Seeing Diablo 3 at BlizzCon was more frustrating this year because at this point everyone is just flat out excited for the release. The collector’s edition was shown off to fans for the first time and players cheered at the goodies in the set. The biggest part of the Diablo announcement at the opening ceremonies though was that Diablo 3 would be free for players who commit to a one year World of Warcraft account that is billed monthly. This move by Blizzard is really amazing, almost hard to believe for many reasons, and a sign that the game market really is changing. Enough about all of that though, most importantly we got to sit down with Wyatt Cheng and Andrew Chambers to discuss Diablo 3 and all of the excitement around launch.
One of the first and very big topics that came up was how to classify Diablo 3 within the MMO genre. Wyatt started off by saying, “In many ways we avoid the term MMO, not because we’re not (and I’m not saying that we are) but because it carries a lot of baggage. If you really think about Diablo 3: it is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. It meets all those points of definition. But we’re not a subscription game. We’re not a game with 40-man, 80-man, or 10-man raiding. So we avoid the term not because we’re not, but because we don’t want to imply that we are.”
Wyatt and Andrew explained that all things considered in the current market Diablo 3 is definitely an online game, even if you never have to actually see another person. The game has so many elements similar to an MMO with the auction house, PvP, and social links in the game. Still, Wyatt and Andrew explained that when you classify a game as an MMO there is a lot that goes with it, so they wanted to avoid that label because at its core Diablo is an action RPG. However, they did say that for the most part Diablo 3 has so many MMO elements in the game it is hard not to group it in with other games in the genre. From our standpoint at MMORPG we have always felt that Diablo now being online and having such a huge presence and influence on the market, it should absolutely be given the coverage with respect to its MMO elements but also its RPG style. Hope that clears things up for everyone.
Now on to the good stuff, we talked about the classes and how the team came to choose what the class set up would be. The Witch Doctor came up and they wanted to something with voodoo and necromancy but did not want to make a Necromancer clone from Diablo 2. Therefore the Witch Doctor was born. The class is very iconic as we all have the image in our head of a Witch Doctor, but then giving it powers and bringing it to life as a hero in the game was very important to the team. Also making sure the class had a solid set of skills was important and that some still honored the Necromancer’s memeory in design. The exploding zombie dogs are a testament to the exploding corpses of the Necromancer.
The next topic for discussion was the changes in the design of the skill tree. Wyatt and Andrew both explained that the skill point system just led players to cookie cutter builds. This same issue existed in WoW. Blizzard was looking to make changes to skills in order to give layers fun choices when playing their character, not having every character spec the same because it was the most effective build. So the new skill system was created to give players viable choices in how they want to play. The team wanted players to have one significant choice between three skills rather than twenty tiny ones. This design takes away the number crunching of skills and brings in the idea of a clear player choice. It will be interesting to see how it is used when the game launches; for now the system takes a little getting used to but does work well at giving choice to the players. In PvP the team knows there will be dominant builds that will come to the surface however they want to make sure there are plenty of viable builds for players to go into combat with and not just be forced to use one set up all the time. Primarily D3 will be about the PVE and that’s the way they want it to stay.
Wyatt and Andrew talked about the Rune system and said this is really where the customization of the characters truly comes into the game. Runes allow players to tweak all kinds of abilities with different animations and customization. We laughed about the Witch Doctor rune that worked with chickens. This may seem like a comical answer to the rune system but the team is very serious about how players can use runes to really give their characters identity as well as some amazing boosts to abilities. When we talked about balancing Runes for PvP Wyatt again stated that PvE in Diablo 3 really is on the front burner. The game is designed as an action RPG at its core and that want to keep that focus. Even though Diablo PvP is important they do not design the game with PvP balance at the forefront, they leave that kind of thinking to the Starcraft team because of the game’s eSport presence. PvP is always considered for the game, make no mistake, but PvE dungeon romping is the heart of Diablo 3.
In the end Wyatt explained that his favorite aspect of the game is the rune system and how customizable it was for players. He is most looking forward to seeing how players use the system once the game is launched. Andrew was most excited about the crafting system for players and the idea of training your crafters as you advance. Also, Andrew said that you will be able to craft items comparable, if not exceeding in quality to drops in the high levels of the game.
Diablo 3 is a game many fans have spent years waiting for. Everyone at Blizzard is excited for the game’s launch and they were happy with the beta test feedback. Coming from an MMO standpoint, it is impossible to ignore the impact Diablo 3 and its many design choices may have on games moving forward. Hopefully we get the release date soon and we can all start looking forward to 2012.