This section covers all the major new Patch 2.1 features, and gets into very detailed discussion about the devs’ design philosophy for adding new legendary items and sets, how all skill balancing has to work through legendary items, why they reduced elemental runes per class to 4, why the Demon Hunter lost Poison instead of Cold, and much more.
Blizzard’s Patch 2.1 Live Chat: Full Transcript and Discussion. Here are the key points, with the transcript and some more notes below.
Patch 2.1 is a huge patch with lots of new features coming in, so they want to begin with a discussion of the major new features.
Don: They’re similar to D2 ladder seasons. At the start of each season everyone starts new and fresh. There are season-exclusively legendary items and season-exclusive rewards, such as transmog rewards and battle rewards.Leaderboards are a major part of Seasons, and they’re much like Diablo 2 ladders, but more objective-based. Major types of Leaderboards are Season achievement, Conquest, and Greater Rift Leaderboards. (Video shows screenshots of the leaderboards, which are just visible as character names in a list.)
Wyatt: One of fave features of leaderboards is that even if you’re not one of the top 1000 players, you can view Leaderboards between just you and your clan members. Or you and your friends list. So even if you’re not in the top 1000, you can see how you stack up to your social circle.
Nevalistis: You can also see your Leaderboards for players near you.
Don: Yeah, so if you’re at a LAN center you can see that you’re beating that guy over there.
Nevalistis: Or when we’re here at the office, we can compete.
Nevalistis: A common question is what happens to the items and gold you earn during a season, when the season comes to an end?
Don: Nothing is lost. All your equipment, paragon levels, blacksmith recipes, etc, get transferred to your main account. (See Blizzard’s excellent long-form explanation about this process.)
Nevalistis: Lots of people are asking if Adventure Mode is unlocked when you first start in a season?
Don: Yes, if you’ve got it unlocked already in Softcore or Hardcore, when you start in a season it’ll be unlocked there. We did that because we feel that anyone who plays seasons will have it unlocked already. And we wanted to be nice to players to not force you to unlock it each time.
Wyatt: Seasons are great for people who have already gotten some fun out of Reaper of Souls, but they’ve moved on and are playing other things. Seasons are a great excuse to get your friends and come back. You can play on a level playing field, all together. Story mode, while good for the first time through, to go back to it at this point when you’re used to Adventure Mode, that’s not cool.
Nevalistis: Will you guys be jumping into seasons right away?
Don: Yes, I was a big D2 ladder player, so I can’t wait for seasons.
Wyatt: I’m going to make a seasonal Hardcore.
John: I’m going to stay with non-seasonal. I’ve got a lot of progress there.
Wyatt: You haven’t hit Paragon 1000 yet! *laughter*
John: Nope. I’m only 600. I’m not Gabbynator.
Nevalistis: What are you guys planning on playing in Seasons?
Don: Probably Hardcore Monk or Hardcore Wizard.
Wyatt: I’m going to play a Monk, because the last hardcore char I los was a Monk. It was the dumbest thing. I wasin Act 3 and I got up to get a glass of water. I didn’t pause the game, even though it was a single player game. And these Fallen charged on screen from way off in the distance and I came back to a dead Monk. So hopefully this time around I won’t die to a glass of water.
John: We were passing that around in an email thread. The most dangerous monster… a glass of water!
Nevalistis: Should we frame a picture of the water?
Wyatt: I’ll do better this time around. You don’t lose a Hardcore character to the same thing twice. Hopefully…
Nevalistis: Another major feature coming up is Greater Rifts. And I know that Wyatt has been taking point on those.
Wyatt: The rifts we have in now, for those who don’t know, is where you do your Adventure Mode. One change coming in the patch is that each rift key will open up a rift, instead of the five that are required now. It’s one per player. We did this to promote co-op. There was a Rift if Forward community that came up that helped with that, but many players didn’t know about it or got ripped off. So now it’s 1 key per person, everyone pays their share, removed the social negotiation.
And if you do a rift on Torment or higher, you have a chance to get a Key of Trials. And that puts you into a Trial where you face waves of monsters. And depending on how well you do there, you get a Greater Rift key. So maybe GR 8, or GR 15. Each time you clear a Greater Rift in less than 15 minutes, we reward you with a more difficult, higher tier keys. The farther you go the greater the rewards. Better chances at legendary items and better chances at legendary gems.
