Despite the awesomeness that was the Demon Hunter reveal, our guest panelists also had more news on the overall development of Diablo III, and just what had changed since they showed it off at last year’s BlizzCon.
Content designer Kevin Martins explained first that the skill UI (user interface) had taken a turn for the better, citing the older one as “unwieldy and overwhelming” with far too many skills spread far too wide. Their concern was that people wouldn’t explore as many skills as they had, and so decided to focus more on a smaller list with depth. So they moved to the tab approach, which looked somewhat reminiscent of World of WarCraft, and recognised that it did make everything a lot easier, but still felt information regarding the skills wasn’t accessible enough. Time to make a list (does that sparkle with everyone?), and the skill list, after a few minor tweaks here and there, is currently the one they’re happiest with because you can see all of your skills in one easy-to-navigate place and really start thinking ahead about your charcter’s development.
There are seven skills in all, and it’s easy to rebuild and respec your character with the current interface. What’s more is that skills are class specific, so they’re not just generic upgrades that apply to every one. The Barbarian for example can spec the Ancient Spear skill which actually gives him a minor ranged attack (think Scorpion's "get over here" and you’ll know what this is), while the Wizard has the Meteor skill (a triumphant return from Diablo II). The Monk was also exampled, with Wave of Light, where he basically summons a massive bell, which he then basically hadukens into the enemies (remember, he's essentially a fighting game character).
Jay chimed in next, to explain another new system called Traits. Traits are passive skills you can use to customise and modify core mechanics of your class. They’ve been introduced to help “add flavour to the game world”, and are gained every other other level (at least for now, they’re still playing with the delivery system).
An example came in the form of the Barbarian again who, with the “inner rage” trait, could become stronger in specific areas be it outright strength or in hit rate - the choice is yours on how you spend and allocate these; adding a deeper sense of class customisation beyond any initial levelling up rewards. Though in saying that, the team are quick to tell us the system is far from perfect, outlining they have a ‘to-do’ list which includes playing with the UI, delivery and that at the moment, they feel there are probably too many ranks of each trait.
Remember Charms from Diablo II? Well, Kevin Martin told us they’re back and they’ve fundamentally changed. The first big difference is that they realised people were keeping pockets in their inventory for collected Charms, and often hung on to Charms they might never have used, thus leaving other bits of loot out in the field. To remedy this, they simply added a dedicated inventory specific to Charms, so now not only is your inventrory specifically for inventory, but you actually have more room for Charms anyway. Though he pointed out they’ve made sure it’s not simply a collectathon, because there are still more Charms than you can hold, so you’ll need to make decisions on which ones to keep and which ones to leave behind.
Finally, Julian Love came out to talk about Skill Runes, which they’d shown last year, but nothing else had been heard of them since then. This was to give them a “year off to perculate”, he told us before going into depth about their place in the game.
According to Love, Skill Runes are a system for modifying your skills, which again falls into the team’s clear goal of deeper class customisation for players. He decided to play with the maths of the system for us, just so we could see how crazy it all was, explaining that in calculations of builds per class, they came up with the outlandish figure of 96,886,969,344... seriously.
“This is the number of skill combinations - with runes - you can have per class,” he told every one with a smile. “This does not include traits, charms or anything like that."
So Skill Runes can physically change the appearance of a skill and there are five types in all - Crimson, Indigo, Obsidian, Golden and Alabaster. These are all also loosely themed and there are seven rune ranks per type.
“They take whatever the rune does to a particular skill; [the rune] takes that attribute and makes it extreme," he said before offering up some humorous examples. The Witch Doctor could utilise a specific Skill Rune, which would then upgrade his poison dart move to now shoot out snakes which attach themselves to the face of monsters and eat their face. The Barbarian could be upgraded to throw corpses at the enemy, while Hydra has made a comeback for the Wizard with any type of rune changing the Hydra to contextually reflect - from water, to fire and beyond.
Probably the best example came in the Witch Doctor’s toads ability, which when customised with specific runes changed in fundamental ways. Crimson caused the toads to be aflame, while Indigo let loose a physical rain of toads on enemies. Add Obsidian to the mix, and you get a single giant Toad who eats enemies by grabbing them with his tongue, replete with gory digestion, loot and all (so you’ll be rummaging through that mess, but at least he doesn’t consume loot). All in all, the system looks pretty neat, and should allow for everyone’s play-style to be catered for in the customisation department.
The absolute last thing the team touched on was the recently announced PvP mode, which is essentially a no-brainer. Basically this is a “dedicated place for all your duelling needs” and will focus on team-based play with full class and character customisation so you can build the ideal arena combatant.
“[We] didn’t want PvP to be about crowd control,” he said. “So it’s more about counters.” It’s a pretty frenetic system, where you need to think tactfully and not just spam. Cool tricks and class abilities will play a major role in how you come out victorious and the team are putting a lot of effort into class balance, so while there isn’t a clear parity, there’s always an opportunity to counter anything thrown at you.
They haven’t decided if it will be a round for round bout, with the best two out of three, or three out of five, but they’re working on it. Matches will be set-up around a skill-based matchmaking system via Battle.net and in-game rewards are based around a progression-based ranking system, which will also encourage "bragging rights", but doing it in the arenas - not necessarily on boards or in rank. Though again, much of this is still up in the air.
And that’s it, that’s all they had time for. Thankfully AusGamers caught up with two members of the dev team, so stay tuned for our forthcoming interview shortly.