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Diablo 3 Design Update Arrives from the Devs

Posted 28 May 2012 by

It’s been a mad couple of weeks since release and the community has been debating many of the game mechanics since the launch on 15 May. Everything from items to Inferno has been under discussion, and as promised, Blizzard has revealed their findings and what they are planning to work on moving forward.

With Diablo III out for nearly two weeks now, millions of players around the world are storming Sanctuary and joining the battle against the Burning Hells. At the same time, we continue to work around the clock to make sure you have an epic online gaming experience.

As more and more players begin to perfect their character builds and progress into Diablo III’s higher difficultly levels, some of the most prominent feedback lately has been about game balance and design, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. As with any new game, gameplay issues are inevitable, and we hear a lot of feedback regarding what‘s balanced, what’s not, and everything else in between. We recently made some decisions to adjust (or outright nerf) a few class skills, and today we wanted to explain our overall philosophy on design changes — as well as give some insight into some more changes that are coming up.

Before we get to that, though, we thought it’d be fun to share a few interesting stats we’ve collected since Diablo III’s release:

  • On average players have created 3 characters each
  • 80% of characters are between levels 1 and 30
  • 1.9% of characters have unlocked Inferno difficulty
  • 54% of Hardcore players chose a female character
  • The majority of Hardcore deaths (35%) occur in Act I Normal
  • The most common level 60 build in the game is only used by 0.7% of level 60 characters of that class (not including Passive diversity)
  • The most used runes for each class at level 60 are Barbarian: Best Served Cold, Demon Hunter: Lingering Fog, Wizard: Mirror Skin, Monk: Peaceful Repose, Witch Doctor: Numbing Dart

These are just the teasers. Click through for much more useful info.

When it comes to making game changes, in general, our intent is to react quickly to critical design and balance issues, bugs, and other problems that seriously conflict with our design intent through hotfixes. For issues which aren’t as severely out of line, we plan to react in a more measured fashion — through client patches. We have a patch coming within the next week (patch 1.0.2) that has been in development since the game’s launch and is mainly aimed at addressing service issues. The first real game balance changes, outside of hotfixes, will be coming in patch 1.0.3. We expect that because the game is new, some other issues will arise that will need to be immediately addressed through hotfixes, but in general, most changes will arrive through patches.

Regarding the changes to Lingering Fog, Boon of Protection, and Force Armor: we determined these skills were simply more powerful than they should be, and we felt their impact on class balance and how each class was perceived warranted hotfixes as soon as we were able. However, we don’t want you to be worried that a hotfix nerf is lurking around the corner every day. If a skill is strong, but isn’t really breaking the game, we want you to have your fun. Part of the enjoyment of Diablo is finding those super-strong builds, and we want players to be excited to use something they discovered that feels overpowered. A good example of this is the monk Overawe rune, which many players have identified as being quite good. We agree it’s good, but we don’t think it’s so far out of line that we’re going to swoop in and hotfix it out of existence.

Inferno is intended to be extremely difficult, but with some specific skills, a few classes were simply able to progress far more easily than intended. This made the classes, which were about where they were supposed to be, seem very underpowered. It also created the perception that the classes doing well were intended to rely on specific runes in all their builds, and the other classes were just broken. This is the opposite of what’s true. If any single skill or rune feels absolutely required to progress, it means that skill is working against our goal of encouraging build diversity — and those “required” skills need to be corrected. We know these hotfixes snuck up on people, and it took us a day or so to communicate that they had gone live. However, our intent moving forward is that when there are circumstances where a hotfix is necessary, we’ll communicate changes that could impact your ability to play your class through ‘Upcoming Changes’ posts in the General forum. Ideally, we’ll let you know as soon as we even have the idea that we want to make that kind of change.

