Who was there: This Gamescom 2011 press conference featured Blizzard senior game designer Jonny Ebbert, game director Tom Chilton, art director Chris Robinson, lead designer Josh Mosqueira, game director Jay Wilson, and senior vice president Frank Pearce. Together, the group discussed Blizzard's latest additions to Diablo III, Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm, and the upcoming World of Warcraft patch v3.4.
What they talked about: Wilson kicked off the discussion by announcing that Diablo III will include a new difficulty mode, Inferno, that will supersede Hell as the highest difficulty mode in the game. Inferno is designed to challenge level 60 characters (the max level in the game) by pitting them against level 61 enemies. It also "flattens the game," as Wilson described it, by making everything--specifically all the difficulty-restricted loot--available for your character to find.
All of this shiny new gear won't be just recycled low-level items, either. Wilson stressed that the design team has been working hard to produce new artwork for all the Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno-level gear. Playing on these higher difficulty settings will also make the enemies harder and "more interesting." Enemies on higher levels will have more health and deal more damage, which in turn raises how aggressive they are. These hyperaggressive foes will seek out new ways to kill the players, including using the new monster powers unique to these modes.
Ultimately, Wilson hopes the end-game content in Diablo III will keep more players engaged for longer than it did in Diablo and Diablo II.
Ebbert went next and recapped a lot of the information already known about Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm. This included a brief overview of the expansion's story, (spoiler alert: Kerrigan is back!), an explanation of the battle focus system, and the fact that players can upgrade and evolve Zerg units. He also noted that the campaign for Heart of the Swarm will span 20 missions, as well as include new multiplayer maps and units. What those units are, and what upgrades players can expect from Battle.net, will have to wait until Blizzcon in October.
Chilton was third up with an overview of the upcoming World of Warcraft v4.3 patch. This update will include the new Deathwing raid, featuring a climactic final battle against the monstrous dragon. Chilton was quick to note that this will be "the most epic encounter we've had to date," adding that players will, during one stage of the battle, be fighting atop Deathwing's back as it flies through the air.
Although he didn't go into any details, Chilton also mentioned that the update will include three new five-man instances.
The bulk of his presentation was spent explaining the three new game mechanics coming in patch v4.3. At the top of this list was transmogrification. This will let players further customize the look of their avatar by combining the appearance of one armor piece with the stats of another. This means a player can dust off an old or low-level piece of armor they thought looked cool and override its stats with those of a more current one.
However, there are some restrictions to prevent total confusion. To be combined, two armors must be the same type--meaning leather goes with leather and mail goes with mail. There is also a class restriction in place, so don't expect to mix a warrior's chest piece with a hunter's. Further, players can't make anything look like a legendary item.
Second was void storage. For a fee, players can gain access to a much larger storage area where they can store items long-term and free up room in the bank. The last item discussed was the new raid finder. This feature extends the services provided by the dungeon finder to raids. Players can specify the types of roles needed, and the finder will build a team of up to 25 players. Chilton hopes this addition will "open up raid content" for newer players, as well as make raiding "much less of a hassle" for experienced players. When asked if the raid finder would be restricted to individual servers, he responded that it will be a cross-server service to help keep queue times to a minimum.
Quote:"If there was a team free and available to create a different [Starcraft] game, we would, but right now we're very busy supporting our other games."--Frank Pearce, on the possibility of returning to Starcraft: Ghost or a new, non-RTS Starcraft game.
Takeaway: If the question and answer session was any indication, fans and press alike are still very cautious about the inclusion of a real-money auction house in Diablo III. Wilson urged audience members to remember that trading items for cash or otherwise was something that would have happened regardless in Diablo III. Now, players will have a secure channel to conduct those transactions.