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Diablo III free open beta this weekend

Blizzard opens the gates of hell for gamers, but can the company handle the heat?

Twelve years in the making.

Turn off your cell phone and cancel any commitments. The Diablo III open beta weekend begins today.

The beta lasts until 10 a.m. PT Monday, April 23, and will serve as a stress test before the highly anticipated May 15 launch of the influential action role-playing game. Anyone can play the Diablo III open beta weekend by signing up for a free account on Battle.net and downloading the Diablo III beta PC/Mac client.

Players choose between five styles of classic hack-and-slash characters (witch doctor, barbarian, wizard, monk, and demon hunter) playable up to level 13, collecting gold and items by defeating demons and other evil creatures.

During an early hands-on preview, I found the graphics to be shockingly smooth and beautiful, while the user interface/controls seem intuitive and refined. Sound effects impress greatly during heavy action. This open beta comes long after the first closed alpha and beta development stages of the game, so the overwhelmingly good presentation reflects a great deal of effort from the developers and community. Blizzard created one hell of a game. Literally.

Be warned, however. You may experience difficultly logging in to the game this weekend, as the immense interest already proved itself capable of shanking Blizzard's servers. I often experienced this message while trying to log in: "The servers are busy at this time. Please try again later. (Error 37)"

CNET Senior Editor Rich Brown describes Diablo III's environments as "gloomy, foreboding, and gorgeous." (Click to enlarge.) Rich Brown/CNET