Sonntag, 26. Juli 2015

Diablo 3: The Dark Prophet - "Leaked" Expansion 2 Title? [UPDATED]

Inarius - Villain or ally in D3X2?


Greetings, dear readers! My latest Diablo 3 speculation blog was meant to be the last before gamescom; however, recent developments prompted me to write another one with the world's biggest gaming fair just 10 days away.

About a week ago, a user called "Geheimnis" claimed to have information that an expansion called The Dark Prophet has been "leaked" and that it is for World of WarCraft, Blizzard's MMO. You can learn more about this here on reddit. Furthermore, the presence of WoW lead designer Ion Hazzikostas and the French WoW fansite Mamytwink at gamescom were interpreted as sign that there's indeed a big announcement coming. Before I continue with my own speculations, I want to clear up a couple of things, especially for the WoW fans.

WoW's fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor, just recently had the huge Fury of Hellfire patch 6.2 featuring a band-new zone, factions, quests, and the biggest raid of the expansion so far. Patch 6.2.1, which introduces flying in Draenor, is currently on the PTR and should be released shortly. A patch of this size is a big thing even for Blizzard, and with all the online-marketing for patch 6.2 being in full swing so close to gamescom, it's really just wishful thinking that Blizzard announces the next WoW expansion in 10 days. While Blizzard has - with over 500 demo stations - its biggest gaming fair presence ever at this year's gamesom, many of these stations will just have patch 6.2 on them with Ion Hazzikostas answering fan questions about Hellfire Citadel and Mamytwink to report about it. Sorry if I've just bursted your bubbles, dear WoW fans, but a WOWX6 announcement just won't happen here. BlizzCon 2015, on the other hand, is a prime candidate for it.

All that said, the author of the "leak" (who seems to have a Blizzard source because he had "forecast" details of Warlords of Draenor before its announcement) might just have been creative on the Queen Azshara theme, which ranks high among fans as potential WoW expansion. In fact, his concepts pretty much read like the fan-fiction that Ian "The Red Shirt Guy" Bates wrote up a week ago for the Blizzplanet fansite. However, assuming that there is indeed a reliable source and that the name or trademark "The Dark Prophet" was mentioned in connection with Blizzard, there's another possibilty, which seems to be much more plausible with respect to the normal Blizzard product release schedule: "The Dark Prophet" (or "Prophet of the Dark") could be the title of the second Diablo 3 expansion!

The Dark Prophet

The End of the Reaper of Souls and the Rise of the Nephalem

The Reaper of Souls (RoS or D3X1 for short) expansion ends with a pretty solid hint at the possible fate of the Nephalem (you, the player) in the not-so-far future. The following video is a complete recap of the Angel of Death quest including the final ingame cinematic, which can not only be looked at as ending of RoS but also as teaser and prologue of the second expansion a.k.a. D3X2.

The "Angel of Death" questline is the last of the RoS Campaign Mode,
and it surprises with a pretty clear forecast of the things to come

This are Tyrael's famous last words: "...but within him [the nephalem] beats a mortal heart, that will one day be tempted to corruption. On that day, will he have the strength to resist, or will he be our doom?"

During the events of Diablo 3, Diablo, the Lord of Terror, was able to combine - with the help of the witch Adria - the essences of the other two Prime Evils and the four Lesser Evils through the Black Soulstone into his own "body", becoming a singular Prime Evil. While he was defeated by the Nephalem (at the end of Diablo 3), his spirit returned to the Black Soulstone, and through the destruction of the stone at the hands of Malthael during the final encounter in RoS (see the "Angel of Death" video above), he was released into creation once more. So, this is where we stand right now: Diablo is free again, and the Black Soulstone, which "forged" his last incarnation as "Singular Prime Evil", is destroyed. The Nephalem (you, the player) has overcome Evil in numerous forms, you are more powerful than ever, and Diablo has to find other means to subdue you.

Mephisto, the Lord of Hatred & Inarius, the Prophet (TLDR Version)

It remains to be seen how the Diablo team develops the lore further in D3X2. Is the "Singular Prime Evil" Diablo able to maintain his form now that the Black Soulstone, an artefact of incredible power, is destroyed? Is the stone destroyed at all, or have its shards landed somewhere on Sanctuary, just like the shards of Tyrael's sword did in Diablo 3? Is the third Diablo possibly decomposed again into the Great and Lesser Evils?

