Elemental Damage: How Does it Work?

One of the non-intuitive functions in Diablo III is how elemental damage works. During development we saw stats for Arcane, Cold, Poison, Fire, Lightning and other types of damage, and most fans thought the game would function much as Diablo II did, where weapons and skills were generally physical damage, unless specifically stated as elemental damage, which usually tacked onto your physical. Plus D3 promised that critical hits from different elemental damage types would do cool things, such as fire inflicting a DoT burn, Lightning granting a stun, Arcane “Silencing” monsters, etc.

Diablo III had those features during development, but shortly before release the system was much simplified in function. So now we still see all those different colors, and different elements turn monster corpses a nifty smoky green or shattered blue or blackened crisp, and the damage types matter in terms of enemy resistances, but there’s no difference in how the elemental damages are calculated. All work as physical damage did in D2, where they’re modified by stats and skills, and there’s no default DoT effect from poison for instance. Jay Wilson explained this in some tweets shortly before release.

That change isn’t too confusing once you start thinking of all the elemental damages as different colored versions of physical damage. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some odd bug-like issues remaining:

So it turns out that any item that says that it “adds +x% to elemental damage” actually works by multiplying your non-elemental (“black”) weapon damage by 1.0X (so if you have +6% to poision, and you have a weapon with average 950 regular damage, you will get 106% times 950 = (950 regular + 57 poison) damage as your base weapon damage. Basically, if your weapon is all non-elemental damage, you will receive a +6% damage increase as poison damage.

MANY players are very curious as to whether this is how the modification is actually supposed to work. Because it is in fact, counter-intuitive for it to function in this way when its wording suggests that it should increase the amount of base poison damage by 6%, instead of adding a flat percent increase to your non-existent poison damage.

I want to know if this is going to be changed or if it is going to continue to function like this indefinitely, because if it is supposed to be this way, things like Zunimassa’s Boots (db) and Triumvirate (db) (otherwise mediocre items) are the absolute best-in-slot items for certain classes.

Lylirra: The “+x% Elemental Damage” affix works by adding “x%” of your physical damage to your attack, in the form of the damage type listed.

So, really basic example:

* Your physical damage is 100, and the item adds +3% Fire damage.
* You gain 3 extra damage to your attacks as Fire damage.

Things this takes into account:
* Rings, mojos, orbs (etc) that have an “X-Y” damage affix (e.g. “1-2 Damage”)
* The base damage range of your weapon, before any elemental damage is added from the affix
* +Min or +Max affixes on weapons

(Note: It doesn’t benefit from “+X-Y Elemental Damage” affixes on weapons.)

We realize the current wording for this affix can be confusing, and it’s something we’d like to make more clear in the future. If you have any suggestions for how this affix could be better worded, we’re definitely interested in your suggestions. Just keep in mind that space is limited in item tooltips, and that whatever we use would need to be translated into all of our supported languages.

Can you please explain why it is coded to add 2 * (x%) min damage instead of x% min + x% max?

Note: I have personally done the math and I can tell you, without doubt, that it currently adds 2 * (x%) min and ignores the max damage on your weapon.

Lylirra: I’ve reached out to our developers, programmers, and QA about the current functionality. Once I have more information, I’ll respond back to the thread.

Thank you for pointing this out!

Have you guys been exploring this “bug?” And more generally, are you satisfied with the “six colors of elemental damage” system we see in Diablo III? Personally, I hope they add some D2-style complexity to it, perhaps in an expansion. I’d like to see different types of damage matter again, from monster resistances to varying damage types. Give players some reason to care about the damage type of their skills and weapons, make monsters more interesting with immunities or at least very high resistances to particular elements, make specific resistances matter (rather than the current system where any armor that lacks Res All is junk), etc.

