The latest Diablo 4 development update dives deep into itemization, "the lifeblood of Diablo," with a closer look at changes that have been made since the last time Blizzard talked about the game and what it's prioritizing as it continues to work on the design.
"We’ve reviewed every aspect of itemization from top to bottom and reworked elements that we felt weren’t living up to their potential—from the individual stats that our classes tap into to the visual representation of items in your inventory," game director Luis Barriga wrote. "Of course, it’s still early and we still have lots more playtesting and iterating to do, but we think this direction puts us down a more solid foundational path."
The changes in Diablo 4's itemization systems were drive by three "core ideals":
- First, we want to strengthen class identity by providing intuitive fantasy hooks. Items and skills that lean into the fantasy of your class are best.
- Second, we want to support deeper customization through our itemization. Items should support and enhance your class, not define it.
- Finally, we’re landing on overall depth somewhere between Diablo II and Diablo III. We aim to provide years of things to discover and countless ways to build a class.
Blizzard is making "substantial changes to core itemization," including the addition of weapon speed—one-handed weapons enable faster attacks and movement, for instance, while two-handers are slower but hit harder—and an unchangeable "inherent physical characteristic" across all weapon types: All shields, for instance, have a "block" attribute alongside any other magical properties they may contain.
Item qualities are also being changed up, with an eye toward giving players more flexibility in choosing their loadouts.
"We don't want to end up in a place where the right decision is to ignore every item that doesn't have a glowing orange sky-beam," Barriga said. "So, we're making a lot of exciting changes here. We’re increasing the potential power of individual affixes on Magic items. We're increasing the maximum number of affixes on Rare and better items in the endgame. Legendary affixes now roll randomly (Yes, really!) on Legendary Items. And Unique items will replace Mythics."
"We still like the idea of Mythic items, but we don't want to create an item quality that invalidates all others, so they're out for now. One of the things we loved most about them was the promise of getting random legendary powers on an item, so we folded that into our baseline legendary design."
Barriga also called back to the previous development update, which focused on the game's skill system. Testing has shown that the Diablo 4 skill tree is now headed in "a solid direction" and so it will continue to be worked on and improved on that track with things like clustered skill nodes to make it easier to find skill upgrades. Players will have the ability to respec their characters, but in order to encourage experimentation and unique builds it will come at a cost—and the higher your level, the greater the effort and investment required.
Equipped items will enable you to boost various stats to some extent, but because the earlier design "created issues where a player would have no meaningful reason to spend their skill points," the vast majority of player stats will now be derived from point allocation.
The skill tree will have an impact on stats as well. "Many of the nodes in each class skill tree have additional effects if you meet specific primary stat thresholds," Barriga said. "You'll get the baseline effect of these nodes when you spend the skill points to unlock them, but get enough of the corresponding primary stat and the bonus effect will activate."
Barriga emphasized that none of this is carved in stone, and that the direction of Diablo 4 will continue to be informed by internal testing and player feedback. He also said that the next update will not come by way of the usual blog post, but will be delivered during BlizzConline, the free-for-all, only-online replacement for the traditional BlizzCon festival that's scheduled to take place February 19-20, 2021.