With "The Dark Prophet" being a possible expansion title, an important character comes into play: Inarius, the Prophet (title) and formerly an archangel of the High Heavens, whose actions would lead to the creation of Sanctuary and the Nephalem. After eons of war and witnessing countless acts of brutality in the Eternal Conflict a.k.a. "The Great Conflict", Inarius came to the conclusion that the conflict was unjust and that his part in it had to come to an end. Inarius found other angels and demons, who also sought escape from the never-ending war fate, and together he and his renegades managed to gain access to the Worldstone. With its aid, they created the world Sanctuary in another, safe pocket dimension. Eventually, the archangel and a demon called Lilith mated and created offspring. In time, other renegade demons and angels did likewise and produced offspring of their own. Thus, the Nephalem were born - the children of both angels and demons, yet a new entity in their own right.

Peace didn't last long, though, because the new species had power that surpassed that of angel or demon, and the union of angels and demons would be deemed the ultimate blasphemy by the Great Evils and Angiris Council. Inarius came to the conclusion that the Nephalem were "abominations" and declared that they be exterminated. Lilith, driven into a mad frenzy by the threat of her children's extinction, began slaughtering her fellow renegades, which eventually led to her banishment into the Void through Inarius. Inarius then attuned the Worldstone to cause the powers of the Nephalem to diminish over time, leading to what the humans are in Sanctuary these days.

Mephisto (left side) and Baal -
Both portraits already exist in the RoS game files

During the later events of the so-called Sin War, when the Burning Hells and the High Heavens became aware of Sanctuary's existence, Inarius was confronted with Lilith, who once again sought to bring the power of the Nephalem under her control, and Lilith's father, the prime evil Mephisto. You can look up the details in this Wiki article. Lilith was later defeated by the re-emergent Nephalem Uldyssian and banished again by Inarius. At the end of the war, Mephisto eventually got hold of the renegade Inarius through a deal with the Angiris Council. He took Inarius to the Burning Hells, where he is still incarcerated:
Mephisto took Inarius to the Burning Hells. He bound Inarius with tremendous chains and slowly tore the wings from the back of the angel. Great barbed hooks were then used to stretch out his once glowing skin and his features were distorted by vile powers. Now, Inarius is said to be trapped in Hell within a chamber of mirrors, his eyelids torn from his face as he is forced to gaze upon his misshapen form for all eternity. This remains true to this day.

Back to the Roots?

With the Nephalem back in full swing after the events of RoS, who if not Inarius and Lilith, who once gave birth to the super-human species, could be the perfect antagonist couple for expansion 2? Both Inarius and Lilith could be freed, and we'll suddenly find ourselves in a scenario that makes us walk the line between hero and villain. Both the Burning Hells and and the High Heavens have a vital interest in gaining the upper hand in the Eternal Conflict. However, it's hard to foresee how the story develops after RoS because Diablo's current state as Singular Prime Evil including Mephisto's essence is, well, complicated. Also, how could the poor soul Leah possibly come back into play here? There are indicators, though, that we'll go back deep into the history of the Diablo universe, which alone is a very exciting outlook.

Necromancer, Druid, or "Necruid" as next class?

When we talk about Inarius and Lilith, we must also mention Rathma, a first generation Nephalem and the progenitor of the Priests of Rathma, also known as the Necromancers. He is the son of Lilith and Inarius and not on good terms with his parents, as Lilith killed the rebel angels and demons only to use the Nephalem's power for her own ends, while Inarius believed that the Nephalem are "abominations" that should be destroyed. Rathma and the other members of the first generation, such as the Immortal King Bul-Kathos and his Druid brother Vasily, retained their supernatural powers. While the Necromancer's goal is to keep the balance between the Burning Hells and the High Heavens and prevent either from interfering too much in Sanctuary's affairs, the Barbarians and their Druid brothers seek to protect Mount Arreat and the Worldstone.

Swampland Necromancer - Artwork by Ignis Drakos
Pretty cool vision of how a Necruid could look like

In a potential Inarius vs. Lilith vs. Nephalem scenario, it's therefore well possible that either the Necromancer or the Druid will be playable as next class in D3X2. Both have a huge fan base, and if Blizzard goes balls to the wall with the next expansion, we might see even both classes or a "Necruid" (Necro-Druid) hybrid. Also, the Diablo 3 Patch 2.3 is currently online on the PTR, and its highlights - the new Ruins of ‪‎Sescheron zone in the Barbarian Highlands and the new, powerful Kanai‬'s Cube‪ - fit perfectly in here as well. The ruins including the third Immortal King in the throne room (with the suspicious error message "The time is not right") seem to have lore hints to what's coming next, and the new meta/power creep introduced through the cube has the character of a pre-expansion system patch. We definitely need more power for the tasks that lie ahead of us!

gamescom or BlizzCon?

Angelic Diablo from HotS dominates the gamescom 2015 poster -
Blizzard's subtle hint who the star of this year's show is?

