BlizzCon 2008: Diablo III Updated Hands-On

We play through the Diablo III demo twice more, checking out the witch doctor and wizard classes in the process.

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ANAHEIM, Calif.--Yesterday we had an opportunity to check out the BlizzCon demo of Diablo III for the first time, and we had a lot of fun with it. We weren't convinced that the time we spent playing with a low-level barbarian was as exciting as it would have been if we'd opted for a witch doctor or a wizard, though, so today we played through the entire demo twice more to check out those classes. We were right that they were more fun.

Since we weren't picking up the demo midway through today, it got under way in a woodland area outside the cathedral in which most of the demo takes place. In the woods, we were given our quest to investigate a mysterious fire that fell from the sky by a non-player character who was brilliantly voiced and said quite different things depending on which character was talking to him. When we were playing as the witch doctor, for example, he remarked on how out of place we looked before getting down to business.

The witch doctor's abilities could hardly have been more different from those of the barbarian. Even before we'd leveled and had a chance to spend points in three different skill trees, we were able to hurl flaming skull projectiles, harvest the souls of recently killed enemies to replenish our mana, release frogs that poison any enemies unlucky enough to step on them, and summon a zombie dog who proved to be extremely useful for holding the agro of enemies and soaking up damage that might otherwise have found its way to us. We didn't have to worry about handling the dog once it was summoned, because it just automatically ran toward nearby enemies and got to work.

Toward the end of the day we managed to get onto a Diablo III demo machine again, and this time we opted to play as the recently announced wizard and to pair up with a second player. The abilities in our arsenal at the start weren't nearly as impressive as those of the witch doctor. In addition to the standard melee attack, we could hurl arcane missiles, send a bolt of lightning across the floor to hit multiple enemies, and nothing more. We were able to add some more interesting skills as we leveled up, though, and by the time we reached the end of the demo we were able to generate electrical "storm armor" that did damage to anyone attacking us, and we could also create "mirror images" of the wizard, which looked like translucent clones of our character and were capable of doing damage and attracting the attention of enemies but had only a limited amount of health.

Initially we were able to create only one mirror image, but after attaching a rune to the mirror image skill, we gained the ability to create two simultaneously. The wizard is the only class that runes had been implemented for in the BlizzCon demo, and because the demo had been tuned to afford players access to a lot more loot than normal, there was no shortage of runes to experiment with. Every talent that you purchase from one of your class's skill trees can have a single rune attached to it, and while most of the runes we saw simply made the effects more powerful, we're told that others can completely change the effect of the spell. For example, a lightning bolt projectile with the right rune attached to it might become a chain-lightning spell that leaps between multiple enemies. We didn't get runes that powerful on this occasion, but we had two mirror images, two arcane missiles, and significantly more health than we started out with by the time we reached the skeleton king boss at the end of the demo.

Playing alongside a second character made the boss fight pretty easy, but we're told that the finished game will scale its difficulty on the fly, taking into account the number of players and their respective levels. You'll be able to jump in and out of multiplayer games at any time, and right now the plan is for Diablo III to support an impressive eight players simultaneously. There's already talk of that number possibly being scaled back to four or five for the retail release, not because of any technical limitations, but because eight players onscreen alongside the number of enemies a level will throw at you in a group that big is just too crazy.

We look forward to bringing you more information on Diablo III as soon as it becomes available.

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