One of the featured panels during this year’s Blizzcon ’08 in Anaheim, California is the Diablo 3 class panel. Lots of spiffy information has come out of that as well as the revelation of the newly announced Wizard class.

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The D3 Class Panel was hosted by game director Jay Wilson, technical game designer Wyatt Cheng and lead technical designer Julian Love. Each panel member had his chance to wow (NO pun intended for all you WoW fans) the audience and boy did they deliver.

The Wizard

The first thing right off the bat was the revelation of the Wizard as the next class for D3. She comes hot on the heels of the Barbarian and the Witch Doctor but she can deliver an elemental punch beyond all expectations.

“We have our finger on the pulse of the Diablo community and we know one thing above all others: They want things to blow up.”

Cheng and the design team chose to combine the old familiar caster class with something new. In this case, the Wizard uses ‘high magic’ and can manipulate the universe and channel its power. Blizzard wants players choosing wizards to feel rebellious, brilliant, volatile, brash and self-confident. This clearly comes through in the movie where she literally smirks at Leoric after he tells her she’s going to die.

We were treated to a look at four of the Wizard’s spells including Magic Missle, Electrocute, Slow Time and Disintegrate.

Magic Missile

Magic Missle is old school PnP and in many ways works fundamentally like fireball with a bit more ‘zip’ to it. The missle shoots out of the Wizard’s hands and hits enemies with a satisfying ZAP.

Electrocute

Electrocute is very reminiscent of chain lightning though without the drama of frying your teammates. Man, I miss those days sometimes….

Slowtime

Slowtime casts a ‘bubble’ over the Wizard and those near her. Projectiles and enemies are slowed if they enter within the bubble. Very cool!

Disintegrate

Making sure that we all know how important explosive spells are, Disintegrate is a ‘face melter’, to quote Cheng and he’s right. LOL! This fiery spell allows players to sweep with the mouse and sends out a flaming line that becomes more powerful the longer the mouse button is held down.

Skill System

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Wilson took over from Cheng and spent time going through the tortures of creation. Be thankful that some of these skill systems were trashed. Even having them in front of my eyes didn’t guarantee any understanding at all. Wilson even through in the Horadric Cube skill system which was only a small joke at the dev team’s expense.

The skill system is being designed to be simple to understand, as compelling in the late game as it is in the early game, supportive of up to six active skills and allows for a large number of build possibilities. To accomplish this, devs want simplified advancement that brings back some of the old favorites from D1. Remember the books that dropped? While those won’t be making a comeback, randomly dropped skills will be there to allow players to enhance their skills in truly unique ways.

There are two sets of skills: Active and Passive. Active skills are those used…well, when actively battling monsters. Passive skills change the nature of those active skills in cool ways. Additionally, there are skill runes that will further differentiate the way skills are used and how they are deployed. Customization is way over the top in this respect and VERY cool.

To add a little depth to the rune system, here are some of the things you’ll find:

  • Runes drop randomly
  • Runes can be used by any class
  • Runes can improve skills simply by dropping them onto a skill to change its properties, etc. This encourages experimentation.
  • Runes are NOT locked in! They can be removed and replaced.

We saw some great examples of the rune system and how it alters the way skills deploy. For instance, Teleport is a great skill for hopping away from danger. Add a Striking Rune and suddenly there is a wave of lightning left in the caster’s wake that damages nearby monsters.

The Witch Doctor’s Skull of Flame skill sends a flaming skill into a single opponent. With the addition of a Multistrike rune allows it to bounce and the further it’s thrown, the bigger the bounce. On impact, it leaves a burning circle that continues to burn anyone within the circle and anyone stupid enough to walk through it. Hey…no insult to zombies but we all know how brainless they are, right?

Electrocute in its normal state does exactly what its name implies. With a Multistrike rune, it behaves more like chain lightning and with a Lethality rune, it literally blows things up.

The most exciting announcement, however, was RESPEC! Yes, you heard it right: Mess up your character’s advancement, find a useless skill or just want to try something new, you’ll be able to respec your character. This is a HUGE and WELCOME announcement……this from the girl who actually wasted way too many points in the Amazon’s Decoy spell. 🙁

Visceral Gameplay

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Justin Love gave the audience a real treat by giving it a look at the three announced classes in action and the art direction D3 uses.

As a side note: I did not feel in any way that D3’s look is too ‘cartoonish’ or ‘light’. It definitely has a gloomy, dark feel to it but I’ll cover that more later.

Barbarian

The Barbarian is a physical juggernaut and will be required to use his physical attributes to accomplish his attacks. Devs have, however, added the “Ancestral Connection” where he gets some mystical powers and skills from the Ancients of D2 fame.

Witch Doctor

The Witch Doctor is the quintessential voodoo king with all the magic and ickiness that that embodies. He will summon zombies to be sure. But his zombies won’t be the same ones that he’s trying to kill. Nope, not this guy. He will have the ability to summon zombie dogs and build zombie walls. He’ll turn bats into fiery missiles and create swarms of creatures to eat his opponents.

Wizard

Two words for the Wizard: LIGHT SHOW.

The wizard draws on the arcane powers of the universe and harnesses the elements to do her bidding. We got a look at Blizzard where huge blobs of snow fall and freeze bad guys and, most cool of all, Tornado. The tornadoes swirls around her (we saw 3 at a time) with blazes of red, blue and purple whirling within.

Monster Deaths

One of the greatest things in D2 was the custom design for monster deaths. This tradition is continued in D3 and taken a step further. There are physical force deaths, damage flavored deaths, critical death and EXPLODING deaths. There are hand-crafted deaths, skill driven deaths. We got a look at an acid spell that literally melted the foes into ugly puddles of goo.

Rare monsters will…EXPLODE and have their own unique and unusual deaths.

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All in all this panel was a lot of fun. Fans were definitely into it and there was a LOT of applause for EXPLOSIONS and RESPEC. And, honestly, what more can a Diablo 3 fan want?

Stay tuned for more later today!

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