Some good discussion about the latest changes to build density in Reaper of Souls and D3 on the PTR. Let’s start with the patch notes, which mentioned the issue thusly:

  • Monster Density has been revisited across Acts I-IV
  • Players should now encounter smaller packs of monsters less frequently
  • Act I has received density retuning to be more challenging at higher levels
  • Nevalistis fleshed out those bullet points with some explanation in a forum post, and stirred quite the controversy:

    The intent is that smaller packs are less likely to chain together. They still exist, but are less frequent. It’s an improvement to pacing, and you should run into “empty” areas less frequently now.

    Here’s an idea. How about we just go back to 1.08 levels, when it felt right? Why mess with something that wasn’t broken?
    Nevalistis: 1.0.8’s density change was an interesting beast that ended up solving some problems, and then creating a few more in its wake.

    The benefit of increasing density in 1.0.8 was that the world felt less empty and, based on feedback we received, combat became super action-packed. There was plenty to kill, and it kept you moving. There were *assumes Buzz Lightyear pose* monsters, monsters everywhere. In terms of raw gameplay and personal fun factor, we loved the result and definitely enjoyed the increased density when playing ourselves.

    The downside to increasing 1.0.8 density, however, was two-fold. First, it landed an unfortunate blow to build diversity, encouraging a very specific style of play (AoE or bust). Based on all the data we pulled, build variety narrowed quite quickly – even now, you can see the effects with Archon, WW, Zero Dogs, and other similar builds trumping almost everything. Overall, increased density led to much less interesting game play (for the game as a whole), even if it may have been super fun on the surface. Second, by adding a boatload of more monsters, server performance took a hit, which some of you may or may not have experienced.

    This is why we originally lowered density. We realize we may have turned the density dial down too low, though, and that’s what these recent changes are about – and really what PTR is all about too. We want pacing in the game to feel good, but without the additional technical or build diversity issues. We want to open up a greater variety of ways to play the game, and this is one of many steps we’ve taken to achieve that. Density is one of these things we can continue to evaluate and tweak, and we have every intention of doing that. We won’t, however, be returning 1.0.8 levels, but there’s likely a sweet spot somewhere in between.

    The real issue, I think, is rewards. In the live game the areas with higher density are the most rewarding, since many builds can demolish infinite numbers of trash mobs in a blink. This leads (forces?) everyone to play builds focused mostly on AoE. But if the game’s reward structure changes along with the density, then more types of play are viable. Players are complaining about less density, but they’re really worried about a (perceived?) loss in rewards.

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    Click through for a lot more, with additional blue posts and related discussion about changes to density and play incentives.

    In discussion over the last year, the way I’ve come to think about the game’s changes is that v1.08 was basically “density 1.5.” Something the devs put in to improve the play experience, but as a short term fix while their main development efforts went into the big Diablo 2.0 changes, which we’re now seeing on the PTR and in the RoS beta. The analogy is to the Diablo 3 console’s loot system, which we initially thought of as Loot 2.0, but soon realized was just Loot 1.5, with the main fixes and improvements coming in terms of moremoreMOAR, without any real added depth or features. (Those came in Loot 2.0 on the PTR and in RoS beta.)

    On the issue of Monster Density and how it incentivized player behavior, here’s what Wyatt Cheng said when I interviewed him and Josh Mosqueira last year on the DiabloWikiDiablo 3 Podcast.

    Flux: So it seems like there’s nothing you guys can do with a single target skill that’s ever going to make it viable in a game where there are 100 enemies on the screen at once?

    Wyatt Cheng: I think that an unfortunately side effect of the monster density increase is that it devalues single target skills. What are we doing to do about that? Well, something we’ve talked about, and I stress that we mean a lot when we say “talked about.” But what we’ve talked about is that in a given level there are portions that are dense and portions where single target matters more. We like higher monster density, but maybe we don’t need the player to be surrounded by 100 monsters all the time.

    You mentioned it could be used for Ubers. Well, maybe we can create a gameplay experience that has a lot of variety to it, so in a single ten minute play session, you’d have need for single target skills as well as AoE skills. So we’re looking into that.

    That’s basically the message the Blue CMs are giving us now, and here’s Nevalistis this morning:

    Holy misinterpretation, Batman! I think I might need to clarify a sentence in my original post, because it’s been misquoted quite a lot. Apologies for potentially giving some of you the wrong impression. Hopefully I can make amends. 🙂

    First up, monster density was not lowered or nerfed in the latest Beta/PTR patch. In fact, it was more or less buffed compared to where it was at when Closed Beta launched. With this last Beta/PTR patch, pacing has been improved and, although there are fewer mobs spawning now compared to 1.0.8, individual monster rewards have been adjusted and monster kill experience has been greatly increased. We definitely heard player feedback from the PTR and Beta about density levels and have made changes which should help address some of the concerns we were seeing. Our goal is to still have monster slaughter be rewarding and engaging (contrary to popular belief, we actually do want you to have fun!) while also avoiding many of the technical and mechanical issues introduced in 1.0.8. There are many parts of the whole experience to consider aside from a simple monster count and our goal is find a good balance.

    As always, if you have feedback regarding these changes, I encourage you to try out the current PTR build and leave us feedback in the applicable forum.

    Monster density in the new patch is definitely better than what it was before. Still not ideal in my mind, but better for sure. There is not as much downtime between combat encounters. However, there are some areas that could use some additional tweaking like Festering Woods. Hopefully you folks will continue making adjustments until it’s just right as it’s not quite there yet.
    Lylirra: Glad to hear it! If you’ve got additional specific areas in mind (i.e. Festering Woods), let us know. Knowing what areas in particular feel like an outlier to you is actually super helpful in this regard.

    As I said earlier, I think the issue isn’t mob density so much as the rewards given. Huge hordes of enemies are very fun, but I think more fun when they are a special treat that only appears occasionally, rather than a constant state of affairs. (As in the live game today, where it feels like only the few most-dense areas are worth playing.) The bigger issue then, is rewards gained from playing. Players love the thickest packs of monsters, especially in v1.08+ Diablo 3, since that’s where you get the most EXP and items. Hence everyone adjusts their play style to be most effective against giant groups of enemies, and lots of builds and skills and procs feed into that play style.

    But what if the devs tweaked the game so that the biggest hordes weren’t always the most profitable? So that you were incentivized to play more areas (via Bounties) and that areas with fewer enemies were more rewarding? This would mean cutting the rewards from huge hordes of trash mobs, but let’s be honest… those are actually the easiest places to play, for most builds. With constant targets all your buffs stay active, everything’s proc’ing like mad, there are tons of health orbs dropping, etc.

    For the sort of changes that we’re getting in the game today, consider Act Four. That act has most of the hardest types of monsters in the game, but much less overall density. So for the past year+ many fans have been saying, “why not make those big guys that much more rewarding, to create an approximately equal value to easy trash mob areas?” After all, in the live game today it’s much tougher to battle through a level full of off-screen charging angels, meteor dropping Morlus, disappearing Terror summoners, etc, vs. effortlessly snowplowing through the endless helpless trash zombies you find in the Decaying Crypt. So why should that Act One punchingbag dungeon style of play be 5x more valuable than something that’s actually challenging?

    And now, in D3v2 and RoS… it’s not.

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