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Hands-On from Blizzcon: Mega PvM Report: Wizard

Posted 1 Dec 2010 by

Here’s my Wizard PvM report, based on my play testing at this year’s Blizzcon. It details the skills system, discusses in great detail the five Wizard skills I used in two play sessions, includes a lot about the rune changes to her skills, goes into Wizard tactics, and more. It’s quite lengthy, larger than Monday’s Monk report, if size matters.

Here’s a quote: click through for the whole thing:

Even something as seemingly-straight forward as Magic Missile varies greatly by the runestone. Multishot turns it into an anti-mob weapon, +damage makes it a boss killer, and +guided makes it useless and weak. So many options!

At this point most of us are assuming the Wizard will play like the prototypical blasty DiabloWikiglass cannon. And most Wizards will; but there will be a lot of variety, and I don’t mean just DiabloWikiBattle mages. Players will end up specializing Wizards for crowd control, or concentrated damage, or by specific elemental damage types, or by fast casting AP-use, or by slower-casting AoE death zones, and many others we can’t even imagine yet.  Just from my few early play sessions with limited, low-level skills, it’s clear that the Wizard will have amazing variety in Diablo III.

My other Hands-On report from this year’s Blizzcon, with the Witch Doctor, Barbarian, and Demon Hunter yet to come.

  • Battle Arena Report: Covers all 3 chars, their skills, and much general Arena info.

  • Monk PvM: The Monk, his skills, and general PvM demo info.

Full Blizzcon 2010 media coverage.

The Wizard

The Wizard was my first choice when I set hands upon the Diablo III PvM demo machines. But first, here’s how Friday morning went at Blizzcon.

The show doors opened at 10, which meant the endless, 6-8 person wide, arena-encircling line began to move at that point. Everyone in the line already had their badges, but it takes a long time for 20,000+ people to file through a doorway. Even when the people are almost all polite and non-shoving gamer geeks, there are many open doorways, and awaiting them are dozens of tables with security guards conducting bag checks.

One odd thing I’ve seen each year at Blizzcon is that the guards have different orders. Some of them confiscate bottles of liquid, while other don’t. That was in effect this year as well, as the first five or six tables had numerous bottles of water or soda or other beverages sitting on them, while tables further down had none. I had a bottle of water in my bag, so I just walked down to the end, where there was no line and I was closer to the Diablo III display inside anyway, and breezed right through, the security only interested to see if I had a laptop or not.

Why they care about laptops I don’t know; the demos can’t really be interfaced with, and anyway, 16gig memory sticks aren’t exactly uncommon, nor are smart phones with USB attachment wires.  “No laptops” seems like a rule left over from an earlier age of technology.

Once I was inside, at maybe 10:20 on Friday morning, I headed straight for the Diablo III demo area. Sadly, it was still dark; none of the machines were turned on yet, and while there were numerous employees milling around inside the fenced off area, nothing seemed to be happening. I sighed and made big puppy dog eyes, and when even that didn’t help I sought out the Blizzcon Museum, the usual home of awesome concept arts, some of which are generally new/never before seen.

I got there and looked over the displays for SC and WoW, before concentrating on the Diablo wing. Only a few of the Diablo arts were new, and several of those were included on the press kit CD in full digital quality, but I photographed them all anyway. That accomplished, I walked back to the Diablo demo area… and it was open! Engorged with delight, I stepped over the back and forth and back and forth guide ropes, since there was almost no line (I foolishly imagined it might remain that way), and was soon being escorted into the sacred corral,

For my first game I played a Wizard, and hardly noticed the character, so busy was I soaking in the new demo ambience, observing the changes to the DiabloWikiskill tree, marveling at the dizzying array of DiabloWikiWizard traits, poking at the talisman and charms, looking over the quests and lore windows, etc.

The fifteen minutes proved an excellent example of relativity (they lasted about 9 seconds) and when my demo session ended I felt prematurely kicked out of the womb. Happily, the line was still very short, so I got right back into it and after maybe 10 minutes of waiting, I was right back up to the front.

