Today we’re starting a weekly feature dedicated to D3 game suggestions. In it we’ll take a closer look at the major topics of discussion while Diablo III is under development, and try to refocus the debate, while throwing some more light on the underlying issues. In the future this feature will mutate, and may come to focus around guest editorials and other more interactive features. But for now, we’ll get started with a more basic debate question.

    What should the best types of items be, in Diablo III? Uniques? Sets? Rares? Runewords? Something else?  Read more to see the full discussion… 

    Items in Diablo II underwent numerous changes up to and during the beta, and as we all know, they’ve been changed quite a bit since then.

    In the early days, Rares were the best possible items, in many cases. Rare weapons especially, were much sought after during the days of D2C, and knowing when and what to imbue was an essential tactic. Imbuing while too low of level meant the best mods weren’t yet possible. Waiting too long meant too many non-optimal mods became possible and cut the odds of the better prefixes and suffixes.

    This state of affairs changed with the arrival of D2X, when magical weapons were (briefly) king. Endless Larzuk shopping runs became a way of life for characters seeking Cruel magical weapons, with up to 300% enhanced damage. This didn’t last, and once players realized the awesome power of the new Elite Uniques, and the benefits of loading up on magic find, targeted item running became epidemic. Later, the v1.10 patch made Runewords rose ascendant, and these days most high level realm characters are loaded up with elite uniques and super high level runewords, with rares in a few item slots (primarily jewelry and boots) and set items, crafted items, and magical items seldom seen amongst the best equipment in the game.

    History lesson aside, is this how it should be? Is this how you want it to be? Read on… 

    Numerous threads have delved into this issue, and a contentious one is currently running in our D3 Suggestions and Wish List forum (where most of the topics we’ll be featuring in this column originate). There are a few key issues to consider, in terms of how they work now, and how they will likely work in Diablo III.

    Uniques: The D3 Team has said they’ll keep uniques in D3, that they like the variable stats on D2 uniques, and that they may even increase that aspect of the (non-unique) D2X uniques. For instance, you might find a given unique in D3 with a perfect seed of +200% defense and 20% resistance to all, or maybe it will have just +103% defense and just 11% resistance to all. In a related issue, the D3 Team has said that they don’t want endless boss/item runs to be so quick or easy. They’ve not committed to including Magic Find in the game either, so aside from the issue of (potentially) highly varied unique stats, uniques might become much harder to find.

    Runewords: It’s not yet set in stone, but D3 Lead Designer Jay Wilson has spoken rather critically of Runewords on a number of occasions. He, and the rest of the D3 Team, don’t seem very enamored of that particular D2X item innovation, which might render this entire point moot. That issue aside, most players agree that Runewords are overpowered in D2X. However, most players also agree that the top Runewords would be virtually impossible to obtain if not for the widespread duping of top runes. It’s not so much that Runewords are overpowered; it’s that the runes to make them would be virtually unfindable, if not for all the duping. Blizzard is, of course, promising that duping and hacked items will be a thing of the past come D3’s improved client/server architecture, but as always with such claims, an attitude of cautious optimism is the best a reasonable player can allow.

    Rare, Set, and Magical Items: The D3 Team has spoken very little about these types of items, and it’s likely that little more than conceptual work has gone into balancing them. As such, we can offer only conjecture about how powerful they should be or will be. In fact, it’s hard to answer the question of how powerful they are now in D2X, since opinions differ. With perfect mods allowing up to 450% enhanced damage, plus other great bonuses and up to 2 sockets, a rare weapon can be as good or better than almost any Runeword or Unique in the game. That’s not the issue; the issue is availability.
    [*]Elite uniques are difficult to find, but with concerted searching and high magic find, they will eventually turn up. Or you’ll find equivalent value uniques that can be traded for the one(s) you really want.
    [*]Runewords should be harder to obtain, since high level runes are so rare. Duping has short circuited that equation, but even without the ability to trade for duped runes, a player could eventually obtain a top runeword, even if it took months of Countess runs and cubing the findings.
    [*]A top rare though, might never turn up. Rares drop fairly often, they can be gambled, and the cube recipes to upgrade rare base items also help. But even with those aids, the odds of landing a rare, of a desired item type, with truly awesome mods, remain minuscule.

    Thus the question we’re examining this week. What types of items should be the best in Diablo III?

    One of the most common complaints from players is that everyone wears the same equipment on Battle.net, since various uniques are the top items in almost every item slot. Improving the quality of rares (or decreasing the quality of uniques and sets) could change this, and create much more variability in character gear.

    This seems like a win, but it comes with its own challenges. Elevating Rares turns the process of assembling top quality gear into much more of a crap shoot. Instead of being able to systematically seek out top uniques, or cube up to top runewords, players are reduced to the luck of the draw as they cross their fingers for a great seed on a random rare item. It also makes build planning much more complicated, since there’s no predicting the properties of any of your equipment. It’s entirely possible that all the players now complaining about the uniformity of character equipment in D2X would find themselves grumbling about how impossible it was to put together a really good kit in D3.

    Recreating the reign of Rares might even reduce character variety, since lots of players first tried a new class or build when they found one of the uniques that class liked best. How many players tried their first javazon after finding a Titan’s Revenge, or their first Assassin after finding a Bartuc’s?

    Every solution has its own strengths and weaknesses, but hey, that’s what these columns are for; to spur debate. Feel free to join in.

    On the Drawing Board is written by Flux. These articles examine crucial game design issues and decisions in Diablo 3 by explaining the issue and presenting arguments for and against. On the Drawing Board aims to spur debate and further the conversation, rather than converting readers to one side or the other. Conversation and disagreement is encouraged. Have your say in the comments, or contact the author directly. Suggestions for future column topics are welcomed.

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