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Diablo: Beta
A lot has happened with the beta. Someone (that someone is "blankname" over at the Khanduras Network Forums) has managed to unlock both single and multi player in the beta. You can grab the patch in the files section. Make sure to read the included readme file!
Once the beta was limited to the "Ring of one thousand", referring to the original 1000 beta testers, selected by Blizzard, and probably some Blizzard employees, friends&family and press. Since November 1996 nobody has been able to play the beta. Until today!
All beta screenshots on this page are made by us, using the newly unlocked beta.

The beta seems very close to the pre-release demo. I can't tell exactly, but I think the hell tileset hasn't been 100% implemented yet as well. A lot of small details are closer to the pre-release than to the retail. The main difference are the three class sprites and the new, almost final, interface.
Here is a number of maybe interesting documents about the beta: Beta Documents:

To get a small insight about the process of the beta, here's a rough timeline how everything went down from the beta signup until the creation of the gold master disc: Beta Timeline:

  • October 7th, 1996

    The online search for 1000 Beta testers began and was completed very quickly after over 250,000 people signed up and crashed the servers
  • November 9th, 1996

    The beta which would be sent to testers was compiled
  • November 15th, 1996

    Beta testers received a confirmation mail/letter and the beta disc, because it was too big for downloading (inflated by Blizzard)
  • November 22nd, 1996, probably ~3-4 days longer

    The official Beta test ended after about 1.5 weeks (instead of the initial 3, as originally stated by Blizzard)
  • December 27th, 1996

    Diablo's Gold master disc was made. This would be used for the original US release of the game

The beta versions are pretty tricky as finding and identifying actual beta screenshots is quite difficult, due to the similarity with the retail version of Diablo.
It doesn't get easier when you find out there were at least two versions with different content and quite possibly a different build date.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that Blizzard also sent out a lot of promotional material, that might have been from the beta, but often can't be confirmed and was used by magazines together with actual beta and sometimes retail footage

Here is a description of a couple of known and speculated-about beta versions:
  • Beta

    The version sent to 1000 beta testers. This was officially called " beta" and not "Diablo Beta" as it was meant to test the stability and functionality. It contained all three character classes and the first 5 levels of the game (4 cathedral levels and 1 catacombs level). This is the version we now know the most about and can exactly tell how far along it was in development.
  • Press Review Beta

    This was the beta used by magazines to review the game. We now assume the build date is slightly later than the beta as it shows the same distinctive features like six spellbook pages, but is more complete in terms of single player quests. The gameplay is mostly identical, but it's not locked after Level 5 and contains all levels of the game including the never before seen (finished) Hell levels.
  • Internal Beta

    This beta was the internal Beta at Blizzard, used for play testing, creating promotional material and also used to create the official Diablo guide. This beta obviously exists in several different states of development and it's difficult, if not impossible, to tell these versions, and also the press beta, apart. At some point it contained all content and with the Map of the Stars quest it was even more "complete" than the retail version.

Here are a couple of beta facts and features:
  • In Alpha3 and even the PrDemo/Alpha4, there was no spellbook, making this the first appearance of the spellbook we're seeing in the retail
  • There are 6 spellbook pages, which is a lot more than the retail 4 pages, showing that shortly before the release, there were a lot of spells planned for the game.
  • The spellbook was really hastily removed, you can still access the 5th page by clicking a few pixels next to the page 4 button
  • One of the features that allows us to recognize the press beta on a few select shots is the fact that the "Heal Other" spell was available in Single Player back then
  • You couldn't just "log in" with the beta, like you do now with retail Diablo. Instead you had to enter your unique beta id to get access
  • The inventory icons changed dramatically in beta, with basically all of them redone in the style we will see in retail
  • While they look like retail, there are a few very subtle differences, that also allow us (in theory) to detect a couple of beta shots
  • The endgame quest log can also give away the version. If there's a "Strange Map" quest present, that's the Map of the Stars quest line that got removed in retail
  • Some dungeons levels have a few differences from retail, like the Chamber of Bone.
  • There are screenshots floating around with Cain sitting on a chair. This sprite is NOT in the beta, so it's either from the internal/press beta or a press kit from Blizzard. Sitting Cain is actually quite confusing, because the final Cain sprite is in the beta, which has a different Farnham sprite and, judging by the quest completeness, is older. We can only assume it was made as a variant later but they reverted back to the original design.
  • Reading old beta journals reveals that cheats, hacks and dupes were already running wild during the short time the beta was online
  • Because the differences to retail are very minor, sometimes screenshots are only distinguishable by the date
  • There are a bunch of screenshots that can only be categorized as beta by the date, which makes their content 100% identical to retail. Thus they're quite uninteresting for this site, maybe they will be included later for completeness
  • The beta had a very limited selection of unique items. While we're not exactly sure about everything the press beta contained, we assume it had a different, bigger number of unique items
  • The warrior in the beta uses a different voice than in the pre-release demo and retail version
  • Gillian still isn't in the beta. However, Cain, Pepin and Farnham (with a different sprite) are there for the first time
  • Pepin's role is a bit weird in the beta. He sells random potions only and you get your infinite healing potion supply from adria
  • The new potion belt seems to have been newly implemented as there are a few quirks. If you pick up a potion, it does go into the belt, but if you buy a potion, it doesn't, making bulk purchases at Adria a bit bothersome
  • It seems like new quests are just about to be implemented. There is no "talk" option for the townsfolk and quests usually have only text but no voice over. It seems Blizzard tried to cram in as many quests as they could between the beta and release
  • The new interface is still a little bit buggy, for example the town portal caster's name is shown even if the cursor isn't hovering over the portal and it often persists even when moving over a different object
  • The town has a different loading screen. In the retail version it would be re-used for the lazarus encounter with Tristram having a new loading screen
  • You can't use spells, scrolls or skills in town, which is annoying ad times
  • Identifying items at cain doesn't display a result, you have to check your inventory later

