Blizzard goes demon hunting

BlizzCon 2010: Diablo III leads offer a first look at the action RPG's fifth and final class, and further expound upon PVP arenas.

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Who was there: Blizzard trotted out a number of the major players working on Diablo III for its first official BlizzCon 2010 panel, including game director Jay Wilson. Also on hand were Christian Lichtner, Paul Warzecha, Leonard Boyarsky, Wyatt Cheng, Kevin Martens, and Julian Love.

What they talked about: The big announcement that came during BlizzCon 2010's opening ceremonies was that the demon hunter would be the fifth and final playable class in Diablo III. Immediately following said opening ceremonies, the collected Diablo III leads offered more exposition on the thought behind the demon hunter, as well as how she'll play.

Leading off the discussion, Wilson discussed Blizzard's motivation in bringing the demon hunter class to life, saying that a ranged-weapon class filled out the traditional archtypes of what gamers expect from this type of game. He also noted that the ranged-weapon class was one of the first that the team committed to and that they wanted the class from its inception to be an obsessed antihero, one with a bounty hunter vibe.

Wilson went on to say that the team wanted a class that operated a bit like the assassin from Diablo II, where gadgets and traps were an emphasized mode of attack. And like a bounty hunter, the demon hunter has a Machiavellian bent, whereby she does not mind delving into the dark arts if it helps her combat demons more effectively.

Lichtner then took over the conversation to talk about how the team went about building the visual representation of the demon hunter. In its original concept-phase iterations, the demon hunter took the form of a woodland ranger, with the traditional bow and arrow and an emphasis on swift, deadly ranged combat. However, the team felt something was missing, so they began adding in more melee attacks, experimenting with short swords and daggers, fist weapons, and armor.

These changes deemphasized the core precept of a strong ranged class, however, so the team went back to the drawing board. They decided to home in on the idea of a dark, mysterious, medieval character, one that harked back to the Diablo II style of classes.

The demon hunter is Diablo III's fifth and final class type.
The demon hunter is Diablo III's fifth and final class type.

Out of this line of thought came the demon hunter, but significant iteration was still required before the character arrived at its current form. First, the team thought it would be a good idea to make a demonic demon hunter, with the idea of a demon hunting other infernal creations. But since this concept really didn't jibe with the Diablo universe, the team thought it might be a good idea to make the character only half-demon.

The half-demon designs prominently featured a large, grotesque demon arm, with Lichtner showing what appeared to be a male model. However, the demon arm, again, made the class lose its ranged feel, since everyone wanted to melee with it, and the concept also would have alienated the townsfolk.

The first solution to this was to make the character a lither, feminine character, and evolved to ultimately completely do away with the demon arm and the character's infernal heritage. From there, the concept began to click into place, and the team arrived upon its ultimate goal of creating a swift, mysterious, dark, medieval, and, of course, ranged class.

Warzecha then delved into the demon hunter's physical appearance. With the female character, the team wanted one that is sexy, and he noted that the male version would also be physically attractive as well. It was also important to give her a darker, almost evil vibe, which would serve as a good counterpoint to the holy monk and the flamboyant wizard. As far as gear went, the team emphasized her scarf, legs, and arm guard.

The demon hunter's Van Helsing-style crossbows were also integral to her look. She is the only character in the game who can dual-wield crossbows, Warzhecha noted. He also emphasized that she takes full-body poses when she attacks.

Boyarsky then took over to illuminate the demon hunter's backstory. The most important element of the demon hunter profile is that those who pursue the path are chosen, not born into it. Therefore, they can come from any social rank and background and are joined only in the fact that they survived a demon assault when others did not. They are recruited by other demon hunters, and while largely nomadic, they do have a base of operations in the North.

The demon hunter is also an obsessed antihero, Boyarsky emphasized, saying that the character will do whatever it takes to eradicate demonkind. The team wanted to play up her willingness to delve in dark magic to accomplish her goals, and since they backed down from a demon arm, they settled on a demonic glow in her eyes. Essentially, her goal is to strike the same fear in the hearts of demons as demons strike in the hearts of humans.

Wyatt then offered a look at some of the demon hunter's current skills. The first he showed was of the bola shot, which he said combines ranged attack with the class's emphasis on gadgets. With it, the demon hunter fires a projectile that wraps around an enemy and then after a delay explodes. Vault is another skill, and it allows the demon hunter to quickly traverse distances, with a shadowy flash in her animation movement.

In a tribute to Diablo II's assassin, the demon hunter is able to lay spike traps, which also play into the class's core tenets of gadgets and shadow. Grenades are another skill, and these provide a tactical attack, as they can bounce off walls and roll around on the floor. Finally, Wyatt showed off the multishot, which fires multiple arrows in a self-explanatory fashion.

Moving on to a broader look at Diablo III, Love introduced one of the game's new features: traits. Essentially an evolution of passive skills in Diablo II, traits allow players to diversify their characters. Further, they operate independently of active skills, and the current plan is for players to earn a new one every odd level. As for what they do, traits alter a character's core abilities, such as allowing a defensive player to increase his armor or an offensive player to increase his attack.

There are currently 30 different traits per character, with the ability to spend up to five points in each one. However, since players get only about 30 points total, Blizzard hopes that there will be a significant amount of variety.

Martens then spoke about talismans, which are essentially an evolution of runes from Diablo II. The main difference between talismans and runes is that talismans will have their own dedicated spot in players' inventories, a space that grows larger over time. Also, charms will focus more on core attributes, with an eye toward increasing customization.

Love then provided an update on runes. Similar to how gems worked to augment items in Diablo II, runes will augment skills in Diablo III. There are currently five different types of runes--crimson, indigo, obsidian, golden, and alabaster--and Love noted that the variety allows for nearly 97 billion different skill builds per character.

Further, each rune can be upgraded up to seven times, with progressively more chaotic results as the rune becomes more powerful. Love demonstrated this upgradability on the wizard's magic missile. Without a rune, the spell casts one missile. However, by rune rank seven, missiles course out of the wizard's body in a fashion that would put a bullet-hell shooter to shame.

Wilson then returned to briefly discuss the second major announcement for Diablo III, battle arenas. The idea behind the arenas is to emphasize team-based play, with a demonstrative video showing a three-on-three match. Wilson noted that given the nearly 97 billion different skill builds, it is impossible to fully balance the battle arenas.

With team-based play, though, the strategy becomes building the right team, not the right individual. Team play also plays heavily to the idea of counters, where many of the crowd-control skills such as daze or freeze can be dispelled by other teammates. Also, Wilson noted that round mechanics will play a part in team play, as groups will face off in best-of-three or best-of-five matches.

He also noted that players will use the characters they build up in the single-player campaign in the player-versus-player matches.

Quote: "We know you like killing each other, and Diablo II really didn't support it well."--Julian Love, on the introduction of PVP arenas in Diablo III.

Takeaway: The demon hunter class should satisfy gamers who enjoy dealing lots of damage to enemies from a ranged position. The class also appears to require a good deal of strategy, with many delayed attacks, traps, and timed detonations. As for battle arenas, while they are clearly still in a highly malleable stage, they appear as if they'll provide a highly competitive environment for players to use their collected loot to slaughter one another.

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