Sonntag, 10. Mai 2015

Diablo 3 Expansion 2: Xiansai and a new Wizard-based Hybrid Class?


Greetings, dear readers! This is my third speculation article about potential Diablo 3 Expansion 2 content. In my March blog I've made first educated guesses, mixed with some personal wishes, what the next expansion might have in store for us Diablo fans, and the follow-up April blog covered a striking bit of information that's been on the Internet for a couple of years now. Today I'm going to talk about Xiansai, the home of unmatched artisans and artists, as well as enigmatic sorcerers, scholars and philosophers, which in my book is definitely another prime candidate for an expansion. 

Before I begin, however, I want to share some info that you are certainly interested in. Last month Blizzard announced that they will be returning for gamescom 2015 from August 5-9, where we’ll be able to playtest their latest titles, including Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft. The absence of Diablo 3 in the list of hands-on demoed games led to wild speculations that there may be no Diablo news at all, but I've found solid hints last week, which should disprove this theory now.

The current gamescom exhibitor info for Blizzard Entertainment SAS (see/klick the above picture) clearly states that Blizzard not only demoes a selection of their latest titles but also has a "Development/Developer in general" spot booked, which points to a press conference with relevant announcements. What gives me that idea? Now, if you look up the same info for Sony Entertainment on that site, you'll notice that they don't have such a spot booked, and in fact, Sony announced last week that they won't be holding a press conference at gamescom 2015. Instead, there will be an "international media briefing" at Paris Games Week in October.

This is great news for us Diablo fans because:

So, all listed franchises either just had their release, will be released shortly, are already in beta or will be in beta very soon. This leaves only Diablo in the "development" category, whose last big announcement dates back to August 21, 2013, when the first expansion Reaper of Souls (RoS) was revealed during a press conference at gamescom. Considering the fact that the demand for news about future, expansion-size Diablo content is imminent and that Blizzard booked the aforementioned "development" spot, I think it's now pretty safe to say that the second expansion will indeed celebrate its premiere in three months.

Story & Features of the Diablo 3 Expansion 2


In my first blog I've speculated about Scosglen, home of the original "barbaric" Druids, being a potential location for the second Diablo 3 expansion (D3X2 for short), and in my second blog I covered the Skovos Isles, home of the Askari matriarchal society and its Amazons. So, what makes Xiansai, where many Wizards originate from, interesting?

To answer that question we have to look (literally) at the whole "picture". My expansion speculations are mostly based on which concept arts have been posted on the Internet by the various Diablo 3 artists. There are lots from the original game (obviously) and the printed lore books, a bunch from Westmarch (Reaper of Souls), and environment/atmosphere studies like Skovos, Kurast, or Xiansai. All artworks, which have been published in the artist portfolios, require the permission of Blizzard before release. It is interesting to note that there are quite a few from Skovos Isles, even including detailed artist notes, which reveal that Skovos is a sinking city. However, knowing Blizzard's "top secret" development policy, this is rather unusual, and it begs the question if the devs were "done" with Skovos as future Diablo 3 expansion content, especially after the hefty art style controversy.

The "leaked" Blizzard product slate from 2010

Let's furthermore assume that Blizzard had planned just two expansions for Diablo 3, as the above "leaked" (and authentic!) product slate from 2010 might suggest. Granted, the slate is just a 5-year plan which may change at any time (see "Titan" on the list), but if this is in fact true, the devs have obviously concepted various (expansion) locations in advance from which they'll pick two for the main locations in the expansions.

Blizzard concept artist Christian Lorenz Scheurer posted one Xiansai (left side)
and one Westmarch image in his personal portfolio

Of special interest in this regard are the concept arts of Blizzard artist Christian Lorenz Scheurer, which include Caldeum, the High Heavens, Skovos, Westmarch, and Xiansai. The art of Christian apparently had a big impact on the final look of the game locations; particularly the mood of Westmarch and RoS (see the right image above) is reflected perfectly in the artwork. The other striking image with a not-yet-released location in his portfolio shows the Asian looking capital city of Xiansai, which nestles up to the snowy mountains in Sanctuary's icy north. The not-too-bright, mysterious atmosphere that surrounds the island would be a welcome visual counterpoint to the dark, gothic Westmarch in RoS. Also, Xiansai is located right next to the Druid homeland Scosglen - more about that in a moment. Now, you may think that these two complementary location concepts are a bit thin to speculate upon, but there's more!

