Back at BlizzCon 2010, there were plenty of happenings going on that filled up the days: Cataclysm wasn't far away, Diablo 3 had some major announcements, and even Starcraft 2 stole some of the show with their new and upcoming game mods. We ate everything up like a ravenous glutton, but even a glutton can inhale so much that they miss something. Sadly, by the time the dust settled, we had managed to miss playing the brief PvP demo that Blizzard had set up for Diablo III as most of our time in Diablo 3 was chewed up with the Demon Hunter. Luckily, we ventured down to the hallowed halls of Blizzard Entertainment recently to fix that oversight.
Instead of playing against random convention attendees, I was pitted against the development team, including people like Senior Game Designer Jason Bender, PVP Elements Producer Elizabeth Cho and even Game Director, Jay Wilson. These are the folks who work on the game, and who also apparently enjoy handing people their asses. Which did happen several times.
While the build was the same as it was at BlizzCon last year, seeing it up close and personal shows the potential of putting the Arena system into the game. Toiling and grinding through the realms of Diablo can become pretty tedious, and sometimes you'll need a place to vent that frustration. This is perfect for that outlet, and it trains you in the effective use of your skills and abilities as well. Think of it as the X-Men's Danger Room or the training simulation from the Matrix, without all the holograms and fakery.
So what is it? Arena is a place where you can battle other players without consequences. Your corpse won't get looted, and you won't drop a level. Developer Jason Bender said they may be supporting leaderboards and other ways to rank players in the Arena, but you won't be heading in there to find epic trinkets. "We don't want this to be the way you get loot," Bender said. In fact, the only real consequence of Arena is the hardcore mode, where if you fall in battle … your character gets erased forever. It's pretty much just for bragging rights, but Bender said they may explore some way to entire players into Hardcore Arena battles. With Battle.net and their love of decals, I imagine that's where something will appear.
So instead of having your fellow players turn into loot pinatas, you're squaring off strictly to win or lose. We battled 3 on 3 (thankfully, since I was the only non-dev) with every class except the Demon Hunter and the Monk. The Demon Hunter was only just announced at BlizzCon, so she wasn't in the same build we played, and the Monk was being retooled. Instead we all took turns with the Barbarian, Witch Doctor, and Wizard. Because I usually like getting up in the grill and playing smashmouth PvP, I picked a Barbarian. Then I quickly died, over and over.
Each class has different skills that you need to master, and thinking I could go in with my axe swinging left me vulnerable to the Wizard's Slow Time bubbles, after which they usually swap to Disintegrate and focus that burning laser beam on your big, furry behind. Thankfully, the Barb's Leap Attack can get him (or her) out of most jams, but all-Wizard teams can be very lethal. Besides their arsenal of attacks, which include Hydras that spawn like ranged cannons, they can also teleport, which will blink them out of your range and off of the line of sight on your minimal in the upper right hand corner of the screen.
Barbarians have the added hindrance of having to build up Rage before their more powerful abilities are open to you, but if you're able to fill up that globe, get in quick and lay down some hurt with their Whirlwind attack. Leap out and back in for other powerful attacks, and eventually you're realize that there is some strategy to that big tank. The Witch Doctor, though, was pretty overpowered in this build. They can summon zombie dogs on fire that aggro when enemies stray nearby, providing a handy radar as well as chomping for damage. Plus, you can "remote detonate" them like grenades, which really puts the hurt on. Then you can immediately summon more to keep the pack together.
The Witch Doctor's bouncing, flaming fireball attack can also wreak havoc, and once you're able to slot Runes into the skillsets, I can only imagine what sort of mayhem the screen will degrade into. At times, all you could see onscreen were bursts of gore as people exploded left and right, or the odd bouncing helmet skittering by that was all that was left of someone. From time to time, health globes spawned near the middle of the map, and everyone would rush pellmell for them. Advantage: Barbarian with his leap.
The graphics were stunningly sharp and the amount of detail Blizzard has packed in here is impressive. Even the Wizard's mana globe, a fairly static representation of how much you have on hand, looks like a plasma ball full of energy. When the Wizard would summon down a meteor to attack a foe inside a Slow Time bubble, the ground would split and crack underneath, before slowly returning to normal. Architectural features like pillars and support beams would fade partially away as your character would circle behind them, so you can continue to control your fight even behind objects.
Obviously, this is a very early build, and things will change monumentally by the time it's ready to be slotted into the game. They still have to play it with Runes and the full range of Skills, not to mention all the other loot people can pick up in the game. But, it is extremely fun, and people will no doubt jump in and out at a moment's notice when they have time to kill. And kill they will. Speaking of killing, if you encounter a female Wizard named "Badonkadonk," run. That's one of the game developers, and she's a ruthless, death-dealing machine.