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July 2011 Press Event Wrap-up
Posted August 1st, 2011 at 7:01am by AstrayAs I write this I'm on the plane back to Calgary from the Diablo III press event on Wednesday, June 27th at the Blizzard HQ in Irvine, CA. There's so much information to digest (as well as nauseating plane food) so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy. Given the length and numerous topics covered in this feature, I've included a table of contents below, the bigger reveals are marked with a star icon.
- Intro Cinematic Preview for Press
- Lore Debriefing with Chris Metzen
- Story Ideas with Leonard Boyarsky
- Gameplay with Jay Wilson (Skill tress & points removed, traits replaced with passive skill system, shared stash, sell or salvage items from anywhere in the world)
- Battle.net Features with Rob Pardo (Friends list, matchmaking for campaign and PvP, banner system)
- Battle.net Real Money Auction House
- Diablo III Beta Hands-on
- Additional Assets (Class crests, b-roll video)
Shortly after arriving and sitting down in the theater, we were shown a brief 30-40 second clip from the cinematic intro for Diablo III. We weren't allowed recording devices and weren't given this clip to share so it's obviously still a work in progress and not ready for the public eye. What caught me off-guard was the artistic style which is not the typical Blizzard cinematic format. They've opted for a style somewhat reminiscent of the inFamous intro; sketches with detail animated on the fly and particle effects. The clip we saw brought us to the battlefield of a large scale war between countless angels and demons. That said, it was really well done on both fronts (sound and art) and I'm looking forward to the finished product.
Chris Metzen was next up to bring everyone up to speed with Diablo's lore. The angels and demons have been fighting over the worldstone because of its power to shape reality. A group of renegade angels and demons who were tired of the fighting created Sanctuary, the world we know in the Diablo universe. Their offspring in this world were called Nephalem, and these are ultimately the characters we know as the playable heroes of the game. This led to the Sin War, where the Nephalem were corrupted to see which faction they would side with.
After Diablo and his 2 brothers were exiled to Sanctuary, Tyrael created the Horadrim and empowered them to turn the demons into soulstones. The hero that defeated Diablo in the original game has been personified as King Leoric's son, leading to the events in Diablo II. The destruction of the worldstone after Baal's defeat was so devastating it completely wiped Mount Arreat off the face of the earth, and all that's left is a giant crater.
20 years later Deckard Cain has put together a journal urging that the war is far from over, and that they still face grave threats from the demons Azmodan, the Lord of Sin and Belial, the Lord of Lies.
Lead world designer Leonard Boyarsky gave a brief presentation, highlighting the significance of Leah in the story. We first saw Leah in the teaser trailer of Diablo III way back in 2008. She was adopted at 8 and raised by Deckard Cain, and she's his go-to girl for retrieving artifacts. She's much less of a scholar-type and is skeptical of Cain's foretelling of the dangers Sanctuary still faces.
During the beta test later in the day I had a few run-ins with Leah, she appears to be deeply engrained in the progression of Act I at the very least.
Game director Jay Wilson was next up to debrief us on the state of Diablo III's gameplay, coupled with a live demo of the game behind him.
Skill trees and traits as we knew it have been completely removed from the game, leaving in its place a much simpler and forgiving system. We now have 6 skill slots (2 available at level 1 and the remaining unlocked at levels 6, 12, 18 and 24) that can be swapped from a much larger bank of skills. It's not clear if swapping skills will cost anything but during the playable demo later in the day I was able to switch them up in dungeons whenever I wanted for free. Skills themselves unlock progressively at different levels so as to not have the most powerful abilities available at early levels.
Traits have been replaced by 3 passive skill slots which unlock at levels 10, 12 and 30 providing powerful latent effects for your character. Much like active skills, passive skills are chosen from a pool and can be swapped in and out for a tactical advantage on the encounter you're facing.
Nothing has changed with the rune system, they still alter the nature of the skill you socket them into. What we learned is that runes will not be available for your character until at least Act II.
Early on in the game you'll receive 3 items via quests that take up secondary paper doll space, not actual inventory space. The first one is the Nephalem Cube which will give you the ability to salvage materials from items in your inventory. Next there's the Cauldron of Jordan which can sell any items in your inventory for gold (you won't get a reduced rate so there's no reason to return to town to vendor items). Finally, the Stone of Recall, which is essentially a scroll of town portal that doesn't get consumed when you use it - there are
however restrictions on where or when you can use it. I tried to use it during the Skeleton King encounter and wasn't able to.
Stash space was always a concern of Diablo II players, and led to people creating "mules" to store valuable items and transferring items to those mules wasn't very graceful (usually involved dropping the item on the ground and hoping that the game was still there when you logged back in). Blizzard is addressing this by giving you an account-wide stash with multiple tabs. You will start off with a relatively small stash but can purchase space upgrades on each tab for gold (I believe there were 5-6 upgrades per tab, and the cost increased with each purchase). Any items you store in your stash will be available on any characters in your account, there are a maximum of 10 characters per account at this
It felt like Jay wrapped up a lot of systems nicely but the real bombshell was yet to come when Rob Pardo, Executive Vice President of Game Design came to the stage to unveil Battle.net's features.
We were shown a few screenshot's of the friend's list interface, which many of you who play Starcraft II or World of Warcraft are familiar with. Character names are not unique, they will be suffixed with a numerical identifier like in SC2, so "Hairyfoot" is actually "Hairyfoot.167". Your friends list will be populated by Real ID friends or by characters you add with the unique identifier.
