"You're going to be able to buy and sell items for real-world money. I'm just going to let that sink in for a minute."
Executive Producer Rob Pardo's address to the assembled media at Blizzard's Los Angeles campus had the desired effect; a stunned silence prevailed, indicative of the seriousness of his announcement. The concept of directly benefiting financially from a Blizzard game has long since been outlawed in World of Warcraft, with users routinely banned for attempting to sell accounts online. However it seems Blizzard have no such qualms about trading items through the Diablo III auction process for real-world gain.
"Everything from items, gold, and trade skill components can be sold. We're even starting to discuss whether or not you'll be able to sell characters, but that'll be something we'll do maybe later on.
"Each currency will have it's own auction house, that way whatever region you're in, you'll be able to buy and sell within your own currency."
Pardo went on to reveal that auto-bidding, instant buy-out and extensive filtering options to find the best loot for sale will be available, and that the real-world auction house will be a separate entity to the in-game gold auction house. These additions, as remarkable as they are, are only a small part of the modifications made to the game since we last played it in 2010.
Due to problems encountered in the internal alpha testing phase, the entire skill system has been overhauled. Now, instead of allocating individual points to statistics such as strength, vitality and dexterity, each character will receive an auto-allocated boost to these statistics when levelling. The player can then choose which combat skills, either passive or active, to unlock and use. These skills are available to choose every six levels, beginning at level six.
As an example, a Barbarian moving from level one to five will have two base combat skills available at the outset, and a conventional melee attack. Upon reaching level six, the player can choose from a selection of new skills that offer different ways to attack enemies, such as Hammer of the Gods, or Ancient Spear. Only six of these skills can be used at any one time, and can be added to hot-keys in order to use them in battle.
Each of these skills can be further modified up to five times by adding skill runes. These runes change not only the attack ferocity of the skill, but also the animations, and the method they're executed. Unfortunately, despite finishing the beta content twice, no such runes were detected. For a media event that promised to reveal more about the rune system, their omission seemed peculiar.
Finally, passive abilities can be chosen at level 10, 20 and 30, however only three can be equipped at any one time. There is no penalty for changing or swapping around skills, so there's likely to be a number of different builds players will switch between depending on the battle ahead. Despite the initially strange lack of point allocation at each level, the new system feels coherent, and clearly acts to push the definition of each character back to their actual combat abilities, rather than relying on a build heavy in one particular statistic.
Where some fans may draw issue is the difficulty this presents in creating an offshoot build. Those wishing to explore how a caster deals with tanking duties, for example, may struggle to craft a build outside those offered by the pre-existing combat skills. Whether or not this can be reclaimed in concentrating on weapon modifiers to allow such a lunatic build remains to be seen – we still have no real understanding of end-game content, and Blizzard weren't keen to discuss it, other than to say that they've been playing the entire game internally.
Those lucky enough to be chosen for the closed beta will be required to start a new character, and battle down a narrow path before quickly reaching the gates of New Tristram, a mercantile town founded on the ruins of the original Tristram destroyed during Diablo II. New Tristram has arisen to satisfy the demands of treasure hunters keen to loot the surrounding countryside. All has been quiet in the world of Sanctuary for at least twenty years, until a fire falls from the sky and the dead start rising from their graves. This, explained Lead World Designer Leonard Boyarski, is the great, great mystery at the beginning of Diablo III.
After a quick skirmish at the gates, players will be greeted by Leah, adopted niece of Deckard Cain, and daughter of Adria the Witch from the original Diablo. Her purpose is to fill the gap between the accumulated knowledge of Deckard Cain, and the scant knowledge of the player. Guided by her, the initial phase of the beta involves uncovering the purpose of this fallen star, and requires extensive investigation of the surrounding environments.
To aid in this, various lore books can be discovered during gameplay that explain the story to date. This is managed in an unobtrusive manner, merely click on a message notification and an audio tape will play whilst the game continues to throw monsters at you. It's a far more user-friendly system than has been encountered previously, as there's no need to stand about watching a chat window. Lore always took a back seat to the main hack 'n' slash theatre in Diablo and Diablo II, this move looks certain to rectify that.
As was expected, the user interface has undergone a fairly substantial change since 2010. A new slot has appeared, housing the Stone of Recall, a device gained early on in the first act.
"Previously I stated that we do not have town portals in the game", explained Game Director Jay Wilson. "We don't. We're doing a Stone of Recall".
The Stone of Recall can be activated to produce a teleport back to town at any stage, however it takes ten seconds to become active, and is interrupted by any kind of combat.
"We didn't want to take the convenience out of going back to town whenever you wanted" continued Wilson. "But we didn't want players to be able to use that to get out of a fight. It really hurts the combat model."
Alongside this in the players inventory is the Nephalem Cube. This can be used to break down magical items to producing crafting materials. By merely clicking on the cube, then clicking on the unwanted item, new crafting materials will appear in its place. These items can then be provided to a blacksmith in order to produce new crafted weapons.
The third addition, the Cauldron of Jordan, allows players to sell items without returning to town. Again, click on the cauldron, then on the item – or hold down shift to click on multiple items – and they'll be instantly converted to gold, saving time and inventory space.
"We wanted players to go back to town for a good reason. Having a full bag isn't a good enough reason", explains Wilson.