Nevalistis: What’s the most exciting thing about Greater Rifts?
Wyatt: For me… the fact that we defer all the loot to the end of the rift. That was kind of surprising. We did that during internal play testing, and people would comment that they were trying to beat the 15m time limit, but they couldn’t resist going to pick up the loot. So we thought let’s try just not dropping any loot and seeing how that goes. We’ll take all the legendaries you might have gotten in that 15m time, and backload them to the Rift Boss drop. I actually find it a very refreshing way to play, where I just focus on clearing monsters and I get a huge payout at the end.
Nevalistis: Yeah, it just explodes.
John: My favorite part is definitely the competition. Trying to push your character above GR 30, above 40 maybe… micromanaging your gear and skills to get that tiny advantage to get on top of the Leaderboards.
Don: I’m with John. The Leaderboards are pretty big for me. Like I said, I was a pretty big Diablo 2 ladder player, and just seeing the specs, the gear, when you look at the top people on the leaderboard.
Nevalistis: Yeah, since you can inspect the characters on the leaderboard. You can see what they’re doing…
Don: What am I doing wrong! *laughter*
Nevalistis: After you complete the Greater Rift you can get a special reward. John, you’ve been working on Legendary Gems…
John: Legendary Gems are new gems. You find them only in Greater Rifts. There are 14 different types, and they’re pretty common so you should be able to find all you want pretty quickly. They always drop at Rank zero though, so as you do Greater Rifts you level them up. At rank 25 they unlock a secondary synergistic power. These gems should be more than powerful enough, when ranked up properly, that you’ll really want them in your gear.
Nevalistis: Which gem is your favorite?
John: By far it’s Zei’s Stone of Vengeance. There’s a lot of interesting gameplay with it. The way it works is you deal more damage, to anything, the farther you are away from it. For example when I play Demon Hunter, I have to micromanage my Sentries and make sure I’m shooting from the farthest away spot while moving in the direction the Rift is going, to maximize my damage and progression.Nevalistis: that’s pretty cool. What about you, Wyatt?
Wyatt: Yeah, I’m pretty excited about Simplicity’s Strength. (Increase the damage of primary skills by 25%. Upgrade rank grants: +0.5% damage. Rank 25 unlocks: Primary skills heal you for 2% of maximum health on hit.) The tension from a design standpoint between your resource generators and spenders. We’ve made a lot of spenders really juicy… before RoS it wasn’t always clear which skills were best to use, but now players just spend massive amounts of resource to dump out Cluster Arrows or your Lashing Tail Kick or what have you, and that’s great. I love that players are able to do that.
But, finding ways, sometimes subtle ways, to buff some of those generators is great. And Simplicity’s Strength, which increases the damage of your generators, and at rank 25 it also causes them to heal you 2% each time you use one. And since I’m going to be leveling up a Hardcore Monk in the season, I’ll probably try to uprank a Simplicity’s Strength and combo it with some Depth Diggers or something like that.
(Depth Diggers new Patch 2.1 legendary property: “All resource generators deal 80-100% more damage.”)
Don: I think I like Mirinae (Mirinae, Teardrop of the Starweaver. 15% chance on hit to smite a nearby enemy for 1000% weapon damage as Holy. Upgrade rank grants: +20% weapon damage.) the best. The Smite damage is really big and it’s very satisfying to see the Smite finish off an enemy and it just explodes.
Greed’s Domain12:30 —
Nevalistis: One new area we’re adding in the patch it something we call “The Vault.” How cool is it?
Wyatt: I think it’s super cool and I hope everyone gets a chance to see it. For those who haven’t already, it has to do with the Treasure goblins. If you kill a Goblin there’s a small chance that you get to open up a portal to enter the Realm of Greed. And it comes from the idea of where Treasure Goblins go when they get away. WE’ve got to put something in for that, and I’m pretty excited about it.
Nevalistis: I haven’t seen it yet on the PTR. Maybe I’ll get it this afternoon.
