Jay Wilson has been talking to the crowds at Blizzcon about character building in Diablo 3. Taking into accout each class' skill trees, passive abilites and item combinations, we certainly won't be short of ways to experiment. Talking about build numbers, Wilson said "we threw a crazy number up a couple of years ago, but we're more in the area of something like 2.8 trillion."
The focus on the design team is on viable builds, not optimal ones. Wilson admits that some players will always seek out the most powerful combinations, but points out that, unlike World of Warcraft, there's no guild to represent or raid roles to optimise for. In Diablo 3, the aim is that "you can play the character you want to play at max level, and not be beholden to anyone."
That's why the team has been working to try and increase the number of workable builds available to each class. Blizzard's challenge was to make sure that enough wild, "aberrant builds" are still useful at the highest difficulty levels. A couple of unusual builds were shown to demonstrate. One video shows of a Witch Doctor soloing Hell difficulty, another shows a combat wizard charging a spider nest, using short range area of effect skills to draw the hordes into a tight circle before blowing them all up.
The huge number of builds available is not only down to the complex skill trees of each character, or even the rune stones that can dramatically change any of these abilities. New NPCs like the Mystic can upgrade items with specific enhancements the wouldn't otherwise have. At Blizzcon the designers showed the typically ranged Demon Hunter wielding a one handed axe and a shield. Both were buffed with enhancements that improve Demon Hunter skills. These enhancements are designed to work alongside a character's base abilities to help make players' most insane build ideas work on the battlefield.
The Blizzcon panel also discussed more new NPCs, Diablo 3's four difficulty levels and PvP. We'll have more on those soon.