Later than I wanted it to be, but quite long and details, here’s my Wizard gameplay report, based on my Wizard playtime at Blizzcon. This report covers the basic gameplay style (kinda Sorceress-y), has a bit of discussion of items, and goes into great detail on the lower level active spells, most of which I was able to test out. There are links aplenty in this piece, pointing to the various Wizard skill tree pages in Diablo Wiki, all of which add many more details, stats, descriptions, and screenshots of the Wizard’s leet skillz. Refer to them as you read, and you’ll gain considerable knowledge of the character you know you are simply itching to get your hands on.
Read on to see the full report…
Though the Wizard was the new character announced at Blizzcon, there’s actually less to say about her (I’ll say “her” since the male wizard wasn’t enabled at Blizzcon.) play style than about the Barbarian or the Witch Doctor. Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s less to say since I assume everyone reading this has played a Sorceress in Diablo II, and if you’ve done that, the Diablo III wizard will feel immediately familiar, at least in the early game.
Sure, the wizard’s skills. Every wizard had all three active Tier 1 spells — Spectral Blade, Magic Missile, and Charged Bolt — with some of the supporting passive skills enabled as well. This is probably not how characters will be built in the real game, since specializing in one skill tree, with perhaps some low level passives from the others, looks like the best game build. (Unless respecs are easy enough that we’ll all level up with the most useful Tier 1 and 2 skills from any of the 3 skill trees, and then recycle those points into higher level skills in 1 tree when the time comes.)
The play style I found most effective with the Wizard was to basically treat her like a low level, twink-free, slightly more deadly version of the D2 Sorceress. The Wizard had a lot of destructive power, but was quite fragile and was more than able to kill herself. She’s got some pretty useful skills right off the bat, actives and passives, but they’re almost too useful, since they’re so fun to fire and they kill so effectively that you want to keep using them non-stop, and your mana pool is nowhere near deep enough to cash the checks your hunger for slaughter is writing.
The Wizard’s mana regeneration seemed much faster than a Sorc’s in D2, but it was even easier to use it all up in the first place. My Wizard had around 100 mana at level 6, and with my main skills (Spectral Blade and Magic Missile) costing (respectively) 7 and 8 mana per use, I found myself resorting to melee weapons every time I had enough health to risk it, in order to let my mana refill a bit. I never missed the ability to distribute my own attributes while playing with a Barbarian or Witch Doctor, but two minutes into the Wizard I wanted to start putting points into
Energy Willpower, and two minutes after that I wanted to load up Vitality too, when I found myself almost dead, all the time, while retreating to gain space and mana to wipe out the pursuing skeletons in hopes that they’d cough up some health globes. I don’t know what good strength and dexterity were doing my Wizard, but it wasn’t anywhere near as much good as more health and mana would have done her.
My first game with the Wizard was the hardest, since I joined a multiplayer game (there were 4 machines in the press room, linked up in a LAN to allow MP or SP, though most people chose SP). It’s not known just how much monster hit points and density and level size are modified by more players in a game, but it sure felt harder, and the levels seemed bigger, than when I played later, in a single player game. I can’t make a very good comparison though, since my first Wizard game was my only multiplayer game, and it was the first time I’d ever touched Diablo III. I played a Wizard again the next day, and had much less trouble keeping up her mana, clearing out the dungeons, and eventually defeating the Skeleton King.
It was fun both times. Fun for the novelty the first time, plus the constant near death(s) and struggle for mana and health orbs kept me alert. The next time I played I was alone, more experienced at the game, and I engaged in a more methodical massacre of the dungeon hordes. I needed to retreat far less often, and I wasn’t constantly emerging from crazy, retreating, running, spell-throwing battles with no more than a a sliver of health. The multiplayer game was further complicated by the fact that the other people in it had no idea what they were doing, and kept standing motionless and laughing as they got killed, or casting spells at the walls, or (harmlessly) at me, or simply looking over their equipment and skills instead of fighting. Worse, they were all playing Wizards, so they couldn’t even tank very well. At least if they’d played Barbarians they would have lasted a few seconds longer before each death.
The hardest monsters, or at least the ones that dealt by far the most damage to me, were ranged attackers. I could blast or outrun or chill most melee attackers, (mana permitting), but the ranged attackers were nastier, since they’d always get in a shot or two before I could take them out (this changed somewhat when I got better with Disintegrate). This wouldn’t have meant a thing in D2, since I’d just have sucked down a potion, but in D3 there are no potions to buy, they drop very rarely, characters don’t regenerate hit points right from the start, and therefore, all of those little bits of damage added up. I don’t know if it was true or just my perception, but ranged attackers seemed to drop health globes much less often than melee mobs. As a result the archers were almost always a net loss in hit points, one that I had to overcome with health dropped by the melee monsters, who were easier to kill without being injured by, but who did a lot more damage when they did get a paw on me.
