Wilson went into great detail about exactly what these NPCs would be doing, what the new Salvage Cube does, why Town Portals have been removed, and Ear Necklaces. If you're hard up for Diablo III information (and who isn't?), read more below -- there's a bunch of great new information on what exactly in changing in Diablo III that isn't completely covered in the trailer, as well as some information from the question and answer session that occurred after the presentation.
Artisans are related to the story and not only act as crafting NPCs, but will also act as vendors, follow you around, and can be upgraded and specialized into specific skills. The only Artisan that was shown today was the Blacksmith, who can repair your gear, craft items, and add sockets to existing items. Every Artisan will have unique skills, so you gotta catch ‘em all. They also provide “awesome gossip” for more story insights and humor if players bother to listen to it. Although they only showed the Blacksmith, they did say that the other Artisans would be the Mystic (who can enchant and identify) and the Jeweler (who can add gems and remove gems from items).
The Artisans also specialize in specific weapons: the Blacksmith is oriented towards melee weapons (swords and axes), while the Mystic crafts magic items, wands, staves, and light armor. The Jeweler can craft amulets, rings, and gems. Wilson stressed that the Jeweler can de-socket your items in Diablo III, whereas in Diablo II you were just stuck with whatever gem you put in your item (or you were, until they added the unsocket Cube recipe). Speaking of gems, there are fourteen different levels of gems. However, only the first five levels can be found through world drops -- you'll have to use the Jeweler to combine gems to reach the nine higher levels.
Socketing of types of gear is also dependent on the type of Artisan. The Blacksmith can socket shields, belts, and chestpieces. Wilson didn’t say which items the other Artisans will be able to socket exactly, but since they follow the magic weapons & armor and jewelry path, you can probably do the math.
Crafting items has a randomness factor, although the player will be able to have a little control over the direction of what kind of effects will be randomly added. No details were given, but think melee, ranged, and magic buffs. When crafting, you can queue multiple items up multiple items, like crafting in World of Warcraft. You are also able to add both sockets and enchants to items, although enchants will not stack like they do in Torchlight. There will also be a socket limit depending on the quality and level of the item, pretty much the same as in Diablo II. Also new to Diablo III is the ability to add sockets to magical items.
Whether you will be able to craft set items wasn’t known at this point in development, although Wilson said they would probably make some craftable set items. The crafting aspect still has to be balanced a lot, because they don't want every player running around with the same epic one-handed sword.
The Artisans can be upgraded as you progress through the game. Basically, they will have a progress bar that fills with experience, after which you can upgrade them for money. To craft a certain recipe, your Artisan will have to be at the required level. There is an Expert level-cap (no artisan Artisans) although specializations will take a lot of time. These specializations allow your Artisan to focus in specific weapons or armor types, such as either axes vs. swords. If you want to re-spec the Artisan, you can, but unless you are going to grind for hours (which you will anyway) you should probably stick with the specialization that best fits your class or playstyle. When you specialize or upgrade your Artisan, the game will reflect this visually. Your Artisan’s small marketplace in town will look nicer, and if you specced in axes for instance, axes will be visible in their shop.
Finally, concerning the Artisans, they appear in the towns as you progress but don’t follow you around in person for combat. So, no Artisans as pets. Why not? “Artisans are lovers, not fighters”. However, there is a whole cast of other characters that will follow you as well, although Wilson wouldn’t get into that today. He is likely referring to mercenaries, but it could be something else entirely -- maybe story related NPCs that fight with you? That's all speculation.
The economy of Diablo is seeing some changes as well. In addition to gold, Diablo III is also introducing various types of materials, which are needed for crafting. One of the reasons for that was that in Diablo II, you could easily end up with more gold than you could ever spend. Materials can be found from drops, but also from another new feature: Salvaging.
Salvaging is done by means of the ‘Horadric Cube’-inspired, but not quite the same, ‘Salvage Cube’. You can put your trash loot in the Salvage Cube, click Salvage, and they will be turned into both gold and materials. The better the item, the better the salvage. If you are worried that that will result in your bag quickly filling up with materials, don’t be. Materials and gold will stack in your bag, so they shouldn’t really be a problem for bag management. What happens when you have 30 different types of materials though, we don’t know yet.
Town Portals are also out. The Salvage Cube is there to remove the need to warp back and forth to town, and the salvage should be about the same as vending in town. If you really want though, you can still vend stuff at your Artisan. One of the reasons Town Portals were removed was because Blizzard felt players were exploiting them -- when in danger, you could just throw open a portal, warp back to town, and then fully heal and restock your potions.
Wilson admitted that he absolutely hated the Diablo II stash because of its storage limitation, which was small because of technical reasons, and that he made sure that Diablo III’s stash will be ridiculously large.
Some other things that came out of the Q&A session were that Hardcore mode, where death is permanent, is in. They didn’t know if there would be requirements for creating a Hardcore character at this stage of development. They might do something to reflect your Hardcore status in Battle.net so you can show off, though. When asked if Blizzard still gets feedback about the art style, Wilson said that “The Internet is not really a big area of positive feelings”. However, he claimed that around 90% of forum feedback about the art style has been positive, according to him.
Will there be a Cow Level? They haven't decided yet, but there will definitely be harder areas outside of the main storyline progression in levels. These won’t be exceptionally hard on Normal, but on Hell difficulty they will “definitely make you cry”.
Lastly, everyone wanted to know if there would be ears and, more importantly, necklaces of ears? Wilson replied: “How can we not do that?!”. While ears are not currently in the game yet, they will make it in the final product or he felt that he would have to quit Blizzard.
From everything Jay Wilson said, plus the fact that one other class and two other Artisans still have yet to be announced, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a release any time soon. Still, someone thought they would ask Blizzard for a release date:
“When it’s done. Why do you guys even keep asking that?”