Jay Wilson, Kevin Martens, Christian Lichtner, Julian Love, Wyatt Cheng, Leonart Boyarsky and Paul Warzecha took to the stage at BlizzCon today, and spoke at length about Diablo III.

The first half of the panel was structured around the announcement of the fifth and final character class, the Demon Hunter.

Why the Demon Hunter? According to Blizzard, she fills out the ranged weaponry class they've been seeking to implement. They initially started with a "woodland ranger", but this was insufficient to convey the dark image they were hoping for. The Demon Hunter was born out of a desire to feature an anti-hero, bounty-hunter figure utilizing ranged weapons, gadgets, traps and shadow magic.

Despite the Demon Hunter being one of the initial concepts settled upon, initial builds were strong on melee attack, prompting Blizzard to start over. The inspiration centred around the need to provide balance to the Monk class, so the concept of a more Gothic character was born.

Diablo III beta

Although Blizzard now felt they had a workable character, things still weren't up to their standards. More ideas were conceived and scratched - such as the concept of a demon hunting demons, and a demon-human hybrid with a demon arm. None of these worked as they didn't identify well with a ranged class, so they moved more towards a sleeker, sexier image, with more attitude and the ability to dual-wield pistol crossbows.

The lore of the Demon Hunter has also been established - Blizzard have stated that they're the most diverse class in Diablo III, and are chosen rather than born. They are motivated by revenge, and recruited by other demon hunters from any walk of life. They become nomadic with no recognised homeland, and are a ranger/bounty hunter hybrid who want demons to know what terror they inflict on the world. They're also aware of the true cost of the eternal battle between heaven and hell.

Demon Hunter skills focus on Shadow Magic, in a similar vein to the Assassin from Diablo II.

In other updates, we've learned that the Skill User Interface has been overhauled. It's now tabbed, with all skills available at one time. Skills are placed into seven slots, which is designed to make upgrading skills easier.

Skills demonstrated include;

  • Barbarian Ancient Spear. Still feels melee appropriate, tough and strong.
  • Wizard gets Meteor Shower again. Re-envisioned for Diablo III.
  • Witch Doctor - Spirit Walk, different than teleport, it's more of a mobility skill to sell the spirit and voodoo themes. The Doctor can go invisible to sneak past enemies.
  • Monk - Wave of Light summons a mystical bell that covers foes to weaken them, combining mystic arts with martial arts

The new traits system was also unveiled, detailing the comprehensive passive skills to be included in the game.

Trait points are gained every second level, and alter the core attributes and mechanics of the class. They're designed to add flavour to the game world.

Traits include Inner Rage (Barbarian) - this reduces the rate of Fury lost and increases Fury gained for hitting the same target. Prismatic Cloak (Wizard) increases the effects of Ice Armor and Storm Armour by 100%.

Traits will address character customization, allowing you to modify your base hero between (for example) a tough barbarian, or a berserker barbarian. Each class has 30 traits, with 1-5 points able to be allocated to each. By separating active vs. passive point spends in this manner, you'll get more variety.

Blizzard aren't happy with this system however, they've indicated that the UI is not awesome, and gaining traits every other level isn't perfect

A new feature has been announced - the Talisman. This is a separate inventory in which to store charms, which are making a return from Diablo II. The Talisman grows over time, however you have to pick and choose which charms to use. Charms will focus on core attributes for better customization.

After an absence in 2009, this year will see the return of skill runes to the Diablo III demo code on display at BlizzCon. The runes allow you to customize your skills, and drop like gems. They are used to "socket" skills, as opposed to weapons/armour. There are nearly 97 billion possible builds per class due to the huge variety of runes available; this figure doesn't even including traits, or equipped gear. Runes can also change how the skills look when used in combat.

Five rune types have been confirmed; Crimson, Indigo, Obsidian, Golden, and Alabaster. They're loosely themed, crimson produces a fire attack, golden helps with mana recovery, obsidian slows enemies, indigo increases fire rate, alabaster isn't entirely determined yet, but according to Blizzard it will help the Witch Doctor shoot snakes that attach to monsters faces to stun them.

There are seven ranks per rune type, which increase as you progress, and the ranks will create more crazy effects during combat. These include Chilling Breath, Corpse Throw, Ricochet, Lighting Hydra, Arcane Hydra, Acid hydra, Fire Wall Hydra, Fire Frogs, Mana Reduction, Plague of Toads, Rain of Toads, and a Giant Toad attack that eats monsters and spits them out.

Blizzard also touched briefly on PvP, namely Battle Arenas. These are dedicated arenas for all of your dueling needs, and are focused on team-based play. In addition, some class abilities and skills will be specifically designed for pvp, such as counters to stop crowd control. There will also be a round mechanic, full Battle.Net support, matchmaking, skill-based matching, custom games, and progression-based ranking.