Last but not least, I'd like to make a quick "fact check" regarding a potential D3X2 announcement at gamescom on August 5, 2015. As I've speculated in my third blog, the "Development/Developer in general" spot, which Blizzard had booked, points indeed to a press conference with relevant announcements. This press conference takes place on Wednesday, August 5 at 12:00 a.m. CET according to this info sheet from last week. What can we expect here, and what is rather unlikely? Here are the facts:
  • Everything that must be said about the upcoming expansion StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void has been said, and the cinematic trailer has been shown. The game is currently in beta, and more news will likely follow at BlizzCon in November, shortly before its release. You can play LotV in the demo area at gamescom.
  • A lot of info, the trailer, and gameplay videos for the upcoming shooter Overwatch have been revealed already since BlizzCon 2014. The game will have its beta in fall this year, and we might get a beta date at gamescom. Other big news, if any, will likely follow at BlizzCon. You can play Overwatch in the demo area at gamescom.
  • The upcoming expansion Hearthstone: The Grand Tournament has been revealed a few days ago, and it will be released in August. We'll likely get the exact release date at gamescom. Other big news are not expected here. You can play Hearthstone in the demo area at gamescom.
  • The current expansion World of WarCraft: Warlords of Draenor just got a huge update, the Fury of Hellfire patch 6.2 featuring a new zone and the expansion's main raid. The next update, which introduces flying in Draenor, is already on the PTR, and it will be released shortly. Other big news, if any, will likely follow at BlizzCon. You can play WoW in the demo area at gamescom, and WoW lead designer Ion Hazzikostas will be there to answer fan(site) and press questions.
  • Blizzard's latest baby Heroes of the Storm has been released in June, and it just got its first big update: The Eternal Conflict from the Diablo universe featuring new maps, heroes and skins. I expect more infos about the upcoming Monk hero, the new Novazon skin, and the not yet revealed Diablo hero. You can play HotS in the demo area at gamescom.
  • The first Diablo 3 expansion, Reaper of Souls, has been revealed 2 years ago at gamescom 2013 during a press conference, and while you cannot play Diablo 3 in the demo area at gamescom this year, the game is the prime candidate for a big announcement, the expansion 2. As mentioned earlier in this blog, the upcoming patch 2.3 certainly has the character of a pre-expansion system patch with its new meta/power creep, and the current "Eternal Conflict" HotS promotion is so close to the lore around Inarius, Lilith, and the creation of Sanctuary and the Nephalem, that it all seems to point in that direction. I would be very surprised if Blizzard lets that opportunity slip; gamescom is too big to be ignored for a major announcement, and more than 2 years between expansion announcements would be unusual as well.

That's it so far with my speculations about the name and possible contents of the next Diablo 3 expansion. Whether or not all, or at least some of it is confirmed should be known in a few days. If nothing is confirmed, then you should have read some entertaining fan fiction that makes the wait for D3X2 a little shorter. ^^

- Nobbie, the Lord of Construction

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July 29, 2015: WoW Expansion 6 Premiere announced for gamescom

It turned out that Blizzard is going to reveal WOWX6 at gamescom. Considering the normal product timeline, D3X2 was definitely due, especially considering that all these alleged "TM leaks" have been identified as fakes during the past days. But the devastating Warlords of Draenor critique likely forced them to announce the WoW expansion before the Diablo 3 expansion. Well, it just means waiting another 4 months until BlizzCon, and we'll see how good my predictions about the expansion 2 contents are. D3X2 can only get better until then. ^^

Mittwoch, 8. Juli 2015

Diablo 3 Patch 2.3: Spirit of Arachyr & Kanai's Cube - Spider Witch Doctor Edition

Season 4 is coming to the Diablo 3 Patch 2.3 PTR this week, and in the following video, I want to show you a build using the new Spirit of Arachyr set for Witch Doctors as well as suitable Kanai‬'s Cube‪ options to support it. Have fun, and enjoy!

Tip: Don't miss my related video about the Ruins of Sescheron & Kanai's Cube here!

- Nobbie

For the latest gaming news follow my Twitter and/or Facebook!

Donnerstag, 2. Juli 2015

Diablo 3 Patch 2.3: Ruins of Sescheron & Kanai's Cube - Pet Witch Doctor Edition

The Diablo 3 Patch 2.3 PTR just went online, and in the following video, I want to show you a quick overview of its highlights, the new Ruins of ‪‎Sescheron zone and Kanai‬'s Cube‪, a new artifact that works similar to the Horadric Cube from Diablo 2 but has much more power.

I'm using an average Torment 4/5 Pet Witch Doctor (from Season 3) here because he's a great example how you can get your hero 2 notches up on the difficulty scale with relatively little effort. Enjoy!

- Nobbie

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Sonntag, 10. Mai 2015

Diablo 3 Expansion 2: Xiansai and a new Wizard-based Hybrid Class?