Wyatt: It’s not designed to be a hard area. We weren’t going to give players this rare chance to get into the area and then WE’RE GOING TO KILL YOU!!1! *laughter* That’s not cool. It’s more of a celebration event. Gold is raining down everywhere, there’s treasure. We ust wanted it to be a fun run around. The boss’ mechanics are focused on being interesting rather than deadly. There’s some humor there. We just want people to enjoy it. Not struggle with it.
Nevalistis: In this patch we’re really making a foray into class balance. Monks and Demon Hunters have received some of the biggest changes, especially via Dexterity. It no longer grants Dodge, but instead boosts Armor 1 point per point. Can we cover the theory of that?
John: First off, we all want and players should want, classes to be different. To play different. To feel different. Dodge is different from Armor and All Resistance. We wanted them to feel different. However, Dodge wasn’t good enough. If you look at pre Patch 2.1, right now on live, every class has builds that can farm up to Torment 6. Dodge is not keeping Monks and DHs out of Torment 6.
But in Patch 2.1, with the introduction of Greater Rifts, survivability was really put under a microscope. And when testing shows that the amount of hits required to die was fewer for DHs and Monks,it just didn’t allow those classes to succeed in greater rifts. So we just felt we had to put all the classes on an even playing field for defensive survivability. Then we can work on their offense, or add more defense if they need it.
Wyatt: We played around with other mechanisms. We didn’t just change Dex to Armor right away. We tried some other stuff.
John: Oh yeah. We said on a stream months ago that the first effort was something like “the amount of Dodge you have reduces the damage you take from non-Dodgeable attacks.” And we thought about it, so that means “I take 30% less damage from Plagued and Desecrator because I have Dodge.” That makes no sense.
We tried half and half Armor / All Res, but in the end we went with the thing that’s more easily understood. Just like Armor and Strength.
Wyatt: The initial system with Dex = Dodge, Str = Armor, and Int = AllRes since back before Reaper of Souls, loot had just random properties. Before Smart Loot. So if you were a Barb and you found an item with Int on it, our philosophy was that maybe you didn’t get the mainstat you wanted, but at least you’d get something useful from the other stats. Of course it didn’t play out that all and instead players were just really annoyed when they got another stat. So we changed it.
Now in Reaper of Souls with smart loot if you’re playing a Barb, you get all your gear with Strength on it. If you’re a Monk you’ll get Dex gear. But that really meant that having differences in survivability based on those stats was no longer meaningful. It just became an asymmetrical annoyance.
My first thought when they announced the Dex = Str change, was why they hadn’t made Dex half/half Str/Int, in terms of adding .5 Armor/AllRes. So I was interested to hear that they’d considered it, and would have liked more explanation as to why they didn’t go that way. (Or give Monks Armor and DH’s All Res, which seems a better match for their similarities to the Str and Int classes.)
I guess Blizzard prefers characters to specialize than to get medium bonuses to two things?
So the classes have a primary point of contact, but that shifts. And even that isn’t the person who makes the final decisions. Those are made collaboratively.
Don: All the major decisions, we sit in our pit in a group and we talk about it. We’re never making major changes solo, without talking about it.
Wyatt: When it comes to making a new legendary that’s the whole team. We get together art and design and the whole team and we brainstorm out new abilities, and we look at what we like, the tech art and animation depts. get involved… as a team we make decisions. As for the classes and their dev, like Don with the Crusader, that’s more like if there’s a bug, or the community brought up this concern and we should address it. Then that person is the one making sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Nevalistis: They’re kind of like the look out for the class.
Wyatt: Yeah. And that responsibility shifts around. I was doing the Witch Doctor when RoS shipped, and John’s doing the Witch Doctor now.
Of course that misconception exists entirely since Blizzard has repeatedly given just one name when talking about who is the lead dev for each class at a time. Useful they offered this explanation, at least, though I think all fans knew that any major design changes were discussed throughout the whole team?
Nevalistis: We’re also going to ask some player questions, that we’ve been collecting from the community via our twitter and forums and blog post and more.
Question #1: Do any of the devs play hardcore as their main play mode?
Don: Yes, I play it all the time and it’s a little bit stressful, but I have some softcore for research purposes.
Wyatt: I do Hardcore. I split my time like 25 hardcore/75 softcore.
