Forum Watch #93: The Diablo 3 Passive Skills Project

This week’s forum watch post hits on a single issue that’s animating threads in all five of the class forums; what should be done (if anything) to improve Diablo 3 Passive Skills? Which overly popular DiabloWikipassives should be nerfed or changed or “baked in?” Which unloved passives should be improved? Can some be combined or merged to create new options? And how about more passives that are impactful and encourage/allow a whole new styles of play, rather than just adding slightly more damage or hit points or defense, etc.

The whole debate was begun in the Demon Hunter forum by Vanadin, who took a Blue comment about “baking in” the all-but-mandatory One With Everything Monk passive and extended the concept to the Demon Hunter. The question spurred some good replies, so I extended the concept to all five classes and made a post in each class forum for discussion. Each post has a table showing the most/least used passives for that class, for easy reference and skill hover tooltip info.

Someone+is+wrong+on+internetSo what are the results? The conversations are still going on and you’re welcome to join in, and this is the Internet so opinions differ, but there are some interesting and insightful posts. Just to defy the conventional alphabetical order, let’s start off with the Wizard.

  • The Wizard passive skills thread shows a real division with the class’ passives. The most popular by far is Critical Mass at 65%, but there’s a decent amount of variety, with Glass Cannon, Cold Blooded, Evocation, Blur, Astral Presence, and Galvanizing Ward all over 27% usage rate. After that things drop off a cliff, and the other 8 passives are all between 2-7% usage rate. So should some of those be combined? Reworked? Or should Critical Mass just be “baked in” for the Wizard so the class would once again have 3 passive slots to fill? You can find arguments for all those opinions in the thread.
  • The Demon Hunter passive skills thread finds more agreement, since the class has one obvious passive skill problem. It’s Archery, which 85% of Demon Hunters use. As I see it, there are two problems with this. The first is that 15% of Demon Hunters are unconcerned with greatly increasing their DPS and should probably go play Minesweeper. The second is that Archery is flawed — a passive that adds big DPS is fine, but the bonuses are unbalanced since +50% Critical Damage by far the best, especially since by far the best ranged weapon in the game is the xbow Manticore. Thus we get the current state of the Demon Hunter, where most players feel all-but-forced to use a single weapon if they want to succeed.

    After Archery the 20% damage-adding Steady Aim has a 51% usage rate, with Perfectionist, Tactical Advantage, Sharpshooter, Vengeance, and Night Stalker also popular. After those the floor drops out, and the last 8 are all under a 6% usage rate. So what should be done? Aside from some sort of rebalance of Archery (ideally combined with an across-the-board buff to bows and one-handed xbows), there’s some support for combining or baking in some of the 3% used passives which grant cool bonuses… but aren’t quite good enough to spend a passive skill slot on. (I vote for Hot Pursuit.) Bonus points to Ivan E for theory-crafting entirely new functions for all of the passives.

  • The Monk’s passive skills thread is the liveliest of the five, with a lot of competing theories and ideas. The obvious one in OWE, which is used by 75% of Monks. (Ironic that it’s got a lower usage rate than 2 Barb and 1 DH passives, and yet OWE is the one that Bliz always seems to mention as in need of nerfing or changing.) Seize the Initiative isn’t far behid at 66% usage rate, but after that there’s nice variety, with the top 11 Monk Passives all over 7% usage rate.

    So what to change/improve? The main request is to add some offensive passives. As is obvious by viewing the other classes, the best DPS-boosting passives are always the most popular. This can be overdone to the point of ruining variety, as we currently see with the Barbarian, but virtually all the Monk passives now are about defensive boosts or Spirit regen, and that’s boring. The class would enjoy some straight out +DPS passives like the Barb has, or at least something akin to Glass Cannon or Pierce the Veil — a DPS-booster that comes at a price.

  • The Barbarian passive skills thread shows clearly that the Barb’s passives are the worst in the game in terms of variety, since they’re the best in the game in terms of results. If you look at the most-used Barb skills it’s not even funny, with Weapons Master and Ruthless both above 80% usage rate, and the last 8 all below 4%. For obvious reasons, since the big two are fantastically powerful DPS-boosting abilities which basically function as the chocolate chips atop the cookie cutter DiabloWikiSpin2Win build. (Are those 2 passives so popular because of S2W? Or is S2W so powerful because of those 2 passives?)

