Editor’s Note: In order to ensure that our Diablo III review is complete, we’re holding off on our final evaluation until the real money auction house goes live. Additionally, Chris will be including experiences from every difficulty level in his opinion. While this does mean our full assessment is still a few days off, you can be sure that it will include all of the launch window features. -MF

Update: The second part of our Diablo III review will be live here at 6:00 PM PST on June 13, 2012.

No matter how poetically I wax upon my love for this game, there is no way that I can truly do it justice in just a simple review. I will do what I can to give you a solid understanding of what makes Blizzard Entertainment‘s Diablo III so special, and I will do it in a two part review. This initial review will cover the game up to this point. That means no coverage of the real money transaction auction house, and no coverage of Inferno difficulty.

I will talk a little bit about the Hell difficulty for Act 1, but more of that will be in our final coverage coming in the very near future. I don’t feel comfortable reviewing the game without spending a great amount of time in inferno difficulty to give you a solid understanding of the game as a whole. As of this writing, I am 60-ish hours in with my Monk and I am taking the role of a tank in my group. Most of my review will be written from that perspective, but I have experienced each class a bit, and my buddy Drakka has spent a great deal of time on his Witch Doctor, so I can give a good feel for how the game works in a duo-style of play. Now that the ground rules are out there, lets get right to the work.

Diablo III does everything right, love it or hate it. The die-hards, people who have played Diablo since the demo for the first came out, have cried foul at some of the neutered parts of the game. Previously, each level allowed you to assign points to your specific stats. This means, if you were going to play a tank type character, you could dump a huge amount of your stat points into vitality, but the same character could use bows by focusing on dexterity.

I hated that it was removed when I first started in on D3 as well, but with time, something became very clear. I’m not making choices that will gimp my character in the long run. My monk has gone from being the main dps guy in our group to the main tank. If I would have spent points through normal and nightmare difficulties, I would have been shoehorned into a particular role. With the auto assignment, the gear I choose, and the skills I set are the important part of my character, not “mistakes” I may have made at level ten. I can’t stress enough how great this freedom is and how much you will appreciate it as you move into the higher acts of Nightmare, Hell and Inferno.

Another change comes from the skills that characters obtain. In the first game, each character learned skills from books. That meant the wizards, warriors and rogues each learned the same spells over the course of the game. Diablo II brought in skill trees that allowed you to build a character the way you wanted by specializing as you leveled. It wasn’t until a late patch in the games life cycle that players were allowed to respec their points. This would cause serious issues if you had not planned out your character from level one.

Say, for example, I wanted to play a sorceress and started by focusing on the ice skill tree.Over time I realized that fire was a more appropriate tree for my play style, but it didn’t matter, I already built an ice caster. Reroll. Hardcore players loved it, and I do like the challenge, but I enjoy the third installment’s system even more. With D3 I can change skills and runes on the fly, with a minor cooldown, and change how my character plays as the needs change.

Skills are the most important part of your character, but not the game, that is the honor left for the loot. Your character unlocks a new skill or rune every single level. All 60 of them. Non-stop progression and new stuff is what will keep you hooked through the game. I get to sit down, look at the battles we just survived, or died fighting, and rethink how my character should be set. When Drakka and I first started playing on Hell difficulty, we found a group of champions (tough enemies) that had a few unique abilities, as all champs do. Reflective, Arcane Enchanted, Illusionist mobs made both of our current builds completely useless.

We learned very quickly that we had to go back to the drawing board. Spending a little time in previous areas to find some hawt lewt let us get up to speed and hold our own against a similar group when next we found it. I am very attached to my monk, I dream of him, I hurt when he hurts, we have tea time, we have inside jokes. With the old system, he would have to sit on the shelf until I could fix all his stats through some (hopeful) future patch and I would have to create a new one. Accessibility is key to Diablo III and while it is tough to stomach for the vets at first, it is the most important change Blizzard made.

There is so much stuff to do in the game it is pretty sickening. Achievements are just the cherry on the sundae that Blizz serves up for ARPG fans. Loot is the main focus of the game, and it was slow to show for the first 40 or so hours. As soon as I entered Hell, yellow items (rare powerful drops generally) were falling like leaves on a tree. If I didn’t like the slow roll on the loot, I could visit the auction house or hunt down gear in game that had the +Magic Find mod. This increases my likelihood of finding loot, and with more loot comes more good loot.

There are also treasure gnomes (the moniker my play group has assigned them) that take some time and work to kill, but generally explode into a Christmas-like blizzard of loot. My first and only legendary item came off one of these gnomes in Hell difficulty and we stress more about hunting them down than surviving fights in many cases.

The loot is also built to be used by all classes. Wizards run around with two-handed swords, monks rock a shield and hammer, barbarians use giant hammers and witch doctors carry severed heads that enhance their abilities. Not all items are usable by all classes. For example, my monk has a few unique items that can only be equipped by him. While they are rarely flat out better for ol’ Ostgar than any random blue or yellow item, they do have a higher likelihood of having class specific mods, like spirit regeneration for example. Each of the five classes has a chunk of items saved specifically for them with these unique bonuses. If the loot is coming slow early in the game, find some +MF gear or wait it out until you enter Hell difficulty, and all your time will be rewarded.