Covetous Shen & Zei

The people of Xiansai worship fifty-nine gods, but they only love one: Zei, the grinning trickster who fooled emperors, seduced river goddesses, and traveled the world disguised as a humble jeweler. That's hardly surprising because - besides their beliefs and culture - the Xian society resembles that of the medieval Florence during the times of the Medici: Great Families are warring in the streets, and political intrigue and bottomless wells of treachery can be found around every corner.

It is implied throughout the Reaper of Souls storyline (mostly by Shen himself) that the jeweler (Covetous) Shen is in fact Zei, or at least is somewhat related to him. It is not fully revealed, however, even though Liria, one of the gods of Xiansai and his lover, herself nearly recognized Shen as Zei in a game quest, and Shen remembered her face. The following video tells the story of Liria, her lover Zei, and her husband Dirgest, who was once worshipped by the Xiansai people as a god of desire and who became a demon later. It is available as ingame dialogues with Shen and a follow-up quest in the Unearthed Ruins in Act 5. If you don't usually follow the game lore, this is a summary you definitely don't want to miss.

Shen is much, much more than a simple jeweler

Following is a quick bullet point summary of the lore (source):
  • Liria was a moon goddess of incomparable beauty, which occasionally has caught the eye of Dirgest, a demon, once worshipped by the Xian as a god of desire.
  • Dirgest won the heart of Liria with his riches and persistence, making her his wife. Jealous, he tried to keep her off the world, but every night she had to travel the sky, where he could not follow.
  • Zei, the legendary thief, decided to steal her from Dirgest, and eventually did so, sneaking into her palace and spending the night with Liria.
  • Dirgest did not kill Zei in return, but slaughtered everyone Zei held dear, including Liria, taking her soul for himself.
  • Zei eventually defeated the demon god and imprisoned him within a ruby. Wearing it on his neck, Zei became a new god of the Xiansai pantheon.
  • However, the ruby had a crack in it, through which Dirgest could drain the life out of whoever touched the cursed jewel. After a while, Zei could not bear this burden, and cast off his divinity, becoming mortal again - presumably as the jeweler Covetous Shen. The jewel was hidden in an ancient labyrinth (the Unearthed Ruins in Act 5).
  • When ages later Shen and the Nephalem (the player) came for the jewel with the intention to seal Dirgest's prison permanently (see the video above), they found the ruby shattered as Dirgest has escaped, leaving his minion Vekriss behind to guard Liria's spirit. After defeating Vekriss and freeing Liria's spirit, Shen decided to pursue the demon, with the goal of imprisoning him again.

As you can see, we have a fully fleshed out storyline here, a solid "cliffhanger" ending, and a mysterious jeweler, who is very likely nothing less than a (former) god of the Xiansai pantheon. If the devs wanted to go to Xiansai in the next expansion, they would have a good reason or even a starting point here, no matter what else awaits us on the island west of the Frozen Sea and north-west of Scosglen.

Shen-anigans, or clear hints?

The following two topics are more of a long shot, but I think they deserve a special mention here.

The first one is an ingame conversation with Shen, which reveals that he has traveled Scosglen in the past and had contact with the Druids there. This might just be a personal anecdote, or it is a clever teaser for an upcoming expansion class. Click on the following image to read the story. 

"Close Encounters of the Druidic Kind", presented by Covetous Shen

The second one is an item which allegedly dropped on the Asian live realms a week ago, due to a bug:

This is the translation of its tooltip:

"Death Prophet's Gift: Use this item and select an unsocketed jewelry to add a socket."

If this is legit, it might be an expansion feature because of the magnitude of power it would add to the current itemization. It would also fit the Xiansai theme well and of course our artisan Covetous Shen, the jeweler.

The Next Class: A Wizard-based Shapeshifter?

