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Diablo 3 Monster Density and Farming: Problems and Solutions

Posted 6 Jan 2013 by

One of the main requests fans make is to see more useful areas for item and experience farming in Diablo 3. This was one of the complaints in the Top Ten Fixes article we posted yesterday, and since it’s something I’ve read about and discussed in the past, here’s an article presenting some of the problems and a few potential fixes to the issue.

First of all, what’s the problem? Why are some areas of Act Three so much better to play (and play, and play and replay) than anything else in the game? They’re better since they’re much more profitable, and there’s really no debating that. If you don’t agree you are wrong are probably not *really* be farming yet. I say that from experience, since I didn’t fully notice the differences between the acts until somewhat recently, as I upgraded my characters into more kick ass function.

When you’re just playing through the levels at a reasonable pace, working up some MF, picking up most of the Rares you find, etc, you don’t really notice it. You might think you’re farming at that point, but it’s not until you really get geared up, strap on a Hellfire Ring, and decide to seriously grind some exp, that the difference in farming potential becomes completely clear.

When you’re playing in that style, there are two features of Act Three that the other acts are completely lacking. 1) High monster density, and 2) good level layout.

Monster Density

This is the obvious difference, and if you don’t notice the huge numbers of skeletons in the Keep and scorpions in the Arreat Crater levels, you haven’t been playing very long. Those areas aren’t just cannon fodder hordes, but those dumpsters full of trash mobs makes them the most profitable places for experience in the game. They’re great for item hunting as well, both from the trash monsters and from the bosses that abound.

That said, the bosses aren’t that intense; I don’t think anywhere in Act Three pops more bosses in a small area than the Vault of the Assassin in Act 2, but the difference is that lots of Act 3 is that good, while only that one dungeon in Act 2 can compare.

So could Act One and Two become comparable to Act 3 just by doubling or tripling the number of monsters? No, for two reasons; 1) it would mess up the aesthetics of the level/monster layout, and 2) the layout of the Act 1 & 2 levels would still be a problem.

Click through for level layout issues and solutions to fix this problem.

Level Layout Issues

This is a slightly more subtle issue than the monster numbers, and it’s also harder to fix.

If you’ve not really noticed this problem, you will when you begin serious, high-speed farming. I didn’t really notice it myself until fairly recently, when I got some characters up into the high MF/high DPS range and began playing to optimize my gains.

(If you’re not *really* farming yet, here’s how it goes. You know how you think you’re playing pretty fast, moving quickly to collect the gold, not wasting much time on IDing or trips to town, and how you only kite once in a while, and how you’re not that much slower than the really fast farmers? You are wrong. I thought that and I was wrong. When you play with enough DPS to one-shot everything, with at least 24% faster run, with added faster run from skills, without touching chests, don’t bother picking up gold, only pick up maybe 1/100th of the items that drop, it makes an amazing difference. Your exp gain doubles. Easily. Maybe triples. And issues with level layout and monster density become very much more apparent.)

An ideal level layout for fast farming is something like the Fields of Slaughter, or especially the Tower of the Damned 1. Neither level is all that profitable for gear, and the Fields of Slaughter is actually pretty poor on boss density — generally there are only 2 or 3 bosses there and it’s quite a large area. But since both levels are basically circular in shape (the Tower of the Damned 1 is literally round) they can be cleaned out very quickly.

This is most true for classes who like to be swarmed, such as Barbs or Monks (some WD and Wiz builds also) who just race around and get everything to come to them, for ease of disposal. The Tower of the Damned 1 makes it so clear, since that level basically sucks for bosses (just 2 usually, sometimes only 1), there’s never a resplendent chest, very few regular chests, and there isn’t a very high monster density for the area. It’s actually a crappy level for people playing “normally.” But when you’re going high speed farming and just racing around the circle, it’s great since all the monsters flock to you and you can clear the whole thing in a minute or two.

On level design, it’s useful to compare Tower of the Damned 1, which is in almost everyone’s DiabloWikiAlkaizer Run, to Tower of the Cursed level 1. That’s a much less popular farming level, despite being about the same size as Damned 1. I actually prefer Cursed 1 with my Demon Hunter, since it’s a short spiral without all the side paths of Tower/Cursed 1 (those suck with a Demon Hunter since there are witches and fallen and other junk off to the sides and you don’t get a good field of fire), and it’s mostly stocked with large targets that are very easy to shoot, and there are usually 2-3 bosses. But the total number of monsters is much lower since it’s only one path, instead of two side by side, and you can’t run around it quickly and get back to the waypoint, so it’s a much less useful “run” level for most classes. My Monk and Barb and WD don’t go there at all, when they’re running.

