And, as a trivial side-effect, they had to make Diablo 3
I look forward to the people who said we were kidding ourselves calling this announcement ‘inevitable’ and then ‘obvious’. I say ‘we’, but actually even the most zealous posters at Diablofans.com were crying into their forums on Thursday – Blizzard were called both ‘cockfags’ and ‘fucktards’ for so obviously gearing up to announce Lich King beta signups instead of Diablo 3. One Diablo fan pronounced that they would ‘not survive’, by which I’d love to – but cannot quite – believe he only meant their company would go bust.
The Evil Penguin and the Lost numbers were both kind of funny red herrings, but to be fair to the huge number of people who got it utterly wrong, Blizzard’s teasing of this announcement turned out to be pure nonsense. Those eyes meant nothing – they just changed them on the final day, then replaced them with something completely different. The Diablo face in the game’s logo doesn’t look anything like the illustration of Diablo on the official logo for the event, and it doesn’t even look like the eyes we saw on Thursday. They kept most people guessing by simply lying to them.
Luckily, since I am Sherlock freaking Holmes, I was able to piece together the fact that they bought Diablo3.com, advertised for people who like Diablo 1 and 2 to work on an unannounced project, arranged their annual event for the day that the last two Diablo games were released, then put a huge picture of Diablo towering over the other characters in their logo for the event, then let slip that they’d be announcing a new game, and by an arcane leap of logic come to the conclusion that they would announce Diablo 3 there.
Oh, right, the game. I was distracted for a moment by how right I was. Now I can move on to being seriously excited. There’s a full-res movie of the whole presentation they showed at the event on their site, but it insists you use the astonishingly shitty Blizzard downloader to get it, so try Softpedia.
I initially had mixed feelings, watching the live stream of this: it really doesn’t lend itself to blurry, laggy, rubbish footage narrated by an insufferable twat and repeatedly disconnected by an unspeakably crap bespoke streaming protocol called Octoshape. That’s why it’s so essential you watch the high-res version: the insufferable twat* is still on there, but everything else is immeasurably improved.
* I think it might be Diablo 3 lead designer Jay Wilson, who before that was Dawn of War lead designer Jay Wilson, and before that worked at Monolith on Blood, where he had to suffer regular e-mail exchanges with me about stuff they should do in Blood 2 (and look how that worked out). If this is the case, then he’s an insufferable genius twat.
You need to see it high-res because Diablo is all about crisp, satisfying interactions. The combat actually looks superb when you see it properly: not only are the blows connecting in hot spurts of blood, the camera rocks subtly to ram home the impact of the most forceful strikes. It also pans too far when the Barbarian uses his Charge ability, and has to nip back to center on him when its done: a classic cinematic trick to give the impression of extreme speed that turns out to work beautifully in an isometric game.
I also couldn’t make out the new interface properly in the shit-stream, as I shall now call it – get over any WoWificiationophobia, it looks ace. You have a four-slot hotbar to instantly activate skills with the number keys, plus slots on 5 and 6 that look to be dedicated to scrolls (of Town Portal and, presumably Identify). Then next to that, as with Diablo, you can put whatever skills you like on your left and mouse buttons. There’s another, smaller slot next to those two, which I think corresponds to your middle button. Best, you scroll through your right-mouse skills with the mouse-wheel, so you don’t need to touch the keyboard to use everything at your disposal quickly.
My main concern, and this will sound silly, is the noise when hitting a few of the enemy types. To be clear, the noises when you hit stuff in Diablo is the defining feature of the game: loot and skills pale in comparison to the importance of feeling like every blow really fucking smacked that thing. Against the fat things that blow up into Lampreys, and the ghost things that sap your whatever, the Barbarian’s axe makes a pathetically wimpy noise. Seeing a big burly man swing a huge axe with all his might to no audible effect is just disastrous for game feel, I hope they realise that before they’re done.
The Witch Doctor excites and saddens me in almost equal measure: on the one hand, his abilities are fantastic, on the other, they clearly demonstrate that he’s intended to replace the Necromancer, my favourite class not just in Diablo, but in gaming. The Witch Doctor can do scary stuff, sure, but he doesn’t look scary: he’s a quivering little heap of fancy dress. My Necromancer was a walking nightmare, a vision in bone that ten-foot demons ran scampering from as he spread poison and blood raging across the room. Maybe I can sort that out with armour. I certainly want to strip people of their flesh, make zombie-fences and blow up my own pets.
Oh yes, nerdy but really kind of cool news: gender choice! I actually think Diablo 2 was pretty good at avoiding the more offensive RPG gender conventions – it rejected the notion that healing is woman’s work – but a lot of players, particularly girls, don’t like to gender-bend, and that restricts the classes they can like. Personally, I only like to gender-bend, so it’s good for me too.
Once they get outdoors in that video, the art is magnificent. They’ve got for a subtle smoothing of the scenery that makes it look like watercolour concept art, and makes the characters stand out strikingly. I’m also appreciative of the fact that they’ve gone for exquisitely detailed, high poly-count monsters: WoW‘s artists worked wonders with that game’s simple, pointy models, but Diablo demands smooth curves and complex shapes.
My friends and I had a LAN party when Diablo 2 came out just to play it. Ross sounds quite excited about it, and Tim’s a big Blizzard fanboy, so we may be able to do the same thing in the office with this one. That’s the main reason to be excited, I think: just that there’s a new and shiny game of this type coming out. Of Blizzard’s three big series, Diablo was always my primary vice, the Greater Evil. It was by comparison to that game that WoW fell short of obsessing me.
So it’ll be nice to have it back.