Diablo 3 Monster Density and Farming: Problems and Solutions

One of the main requests fans make is to see more useful areas for item and experience farming in Diablo 3. This was one of the complaints in the Top Ten Fixes article we posted yesterday, and since it’s something I’ve read about and discussed in the past, here’s an article presenting some of the problems and a few potential fixes to the issue.

First of all, what’s the problem? Why are some areas of Act Three so much better to play (and play, and play and replay) than anything else in the game? They’re better since they’re much more profitable, and there’s really no debating that. If you don’t agree you are wrong are probably not *really* be farming yet. I say that from experience, since I didn’t fully notice the differences between the acts until somewhat recently, as I upgraded my characters into more kick ass function.

When you’re just playing through the levels at a reasonable pace, working up some MF, picking up most of the Rares you find, etc, you don’t really notice it. You might think you’re farming at that point, but it’s not until you really get geared up, strap on a Hellfire Ring, and decide to seriously grind some exp, that the difference in farming potential becomes completely clear.

When you’re playing in that style, there are two features of Act Three that the other acts are completely lacking. 1) High monster density, and 2) good level layout.

Monster Density

This is the obvious difference, and if you don’t notice the huge numbers of skeletons in the Keep and scorpions in the Arreat Crater levels, you haven’t been playing very long. Those areas aren’t just cannon fodder hordes, but those dumpsters full of trash mobs makes them the most profitable places for experience in the game. They’re great for item hunting as well, both from the trash monsters and from the bosses that abound.

That said, the bosses aren’t that intense; I don’t think anywhere in Act Three pops more bosses in a small area than the Vault of the Assassin in Act 2, but the difference is that lots of Act 3 is that good, while only that one dungeon in Act 2 can compare.

So could Act One and Two become comparable to Act 3 just by doubling or tripling the number of monsters? No, for two reasons; 1) it would mess up the aesthetics of the level/monster layout, and 2) the layout of the Act 1 & 2 levels would still be a problem.

Click through for level layout issues and solutions to fix this problem.

Level Layout Issues

This is a slightly more subtle issue than the monster numbers, and it’s also harder to fix.

If you’ve not really noticed this problem, you will when you begin serious, high-speed farming. I didn’t really notice it myself until fairly recently, when I got some characters up into the high MF/high DPS range and began playing to optimize my gains.

(If you’re not *really* farming yet, here’s how it goes. You know how you think you’re playing pretty fast, moving quickly to collect the gold, not wasting much time on IDing or trips to town, and how you only kite once in a while, and how you’re not that much slower than the really fast farmers? You are wrong. I thought that and I was wrong. When you play with enough DPS to one-shot everything, with at least 24% faster run, with added faster run from skills, without touching chests, don’t bother picking up gold, only pick up maybe 1/100th of the items that drop, it makes an amazing difference. Your exp gain doubles. Easily. Maybe triples. And issues with level layout and monster density become very much more apparent.)

An ideal level layout for fast farming is something like the Fields of Slaughter, or especially the Tower of the Damned 1. Neither level is all that profitable for gear, and the Fields of Slaughter is actually pretty poor on boss density — generally there are only 2 or 3 bosses there and it’s quite a large area. But since both levels are basically circular in shape (the Tower of the Damned 1 is literally round) they can be cleaned out very quickly.

This is most true for classes who like to be swarmed, such as Barbs or Monks (some WD and Wiz builds also) who just race around and get everything to come to them, for ease of disposal. The Tower of the Damned 1 makes it so clear, since that level basically sucks for bosses (just 2 usually, sometimes only 1), there’s never a resplendent chest, very few regular chests, and there isn’t a very high monster density for the area. It’s actually a crappy level for people playing “normally.” But when you’re going high speed farming and just racing around the circle, it’s great since all the monsters flock to you and you can clear the whole thing in a minute or two.