If we get a hybrid class in the second expansion, you can be sure that the devs won't just copy previous heroes unaltered, like the Druid from Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction (LoD); instead, it will be a special "twist" on existing classes in order to provide a new, unique experience and fresh gameplay. Now, what could the Wizards (of Xiansai) and the Druids (of the nearby Scosglen) possibly share that results in a cool, Wizard-based hybrid? Does such a class perhaps exist already in the gaming world? Yes, it does, and it is the Shapeshifter in Dragon Age, a very popular fantasy role-playing franchise developed by BioWare.

Slaying your foes as a weaving Spider or missile-immune Insect Swarm?
Yes, please take my money!

Here's a lore snippet from the Dragon Age Wiki that explains the connection between the Mages and the (shapeshifting) Barbarians of Thedas, the continent of the Dragon Age universe:
Rumors speak of barbarians that hold secrets of transforming the body into the form of animals. The Circle of Magi denies such rumors. But this rare art survives in the forgotten corners of Thedas. Mastery of their bodies allows shapeshifters some protection, even in human form. Making them durable opponents and staunch allies.
While the Circle of Magi would prefer that it be so, theirs is not the only tradition of magic in Thedas. Prior to the Circle’s formation, magic was either practiced by the Magisters of the Tevinter Imperium or in remote areas, knowledge handed down from one generation of practitioners to the next. These "hedge mages", as Enchanters of the Circle refer to them, or "witches" as legend would name them, do not always employ forbidden magic. Quite often their talents lie in the creation of charms, the use of curses and the ability to change their own forms.
It is this last talent that has, over the centuries, been incorporated back into the Circle. Said to have been first introduced by hedge mages that joined the Circle (perhaps by force), the path of the Shapeshifter is one that crosses the boundary between mage and warrior. Some mages see it as a form of self-mastery, while others use it as a method of survival, a physical bag of tricks that enable the mage to be unpredictable in battle.
Shapeshifters must master one form at a time, the most common ones being those that are found in the Fereldan wilds. The mighty bear is popular as are wildcats, spiders, and even birds. Legend tells of mages who mastered even more fantastical and deadly forms. To a skilled Shapeshifter, no door is impassable, no fight is unwinnable, and no terrain inhospitable as long as they know a shape that can meet the task at hand.
You can look up the full Shapeshifter background story and skill details here.

This sounds absolutely fantastic in my book and would be a great template for a very cool hybrid class, which many fans for sure would love to see rather sooner than later in Diablo. Note the explicit mention of curses and charms in this excerpt. The latter have been scrapped during the development stage of Diablo 3, together with the talisman, which - as part of the inventory interface - was supposed to held the charms. Curses generally refer to a ranged debuff spell that was available to the Diablo 2 Necromancer. An expansion hybrid class would therefore also be a great opportunity for the devs to introduce curses in Diablo 3 and re-invent the talisman/charms as class-specific items that are only available to this "Druidwizard"!

- Nobbie, the Lord of Construction

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May 12, 2015: Diablo 3 expansion 2 announcement earlier at E3?

A "suspicious" test account reports back, 2 years after
gamescom 2013/the RoS announcement

A blog reader alerted me that a Diablo account labeled "TEST" has been caught by the Diablofans bluetracker yesterday, and this account is obviously very special because it posted for the second time ever; the first post dates back to a time two weeks before the Reaper of Souls announcement on August 21, 2013 at gamescom in Cologne, Germany (see the above picture).
Now, gamescom 2015 starts on August 5, however, there's also the E3, which will take place earlier in around a month on June 16-18, 2015 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. As the E3 2015 event comes near and after confirmations of Blizzard Entertainment participating in the event, a new expansion announcement during this show is quite possible. The "E3 Press Conference For The PC", as it's called, takes place from 5pm to 8pm PDT on Tuesday, June 16th. In partnership with Twitch, this PC Gaming Show will be streamed live and feature "new game reveals, updates on beloved series, and perspectives from key PC developers", as the official show website says.

May 13, 2015: A Xiansai Necromancer?

A Necromancer from Xiansai?

Blizzard artist Wei "Glowei" Wang has this "Orient Necromancer" labeled artwork in his personal portfolio, and if you ask me, it has Xiansai written all over it. ^^

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