My Blizzcon Wizard play can really be described as a tale of two games. The first was chaotic and funny and frustrating, but quite memorable. The second was much easier and more successful, but far less difficult. In that one I played systematically, only advancing as much as I had to to draw some monsters into sight. I’d the retreat, or hold my ground while blasting them, and take time to look at the items they dropped. Which gave my mana time to regenerate. I had an easy enough time that when I got to the Skeleton King, I ran a few extra laps around his multi-level throne room area, blasting away at his hordes of skeleton minions and taking pot shots at him, just to prolong the fun. Eventually I killed him by experimenting with Disintegrate and trying to judge if the damage actually did increase the longer I held the beam on the same target. (Results = inconclusive.)
Sadly, I don’t have a lot to say about these, since they were pretty much optional for the Wizard. All the low level armor was equivalent to what we’re all familiar with from D2. Blue (magical) gear with minor bonuses to attributes, mana, life, and so forth. I never saw any jewelry in the Blizzcon build (not enabled or the monsters weren’t high enough level to drop it), and since I wasn’t taking many hits (or at least trying not to) with my wizard, I wasn’t much worried about defense or defensive bonuses on armor.
I did find a few nifty wands and other light weapons, with useful mods. As was the case with my Witch Doctor, I found weapons with +% experience gain (around 11%) and +% experience gain (7 or 8%). Those didn’t greatly change the gameplay, but I did notice the improved damage, once I had it. Eventually (D2 style) my Wizard transitioned to magic find equipment, and while the % I had from boots, shield, and chest armor with MF on it wasn’t more than about 40%, it did seem to increase the number of rares I found. Not greatly, and not to my benefit, since I kept wearing the magic items I had found earlier, but it was fun to see more shinies drop.
I didn’t find any uniques with the Wizard, nor any of the crystal ball-looking items she uses in the Blizzcon gameplay and most of her screenshots; I assume those are a higher level item type. I ended up using odd weapons; wands and clubs and short swords and the like, based entirely on their magical bonuses. And they served well enough.
Tier 1 Skills
Spectral Blade is not a good skill to start off with, because it refutes my opening analogy — there aren’t any Sorceress skills like this one. That small point aside, Spectral Blade is a magical attack that deals physical damage to enemies very near the Sorceress. The skill creates a lattice of straight lines of power that overlap like a half dozen toothpicks tossed down in a heap. It’s got a cool, sword-slashing sound to go with it, and can be seen (and heard) repeatedly in the Sorceress game play movies from Blizzcon. The skill hits each enemy in front of the Wizard up to three times, dealing 1-5 damage.
Using this skill is almost like using Bash, or Cleave, or some melee Barbarian attack, if those skills had extra range. Spectral Blade hits enemies at melee range, but can also nail them a yard or two distant, though it seemed like the multiple hits of damage were more likely to occur if the monster was right in front of you, where the lines overlapped. The initial temptation is to use this skill against anything that can be hit by it, but after a bit of practice (and a lot of running out of mana) I realized that it was more effective if I aimed it. So I started letting the monsters get into range, and tried to position myself so that I had several zombies in a bunch, where each slash of the Spectral Blade would have a chance to hit all of them more than once. This immediately cut my mana use since I was using the spell less often, and it was more fun to use it that way. It became a bit of a challenge to try to take out zombies or skeletons in one Spectral Blade, instead of 2 or 3. Especially when I had a couple of them overlapping.
I was not able to use it enough to figure out just what the odds of getting multiple hits were, or if they could all hit even when there were multiple enemies in the target zone, since the damage can vary so much. Spectral Blade can deal 1-5 damage with 1-3 hits, so I could do 1-15 damage with each use of it. Plus, since all 3 hits were added up and dealt at once, there was no way to tell if I’d landed 1, 2, or 3, especially since 3 hits might only do 3 or 4 damage, while a single hit could do 5. Still, it was a fun skill to use, and the multiple hits to multiple targets over a larger-than-melee range made it fun to play with. I enjoyed using it in crowds and watching multiple enemies take hits.
It’s not a spell that can be used machine gun style though, even if enemies are in range. There’s a short delay after each cast, a cool down that’s longer than the Wizard has with her projectile spells. As a result Spectral Blade doesn’t look like a real boss-killer. It also didn’t seem to stun or interrupt the attacking motion of monsters, the way melee attacks sometimes did, so it’s not a way to render targets helpless while you slash them to bits.