On level design, it’s useful to compare Tower of the Damned 1, which is in almost everyone’s DiabloWikiAlkaizer Run, to Tower of the Cursed level 1. That’s a much less popular farming level, despite being about the same size as Damned 1. I actually prefer Cursed 1 with my Demon Hunter, since it’s a short spiral without all the side paths of Tower/Cursed 1 (those suck with a Demon Hunter since there are witches and fallen and other junk off to the sides and you don’t get a good field of fire), and it’s mostly stocked with large targets that are very easy to shoot, and there are usually 2-3 bosses. But the total number of monsters is much lower since it’s only one path, instead of two side by side, and you can’t run around it quickly and get back to the waypoint, so it’s a much less useful “run” level for most classes. My Monk and Barb and WD don’t go there at all, when they’re running.

Another useful comparison is Arreat Crater 1 vs. Arreat Crater 2. AC2 is one of the “always” levels in Alkaizer Runs, while AC1 is much less played. Why not? I wondered that when I was first getting into running, since the monster types and variety seemed very similar between the levels. Once I was doing them repeatedly though, and at high speed, the lower density of AC1 (there are big packs, but more dead zones between them) became evident. And more to the point, AC1 has a lot of long dead ends and empty passages. It’s farmable if you make the right turns, or just TP back to town if you get to a dead end, but when you’re going high speed for experience, any delay is a problem.

And that’s the whole problem with Acts 1 and 2… they’re lower on monster density, but more blatant is their terrible level layout. Not terrible in terms of playability or functionality, but they suck for farming since they’re full of dead ends. There are good areas — some of the surface zones can be traversed quickly just looking for bosses — but there’s nothing approaching the exp from monster density you get in Act Three. And much of Acts 1 and 2 is simply useless for fast farming; all those long, narrow corridors in the Cathedral and Leoric’s dungeons are a waste of time and Act 2 is even worse with the numerous sewer levels and the endless long and empty hallways in Zoltan Kulle’s fourteen themed dungeons.

I haven’t even mentioned Act 4 since it’s bad on both scores. The only areas that are even sort of farmable are the Silver Spire levels 1 and 2, but both are fairly small, the monster density is low, there are almost no cannon fodder exp feasts, and the monsters that are there are huge, slow killing, and actually dangerous for characters who aren’t super geared up. If anyone has some suggestions on making Act 4 more playable that are at all doable; i.e. they do not require a complete rebuild of the levels and the monsters found on them, I’d be curious to hear them

Suggestions and Improvements

So, how could the developers improve Acts 1 and 2 to make them more viable for farming? (I don’t think they’re interested in changing 4.) The easy/obvious thing would be to simple double or triple the monster density. That could work in some areas, such as the Weeping Hollow or the surface desert areas in Act 2, but it wouldn’t be very elegant. Yes, players could make far more profit running parts of Act One and Two if there were say, triple the Cultists, or 5x more zombies, but I think the developers would feel that ruined their carefully-designed levels.

And it would, in a way; now you get a nice mixture of monsters and open space and it seems like a real place, in the context of the game. If Leoric’s dungeon levels were just wall to wall Cultists, it would seem sort of silly. Like, “what are all those people doing down here?” It would also be a huge increase to the relative difficultly and a new player just trying to get through Inferno for the first time would be shocked, awed, and overwhelmed.
But players after farming areas don’t care about that. They (we) want more places to play that are as profitable as Act Three, or at least that aren’t obviously delivering 1/2 or 1/3 or less the rewards. I do those areas on MP1 once in a while just for a chance of pace, but it’s impossible to forget the fact that I’m forfeiting like 50% of the experience gain I could be pulling if I were racing through The Keep Depths level 2 for the umpteenth time.

Another fix I’ve seen suggested is to increase monster density with higher levels of DiabloWikiMonster Power. That’s great for players with super geared characters who can farm MP3 or MP5 or more, but it’s not much use to others. On the other hand, it would at least help with the currently suboptimal design where the best exp AND the best items are found by very rapidly slaughtering wimpy monsters on MP0. But I think there are better fixes to that problem than making MP increase stats and density of enemies. (And how would it even work in Act 3, which already has crazy high density in several areas?)