By this time it was nearing 11, and the opening ceremony was about to begin. That mattered since 1) the reason there weren’t huge lines yet was because so many people were exploring the venue or waiting for the opening ceremony, and 2) because the 5th character wasn’t going to become playable in the demos until it was announced at the opening ceremony.  That’s how they did it with the Monk last year, and I was sure they’d repeat that. Clever of them, putting some kind of time delay on the demo machines, with the 5th character not available until 11;45, or whatever time they had it set to.

They had other secrets too; I’d noticed that the big signs along the lines for the demo were all covered over with tarps, and that a whole bank of demo machines, maybe 40% of them over to the left, were all still turned off. I figured the signs showed the archer/rogue/whatever, and were covered up until the announcement, but I didn’t think much of the other banks of machines. They were probably just waiting to turn them on until the lines were longer, or they had more staff to handle the endless process of moving gamers in and out, in groups of four.

I was partially right about the signage, the posters by the PvM line were Demon Hunter and special item drop signage, but the other machines were for the Battle Arena, and weren’t turned on until after it was announced in the opening ceremonies. There were some Battle Arena signs also, along that line.

I played the Wizard in my second session, and got a lot more info that time. The OMG NEW OMG NEW OMG NEW factor wasn’t quite as overwhelming, and this time I remembered to pause and check out my skills and inventory before rushing into battle. It’s hard to help; you so want to get started with the awesomely-fun gameplay, but in the demo all of the characters had a couple of skill runes in their inventory to start, and all of your skills were vastly more effective with one of them spent. 

So the second time I checked out the skill rune options, and then I forced myself to stop killing promptly at level 10, and invested another skill point to add a fourth skill.  I’d done that in my first game too, but not until shortly before the end of the demo session, since I just couldn’t stop blasting long enough to fiddle around with the skill tree.

By the time my second session was finished, the opening ceremonies were well under way. I got back into line and thanks to the big overhead screen, I (and everyone else in the now much longer line) watched without much surprise as Chris Metzen revealed the Demon Hunter via her introductory cinematic. She looked pretty cool, though I found myself wincing at the cheesy dialogue even during the first viewing. (“As long as they keep coming… I will never stop killing!”)

I was surprised when the Demon Hunter intro was followed up by the Battle Arena announcement, and as I neared the front of the line I got to watch as the other bank of Diablo III demo machines turned on, and a few lucky people who’d been near the opening, before there was any sort of line for the Arena, got ushered right in. There was quickly a line formed over there, snaking around the other side of the demo area, but I wasn’t tempted to jump into it, since I had every hope the Demon Hunter would be playable in the PvM.  And she was, to my delight.

Since this isn’t the Demon Hunter report, I’ll save that story for later. This one’s about the Wizard, and with the stage set, it’s time for those details.

Skill Limits and Skill Tiers

Like all the characters in the PvM demo, the Wizard was set to level 9, with 8 skill points already invested into 3 skills. Characters in Diablo III only have 3 skills possible at level 9. You only get 7 skills total, and they are added one per tier. The tiers are at level 2, 3, 6, 10, 14, 20, 26, and at each tier you have access to 3 or 4 more skills, and get one more skill to add points to. It took a while to realize this, on the demo machines, but this means that in the final game you’ll only have 2 skills to use, whichever you pick, from lvl 3-6. At lvl 6 you’ll get access to Tier Three skills, and a 3rd skill. You don’t have to pick your third skill from the third tier; you can pick one from Tiers One or Two, or you could play just melee Attack until level 6 and then grab three skills from Tier Three at once. (Bashiok wrote extensively, and discouragingly, about skill point hoarding a few weeks ago.)

So, the level 9 characters that were pre-made for the Blizzcon demo only had 3 skills available, since that’s all any lvl 9 characters will have in Diablo III. And we got access to a 4th skill at level 10 since that’s when Tier Four and the 4th skill became available.  I hope that’s clear enough, since I’ve seen endless confused questions and garbled explanations of this in the forums.

