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AusGamers@BlizzCon – The Diablo III Round-Up
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 04:15pm 09/11/16 | Comments
We go through all the big Diablo III announcements from BlizzCon 2016 and give you our thoughts.

Heading into BlizzCon, the big question for Diablo fans was what exactly would be announced. Would it be a new game, a new expansion, or perhaps a new character class? In the end, what we ended up with was a clear message -- 2017 will see a lot of love for Diablo III. Which, makes us happy. With the introduction of the Necromancer class, Challenge Rifts, new playable zones, and even a retro-inspired remake of the 1996 original, there’s a lot in store for Nephalem next year.

Back With The Dead

Going back to the Diablo III launch in 2012 and then the release of the Reaper of Souls expansion in 2014, in terms of what character class fans have been asking for, the clear favourite has always been the Necromancer. A fan-favourite from the days of Diablo II, the Necromancer essentially commands an army of skeletons and has at his or her disposal several ghoulish blood-based skills. A description that surprisingly only manages to capture a small percentage of how fun it is to make corpses explode and cause some sizable AoE damage.

So with the announcement that Diablo III would be getting the Necromancer as a new playable class coming during the BlizzCon opening ceremony, it immediately felt like the game was given a new lease on life.

With few notable additions in recent months, many have been wondering if Diablo III was perhaps switching into maintenance mode -- with development resources switching to the next Diablo project from Blizzard. Although we don’t know what’s next for the franchise, we do know that work has commenced on whatever it may be. We were on hand to ask if we were going to get a Diablo 4, and the answer wasn’t a no. It wasn’t a yes either, but we’re a glass half-full kind of publication. But, with the Necromancer announcement plus several other new things coming to Diablo III it’s probably safe to say that the next Diablo game is a long way away.

Hands-On with The Necromancer

At BlizzCon we went hand-on with the Necromancer and in the process used the new character class to clear about four or five Rifts. And it’s safe to say that even now, a couple of days later, we’re eager to play more. From a design perspective, it’s clear that Blizzard are utilising all the knowledge gained from the successful Reaper of Souls launch (plus subsequent content patches) to inform the re-design of the Necromancer. What that means is a fast, fluid, and intuitive combat flow that lends itself to a great skill-rhythm where you’re alternating between corpse-explosions, throwing spears, siphoning blood, and even throwing your skeleton army around the map to target individual Elite monsters.

Make no mistake this is not the Necromancer from Diablo II, but instead a version of the character re-designed to take advantage of Diablo III’s skill system. Going into the demo we were a little worried that another pet-centric class would mean a similar play-style to the Witch Doctor, or to a lesser extent a certain Demon Hunter build that was popular a few years back. But in terms of execution, with the ability to target individual monsters and then using fresh corpses to trigger bloody explosions in a bright red chain reaction, there’s a clear indication already that the Necromancer will indeed be its own thing.

Of course, what we went hand-on with was still early. With the Necromancer class, due to be released sometime in 2017 as part of a new Rise of the Necromancer Pack, we didn’t have access to individual items, skill runes, or abilities. In fact, we still don’t know what the Necromancer’s base-stat will be -- our money is on Intelligence. Instead what we got was a work-in-progress, but one where the focus has been placed on making the Necromancer a fun class to play. And with specific sets, skill runes, and other abilities still to be revealed we’re hoping we get to see more on the Necromancer soon.

New Zones Incoming!

One of the main reasons certain Diablo fans have asking for a new expansion, is due to the simple fact that they’ve exhausted all the content currently in the game. And then some. Since the release of the base game in 2012, you could probably count the number of times we’ve killed the Skeleton King quite easily. Assuming of course you had one of those fancy scientific calculators capable of handling numbers usually associated with string theory equations.

So, with the introduction of a new class, simply popping them into Diablo III as it exists today, feels a little off. And this is something that Blizzard are aware of. When we think of a new expansion in an RPG we picture a new area, some new story content, and an increased level cap that essentially hits the reset button on the entire game.

And it’s that last bit where we’re of the firm belief that a new expansion would have been the wrong way to go for Diablo III. Hitting the reset button on what’s essentially now one of the most refined and robust action-RPG experiences out there, we would have considered starting one of those ‘bring back legacy servers’-style petitions. But even so prior to BlizzCon we were hoping that we’d see the announcement of a few new zones, and that’s exactly what we got with the Shrouded Moors and the Temple of the Firstborn announcements. These new Adventure Mode locations have been built from the ground-up with end-game Diablo III in mind, utilising the Bounty system and dungeon clearing aspects of the game to tell new Diablo stories.

Already Blizzard are touting these new zones as bigger and more detailed than the recent Greyhollow Island addition. And their descriptions sound very cool.

Shrouded Moors: This harsh, inhospitable land has been abandoned for centuries. But something stirs within its perpetual fog—as though a dark presence has taken hold.
Temple of the Firstborn: An ancient monument to the earliest nephalem. The temple is hidden beneath the surface of Sanctuary, where it has escaped the notice of most mortals.

Challenge Rifts

One of the surprise announcements from BlizzCon, which is sure to please Diablo fans, is the introduction of what are being called Challenge Rifts. Essentially a fun arcade-like time trial take on Greater Rifts, they will take individual Greater Rift clearances from players and then open those up to the community for everyone to have a shot at tackling. And to level the playing field, everyone will have access to the same character build right down to individual items and skills as well as the same Greater Rift maps and bosses. The way it will work is that you’ll be given the build to test out in small training area where you can then re-map skills prior to beginning the Challenge Rift. Blizzard itself will curate the playlists, which will be available across both PC and Console.

Additional changes are also coming to Greater Rifts with new tile sets being added, monster populations getting an overhaul, as well as more variety between Rift levels. In fact, there’s a sense that Blizzard are looking directly to player feedback to implement all the changes that will make Diablo III a more fun game to play overall. One very cool community idea that was put forth a while back was the introduction of an Armory where a player could walk up to an armour stand in town and be able to instantly switch between various class builds. Instead of you know, spending several minutes going through stash items and other characters to try and find the right equipment. The Armory idea is coming to Diablo III and will works exactly how fans imagined. Brilliant stuff.

And this is in addition to transforming the crafting material system to a currency-style non-stash-space setup, Seasons finally making their way to the console versions of Diablo III, and a very special in-game celebration of the original Diablo I.

Revisiting the Depths of Diablo I

As this year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Diablo franchise, a special retro Diablo I event is coming soon to Diablo III. In it players will get to experience all 16 dungeon levels from the 1996 game, with bosses intact, recreated in Diablo III using retro-inspired visuals and even old school sound effects. Being touted as a timed event, what we’re getting is essentially a Diablo I remake with the character classes and skills from Diablo III. It’s a great thank you to fans of the series, and will be a free event when it commences early next year.

It’s clear that Blizzard haven’t forgotten about Diablo III. From the discussions we had with the development team, it’s still a very popular game that sees a high number of players return every Season. And it’s this statistic that informs all the new announcements made at BlizzCon, with a lot of work also being put into ensuring that the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game will be identical, content-wise, with the introduction of Seasons. Since the release of Reaper of Souls the game has grown from strength to strength, and 2017 will once again see the game reach new heights.