Thursday, January 19, 2012

Analysis of Diablo 3 changes

Today, after a long radio silence, Blizzard has deigned to give us a small bone to chew on. I will admit that I was hoping for more, perhaps even the mythical release date, though I wasn't exactly betting on it.

Here's my analysis of these changes, purely from my perspective. I was a bit surprised, I will give you that.

Let’s start off small: Scrolls of Identification are no longer in the game. Unidentified items and the act of identifying them is still very much part of the game, but now when obtaining an unidentified item you'll simply right click it, a short cast timer will occur as your character examines the item, and it will become identified. We love the double-discovery of finding a present and then unwrapping it, but we don't think it requires a physical item you have to find and keep in your bags to get the same effect. From now on you'll just be able to inherently identify all your items, no need to carry scrolls. Your character in Diablo III is just that badass now.

The removal of Scrolls of Identification doesn't bother me. I'm sure there are those who will lament the simplification of the game but frankly I always found those scrolls annoying. They just served to take up inventory space, not to mention that you had to remember to replenish them from time to time. I believe that the short casting time is a good move.

We’re also moving the fifth quick slot button, which is becoming a dedicated potion button. A dedicated potion button is something we went back and forth on throughout development. Recently it became apparent that players need to be aware of their potions for emergency situations. Our combat model doesn’t promote or even allow chugging potions in rapid succession, but they’re certainly useful when you run into a string of bad luck with health globes, or if you just get in over your head. This is one of our newest changes, so the button and mechanics don’t actually function in beta Patch 10, but that’s our intent and you’ll be seeing it supported in future beta updates.

This seems like a zero-sum change. They moved a button to a different location. Who cares.

The design team is currently looking at systems and cleaning them up, removing any superfluous system objectives and those that are beyond fixing. Thus, we're removing the Mystic artisan. As we look at the big picture, the Mystic simply wasn’t adding anything to our customization system. Enhancement was really just the socket and gem system with a different name, and it would prolong the release of the game even further to go back to the drawing board and differentiate it, so we’ll revisit the Mystic and enhancements at a later time. Removing her from the game took some time, but it’s nowhere near the efforts that would be required to flesh out a better customization system. We hope she’ll be able to join your caravan in the future, but for now we’re going to focus on the extensive customization options the game already offers.

Initially I was miffed that they removed the Mystic. Then, reading more carefully, I realized that they are thinking about bringing her back later, in a patch. If I think hard about this, it's a positive change for me, personally. When the game is new and everyone is rushing to the top, that's one less thing I have to worry about, which is leveling a 3-rd artisan.

We're also looking at systems we’ve created and making sure that the rationale that brought us to these designs still makes sense. The Stone of Recall, for instance, has a short cast time and allows you to return to town. Early on we said we wouldn't have town portals, as they introduced too many combat exploits, but we were able to resolve them. Because we have the Stone of Recall, though, we began to evaluate systems that were originally implemented to deal with the exclusion of town portals.

Stone of Recall = good. I just hope it works exactly the same way Town Portals did, i.e. it allows you to return to where you were questing.

So we've decided to remove the Cauldron of Jordan and Nephalem Cube. They were implemented to allow for salvaging and selling items when there was no quick and easy way to return to town. Now that the Stone of Recall exists, we found that keeping the Cauldron and Cube in the game detracted from the benefits of returning to town to sell items, salvage, craft, and interact with the townsfolk. It’s a good idea to break up combat so that players have a moment to evaluate their gear and crafting options before venturing back out. In addition, we've decided to just call it what it is and the Stone of Recall is now Town Portal, and is integrated directly onto the skill bar UI.

The Blacksmith artisan will now salvage items. With removal of the Cube we needed some mechanic in town that allowed you to salvage your items, and it just makes sense for the Blacksmith to offer it.
I'm not very happy that they removed our means to 1) salvage items and 2) sell items on the go. While the concept wasn't very realistic, it was damn convenient. Now we'll just have to Town Portal every time our bags are full. This could be good or bad, depending. I'm not sure I want to visit town as often as I did in Diablo 2. Oh well, overall it's not a terrible change. I'm thankful that we don't have those damn Town Portal Scrolls to worry about.

