If you played the Diablo 3 beta, admired its polish and reckoned the game couldn't be far from release, think again: game director and arch-tinkerer Jay Wilson has unveiled extensive changes to the game's systems, some minor, some major - and promised that even bigger revisions are on the way.
The way character stats and itemisation work is being changed, along with numerous adjustments to the interface, crafting and customisation systems - and "we're working on major changes to the skill and rune systems that we're not ready to talk about," Wilson said. And with that, the chances of the game seeing release in the first half of 2012 all but vanished.
"While working on Diablo 3 we've been called out for messing around with systems too much, that the game is good as-is and we should just release it," said Wilson, who has talked Diablo fans through countless changes to the fundaments of the game since its unveiling in the summer of 2008.
"I think that's a fair argument to make, but I also think it's incorrect. Our job isn't just to put out a game, it's to release the next Diablo game. No one will remember if the game is late, only if it's great."
Of the current adjustments, most of which can be seen in the beta, the headline change is to character attributes: Defense, Attack and Precision are being dropped and the core stats are now Strength, Dexterity, Intellect and Vitality. The idea is to give each class a core stat and "reduce the amount of item overlap, diversify our item pool, and create a cleaner, more exciting itemisation system," Wilson said.
"Obviously these stat changes are one of the bigger systems changes we're currently working on as they have far reaching requirements to re-itemise and balance the game," he added, ominously.
Beyond that, one of the artisan crafting characters, the Mystic, is being dropped from the game, along with the associated Enhancement customisation system: it "simply wasn't adding anything", said Wilson. The Cauldron of Jordan and Nephalem Cube that allowed players to salvage or sell items on the go have been removed, as the Stone of Recall (now called Town Portal) allows players to do these tasks easily enough and "it's a good idea to break up combat". The Blacksmith can now salvage items, but common (white) items can no longer be salvaged.
Staple Diablo item, the Scroll of Identification, has been junked and all characters now have an innate ability to identify items; the fifth quick-slot button is now a dedicated potion button; and character stats can be seen on the inventory UI.
"There's a lot of work left to be done, though," Wilson warned, just in case you were worrying that his team was rushing the game out of the door. "We're constantly tuning and making balance changes; it's a massive task," he added.
"We want Diablo 3 to be the best game it can be when it launches. To get there, we're going to be iterating on designs we've had in place for a long time, making changes to systems you've spent a lot of time theorycrafting, and removing features you may have come to associate with the core of the experience.
"Our hope is that by embracing our iterative design process in which we question ourselves and our decisions, Diablo 3 won't just live up to our expectations, but will continue to do so a decade after it's released."