Crusading for a new class
The first section of the panel introduced the new class, the Crusader. Designing a new class is one of the most complex tasks in an RPG, but it starts with a simple concept. In this case, the team wanted a righteous paladin type, which would work as a good answer to Malthael, the angel of death and main villain of Reaper of Souls. The idea came together of having a dark paladin, full of righteous wrath, a "knight in battle-scarred armor" to stand for humanity in its darkest hour. This lead to concept art. They knew they wanted the Crusader to be bulky and blocky, but it took many weeks of reiterations before they settled on the look of today, with the shield, the flail, and the tabard.
Once the concept was complete, the next step was to animate the Crusader, give it a presence in game. This itself may need many iterations. For example, they showed an early concept of the Crusader's "Stoic" Idle animation. While it did project the stoic, solid presence they wanted, it looked awkward when the Crusader leapt into action. The final design ended up with the Crusader looking more active and battle-ready to allow those animations to flow better, but still kept that stoic look.
Another issue came into play with the signature flail weapon. The animation team had a hard time getting it to act quite right. Early tests had it whipping wildly all over the place, as if it had a mind of its own. They were finally able to bring under control by working not on action, but on reaction -- how the flail reacts to being used or moved.
We also saw the animation for a new skill, shield bash. The Crusader holds for a moment, as if gather energy, then releases it in a rush of energy, thrust his shield forward and causing a wave of energy to emit from it. This allows the Crusader to retain that sense of physically and barely-restrained wrath that is its conceptual trademark while using the concept of a ranged melee.
The next step was working on the skills. The skills should reflect the roots of the class. The Crusader is meant to be a wrathful, powerful melee, but in order to differentiate it from the monk and barbarian, they decided to give it a variety of ranged attacks as well. The design for the skills then, had to keep all this in mind, in addition to the original dark paladin motif.
The skilled Crusader
The Crusader's resource is called Wrath. His righteous anger fills constantly, and can be generated via melee attack skills. When his Wrath is full, he uses it to unleash powerful ranged and AoE attacks. The AoE attacks also compensate for the slowness of his melee attacks by allowing him to hit more monsters at once. However, these ranged and AoE attacks still have a component of that wrathful physicality of the melee, a combination of the physical and mystical.
Justice and Blessed Shield were shown as one possible Paladin combination. Justice throw out a hammer to smite foes, then Blessed Shield threw a holy glowing Paladin's shield at ranged mobs, where it richocetted between them, preserving that physical, bruising feel.
Crushing Resolve was another skill the team tested for the Crusader. Much like the old Diablo 2 Paladin's Zeal, it increased attack speed and number of monsters attacked with each strike. However, it proved hard to make dynamic, and was so powerful it threatened to turn the Crusader into a 1 button class, so they scrapped it. They still managed to keep the homage to the Paladin class, however, by revamping it into a skill called Slash, which itself has a rune called Zeal.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fist of the Heavens was a skill that saw no change from conception to implementation. The skill summons a giant pillar of light from the sky that breaks into small bolts that seek out enemies. It provided a way for the often surrounded Crusader to clear surrounding enemies, and kept with the theme of righteous wrath for the class.
A skill often comes from brainstorming. The team has an idea for a theme or general attack method for the class, then designs a skill that fits.
Heaven's Fury started as the idea of bringing the hand of god down from heaven. The first iteration had the player draw a line on the screen, which then resulted in lightning bolts crashing down on that line. This was scrapped because it was too large and loud. Another iteration had the lightning bolts following the player's cursor, but the team felt it wasn't in the Crusader's nature to stand around casting a spell. Thus, the final iteration has its own iteration. The Crusader casts and continues with his other skills while the lightning bolts chase and target enemies around him.
Another skill came from the idea of the battle-scarred Knight. Every knight needs a steed. Thus, the Crusader skill Steed Charge, in which the Crusader summons a spectral horse and rides it straight through any enemies in his path.
Another concept was the idea of the Crusader as a war machine, rather like a tank. While the idea of putting the Crusader in a tank would break the medieval gothic feel of the class, the team thought they might make him the artillery shell instead. Thus came the skill Falling Sword, in which the Crusader jumps down on his enemys, causing AoE damage when he hits ground.
Finally, as the Crusader was inspired by the Diablo 2 Paladin, Blessed Hammer will be returning in all its glory, for those who enjoyed their Hammerdins back in the day.
No class left behind
For the next part of the panel, Wyatt Cheng went through the changes scheduled for his 5 favorite classes. When looking at the existing classes, the team wanted to make sure they stayed true to their existing archetypes. They kept this in mind, both when reviewing existing skills, and when adding a new skill to each class for the expansion.
Barbarians are a class of raw physical strength and earthen might. When reviewing the class, the team felt the earthen might theme was a little underpowered. So not only will they be buffing abilities like Earthquake, but the new Barbarian ability will be Avalanche, which will indeed summon an avalanche of rocks and debris down on the Barbarian's enemies.
The Wizard's theme is that of a glass cannon, a ranged elementalist caster. In reviewing the class, the team felt that the elementalist theme was neglected in favor of arcane magic, and are buffing elemental skills to allow for elementalist mages. As an example, they showcased Magic Missile and Arcane Orb, which can be runed to do cold damage in the expansion. The beloved Frozen Orb from the Diablo 2 Sorceress is making its triumphant return!