While you have the choice between playing solo or playing with friends, Diablo III will be "online only", you won't be able to play the single player experience without a persistent connection to Battle.net. Rob justified this by mentioning the disconnect between single player and multiplayer in Diablo II, you could never bring your solo character onto the ladder because there's no way Blizzard can trust the character you "upload" to their server if it originated on your hard drive. They're in the business of building communities and the faction of users who cannot (or do not want to) connect to the internet to play Diablo III is small.
Diablo III's game finder interface is simple and intuitive. You can build your own party (any size 1-4) and go, or you can join a friend's game in progress, or solo/partial queue for a full group via the game finder tool, which will match you with players on the same progression path. Queuing for PvP works much of the same way, and there are systems in place to prevent really experienced players from matching against total newbs.
In StarCraft II you can usually tell how good a player is by their avatar. In Diablo III you'll have a banner to show off how awesome you are. Decals and artifacts are added to your banner to display important in-game feats.
Battle.net Friends List Screenshots
Battle.net Interface Screenshots
I did promise a bombshell didn't I? Read on to the Battle.net auction house section.
Battle.net Auction House
One of the biggest issues faced in Diablo II was the out of game market. In order to get ahead many players found it necessary to visit third party websites and purchase in-game items or characters. The traditional Blizzard policy that carries over from game to game is that this violates their terms of service / acceptable use policies and they will hunt down seller and buyer alike with their lightning infused ban hammer.
Rob Pardo explained that it's no secret a large portion of their player base enjoy trading real life money to enhance their in-game experience, and that phenomenon is supported by the huge market for free-to-play games that have micro transactions. The problem is that they can only buy items or characters on shady third party websites, leaving themselves vulnerable for scams.
Diablo III will feature an integrated real money player to player auction house. Players can buy or sell in-game items or gold for money. They also hinted at the possibility that you will be able to buy and sell entire characters. The seller can choose to have the money sent to their account on the (yet to be revealed) third party payment processor, or to their Battle.net e-balance where they can use that money for any Blizzard product or service (WoW subscription, Blizzard store, Items in Diablo III, etc...).
Fees have not been released yet, but there will be a fixed listing fee, a transaction fee after a sale and a fee on cashing out the money. The fees exist first and foremost as a way to monetize Diablo III for years to come, but also as a deterrent from players listing all the crap in their inventory to try and get lucky and sell something.
Ultimately this came down to one simple statement; If Blizzard didn't do it, hundreds of random shady sites would. Love it or hate it, it's a
ballsy move by Blizzard and I'm interested to see both sides of the community's reaction to this.
- There will also be a "gold only" auction house for players not interested in engaging in real money trade.
- Design-wise, the auction house is being built to be very similar to the World of Warcraft auction house.
- Hardcore characters will not be able to use the real money auction house. Blizzard wants to "save people from themselves" as the worst thing would be to dump a lot of money into a character and then have the character die and lose everything.
Real Money Auction House Screenshots
Gold Auction House Screenshots
Diablo III Beta Hands-on
All of the above was revealed to us prior to lunch. After dining in their candlelit cafeteria (I had a tasty turkey sandwich in case you were wondering),
we were led upstairs where we'd spend the rest of the afternoon testing the game. Some press were given the opportunity to conduct 1 on 1 interviews with
the development team so be sure to check out other popular gaming websites for different perspectives on the event.
Spoiler Alert! I am not going to go super in-depth on all of the content available on the beta, but I will say enough that if you want to experience it all first hand you should skip this section.
The first thing I noticed about the beta was all 5 classes will be fully playable. It was mentioned earlier in the day that each class would have a cinematic introduction when you first load them up to give a crash course on their individual backstories, but those weren't available in the beta yet. It isn't long after you enter the game before you're in your first battle; when you reach the gates to enter the camp it comes under attack and you have to hold off a horde of demons.
In your initial quests you'll be introduced to a few key NPCs in the game such as Leah, Deckard Cain, the Blacksmith and the Templar (your first follower). These quests will reward you (in addition to experience & gold) 3 valuable paper doll items that let you sell/salvage items from anywhere in the world and return to town. The beta test ends after the King Leoric encounter, which will be roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour into the game for the average player.
King Leoric is the first (and only) challenging encounter in the beta. I could sense the design shift from Diablo II where instead of zerging encounters you can readjust your skills for a tactical advantage. Leoric has a ton of hit points, summons small armies of skeletons to assist him regularly and occasionally either teleports and hits you immediately or does a whirlwind type charge towards you. My first go was with a Barbarian, I died with Leoric at around 50% hp after a minute or so of pathetically kiting him around with almost no hp left of my own. On my second go I resocketed my skills to give me an AoE stun and rend (AoE damage over time ability). It wasn't even close after that as rend ate the skeletons alive and stun prevented Leoric from finishing any big attacks.
Now, it's going to be really important to set your expectations in the right place, the beta test will NOT be patched with additional story content later on, what you see is what you get. The only features they currently plan on patching in is 'out of game' stuff like the auction house. The beta test is being conducted to tackle compatibility issues and to ensure the introductory experience to the game is as good as it can be. You are going to be really limited on how far you can go based on the available content. The typical player will beat the beta at level 8 or 9 but I was told if one was so inclined they could keep playing the game over again with the same character and get to a maximum of level 13 before the monsters stop giving experience.
Screenshots from the beta
This wraps up our coverage of the July 2011 press event at Blizzard in Irvine, CA. To close out with "cool stuff that just didn't fit anywhere else in the article", we have a new gameplay video and the crests for all 5 classes.
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