So here’s my compromise solution. New dungeons in Acts 1 and 2. Make the entrances spawn always in some area, or maybe just a special portal to them from town, kind of like you get for the Infernal Machine event. They don’t even have have any story or plot or special event stuff, like the Infernal Machine. They’re just much bigger dungeons than we see currently in Act 1 or Act 2, with much higher monster density and more frequent bosses.

I’m not a Diablo III modder (and neither is anyone else, sadly) so I don’t know if or how that would work with the level design and tools. You’d need to basically double the width of the corridors in the crypts, or Cathedral, or Zoltan Kulle’s dungeon, to accommodate the greatly increased monster numbers, and that might not be possible with the tile set. (Just compare the width of the levels in Acts 1 and 2 vs. to the much wider hallways in Act 3’s Tower or Crater levels, and the total lack of hallways in the Keep which creates much more floor space for many more skeletons.)

Whatever the new levels look like though, they should be larger than current dungeons (maybe about the size of the Keep in Act 3) and should have multiple levels. These can get larger or harder or both as you descend, and even if this isn’t the long-requested bottomless dungeon, it should at least be quite large to give players the option of grinding on and on, if they so desire. No one likes the current system where we have to constantly start new games, build up more stacks each time, etc.

This isn’t an ideal fix, but it seems doable and not too complicated. No new game systems required, no total rebuild or new content, it doesn’t require a ton of new monster models, etc. Just reuse existing dungeon models, modify them a bit, and stick in larger numbers of the current monsters. It’s not exactly D3X, but it would certainly be an improvement in function and variety of play options over what we see in the game today.

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29 thoughts on “Diablo 3 Monster Density and Farming: Problems and Solutions

  1. These devs seem TERRIFIED of touching the game client. Any content w ehave gotten has just been copy/pastes. I doubt we will see any fixes like you mentioned above. It’s been 8 months and look at how many improvements (even simple ones) we have gotten. Not many.

    • Seriously. Also, they don’t even take advantage of hotfixes like their online only mode purportedly allowed. An example is the Act 2, Black Soulstone goblin that spawned up the path to the Desolate Sands. It seemed like I farmed him for months before they removed him via a client patch and not a hotfix.

      Since I played with the emulator before release, I know all monsters you encounter spawn only from the server and not from your game client. It baffles me why they didn’t hotfix the damn thing.

      Anyway, it does seem they’re a bit scared of more major tweaks before the PVP patch… Err, I mean… dueling patch. Also, I’m sure a lot of changes are coming in the expansion instead of a patch because… money.

      • The day they announce which features are coming in the expansion is the day I will know what features to never see in the expansion…

        Oh that amazing Blizzard integrity! As mickey mouse a major company as I have ever seen.

      • As an admin of a D3(?) fansite being drunk should come easily. Btw, Flux, please don’t do pot after they cancel the expansion.. that sh1t is bad.

  2. Yes. They did this kind of thing with the previous game i played called Flyff.
    They added a tower accessible in the town, basically a mid-sized square room full of monsters, you have to pay a bit of currency to an NPC to get entry, depending on the level you want to enter, and voila, exp runs! The problem is they reduced the quality and chance of item dropping there, somehow like a balance and a place for just exp. runs.

  3. The bottomless dungeon sounds like the best idea I have heard since release for improving the game and it really can’t be that difficult to make but the effect would be huge. Flux, I hope you somehow convey that idea to Blizzard.

    • If they can make it random beyond the scope of where mobs spawn and how many then it would be a decent idea. The game layout now is far from random and people can find the exit to a dungeon in mere moments of entering it without exploring the other 80% of it. Make multiple exits that each lead to a different area, every 3-4 levels, and put something worthwhile in it to drive it beyond mob density. Above all else, leave their shitty story line out of it. If I have to press escape to skip some piece of shit cut scene every other level I’ll lose my mind

  4. People have to stop worrying about making changes that affect “the poor first timer in inferno”. The game leading up to inferno has been a tutorial. If you aren’t ready for inferno by then, good luck to you. My experience shouldn’t suffer to make the whole game brainless and flat for the newbs. Blizzard said they wanted to make casuals into hardcore gamers. You don’t do that by never taking off the training wheels.

