Blizzard has posted another Lightning Talk, with a developer reprising his quick presentation from Blizzcon onto video for the edification of everyone who didn’t witness (or couldn’t hear) the original live talk at Blizzcon 2015. This one features John Yang discussing 10 key Legendary/Set items that were exploited, or nerfed, or that players asked to be nerfed.
It’s a good presentation; John explains what the issue was with all the items, what went wrong to create it, how Blizzard fixed (or not) the problem, and the lessons they learned long term. The items included are: Shard of Hate, Focus and Restraint, The Furnace, Elemental Immunity Amulets, Mortick’s Brace, Sunwuko’s Set (Patch 2.1), Sever, Shi Mizu’s Haori, Naglering, and Unity. It’s not exactly a Diablo 3 Legendary Items Postmortem, but close enough:
Despite the “10 in 10” title, John’s talk runs just over 16 minutes… but it’s solid content and technically there are a lot more than 10 items covered, since that number includes Item Sets, 5 different immunity amulets, etc. So who is complaining?
I found the video very informative and interesting, and since I know a lot of you guys would rather read in a few minutes than watch in 16, I typed up a rough transcript/summary. Here’s the first item covered, and if you click through you’ll see the other 9 in similar detail:
Item #1: Shard of Hate
The sword was produced by a community design partnership, with fans voting on the name, powers, graphics, etc. The item turned out well and had a great initial response, as it was flavorful, powerful, and had great visuals. Soon though, many players decided that it was to powerful and many requests for nerfing were heard.
Bliz delivered that nerf, and as a result players who were using the SoH logged on to find their characters felt a lot weaker, which is a reaction Blizzard tries hard not to deliver. Ultimately, the item fell into almost total disuse (equipped by less than 1% of Barbarians) and Blizzard buffed the item, taking it back to the original function.
In retrospect, they wish they’d not been so quick to nerf, giving the game more time to grow and evolve.
Focus and Restraint
Blizzard wanted players to use skill builds that alternated between generators and spenders. This worked, but players too often ended up “playing the buff bar,” watching the icons all the time to keep the F/R buffs active, instead of playing the game. In retrospect, John thinks they should have taken a harder look at F/R to provide the same game play benefit, but without the UI drawback.
Items that reinforce Fun Builds are great But UI clutter is really bad. Weigh the pros and cons.
A pretty simple item but one of the most popular in the game. The developers wanted an item that was good against Elites, and they figured since you’re in Elite combat about half the time, buffing DaE by 50% was equivalent to other items that provided a 25% buff that worked all the time.
They were wrong about that, since it’s in combat with Elites that players find the most danger, thus The Furnace was much more powerful than they intended it to be, since the limited uptime was more than made up for by it being there when players needed it the most.
Elemental Immunity Amulets
There are five of them, each granting immunity to one of the five elements in the game. These items were very hotly-debated internally, since a lot of the team though they would prove to powerful. Ultimately they decided these items were okay and wouldn’t be bad or the game, and they think that’s been borne out by no real spike in their usage rate, a tendency to break Grifts, etc.
Monster elemental damage is still the most deadly damage in the game, so the items are powerful, but it required giving up great alternatives from the only amulet slot (the items came long before the Cube was added) so Blizzard thought it was powerful, but not unbalanced.
The takeaway was that options are great; they add to the overall variety, and the team likes when specific items can be used to overcome specific problems.
The devs original goal was to create an item that would make the Barbarian’s very powerful Wrath of the Berserker skill, even better. The design they liked best was one that enabled all the rune effects at once. That was about a 5x improvement, which was okay. The problem was that in the same patch another item came along that effectively removed the cooldown of WotB entirely, which was roughly another 5-6x improvement. Each item was okay in isolateion, but when combined these items granted too huge a buff to the skill, and made the Barb class far stronger than intended, so they had to remove Mortick’s Brace entirely.
John briefly alludes to the issue of not communicating that to fans when the item just vanished between the end of the PTR and the patch going live (and the item remaining in the first draft of the patch notes), but stresses that in this video he’s dealing with item problems in terms of design and implementation, not community relations.
The takeaway from Mortick’s Brace is that they needed to carefully consider the game’s overall landscape, and be very cautious about synergistic items. Class balance is important, and while they don’t always hit the mark, they do want all the classes to be roughly equal.
Sunwuko Set, Patch 2.1
The intent of the set was for Monks to use a basic spirit spending skill to deal damage, and to create a Decoy that generated extra damage. Skills like Wave of Light and Lashing Tail Kick were their design goal, skills that had casting animations which acted as hard limit on how often they could be cast.
