BlizzCon 2011 photos and news about World of Warcraft, Diablo III, StarCraft II

Wally Bahny covers the major announcements at BlizzCon 2011 about the next WoW expansion pack, Diablo III, and StarCraft II. We also feature photos of costumed attendees.

Diablo III

The second largest portion of BlizzCon was devoted to the return of Diablo. Diablo III is currently in beta testing and is expected to be released in early 2012. The best way to see where Diablo is, what it's about, and how cool it is, is to check out the Black Soulstone cinematic video.

Diablo III allows the player to level characters through 60 levels in four progressive difficulty levels. The beginning of Normal difficulty is designed to be the "tutorial". In this difficulty, monsters have low awareness, attack rates, and limited abilities. Hardcore players from Diablo II will be able to progress through this difficulty fairly quickly and into the next difficulty levels. Nightmare and Hell follow Normal. In these difficulty levels, monsters all have more powers, more items drop, and those items have much higher attributes.

A new system in Diablo III is the Achievement System. Achievements can be earned by simply playing the game, by engaging in extreme behavior, and performing "absurd shenanigans" like playing through the game without armor or beating bosses without using weapons. Achievements unlock components for your player banner, which vary depending on how the achievements were earned. You can earn crests, ribbons, cloth variants, sigils, accents, and loot collected around the base of the banner. Banners can be used by your friends to teleport to you when playing in co-op mode and are a general "show-off" item.

Another new feature is the Auction House. In Diablo II, players were able to trade items, but the system was difficult and obtuse. The new Auction House is a completely official system that allows players to post items to be sold either in game gold or real money. The real money option is interesting because players don't have to tie it to a credit card or a PayPal account; instead, you can use your built-in eBalance account, which functions like a debit account. In order to use this account fully, however, you must sell something first because it needs a positive balance from selling in order to purchase.

Some exciting lore was discussed at a panel on the second day that revealed that the mortals - the humans, the race which players play as - are actually devolved descendants of angels and demons that still retain genetic code of our supreme ancestors while not currently able to use those powers. It was hinted at that this scares the angels and demons because we could conceivably overpower them due to our additional cunning, guile, and skill.

Many enhancements and changes have been made since the initial announcement at BlizzCon 2010. The Artisans that assist you in crafting and changing your gear are account-based, so that your leveled-up artisans from your first character are available to use on new characters. Also, new gameplay features have been added to help facilitate getting back to town, selling trash items, and performing a disenchant-type action on unneeded items. It should not be surprising, also, to know that the classes have changed a little, with spells being added and changed in order to balance the game better. As a matter of fact, there are enough skills and build variations to allow for about 2.8 trillion build possibilities, all of which should be viable depending on a player's play style.

In addition to the free download of the game mentioned in the WoW Annual Pass above, there will be a Collector's Edition. The Collector's Edition comes with in-game items for all three Blizzard games, an art book, a behind the scenes DVD, and a Black Soulstone-shaped USB drive that comes with a Diablo skull holder. If you purchase both the WoW Annual Pass and the Diablo III Collector's Edition, you will be credited on your WoW account for the cost of the Diablo III Collector's Edition. I'm excited to give Diablo III a try and can't wait until it's released.

Read about StarCraft II and more.

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