Greetings, dear readers! This is my third speculation article about potential Diablo 3 Expansion 2 content. In my March blog I've made first educated guesses, mixed with some personal wishes, what the next expansion might have in store for us Diablo fans, and the follow-up April blog covered a striking bit of information that's been on the Internet for a couple of years now. Today I'm going to talk about Xiansai, the home of unmatched artisans and artists, as well as enigmatic sorcerers, scholars and philosophers, which in my book is definitely another prime candidate for an expansion. 

Before I begin, however, I want to share some info that you are certainly interested in. Last month Blizzard announced that they will be returning for gamescom 2015 from August 5-9, where we’ll be able to playtest their latest titles, including Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft. The absence of Diablo 3 in the list of hands-on demoed games led to wild speculations that there may be no Diablo news at all, but I've found solid hints last week, which should disprove this theory now.

The current gamescom exhibitor info for Blizzard Entertainment SAS (see/klick the above picture) clearly states that Blizzard not only demoes a selection of their latest titles but also has a "Development/Developer in general" spot booked, which points to a press conference with relevant announcements. What gives me that idea? Now, if you look up the same info for Sony Entertainment on that site, you'll notice that they don't have such a spot booked, and in fact, Sony announced last week that they won't be holding a press conference at gamescom 2015. Instead, there will be an "international media briefing" at Paris Games Week in October.

This is great news for us Diablo fans because:

So, all listed franchises either just had their release, will be released shortly, are already in beta or will be in beta very soon. This leaves only Diablo in the "development" category, whose last big announcement dates back to August 21, 2013, when the first expansion Reaper of Souls (RoS) was revealed during a press conference at gamescom. Considering the fact that the demand for news about future, expansion-size Diablo content is imminent and that Blizzard booked the aforementioned "development" spot, I think it's now pretty safe to say that the second expansion will indeed celebrate its premiere in three months.

Story & Features of the Diablo 3 Expansion 2


In my first blog I've speculated about Scosglen, home of the original "barbaric" Druids, being a potential location for the second Diablo 3 expansion (D3X2 for short), and in my second blog I covered the Skovos Isles, home of the Askari matriarchal society and its Amazons. So, what makes Xiansai, where many Wizards originate from, interesting?

To answer that question we have to look (literally) at the whole "picture". My expansion speculations are mostly based on which concept arts have been posted on the Internet by the various Diablo 3 artists. There are lots from the original game (obviously) and the printed lore books, a bunch from Westmarch (Reaper of Souls), and environment/atmosphere studies like Skovos, Kurast, or Xiansai. All artworks, which have been published in the artist portfolios, require the permission of Blizzard before release. It is interesting to note that there are quite a few from Skovos Isles, even including detailed artist notes, which reveal that Skovos is a sinking city. However, knowing Blizzard's "top secret" development policy, this is rather unusual, and it begs the question if the devs were "done" with Skovos as future Diablo 3 expansion content, especially after the hefty art style controversy.

The "leaked" Blizzard product slate from 2010

Let's furthermore assume that Blizzard had planned just two expansions for Diablo 3, as the above "leaked" (and authentic!) product slate from 2010 might suggest. Granted, the slate is just a 5-year plan which may change at any time (see "Titan" on the list), but if this is in fact true, the devs have obviously concepted various (expansion) locations in advance from which they'll pick two for the main locations in the expansions.

Blizzard concept artist Christian Lorenz Scheurer posted one Xiansai (left side)
and one Westmarch image in his personal portfolio

Of special interest in this regard are the concept arts of Blizzard artist Christian Lorenz Scheurer, which include Caldeum, the High Heavens, Skovos, Westmarch, and Xiansai. The art of Christian apparently had a big impact on the final look of the game locations; particularly the mood of Westmarch and RoS (see the right image above) is reflected perfectly in the artwork. The other striking image with a not-yet-released location in his portfolio shows the Asian looking capital city of Xiansai, which nestles up to the snowy mountains in Sanctuary's icy north. The not-too-bright, mysterious atmosphere that surrounds the island would be a welcome visual counterpoint to the dark, gothic Westmarch in RoS. Also, Xiansai is located right next to the Druid homeland Scosglen - more about that in a moment. Now, you may think that these two complementary location concepts are a bit thin to speculate upon, but there's more!

Covetous Shen & Zei

The people of Xiansai worship fifty-nine gods, but they only love one: Zei, the grinning trickster who fooled emperors, seduced river goddesses, and traveled the world disguised as a humble jeweler. That's hardly surprising because - besides their beliefs and culture - the Xian society resembles that of the medieval Florence during the times of the Medici: Great Families are warring in the streets, and political intrigue and bottomless wells of treachery can be found around every corner.

