|Dev: Blizzard Entertainment|
|Pub: Blizzard Entertainment|
|Release: Q1 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Violence|
by Steve Haske
Confession time: I'm not much of a PC gamer. When my friends were busy killing hordes of Zerg and besting demonspawn, I was usually preoccupied playing through, say, Square's current PS one line-up. As a result, my experience and exposure to Diablo is pretty limited, although in retrospect perhaps it's because I secretly knew that I would have become hopelessly addicted to it. In any case, Blizzard is now hard at work on Diablo III, filling a ten-plus-year gap that fans of Blizzard's bloodsoaked action-RPG series have been forced to occupy by simply playing Diablo II and its expansion ad infinitum. Although it's still up in the air when Blizzard will actually release Diablo III—their standard "it's done when it's done" credo is in full effect here—the slew of announcements made at this year's Blizzcon may be an indicator that the development cycle is reaching a later point. Here's what we know so far.
Diablo has always been, of course, about randomness, and the third installment is no exception to this rule. Beginning life in the late '90s as a 2D isometric dungeon crawler with randomly generated maps, the series has historically towed that line in terms of presentation, a tradition which Diablo III continues. Though the overworld outside of the dungeons is more static, the dungeons themselves are just the beginning of the game's random element. Random enemy selection and placement are also in effect, as are randomized loot drops. But the biggest shift in terms of random encounters is randomly-scripted events. These can involve ambushes from enemies, encounters with NPCs, and other effects, theoretically keeping the game fresh even after repeated playthroughs.
There are other changes, as well. A strategic difference Blizzard is employing here is downplaying the importance of potion. In previous games, as long as you had the necessary apothecary-related items, you would never be a complete disadvantage in a battle, so long as you had your wits about you. When surrounded by enemies, you could just keep using potions and spamming attacks until everything around you was dead. Not so in Diablo III—the importance of health items is replaced by the appearance of health globes, which enemies drop upon death. You know how these work: picking up globes will replenish your health little by little, meaning that you have to use a greater degree of strategy and skill in order to survive. The choice was made for the sake of balance, according to Blizzard, because it takes agency away from the player in terms of when they can choose to heal themselves. With the game governing that aspect of play, surviving is a much trickier ordeal.
At this year's Blizzcon, Blizzard took the veil from what they say is the final class for Diablo III: the demon hunter. Armed with detonating bolas, molten arrows, grenades, and throwing knives, she (all character classes in Diablo III can be played as either male or female) is a ranged-attack class fighter, one who can set traps for monsters before leaping away to safety. In addition to the demon hunter, Diablo III's other classes—warrior, witch doctor, wizard, and monk—seem to make a good balance of close-range brute force, magical attacks, and effects-based classes. Interestingly, Blizzard is also implementing a revamped rune system that can be applied to any class' various skills. By equipping various colored runes (alabaster, crimson, golden, obsidian, and indigo) to different skills, they take on different effects. For example, when using the warrior's weapon throw ability, using an obsidian rune with the ability will make your character throw hammers that stun enemies, whereas a golden rune will turn the move into corpse throw, which can have disastrous effects on any nearby enemies. Essentially the rune system makes for deeper combat than you would get with just normal skills, and it's obviously going to be a matter of experimentation, trial and error in order to find the best combinations for any given situation. Similarly, Blizzard is introducing a new system of traits—which basically provides secondary skills to complement your primary ones—into Diablo III's combat as well. Traits are gained when you level up, and you can spend points on them accordingly to, say, bolster the strength of certain kinds of armor for the wizard.
Though Diablo III is still likely a long way from seeing its final release, the tweaks that Blizzard made with the game seem to be headed in the right direction, creating a more balanced, varied, and interesting (not to mention gorgeous) dungeon crawler experience. It probably goes without saying, but the drip-feed of information about the game will probably yield even more surprises before the game is finished, particularly since many elements of the game's design, such as the trait system, are still in their testing stages. Even the number of players when playing co-op also still appears to be up in the air. At any rate, the developer's pedigree is also more than enough of a guarantee that when all is said and done, Diablo will make for worthy competition to any takers, regardless of genre. Expect a release on PC sometime this generation, and, if we're lucky, maybe even a console port afterwards. Now all that's needed is a little bit of patience.
CCC Freelance Writer