Blizzard has revealed Diablo III's replacement for the 'Mercenary' AI companions from Diablo II. Diablo III's Followers will follow you (what else?) around Sanctuary, helping slay the hordes of demons and monsters in your quest for glorious loot.
Followers will come in three flavours, Templar, Enchantress and Scoundrel, or a paladin, buff-based sorceress, and ranged rogue. While Mercenaries had fixed skills, players get to choose their Follower's four abilities from a pool of twelve, letting you customise your pal to suit your playstyle. As before, Followers can be equipped with weapons, rings and amulets, though their armour will automatically improve as they level up. The computer chums also have a special item slot unavailable to players, though Blizzard hasn't yet revealed what it'll be used for.
Followers will liven up the single-player, commenting on the world and what you're up to, as well as chatting with townsfolk. However, unlike Diablo II Mercs, which followed you everywhere, they'll only be available when you're playing by yourself.
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Lead content designer Kevin Martens explained to IGN that Followers "will do their own thing depending on what their build is. I'm not a huge fan of the pet bar control thing anyway. I think that the AI is actually quite good. They'll choose contextually the right thing to do."
He added, "pathfinding-wise, they'll keep up with you if you ever manage to get too far ahead of them. If you die, they'll just warp over to you."
While Mercs cost money to resurrect when they died--which they did frequently, the idiots, especially when cursed with damage reflection debuff Iron Maiden--Followers are merely knocked unconscious for a while. The timer on that "is currently 15 to 20 seconds," Martens said, and they can be revived early by players.
While Blizzard has revealed that it expects to begin external beta testing on Diablo III in the third quarter of this year, there's still no firm word on a release date. Blizzard president Mike Morhaime said earlier this week that "The development team is working hard to try and launch Diablo III this year but I want to be clear that we do not have an official release date or window yet. As always, we will not compromise the quality of the game in order to hit a window."