It is implied throughout the Reaper of Souls storyline (mostly by Shen himself) that the jeweler (Covetous) Shen is in fact Zei, or at least is somewhat related to him. It is not fully revealed, however, even though Liria, one of the gods of Xiansai and his lover, herself nearly recognized Shen as Zei in a game quest, and Shen remembered her face. The following video tells the story of Liria, her lover Zei, and her husband Dirgest, who was once worshipped by the Xiansai people as a god of desire and who became a demon later. It is available as ingame dialogues with Shen and a follow-up quest in the Unearthed Ruins in Act 5. If you don't usually follow the game lore, this is a summary you definitely don't want to miss.

Shen is much, much more than a simple jeweler

Following is a quick bullet point summary of the lore (source):
  • Liria was a moon goddess of incomparable beauty, which occasionally has caught the eye of Dirgest, a demon, once worshipped by the Xian as a god of desire.
  • Dirgest won the heart of Liria with his riches and persistence, making her his wife. Jealous, he tried to keep her off the world, but every night she had to travel the sky, where he could not follow.
  • Zei, the legendary thief, decided to steal her from Dirgest, and eventually did so, sneaking into her palace and spending the night with Liria.
  • Dirgest did not kill Zei in return, but slaughtered everyone Zei held dear, including Liria, taking her soul for himself.
  • Zei eventually defeated the demon god and imprisoned him within a ruby. Wearing it on his neck, Zei became a new god of the Xiansai pantheon.
  • However, the ruby had a crack in it, through which Dirgest could drain the life out of whoever touched the cursed jewel. After a while, Zei could not bear this burden, and cast off his divinity, becoming mortal again - presumably as the jeweler Covetous Shen. The jewel was hidden in an ancient labyrinth (the Unearthed Ruins in Act 5).
  • When ages later Shen and the Nephalem (the player) came for the jewel with the intention to seal Dirgest's prison permanently (see the video above), they found the ruby shattered as Dirgest has escaped, leaving his minion Vekriss behind to guard Liria's spirit. After defeating Vekriss and freeing Liria's spirit, Shen decided to pursue the demon, with the goal of imprisoning him again.

As you can see, we have a fully fleshed out storyline here, a solid "cliffhanger" ending, and a mysterious jeweler, who is very likely nothing less than a (former) god of the Xiansai pantheon. If the devs wanted to go to Xiansai in the next expansion, they would have a good reason or even a starting point here, no matter what else awaits us on the island west of the Frozen Sea and north-west of Scosglen.

Shen-anigans, or clear hints?

The following two topics are more of a long shot, but I think they deserve a special mention here.

The first one is an ingame conversation with Shen, which reveals that he has traveled Scosglen in the past and had contact with the Druids there. This might just be a personal anecdote, or it is a clever teaser for an upcoming expansion class. Click on the following image to read the story. 

"Close Encounters of the Druidic Kind", presented by Covetous Shen

The second one is an item which allegedly dropped on the Asian live realms a week ago, due to a bug:

This is the translation of its tooltip:

"Death Prophet's Gift: Use this item and select an unsocketed jewelry to add a socket."

If this is legit, it might be an expansion feature because of the magnitude of power it would add to the current itemization. It would also fit the Xiansai theme well and of course our artisan Covetous Shen, the jeweler.

The Next Class: A Wizard-based Shapeshifter?

If we get a hybrid class in the second expansion, you can be sure that the devs won't just copy previous heroes unaltered, like the Druid from Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction (LoD); instead, it will be a special "twist" on existing classes in order to provide a new, unique experience and fresh gameplay. Now, what could the Wizards (of Xiansai) and the Druids (of the nearby Scosglen) possibly share that results in a cool, Wizard-based hybrid? Does such a class perhaps exist already in the gaming world? Yes, it does, and it is the Shapeshifter in Dragon Age, a very popular fantasy role-playing franchise developed by BioWare.

Slaying your foes as a weaving Spider or missile-immune Insect Swarm?
Yes, please take my money!

