I semi-live blogged this panel. As soon as it was over I spent another hour fixing up the transcript and inserting links and other useful infos. Read the below for full coverage of the panel, plus some analysis of the comments and new info in it. This was an info-packed panel and it included new info about Achievements, Crafting, items in Diablo III, the Auction House, Monsters, recent balance changes to all classes, recent improvements to passive skills, higher difficulty levels, changes based on beta tester feedback, and more.
Jason Bender describes them. There are tons of Achievements in the game. Lots of them, for good and bad. High and low. Everyone earned one just be attending Blizzcon 2011! Achievements are mainly tied to your banner. They add more decoration options (color, sigal, etc) as well as increasing the size and various other displays.
Jason then described how the Stone of Recall works, and how players can use their Banner to jump right to the location of any other player in the game. Also talked about the Cauldron of Jordan and Cube of the Nephalem are detailed. Which I’m not writing here since we’ve known the for a while and you can read about them in the wiki.
Click through for the videos and much, much more.
Andrew Chambers spoke about Crafting.
D2 items came form buying from vendors or were found from monsters. When you found a better item in D2, you could try to trade an item or sell it to an NPC. Gold could be used to Gambling. But lots of players didn’t like gambling (and since nothing in D3 can be there if noobs can’t understand it instantly, that had to go) so they horded gold or found no use for it.
D3 improvements to the item life cycle. The Mystic Artisan provides item enhancements. Can add things like gold find, magic find, attribute boosts, and resource regeneration. Enhancements are semi-random. You know you’ll get say, increased Hatred regeneration from a given enchantment, but there’s a variable range of benefits that you’ll have to work to score at the top end of. While they start off small, there are much more powerful enhancements available in the end game.
Aberrant Builds. The Mystic’s enhancements can enable players to do odd builds as they build up bonuses stats on non-typical items. The example was a Demon Hunter using an axe/shield, since you won’t often see a DH with one-handed weapons.
How would this example work? Almost all of the Demon Hunter skills require a bow or xbow, but of the ones that can be used with a melee weapon, Grenades and Spike Trap are Hatred generators, while Chakram and Fan of Knives are Fury spenders. The rest are utility skills that spend Discipline. So in theory you’d need some increased Hatred regen (it regens very slowly on the redesigned DH, compared to the quite quick pace in the beta build) since just using Grenades and Spike Trap wouldn’t be sufficient to keep up with your costs.)
They also revealed that the Mystic levels up through ten levels, which matches info found from data-mining. Previously Artisans only had 5 levels, so clearly more time and expense will be required to max them out.
The Jeweler. All things gem-related. He can combine gems to upgrade their rank. He can also add sockets to items, as well as remove gems from sockets. As the Jeweler levels up, he can combine higher level gems. All artisans require Pages of Training to upgrade (plus gold and various materials), so you’ll have to decide which one you want to level up first, or do a lot of page farming. (But ultimately you’ll have all of them to max level, since Artisans are by account, not by character.)
The Blacksmith. He can craft all types of weapons and armor. Including legendary items and Set Items. Which he will learn from plans (recipe scrolls) you find and take to him. (All plans found in the Beta are “recipe already known” by the Blacksmith, but there will be rare ones in the full game that don’t just come with the Artisan’s level up learning.
Diablo III Item Lifecycle.
Items can come from drops, buying from merchants, crafting, or buying from the auction house. Can sell items in the AH, enhance it, sell for gold, salvage it, twink, give to friends. Many more options than in D2. They showed some slides to emphasize the variety of ways players can obtain and dispose of items in D3, but it was pretty much themed for noobs or WoW players, so I won’t spend much time on it here.
Diablo III PvP
The Arena debuted last year at Blizzcon. This year’s version is upgraded. (We’ll be posting an article on it later tonight.) The new version is team death match. Their biggest feedback from the Arena last year was that players didn’t like waiting around for rounds to end (after they died). Now when you die you respawn in three seconds, and get right back into the battle. The winning team is the one that lands the most kills in 10 minutes. (The demo goes 15m at Blizzcon, but apparently that’s 5m longer than we’ll be doing in the real game.)
There’s no item swapping or skill swapping during Arena games, so players need to set their gear and skills before a battle, and you’ll need a variety of abilities to counter all kinds of attacks and strategies.
