The hype machine surrounding Diablo III continues to build, for good reason, after the incredible demos of the game we've both seen and played at events like Blizzard's World Wide Invitational Tournament and BlizzCon. It already looks to be delivering on several important points: Fast-paced action, exciting co-op multi-player, impressive visual effects, epic character classes, and of course the ever-important loot.
In the absence of the series' creators, the leaders of the former Blizzard North studio who have all gone on to other companies and projects, the new development team is under a lot of pressure to make a next-generation game that nonetheless stays true to its origins. They're taking the series' core elements and making a bigger and better title, which requires a massive amount of new content. Along with that content come new features, the points that really set Diablo III above its predecessors (and competitors). In the following we've outlined some of our favorites.
1. The Monk and His Combo Moves
The brand new Monk character class has received a lot of attention lately, and for good reason, ever since it was revealed back at BlizzCon 2009 as the fourth playable class. Influenced by arcade-fighter style combat, his moves are so much more fun to unleash upon one's demonic foes and watch in explosive action than the kung-fu moves of the Assassin class from Diablo II: Lord of Destruction. He's got combo moves that deal different damage and effects depending on which successive ordinal hit, and Exploding Palm will leave monsters in bits flying every which way.
The Monk's martial arts moves are juxtaposed with a certain mysteriousness and his identity as the "Holy Warrior" of the game, borrowing some of the elements of the Paladin. If you thought Blizzard would come up with another run-of-the-mill cleric, you were way off the map. Besides the wicked combo moves he has a number of defensive and offensive spells, generating ethereal runic inscriptions when cast for visual effect, like many of his skills.
If you're a true fan of these games then you probably like fast-paced action and impressive exploding visuals. The Monk definitely delivers on both counts, and we've still only seen eight of his skills in action.
2. Destructible/Interactive Environments
Never before seen in the series, though it's not a first in gaming, you can use your character's surroundings in battle. Topple a wall or column to crush enemies, or opt for that aged chandelier.
The question remains: Will these elements really be useful or are they just for show?
Don't get us wrong: So far the destructible environment elements we've seen demonstrated thus far in gameplay demos have been not only beautifully animated but also quite functional as a way to help rid Sanctuary of its demonic invaders. Just take a gander at the original gameplay trailer, where we see the Barbarian cruising through the Old Tristram Cathedral's catacombs. He smashes the wall, which comes tumbling down on top of a huge pack of zombies, taking most of them out in one go. Other elements in these dungeons crumble apart just for show once destroyed, such as Wraith generating traps and the tall obelisks that summon forth skeletons in the area preceding the Skeleton King's throne room.
Some things fall apart.
Others can be smashed.
Sometimes, there's a middle ground.
Outside of these Cathedral scenes we haven't seen destructible environments to a large extent, especially in outdoor environments where the dressings of trees and bridges, for instance, don't appear to be interactive. It's unclear to what extent outdoor environments, especially, will be destructible and how consistently these elements will be applied across the whole game.
In the Act II demo used to introduce the Borderlands and notably the Monk character class at BlizzCon 2009, we saw mostly automatically collapsing environmental elements in the dungeons. There's the timed dungeon collapsing on itself, where the tables are turned and the player must avoid the falling rocks, but otherwise there didn't seem to be strategically useful structures one could activate.
That said, we'll just have to wait and see to what extent the designers integrate realistic effects into the game, but we want to see more!
3. Unique Resource Systems
All recent indications point to the end of Mana being the defacto standard for the resource system controling and limiting the use of each character's skills, though the Witch Doctor still uses it.
In a departure from the first two games in the series, the Diablo III development team is working on individual resource systems for each character class, as we've already seen with the Barbarian. Even though this is the only class borrowed from previous games, it now uses the Fury system that we've witnessed go through a few evolutions as the game moves forward. It's about making hits and charging up that way, without the need to refill Mana with potions.
Recently the developers have been working on individual resource systems for the other character classes as well, focusing on the Monk and Wizard. The latest update on this process came from the official Diablo Twitter feed:
The monk resource system early implementation complete. A resource certainly fitting of a holy warrior. 9:12 AM Jan 5th from CoTweet
This game is the third in a series and not an offshoot product, thus in wide scope it is largely the same as it's predecessors with some evolutionary improvements and many new features. Like the decision to automatically distribute character statistic points granted from levels-up, this departure from Mana as the standard resource system for skills is one of the more significant contrasts to earlier titles. Certainly, Mana leeching effects on items play a big role in Diablo II for certain character builds, leaving us wondering how well the sequel will compensate for its absence.