Magic Missile is the Tier 1 active skill from the Arcane Skill Tree. It’s a lot less interesting and complicated than Spectral Blade. Magic Missile is basically a Firebolt that deals Arcane Damage. Using this skill fires a small purple projectile that moves across the screen in a straight line and at a fairly fast pace, and it can be cast repeatedly without any cool down time. . Firebolt like, as I said. It deals 7-15 damage, which seems like a lot compared to Spectral Blade’s 1-5, but not when you realize that Spectral can hit up to 3 times, that it costs 1 less mana, that it’s very unlikely to miss entirely, that it can hit multiple targets at once, and that it’s got a slower casting rate, thus making it less mana expensive, whether you like it or not.
At low levels against basic monsters, MM is just a simple projectile. It’s got some interesting properties later on though, since each point you place in the Tier 3 skill Improved Magic Missile adds 1 to the number of missiles fired, and increases the damage of each by 8%. (You can also add to the number of shots, their damage, and more, with Skill Runes.) Improved Magic Missile was too high level to be used at Blizzcon, but Wizards have been seen firing multiple Magic Missiles in screenshots and gameplay movies, and the projectiles seem to be aimed like Multishot, or the Necromancer’s Teeth; they spread out more or less, depending on how far away from your character you aim when you click them. Furthermore, it looks like multiple Magic Missiles can hit a single target, which could keep this one useful even late in the game, if fired at point blank range.
A last property of Magic Missile comes from its damage type. Arcane is a new type of damage in D3, and critical hits scored with Arcane Damage “silence” monsters for 4 seconds. This property hasn’t been explained yet, but the consensus is that a silenced monster will be unable to use some of its spells, such as Skeletal Mages losing the ability to resurrect their slain minions.
Charged Bolt is the third Tier 1 skill, this one from the Storm Skill Tree. Charged Bolt has been featured in Diablo I and Diablo II, and I’m sure everyone is familiar with it by now. Three little crackling bits of lightning are sent forth along the ground, where they zig and zag a bit, but move in a more or less straight line away from the Sorceress. I didn’t use this spell much, but it seemed to me that the bolts spread out quite a bit more than they did in D2, and that made it hard to hit anything in front of me with more than one bolt. That’s now how it looks in screenshots out of their great eagerness to add 12% more damage to all of their Arcane skills. (Not that that would have necessarily been a bad strategy, but most players were eager to see and try out the other active skills, not to incrementally boost their existing ones.)
In Tier 2, players could choose from:
- Arcane Skills: Disintegrate and Wave of Force.
- Storm Skills: Frost Nova and Storm Armor.
- Conjuring Skills: Stone Skin and Mirror Image.
Disintegrate was the the most fun, or at least most talked about, Wizard skill from Blizzcon. Virtually everyone put a point into Disintegrate, either because they liked the name, or because they’d seen someone else using that red laser of death, and wanted to try it themselves. (I feel into the later camp.) Disintegrate has been featured in a variety of screenshots; the straight red laser line it emits is hard to mistake. When using this skill, the Sorceress emits a laser-like beam of red energy that passes through multiple targets, dealing progressively less damage to each. What makes it so distinctive is that it stays active as long as you depress the mouse button (and have enough mana), and that it can be aimed like a beam weapon and swept from side to side. It’s indisputably fun to stand there and basically hose down every enemy in sight, without moving a step.
What makes the spell so effective is not the damage, which is fairly low. (It deals 10 damage per second.) It’s the speed, since unlike every other Wizard skill (and every Sorceress skill) this one moves at the speed of light. The instant you click the mouse, Disintegrate is hitting things at the edge of the screen. The damage is lessened by each monster it passes through, but in practice (at least in the early going) this just means it can kill everything you shoot at in 5 seconds. The ones in front die in 2 seconds, and as soon as they’re down the damage increases to the ones behind them.
Disintegrate is most effective against weaker enemies in bunches, and especially against ranged attackers at the far edge of the screen. I constantly found skeletal archers at the edge of the screen, and used Disintegrate to obliterate them before they could do more than get off a single shot at me. Killing them with say, Magic Missile, would have taken much longer. I would have had to cast half a dozen missiles, they would have had to fly all the way across the screen, monsters in the way would have absorbed some of them, and all that while the archers would have been firing at me. Thus Disintegrate isn’t hugely damaging, but it saves you a great deal of time and damage by instantly wiping out low hit point enemies from a distance.
On the other hand, Disintegrate was not very effective against larger targets. Bosses or big monsters were hurt by it, but not nearly as badly as other spells hurt them. It’s said that Disintegrate increases in damage the longer it’s trained on the same enemy. I was never able to test that out (it killed all the small stuff and ranged attackers too quickly), and it’s not listed in the spell’s hover description, but even if it’s true, it’s hard to use this spell for that purpose when you’re playing alone. Big monsters don’t stand back and let you fry them; they rush up to attack you, and up close Spectral Blade or Magic Missile did far more damage than Disintegrate. I don’t think Disintegrate would be a great choice against a powerful ranged enemy either, such as a boss pack of archers, since while it would be useful to kill them, you have to stand still while you’re using it, and their arrows would pin cushion you in the meantime.
