Lines to play Diablo III at BlizzCon 2011 are long. Very long. So we were glad to flash our press badge and cut right to the front to play Diablo III in competitive player-versus-player for the first time. The PVP setup at BlizzCon pit two teams of four players, each with a level 60 character, against each other in Team Deathmatch mode on a small, tight level with absolutely, positively nowhere to hide.
We jumped into our match with a wizard, whose skills were laid out as follows: left-mouse button triggered a powered-up arcane missile (a single-shot ranged attack); right-mouse button triggered a powered-up arcane torrent (a ranged attack that launches a flurry of slow but damaging projectiles); and our first number keys. These were hotkeyed to the following: frost nova (the frost effect that scatters frost shards in your vicinity that might freeze nearby foes solid); teleport (which teleports you a short distance away); archon (which changes the wizard into an archon character with powerful defenses but limited attack power); and diamond skin, a defensive spell that temporarily provides the wizard a thick layer of armor. With not one, not two, but potentially three skills with defensive, survival-based uses, the high-level wizard seems to have a strong resistance to getting killed outright, but you can rest assured we didn't let that stop us.
The PVP matches at BlizzCon start with a brief practice round that lets you run around and get used to your skills and figure out how to play as a team. Even though the practice round was barely a few minutes long, we and our teammates quickly figured out that the absolute best way to stomp the competition was for all four of us to stick together and focus our fire on one enemy. Unfortunately, we had no healers in our group, and we found that we couldn't stick together forever because once you're the one who lands in the enemy team's crosshairs, you won't survive for long unless you can either be healed or peel off in another direction and grab one of the regularly respawning health vials that appears in the level.
We were able to sneak in a few gimmick kills by using our frost nova skill offensively, charging directly toward some enemies, freezing them solid, and pounding mercilessly on them. This worked just fine until the enemy team decided to pound on us mercilessly, at which point, we found ourselves playing the wizard as something closer to what Blizzard presumably intended it to be: a hit-and-run character who can deal decent ranged damage but has enough defensive tools to beat a hasty retreat. By using teleport, diamond skin, and archon judiciously, we actually managed to avoid death many times and earned a survival bonus of points. But these defensive skills aren't always a get-out-of-jail free card; even in archon form or diamond skin, you can still be attacked, and tenacious foes can and will follow you after you teleport, especially if you're already severely wounded and they're coming in for the kill.
The PVP otherwise seemed fast and frantic, and even though we died several times, the respawn times at BlizzCon were mere seconds long. We found the respawn delay to be just long enough to seem like a real punishment but nowhere near long enough to feel frustrating. Diablo III's PVP will launch along with the game itself…when it's done.