Top 5 Biggest Changes in Diablo 3

When creating the sequel to a beloved title, developers are faced with difficult decisions. How can you introduce changes that make the game seem new, fresh, and interesting, without alienating fans or losing sight of what made the original great?

Working on Diablo 3, Blizzard’s task was made even harder by the burgeoning reputation of Diablo 2, a game that many consider to be more or less perfect. Despite the risks, however, the company had to innovate, and innovate they did. Below follow the five biggest changes that differentiate the new game from the old.

5. Destructible Environments/Physics

The world of Diablo 2 was beautifully designed and, of course, procedurally generated. Due to the technology of the time, though, it was more or less inert — a pretty backdrop for all the action that goes down in front of it.

Diablo 3 changes this by introducing dynamic, destructible environments that make it feel like you’re fighting your way through a real place. Ruined buildings collapse around you as you explore them. Decaying, subterranean masonry crumbles into dust. Bone avalanches spill forth from long-dormant ossuaries.

All these environmental transformations are powered by modern destruction and physics technology, which is also apparent in the character abilities. The Monk’s Lashing Tail Kick sends enemies flying backwards with real impact. Sharp-eyed players can drop hanging chandeliers or decrepit walls onto the heads of unsuspecting monsters.

The monsters, too, make use of the environment. Legless zombie torsos crawl out of the shrubbery. Skeletal mages and their minions burst forth spectacularly from wall-mounted tombs, or clamber over grim balustrades. Scripted in-engine sequences add to the atmosphere and terror. The world of Diablo 3 feels alive with evil in a way its predecessor’s never did.

4. Health Pickups

If there was one sound effect that was a constant in Diablo 2, it was the constant “bloop-bloop” of another potion being quaffed. Even for the most cautious of players, the game was balanced around drinking potions like a thirsty alcoholic at an open bar. Blizzard must’ve realized that this system was sort of ridiculous, because in Diablo 3, they’ve gotten rid of it.

Most of the time, the damage you take will be repaired by absorbing “health globes,” which have a percentage chance of dropping from slain enemies. The tougher the enemy, the better the chance. Most of the time, these globes will keep you and your party nicely topped off; potions are only for emergencies, and they’re on a relatively long cooldown.

If this health system is reminiscent of action games like God of War, that’s no accident. For Diablo 3, Blizzard has embraced other action trappings for their action-RPG, including checkpoints at level beginnings (no more epic corpse runs) and XP bonuses for certain in-game events. Perform a “Massacre” (when you finish of a large number of enemies in a short span of time) and a little notification will pop up showing you how many monsters you wasted and how much extra XP you got.

3. More Plot/Lore

Diablo 3′s modern tech and high production values enable the game to put much more emphasis on story. From the beginning, it’s clear what you’re doing and why, even if the plot starts out very simple. Diablo 2 told a serviceable tale, but its successor promises to be much more immersive.

Full voice acting makes it much easier to care about the characters and what’s happening to them; at one point, the game even tries for some real pathos. For those interested in the game’s lore and backstory, there are amusing, interesting sound-clips that pop up when you enter a new area or encounter a new enemy. You don’t have to listen to them (and you probably won’t want to do so more than once), but they give an engrossing heft to a universe that has heretofore mostly existed to provide things for you to attack with a warhammer.

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2 Comments on Top 5 Biggest Changes in Diablo 3


On September 24, 2011 at 1:08 pm

The writer should have mentioned runestones more, to me that’s the one biggest change from D2 to D3.

Ben Richardson

On September 24, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I agree that Runestones are a big change, but they’re not available in beta. Or I haven’t found any, at least. That’s why I didn’t discuss them in more detail.