Blizzard hosted a few dozen fansite people at their offices this afternoon. Besides a tour of the offices (they hid all most of the cool new D3 stuff before we went through), lunch with the devs, a talk about Twitter, (during which I twittered) and a nice framed print of this year’s Blizzcon artwork, we were lucky enough to witness a 20 minute D3 demo, run by Bashiok. During the demo he played a Wizard and a Witch Doctor, and showed us all sorts of new stuff. It was the Blizzcon demo build, which we’ll have tons more about after the weekend, when we’ve spent a few hours playing/observing it. But for now, I typed up a fair amount of info about new things I saw and took note of.  Here’s the start; click through to read the whole thing.

    Fansite Summit Demo Report

    At the start of the fansite summit, we were all herded into the main movie theater at Blizzard and favored with a short Diablo III demo. DiabloWikiBashiok, our host for the event, controlled the character, which he played in the demo build, the same one that the press and fans will see this weekend at Blizzcon. It’s apparently the same demo build that they’re seeing this weekend in Germany, at Gamescom. The demo has 3 characters, the same 3 we saw at Blizzcon last year. The only real change is that the male DiabloWikiWizard is now playable.

    We were given zero hints of any kind about the expected debut of the 4th character tomorrow. When asked/teased about it, the Blizzard guys seemed somewhat resigned, and almost disappointed. More like, “You’ll see a fourth character someday.” Rather than, “Just wait until tomorrow and your eyes will pop out.” I headed to Blizzcon this year very much expecting to see a 4th character, and I certainly hope I’m wrong, but as I twittered from Blizzard, I don’t expect to, at this point.

    As for the demo, this is a very preliminary report, based only on observing it for about 20 minutes at Blizzard. We’ll have much more to report after Blizzcon, after watching it played for hours, and getting more play time for ourselves. I’m just going to hit a few highlights and quick thoughts here, and save more detailed discussion for a later article, when I’ll be much more informed.

    As has been previously reported from Gamescom, this new demo is set in a dry, sandy, windy, desert like area. Comparisons to the surface areas of Act Two in Diablo 2 are inevitable. All sandy deserts look pretty much alike, after all. That said, there was nothing in the fairly short time I got to watch it that actually had me thinking, “Lut Gholein.” The demo starts off just outside a high, fortified city wall. Your demo character is standing in a narrow canyon, with high rocky walls on each side. The city gate is behind you, and can not be run back into. Around you on each side are a half dozen NPCs, a couple of whom had ! over their heads. Bashiok talked to one, and got a quick quest summary; demons overrunning the desert, beware, etc. Again, more quotes on this once I’ve had more time to observe it.

    From there your character sets off into battle. The initial areas look like you are in a system of arroyos; steep dark stone walls with water channels cut through them. Your character walks on the flat, hardpacked ground, down various narrow pathways, which merge and split and fork and wind around. Eventually your character exits the snaking maze portion and moves out into a much larger, open area called DiabloWikiThe Howling Plateau. There are still ridges and clumps of rocks, but they are spread out quite a bit, making this part feel more like an open plain. The environmental graphics were awesome, with the rocks and sand and other surroundings looking very real. Plus there was a constant blowing wind that spread visibility-obscuring clouds of sand overhead.

    [Edit: A cut and paste error truncated this paragraph in the first version posted.] Monsters are scattered all throughout the area, and they all seem desert-appropriate. Huge DiabloWikiSand Wasps (which sometimes fire out a stream of green glowing tiny wasps), lots of DiabloWikiFallen in big packs (Including shaman, overseers, and fallen imps. I didn’t notice any Fallen Hounds.), huge panther-like demons that were called DiabloWikiLucani Hunters, and DiabloWikiDune Dervishes, which are humanoid torsos that dual wield long swords with their massive, muscular arms. The Dervishes can spin around with a Whirlwind style attack, which they do often, even when they’re nowhere near your character. While spinning, they have a % chance to reflect projectile attacks. Bashiok said they were quite nasty, very dangerous to melee fighters, and tricky for mages to kill since they can reflect spells. It wasn’t clear if these reflected spells actually damage your character. The Arcane Orbs the Wizard fired looked just the same after they bounced off, but none of them hit or passed through the character. Something to test tomorrow.