I’m sure this will be more obvious in the final game, when we’re leveling up from the start, and we see the new tiers become available. There will probably be tool tips and such explaining it as well. But it was odd in the demo to just start at level 9 and wonder why you only had 3 skills available. When the 4th came on with your first (and probably only) level up, it seemed like you’d get one every level up, since players didn’t realize that Level 10/Tier Four was a special milestone.

While the skills were working just as they will in the final game (barring more development changes, which is always a safe bet), the Traits are going to be changed. They were non-standard in the Blizzcon demo; characters had many more trait points assigned than they would have earned by that point in the game; I assume to make the characters stronger for the noobs playing the demo.

Jay Wilson also announced that there will probably be cut backs on the number of traits per class, since there were so many it was intimidating. The Wizard, Barbarian, and Witch Doctor all had around 30 traits in the Blizzcon demo, about half of which were shared between several classes. Traits have Clvl prereqs, and the vast majority were Clvl 11 or higher and thus (mostly) unavailable in the demo. But you see the whole list of them when you look in the traits tab on the skills window, and it’s an amazing sight to scroll down, and down, and down.

Like everything else, they won’t seem so overwhelming once we’ve been playing the game for a while, but at the first sight the list was imposing.

Wizard Skills

Like the other characters, Wizards had 3 skills to start with, with 8 points invested into them. Each character seemed to have one skill with 5 points, making it pretty much their main/best attack skill. The other two skills had just 1 and 2 points between them, and were basically support. All of the skills became vastly more effective when improved with a runestone. Runestones dropped in the demo, but rarely, and in my limited demo time I didn’t choose to spend much of it sifting through item drops.

Characters of three of the classes (Wizard, Witch Doctor, and Barbarian) had two runestones in their inventory to start with, but I couldn’t determine if the type of those 2 were random, or as pre-set as the skills on each class. I played the Wizard twice, but they were my first two games and I wasn’t noticing everything yet. I played the Demon Hunter 5 times, but that class didn’t have runestones activated yet.

The Wizard’s pre-set starting skills were:
DiabloWikiMagic Missile
Description: Fires a missile of energy causing X-X arcane damage.

Magic Missile immediately became my main attack skill. It was set to the right click and had 5 points invested into it. The level five MMs were quite powerful, capable of killing almost any normal monster with a single shot. The casting rate wasn’t that fast though, which was good and bad. Good because you could cast MMs forever, since they weren?t fast or expensive enough to deplete your DiabloWikiArcane Power. Bad because I wanted to kill faster.  Faster!

The projectiles are very easy to hit with; they don’t move that quickly; slower than arrows, but much faster than some spell projectiles like DiabloWikiArcane Orb, and they’re pretty large. If you clicked on a target or shot them more or less at the monster, the MM would hit it.  Naturally, MM + runestones = wonderful.

Runestones show nothing of interest when you hover over them in your inventory. There’s a very basic description that’s identical for all runes. Something like, “Socket in a skill to modify its function.” The tool tip is identical for all runes, no matter their quality. They don’t give any kind of hint about the general bonuses they may provide, etc. To get a more informative tool tip, you have to open your skill window, which shows your active skills; the ones you actually have a point in and can use. You click another button on that window to open the full list up beside that window, and its in there that you can add skill points, add new skills, or place runestones.

When you click a runestone and hover it over that window, then you see the tool tips that describe what that particular rune will do in a skill. I’m sure they’ll expand on those descriptions, and maybe even include a pop up image or short movie to demonstrate the modified effect, but as of Blizzcon the information was pretty minimal.  With an DiabloWikiIndigo rune Magic Missile said something like, “Increase the number of your Magic Missiles.”  With an DiabloWikiAlabaster rune the tool tip was something like, “Makes your Magic Missile a homing missile.”

Though I didn’t try it out, I noted that a DiabloWikiCrimson rune in MM would increase the damage. This wasn’t needed, since it was killing almost everything in one shot anyway. I didn’t note every rune effect in MM, but the two I did get to try out were Indigo and Alabaster.