Here's a lore snippet from the Dragon Age Wiki that explains the connection between the Mages and the (shapeshifting) Barbarians of Thedas, the continent of the Dragon Age universe:
Rumors speak of barbarians that hold secrets of transforming the body into the form of animals. The Circle of Magi denies such rumors. But this rare art survives in the forgotten corners of Thedas. Mastery of their bodies allows shapeshifters some protection, even in human form. Making them durable opponents and staunch allies.
While the Circle of Magi would prefer that it be so, theirs is not the only tradition of magic in Thedas. Prior to the Circle’s formation, magic was either practiced by the Magisters of the Tevinter Imperium or in remote areas, knowledge handed down from one generation of practitioners to the next. These "hedge mages", as Enchanters of the Circle refer to them, or "witches" as legend would name them, do not always employ forbidden magic. Quite often their talents lie in the creation of charms, the use of curses and the ability to change their own forms.
It is this last talent that has, over the centuries, been incorporated back into the Circle. Said to have been first introduced by hedge mages that joined the Circle (perhaps by force), the path of the Shapeshifter is one that crosses the boundary between mage and warrior. Some mages see it as a form of self-mastery, while others use it as a method of survival, a physical bag of tricks that enable the mage to be unpredictable in battle.
Shapeshifters must master one form at a time, the most common ones being those that are found in the Fereldan wilds. The mighty bear is popular as are wildcats, spiders, and even birds. Legend tells of mages who mastered even more fantastical and deadly forms. To a skilled Shapeshifter, no door is impassable, no fight is unwinnable, and no terrain inhospitable as long as they know a shape that can meet the task at hand.
You can look up the full Shapeshifter background story and skill details here.

This sounds absolutely fantastic in my book and would be a great template for a very cool hybrid class, which many fans for sure would love to see rather sooner than later in Diablo. Note the explicit mention of curses and charms in this excerpt. The latter have been scrapped during the development stage of Diablo 3, together with the talisman, which - as part of the inventory interface - was supposed to held the charms. Curses generally refer to a ranged debuff spell that was available to the Diablo 2 Necromancer. An expansion hybrid class would therefore also be a great opportunity for the devs to introduce curses in Diablo 3 and re-invent the talisman/charms as class-specific items that are only available to this "Druidwizard"!

- Nobbie, the Lord of Construction

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May 12, 2015: Diablo 3 expansion 2 announcement earlier at E3?

A "suspicious" test account reports back, 2 years after
gamescom 2013/the RoS announcement

A blog reader alerted me that a Diablo account labeled "TEST" has been caught by the Diablofans bluetracker yesterday, and this account is obviously very special because it posted for the second time ever; the first post dates back to a time two weeks before the Reaper of Souls announcement on August 21, 2013 at gamescom in Cologne, Germany (see the above picture).
Now, gamescom 2015 starts on August 5, however, there's also the E3, which will take place earlier in around a month on June 16-18, 2015 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. As the E3 2015 event comes near and after confirmations of Blizzard Entertainment participating in the event, a new expansion announcement during this show is quite possible. The "E3 Press Conference For The PC", as it's called, takes place from 5pm to 8pm PDT on Tuesday, June 16th. In partnership with Twitch, this PC Gaming Show will be streamed live and feature "new game reveals, updates on beloved series, and perspectives from key PC developers", as the official show website says.

May 13, 2015: A Xiansai Necromancer?

A Necromancer from Xiansai?

Blizzard artist Wei "Glowei" Wang has this "Orient Necromancer" labeled artwork in his personal portfolio, and if you ask me, it has Xiansai written all over it. ^^

Sonntag, 26. April 2015

Diablo 3 Expansion 2: Skovos and a new Druid-based Hybrid Class?


The Diablo 3 Content Patch 2.2 is out, and Season 3 will be running at least 4 months according to Senior Technical Game Designer Wyatt Cheng. This puts us at August 2015, when the world's largest computer games fair, gamescom, takes place in Cologne, Germany. Last week Blizzard announced that they will be returning for gamescom from August 5-9, where you’ll be able to play their latest titles, including Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft. The absence of Diablo 3 in the list of hands-on demoed games led to wild speculations that there may be no Diablo news at all, but don't despair, dear readers, the exact opposite is rather the case here, and I'll tell you why!

The premiere of Reaper of Souls (RoS) dates back to August 21, 2013, when the first expansion was revealed during a press conference in Cologne, Germany, at gamescom 2013. We saw the marvelous opening cinematic, learned that the crusader is the next class, and we were told what the main features are, with more details to follow in fall at BlizzCon 2013. So, two years have passed since then, and you can be 99% sure that the same procdure will be the case for the Diablo 3 expansion 2. The early ending of Season 2 and the length of Season 3 are further hints that the devs want these four remaining months to prepare for the announcement. It's also no secret that the itemization of RoS has peaked with patch 2.2 and that the demand for news about future, expansion-size content is imminent.

Story & Features of the Diablo 3 Expansion 2

In my March blog I've made first educated guesses, mixed with some personal wishes, what the next expansion might have in store for us Diablo fans. Today I want to talk about another striking bit of information that's been on the Internet for a couple of years now, and which may or may not be future game content.

Skovos Isles

During the 2nd Diablo 3 Anniversary Livestream we learned that the Skovos Isles and the Golden City of Ureh were originally in the game but were cut due to their inability to "fit in". While there's only one official artwork for Ureh on the Internet, Skovos a.k.a. the Amazon Islands was internally fleshed out including a whole bunch of pictures by the Blizzard concept artists Peter Lee a.k.a. "Drawgoon" and Christian Lorenz Scheurer. Christian Scheurer also provided the dark, gothic vision of Westmarch which eventually made it into the first Diablo 3 expansion. Of special note is furthermore his Xiansai artwork, which may point to another expansion in Sanctuary's northern hemisphere.

