BlizzCon 2010: Diablo 3: A Hero Emerges

At the tail end of yesterday's opening ceremonies at BlizzCon 2010, Blizzard Entertainment's Chris Metzen announced the fifth and final Diablo 3 class: the Demon Hunter. Immediately after the opening ceremonies, Diablo 3's lead designer Jay Wilson lead a panel largely centered on the new class, but also included a few other major details on the new Trait and Rune systems, as well as a few new spells and skills for the other classes.

The Basics of the Demon Hunter

The Demon Hunter was born out of Blizzard's aim to round out the previously announced lineup of classes: the barbarian, the witch doctor, the wizard and the monk. A traditional, conventional ranged class was the missing element. The traditional ranger, over the development process, evolved in a vengeance-driven bounty hunter with a dash of dark magic. The demon hunter is always prepared with a diverse array of traps and gadgets and she is not above using her enemy's powers against them -- picking apart demons for their dark magic to use for her own purposes. As laid out in the panel, the Demon Hunter's aim is to give the Diablo world's demons a taste of their own medicine -- to ensure that even demons know fear.

Unlike the other classes introduced so far, the Demon Hunter has no particular homeland to defend, no specific cultural or religious beliefs driving them through the events of Diablo 3. They are the only one out of the five classes that truly understands what hangs in the balance. Unlike the Barbarian, Witch Doctor or Monk, Demon Hunters are not born. They're made. Established Demon Hunters find, recruit and train newbies from across Sanctuary.

Aesthetic Evolution

The Demon Hunter, over the development process, went through a few stages of demonic origins. Slides were shown of the demon hunter as a full demon -- large, hulking monsters doing battle against their own kind. However, Diablo is about humanity's battles and victories against the demonic hordes. While a demonic hero would be a lot of fun, it goes against the essence of the Diablo franchise.

That idea was scrapped, but Blizzard continued to try and include demonic aspects in the character. The idea of a half-demon was used for awhile, with an immense Hellboy-esque demon arm, but they encountered a few challenges: First, would the townspeople of Sanctuary react positively to something like that buying and trading in their villages? Unlikely. To make it work, it would require significant changes to basic gameplay elements. Second, the Demon Hunter is a ranged class, but the hulking demon arm inspired an urge to run up and clobber enemies over the head with a mighty fist. While Blizzard dabbled with the idea of giving the Demon Hunters melee abilities for awhile, it went against the essence of having a traditional ranged class. Even with all of the melee abilities removed, playtesters wanted to punch schmucks in the face with their enormous chitinous fist. It had to go.

The red, glowing eyes seen in the Demon Hunter cinematic was one element of early Demon Hunter development that made it out of the gates, and the concept of the massive demonic arm was incorporated into the aesthetic style of the class's armor in the form of an evergrowing armguard as your character progresses through tiers of gear.

The final aesthetic note was that yes, they did set out to make the Demon Hunter the sexy character class, both male and female.

Tactical Gameplay

The Demon Hunter isn't the cliche point, shoot, nap ranger class that immediately springs to mind when you hear "traditional ranged class." Sure, you'll be making heavy use of your crossbow (or dual crossbows), but the panel stressed that many of the class's abilities are focused on tactical gameplay and the fact that much of what the Demon Hunter does is premeditated. The skills are intended to be used creatively. Some of the examples given were:
  • Bola Shot: The Demon Hunter launches a bola at the enemy, which strangles and stuns it before exploding. There is a delay on the explosion which is typically a drawback, but once you know your way around the class skills, you can use it to your advantage.
  • Spike Traps: One part traditional trap, one part black magic, this ability is intended to be used as a premeditative technique. Know there's something frightening coming up? Stack the odds in your favor.
  • Grenades: With Diablo III being a full 3D engine, grenades will rebound realistically off of walls and around corners. The terrain will be a major part of how you play your Demon Hunter.
  • Vault: If you've used Starcraft 2's Stalkers, Warcraft 3's Warden or World of Warcraft's Mage, you're probably familiar with Blizzard's love of Blink abilities. Vault is essentially a black magic-styled Blink, allowing you to move around the battlefield quickly and easily. Footage showed the Demon Hunter Vaulting past walls of flame.
  • Multishot: While not necessarily a strong indicator of the tactical gameplay of the Demon Hunter, the gathered audience cheered for the return of an old favorite from Diablo 2.

Other Class News

The other classes weren't discussed in-depth, but they did run through one new ability for each of the previously announced classes.

Barbarian
  • Ancient Spear - This is a ranged attack for the Barbarian. Similar to how they didn't want to give the Demon Hunter many melee abilities, they didn't want the Barbarian to have significant ranged abilities. This ranged ability is intended to play into their powerhouse melee abilities. Three words: Get over here.
Wizard:
  • Meteor - Another Diablo 2 favorite. Rocks fall, everyone dies.
Witch Doctor
  • Spirit Walk - All Diablo III classes will have some ability to augment their movement speed. The Barbarian's leap was displayed at a previous BlizzCon. The Demon Hunter's Vault made its debut at this same panel. Spirit Walk will allow your character to go incorporeal for a short time period, essentially rendering you invisible. Pass by enemies safely, scout ahead of you, and when the duration ends your physical body will relocate to your spirit.
Monk
  • Wave of Light - The Monk and the Barbarian are both strong melee classes, but the monk integrates a lot of mysticism into his martial arts. It's a bell that hurts people. With light, apparently.
Traits

Passive skills and active skills have been seperated from each other. You no longer have to make a decision between, "Should I take the active ability that would be fun but not great, or should I take the passive ability that would be boring but useful?" You will be able to do both. Traits are the passive skills and each class gets their own unique set. Currently they have 30 planned out for each class, but they may scale them back -- Jay Wilson's comment was that they want each of these passive abilities to be cool and meaningful. A 0.01% increase in attack strength isn't meaningful, but 25%, 50% or 100% would have an impact on how you play. Trying to plan for 30 unique traits to pick and choose per class is proving to be prohibitive, just grasping at straws to come up with more traits.

One example given was the Inner Rage trait for Barbarians. It will not only improve your character, but it will also add some flavor to your character and the world. The Barbarian isn't just an angry guy. He's a guy that actually draws power from his rage. The Wizard has the option of taking Prismatic Cloak which permanently improves his/her armor abilities. It shows that the Wizard doesn't just sling spells. There is something innately special about what they do and who they are.

The Talisman

Veteran Diablo players, do you remember Charms? Do you remember how much inventory space you wasted carrying them around? That will no longer be a problem. The Talisman is a dedicated inventory specifically for your charms. It will grow over time, serving as another form of character progression alongside level and gear. Charms will focus much more on core attributes in Diablo III than they did in the past.

Runes

Runes are one feature that players have been eager to hear about, but Blizzard has been very tight-lipped about their Diablo III implementation until today. For those unfamiliar, Runes are the mechanic that allows you to customize individual spells in your repertoire. Runes will alter how you play significantly more than simple attribute. The Rune categorization system from Diablo II has been revamped to allow for maximum cool. Diablo II's Hydra ability is returning, and Runes will enable you to change its element as you please for different effects. The Witch Doctor's Plague of Toads can become Fire Toads, a Rain of Toads or turned into a single Giant Toad which will eat your enemies. The Barbarian's weapon throw? How would you like to throw corpses for splash damage instead?

Altogether, according to Jay Wilson, there's a grand total of 96,886,969,344 possible customization options. That number does not include Charms, Traits or Skills. We'll let that number percolate for awhile.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.