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BlizzCon 2013: Reaper of Souls preview panel

One of the Panels at the first day of BlizzCon 2013 focused on Reaper of Souls, the new expansion for Diablo 3. While no new features were announced, we did get an overview of the game that revealed some interesting and intriguing tidbits about Adventure mode, the philosophy of the new expansion, and how the way we play will change when the expansion is released.

What is Diablo and where is it going?

Josh Mosquiera, Game Director for Diablo 3, opened the panel with a reflection on what makes the Diablo franchise Diablo. It is, he said, a game series about epic, larger than life heroes who are bigger than life, with a dark gothic undertone. Reaper of Souls looks to honor that. The panel itself focused on new monsters, new environments, and the new Adventure Mode.

It's Adventure (mode) time

Adventure Mode was crated to solve some problems with the base game. The main game makes you play the same game 4 times in a row with the same tilesets and similar layouts. Adventure Mode aims to break that by allowing you to go Anywhere and Slay anything. You don't have to feel restricted to linear gameplay and completely specific quests in quick sucession. You can play whenn and where you want, and level your character.

The mode will feature all five acts completely unlocked, including all waypoints, whether or not your hero has unlocked them in the normal game. It will be completely separate from the campaign, but all bosses will be present, as will various events and side areas you'd expect in the campaign,

This mode then gives you some direction when you can go. Rather than being completely aimless, you are assigned 25 smaller quests at the beginning of an Adventure mode playthrough. One bounty is to find and kill an act boss. Another is to complete a specific event. A third may have you kill a unique monster who may not be where you'd expect them to be. For example, you might be tasked with killing Mira Eamon, but instead of the cellar in Tristram, she'd be wandering in the surrounding woods. Finally, you might be asked to clear an entire area, similar to the old Diablo 2 Den of Evil quest.

Once you finish an adventure mode quest, you will get experience, gold, and items, along with a chance for a rift keystone, which gives you access to Nephalem Rifts. Nephalem Rifts can be opened in anytown hub, and lead to a randomly generated "loot run" dungeon of up to 10 levels - far more than the 2 leveled dungeons currently in game. These dungeons will feature a random environment from any act on each floor, along with random monsters who may come from multiple acts. For example, you could find yourself in Whimsyshire fighting a combination of Act II and Act IV mobs.

They also plan to use these rifts to offer gameplay tweaks that might not work in narrative or adventure nodes, such as incredibly high monster density or player buffs such as an AoE lightning aura or a buffs that removes cooldowns completely. Each rift will also have a boss that has powerful, randomized abilities. In addition, this boss won't be waiting for you in a walled off arena. Instead, it will stalk the halls alongside its minions, forcing you to fight both it and surrounding normal mobs at once. They showed some gameplay of a Nephalem Rift, which did indeed look properly hectic, and even featured a scene of a Crusader jumping into a group of around 20 treasure Goblins, which is every bit as amazing as you'd imagine.

Monsters of Westmarch

The next portion of the panel introduced some of the new monsters of Reaper of Souls. One of the first places you go in Act V is Westmarch, one of most powerful remaining cities in Sanctuary. It is under siege by the forces of Malthael, Angel of Death, and we were introduced to some of his army. The summoner defiles the ground it stands on and summons ghosts. The Death Maidens, angels carrying giant scythes, kill people and raise their remains as undead troopers. The punishers are giant, beefy shock troopers who leap into the screen and stun anyone caught in the stomp.

Another group of monsters, found in later marsh levels, belong to a specific family, like fallen or skeletons. The Boggit is the lowest level, a small, bipedal lump of green skin on legs and acts much like a fallen, swarming and retreating. The Bogan Trapper is the next step up, and uses bear traps to harm and paralyze foes, then unleashes a blow dart attack from range. Finally, the Brute is a huge, hulked out version of its smaller cousin that will often bully the little Boggits and kick them towards the heroes. All 3 of these mobs may appear at once and work together to bring the heroes down.

Using these and other monsters as an example, the team discussed the philosophy that goes into building monsters. First, when they are introduced, they can create an atmosphere or a sense of foreboding. An example was given of a small creature that crawls out of cracks and walls in the catacombs of Act V, swarming the player and proving nowhere is safe. A gameplay video of these creatures in action showed a crusader being surrounded by them as they did indeed crawl out of cracks in the walls, from under coffins and down from ceilings. The crusader actually waded through them, revealing a new technology that allows the hero to face large amounts of monsters without getting boxed in, moving among them as part of an attack strategy or just to escape.

Another new monster behavior is that of the backpedal. The team showed the Skeleton archers of today, who are forced to disengage you, turn around, and run if they need to get range. With new technology in Reaper of Souls, they instead step backwards, attacking the hero the whole time. This not only adds new danger and excitement, it feels more organic and respectful to the player, since the monster isn't just turning tail and showing its back.