One other important change is that common (white) items will no longer be salvageable. We found that it caused a few itemization issues, but mostly this is due to a general philosophy shift on the importance of items. Previously, our thinking was that when an item dropped it should always be useful to you in some way, either the stats could be an improvement for you, or in the case of white items you could break it down and craft something better. Through a lot of play testing we have come full circle to the Diablo II methodology -- a lot of stuff that drops just isn’t worth picking up. Diablo II captured the loot piƱata feel by dropping a lot of crap, mostly arrows and bolts, and we of course still very much want that feeling of item-explosions. To do that we need to be able to balance the value of items to how many we’re throwing at you.

I wasn't even aware that white items could be salvaged. Go figure. To me this is another zero-sum change. I'm not even sure if white items should have been salvage-able in the first place. If we are only talking about magic components, then it makes more sense that blue items and up are salvageable. Otherwise, if it's merely "components" then white items should also be salvageable. Either way, it's not a bit deal. Plenty of white items will drop. I just hope we can find interesting uses for them, like using them for crafting or for socketing + "runewords" like in Diablo 2.

We're changing core character attributes to Strength, Dexterity, Intellect, and Vitality, and the benefits each stat provides is being broken down as:

+Barbarian damage

+Demon Hunter damage
+Monk damage

+Wizard damage
+Witch Doctor damage
+Health from globes


We're dropping Defense, Attack, and Precision as attributes, Armor is taking over for what Defense used to provide, +Physical Resist will take over for Armor, and +Chance to Crit will fill in for Precision. Obviously these stat changes are one of the bigger systems changes we're currently working on as they have far reaching requirements to re-itemize and balance the game.

This change makes the stats more intuitive and fixes some of the itemization issues we were running into. We want to make it clear that junk items aren’t worth picking up, and make it easy to identify other items as not for your character. We want to drop a ton of items, but to really pull off a sense of excitement when finding a great item, there needs to be non-optimal items, both for your class, and in general. By specifically targeting stats at classes, we can reduce the amount of item overlap, diversify our item pool, and create a cleaner, more exciting itemization system.

By and large these changes have little impact on which items you’re going to want. The item hunt has always been based on secondary stats and affixes, and we’re working hard to ensure build diversity is as large as possible by getting as many affixes into the game as possible (adding more item affixes is also something we’ve been working on). Simply including affixes that augment specific skills greatly expands the itemization pool and build possibilities.

I applaud this change. The attribute system they had previously was a bit confusing, me being used with the attributes from Diablo 2. What doesn't quite make sense to me is that they put +Health from globes under Intellect. Huh? Shouldn't that rather go under Vitality? After all, the classes which need health globes the most are melee classes, right? And melee classes are those which need Intellect the least. Anyway, this could still change so I'm not too worried.

Now if they would just let us assign our own points...

Moving on, with the removal of the Cauldron of Jordan, Nephalem Cube, and by moving Town Portal to the skill panel, we're now displaying character stats directly on the inventory UI. Now you can see your stats go up and down as you try on different items. All the same info is available; we’re just streamlining the UI, making it more useful. It might seem insignificant but we're pleased with the results.
 Well, this last one was discussed earlier. I'm not very pleased that they removed those two things but at least we can teleport to town anytime we like, at zero cost.

Overall I can't say that these are groundbreaking changes. In truth I feel a bit let down after all the hoopla. Still, the changes are mostly positive but it does give me the uneasy feeling that Blizzard is still working on an unfinished game.

Speaking of which, I am getting restless with each passing day which doesn't give us a release date. It's not like Diablo 3 is the only thing in the world I'm looking forward to. It's just that I was hoping to dedicate the whole of 2012 to Diablo 3. It is very possible that starting next year my personal life will become much busier, preventing me from indulging in such simple pleasures as gaming or even blogging. As it is, at least 1/4 of this year will be wasted to me because we won't see D3 before March.

Oh well... I'm just gonna go bang my head against the wall some more.

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