Indigo/Multishot was awesome. That probably goes without saying, and was demonstrated nicely in this year’s Blizzcon character panel, but the 2nd level runestone granted me 3 missiles per cast, with a proportional increase in damage.  It felt like getting multishot in one of those old arcade side scrolling fighter plane games. Pretty much FTW. Triple missiles turned mobs into shooting galleries, and my wizard’s killing power was literally tripled. It worked like Multishot or Teeth in D2; multiple missiles would not hit the same target, but it was awesome against mobs, and pretty much guaranteed a hit against even the fast moving/dodging ones (though there were very few with evasive moves in the Blizzcon demo).

On the other hand, and Alabaster rune for homing MM was lame. It wasn’t a truly homing shot, like Guided Arrow. It just let the MM change direction once, at about a 90 degree angle, and only after it had traveled maybe half the screen in distance. If you shot past a monster near you, there was zero chance that the MM would hit it. The purpose of the “guided” seemed to be a way to shoot targets behind a mob. Say there were a bunch of monsters nearby, with a boss or shaman or caster back behind them. With the guided MM you’d be able to shoot off to the left or right, and your missile would make a sharp turn about 10 yards out, heading for the enemy in the back row.

In theory.

I never had that scenario to attempt in the Blizzcon demo, and there weren’t any fast moving or running or dodging enemies that the homing MM might have helped with. Well, maybe the DiabloWikiTreasure Seeker but I didn’t get him in the game with the homing MM wizard, and besides, his movement was more like, “Run really fast off the screen, then stop and wait until the player caught up, before running again.”

As it was, I found the guided MM almost useless, and just shot things directly, while wishing I had another Indigo rune to switch to MS MM.

DiabloWikiSpectral Blade
Description: Summons a spectral blade that strikes enemies in front of the Wizard X times causing X-X physical damage with each hit.

Spectral Blade is the Wizard’s melee-range spell. It got a lot of screen time in the Wizard gameplay, and I described it in detail in my 2008 Blizzcon report (quoted on the wiki page) and mentioned it in the Battle Arena report too, so I’ll be brief here.  I used it a few times in the demo this year; it did potentially more damage than MM, even with fewer skill points, but the melee range thing isn’t what you want to be doing with a Wizard. Better you kill them from a distance with MM than use a slightly more damaging skill at melee range, when they can hit you back. Being hit is for grunting meat shields like Barbarians and Monks; sophisticated classes like Wizards don’t like to get their uniforms smudged by filthy monster paws.

I didn’t bother to rune this one, since I wasn’t using it anyway, but the effects I recall seeing were +damage, and lowered AP cost.

DiabloWikiExplosive Blast
Description: Builds up energy around the Wizard that explodes after X seconds, causing X-X physical damage in a small radius

This was the third Wizard preset skill, and it provided some variety in play style. It’s basically a short-range nova, on a time delay. You click it, and after 1.5 seconds (at level one) it blew up, dealing fairly substantial physical damage. The time delay made it unsuitable for emergency situations, but if you got used to the timing it was fun to click midway through a battle, knowing it would blast a moment later and finish off the enemy.

You can keep fighting, running, shooting other spells, etc, while you wait, and my main use of it soon became triggering it near a pack of monsters, then running into the midst of them so when it blew up, I’d be in range of multiple enemies. The radius was fairly small, at level 1. Not much more than melee reach, so you had to be really surrounded to get much use out of it. It was also fairly AP expensive, so was best saved for special circumstances. Ideally it cleared out all or nearly all the remaining enemies, so you could then let your AP regen while you sifted through their splattered remains/item drops.

I didn’t get to rune it myself, but another Blizzcon report stated, “Another rune socketed into the Detonate skill turned the spell from a single area effect ability radiating out from the Wizard into three consecutive blasts.” That sounds pretty cool, and enough to make it a viable skill, rather than just a cute novelty thing, which was all the use I got out of the default version. As always, skill runes FTW.