Wait, who put skill requirements in Diablo 3? Is that still allowed?
Jay Wilson speaks about it in detail. Most of it’s long-known info, so I’ll just mention some new stuff here.
Loot is a big deal in the Diablo games. Everything is somewhat randomized. Any monster can drop any item (not really) but this lowers the odds of a given item ever being found. (Jay explaining this so WoW players will understand.)
Item obtaining was a social activity in Diablo 2, but the trading system and interface wasn’t very good. Their main goal in D3 was to improve upon that.
The AH in the beta is not at all full featured. There will be a lot more options and controls in the final game, and they’re testing it internally now.
Smartsearch feature. The game will auto-find you items for sale that are appropriate for your char, with mods you seem to enjoy. You can further sort between them. Also a super search coming up. You can specify exactly item stats that you want. Stackable items will also be saleable. They are not in the beta.
Wyatt Cheng speaking. Improvements to monsters, lots of improvements since last year’s Blizzcon and even over what we see in the beta build.
Since most items are found from bosses, it’s important that they are sufficiently difficult. One problem they’ve noticed is that many boss modifiers are more dangerous to melee characters than to ranged characters. One new modifier to address that issue is called Mortar, and the video shows grenades firing out in all directions from the monster, a bit like Electrified, but with hang time and fire. These mortars do no damage to melee chars, but are nasty for ranged attackers.
They’re also working on improvements to the passive skills. They want these to be more interesting and functional. Players want a variety of passives; giving them cool effects, as well as better functions, and ways to boost offense or defense for more customization. The developers felt that the Barbarian needed more defensive boosts, so he’s got a new passive called Nerves of Steel. It boosts the barb’s defense by 25% of his Vitality, and should improve his tank-ability.
Fetish Sycophants is a new WD passive, improving his pets.
Combination Strike is a new Monk passive, that boosts his damage by 10% when he uses a variety of combos. (Rather than just the same one repeatedly.)
Another problem is that some synergies are too strong in the game now. Not that they are officially designated as synergies, as in Diablo 2, but that some passives all work in the same way, and this makes it too advantageous to pick several in a group. Their example is three Monk passives that all boost Dodge, damage dealt when he dodges, etc. Any of them works fine alone, but when all three are used together it makes for too big a bonus, and players feel obligated to take all three for the big effect, which has the result of decreasing build diversity.
They’re happy with him, for the most part. One thing that needed improvement was his Fury generation. Players were finding that the bigger skills that generated Fury, such as Ground Stomp and Leap Attack were much more useful than the small increases from melee-hitting, spammable, skills like Cleave and Bash and Frenzy. So those melee ones have been boosted in effect.
Survivabilty for the Barbarian was an issue at higher difficulties. Not in the beta, of course, but in their internal testing the Barb was having issues at higher difficulty levels. They couldn’t stand in there and tank as they were supposed to, so the developers have added some better passives for that (such as the aforementioned Nerves of Steel), and they’ve also made some changes to the Barb’s base stats to make him tougher.
They like how the Wizard is working, on the whole. Her formerly-named “Academic Skills” have been renamed “Signature Skills.” These skills get cheaper as the Wizard levels up, which is a function the developers like. They’re also tweaking numbers on skills that cost Arcane Power, to make sure the balance is good between those and the Signature Skills.
The biggest change to the Wizard and Witch Doctor is something we noticed when Blizzard posted the updated skill info on their website. All skills in the game now obtain their damage from a percent of weapon damage. The developers wanted to make casters value their weapons more. So does this mean a Wizard should use a big 2h weapon? Not so much, since weapon speed ties into casting speed. Makes daggers and wands more powerful. (Not mentioned by Wyatt, but mojos and orbs in the off hand add a lot of offensive bonuses, to go with one-handed weapons and make up some of the damage you might give up compared to using a big two-handed weapon.)
A common fan complaint is that mana is too easy, in the beta. That’s intentional.
They’re providing multiple ways for the WD to recover mana in the game. There are passives that help with it, as well as rune effects in some of the Witch Doctor skills that boost mana regeneration, or lower mana costs. You can gain mana from items as well, since they want players to choose a mixture of these. A player can take all the mana loading options and have infinite mana, but you’ll be giving up other benefits to do so.