    We were joking about this issue on the podcast last week, when comparing the Monk’s passives to the Barb’s and noting that half a dozen of the Barb’s were better than *any* of the Monk’s, while not a single Monk passive would even fit into the Barb’s top 5. Even something like Brawler, used by a whopping 4% of Barbarians, would instantly become far and away the most powerful Monk passive skill.

    The counter argument is that since Monks get a ton of AoE and multi-hit attacks they don’t need more DPS, and that Monks get a lot of great defensive boosts from their passives. That last part is certainly true, but 1) higher DPS cures all ills in Diablo 3, 2) defensive bonuses are much easier/cheaper to get from gear than offensive ones, and 3) the Barb has a bunch of great defensive passives too. (Which are ignored since when Diablo 3 is the question, higher DPS is always the answer.)

  • As for the Witch Doctor’s passive skill debate… it’s got a different tone than the other four classes since the WD’s passives are by far the most evenly-used. The WD’s most popular passive is Pierce the Veil, but it’s just at 41% usage rate, and all but one of the WD passives is used by more than 5% of characters. Thus there aren’t any passives that everyone hates or everyone loves, and the comments in the thread are informative, with several players explaining why their favorite passive is under appreciated.

    I wanted to quote a comment from Ivan E which I think goes to the heart of what sort of changes would be best made to Passives, aside from nerfing some of the OP and buffing some of the UP:

    I don’t think it’s just the WD’s passives that need a rework, in case that wasn’t clear — I think the entire concept of a “passive” should shift less from a boring stat boost and more to a huge buff to something specific, or something that encourages you to play in a way that you wouldn’t without taking that passive.

  • An excellent point with which to end this post, and hopefully one that’ll spur some comments or theory crafting type ideas or examples from you guys, here or in the individual forum threads.


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    1. +10% critical hit chance is much better than +50% Critical Damage and the reason DH prefer a xbow has nothing to do with the archery passive skill…

      • Do you have any logic to that other than assertion/opinion? I’d be interested to hear the argument, since pretty much every DH player I’ve talked to feels as I said in the post.

        Also, the DPS display might disagree, but in my play experience I’ve found that say, 40% CC and 500% CD is much better than 50% CC and 400% CD. With many builds you need at least 35-40% CC to work with the procs, but over that is just sort of gravy and doesn’t change much of your play, while adding a big block more CD really seems to boost my top end killing speed.

        • Also, consider how behavior would change with tweaks in the values of Archery. What if you shuffled the mods, and bows and 1h xbows got 50% CD, while xbows got 10% CC, or 20% damage? What if Archery granted 50% damage to bows, 15% CC to 1h xbows, and only 25% CD 2h xbows.

          Would those impact your ranged weapon choices? I think the % damage for bows is clearly the weakest of the bonuses, since that’s essentially just +dex, where as the xbow bonuses add CC or CD, which you can’t get just from more dex or sockets; you’ve got to get specific items with that bonus on them, hence if one part of Archery needs a buff to encourage item diversity, it’s probably that bow bonus damage. Make it considerably larger, or tack on an IAS or CC or CD as well.

          • From DPS pure point of view +1% crit chance = 10% crit damage, in order to get the maximum dps efficiency you will need to have them at the same ratio so 50% crit damage and 5% crit chance will give you more dps than 40% and 6% or 60% and 4%. Now besides just pure dps boost critical damage gives you nothing but critical chance gives you procs for skills like night stalker or spray of teeth.

            If I had a BiS manticore and I could choose 1 passive – either 50% crit damage or 10% crit chance , I would take the crit chance without a 2nd thought – heck I would probably take it even if it was just a 5% bonus.

        • The expected damage(where 1 is your base damage without crits):
          1 + (0.4 x 5) = 3
          1 + (0.5 x 4) = 3
          40cc/500%cd and 50/400 are equal damagewise, with the 50% cc one being more consistent so generally better.
          That’s with 100% cd bonus, 50% will definitely be worse than 10% cc.

          And 15% extra damage for bows will trump both when you have decent gear(50+ cc, 400+ cd):
          (1 + (0.5 x 4)) x 1.15 = 3.45
          1 + (0.6 x 4) = 3.4
          1 + (0.5 x 4.5) = 3.25

          With godlike gear it’s a no contest for the 15%, after that 10% cc, with 50% cd being flat out bad.
          The only reason archery is every used over steady with manticore is the range penalty.
          Seriously, it’d have taken 2 minutes to check the numbers 🙂

    2. If all passives are crap and boring, it doesn’t make much difference what sort of passives you pick. This causes “variety”. Welcome to the monk passives for monks that do not use OWE.

