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Diablo III

Ed Zitron puts down Diablo II long enough to look at the sequel

Though every cocky conspiracy theorist this side of Irvine, California was telling us that this announcement was inevitable, in reality you can only try to predict Blizzard's plans, as their lips remain sealed until the moment when rumour and conjecture become reality.

Diablo III is the real, true-blood sequel to Diablo II and its expansion, Lord of Destruction. For those who joined the Blizzard fanbase with World of Warcraft, Diablo is a popular hack 'n' slash series where you slice up hordes of monsters, gaining experience in a multitude of randomly generated and static dungeons.

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These games are all about epic, large-scale battles with you (and maybe a pal or two) in the centre, or on top, of a pile of corpses. Essentially, it's the isometric mega-instance from hell.

If it ain't broke...

"The core philosophies of this game are based on what we did with the franchise so far, and that's our launching point," explains Brian Morrisroe, self-confessed Diablo fanboy and Diablo III's art director.

"At the same time, it's been a while since we launched Lord of Destruction. The fans are expecting new things, and we're going to give them a fresh, fun experience.

"Things like the new classes, animated environments, the 3D engine and the new health globe system really freshen up the experience."

Said health globe system replaces piles of potions with glowing red orbs, dropped by slain enemies, that heal you and anyone near you when they're touched. This makes the game more mobile and in co-operative situations lets you save your partner from a quick death, rewarding those who keep close to each other.

While this sounds like a naff idea on paper, it fits well into the Diablo system. You'll spend more time fighting across the battlefield than hoping you've hotkeyed your potions.

And more importantly, it removes the slog of having to go to town to replenish your stocks of healing potions. The orbs are intended to keep you in the place you want to be - the thick of a gigantic battle.

Another trick Blizzard have up their sleeves is a destructible, animated environment - even if much of the dungeon design will remain as randomly-generated as ever.

Players can bring walls down upon enemies and smack them off bridges. Pots shake as you stomp the floor and explosions blow up furniture.

"We're really hoping to push the interactive environments throughout the game as a true tactical motif. It's something we committed ourselves to early on in development, because we wanted to bring them to life and make them a core part of the experience," beams Morrisroe.

Diablolical

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Though details of the story are light on the ground, we do know that it's been 20 years since the Archangel Tyrael destroyed the corrupted Worldstone at the end of Lord of Destruction.

This event was supposed to ensure that the forces of Hell were released upon mankind, but this apocalypse didn't pan out.

As nobody has heard from the Archangel since, no-one believes the ramblings of the now-aged Deckard Cain and everything has turned into a somewhat baffling legend.

But it's fair to guess that mankind hasn't seen the last of those hellish brutes this time round. Blizzard's challenge now is to successfully refresh the series without removing what makes it Diablo.

"Everything we do is about staying true to the franchise. Across the board, we want to keep it old, but bring a new life to it," nods Morrisroe.

And like it or not, Diablo is a series that has always succeeded in doing the basic hack and slashery well, as proven by the various pretenders over the years that have lacked the special quality that has made your correspondent play through the single-player campaign of Diablo II eight times.

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