Description: Lightning arcs from the Wizard’s fingertips towards an enemy dealing X-X lightning damage.

In my first game, when I finally forced myself to stop racing around, killing monsters and having fun, I added a skill point to Electrocute. I love beam/lock-on weapons in games, and this was probably my favorite Wizard skill to use in the 2009 Blizzcon demo.  Not the most effective, (the damage isn’t that high, and it really gobbles down the AP) but man it’s fun to lock on and watch monsters cook, the beam curving and twisting as the monster writhes in agony and struggles to escape.

Okay, they don’t actually writhe or struggle to escape, but it’s fun to pretend.

When you use Electrocute, you can sweep it around like Disintegrate, but it locks onto a target and stays locked until they’re dead or vanished off of the screen. It only hits that one target, though. The lightning beam hits the first target it meets and sticks to them, cooking DoT on the target while steadily draining the Wizard’s resource. It’s not very high damage, so you’ll need to cook for a while on tougher targets, and at low levels this one isn’t very useful against bosses or champions; it’s just to AP expensive for big enemies; you’ll be out of resource before they’re out of hit points.

The value of the skill is as a very quick way to guarantee hits on small targets or moving enemies. I loved it in 2009 for fast moving small stuff like Desert Wasps, and I’d imagine it would be really useful against Fallen, or Scavengers, or anything like that. Whether it’s useful late game, or can be a main attack skill, depends on how it improves with more points, what skill runes do to it, and if you can specialize your traits and equipment to up your AP regeneration enough to use Electrocute all the time.

I certainly hope so.

The only rune I had available for it this year (DiabloWikiCrimson, I think) added damage. That was useful, but not spectacular. I think lowering the AP cost per second would be more useful than increasing the damage, since this one was enough to deal quickly with regular monsters; it was just too expensive to use it all the time. It’s not designed as a high-damage, boss-killing skill. It’s more of a utility weapon, great in some situations, not so good for others. (Which is how all skills should be, IMHO. One-skill wonders = boring character/poor design.)

I would have loved to use it with multistrike, where the beam will chain to a second (or third) target. OR this one, from the Gameplanet NZ hands-on report: “A final rune socketed into Electrocute triggered Chain Lightning off any target killed by the spell.”

DiabloWikiFrost Nova
Description: An explosion of ice freezes nearby enemies for X seconds and causes X-X cold damage. Cold damage chills enemies, slowing their movement and attack speed. Damage will break the freeze effect, but not the chill effect.

In my second Wizard game I added a point to Frost Nova at level 10. It’s very useful, almost OP. The nova doesn’t just chill, it freezes the non-bosses, and for more than a second, which I was surprised to see at just level one. Presumably chill time is reduced on higher difficulty levels, as it was in D2, but this was a very powerful spell for so low in the skill tree.

It’s also got quite a large radius; again more than expected. The ring goes about as far as regular Nova did in D2; more than halfway to the edge of the screen, and everything in that range is hit, since the ring passes through monsters, nailing everything, not just the front row of enemies.

As is the case in D2, this one isn’t hugely-damaging. It’s more of a change up, something to use in emergencies, or to drop into your usual skill barrage to delay the enemies.  The visuals are much changed as well; it looks almost like a stone nova; sending out chunks and pieces of stuff; ice I guess; but they’re not blue or white; they’re more of a dark gray.

That odd coloration doesn’t show up so much in the screenshot, but maybe it’s changed over time; that screen is from back in 2009, since no more recent ones have been released.

The only rune I had for Frost Nova was a DiabloWikiGolden rune and it, boringly, just lowered the DiabloWikiArcane Power cost. Sadly, since I was curious to see what the other runestone effects might have been.

Wizard Tactics and Gameplay

Like all of the other characters in the Blizzcon 2010 demo, the Wizard was overpowered for single player. It was never hard to stay alive unless you were playing very recklessly (which I often was, as I hurried through the dungeons to see more of the demo in the limited time I had), and even then your skills were enough to bail you out of trouble.

