Diablo 3's 1.04 patch is rolling out onto live servers today, bringing with it 100 new levels of advancement , big buffs to legendary items , and an angelic host of class buffs. I got a chance to chat up Blizzard about the philosophy behind the changes in this patch and going forward, and why it's okay for Diablo's heroes to be overpowered.
PC Gamer: Most of your balance changes, you're kind of taking the approach of leaving everything that's overpowered, and making everything else just as overpowered. Which isn't how it works, usually, in a game like World of Warcraft or StarCraft 2.
Jay Wilson, Game Director: I think Diablo is a very different game than World of Warcraft or StarCraft 2. It's a lot more of the player against the world, and a lot of the goal of the game is to make sure that the player feels awesome. So, as a game, we're a lot less concerned that the player be perfectly balanced against the environment. We're kind of okay if the players run roughshod over the monsters. We don't want the game to be unchallenging, but, you know, being a little overpowered is kinda what Diablo's always been about.
And it was our plan, even before the game came out. We said, hey, you know, when the game comes out, we're probably gonna catch a bunch of stuff that we think is really exploitative and bad. Just some things you can't see until the game goes live. And we're probably gonna jump on those really quick and try and fix them. But overall, our philosophy is gonna be: try to bring everything up to a higher level rather than balance through nerfs.
Andrew Chambers, Senior Game Designer: I mean at the end of the day, a fallen grunt doesn't go home after being beaten up by a player and complain to his wife about it or something. You know, "Oh man, there was this barbarian and he just crushed me with Hammer of the Ancients, and I couldn't do anything!"
JW: And even if they do, you know, they're demons. We're not really sympathetic to their plight.
PCG: Invulnerable minions, you mentioned, is getting the axe. I actually tried to give them my own axe many times and they didn't ever seem to want to take it. What do you think was the core flaw with that particular affix, and when did you know you were just going to have to pull the plug on it?
AC: So, some of the philosophy behind the monster affix is: when a player first encounters it, to be challenged by it and find it really hard to overcome. And then, as they keep on playing and get better gear, as they understand their class more, that they'll eventually overcome that affix. Invulnerable minions doesn't work that way. When you first encounter it, it's really hard . And then when you encounter it for the 800th time, even though you've upgraded your character with a whole bunch of gear, it's still really hard . It just doesn't scale well with the rest of the game, so it just doesn't fit. It's a frustration point we just don't need players to experience.
PCG: So, the buffs to Legendary items, I mean, looking at the previews you guys have put out it's looking like straight 30 or 40 percent DPS increases in some cases. With a change that big, I kind of have to ask: Why weren't legendaries this powerful, or at least closer to this powerful, when the game came out?
JW: There are a couple factors in there. One of them was, when we were making the original game and it was all internal, the environment that we were tuning the game in--even the environment that the entire company was playing, and the environment that went out with the beta--it didn't represent, kinda, the live environment. A lot of times, before you can go live and literally have millions of people playing the game, you're somewhat guessing.
Some of our legendaries felt really good ... but there were a couple things that we were worried about being overpowered that we were too conservative on. And it really kind of made the legendaries feel bad. And those were things like our approach to handling weapons. So a lot of the weapons didn't have the DPS that they really should have. Before we released the game, we were really thinking, 'A weapon's a lot more than just its DPS.' It sounds retarded to say that now. Like, really? No, weapons are only DPS! And we kind of knew that, but we didn't put the right amount of weight on it.
There were just some things like that, that once you get it into the live environment, they catch you off-guard. And that was one of them. But it's really worth mentioning that, primarily because a lot of the legendary weapons weren't good, or there were a lot of legendaries that weren't pushed out to max item level, it really became [in the community], 'All legendaries are terrible.' When, really, in actuality, there were a lot of really good legendaries. But there were still some missing. And I think that last piece was kind of putting in things that made legendaries, not better than other items, but different from other items. And that was just a misstep on our part. We really should have that in to begin with, but we didn't, and we're fixing it now.
PCG: Are there any plans to make changes to the rare tier to kind of fill in the power gap that was left from buffing legendaries?
AC: These [legendaries] pull from the same sort of stats as a standard rare most of the time, but they just tend to be exemplary of what the best could possibly be. So there actually are, maybe, even rares out there with the same or similar DPS numbers. But the key here is that, like Maximus has the same or similar DPS as another two-handed sword... but that other two-handed sword doesn't summon a freaking demon.
