Most Blizzard titles contain plenty of references to their other games, and Diablo III is certainly no exception. This was readily apparent the moment the lights were dimmed in the Anaheim Convention Center for the unveiling of the Demon Hunter class during the opening ceremony at BlizzCon. There were a number of instantly recognizable visual elements for the female protagonist of the trailer, brining to mind the look and feel of Sylvanas Windrunner or the dark rangers first introduced to World of Warcraft with Wrath of the Lich King.
The familiar elements didnt end there, as the first skill I chose to unlock during my hands-on time with the demon hunter was Fan of Knives, a skill with the same visuals and functionality as its WoW rogue counterpart. In fact, the demon hunter reminded somewhat of a hybrid between a WoW rogue and hunter, yet still retains its own unique identity within the D3 setting.
The demo that was set up for the con seemed to be custom tailored to giving players a chance to experience numerous gameplay elements in one pass, with a notably high drop rate of rare items throughout the Hall of Agony. For example, as the demo began your character is close to hitting level 10, which happens a few minutes into the dungeon and gives you a chance to see what options become available upon leveling up.
A very agile class, the demon hunter character started out with the Vault ability which would allow you to leap forward to get some distance between yourself and the sometimes large swarms of mobs that would begin creeping towards you from every direction. The main left click attack, Entangling Shot, would also reduce the movement speed of your targets by 50%, further enhancing your ability to remain out of striking distance of most mobs I encountered. Bola Shot was mapped to right mouse clicks, and would cause 200% weapon damage to your target with an additional 100% weapon damage to all targets within 8 feet. These abilities seemed to be a nice pairing, as you could slow entire groups of mobs quickly and then let your bola shots turn them into a giant, bloody puddle on the floor.
On my first run through the demo I had chosen to take Fan of Knives upon hitting level 10, so on my second run I opted to take Molten Arrow which could be swapped in as my right click attack with a simple press of the Tab key. Rather than exploding to cause some solid AoE damage like Bola Shot, Molten Arrow would leave a trail of fire between your character and its target, causing some mild damage over time to anything that stepped into it. Alternating between the two attacks it became fairly easy to wipe out massive amounts of enemies in little time, so long as you werent confronted by any that had a natural resistance to fire damage.
One thing I didnt get to experience during any of my runs through the demo was the rune system, so unfortunately I wasnt able to see the different enhancements or effects that could be added to the handful of skills at my disposal. However, the loot certainly piled up quickly, giving me the chance to swap out various bows or melee weapons in place of the dual crossbow pistols the demon hunter began the demo with. The salvage system took care of the rest, letting me break down items into core components that could be used later on and clearing up my scant inventory space so that I could begin grabbing even more loot as I crept deeper into the dungeon.
The Diablo III team has otherwise done an excellent job of capturing the essence of what made the original games such an addictive experience, as I found myself wanting to go back and play more each time my demo period came to its inevitable end. The environments were extremely well crafted, without a double rainbow in sight, but with plenty of environmental objects or conditions for you to either interact with, or react to. Nearly every object I saw could also be destroyed, in many cases sending chunks of wood or gallons of blood flying in all directions.
As a longtime fan of playing ranged classes, the demon hunter offers a lot of unique gameplay that pairs well with the other classes in the game, and seems as though it will be an excellent class to play in multiplayer due to the strong ranged attacks it can bring to the party. While solo the demon hunter was certainly no slouch, as a quick tap of the Vault skill would see you leaping down corridors and leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. The class and gameplay already have me hooked, so hopefully by the time BlizzCon 2011 rolls around well have a better idea of when Diablo III will finally be released.
You can find a gallery of more Demon Hunter images here: Diablo 3 Demon Hunter Gallery.
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