    There were a lot of champion monsters. We saw ones of every type, usually spawned singly, rather than in D2-style groups. Champions are somewhat different in color, but not as florescent pink/green/yellow/blue as they were in Diablo 2. They had substantially more hit points than regular monsters, and seemed to move more quickly. Bashiok ran from one Champion Lacuni Hunter for literally 8 or 10 screens, since he was trying to find the dungeon entrance in the desert area. The dungeon always spawns on that level, but the entrance is random, and Bashiok didn’t have a D3 version of maphack yet. *cough*

    Eventually the Champion Lacuni Hunter caught up. Bashiok killed it, but not without a struggle. The funny thing was that while the Lacuni Hunter animations were fine for attacking and being hit, when it ran it did so with a comical, choppy short leg motion, like it was taking tiny little steps at an impossibly fast pace. Bashiok said that the running animation wasn’t finished yet.

    We did see one boss monster. It was one of the nastiest beasts in the desert, a Dune Dervish. This one had two (random?) properties; Teleport and Plagued. Teleport worked as it did in D2, with the demon popping here and there, seemingly at random. It didn’t look like it was healing when it teleported. Plagued wasn’t clear in function, Bashiok said something about dealing more damage, perhaps via a poisoning sort of attack, but more investigation will be required.

    Another cool thing were DiabloWikishrines and buffs. Buffs, such as the Wizard’s Frozen Armor, show overhead, as they did in D2. When a buff runs out, a little heart with a cross over it shows up over your character, then crumbles away. This is simply a visual effect to let you know that the buff has expired. Shrine bonuses have just the same visual when they run out, and yes, shrines are a new addition.

    We only saw one shrine during the demo. It showed as a stone statue, more like a multi-part pedestal than anything recognizably sculpted. The hover description was “desecrated shrine,” and Bashiok said something about how all shrines are now desecrated by the changes in the world. When the character clicked on the shrine, it underwent a sort of self-repairing process, losing a murky miasma that had surrounded it. There wasn’t any name of the shrine given; just a message, like the shrines in D1 displayed. It wasn’t clear what the shrine had buffed, but Bashiok mentioned a few shrine types including, Experience, Skill Damage bonus, Magic Find bonus, and Gold Find bonus.

    Eventually Bashiok did find the dungeon portal, which was a real portal. It was a half circle platform cut into a huge hillside of stone, with a swirling, whirlwind sort of graphic in it. He ran into it, and instantly appeared in an underground tomb, standing in a circle of stone with a swirling wind graphic surrounding him. It looked more like a waypoint than a dungeon stairway, but seemed to function just like any other doorway/stairway we saw in Diablo 2. The underground tomb looked something like the various Act 2 dungeons in D2, but he didn’t explore it at all, so no report on how it was designed or populated.

    A few other miscellaneous tidbits from the demo. (All will be expanded on in later reports. I’ll also write some more about the Blizzard office tour/fansite summit later today, time permitting.)

    The DiabloWikiinventory system has been redone, again. There’s now one huge inventory grid, about the size that it was in D2. All items are either 1×1 or 1×2 (taller than wide), and potions and jewels and other like items stack up in a single square. It wasn’t clear if or how the inventory would be expanded by bags or packs or the like, though some of the early reports from Gamescom said bags were still used for that purpose. (That could be right; we only got a brief look at the inventory while Bashiok was running the demo.)

    Using ID scrolls is easier than before; you simply right click on an un’id’ed item and get a few prompts in a pull down menu, one of which is “ID item.” You can still right click on a stack of scrolls and then click the item, but it’s not necessary.

    A lot of the game displays appear on the border of the screen, WoW style. Quests show little icons down one side, along with mini quests and missions. spoken DiabloWikiNPC dialogues can be heard while you play; you don’t have to just stand there and listen. There is text to accompany the dialogue, and it unscrolls on the lower left side of the screen, though you can toggle it to not show if you prefer. This interface and menu was pretty clearly still under construction.

    DiabloWikiSkills from the skill menu are easier to assign. You just open up the menu and drag the skill icon down to your belt slot. The belt now has 1-5 number key slots, along with Tab, left click, and right click. That gives you 8 hotkeys, and you can set whatever you like to all of those. Skills potions, spells, etc. There doesn’t seem to be a way to duplicate the D2 style control, where you use your mouse for all skill use, and have hotkeys that change the skill usable on your right or left click. In D3 you set the skills you are using the most to your mouse, the tab works like a “switch left click skill,” enabling you to swap instantly between 2 skills, and the others you cast from your 12345 keys.  This is all subject to change in further iterations, of course.

    DiabloWikiMana Globes are out of the game. Replacing that function are skills for magic users that allow them to gain mana as well as life from health globes.

    The Witch Doctor’s skill trees are very fleshed out, 50+ skills like the other characters had last year. I’ll post again later with some notes on new Witch Doctor skills and a few other play issues, time permitting. Live chat all day tomorrow, when we’ve got a moment in the press room.

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