We were at BlizzCon 2016 and since there were major Diablo announcements we sat down with Diablo III's Lead Developer Kevin Martens and Art Director John Mueller as the Diablo series celebrates its 20th anniversary. We talked about the new things they are adding to the game and how they feel about the Diablo series following these announcements.
After so many years there's still a lot more and a lot of new stuff coming to Diablo, so what is new with Diablo?
KM: So we have a huge list of things for 2017 that are coming. Of course we announced the Necromancer. A brand new playable class that focuses on patch, blood and bone magic. We also have the anniversary event, the 'Darkening of Tristram' which will happen every January to commemorate Diablo's anniversary and in this event, we recreated the original Diablo I labyrinth with all the original bosses, all in Diablo III there's special rewards; there's Easter eggs, there is monsters, we've redone monsters to be more like the original Diablo monsters, a big deal there.
We have two new zones that we are announcing, The Shrouded Moors and The Temple of the Firstborn. We have a new feature called the armoury, which gives you five full loadouts for all of your characters; that changes all your skills, your gems, your gear, everything out with a single button click so you can switch out what your character is going to do that day super easily you can save up to five on every character.
In Greater Rifts there's a whole laundry list of improvements. We've changed monster A.I, we have a brand new algorithm for spawning them. If you don't die during a rift you get a bonus roll on upgrading your legendary gems. We have a new die interface so you don't have to have dies in your inventory, you can work on them at the mystic in her wardrobe feature, sorry the mystics Transmog feature you can dial up your gear right there so you don't have to do that anymore. All the crafting materials have been taken out of your bag and out of your stash and put into a dedicated UI to free up bag space, to make it easier to manage all of those things as well. We also have a brand new game mode called Challenge Rifts. Challenge Rifts are where everyone plays a preset character with all the skill and gear completely set and a pre-set rift where they can try and play it, learn all the corridors and all the nooks and crannies and get the best time they can and compete with their friends or, even complete on global leader boards to see who can finish that the best and everyone gets the same character.
We have new legendary powers for all of the character classes as well and we'll be unveiling those tomorrow at the second panel. I think that mostly completes it, I'm sure I forgot some stuff because there's a lot of things there. So yeah busy year for 2017 and we're proud to celebrate Diablo's 20th Anniversary.
So like you were saying, you're creating the original Diablo in Diablo III. How are you going to make sure that this is a proper old school experience?
JM: Well I can talk about our, what we call 'glorious retro vision' which Frank mentioned in the opening ceremony. We've really gone back to and looked at especially Diablo II, some of the graphics and we've sort of created a pixelated look. We've removed animations; we've removed run animations, we've done a lot of things to make it look and feel like it's a retro sort of filter that we put over the entire game and it's really beautiful and it feels nostalgic and we have a lot of the old music. Additionally of course we have all the original bosses and the interface. This was really a love letter a labour of love on behalf of the team, really trying to keep the legacy of Diablo I alive because as you said, not a lot of people have you know. I'm old enough to have remembered playing it for the first time but not everybody has played Diablo I. We wanted to fix that.
It must be with a great sense of awe that you're actually working with this old gem because it is loved and known by a lot of players, so recreating that in Diablo III must have been a very grand experience?
JM: It was really a dream come true, when I first played Diablo it was 1996 and I was living at home with my parents drawing monsters and demons and all this stuff and I found Diablo and it was like 'this game completed me'. It was everything I loved about art and games put into one place and so I think we all have stories like that.
KM: I think Diablo was a really big game for Blizzard, it started sort of a new era. At that time people thought RPG's were dead and if you did have a RPG then it was turn-based and then Diablo comes out and it's a real-time RPG and it goes huge. We actually only released it one language which was English. Blizzard was a tiny company at that point and fans started mods to put it into other languages. When Diablo II came out it was released in nine languages and Diablo III has thirteen languages. So the story of Diablo's growth is the story of Blizzard's growth and probably that of gaming overall, like it's an iconic game. I think most importantly being the first game on Battle.net. Battle.net came out in November and Diablo was the first game that came out on it in December 1996 and that's kind of changed everything for games and Blizzard for sure.
So a part of that list that you were going through earlier was that there is a new class coming, the Necromancers for Diablo III. Can you tell us a bit about them and how they play?
KM: So Necromancers are a mid-range battle class, they have mid-ranged spells and they have pets that they can control. So it's not a pet like a fluffy little dog or kitten, these pets are like skeleton armies and blood golems that are made of blood and flesh and bone and reanimate them. We call him the commander of the dead, the king of the dead and use that against evil. So he takes something people are afraid of and that's why people are afraid of Necromancers themselves. So this class is super cool, it's definitely the most requested class from previous games we've brought back and I think we've been in a nostalgic mood because of the 20th Anniversary. So some of the skills that are new or old are Bone Spear, controlling skeletons, golems etcetera. Some of the new skills are Blood Siphon where he has this blood magic where he can pull blood out of the enemies and get essence back. Corpse Explosion is a classic skill that we have brought back and done in a new way for the Diablo III engine, you can actually blow up ten corpses at once and damage your enemies and my absolute favourite is the Army of the Dead which is a huge skill, if you just need everything to just die on screen, please all monsters die. Army of the Dead has over a hundred skeletons form out of the ground, convene at one point then explode in a massive thing of bones and rib cages and thigs like that. So Necromancer is really fun, really fun to make and I think people are really looking forward to it.
The duo weren't too keen on answering why the choice was made to flesh out Diablo III even more instead of announcing Diablo IV, but John Muller did offer something about the importance of the still very acting playerbase.
"We have a hugely active playerbase, and we want to keep providing content for those players. And we just think that the Necromancer is just like... We're just nerding out, and geeking out about it, and it's so cool to see the response that we had."
And given how much time and effort Blizzard has spent on the game over the years, maybe there's no point rushing the announcement of its sequel.
With these major additions coming to Diablo III there should be no shortage of content for fans to enjoy as the anniversary is celebrated.