John: I’m 10-15/85.
Wyatt: That’s just the three of us. We have a big team… our lead technical artist Julian Love plays exclusively Hardcore. We’re in a clan together and every time I get on it’s like BAM, he’s on there. He once took some time off, and I asked him what he had planned for the week and he was like, “I’ll figure it out.” Sure enough he was leveling a hardcore Demon Hunter every day that week. *laughter*
Don: It was pretty sad when he died, but he re-leveled again.
Wyatt: And our gameplay engineers, Roger and Kevin, they play HC together all the time. The even sit next to each other so they have to be really careful about going AFK together.
Don: They got me, on the PTR. They trained a bunch of monsters over to me when I was AFK. It was only on the PTR though, so… *shrugs*
Nevalistis: We always know when someone in the floor has just lost a Hardcore characters, since the screams of anguish you hear echoing through the offices. Players aren’t always aware of how we play the game so it’s great to give them some insight.
Skill Balancing via Legendary Items
Question #2: Do you currently feel the Barb is in a comfortable place?
John: Okay *excited to answer*. I want to talk about all of the classes, actually. It’s about the Barbarian, resources, spenders, etc. But it’s not just about that class. First off, I’ll start by saying there are three main complaints about the characters now. Players say that, 1) Not enough resource. 2) Generators don’t do enough damage. 3) Spenders don’t hit hard enough. Those are all kind of the same complaint, which is that “I don’t produce enough damage.”
If you think about buffing a skill to do more damage, or create more resource, or just increase the resource regen… it’s kind of the same thing. The complaint comes from where the game is now and where it was when “Ross” shipped.Let’s think back. When Reaper of Souls was released. What skills were awesome and how did the game feel? Avalanche was awesome. Frozen Orb was awesome. Demon Hunter’s Vengeance was awesome. Barbarians felt like they had infinite Fury because all you needed to do was Sprint and Whirlwind around and everything in Normal mode died. Um… that changed. What changed? Everybody got legendaries. Not just some but full Legendary sets. When you think about damage from the best sets, it’s something like 2000-3000% weapon damage to the entire screen, every second. When you’re doing that much damage, and you look at your Bash and say it hits for 200%… *laughter* I’ll take an empty slot over that. Or I’m Leap-Quaking for 15000% or I Hammer for 600%, I’m not going to push that button either.
The game has shifted to multiplicative damage increases, like Battle Rage, and WotB: Insanity, and Magic Weapon… those kind of things are the things that are powerful, since they multiply damage. So that’s where we are.
So all the suggestions that say Hammer should hit for triple, and then I’d use it. That’s totally correct, for players who have the full damage set. The full armor set. That’s what it would have to do for you to put it on your bar. If you take a look at the Crusader, he’s one of the only classes now that has a build that uses a spammable damage skill… that doesn’t automatically cast 5 Sentries. *laughter*
For example, take the Shotgun Spec. Fires of Heaven. If you take a look at that, we see the damage is triple, because it’s shotgun, the resource cost is halved, at least, because of Akkrat’s Champion from the set, and most Crusaders have additional resource cost reduction from other gear. So the throughput of that set is on the order of 6x higher than a guy who just hit 70 and is geared in Rares. For that guy who just hit 70, Hammer or Bash is good. The rune that does more damage or lowers the resource is good. For players who are well geared, both of those skills are terrible. And we can’t solve that problem by just tripling Hammer’s damage, since it would make the game unbalanced for that guy who hit 70, or during the leveling up.
Wyatt: It’s worth mentioning that with Seasons coming up, we’re expecting that leveling experience, and the proportion of power players have from different skills via yellow items, is very relevant.
John: The real solution is not to buff the skills by triple damage on the baseline. The solution is to add items that grant triple damage to the skill. But in a more flavorful way. To give you an example. LeapQuake is a top of the line set. We worked really hard with our animator Non to make Furious Charge skill feel and look really good. And then we redesigned the Vile Ward shoulders with a new legendary affix (“Furious Charge deals 30-35% increased damage for every enemy hit while charging.”) that takes that set and brings it to the top tier with sets like Jade Harvester or M6 or LeapQuake.
Changing just one skill doesn’t do it. We have to use items or whole sets to buff skills in much bigger ways.
