Reimagining a legend: Behind Ethereal items in Season 24
“Funny story,” begins Frankie Lee, one of the senior game designers on the Diablo III team, “when I was young, my mom thought I spent too much time playing video games because I was on Diablo II for hours and hours. I was mostly farming and trying to trade a Stone of Jordan for something, and I told my mom, ‘I’m learning valuable business skills for my future.’ Now here I am, not utilizing any of those business skills, but instead designing Diablo III.”
One of Lee’s latest design endeavors, aided by his fellow talented designers on the Diablo III team, is the introduction of Diablo II’s renowned Ethereals to Diablo III in Season 24.
The Ethereal item line comprises 21 powerful weapons—three for each class—that provide meaningful damage boosts to your demon-slaughtering endeavors. They’re instruments of prodigious potential from a bygone era that have recently resurfaced in Sanctuary to be brandished by heroes capable enough of wielding them, characterized by three preeminent attributes: they are rare, powerful, and fleeting. “You can only equip one at a time, and they have random legendary powers along with their numerous strong [fixed] affixes,” says Lee.
When paving the groundwork for Season 24 and its accompanying theme, the team wanted to hearken back to Diablo II and the memories it left with them long ago. They iterated on several ideas, says Lee, but none of them felt as right as Ethereal Memory. “We really wanted to make this season feel special. We wanted to capture the spirit of Diablo II through an itemization-based seasonal theme, which led to the idea of Ethereals in Diablo III.” The concept of Ethereal items flourished, not only paying homage to the deep impact Diablo II had on Diablo III, its developers, and many of its players, but allowing the developers to reimagine how the iconic item line could be reimagined over two decades later.
For the Diablo III team, reimagining an iconic item line from Diablo II in its successor was an intricate endeavor. “One of the biggest questions we asked ourselves was, ‘what does it mean to make a Diablo II item in Diablo III?’” says Lee. “We looked deep down inside and tried to remember decades ago how it felt when a legendary in Diablo II dropped. It was rare, it was unique, it was strong, it had so many affixes, and it felt powerful.”
Some legendaries in Diablo II, Lee notes, were also never called by their unique names, but were instead referred to by their item types. They weren’t just powerful weapons and armor—they were ethereal weapons and armor. While Diablo III’s incarnation of Ethereal items don’t have the reduced durability and repair difficulty of Diablo II Ethereals that gave them a hallmark sensation of fleeting (assuming you didn’t use the Zod Rune)—but potent—power, the Ethereals introduced to Diablo III will only be obtainable and usable for the duration of Season 24. They still retain the unique icons, names, item types, and sounds they originally possessed in Diablo II, and can be transmogrified to your weapons after the season has ended if you manage to collect all 21 of them in Season 24.
With Diablo II: Resurrected launching on September 23 this year, Lee and the Diablo III team hope everyone will enjoy obtaining the unimaginable power offered by these weapons. “We want players to enjoy finding their first Ethereal and figuring out how to incorporate it into their builds after reading its numerous affixes,” Lee says. “Hopefully Ethereals can usher in new metas and give everyone an amazing experience this season.”