    Mob density should go up with each difficulty with the final setting at Act 3 density everywhere in inferno. If thatls too scary for noobs, then make it go up with monster power.

    The game is WAY too static right now. Zero randomization.

    I’m not buying your point that it would “ruin the aesthetics”. Act 3 isn’t wall to wall of monsters either. It simply has more packs closer together and higher number in the packs. You can do this in Act 1 and 2 and it wouldn’t break anything. In fact, it would make the game feel less empty.

    I still think increasing the game complexity per difficulty is the best option. Higher monster density, more complex dungeons (with new tiles etc) deeper dungeons per difficulty.

  5. Forget the acts, they need an end game content that goes outside of the acts. Infernal machine is a great platform to do so. They should make more items that are BOA and can only be farmed by the uber bosses (or any other areas produced from the infernal machines). It doesn’t have to be a big map. Just different and more is enough.

    Want an example? see end game map system for Path of Exile.

  6. An alternative I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere is, they could tweak the experience and drop rates in Acts 1 and 2. Keep the monster density the same, but have each individual monster give more experience and drop more items. Then over the course of an hour running each area and each act, you’d make a more or less constant amount of experience and money. With all the logging and tracking they (supposedly) do, they should be able to compute almost exactly how much to change the numbers in order to normalize each act.

    • This would be the easiest way to do it, yes.

      I’d honestly be surprised if they haven’t already planned similar changes for 1.0.7, given all the tweaks to item drops and drop rates they’ve made in the past aimed at making all acts equally profitable.

    • Conversely, they could just reduce the density of Act 3. Everyone just assumes the response will be to buff the less profitable areas, but when I look at the track record for “fixes”… lower the expectations and be careful what you wish for.

      Even if the entire game was like D2’s cow level, all it means is that experience and drops will have to be reduced to keep time sinks and the auction system in tact. It’s my impression that changes here will not necessarily make the game more enjoyable.

      • The track record suggests buffs rather than nerfs, actually. They’ve consistently been buffing classes, items and drop rates, rather than the opposite.

        • I think this depends on point of view. I tend to agree with you only because my aggravation with cheap deaths was reduced, but very little improvement in sense of reward for time spent. I have found many more items since the “buff”, but still only two actual upgrades in roughly 300 hours of play… Also, the value of those items to me has decreased because they are rendered less necessary due to the inferno “nerf”. Skills that were out of line were nerfed, while unused ones were buffed. If I remember correctly, a majority of the skills that were used most often before are still extremely popular, but there were exceptions. I’m not sure if I would call an attempt at skill normalization a buff. I think it’s just good marketing that many see it that way. I would consider the possibility that the Alkaizer and derivative runs are not part of the design philosophy and that it may be brought in line with the rest. I’m not saying the other isn’t likely, the game could use some PR goodwill after the pvp thing, but either way it will be a shallow change that will not greatly impact enjoyment of the game.

    • If you actually full clear each act (ignoring side dungeons), you get about the same loot in each. Act 3 has quite a few dead areas in it, it’s just that the waypoints are such that they are easily avoided.

      If they moved waypoints around a bit in the other acts, alk style runs would be possible.

  7. Great article, but I was a bit surprised by your proposed solution. If you think a simple increase to mob density in act 1/2 would be too inelegant for Blizzard to implement, what do you think they’ll think about inserting new dungeons with no story or plot tie-ins? Surely that’s even less elegant?

    I don’t have a perfect solution to propose myself, but here’s something – what if you could craft expendable items that, when used, give you a large magic find/+ exp % buff for a fixed amount of time (say 1 hour) – AND each time you craft one it is randomised as only being able to be used in act 1, 2, 3 or 4? In fact, there could be different craftable items – one gives magic find, one gold find, one + exp and so on, each with different materials required to be crafted. That would inject something interesting into the crafting system and give an incentive to farm in different acts occasionally.

