletes until it reaches zero, so you'll constantly be forced to use Fury generating attacks in order to dish out the most damage.
Anger Management: Fury and you.
With this "new" system however comes a huge change to how the class plays: From the moment you are thrown into the game world at level one, you will never need to use a regular attack. You will also never have to rely on leech mechanics to keep your Energy up in order to use special attacks; instead, special attacks power each other, creating a much more fluid experience compared to the early levels of Barbarianism in Diablo 2.
So what skills does the Barbarian possess in the Diablo 3 Beta? As mentioned, there are skills which create Fury and those which use it up. Let's have a look at the skills you are "born with" and learn in the first few levels:
Generate: 6 Fury per attack
Cost: 20 Fury
Cost: 20 Fury
Cost: 20 Fury
As you can see, the Barbarian starts with his most important mechanic already put into place. By level two you will learn Battle Rage, the "buff" of choice to burn Fury on and improve damage. A clever way of dealing with a mechanic that will be new to a lot of players, by the time they reach level four they will have figured out that they can drop "Attack" from their skill bars. Just in time, because level 4 brings out the big guns:
Generate: 4 Fury per attack
Cleave. Let this one sink in for a while, as early as level four, the Barbarian gets a free (Fury generating, actually) AoE ability without a cooldown. At this point, my action bars consisted of only two buttons (you don't get a third ability until level six): Cleave and Battle Rage. This is all you need to get through the waves of monsters the game throws at you and it speaks volumes about the power of this combo that I didn't even learn any new skills until I got Frenzy at level 11 (but more on that later).
The Barbarian has always been best at dealing brute group damage with Whirlwind being the defacto standard for the class. Until now. Gone are the days of grinding to level 24 and having to pray for enough manaleech to be a viable killer as a Barbarian; the Diablo 3 Barbarian starts off with a bang which makes the class much more enjoyable.
Crush your enemies: Leveling up.
So once you get Cleave, leveling becomes a breeze. Much like every melee class, the Barbarian is very gear dependant but Blizzard took great care to ensure that you will always find ample amounts of weapons. Unlike Diablo 2, there are no stat requirements on gear anymore, which means that you don't have to pump points into strength or dexterity in order to equip that amazing sword you just found. I was dumbfounded when I found a Javelin that was stronger than my current weapon and just equipped with without thinking twice about it. I have used swords, axes, spears, clubs and even staves on my Barbarian without any hassle.
The levels five to ten introduce a bunch of new skills, most of which bring some utility to the Barbarian:
Generate: 15 Fury
Cooldown: 10 seconds
Generate: 15 Fury
Cooldown: 12 seconds
Cost: 20 Fury
Cost: 20 Fury
Cooldown: 60 Seconds
Diablo 2 Veterans will notice the comeback of Leap Attack, which still works just as great as ever. Ground Stomp acts much like the stun shouts did and serves as a great defensive tool, as unneeded as it may seem in these low levels. However, Blizzard decided to mix it up a bit with something we aren't used to in Diablo yet: Cooldowns. Ignore Pain serves as a defensive last resort, making the Barbarian practically invulnerable. This was the skill I added to my third slot and used liberally in both group and boss encounters where the risk of being overwhelmed loomed near. Hardcore players will come to love this.
Generate: 3 Fury per attack
See them driven before you: Frenzy.
Level 11 brings Frenzy and it works just like it did in Diablo 2 and World of Warcraft. The lowered damage output is more than made up for in attack speed, nevermind the fact that you can switch to a different attack once you have it stacked up. Left mouse for Frenzy, right mouse for Cleave is what my setup looked like from level 11 onward and I haven't changed it since. Frenzy does more than just help you kill mobs faster, it gives you the feeling that your character has actually grown. My damage output rose significantly as soon as I got it and I felt like I doubled my kill speed at least. Combat flow is something very subjective but everyone I have talked to shared my experience.
Swords/Daggers: 10% increased damage
Maces/Axes: 5% chance to critical hit
Polearms/Spears: 10% attack speed
Mighty Weapons: 1 Fury per hit
The last few skills you will learn in the Diablo 3 Beta are mostly passive skills, which are in their own category (and slot) now. Since you will only have one slot, Weapons Master is the obvious choice here. Revenge stands for another new addition, reactionary skills. Those of you who play World of Warcraft will know how these work, they only become active if a certain condition is fulfilled. I've toyed around with Revenge a bit but I have to admit that at the current stage of the game, its niche just isn't big enough. Most of the times when you could be using Revenge, you might as well be using something else. It will be interesting to see how the concept of reactionary skills develops once the game goes live.
Hear the lamentations of the women: The verdict.
The Barbarians in Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 don't share a lot except for the name. What Blizzard has done is create a hybrid between the Warrior from WoW and the original Barbarian with a heavy focus on combat flow. The fact that the player has zero incentive to use normal attacks works well in the field of motivation but the question has to be asked: why include a normal attack at all if there is no upside to using it?
In the same lieu, certain skills are much too strong compared to others. Frenzy and Cleave clearly dominate the low level spectrum and Blizzard has to work on making the other combat skills stand out a bit more until release. If the game doesn't give me a reason to switch my skills from level four to eleven, something is wrong. I enjoy playing the Barbarian tremendously but there are some kinks that need to be worked out.
Whether or not the Barbarian can hold up as a magicfinder can not be determined at the time. The droprate for rare items in the beta is atrociously low and none of the MF skills are in the level range that can be tested. The fact that they are included at all however gives me high hopes that the Barbarian will once again be a viable MF character.
Despite a few very minor compaints, I am very satisfied with the state of the class right now. Blizzard has managed to balance the old and the new and has created a class that feels as strong as a melee should, while not making it imbalanced. At the same time, the changes in game mechanics have turned the Barbarian into a totally different beast; instead of having to wait at least until the end of normal difficulty, he now packs a punch from the very start; as he should.
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