Diablo 3 vs. Diablo 2 — What’s New?


Back in the fall, I posted about the “Top 5 Biggest Changes in Diablo 3.” Now that the game‘s been in beta for what feels like an eternity, I’m much better prepared to detail the differences between Blizzard’s forthcoming title and its wildly successful predecessor — besides the new classes, the new story, and the new locations, of course. If you’re a Diablo 2 player wondering what to expect when Diablo 3 is released next week (in a mere 6 days!), read on. You might also be interested in our “Everything We Know About Diablo 3” page, as well as our comprehensive Lore & Story Guide.

New Character Customization System

This is the crucial change, and the one I praised the most in my beta review. In Diablo 3, Blizzard have completely overhauled the way leveling and character customization work. For one thing, you won’t be selecting stat points — they’ll just automatically increase when you level. This change was made in response to the extremely conventional stat builds in Diablo 2, which were dictated by armor strength requirements and little else.

More important is the new skills system. Diablo 2 had a traditional, branching skill tree, and allowed players to put up to 20 points in their favorite skill. In Diablo 3, skills unlock automatically at certain levels. Only six can be selected at any given time, however, so character customization will consist of picking a synergistic set of six. Skills can be switched in and out on the fly, at the expense of a mere three seconds of cooldown time, so it will be possible to customize your skill set to fit a given encounter or area. In general, the new system supports constant and rapid experimentation, without the huge time investment required in Diablo II.

Skills can be further customized using “runes.” Not to be confused with runes in Diablo 2 (which were collectible items), Diablo 3 runes are special effects that modify individual skills, adding things like knockback, fire damage, and other, even more fascinating bonuses. Each skill has five runes assigned to it, which raises the number of available skills to 120 — 24 per class, with five rune-based variations for each. Runes, like skills, unlock at specific levels, ensuring that you’ll get some sort of new toy every time you level up.

In a recent patch, Blizzard divided each class’ skills into 6 categories that derived from internal design discussions. Players were intended to select one skill from each category, but after insurrection in the playerbase, Blizzard introduced “Elective Mode,” which allows players to select any six skills they’d like. The whole system is supported by UI changes — with two mouse buttons and four hotbar slots to fill, players no longer have to contend with Diablo 2′s clunky hotkey-and-cast method.

Worried that high-level players would spend all their time tweaking builds to prepare for difficult encounters, Blizzard have also introduced a special buff that confers extra magic and gold-find on high level players. Respec your skills, and you’ll lose the buff. It’s an interesting risk vs. reward calculation, and we look forward to seeing how it works in practice.

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