But now, on to the screenshots. There are not a lot of really interesting shots, because the differences between beta and retail are slim. For now we've only included screenshots that have something to show that can't be seen in the retail version. Previously we only had one actual ingame shot of the beta and had to artificially inflate this section by using title screen and menu shots.

Internal/Press Beta Shots

Sorceror in Town

  • This shot is probably from a press-kit Blizzard sent to the magazines, maybe together with the actual press beta disc, as the shot appears in several magazines in reviews made with the press beta
  • With this being the first appearance of Deckard Cain, but in a sitting position, we should assume the date of the press beta is earlier than that of the beta, which had Cain, but standing. However, the Beta has an earlier sprite of Farnham and is more incomplete in terms of quests.
  • Another first is the appearance of the sorceror's new sprite. Previously he was represented by the warrior's basic sprite and even in the pre-release demo he still uses the warrior's graphics
  • One could assume that the sorceror screenshot set was made in an older version of the game, but we have screenshots of the sorceror with the new Farnham sprite and also Gillian, who doesn't appear in the beta.

Warrior Character and Inventory screens

  • While not terribly interesting, this screenshot is also one of the few that might look indistinguishable from the retail version at first glance, but actually have one small difference
  • What gives this shot away? The helmet! In the release version, this icon was used for the "Helm of Spirits" and due to a bug it's incredibly difficult to find in single player. Even in Multi Player it's impossible to find in normal difficulty and only drops in multi player.
  • Since the character is just level 19, he must have been very lucky to get it on a seemingly regular playthrough in single player. As the shot is from early 1996, he most likely wouldn't farm it (in single player!) because rarity information wasn't known back then and the undead crown does basically the same but is almost a guaranteed item
  • However, in Beta, this icon was used for the standard crown, making the appearance of this graphic very common
  • So it's not 100% sure, we could in fact have someone who got the very rare unique in single player or, much more likely, an actual beta shot
  • Another hint that this version is newer than the beta is the quest armor he's wearing. The Arkaine's Valor quest was still incomplete in the beta.

Warrior in the Cathedral

  • We can identify this shot both by the six page spellbook and the date (around December 1996) to be beta. The fact that there are no chat icons, clearly makes it the press beta, as single player was unavailable in the beta
  • Inferno appears on page two in the beta, so this is a press beta shot.

Sorceror in the Cathedral

  • Due to the release date of december 1996 we can safely put this shot into the press-beta section
  • There is a very small but quite interesting detail: The shield in the inventory. The beta doesn't use it as an icon for a shield base item. The retail version uses it for the unique items "Blackoak Shield" and "Holy Defender"
  • What's interesting is that the beta doesn't have shield uniques, which tells us that the press beta uses a different, most likely more complete, set of unique items

Warrior in the Catacombs, Chamber of Bone

  • This shot might actually not be from the press beta, but from a different, internal beta version, because it appears in the official guide to Diablo
  • What's different is the statue that can be seen in the screenshot. While the .cel file is still in the diabdat.mpq, it's not actually used in this dungeon anymore
  • The reason why it was removed is most likely because it has a weird angle and doesn't display correctly. Since they couldn't fix it, they removed it, but left the image intact in the game file

Rogue in Catacombs

  • The six page spellbook makes this shot clearly beta.
  • Originally thought to be beta, we now know this shot is from the press beta's local multiplayer, because the heal other spell appears on page two in the beta
  • Right now we don't have any other ways to distinguish beta and press-beta multiplayer shots unless we see (or don't see) Farnham or Gillian or have an open spellbook with enough spells learned

Warrior in Hell

  • Six page spellbook and single player, plus the hell levels makes this a sure candidate for the beta
  • Here we can see the shot being single player but heal other is available as a spell
  • Only the early level spells are shown, and they're all level 10. Cheats? A lucky coincidence? Or were spells capped at lvl10 in the beta?
  • The character has "heal other" in Single Player, making it either a modified save game or shows that the spell was available in single player at least in this version

Warrior in Hell

  • The same game and even position as before
  • The quest log shows a number of quests including one called "Strange Map" which is the "Map of the Stars" quest that got removed very close to the games release due to balancing and pacing issues
  • Due to name changes in quests, we can tell this version is newer than the beta Beta Shots