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BlizzCon 2008: Diablo III gameplay panel

Kevin Kelly

Blizzard's Jay Wilson and Wyatt Cheng took the stage at BlizzCon for a second time yesterday to helm the Diablo III Gameplay panel, which gave us a few more details about the eagerly awaited third part in Blizzard's mouse-button mashing trilogy. Check out the highlights after the break, which include updates on some of the creatures you'll encounter, and how they're taking steps to mix up the gameplay by inserting "random adventures."

They started us out by taking us through a History of Diablo, and we hope there aren't a lot of people in the audience who don't already know this. Although it has been more than ten years since the first game came out, so maybe we can forgive some of the younger audience members. Like the ten year olds.

Wilson says Diablo III is "the next step" in the experience, and they're looking to upgrade it accordingly. He broke it down like this:

  • Diablo - random dungeons and items, simple, action-based gameplay, and character customization (Diablo had character customization? What?)
  • Diablo II - added outdoor environments, was larger, had unique classes and the skill tree.
  • Diablo III - will add amazing moment to moment encounters, an expanded RPG experience, and offers new systems, of which the Rune system is only one. "Some of the other ones may remain secret for years, although we're hoping not too many years." [Editor's note: AUGH!]
He explained that what they're trying to do is to maintain the "Spirit of Diablo," while updating the game and adding new features. Their focus is "Powerful Heroes Engaged In Epic Heroes Large Scale Combat," which is also one of their mottos. Right alongside Wilson's motto for his wife, "If you can click a mouse, you can play Diablo." When he says "powerful heroes," he went on to explain that means "almost ludicrously powerful."

They're also focusing on making this a replayable RPG that people will pick up over and over, and besides the already mentioned Rune system they plan on achieving this by adding random environments, monster encounters, random environments, more monster encounters, and higher difficulty levels. They hope to remove the generic feeling from random dungeons and to bring the world to life with more NPC interactions, with better quests and events.

They've changed and simplified some things since Diablo II, most noticeably the potion system. There are still health, mana, and other potions in the game, but now the monsters drop "health globes" that replenish your health on the fly. They're hoping this will lead to consistent encounters, rather just running back to town, buying 2,487 health potions, and then coming back to the encounter. Instead they're using the globes to have little to no downtime in battles, and it also relates to cooperative gameplay, because whoever picks up a health globe will also end up healing nearby allies as well.

The Hotbar at the bottom of the screen is new as well, emphasizing Skills over potions, and offering a great UI with more control over your character. You'll develop class-specific tactics, and they're diversifying controls and buffs.
Simple to learn, hard to master. Also new is Positional gameplay, which adds a new element to the game. When you see an enemy wind up for a slash, you can dodge him and attack (if you can click a mouse...) from behind. In the BlizzCon demo, when you fight the final boss you can easily dodge his massive swinging mace and use a ranged attack to take him down, as long as you don't get swarmed by his hordes of undead slaves.

They're also working on a new version of Battle.Net, which might be monetized as we already reported. They're looking to have a friends list for the Battle.Net servers, so you can see friends playing, click on them and join immediately in-game. It's not yet clear how they'll be looking to turn it into a moneymaking service, but with Blizzard now merged with Activision, there's probably more pressure to squeeze more gold out of players.

They showed off two new enemies from the game that show how they're trying to force the players to make new gameplay decisions:
  • Berserker - Uses a charged up attack that builds up for massive damage... but he's vulnerable if he misses. This changes the way players will approach and confront him.
  • Skeletal Shieldbearer - A slow but methodical creature that accompanies ranged units. He carries a shield that can be destroyed or circumvented, and he acts as a health wall for other units. Players can try and get behind him to attack where he's vulnerable, or destroy his shield from afar.
Random Adventures: these are events that can be placed almost anywhere in the game, and aren't full-fledged dungeons or instances. They'll encourage players to explore the environment more, and can randomly placed from game to game.:
  • Old abandoned house to explore
  • Evil cult summoning ritual
  • Caravan that needs protecting
  • Enemy camp with a boss

Character customization is one thing that people constantly knock in Diablo, and Wilson explained that they tried adding things like hair, skin, and facial customizations, but once you put them on your character you couldn't see them in the game, since your player is so small. They're focusing on permutations of the looks of items in the game, and they're not happy with how much there is in the game right now. The Rune system is one of the ways that you can customize what your character's actions look like in the game, and they're hoping to customize it more by having custom weapons and armors in the game. They'll be adding a lot of variations in the endgame to what your character looks like.

That's everything we learned, and we're hoping to get a bit more from today's Diablo III Art & Lore panel. If you're hoping for a release date, we haven't heard much except the fact that it doesn't sound like it's coming anytime soon.

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