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Does Diablo III Need Variants?

Posted 21 Apr 2012 by

Via his twitter, Bashiok replied in literal fashion to a fan who was (I think) asking a more metaphorical question about play styles and variant options. At any rate, I’m going to assume the fan was asking it in the larger sense, since that leads right into an issue I’ve been meaning to write up for you guys to debate. First, here’s the twittercourse:

How do I use a melee weapon as a Demon Hunter? –Plumbumbumm
Right click the weapon to equip it, or drag and drop. DHs can equip most 1h melee weapons. –Bashiok

As we’ve seen skills and runes change during Diablo III’s development, the issue of variants has been kicked around by the fans. Diablo 2 was notorious for supporting a wide-variety of variant builds, many of which weren’t exactly end game masters, but most of which at least provided some interesting variety for fans after a different play experience.

Thanks to the tremendous variety of items, weapons with +skills, customizable attributes, and the numerous skill options, every class in D2 could be played in “battle” style, with heavy armor and some sort of melee weapon. The reverse was also possible with Hammerdins and more creative options like “Singer” Barbs who used Warcries and equipped wands, and most classes could specialize in ranged weapons or throwing weapons as well, if they wanted an additional challenge.

Most of those options are not going to be available in D3, at least not at launch. Melee classes can’t use bows, there are no throwing weapons, no items have +skills or “oskill” bonuses (granting skills from another class), stats can’t be customized to make high strength Wizards or high Intelligence Barbs, etc. That said, D3 does have a wide variety of rune effects that grant some unusual effects to skills, and there are some passive skills that can enable some alternative builds.

Do you care, though? Do you think it should be possible to kick ass as a Battlemage, or a melee Demon Hunter (without infinite patience), or a Barb who relies on ranged attacks, etc? Or do you think those types of builds, ones that run counter to the central theme of the class archetypes, are out of place and/or unnecessary?

On the Other Hand…

When you look in any of our class forums and see the huge variety of quite sophisticated builds players have planned out in advance, you might conclude that D3 will actually have more variety of builds than D2 did. No, there probably won’t be so many odd variants that completely change the play style, but there should be a huge number of variations on common themes. Most wizards will be ranged spell casters, but while D2’s Sorc skill combos gave about half a dozen options for that type of build, D3’s skills and runes should give dozens more than that.

Also, there will be hundreds of narrowly-focused builds that do one or two things very well, while giving up other abilities. For instance, you can make a Wizard that’s invincible, or a stealth ninja Demon Hunter who can’t be caught (but can’t kill), or a dog-killer Witch Doctor, or a ranged Monk (maybe), or an Axe-Throwing Barbarian.

All of these builds are quite precise, demanding multiple skills and passives to create, but isn’t that the whole point, for players who are looking for an odd variant?

So I guess this article asks two questions, ultimately. 1) Do you want/need/care about variant builds, and 2) do you think Diablo III delivers them adequately, as they’re almost entirely from skills and passives, without requiring/allowing much difference in equipment, which is where most of D2’s variants got their ultimate power.