The panel began with Senior Game Designer Jason Bender taking the stage to explain the achievement system in Diablo III. Bender explained that, first of all, all BlizzCon 2011 attendees would receive an achievement for having attended. In addition, he explained that achievements can be unlocked in a variety of ways, among them: Simply progressing through the game and its difficulty modes, extreme behavior – such as achieving level 60 on a hardcore character, and finally “absurd shenanigans” – such as “beating every boss by punching it in the face without a weapon”.
Bender went on to explain that aside from bragging rights, achievements also unlock components for the player banner, with each component on the banner being affected by achievements in different ways. In addition to just visually tracking your progress through the game, your player banners are also used to serve as a way for your friends to teleport to you. In the example he gave, a player that is back in town can instantly teleport to their friend by clicking their friend’s banner in town.
A similar new mechanic includes the Stone of Recall, which is an unlimited use item that allows you to return to town from the wilderness. This is highly reminiscent of the Hearthstone from World of Warcraft, however unlike the Hearthstone, the Stone of Recall leaves a blue portal in town for you to use to return from whence you came.
There are also other new items that provide interesting game mechanics: the Cauldron of Jordan and the Cube of the Nephalem are such items. The Cauldron of Jordan allows you to sell items straight from your inventory, regardless of where you are. This means you don’t have to hunt down an NPC to clear out your inventory, and can instead do it during the calms between battles. The Cube of the Nephalem allows you to convert select items from your inventory into crafting components.
The Cube of Nephalem presented a nice transition into the next major game mechanic to be introduced – Crafting. Senior Game Designer Andrew Chambers took the stage at this point to explain this mechanic. Andrew began by describing the life cycle of an item in Diablo II – his conclusion was that all items end up eventually making their way to an NPC or player to be converted into gold. This was seen as a problem, and one of the goals in Diablo III was to design the game in such a way that gold hoarding is not beneficial. This leads into an introduction of the Mystic. The Mystic can enhance your items by adding a power to it. These enhancements can range from abilities to core stats. Additionally, the amount of change provided by the enhancement is random, so reapplying them gives you a chance of getting a higher value. This in turn allows combinations that are normally not possible. Additionally, the Mystic can level up – up to ten times, via items called “pages of training” that are dropped by monsters.
Chambers continues by introducing the Jeweler. The Jeweler can combine gems, to create more powerful gems. Gems are used in socketed items, just as they were in Diablo II. The Jeweler can also add sockets to items, and remove gems from items. The Jeweler also levels up via the same items as the Mystic, but the NPC levels are account-based. The Blacksmith is able to forge weapons and armor for you, but also has the ability to create Legendary and Unique set items. This hinges on plans, which you can find in the various difficulties. When you find a plan, you can then teach it to your blacksmith, and can then forge that item as many times as you like.
Next, Chambers began to detail the PvP system. He introduced Team Deathmatch, which consists of 10 minute games, with 3 second respawn times. Item and skill swapping will not be allowed during a match, and the matches will consist of 4v4.
At this point, Chambers handed off the mic to Game Director Jay Wilson, for him to expound on the already-known information about the auction house system. It is important to note, that Diablo II had nothing like an auction house. As a result, Wilson saw it necessary to explain why the decision to include one in Diablo III was made.
One of the major things and reasons we decided to do an auction house, is because trading is a big focus of the Diablo games. Some of you may know that you get loot in Diablo games and it’s kind of a big deal. That loot is randomized. The Diablo system is pretty unique in that everything that drops has got some kind of random element if it’s something you wear on your body, and any monster could drop any item anywhere in the world; you don’t have to go to a particular monster and do that, but because of that there’s actually really, really low odds that you get the exact thing you want. Even if you get the exact thing you want, the chances that it actually has the best stats that you could possibly get on that item is pretty much… it’s almost impossible and that’s really by design, because Diablo’s always been a social game in that you play with and trade with other players. So, trading is really the best way to get the best items in the game, and that’s always been the case; for all the Diablo games we’ve focused really heavily on the trading aspect.
Wilson pointed out that given the focus on trading, one would assume that the previous Diablo games had great methods for trading. Unfortunately, that assumption is wrong. After listing the different methods of trading in Diablo II, he went on to explain that the auction house in Diablo III will not require you to register a credit card. Every week a player will have a limited number of free listings they can use to avoid spending money to make money. New features in the AH include a smart search, which allows you look for items of a certain type with certain enhancements. Additionally, an advanced search will also be added that will allow searching for these things within a certain number range. For instance, a strength bonus of at least 60. Stackable items will also be sellable on the auction house, including: gold, gems, crafting items, dyes, tomes, and pages.
After this, Senior technical Game Designer Wyatt Cheng took the stage to explain the final game tunings being done before official release, based on the beta data. New affixes (suffixes and prefixes) are being added to the game, with better difficulty ramping. There’s also been a heavy push on making passive skills good, and to avoid forcing the player to pick only certain passives, because they work too well with each other.
Next, Cheng started to give the specifics about balances for each individual class. Starting with Barbarian, fury generation has been improved for some of the lower generating skills. Additionally, the barbarian class will be receiving tweaks to help with survivability, because they were having difficulty surviving in melee range on higher difficulties. Wizards have been receiving tweaks to their different spells, and their skills have also been converted to be based on weapon damage with cast speed being based on weapon speed. Witch doctors have been tuned so that they can rely on passives, runes, or gear to recover mana. Cheng stated that it is technically possible for a witch doctor to gear for unlimited mana, but that doing so will likely result in a reduction of offensive ability. The Monk class will be receiving tweaks for survivability at lower levels. Additionally, mantra’s powers are doubled the first 3 seconds after they’re activated and the ability to combine skills is being slightly modified as well. Demon Hunters are getting a skill change that makes some skills generate hatred and others spend it, and are also receiving a buff to their snares. Finally, all classes are getting more aesthetic effects added to their skills.
After this, Technical Artist Chris Haga showed a presentation based on the special effects and skills of players and mobs. Once this concluded, Jay Wilson returned to the stage to discuss difficulty levels. There are normal, nightmare, hell, and inferno difficulty levels. The first act of normal mode serves as a tutorial, with monsters having low awareness, low attack rates, and limited abilities. Each act increases the challenge, making monsters stronger, more aggressive, and wielding more abilities after each act. Each higher difficulty, likewise introduces new attributes, items, and enhancements. Normal difficulty only has access to about 30% of the total number of items in the game. Inferno mode is the most difficult setting, and is designed to always be a challenge even at max level. Additionally, it is able to be played alone. Wilson also explained that in order to avoid the never-ending boss runs of Diablo II, the randomly spawning champion and rare mobs of Diablo III will hold the best loot.
Wilson went on to explain that skills will not be able to be hot swapped in combat, but can be changed in town. If this doesn’t work, they will be considering making skills swappable out of combat. Finally, follower characters will be made to be end-game viable.
Analysis: Thankfully, the game appears to be just as dark as the previous title in the franchise. I also like the addition of an auction house, since trading in Diablo II was frankly a pain in the ass, and many bought items on ebay anyhow. The new classes look very exciting, and it appears that much of the itemization is similar to Diablo II. In fact, the game appears to be a modernized and much improved version of Diablo II with new storyline and much better gameplay. If that proves true, this game will be amazing, and will likely win quite a few awards.
Overall, this makes me look highly forward to Diablo III, and I hope I’ll eventually get a Beta Key.