Obviously, it would be a challenge to integrate that into the current D3 system, due to features like the lack of a weapon switch hotkey, the lack of elemental damage from gems, and the general necessity of 4 defensive skills to survive in Inferno (leaving no flexibility to use multiple different attacks of different elemental types), but hey, I can dream…

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30 thoughts on “Elemental Damage: How Does it Work?

    • I’d like to see single element immunities come back, since elemental damage is easier to come by now, but not multiple immunities.

    • Exactly.

      I can live with high resistances, but total immunity to me has always seemed utterly retarded. My D2 cold sorceress for instance who was dabbling with sub-zero spells all day long and virtually had a blood temperature of 3 Kelvin was susceptible to cold damage, but some random Fallen was totally immune to it? Computer says nooo…

    • Don’t worry, dumbed down system is dumbed down.

      If they want to add some flavour to this game, things like immunities and elemental damage that is more than cosmetics, is needed. But no, they did their best to scrap interesting and fun things from previous Diablo games.

  1. Hmmm. While personally would like to see the things like Fire = Burning Damage, Lightning = Stun, and the rest, I think that, because of how they have created weapons currently, it would be really hard to implement those things.

    • It worked like this at one point in development but was scrapped. Everyone ignored all the elemental damages, so they were changed to cosmetic effects only.

  2. They were better off including the elemental effects and risking imbalance with certain types than to gut the system and make elemental damage nearly meaningless. Had they done that the numbers would have been tweaked in the first patch and the system would have more depth than what we have now.

  3. The only way to fix it is if they (Blizzard) start determining for us what we think is fun. I can perfectly define my own definition of fun, thank-you-very-much!

    It would have been cool if holy damage would do more damage to undead, fire would burn those walking trees in act 1 and would do slight splash damage, poison would leave a dot, lightning would have a change to do a chain lightning effect and be a guaranteed crit if something was frozen (water + lightning hurts) or standing in water (sewers act 2), arcane would do most single mob dps and no AoE damage etc, etc. Let the chance of the effects occurring scale heavily with the amount of that kind of damage you do so you would have a choice to invest heavily in one type or look for synergies. Would also give an extra incentive to play coop (imagine a DH heavy in frost damage (=high chance to freeze) and a barbarian with lots of lightning (high chance of chain lightning) so you would benefit from both). Ah well, if I think of this in 10 minutes, their team of 20 should have thought of it and probably binned it because they think that I think it is not fun.

    Back to D2. Getting to the countess in Hell is actually quite a challenge. Almost out of repair gold 😉

  4. This game was made from glue and Chinese news paper. The very people who had difficulties coding auction house buttons and people who coded god mode in to the game.

    wtf do you expect – they used little time, almost no effort and the most basic formulas to code this game.

  5. Cold do have an effect. It can freeze on hit a very little chance and for a very little time but it is there.

  6. make monsters more interesting with immunities or at least very high resistances to particular elements, make specific resistances matter (rather than the current system where any armor that lacks Res All is junk), etc.

    Immunities? In D3? Inferno? You high Flux?

    Elite Monsters had resists pre 103 and their minions pre 104, but have all been removed. They should have been lowered. I would agree to resists with a cap of say max 25%. Mobs are hard enough as it is without any resists, so high resists are a big no-no.

    • Immunities is fine if used sparingly. And monsters need MUCH higher native resistances, now it’s not even a factor to think about what elemental damage you deal which is boring as all hell.

  7. This is one of those design decisions I just don’t understand the logic of. As it stands now, I could care less what elemental damage a weapon has. Cold is the only one that has any noticeable distinct gameplay effect, but it is so minor that it’s not worth specifically seeking out. Right now it basically just comes down to “damage is damage, numbers are numbers”. I, for one, want to see more complexity and nuance in the game, not less.