Can you say that Skovos has been fleshed out?

The Skovos Isles are a group of islands located in the Twin Seas. They consist of four main islands (Philios, Skovos, Lycander, Skartara) and are the home of the Askari, a matriarchal society. The isles possess a gorgeous, Aegean-looking ocean, clear, Roman/Greek-style temples and architecture, and a dense rainforest, the hunting grounds of the Askari. Don't be fooled by the brightness, though, because Skovos has issues in common with Venice - it's a sinking city as you can see by the text descriptions in one of the concepts, which creates the potential for sunken and partially-submerged dungeon levels. The contrast between the majestic, brightly-lit Mediterranean setting and the gloomy, rotting ruins for sure promises a lot of fun for exploring adventurers.

What happened to the Horadrim sent to the Skovos Isles?

Skovos receives mention in Act 5, as Tyrael and Lorath Nahr discuss that a Horadrim expedition sent to the isles has not returned (see the picture above).

Smells like Mephisto's Spirit - A potential Durance of Hate v2.0 entrance?

The Next Class: A Druidic Amazon Elementalist?

The Druid is a class that became playable in Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction (LoD); however, the devs made it clear several times that they don't want to copy previous heroes unaltered. The barbarian and the wizard are the only exceptions so far, but every other class got a special "twist": The crusader and monk both have paladin "DNA", the witch doctor derives from the necromancer, and the demon hunter is a bow-amazon/trap-assassin hybrid.

Blizzard concept artist David Ko posted some Diablo 3 druid images -
Note that they are obviously able to use bows and spears

David Ko, a concept artist for Diablo 3, posted some druid artworks in his portfolio (see the pictures above). The left image suggests a barbarian kindred (as in LoD), but I'm inclined to believe that this was simply a personal deviation when the Diablo 3 barbarian was developed. That said, the usage of bows and spears may actually be planned as feature of a potential druid follower.

These watery temple concepts by Peter Lee may be related to the
deities of the Askari pantheon

How might a non-barbarian, shapeshifting hybrid class from Skovos look like, and what's the lore behind it? There are numerous possibilities how the devs could expand on the original LoD druid concept, and I'll therefore briefly address just some of them:
  • While we were busy fighting Malthael in RoS, Evil befell Skovos (quote Tyrael (ingame): "I haven't heard back from the Horadrim we sent to the Skovos Isles." - Lorath's answer: "Skovos is a dangerous land.")
  • Possible scenario for the Shapeshifting part: A werewolf curse spreads among the Askari, turning the inhabitants of Skovos against each other. In this case the devs could simply follow the well-known World of WarCraft worgen lore: Many Askari take up the druidic arts (with the help of the druids of Scosglen) as a way to cope with their transformation, to help control their new animalistic side or even to learn more about themselves and their new powers.
  • The Bowazon & Javazon/Spearazon part: The super-natural expertise in wielding bows, javelins and spears is second nature to the Amazons, the warriors of the Askari. In regards to magic, amazons can wield prime and holy magic, so that some of them take upon the path of the healer, a worthy path due to the toxicity of many native plant species in their homeland.
  • The Elementalist & Healer part: According to the lore, amazons are able to instill their shots with the elemental powers of their deities, e.g. Karcheus' freezing wind or Hefaetrus' destructive power of fire. The curse that befell Skovos, however, brought with it a powerful side effect: Afflicted amazons can, after intense training, not only take on the form of fierce beasts (werewolf, werebear), but also that of large elementals (elemental body, similar to Asendance of WoW shaman) or large plant creatures (healer body, similar to Tree of Life of WoW druids).
  • Alternatively, there may be no werewolf curse at all, and the Askari have simply developed a higher art of shapeshifting that combines druidism and shamanism. The Shirvallah shapeshift form (of the WoW druid) would be a perfect fit for the Askari high civilization.

So, the new class is - in the broadest sense - an amazon/druid/shaman hybrid, which in my opinion would be a very appealing "twist" on the classical druid as we know it from Diablo 2 or World of WarCraft. Additionally, the brightly-lit Mediterranean setting and the dense rainforest of the Skovos Isles would be a welcome visual counterpoint to the dark, gothic Westmarch in RoS. What do you think, sounds good? ^^

Amazon, druid & elementalist combined = The dream hybrid?