    • Your post just echoed something I’ve been thinking about lately. I have been about as hardcore a Diablo fan as you could meet – I’ve been playing since D1 launch, played so much D2 I self-found almost every unique, went to 3 Blizzcons, and have defended pretty much all the controversial things in D3. I was enjoying the game enough, and I figured the complainers were just that.

      A funny thing happened, though – when Guild Wars 2 launched in August, I had a group of friends who wanted to get together to play a couple hours a week. So I got the game thinking it could be an ok break from D3. I had three months invested in D3, and as a self-identified Diablo uberfan, I fully expected to continue playing D3 for a long time.

      Except, slowly but surely, I started playing less Diablo, more GW2. Not even consciously, I never ragequit D3, it was just a natural process – Guild Wars was just more fun. I’m as astonished as anyone could be – I haven’t even launched the Diablo client in months. And you know what’s even more crazy? When you look at it, GW has:

      1. Autostats
      2. A relatively simplistic affix system for gear
      3. Easy swap out of all active skills and chosen trait skills

      All issues people have with the replayability of Diablo. So what makes it more fun? It’s the economy, stupid.

      There are just an astonishing number of gold sinks in the game. It’s possible to make money. People will figure out how to make money in any game. But until the late game, you will never have enough for the stuff you need, much less what you want. Without going too in-depth, it costs to travel, it costs to repair, it costs to sell on AH, it costs to spec your character traits. But each cost, while significant, is valuable. 2 silver to travel conveniently to the place you need to go may be 1 or 2% of your total bank, even in the late game. Dying can be 4-5 silver.

      On the other hand, there are just a ton of ways to acquire stuff so you never feel like your play time was unrewarding. Crafting is actually useful and interesting, you can craft TONS of stuff and the materials are varied, interesting, and, while easy to acquire a few, take time or money to get a lot. And the trait system is brilliant to me because it allows for some uniformity and predictability with each class with the auto-stat portion while allowing customization and character identity by traiting up, which of course costs a fee to redo.

      In short, for me, GW2 has mastered the things D2 did so well – the steady IV drip of small rewards, the ecstasy of getting a really good drop (and having it actually happen now and then), the ability to craft a character identity, and the existence of achievable long-term goals. Couldn’t be more shocked (or sad) that this is the case, and I’m not sure what the solution is. But I think it will require real, valuable gold sinks to deflate the economy, and I think it starts with crafting – hard to believe they botched crafting so badly again after how useless it was in D2.

  8. Don’t hold your breath. If we’re lucky the expansion will fix some of the major issues. Until then it’s better to play something else.

  9. The game should have an option – “Uber inferno” or some other name that you can turn on when you hit paragon level 10 then all monster density becomes huge like act 3, your movement speed is no longer capped to 25%, NV stacks are capped at 30 instead of 5. Additionally you can switch between any waypoints of any acts – so you can take act 2 waypoint to the end of act 4 if you wanted. If you kill all bosses ( like spider queen , butcher , zoltan etc. ) and then kill diablo with 30 stacks you get 3 legendary drops 100% guaranteed but they can roll at any level ( so you might get a level 30 legendary as well ).

    My 2 cents…

  10. If Blizzard did anything at all about monster density in acts 1 and 2, they would definitely be going the ‘doubling or trepling’ route. Same as with all other balancing, they’d adjust a global ‘monster spawn rate’ value and would never ever go into detailed case by case scenarios instead.

    Maps in D3 have a few dozens of spawn nodes placed all over them (relative to the terrain elements) and they have a ‘budget’ of how many monsters can spawn on them in total. Monsters always spawn in packs (of varying size, certain big monsters or treassies are considered a pack of their own) and if there are not enough creatures left in the map budget, excess nodes will not be populated – that’s where the illusion of ‘random’ monster placement comes from.

