On the Drawing Board #9: Item Sets and Set Items

The D3 team has seldom mentioned Item Sets, but they have confirmed that they are planning to include them in Diablo III. How they?ll implement sets is not yet determined, as the most prominent comment makes clear. Here?s what D3 Lead Jay Wilson said in December 2008:

Jay Wilson: “There’re still a few things that we haven’t made decisions on yet—set items, for one. I didn’t like the way they worked in Diablo 2, as by the time you finally got a set together, you generally leveled beyond the use for it. So you might save them for alts, which is OK, but I’d rather that they be useful for you to begin with. We haven’t really decided how we’re going to fix that.”

This installment of On the Drawing Board takes off where Jay?s comment ends. Should set items return in D3? How powerful should they be? How can they be made more collectible, or useful? Click through to join the discussion.

Set Items in D2

Item Sets, and the Set Items that compose them, were a new addition in Diablo II that was considerably expanded in the Diablo II Expansion.  A quick refresher: Item sets are groups of matched items that can all be worn together. Wearing every item in a given set (from 2 to 6 items in D2) grants your character additional bonuses on top of those obtained from the individual items in the set.  Sets in D2C were all normal quality items with quite modest bonuses. None were useful at higher levels. In D2X more sets were added, most composed of exceptional or elite quality items. They had much better properties and larger set bonuses, and in subsequent patches partial set bonuses (triggered by equipping 2 or more items in the set) and hidden item bonuses (triggered on particular set items by equipping other items in the set) were added to some of the original and expansion sets, considerably improving the items.

These changes have elevated set items in quality, and many of them are now excellent options for low and mid level characters. Sets aren?t that uber; there are no full sets that top level characters wear, though various set items can be mixed and matched with other equipment. This is less about the quality of item sets than it is about how overpowered runewords are, thanks to various duping outbreaks that have made available the ultra rare runes required to create them. Still, even without the duping it?s unlikely that item sets would be commonly worn at the highest levels, since better equipment can still be obtained by mixing and matching top quality unique, crafted, and rare items. Whether item sets should be that powerful is an issue open to debate, and we?ll get to that later, in regards to D3.

Assembling a Set

Most players like the idea of Item Sets, but most players agree with Jay on their main liability. They are too hard to obtain, and by the time a character finds them all there?s no way that character will want to wear them all.  This issue is compounded by the varying quality levels and scarcity of the items in sets. Most of the D2C sets had one item with a much higher requirement than the rest. It couldn?t be equipped when the rest of the set was viable, and the rest of the set was too weak to use by the time the higher requirement was met.  This issue pops up again in the D2X sets, but with those there?s usually one item that?s extremely difficult to find (IK Armor, Natalya?s Claw,  M?avina?s Diadem,  Aldur?s Armor, Gvriswold?s um… everything but the armor, etc.

This would be fairly easy to solve with the higher level sets; just make all the items about equally hard to find. There could even be a game mechanism added such that characters were more likely to find items in a set they were already wearing. Kind of a set-specific Magic Find.  That wouldn?t really help with making low and mid-level sets findable quickly enough to be used, unless leveling up is much slower in D3 than we expect. Perhaps single bosses could drop multiple items of the same set? On the other hand, that would make things too easy, unless the sets were not very powerful. And what fun would that be?

One feature that will help with this issue is the improved stash. In D3 it will be possible to exchange items directly between your characters on Battle.net. They?ll all have access to the same shared stash (details not yet available). At the very least, it will be easier to ?twink? sets and other items from higher level characters to new ones.

Set Quality and the End Game

The issue of how powerful sets should be is a very debatable one. While reading over forum threads discussing D3 item set ideas, I saw no real consensus on how strong D2 sets should have been. Some players said they should have been the most powerful items in the game, while other players said sets that strong would be boring, since no one would wear anything else.  The D3 Team will certainly include sets of varying different quality levels, but whether or not the top sets should be the top items in the entire game is going to be something everyone has their own opinion about.