Wyatt: That reminds me of the new Crusader set. (Roland’s Legacy.)
John: Yeah. It’s a Shield Bash and Sweep Attack themed set, since we wanted the class to have a pure-melee play style. The top builds now are Shotgun which is kind of pseudo-ranged, and Blessed Shield which you can be wherever you want. And Fists of the Heavens Darklight, which you can be wherever you want. We worked a lot on Shield Bash — thanks again to Non for making the animations awesome — and we still have some work to do. Shield Bash and Sweep Attack both do 4x damage with the set. And the six piece bonus you get a stacking buff that when fully stacked doubles your attack speed.
That sets provides 4x damage to Shield Bash. That’s the kind of power bonus we have to give out to bring sets up to the top level.
Wyatt: Before we even made that set, we were looking at the Crusader and the builds that John had mentioned, and we were like… it’s nice that we have this, but the fantasy of the Crusader before RoS was a guy wading into the midst of combat and slaughtering things with shield bash. You want to use it for something other than a projectile. It was really easy for us to make sure the next Crusader set would make a solid Shield Bash build.
Nevalistis: Awesome. It’s cool to see that… from these player concerns all the different stages you gusy go through paring it down to the core issue. It’s not just more damage it’s this skill compared to that skill, and it all depends on where a player is in the game.
Wyatt: Yeah. Kevin Martens the lead designer, he talks a lot about, “Where my Multishot item? I love playing Demon Hunter and I don’t want to use just Sentries. I want Multishot.” And we’re like, Okay, don’t worry. We’re getting there.
I thought that was a really useful and valuable discussion. Hearing how they’ve evolved their thinking on skill changes, why it’s suboptimal to just buff the damage of a skill, why it all has to be done and amplified via legendary items… all seems pretty reasonable.
Of course the problem (or benefit?) is that players have to *find* those items in the first place. You can’t just decide to use Skill X and succeed with it, at least not at the high end. You have to find the specific item, or the full set, that makes that skill/build usable at the high end, and in a game without trading, that can be tough.
Witch Doctor: Sacrifice
Question #3: Will you guys be adding other elements, other than physical runes, for Sacrifice sometime? (The Witch Doctor dog-explosion skill.)Wyatt: I’m glad to get a question about Sacrifice, since it needed a bit of love. So in Patch 2.1, Sacrifice is getting love and the mechanics are changing. Before Patch 2.1, Sacrifice was in an awkward position, since it blew up all of your dogs at once and they did damage all around. That wasn’t really worth a slot on your hotbar, to push the button once every 45 seconds when you could resummon your dogs. So of course you look for ways to get more dogs. But honestly, any skill slot in the bar is so valuable that unless you got Sacrifice to zero cooldown dogs, it wasn’t worth using. And if you did, then the gameplay was just summon dogs, sacrifice, summon dogs, sacrifice, summon dogs, sacrifice.
So in Patch 2.1, Sacrifice is getting a big redesign. The way it’ll work is that when you use the skill, one of your dogs will run over to your click location and blow up. I think it’s super fun. It feels more visceral than the old version since you’re actually directing the dogs where to go. It also has way better interaction with legendary items, since I think you had mentioned…
Wyatt: The Homunculus is this item that summons one dog every 3-4 seconds. With the old sacrifice that was ho-hum. With the new sacrifice, where each dog represents a charge of ability, and you can actually store them up, and it synergizes great with the last passive we introduced, now you can get up to six dogs. That lets you cast Sacrifice up to six times in a row. Hopefully Sacrifice WDs figure stuff out there. And even if not, we can always add more legendary items. Like John was saying, the philosophy is that legendary items plus your skills makes your character.
And to really diversify that out… elemental variants are always on the radar. There are always lots of ideas for those. Right now the focus was just on getting the mechanics of Sacrifice to work how we wanted it. I think the idea of different elements is a great idea. It’s worked very well for other skills. Don has been spearheading a lot of that.
Don: Yeah, a lot of the time we just look at the class and see where is this class weak? Fire, cold, whatever. And we try to look at the skills and change some runes to make them more even.
