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Wyatt Cheng on The Pace of Diablo 3 Combat

Posted 26 Sep 2013 by

Wyatt Cheng dropped an article-length explanation about how they’re looking to adjust the pace of play to vary the style and function of the game.

I was reading in some posts about a slower paced game style and having to use defensive styles to a greater depth. Can somebody explain?
Wyatt Cheng: Let’s talk about combat.

From a big picture standpoint, it’s not healthy for the game when a player’s health pool goes from full to nearly empty and back to full on a regular basis very quickly, over and over, during regular play. I know not every character build plays this way – but I would assert that it’s not good for the game when this is a dominant or even common way to play.

Why?

Here are a few negative effects it has:

1. A health pool that quickly goes from full to nearly empty implies that there’s not a lot of room for variance in incoming damage. When incoming damage is that high, a 15% increase in monster damage would result in death. This leads to comments like “As soon as I turn up the Monster Power I get 1-shot”. I’d like to see a game where a clever player can handle a higher Monster Power by reducing incoming damage through good play. Unfortunately, if the combat pacing and dominant builds are such that all players are geared to survive the biggest possible hit from a monster and instantly heal to full then there’s no room for that differentiation.

Let’s use DiabloWikiMortar as a simple example.

Click through for the rest of the post; this is only point #1 and there are 4 more of them, so lots of absorb.

If a wave of mortar hits takes me from full to nearly dead, and then I instantly heal back to full, then mortars don’t pose a realistic threat to me. In this state, there’s no way for a clever player (who wants to dodge mortars) to differentiate themselves from somebody who doesn’t care (and just decides to get hit). In both cases you’re healing instantly to full and surviving through the damage no matter what, and in both cases turning up the monster power results in you dying no matter what if you take a single mortar wave. It becomes a pure gear check.

2. For players who push the MP up anyways, it makes the game feel like it was designed around one-shots. In my previous example with mortar, some of you may be thinking “There’s room for turning up the Monster Power, just don’t get hit at all!”. This isn’t great either. It means my death feels very binary. One moment I’m at full health, the next instant I’m dead. It also means that once you decide you are going to accept being one-shot, you don’t care about your health at all. Who cares if you have 20K or 40K health if you’re going to die either way? We’d be in a better place if the mortar-dodger was allowed to take the occasional hit, but can handle a higher monster power as long as a majority of them are dodged.

3. Healing very rapidly back to full also loses all the fidelity of small attacks. If players are regularly going from full to nearly empty and back to full again on a regular basis, then there’s no room for mechanics which act as a slow drain on your health. Plagued is a great example of this. We don’t want Plagued to be something that kills you quickly, but it also shouldn’t be something you ignore forever. Standing in a pool of poison should be something that adds tension to the fight. You know you’re not going to die now, but you can see the threat looming. When healing rates are very high, there is no room for the slow drain damage sources – they become insignificant.

4. My current health loses meaning. Being at 95% health should mean you’re relatively safe. Being at 5% health should mean you’re almost dead. Being at 50% health should mean you’re somewhat in danger and you should play it safe, but as long as you do you should be fine. These are all concepts that make intuitive sense. Unfortunately, they are not at all true in the current Diablo environment. When health pools are rapidly going from empty to full and back again, these health values all blur together.

5. You lose a lot of tactical combat opportunities. Tactical combat requires that the player can properly assess the situation and react accordingly. When your health pool moves up and down rapidly you are no longer reacting to dangers. A rapidly changing health globe means you are playing in a predictable pattern and crossing your fingers hoping that you live through it. You are playing in a way that avoids situations that will instantly kill you, but there’s no tension associated with being low on health that would cause you to make a tactical decision to change your play pattern.

I’m saying all of this without pointing at any specific solutions. That’s because there are no instant-fix solutions. It’s a challenging problem that we’re actively working on. Things aren’t going to be perfect overnight, but improving the pacing of combat is something we constantly work on.

I will say that the first line of defense is reducing the rate at which players heal. After we pull in the rate of healing, next we analyze the patterns in which monsters deal damage. Ultimately, defensive stats will play a role in all of this. If some life regeneration, damage mitigation or (gasp) life on hit lets me play a little more aggressively, that’s a good thing.

He doesn’t mention incentives or punishments, which I think could be a big deal. As we know, for non-HC players, the death penalties in D3 are negligible. If the devs think it’s a problem that players gear all for DPS and don’t care about being one-shotted once in a while, I can think of an easy way to alter that behavior — by making it matter if you die. Since gold isn’t a real incentive at this point, and docking exp D2-style is way too harsh for today’s casual-friendly video games… how about each death knocks off a DiabloWikiNephalem Valor stack? You can’t go to negative values, but something like that would certainly influence players to take the health system a bit more seriously.

I’m curious what you guys think of that concept, since I really don’t know. I’ve been playing exclusively Hardcore for months, so much of Wyatt’s post was totally outside my frame of reference. In HC, no one runs with gear that puts them at risk of being one-shotted, or in a style that has their health regularly dropping to 5% — at least no one does it that way for long…

That said, I guess the basic principle does exist in Hardcore. It’s just that we gear up a lot better on Vit and Res and play on MPs we can handle, so instead of yo-yoing from 5% to 100%, we yo-yo from 50% to 100%. Thus the “empty-or-full” paradigm is the same, there’s just a larger margin for error.

I don’t find this a terrible state of affairs though, so I’m not sure I agree with Wyatt on the need for structural change. What do you guys think? Is it more obvious in the all-or-nothing Softcore style he’s referencing?