The point though, is that mana regen tactics don’t really exist in the beta, since low level WDs have to work hard to run out of mana at all. (This is not entirely true; I was playing just yesterday and trying to use only Corpse Spiders and Grasp of the Dead, and I was constantly out of mana. You can run through it pretty quickly during intensive Firebats use as well.)
That aside, there will definitely be mana cost issues for the WD in the full game, but as the skill runes, gear bonuses, etc aren’t available in the early going, the class is designed to have almost infinite mana, at least in Act One.
Circle of Life is a new Witch Doctor passive. This is meant to enable non-pet play, since it spawns a Mongrel some % of the time when a monster dies within close proximity to the Witch Doctor. This lets a player have tanks without actually putting a point into Mongrels at all, and is meant to increase build variety. (Though they’re optional in the easy beta, presumably a point in Mongrel was pretty much mandatory at higher levels.)
Survivability issues. During internal testing they think the Monk is fine later in the game, as he has a lot of defensive skills and abilities that make him strong. Early on they’ve had some complaints about too much dying, so they’ve made some changes to early combo skills to help him. They’ve added more length to Deadly Reach, stuck a knockback effect on Dashing Strike, etc.
Mantras aren’t really useful in the beta, but even when players are using them in testing, there’s no real “decision point” on when to cast or recast it. So they’ve added a property that doubles the mantra’s bonus for three seconds after its cast. Note that Mantras have a 120s duration, and a 30s cooldown, so the 3s bonus can only be obtained twice a minute at most, though by using two Mantras and switching between them players could get a lot more total time with the double bonus.
Combo attacks are getting some boosts. some players want to use one combo all the time. Others want to combine multiple combos. They’re working to make both styles possible. Making them better to combine without requiring players to use more than one. (See the mention of Combination Strike above.)
Wyatt described the big recent skill makeover, but as we’ve discussed it a fair amount already, I’ll skip most of that here. Basically, skills are now split between Hatred Spenders and Hatred Generators, with Hatred regen much slower. So players can learn to alternate their skills between the spenders and the generators, instead of everything costing Hatred and the DH always being out of it, at least in the early going.
They’ve also made big changes to the snares and traps that the Demon Hunter uses. These are now better at keeping enemies at range, with more stun and root type effects, as well as higher damage.
Making Skills Awesome
“Cranking up the awesome across all the classes.” Amping up the visuals, the feel, the effects. So skills work the same as they did, but have more appeal and fun factor.
Chris Haga speaks for this part. Kick ass gameplay is more than a great idea or mechanic. Covering things that didn’t quite make the cut and how they were improved.
Monk: They wanted the Monk to incorporate some kind of “temple aesthetic” into his skills. So he can summon a temple and then collapse it on his enemies. Cool, but lots of gameplay issues. Complicated, takes up too much cicking snd space, etc. So now he just summons a whole temple column, which hits and hurts, then explodes a moment later.
Demon Hunter. They wanted a companion of some kind. Lots of ideas. Raven, Wolf, and crazier ideas. Floating skull. Bounces around like a rock. Also tried a floating sword. Didn’t seem to match very well with the DH, though. So now she’s got a bat that bites enemies. Flies around and tanks a bit. They also show the summoning moment of ferrets, with two of them popping out at once. (No mention was made of the delightfully cheesy Beastmaster movie, but since I saw that on cable about fifty times when I was too young to know any better, I was immediately reminded of it.)
Barbarian. Call of the Ancients is demonstrated on the video, and the crowd goes wild.
Monsters also need to be awesome. so you enjoy killing them more. The Goatman Shaman is shown. He’s got a sort of lightning shield, kind of like the Wizard skill. But it’s not visual or impressive enough, so they gave him a frost attack projectile. Which wasn’t very impressive either, frankly. Just a sort of dusty blob like an Arcane Orb, but with cold damage.
They did show a cool new monster, which they called the Rock Worm monster. It’s first seen in Act Two, and it’s like a giant worm that’s underground, shooting its head out and snapping at you. Apparently that wasn’t cool enough though, so recently it got an upgrade where it can now come out of the ground directly below a character and swallow them up, doing damage before spitting you back out.
