by Lesley Smith
Blizzard Entertainment President Mike Morhaime formally announced Diablo III during the WWI's opening ceremony this morning, not that this will come as a surprise to anyone with the Diablo III forums already active on the official Blizzard site and rumours running rampant for nearly a fortnight.
After recapping on the success of the previous Invitational held in Korea, Morhaime premiered a trailer and then demoed a level playing as a Barbarian and a Witch Doctor, showcasing some of the improvements over the original game as well as giving attendees a hint at what they can expect from the final product. This includes a new UI in place of the potion belt and the ability to play the game just by using a mouse. Similarly the health system has been augmented by God of War and Devil May Cry style red globes which replenish not just the health of the character but also those near by.
After the Fire Dancers had left the main stage and the crowds has dispersed, many jubilant, I headed for the jam-packed press conference where journalists got to give Blizzard's Jay Wilson (Lead Designer on Diablo III) and co-founder Frank Pearce a grilling about Diablo III.
"It's been in development for a few years. About four." Wilson admits and of course, when asked the next Big Question: a release date, he gives the typical Blizzard response. "When it's done,"
Blizzard co-founder Frank Pearce was quick to add that, even after four years, "it's far too early in development."
Despite being vague on many points such as how much of the game was complete – a process Wilson described as ‘super fun' - and the specifics of the storyline, He revealed the game is set twenty years after the War of Destruction and the events of the original games have become regarded as myth, indeed even those who were alive (and that's not many) are either insane or convinced that nothing happened.
Unlike Warcraft, this is not a game about crafting your own unique virtual persona. Other than the classes and the gender, avatars aren't customisable; instead the idea is to "dive right in and get to the monster killing".
Being a Diablo title, it really wouldn't be right unless there were plenty of monsters to slaughter and bosses to defeat. The monsters themselves are huge but even the obese charging abomination we saw steam-rolling towards a Barbarian – a giant in its own right – was just a mob. But the most impressive aspect was not the size of the mobs – it was a wall of zombies which managed to elicit cheers from the crowds.
While the assembled masses were shown two areas, a dungeon and a grassy wilderness, that was more than enough to show off some of the more interesting aspects of the Barbarian and Witch Doctor. The first, for example, uses a special attack called Whirlwind to send zombies and other trash flying to their deaths while the Witch Doctor makes use of pets who do their bidding. They can also summon swarms of locusts who devour enemies and anyone nearby. Like World of Warcraft's priests and warlocks, they also have the ability to send enemies running using an ability called Horrify as well as mind control which is going to make for some interesting fights. Even more so when you consider that maps aren't all static, some are random meaning the exit and entrance to an area might not be in the same place each time.
Oh, and for those of you wondering what really was with that Blizzard splash screen well the Diablo theorists were right. Wilson confirmed that the design of the splash screen was meant to hint at Diablo III but doesn't know anything about that purple penguin.