That said, we also wanted to let you know we’re keeping a close eye on Inferno. The intent of incoming damage is that it should be a very consistent drain on your health, and mitigating that drain is a major part of what makes Inferno mode difficult. Right now, there’s a lot more damage “spikiness” occurring than feels right, and that’s one major area we’re looking to adjust in patch 1.0.3. While we don’t have any specifics yet, our design goals are to support and promote build diversity; continue to ensure that a mix of champion packs, rare packs, and boss fights are the most efficient way to acquire the best items in the game; and ensure that all classes are viable in Inferno.

From a high-level perspective, we think a more fundamentally fun way to approach difficulty in Inferno isn’t seeing how much incoming damage you can avoid or mitigate, but rather to see how efficient you can be while voluntarily taking on a challenge that pushes you. For anybody who’s ever died because they chased a Treasure Goblin too aggressively, you know what we mean; dying because you got greedy or overconfident can actually be a lot of fun. Now that the skills mentioned above have been brought more in line, we’ll be keeping a close eye on balance.

We’ve also seen some people saying our intention with Inferno is just one-shot you to make it difficult. While damage is a bit spikier than we’d like, we’re actually seeing a pretty significant number of people attempting Inferno without sufficient gear. There’s a good chance that returning to the previous Act to farm upgrades will do the most to help you survive. That said, we’d like to shift some of the focus away from survival and more toward using a variety of offensive tactics to succeed. Survival will still be important, but finding ways to maximize your damage while staying alive is more exciting. We’re not particularly concerned with whether or not a boss is “beatable,” though it should feel epic and challenging to defeat it. We’re more concerned with ensuring that acquiring 5 stacks of Nephalem Valor and taking on as many Champions and Rares as you can remains the most challenging and rewarding way to play.

On to items! One of the biggest pieces of feedback we’ve received regarding items is the relative power of Legendaries. This isn’t a simple issue to address, as it involves some intentional design decisions as well as expectations built by other games. First and foremost, Legendary items are not designed to necessarily be the best items in the game. They’re just one additional type of item as you level up, and they are not meant to be the primary items you’re chasing at the end-game. They can — and should — be exciting to find, but they’re not supposed to serve as the single driving force of the item hunt. Rare items, for example, have the possibility to roll up “perfect” stats that can, if you’re lucky, outpace the predetermined stats of a Legendary. That’s by design.

One problem we’ve seen — and intend to correct quickly — is players comparing high-level Magic (blue) items to lower-level Legendary items as “proof” of an imbalance. To help correct misconceptions of the actual stat budgets allocated to items, we’ll be exposing item levels (ilvl) of 60+ items in patch 1.0.3. Comparing an ilvl 63 blue to an ilvl 60 Legendary will hopefully make a bit more sense afterward. In addition, we’re planning to just straight-out buff Legendary items in a future patch, likely the PvP patch (1.1). These buffs will not be retroactive, and so they’ll only apply to new Legendary items found after the patch. In the long term, we’re looking at simply expanding the affix diversity and unique bonuses of Legendary items, and we’ll be able to share more details after the PvP patch.
Other areas of concern have been both the gem combination system and Blacksmith leveling and crafting costs. The intent, especially with the Blacksmith, is that he’s leveling with you, you’re able to use him as an alternate source for upgrades. Our design goal is that once you get to level 60, his recipes are actually good enough to help fill a character’s potential itemization gaps. To correct these issues, we’re looking to adjust the Blacksmith costs for training (gold and pages) and crafting from levels 1-59, and reduce the cost of combining gems so that it only requires two gems instead of three (up to Flawless Square). Both of these changes are scheduled for patch 1.0.3.

Of course, these are just a few of the more prominent issues we wanted to let you know we’re working on. In addition, we’ll be addressing a number of specific game bugs and other issues through future hotfixes and patches. We’re going full steam ahead on the PvP patch, which will also include a number of game changes unrelated to PvP, and we look forward to sharing more about that as we get closer to opening up a PTR, where you’ll be able to test out our changes — and enjoy mercilessly slaughtering one another in the PvP arena.


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