      At least one useful offensive passive would’ve been nice.

    3. Right now my DH has a sword and a shield. I rebalanced my skills and its the most fun I have had since the game came out. I have not touched or missed by bow and bow skills a bit.

      Just ran most of act 3 with a good crew and it was a blast. My gear needs a lot of tweaking for this mild tanking but more options would be very nice.
      I just wish I had more choices in gear and skills.

      Right now I am using Grenadier as one of my passives, its kind of weak really. I wish it did more for my play style. The big bomb that drops on death always seems to miss most of the time.

      Numbing traps is sweet for the Damage reduction, combined with the guardian turrets it really makes a difference.

      Still my DH has problems esp at higher MP levels.

      All I have to say is I hope what I am using right now does not get the axe because blizzard is shocked my DH uses a sword and wants to put a stop it.

      This franchise is supposed to be about tinkering and tweaking not running the same old.

      My fingers crossed I guess, I still have my life jacket (D2). If my build gets hammered I am really done with this game, right now its the only thing keeping me in the game.

      • I hope they do some fixes to enable DH melee in future patches. Cutting or removing the cooldown on Fan of Knives, for instance. It does seem like the DH could have a pretty cool Assassin traps style play option, with some tweaks or maybe some new legendary items that really worked with that build.

    4. People still use whirlwind? Thats news to me.

      Hota barbs out edps ww barbs about 5:1.

      • Well, as there’s a link to the most used barb skills right in the post, that’s not real hard to check empirically.

        53% WW, 10% HotA. So you’re correct on the ratio, just exactly backwards on the popularity. Which says nothing about effectiveness of course, just popularity, which is what my comments in the post addressed.

        (Actually, it looks more like 8:1 if you add up all of the rune effects, since multiple forms of WW rank above any other rune forms of HotA. the 53:10 is just the most popular rune in each.)

        • My empirical evidence: I can kill rakanoth faster than 3 ww barbs can take down ghom, usually with 1/4 hp to spare 😀

          Drives them nuts every time 😀

          • try to kill 100 arreat scorpions with each build then come back and tell me how faster you were with your hota build.

          • Most spin to win barbs will probably kill Ghom before you reach rakanoth.

            The power of the build is not the DPS output, it’s the efficiency. A character with the ability to deal a reasonable amount of dmg while running/spinning faster than the wind will always win. Ask Tempest Rush Monks.

    5. Oh xkcd, always relevant.

    6. Demon hunter vengeance and barbarian brawler are both good passives – they influence playstyle. Vengeance encourages fast kills and scooping up globes. Brawler encourages trying to get surrounded as much as possible.

      Ruthless and weapon master increase damage and fury generation simultaneously. There’s no trade off being made. There’s no choice (for pve) for those 2 slots.

    7. Sorry,
      10% CC is far superior to 50% CD. In terms of raw dmg, obviously this may vary somewhat on your build (though, I’d wager that 10% CC would outperform 50% CD 9 times out of 10). However, in terms of procs, for the same damage, CC is always better.

      Secondly, Manticore isn’t the only option, not by a longshot. I have one of those infamous 1344 manticores, and unless I’m fooling around on MP2 or lower, I much prefer to use my calamity. Yes, I lose some DPS, however, the playstyle is far more preferable. As for running MP10,I feel the calamity is actually the stronger choice – better stun lock for bolas, more procs for NS, allowing perma gloom as well as smokescreens when needed. Lastly, the raw dps shown doesn’t take into account the MFD proc, which in my case makes up the lost DPS.

    8. I always assumed Monks had fewer offensive passives because of all the strong debuffs and passive edps boosts that are spiked into their active kit. There are viable builds that can debuff enemies to the point that they’re receiving almost twice as much damage as normaly.

      It also bears mentioning that Combo Strike is supremely underrated for solo play; it has great synergy with Foresight (which can easily replace Blazing Wrath in most builds) and you don’t need to chain together your various spirit generators to keep the bonus active, you just need to use each one once and then you can go back to spamming your main spirit generator. Having Deadly Strike also gives you a bit more leeway with your primary spirit generator; it can take care of enemies that like to run pretty well, so you don’t have to use Thunderclap all the time if you don’t want to.

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