For the completely new skill, the Wizard gets Black Hole, which pulls in surrounding monsters, crowd controls them, and does AoE damage. This is not only a great spell on its own, but it's the perfect setup for another devastating AOE such as Meteor.
The Monk class is meant to be a mystical martial artist, fast and agile. The team felt that the fast and agile ideal had fallen by the wayside. With this in mind, their revamps to the monk class focus on making it quicker and more agile. All rune variants of Fist of Thunder will teleport you to your target. Dashing Strike and Seven-Sided Strike will be reworked in similar ways. Finally, the new ability, Epiphany, will cause all melee strikes of any kind to teleport you directly to your enemy.
Demon Hunters are the ranged assassin, but the team feels their traps have been neglected, used more for damage than for trapping. With that in mind, they want to rework skills like Spike Trap to allow the Demon Hunter to truly trap enemies and snipe them from afar. Their new skill, Vengeance, will cause all their ranged attacks to shoot extra projectiles. We're not talking just a couple of extra arrows here, though. We're talking rockets, rail guns, and more. The video we saw of it in actions was pretty awe inspiring.
With the Witch Doctor, the team felt happy with its aesthetics of voodoo, zombies, and fetishes, but the mechanics are lacking, they said. In particular, they pointed to weaknesses in pets and DoTs, both of which will receive buffs. Pets will become more durable, and DoTs will get more damage and last longer, including a passive skill that makes DoTs last up to 5 minutes.
For the Witch Doctor's new skill, the team decided to use a curse, similar to the Necromancer's Amplify Damage. But to give it a Witch Doctor flavor all its own, the skill will actually summon a pool of Pirhanas out of the water. The Pirhanas will latch on to the monsters and cause them to take extra damage. Then, to finish it off, a massive bogadile will leap from the water and swallow the monsters whole.
A new dawn for itemization
The next section of the panel focused on new changes to itemization. They first mentioned the Mystic, a new artisan that allows you to modify your items. First, you can use transmogrification. That will allow you to change the appearance of your items to the appearance of any item you owned at any point. The second item, enchanting, lets you choose one property on an item and reroll it. The Mystic will offer you a choice of 3 properties. You can choose to reroll to one of these options. One of the options will always be the old property, so you can always revert the item if the new properties prove too weak. You can also reroll to a new property again.
They then moved on to the new loot 2.0 system. With loot 2.0, the main philosophy is less is more. Finding a new item should be like unwrapping a cool present. But when those presents are all socks, it's a bit underwhelming. In Loot 2.0, the idea is that you get fewer magic item drops, but all of them are pretty cool. They also want items to support builds, and are adding new affixes and effects to support that. Finally, rarity should equal power. The rarest legendary drops should also be the most powerful.
Smart Drop is one method they are using to make this happen. Smart Drop will give you a higher chance of getting gear that is appropriate for your class and has stats your class needs. Thus, your Barbarian should see more strength belts drop and fewer intellect quivers. They are also reducing the range at which stats can roll. An affix that formerly gave 1-100 strength might now give 75-100 strength. This allows some randomness in loot drops without creating offensively bad gear.
They're also revamping stats somewhat. Primary stats should always grant power. With that in mind, they are breaking out the more passive secondary stats, such as magic find and pickup radius, and making them secondary stats that don't take up the same item level as stats like intellect and strength. This should allow you to grab cool secondary effects without feeling like you're giving up damage or survivability.
They also noted that they want to create an end game item progression. Legendaries and set items have often sucked up until now, and they are redesigning them to be true end-game gear, with superior stats and new unique effects. If they're rare, they need to be powerful. To start with, all legendaries can drop at higher monster levels. This means if you fight a level 70 monster, a level 70 legendary may drop, and if it does, it will have level 70 stats. They also looked at every legendary and buffed stats where needed, and added new effects. For example, a level 70 pair of Frostburn Gauntlets that drops in the new expansion will have an effect with a 50% chance to freeze enemies instead of chilling them. This means a wizard could equip them and use her ice spells to lock down a battlefield like never before. The tooltip also showcased a new feature that will allow you to see the exact range a item's stats could have rolled, so you know how good your legendary actually is. That said, legendaries will have small enough ranges that you should have a viable legendary even if you get a "bad" roll.
They also introduced other legendary redesigns. For example, Hartounian Armguards will give you a speed increase every time you destroy a wreckable object. Illusory boots allow you to run right through enemies, possibly allowing you to take specific escape skills off your bar and try other skills in their place. The Tiklandian Visage changes the Horrify skill for Witch Doctors to an 8 second root, which might just inspire a Witch Doctor to try the skill out. A new set for Demon Hunters had a bonus that caused Spike Traps to taunt nearby monsters.
As a final treat, the last legendary featured was Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker. Yes, it does feature the same proc we know and love from WoW. Not only that, the proc works on spellcasts, so even Wizards and Witch Doctors can use it.
While the team didn't have much time left, they did answer a few audience questions. The first questioner asked if they were concerned stats would get too large and they'd need a stat squish. The team answered they felt like that wouldn't be needed for quite some time.
Another questioner was a huge fan of the Arcane Sanctuary and wanted to see it return. While that place won't return in Reaper of Souls, Pandemonium Fortress takes some inspiration from its structure.
For the last question, the questioner asked if we could see appearance changes for some item sets, similar to some Diablo 2 sets. While the team was open to the item, they stressed they wanted to focus on itemization issues first, and found they'd rather add a new cool effect to an item that make it change someone's appearance.