Difficulties in Diablo III
Jay Wilson. Lists the four difficulty levels and describes their differences.
Normal difficulty. The beginning of the game, Act One is the tutorial. Blizzard doesn’t like stand-alone tutorials, so they teach you while playing. That’s why early Act One is pretty easy. Monsters have low awareness, they don’t attack very fast or seriously, they pause a lot, etc. Limited abilities. Not even many ranged monsters.
Each act layers on more challenges. The developers grouped all the monsters into categories such as ranged attacker, melee attacker, AoE damage, etc, ranked them by how nasty they were, then slotted them through the difficulties accordingly. In the later acts and higher difficulties, monsters will respond more quickly, move faster, act more aggressively, show more abilities, etc.
Common feedback from players, and how they’ve reacted to it.
One very common complaint, from internal testing as well as fans in the Beta, is that it’s too easy. Jay says it’s not so different than D2, and he shows a clip of a Sorceress walking around the Blood Moor while Zombies and Quill Rats ignore her. The crowd laughs.
Diablo III is supposed to be easy early on. They’re not worried about that since any serious player will blow through the normal stuff and get into the difficulty soon enough. They want to make the game accessible to casual players.
“Hardcore games for everyone is what Blizzard does.”
The early game is for casual players, because Blizzard wants to turn them into hardcore gamers. It’s how they draw people in and make them real gamers.
How hard is late game in Diablo 3, though? Jay says it’s super hard, but that we won’t believe him when he says it. So they ran video of some of their Q&A guys talking about how hella hard it gets later on. One guy says the game really begins in Nightmare, where you have to play for real or you will die. Hell gets much more tense. And then you get into Inferno and pretty much the first boss pack will own you. The AoE effects and damage is really dangerous. Gold becomes very valuable as repair costs are crazy.
How do they make higher difficulties harder?
Game depth: New item affixes. They save a lot of the more interesting and powerful modifiers for higher levels, since they’re not needed in normal. Characters need more resistances later in the game, and so items start to spawn with them. Lots of new attributes come in on higher difficulties. Around 70% of the types of items in the game don’t show up until past normal difficulty.
Rare and Champion monsters. There are new Boss modifiers galore at higher difficulties. In normal they get two mods, three in Nightmare, and they get up to four in Hell/Inferno. Plus there are nasty mods that only show up later on. These often introduce new mechanics, rather than just adding say, more fire damage.
Inferno. Everything will be soloable. But it’ll be hard. While they view Diablo as a co-op game, that’s for fun. Not mandatory. Multiple tiers of items in Inferno. Increasingly more rare.
Rares and champion bosses are the best loot in the game. The developers are trying to avoid monotonous boss runs in D3. They want to randomize the content. They want to patch boss runs post-release, to make sure the best gear comes from playing a variety of areas.
Crazy builds. They want people to make crazy builds and variety. WoW focuses on optimal builds. You make the best character of a given type, and items are designed to facilitate that. In D3, there are no guilds, raids, or roles to be stuck in, so you don’t *have* to do X or Y with a character. Co-op in D3 is optional and for fun. Diablo focuses on viable builds and variety.
A petless Witch Doctor, for instance. They show one playing in Hell, and using Grasp of the Dead, Spirit Walk, and lots of attack skills. It’s not as easy as just tanking up behind Mongrels or a Gargantuan, but it can be done.
Viable over Optimal: Tons of customization in D3. Allows for more self-expression. Somewhere around 2.8 trillion possible builds at this point. There may be some best builds, but there are tons of viable ones that will also work. They don’t mind if some are better, so long as they’re not so much better it’s just pointless to experiment.
Player Beta Feedback
They say that player feedback has affected the development of the game in countless ways, but they picked three almost at random to profile here.
1) Skill system. They show video of someone playing with their Skill Window open, swapping skills constantly. They like easy switching, but not that easy. Also, something I noted immediately in my beta play, is that you get no sense of identity or loyalty to a character, when you can just change anything at any time. Thus the developers feel this is a little exploitative, and they want to slow skill switching around a bit. Coming soon to a beta patch will be a change that requires players to go to some object in town in order to change around their skills. They’re not sold on this as their final design, and are still iterating it, though.