    I would also love to see Elites with immunities, or at least fairly high specific resistances. Just for the record, I liked having invulnerable minions in the game pre-1.0.4. Yes, they were a severe pain in the ass… but that’s the point, is it not? The game is much less monotonous when you occasionally come across things that cause you to take an entirely different approach. I don’t mean just minor tactical changes… I’m talking about things that force you to play in a way that you normally do not, at least momentarily. This makes you actually have to think every now and then during those farming runs (that is a definite plus in my book). Being uber-powerful and mowing everything down effortlessly is awesome, but it gets kind of dull by the 100th run through the exact same area. In a roundabout way, it’s kind of the same as the AH dilemma (i.e.- how using the AH frequently makes in-game drops seem much less impressive).

    One possible way to incorporate this: I’d absolutely love to see elemental immunes (or even invulnerable minions) that would spawn very rarely, but have an inherent 2x/3x/4x Legendary/Set drop rate. I’m pretty sure there would be quite a few people who would focus specifically on hunting these down… kind of like Treasure Goblins that actually took some effort, but in return had one hell of a reward. And if you don’t want to deal with them, you could always just run. It’s really not that big a deal to have to skip one out of fifty Elites (or whatever the spawn rate would actually be). Plenty of people already do that with the more troublesome affix combos in Inferno (especially in HC).

    Look, I know a lot of people will say “That’s not what Diablo is about. It’s about loot, and finding the best way to farm that loot quickly and efficiently.” I get that. But at the same time, being able to play on ‘auto-pilot’ all the time is exactly what makes the game tedious after a while, especially with the ridiculously low Legendary/Set drop rates we have now. If something like what I suggested above were in the game, it would be a nice little injection of both challenge and increased reward.

    One last thing: In the blue post they ask for suggestions about rewording the x% Elemental Damage description to make it less confusing. Umm… just simply changing the word ‘to’ to ‘as’ would pretty much clear things up (“adds x% as [Elemental Damage]). It really makes me wonder what’s going on when they struggle with something that basic. I realize that game design is much more complex than most of us assume, but this… not so much.

    • Just to clarify: By “2x/3x/4x Legendary/Set drop rate” I mean that they would drop Legendary or Set items at a rate of frequency 2 to 4 times higher than other monsters (which would still mean that they would drop relatively rarely). I do not mean that they would drop multiple Legendary and Set items. That would be a bit much by anyone’s standard.

  8. Well, IIRC, Blizzard has taken the way cold damage functions in the current game to mean that no one will seek out a given element for damage. I feel like in doing so, they overlooked how rarely some classes do straight weapon damage (A monk using FoT, for example, almost definitely will only do lightning and holy type damage, no matter their weapon).

  9. Just another example of taking what worked, and then Jay Wilson dumbing it down and removing it from the game before release.

  10. As for the confusing tooltip for elemental damage, why not just change it from:

    Adds 4% to Holy Damage


    Adds 4% Damage as Holy

    Seems simple enough.

    • Yeah better wording would be “adds 4% physical damage as holy” as this spells out everything that it does.

  11. So, with this information, it is totaly nonimportant witch one of the Tal Rasha’s Allegiance you get (5-6% Poison, Fire, Arcane, … damage). Because at the moment the Holy ones are the cheapest, i tried to aim for a good arcane one, but now….

    • well the cold one is useful as that applies chilled state to mobs hit, other than that all you need is the biggest number.

  12. “We don’t know how to balance this, so we’ll scrap it and say it’s not fun.”

    – Blizzard Irvine

  13. I think it would be cool to have resistance to a single element as a possible Elite affix. It would make some elites potentially easier since one affix would be devoted to defense instead of offense. However, it might convince people to use some less common rune combinations to ensure they cover possible elite resistances.

  14. I dont understand this. I have a 940 dps wand. I bought a Storm Crow with around 30 int extra than what I had plus 8% dmg to lightning. I expected my paperdoll-dps to skyrocket but the increase was only 127. Where does the 8% come into play?

    • I compared the wrong helmet, I lost some crit chance. Actual gain from the 8% was roughly 1k dps so all good.

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