Many a gamers were plenty ecstatic when Blizzard unveiled Diablo III earlier this year in Paris, France at their World Wide Invitational. At this year's BlizzCon, Blizzard offered gamers the first chance to try out the mega developer's newest project, and witness the power of the third playable class: the wizard.
The wizard makes a welcome appearance in addition to the tried and true barbarian and the terrifyingly awesome witch doctor. The wizard, as the name implies, is primarily a spell caster, akin to the sorceress from Diablo II. During the Diablo III class panel, Jay Wilson, the game's lead designer, described the wizard as a "light show". With the ability to summons blizzards of freezing death, conjure tornadoes of pure energy, and fire a beam that completely disintegrates enemies - I'd have to agree. The wizard brings the current roster up to 3, but Blizzard is keeping pretty tight lipped on the final 2 classes. Judging from what we've seen so far, however, we won't be disappointed.
Gameplay wise, Diablo III is building off what its predecessor did well, and not so well. Wilson said that their goal was to deliver "better gameplay, [and] slightly less carpal tunnel". To go about this, they are taking a page out of World of Warcraft's book, and introducing a hotbar into the user interface. Wilson said he didn't want Diablo to turn into WoW by any means, and that they don't plan to have dozens of icons littered all over the screen - just enough so that players don't have to rely on the f keys or mouse wheel to do something as simple as buffing your party.
With the introduction of the new hotbar, Blizzard is removing the potion bar that was a staple in both Diablo I and II. When defeated, monsters will now drop health and mana orbs to reduce the player's dependency on potions, and reduce downtime. This new health system also encourages conflict, says Wilson, as in order to replenish your health, you must kill monsters. This new system was introduced simply because in Diablo II, the only true way to challenge the player was to kill them, since if they were in a sticky situation, they could simply run away from the monsters, spam their potions, or use a town portal. This new health system hopes to challenge players enough to encourage the feeling of "Oh crap, I'm trapped in a dungeon full of monsters, and I have to fight my way out".
The last addition to Diablo III that Blizzard unveiled was the new rune system. Runes are random drops throughout the world of Sanctuary which are usable by all classes and impact existing skills. For example, if you attach a "striking rune" to the basic ability teleport, you'll attack and enemy as soon as you teleport into them. Or, if you attach a "multistrike" strike rune to the witch doctor's skull of flame ability, the skull will bounce multiple times after the initial throw. Runes will come in a variety of forms, from runes that alter skills slightly, to runes that change the aesthetic appearance of an ability (can you say blue fire wall?). These runes also come in different levels of power, such as a "lesser striking rune" or "greater lethality rune", so even when the player charges into the depths of nightmare and hell difficulty, runes will play an important role. The new rune system in D3 will offer a whole new level of customization to let each player create their own specific play style.
Although still in its very early stages, the Diablo III hands on demo played great. Now in fully fledged 3D, all character models animate beautifully when tearing their way through hordes of monsters. The physics engine is particularly impressive, and best shown off under the command of the mighty barbarian hacking and smashing his way through monsters. Corpses fly around realistically, and the destructible environments are truly a sight to behold.
The ways in which monsters die is even impressive. Instead of a standard death animation, monsters can die in several ways. For example, there are "critical deaths" that monsters suffer after scoring a critical hit, which results in said monster exploded in a brilliant blood shower. There are also skill driven deaths. This way shown briefly at WWI, where the witch doctor's locust swarm would actually eat the flesh off of enemies. This wizard showcased this even further at BlizzCon, as her disintegrate ability does exactly what you think it would - it completely disintegrates enemies most extravagantly. So far, the game feels just like the good old Diablo we all know and love, and will no doubt get even better as the months pass.
Other highlights of Diablo III at BlizzCon '08 included a look at the new and improved skill system being implemented. Although still a work in progress, Blizzard did say that they plan to include some type of respec feature into the game so that players don't need to recreate their character if they mess up their skill tree. The ever popular (and frustrating) hardcore mode will also be making a comeback in Diablo III, which for those unaware, is the mode where if your character dies, he is truly gone for good. Finally, the Q&A session concluded with the burning question of whether or not Diablo III will feature a secret cow level. With a few smirks, Blizzard responded with, "It's a secret".