- Nobbie, the Lord of Construction

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Dienstag, 14. April 2015

WoW: Tanaan Jungle Preview Images (Patch 6.2)

The test realms (PTR) for the World of WarCraft Content Patch 6.2 just went live, and it seems that for the first time we're looking at a 2-tier expansion, i.e. Warlords of Draenor (WoD) and its story are coming to an end. The new content update leads us to the Tanaan Jungle and the Hellfire Citadel raid, where 13 deadly bosses await us, including Kilrogg Deadeye, the monstrous Gorefiend, a reanimated Mannoroth, and Archimonde himself. That being said, expect the announcement of the next, 6th WoW expansion at ‪‎BlizzCon 2015 in November and the premiere of the 2nd Diablo 3 expansion at ‪‎gamescom 2015 in August. More speculation can be found ‪‎here in my gaming blog.

Following are some Tanaan Jungle and Hellfire Citadel screenshots from the WoD patch 6.2 build. There's nothing overly exciting to see here because it's an early build and the events/quests are phased, but you get a first impression how the zone, which is nowadays know as Hellfire Peninsula, looked before Draenor was ripped into pieces. The green "fel" colors speak for themselves as far as the story is concerned. Klick on a thumbnail to see an enlarged version of the image and on an enlarged image to view all following images!

- Nobbie

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April 16, 2015

YouTube user Khamúl has just uploaded this impressive, machinima-style Tanaan Jungle preview. Note, however, that it contains massive spoilers - klick at your own risk!

Mittwoch, 8. April 2015

Diablo 3: R.I.P. Mortick's Brace or Why Rushing Patches Is Bad

When the above tweet from Diablo 3 Associate Game Designer John Yang was published yesterday after patch 2.2 went live in the Americas, legions of barbarians stormed the official forums to vent their anger. What happened?

Removed until further notice: Mortick's Brace

Mortick's Brace (see the above picture) is a pair of legendary bracers that enables all runes of Wrath of the Berserker as soon as the barbarian uses this very powerful "Rage" buff. To give you an idea how much power this is for just one single item, here's the list with what you get by activating all runes:
  • [Arreat's Wail]: Activating Wrath of the Berserker deals 3400% weapon damage as Fire to all enemies within 15 yards.
  • [Insanity]: While active, gain 50% increased damage.
  • [Slaughter]: While active, Critical Hits have a chance to cause an eruption of blood dealing 300% weapon damage to enemies within 15 yards.
  • [Striding Giant]: Reduce all damage taken by 50%.
  • [Thrive on Chaos]: While active, gain 5364 Life per Fury spent.

As you can see, this would have made Mortick's Brace hands down the single most powerful legendary in the game and the single most important item for barbarians to excel on the Season 3 leaderboards. So, was the decision to implement this item or legendary power a bad idea in the first place? No, because multi-rune powers on items are now part of the game mechanics (see the Legacy of Raekor set or the Undisputed Champion Mighty Belt). Was the implementation on bracers a bad idea? Yes, because such immense power would belong as 6-piece bonus on a dedicated set.

If we know that an item is overpowered or unbalanced in the context of other legendaries/sets, you can be sure that the devs know it, too. I'm therefore confident that John Yang was simply caught in the middle of the second iteration of the new Wrath of the Wastes barbarian set, which is dedicated to the popular Whirlwind skill but felt more like a Rend set during its first iteration. In an effort to add more spice to the set and celebrate a sort of "Classic Whirlwind Barbarian" revival, the bracers were born but balancing both the set and the bracers couldn't be completed because he got the notice that Season 2 ends (way) earlier than originally planned (see my recent Diablo 3 Expansion 2 speculation blog for more about this). If Mortick's Brace would have gone live in its current iteration, the barbarians for sure would have wrecked the leaderboards and party play of Season 3 in almost no time, so the dev team really had to pull the plug. It's unfortunate that this came too late, because a lot of players had already spent thousands of Blood Shards to gamble these bracers after patch 2.2 went live, but the decison was absolutely correct.

All that said, barbarians are certainly not in a bad place now, as many angry forum posts about this incident suggest. They are just not "uber" anymore and have to resort to "conventional" itemization if they want a top spot on the leaderboards, e.g. a mix of Legacy of Raekor and the reworked Immortal King's Call set pieces (incl. its updated weapon) as well as Vile Ward, Ancient Parthan Defenders, Unity (in combination with an undying follower), and the new Convention of Elements (you can read more about this powerful ring in my recent Diablo 3 Wormwood Zoo Witch Doctor - 4-Element Edition blog). An update to Mortick's Brace and/or the new/reworked patch 2.2 barbarian sets will be coming for sure, but you'll likely have to wait several months for it until Season 3, which starts this Friday, is over. John Yang himself suggested that enabling a single rune probably would've been the most reasonable change to Mortick's Brace. We'll see - stay tuned, fellow barbarians! ^^

- Nobbie

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