Naturally, Monk players set out to maximize the set, and found that spending Spirit as fast as possible was the best way, completely ignoring those skills with animations. So players used items and skills that let them generate infinite Spirit, and skills that could spend it very quickly, without any casting animation. The best way turned out to be spamming Mantra of Healing, which was a very unintended consequence. Furthermore, players soon began reporting physical pain, actual hand injuries, caused by stabbing the casting button constantly during their entire SWK play experience, and that’s definitely not what Blizzard wants to create.
The fix was made pretty quickly, and they switched the set bonus to trigger when players spent 75 Spirit in a chunk, and retuned the damage to compensate.
The Takeaway was that they needed to be really careful in their testing to figure out how features will work. They always remember that players will always figure the best way to use a skill or generate damage, no matter if that leads to a weird or boring play style, or even causes actual physical pain.
A sword with a tool tip that sounds kind of mysterious. “Slain enemies rest in pieces.” This just means that a special bloody death animation plays, and there item deals enormous damage but only to monsters it was going to kill anyway, granting fun mega crit number displays.
That was the goal, anyway. Just a sort of visual treat for fun that wasn’t meant to provide any real function. In practice, players found that Sever combined with the Demon Hunter’s skill Marked for Death, using a rune that spread the damage taken by any enemy to all nearby enemies, was very exploitable, and they had to nerf that combination of sword and skill.
The Takeaway again was to beware of unforeseen consequences.
Shi Mizu’s Haori
A chest piece that makes all attacks into critical hits, but only when players are below 20% life. The intent was that when players are almost dead, the item kicks into gear and helps when it’s most needed.
What Players Actually Did:
Tried to always stay at very low health in order to maximize their damage. Got mad when they died. Got mad when healed by a health globe. Got mad when healed by another player.
On top of that, when low on health the screen had a cloudy red border and a stressful heart pumping sound, which players found not-enjoyable when viewing it for entire play sessions.
Takeaway: Items should reinforce desirable gameplay. Like wanting to be at full health, or healing other players, etc. Not create odd playing goals like remaining always at very low health. John also noted that that’s the reason they do not buff a lot of other items players say are underpowered… since those items would reinforce negative gameplay. (No examples were given.)
Summons a Fallen Lunatic to your side. Fun visual, and the damage per Lunatic is around 1000% weapon damage, which makes it powerful. It’s a very fun item, but they erred by making it potentially drop at low levels, since players who found one then were cheated out of their normal play progress, especially against big bosses. The video shows a forum post from a new player who is honestly perplexed why the game is so easy and how at level 48 he hasn’t actually fought a big boss yet.
John notes that it’s really fun to fight hard bosses the first time, struggle against them and maybe die, and then return to face that boss again later when better-geared, and get revenge by completely kicking ass.
To fix the problem with Naglering, they raised the minimum level for the Nagelring to drop, so players wouldn’t find it so early and ruin their own first time experience. John: “Save overpowered items for the endgame.”
This unique ring shares damage between all players wearing it. The objective was to spread around spiky damage, while not actually reducing total damage taken. This worked fine until a patch introduced Follower items with the “Your Follower Can Not Die” bonus. Blizzard thought it would be fun to make it so players didn’t have to worry about their follower dying… but they didn’t consider what would happen when players wore a Unity, and put another on their Follower + the “Can not die” items = 50% permanent damage reduction.
Players called on Unity to be nerfed, and the devs thought about it, but decided not to. (As an aside, John laughs about how much players hate Nerfs when they happen, vs. how often players ask for things to be nerfed.)
As for Unity’s unintended power, they thought about it and decided to leave it in the game. It was very strong, but it only worked in Single Player and it required the Ring Slot to function. Instead of a nerf, they decided to “double down” and create lots of other rings with similarly powerful buffs,
They devs feel that the game is more fun with multiple powerful and interesting items. It’s much more work for the developers, while nerfs are easy, but they think more choice of great items is great for the game. They like players to take off an item since they find an upgrade, not since it’s been nerfed and now sucks.
Did you guys find any of John’s explanations especially useful, or on the contrary, think any were lacking or misleading? A number of the items, Mortick’s Brace for instance, were big deals more for the community relations issue than for the gameplay issue, but John’s a dev and not a CM, so he of course focuses the talk on the balancing and such, rather than who did or didn’t get their knickers in a knot about X or Y. You are, of course, free to disagree with that approach.