That’s one of the most interesting things about using Disintegrate; that it’s more effective if you’re not moving. But Wizards seldom have that luxury, at least not when they’re playing alone. A solo wizard is a hit and run machine, throwing magical projectiles, rushing back or to the sides to dodge returned fire, darting in to land a few Spectral Blade strikes, etc. Disintegrate looks like it’ll be very useful against weak, ranged attackers, or else will be best used in a multiplayer game, when some other character is up front tanking, giving the Wizard the freedom to pour this one on non-stop.
Wave of Force is the other Tier 2 active spell from the Arcane Tree. Sadly, I never used it, since it’s basically a defensive skill that wasn’t needed in the Blizzcon Demo. It’s demonstrated in the Blizzcon gameplay movies though, and looks pretty fun. Wave of Force casts a nova-like ring of energy that blasts out from the Wizard, shoving back enemies and reflecting projectiles towards their source. The possibilities created when teaming this with Slow Time are fun to contemplate.
The Storm Tree also has two active skills in Tier 2. Frost Nova is pretty much the same skill it was in D2, but with vastly improved graphics. Instead of just a ring of frost, it now sends out a gaseous ring that’s speckled with dozens of shooting, snowball-like projectiles. As it was in D2, the skill is not very damaging and is best used for defensive purposes, a fact that’s reinforced by the eternity of a 12 second cool down it’s saddled with.
Storm Armor sounds pointless, since no one was bothering much with defensive skills at Blizzcon; not in the short time we had to play, and the small dungeon we had to clear out. I didn’t test out this one, but it sounds like a fairly interesting skill. It’s somewhat misleading in name, since the description doesn’t mention any defensive properties; just that it fires out lightning bolts at nearby enemies. Sort of a short range, low-level Thunder Storm?
The last two active skills available in the Blizzcon demo came from Tier 2 of the Conjuring Tree. Stone Skin reuses the name of a Barbarian skill from D2, but doesn’t work the same way. It’s an active skill that mimics the D2 Necromancer’s Bone Armor in function; absorbing 30 points of (physical?) damage at level one.
Mirror Image is a skill that, in retrospect, I really wish I’d tried out. The description does nothing to encourage experimentation, “Create an illusionary duplicate of yourself.” It sounds like a boring reuse of the Amazon’s Decoy skill, but from what’s been shown in the gameplay movie, it’s closer to the Assassin’s Shadow Master. Using this skill creates one (more with the help of skill runes) duplicate of the Wizard, who can use spells and fight alongside you. Five duplicates are shown being cast (at once) in the gameplay movie, and other skills address the hit points and duration of the Mirror Images, so presumably they’ll last for some time, and are able to survive some damage.
I enjoyed the Wizard the most of the three characters available in the Blizzcon build. That’s no guarantee of long term fun though, since the characters are kind of apples to pomegranates at low levels.I enjoyed Barbarians in D2, but not until level 24, or 30, or really, 60ish. Late game Barbarians were a lot of fun, with powerful, fast skills, good equipment, etc. I found them very tedious early on, when they could do nothing but swing swing swing single-target, melee style. I wasn’t bored with the D3 barbarian, but he’s pretty much the same thing, early on (though at least his “early on” wouldn’t last until level 30, as it did in D2). The Witch Doctor was fun at Blizzcon, but like the Barbarian, that character is only scratching the surface of her long term abilities at level 8 or 9. One kind of minion, a few fun starter attack skills, but little more.
The Wizard, on the other hand, is just dripping with coolness right from the start. She only had Tier 1 and 2 skills available, but there were 9 active skills to choose from at those levels, and only one or two of them were just some defensive, “use me to succeed in utilitarian fashion.” The rest were all shiny, multi-colored, widely-varied types of attack spell, and all of them were fun to use. So of course the Wizard is the most fun character at this point (in most player’s opinions). How true that would be if we’d gotten to play them to level 20, or 30, or 50, remains to be seen. The Blizzard guys have played much more of the game, and they report a variety of favorite characters, so it’s not like everyone likes the Wizard best and they’re just putting in the others to flesh out the character selection screen.
That said, I did enjoy playing the Wizard most of the 3 characters in the Blizzcon build. She was fast, destructive, varied in her attacks, strong but not overpowered, and just generally a lot of fun to play. As Jay Wilson keeps saying during panels, “Everyone likes blowing stuff up.”