We also saw more interesting examples of the Boggits and their interaction. For example, a brute can summon more Boggits and throw them at the enemy hero. Then, a new mob called the Terror Bat may pick one of those Boggits up and bit it, causing it to mutate into a Brute and continue the cycle. This symbiosis between mobs helps keep things exciting.

A monsters death can also add some variety and fun to the world. One monster shown was a Realm Walker, a giant beast that guards a portal on its head. This portal spits out various summoned beasts from another realm. If you kill the Realm Walker, the portal actually stays behind, and you can enter it and kill the monsters there.

Another example shownwas a bunch of trappers in a tall tower, throwing down traps and blow darts. When the crusader destroyed their tower, they came crashing down into their own traps, giving a sense of satisfaction and poetic justice.

Of course, turnabout is fair play, and the team also showed the Westmarch Hound, a giant bulldog-like mob. Not only will it grab the hero in its mouth and shake them like a chew toy, if it kills the hero, it will lift its leg and mark its kill. Yes, it is as gross as you'd expect.

Pure Pandemonium

The team then moved on to one of the new areas of the game, Pandemonium. This area will serve as the site of the final battle of the game. It's the eternal battlefield of the war between Heaven and Hell, and has been seen in battles in the original Diablo 3 cinematic and it the Wrath cartoon. They did not make it into a full fledged zone because they didn't yet have a reason to go there.

When creating a zone, they always ask where it fits into the game. In this case, since they already sent us to Westmarch, the most powerful city on Sanctuary, they needed a good escalation. Sending us to Pandemonium, Malthael's own lair, on a quest that would mean the end of humanity if you failed, seemed a good reason. While the war has moved on to Sanctuary, Malthael sees humanity as an abomination due to their demonic heritage, and may even be jealous that they defeated the prime evils, a task he never succeeded at. Thus, he wishes to destroy them, and we have to invade his home base in Pandamonium to stop him.

The brainstorming process for Pandamonium started by creating various pieces of concept art. Some of the art showed dark hellscapes, others angelic scenery. Some showed remains of giant titanic beings, and another stone ruins floating in space. After the art, they then built in-game prototypes. The one they showed had been thrown together using art from the Act II Zultan Kuul's lair art.

Finally, the latest version showed how this all came together. It featured elements from various pieces of the artwork, including massive dead demons in the background, and floating islands of land as the entire area appeared to be breaking up. All this was added to give to an epic scale and to keep to the gothic, medieval spirit of Diablo.

We also saw some of the gameplay elements of Pandamonium. First, we saw slides of various possible layouts for the first area of Pandamonium. One of the problems of the base Diablo 3 game, the team noted, is that exterior levels are often not random enough, with very little change in zone shape and flow. Reaper of Souls aims to fix this. In Act V, exterior levels will be much more random, with different zone shapes and even changes in flow. In one game, a zone may flow east to west, in another, it may flow north to south. We also saw examples of the zone gameplay in action, such as the opportunity to spring angelic traps and kill the demons therein for their loot, to finish the job the angels could not.

The panel capped off with a pretty slick looking gameplay trailer, then a short Q&A

Questions and answers

One player asked about ladders, to which the team coyly noted they had rungs. Another asked how the team planned to support the economy with the AH gone. They noted that they planned to add additional gold sinks such as the transmog system and new artisan recipes. They also noted, however, that they couldn't make gold sinks so powerful or expensive as to make those with less gold underpowered.

Another questioner asked if the new Adventure mode would randomize old act areas. The team noted that the old acts would be completely integrated into the new Adventure Mode, but the truly random gameplay would mostly come from Nephalem Rifts.

Another questioner asked for an offline mode. The team seemed reluctant to endorse such a mode, instead noting they felt Diablo 3 was a game best played with friends, and they wanted to focus on making the online experience more rewarding, with new systems such as clans and groups coming with Reaper of Souls.

Another questioner asked if the team planned to address PvP soon. The team answered that they were focusing on core gameplay elements first, perfecting the loot systems and so on, but implied they would look at PvP once those were solidified.

One questioner complained that items with unique and interesting effects often had to be cast aside in favor of items with better or more suitable base stats, and asked if this was being fixed. The team noted tthat the new loot system will give players a higher chance to gain item drops with stats relevant to their hero, and that higher level items will have a better chance to roll higher stats. In addition, new items in Reaper of Souls will have effects that are meant to be overwhelmingly amazing, such as a new Witch Doctor hat that will make Horrify root mobs in place when it hits them.

Another player complained that the game seemed to go at a breakneck speed after Act I, leaving little time to explore as you headed to kill Diablo. The team noted that this was part of what Adventure Mode was meant to fix. By removing the pressure of completing the main quest of narrative mode and providing active rewards for exploring, they hope to give people more reasons to seek out side dungeons and events instead of forging ahead.

The final questioner asked if the team was looking at more ways to prevent hardcore characters from dying due to lag spikes. The team noted they were always looking for ways to prevent this, including adding more server capacity and working with QA teams to improve connectivity.

Filed under: BlizzCon, Diablo 3

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