    Personally, while I do agree that some corridors in certain dungeons are clearly always too empty, don’t think we need double or triple the amount of monsters. Instead, every dungeon level you play, should overall be equally worth XP and loot (quantity- AAAND QUALITY-wise), without feeling the same as every other through equal creature counts. The siege and hive themes of act 3 wouldn’t actually feel quite as unique if all other areas were just flooded with monsters as well – and D3 gameplay certainly can’t afford to lose any further bits of uniqueness without becoming an even more insipid, grey goop. Yes, that would require careful, thoughtful and inspired balancing, creature type per creature type, dungeon level per dungeon level, item level per item level, difficulty mode per difficulty mode, monster power level per monster power level – in other words: never gonna happen.

  11. I’m sure this isn’t a popular opinion, but perhaps it is the Alkaizer Run areas and not the entire rest of the game that is a problem. Rather than redesign and/or add large areas to the rest of the game, why not just nerf the Alkaizer run and then raise exp gain for all of inferno to compensate and level the gameplay a bit.

    What we probably need is an incentive to play more areas all the way though rather than jumping around so much. Perhaps an inferno experience buff that temporarily deactivates after using a town portal/way point, a temporary nerf to Nephalem Valor after using a way point, or worst case, making way points remove one nephalem valor entirely.

    It seems to be a trend among elite players to min/max the fun out of the game and creative solutions are needed (such as the paragon system to minimize swapping gear for magic find.)

  12. I recently ran act 1-3 on mp1 for the 1 hour achievements. Compared in this way, all three acts yielded approximately equal loot. The problem is there is zero motivation to do full clears like this. The pacing actually feels really good when you clear like this. There is very little backtracking to do. The monster density variation is nice and the whole thing plays very well.

    I don’t think monster density changes are appropriate. It would ruin the overall arc of each act which is really nice if you ever actually play through the acts. Instead, there needs to be some motivation for players to actually play the core game (which is quite fun imo) but not make it better than the current ‘runs’ people do, just comparable.

    1) Minibosses add 1 to nv cap – so killing sk lifts your cap to 6, then aranae to 7, warden to 8.
    2) Completing 10 story and event objectives raises nv cap and/or provide special craft materials.
    3) Use crafting system to motivate all act play. 5 nv is required to make special craft mats drop used for bind to account equip or consummable elixirs and limited duration enchants. Craft materials drop from quest bosses and events.

    The special rewards for playing full acts should synergize with alk runs, key runs, and ubers. Like elixirs that give mf/exp boosts, or increase organ/key drop rates. Or materials could be used to reroll hellfires in some way. The rewards should drop more often at higher mp.

  13. I’m quite surprised that so many feel that a “good” solution would be to increase exp and drops in act 1 and 2 and be done with it. Ofc that is one of the reasons I only play act 3, but I want increased mob density because I think it’s more FUN to kill stuff than to run between groups of 2-3 mobs and kill them one at a time. That is also why I want increased monster density in act 3.

    Also, if you only increase exp and drops in act 1 and 2, they will become easier overall to farm and probably faster than act 3 because they have easier mobs. The difficulty needs to be somewhat increased there for same gains. So you would have a bit of the same problem but reversed.

  14. How about decrease white mob experience and increase experience gained from killing elites/champ packs/ purples?

    Also, drastically increase experience from monster power 1+ so that from an experience point of view it makes more sense to fight on the highest mp possible.

  15. don’t touch act 1, that is the one act in the game that scores any quality points. The rest is rushed farmville quality junk

  16. We took mob density…..and then doubled it.

    (…surprised nobody had beat me to that one yet…)

  17. They could also just add monster entrances or traps that have monsters appearing quickly.

    Like create portals which the cultists can teleport to since they do that throughout act 1/2, or have the goatmen come up the sides of cliffs, just hop up or something (create more burrows even).

    Otherwise yea creating new dungeons with increased enemies inside would be nice but kinda puts the rest of the act in a bad area (which already is).

    Or just switch the numbers around and increase exp / drop percentages for act 1, 2 and maybe 4 so their more of an incentive in that act 3 has tons of enemies, act 1, 2, 4 has more quality enemies… or something.

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