I don’t know how much of this is due to the “more accessible” (“So easy a console gamer can do it!”) nature of Diablo III’s Normal difficulty game design, and how much was due to the Blizzcon demo characters being turned up to make them more noob-friendly.  The characters were not very well-equipped to start with, and since I hardly bothered to look through or put on the new items I found, “better gear from demo-turned up drops” was not a factor. The characters did have more trait points than they would normally have had, most of them invested into basic stat boosters like DiabloWikiToughness and DiabloWikiSuperior Skill, so that probably had something to do with it.

The basic Wizard tactic, heavily influenced by her maxed out Magic Missile, was to snipe everything that moved. She had no movement skill (DiabloWikiTeleport is much higher level) so I had to play her in fairly methodical fashion, killing everything I met, aside from some of the most shambly of zombies that I could safely ignore and leave behind.  The game where I got multishot in Magic Missile was very easy, basically giving me an Arcane shotgun with which I could lay waste to any number of creeps. The more the better, to maximize my hit % with the multishot MM.

The flaw in my Wizard play was the sequence of the games. I played Wizard my first two tries, when I was distracted by the quests, trying to learn the layout of the demo levels, curious about the new interfaces, etc. The class was a lot of fun to play, but I didn’t get through all of the demo since I didn’t know where I was going and hadn’t figured out any tricks to navigate quickly through the vast and convoluted DiabloWikiHalls of Agony. I thus spent most of my Wizard demo time in that red-tinted, zombie-infested dungeon, and didn’t get to try her out very much in the green-tinted, skeleton-filled DiabloWikiTorture Chambers of the Mad King.

There was a noticeable difference in the monsters and layout between the two dungeons (a topic I’ll go into detail about in the upcoming Barbarian and Witch Doctor reports) with the starting area, the Halls of Agony, more linear and straight forward. You wound around a lot, but the dungeon was mostly narrow hallways with lots of right and left turns, and a few connecting suites of larger rooms. 

The Torture Chambers, on the other hand, were more wide open, with numerous large areas and wide hallways bordered by barred jail cells, through which ranged attacks could pass. There were lots of skeleton archers and mages in that area, which was annoying for the Barbarian and Monk, but a bonus for the Wizard, DH, and WD since they could out-shoot the ranged attackers, and fish-in-a-barrel the regular skeletons and other support troops.

The Wizard was well made for the starting area, with MM mowing down the enemies in the narrow passages of the Halls of Agony, and Explosive Blast supplementing against occasional larger groups. MM would have been much less useful in the Torture Chambers, or any open surface area where enemies could have come from all directions, or in swarms. In such an environment I’d have actually needed Frost Nova for defense, and would have had to play more intelligently and cautiously. I look forward to the opportunity.

Wizard Conclusion

Lots of fun, very blasty, numerous skills I can’t wait to try out in more detail, with more skill runes. At this point I don’t think anyone can predict which characters will be the most varied by their skill runes, but the Wizard seems like a strong contender. Just from the few examples we know, it seems like virtually every DiabloWikiWizard skill will be modifiable by elemental damage type, big damage vs. firing rate, single target vs. multi-targets, and lot, lots more.

Even something as seemingly-straight forward as Magic Missile varies greatly by the runestone. Multishot turns it into an anti-mob weapon, +damage makes it a boss killer, and +guided makes it useless and weak. So many options!

At this point most of us are assuming the Wizard will play like the prototypical blasty DiabloWikiglass cannon. And most Wizards will; but there will be a lot of variety, and I don’t mean just DiabloWikiBattle mages. Players will end up specializing Wizards for crowd control, or concentrated damage, or by specific elemental damage types, or by fast casting AP-use, or by slower-casting AoE death zones, and many others we can’t even imagine yet.  Just from my few early play sessions with limited, low-level skills, it’s clear that the Wizard will have amazing variety in Diablo III.

The wait goes on….