Another useful comparison is Arreat Crater 1 vs. Arreat Crater 2. AC2 is one of the “always” levels in Alkaizer Runs, while AC1 is much less played. Why not? I wondered that when I was first getting into running, since the monster types and variety seemed very similar between the levels. Once I was doing them repeatedly though, and at high speed, the lower density of AC1 (there are big packs, but more dead zones between them) became evident. And more to the point, AC1 has a lot of long dead ends and empty passages. It’s farmable if you make the right turns, or just TP back to town if you get to a dead end, but when you’re going high speed for experience, any delay is a problem.

And that’s the whole problem with Acts 1 and 2… they’re lower on monster density, but more blatant is their terrible level layout. Not terrible in terms of playability or functionality, but they suck for farming since they’re full of dead ends. There are good areas — some of the surface zones can be traversed quickly just looking for bosses — but there’s nothing approaching the exp from monster density you get in Act Three. And much of Acts 1 and 2 is simply useless for fast farming; all those long, narrow corridors in the Cathedral and Leoric’s dungeons are a waste of time and Act 2 is even worse with the numerous sewer levels and the endless long and empty hallways in Zoltan Kulle’s fourteen themed dungeons.

I haven’t even mentioned Act 4 since it’s bad on both scores. The only areas that are even sort of farmable are the Silver Spire levels 1 and 2, but both are fairly small, the monster density is low, there are almost no cannon fodder exp feasts, and the monsters that are there are huge, slow killing, and actually dangerous for characters who aren’t super geared up. If anyone has some suggestions on making Act 4 more playable that are at all doable; i.e. they do not require a complete rebuild of the levels and the monsters found on them, I’d be curious to hear them

Suggestions and Improvements

So, how could the developers improve Acts 1 and 2 to make them more viable for farming? (I don’t think they’re interested in changing 4.) The easy/obvious thing would be to simple double or triple the monster density. That could work in some areas, such as the Weeping Hollow or the surface desert areas in Act 2, but it wouldn’t be very elegant. Yes, players could make far more profit running parts of Act One and Two if there were say, triple the Cultists, or 5x more zombies, but I think the developers would feel that ruined their carefully-designed levels.

And it would, in a way; now you get a nice mixture of monsters and open space and it seems like a real place, in the context of the game. If Leoric’s dungeon levels were just wall to wall Cultists, it would seem sort of silly. Like, “what are all those people doing down here?” It would also be a huge increase to the relative difficultly and a new player just trying to get through Inferno for the first time would be shocked, awed, and overwhelmed.
But players after farming areas don’t care about that. They (we) want more places to play that are as profitable as Act Three, or at least that aren’t obviously delivering 1/2 or 1/3 or less the rewards. I do those areas on MP1 once in a while just for a chance of pace, but it’s impossible to forget the fact that I’m forfeiting like 50% of the experience gain I could be pulling if I were racing through The Keep Depths level 2 for the umpteenth time.

Another fix I’ve seen suggested is to increase monster density with higher levels of DiabloWikiMonster Power. That’s great for players with super geared characters who can farm MP3 or MP5 or more, but it’s not much use to others. On the other hand, it would at least help with the currently suboptimal design where the best exp AND the best items are found by very rapidly slaughtering wimpy monsters on MP0. But I think there are better fixes to that problem than making MP increase stats and density of enemies. (And how would it even work in Act 3, which already has crazy high density in several areas?)

So here’s my compromise solution. New dungeons in Acts 1 and 2. Make the entrances spawn always in some area, or maybe just a special portal to them from town, kind of like you get for the Infernal Machine event. They don’t even have have any story or plot or special event stuff, like the Infernal Machine. They’re just much bigger dungeons than we see currently in Act 1 or Act 2, with much higher monster density and more frequent bosses.

I’m not a Diablo III modder (and neither is anyone else, sadly) so I don’t know if or how that would work with the level design and tools. You’d need to basically double the width of the corridors in the crypts, or Cathedral, or Zoltan Kulle’s dungeon, to accommodate the greatly increased monster numbers, and that might not be possible with the tile set. (Just compare the width of the levels in Acts 1 and 2 vs. to the much wider hallways in Act 3’s Tower or Crater levels, and the total lack of hallways in the Keep which creates much more floor space for many more skeletons.)

Whatever the new levels look like though, they should be larger than current dungeons (maybe about the size of the Keep in Act 3) and should have multiple levels. These can get larger or harder or both as you descend, and even if this isn’t the long-requested bottomless dungeon, it should at least be quite large to give players the option of grinding on and on, if they so desire. No one likes the current system where we have to constantly start new games, build up more stacks each time, etc.

This isn’t an ideal fix, but it seems doable and not too complicated. No new game systems required, no total rebuild or new content, it doesn’t require a ton of new monster models, etc. Just reuse existing dungeon models, modify them a bit, and stick in larger numbers of the current monsters. It’s not exactly D3X, but it would certainly be an improvement in function and variety of play options over what we see in the game today.