PCG: You guys are obviously tracking a lot of metrics, and a big one you've been talking about is the popularity of a skill. Like, in the Demon Hunter update you talked about concerns with Hungering Arrow and Elemental Arrow being overused. But how do you guys go about distinguishing whether a skill is overused just because people like it. Like, hey, I want to be an archer, so obviously those are the two skills I'm gonna use... and being popular because it's mechanically the best choice.
JW: Really, you do that by playing the game. There are certainly skills that we looked at and said, 'Well, this skill is under-utilized.' But then we also thought, 'Yeah, but that skill is for a very specific build.' Like, if you're gonna be a battlemage wizard, there are definitely certain skills that you're gonna use. And if you're not gonna be a battlemage wizard, you know, you're not gonna use those skills. So those skills are going to be a minority of skills used, but they don't necessarily need buffs.
So what you look at is: are there viable builds out there? Are people actually playing builds that are viable and fun with these skills? And then you look at a skill that gets a lot of use, like the two you mentioned ... and that makes a lot of sense to me. On my demon hunter, I do use both of those skills, not because they're overpowered, but because I like the direct fire nature of them. They make me feel like what the class is all about. And so we try to take that into account.
PCG: The Paragon system, that's obviously a pretty big deal. What would you guys say is the power difference, in terms of just character stats and assuming identical gear, between a fresh level 60 player and a Paragon 100 level 60 player?
JW: What was it, about an item slot and a half?
AC: Yeah, it's about one item slot to two, depending on which slot you [compare it to.] It's a fairly significant bump for players to get up to Paragon 100. You'll definitely see an increase to your overall DPS, your block value, your armor...
PCG: And does it affect normal and hardcore characters exactly the same way?
PCG: Have there been concerns at all about how the Paragon system might interact with future regular level cap increases, like with expansion-type stuff?
JW: A little bit. I mean, it was definitely one of the things we discussed when we discussed the system. We had to decide whether we wanted to add attribute points to it or not. And at the end of the day, we kind of feel like we already have a difficulty problem. We have a difference in our community about... there are some people who think Inferno is too hard. There are some people who think it's not hard enough, or it's just fine. And those groups of people are never going to see eye-to-eye. It's not like the "real" players are all saying it's fine and the "noobs" are saying it should be easier. We have a lot of hardcore players who are saying this is too hard, and it's not fun.
So I feel like we have a difficulty issue that we need to address, and I think we can address. I'm not gonna say how because we're still thinking and talking about it. I think if we can address that, it kind of solves a lot of issues we have with other areas and how we tune the game. So, long story short, yes. But I think we can compensate for it. I'm not too worried about, like, in the future if we raise the level cap or we release an expansion. I think we can account for it.
AC: We were probably actually going to have that problem anyway. We have players who just hit level 60, right, and they're just stepping into Act I Inferno. And their gear is equivalent to that. And then we have other players who are farming Act IV, and there is a pretty distinct disparity between the item levels of those players. So, you know, we would have that issue anyway. It wasn't really worth saying, 'No, we won't add any attribute points.' It's also, like, next year's Andrew's problem.
JW: Yeah, it's easier when you're like, 'We'll totally fix that later!'
PCG: Before we wrap things up, what would you guys say is the most ridiculous Inferno Act IV build you've seen around the office that maybe wasn't viable before 1.04, but will be very effective after 1.04?
AC: A pet witch doctor. It doesn't seem like it should be that ridiculous, but the way the game was kind of tuned before, it was actually really hard. You know, now a player can play a pet witch doctor in Act IV Inferno and it's actually really viable.
JW: A barbarian that doesn't have five defensive skills.
PCG: That's the one I'm looking forward to trying, yeah.
JW: Although, you know, I will say that I think 1.04... we've made some efforts to address difficulty, which mostly will make the game a bit easier, but overall I don't think it addresses the difficulty problem. Which is what I got at before: we have two groups of players, and they're both right. The players that want a game that's more challenging, or they want the game to stay challenging... they're not wrong. That's what they want, and they're OK to want that. And then there are players who don't see Diablo as that style of game.
So that's a problem we need to address, and I don't think 1.04 is quite going to address it at this point. But I think we can, in the future.
PCG: Thanks for talking to us!