John: Yeah, in Patch 2.1 we brought all of the classes down to 4 or 5, usually four elements, because we felt that was easier to gear for. When you had too many elements it made it too hard to get the one you wanted and it was creating gearing issues. This way actually creates more choice. You might look at a skill and see two lightning runes, so now you can choose between them. Rather than just having one rune with each element for each skill, which forced you to use it.For the Demon Hunter specifically, we had a tough choice to make. We were going to eliminate either cold or poison. So we looked and the Demon Hunter had about 15 poison skills. But she also has Frost Arrow. So we just killed all the poison skills since Frost Arrow is awesome and we couldn’t remove that skill. We know some players liked the poison. There was one guy in the forums who had 80% poison damage and for him I’m really sorry, truly.
Wyatt: I remember when the link to his profile got sent around, and John was just like *covers face*
John: Yeah, he was posting when poison was removed and he was like, “I’m a little sad…” Link to profile with 80% poison damage and he’s Paragon 500 something…
As for Cold, we kept it because it has more interactions with gameplay. It does chills, it does snares, while poison is just damage and not such interesting gameplay.
That’s a reasonable explanation, but I kind of preferred it when they were just like, “Frost Arrow was too awesome to remove, so screw your poison damage.” Of course I’m not the guy with the 80% Poison Damage Demon Hunter…
The Monk and the Raiment Set
Question #4: Are you guys done with Monks and do you think they’re in the right place?
Don: I don’t think we’ll ever be done with any classes. We’ll work on them forever. In 2.1 the effort was to remove outliers, such as Exploiting Palm, Rimeheart, and The Furnace. And to roughly equalize the classes across the board. We’re pretty happy with the changes we’ve made. But if it turns out after 2.1 that one class is underperforming, we’ll definitely make more changes to them and to their skills,
I can already think of some changes we want to make in a future patch, like make Retribution better, make the Raiment Set more powerful. Things of that sort.
Nevalistis: I actually have a follow up question on the Raiment of a Thousand Storms Set. Can it be improved in the future?
Don: We can definitely improve it in the future. It’s kind of a one-button wonder now. We don’t have any concrete plans right now, but we will make a legendary or two synergize with that set.
John: By this point, months after RoS’ release, I think we have a pretty good understanding of how legendaries and sets work, and which of them are fine. I would put perhaps the only top tier set right now is Raiment of the Jade Harvester. That’s because there are at least three buttons in your rotation, it’s very engaging. Mid-tier is something like LeapQuake and Dashing Strike, where you’re really just pushing one button and aiming, and aiming hard. I think M6 is slightly above that. Crusader Holy Shotgun also.
That said, we wouldn’t want to reinforce the Dashing Strike gameplay too much, as people have said it’s annoying. Monks are not at the top of the Leaderboards right now, but we don’t want to do it by buffing the Dashing Strike set. Because that means if you want to perform well with a Monk you have to use that set. Since it’s kind of an annoying gameplay.
That’s why we buffed Sunwuko’s Set (Monkey King’s Garb) in the last patch, more than doubling its damage. It’s more engaging, at least you’re using your generators, pushing more than one button.
Wyatt: That’s something we worry about. We can always make things so that their power level is close, but we want to make sure that in addition to being with a certain band of power, that your gameplay is engaging. And that can mean… are you paying attention to where you’re positioned and where you are aiming your skills. Do you have more than one button on your bar that you’re trying to use? Do you have timing issues? Are you paying attention to a resource?
I’m not saying that you *have* to do all of these things, but there should be some element of that to your gameplay. The absolute worst is if a set turned out… we’re more likely to take action if the “best set” caused players to just hit one button as fast as they could while dealing omni-directional damage. We’d just be like… we can’t have that be the best way to play.
Surprised they didn’t also mention the big buff they made to Shenlong’s Spirit, since that came just last week and was modified explicitly by fan feedback about how it was still lacking in the earlier Patch 2.1 testing.
Part Two of this transcript/analysis can be seen here.
What do you guys think of the info? More than just “facts” about anything new, I enjoyed hearing how their reasoning and design debates go. So often fans are myopically focused on just their one favorite (or least fave) class or item or skill, and we want it buffed and buffed now. But that’s not always a viable solution, as the “buff skills via legendary items” discussion in this chat explains.