A related issue stems from the fact that in D2 at least, set items were far more ?unique? than Uniques. Most Uniques had fairly wide ranges of allowed modifiers, and the D3 Team has said they?ll likely continue this practice in D3.  Set items, ironically, were much more like the uniques from Diablo I, where the properties were fixed and unchanging.  The amount of variety in individual items matters in D3, especially at the upper end. If items have a lot of variation, then just finding a given unique or set item won?t guarantee that it?s the best you?ll ever find. Imagine a top weapon with 150-350% enhanced damage (amongst other properties)—it could be your dream come true, or it could be just a pretty good find. On this issue players are divided; some want to have specific items to hunt for, knowing they?ll be the best possible in that equipment slot. Others want much more variety in top items.  This issue was addressed in an earlier installment of On the Drawing Board, where we debated what the best type of items should be: Uniques with set stats, or Rares with random stats. Naturally, everyone has their own opinion.

Item Set Wishlist

Besides those issues, there are a lot of other things players want or hope to see in set items in D3. Here?s a partial list I compiled from forum threads; see if anything tickles your fancy, or add additional suggestions in the comments.

Special Graphics:
Item sets should give the character wearing it a special look. This was partially implemented in D2X patches, where the 7 class-specific sets all give a special aura (a fade effect for the Assassin) when they are completed. Players like that, but we want more. A number of players lauded the coolness of the Necromancer transforming into a Vampire when wearing the full Trang Oul?s set, with its ?30% fire resistance, is one of the few D2 examples. This cursed item debate isn?t unique to sets, of course, but adding in some negative modifiers can make for more interesting equipment assembly.

Ultra Rare Item Sets
Another contentious issue is whether or not there should be extremely rare item sets, or set items. Not just really, really hard to find, as some of the sets with items in the highest Treasure Classes were in D2X, but much rarer than that. Like one or just a few per realm type scarcity.  This argument applies to Uniques and other items as well.

Full Body Sets
Players used to speculate about this in the early D2 days, and the same ideas are popping up for D3. How about an item set that takes up every single equipment slot? Not just some, or most, but every slot? It seems suffocating, and the inclusion of a weapon might make it class specific, but it?s interesting to imagine. Skills, skill runes, and socketing would provide some variety, so every character wearing the suit wouldn?t be identical.

Class-Specific Sets and Items
It?s not yet known how many items will be class-specific in D3 (we saw a number of them at even the early levels reached in the Blizzcon Demo), but it seems certain some of those items will be in Item Sets. That was the case in D2X; where various sets had at least one item that only one class could equip. The rest of the items in the sets were usable by anyone though, and frequently were. Countless characters enjoyed the great bonuses and MF from the armor/helm/belt in Tal Rasha?s set, for instance, even though the full set could only be used by a Sorceress.

Should this approach be repeated in D3? Or would you prefer to see whole sets that were simply designated off limits to every character but one?  How about skill tree specific sets?  Ones that only a Barbarian with say, 50, or 60, or 75 points in the Battlemaster Skill Tree could equip?  This could allow for some interesting level requirement variations. Instead of requiring a character to be level 65, the different items in a set could require different amounts of points in given skill trees. The helm requires 30, the armor requires 50, the weapon requires 70, and so on. If not a requirement, then reaching those plateaus of skill points could trigger hidden bonuses on the items, or partial set bonuses. There could even be mix and match sets, ones that required 20 points in all 3 trees, just to promote diversity and variety in character builds.

Another variation on this could turn the same set into something different for each character who wore it. Hidden bonuses could be tied to points in various skill trees, across the classes.  A wizard with 30 points in the Arcane Skill Tree would get very different bonuses than a Witch Doctor with 30 points in the Voodoo Skill Tree.  Balancing these would be a challenge, but we players can?t get into discussion of those specifics until we know more about the item modifiers to be found in the game.

Non-Specific Set Bonuses
On the other hand, sets could be more useful to a variety of characters in D3 both by selected modifiers on them, and by the other factors in the game. The removal of attribute requirements means that high strength or dexterity reqs won?t rule out their use by non-combat characters. Furthermore, the D3 Team is trying to make all of the four attributes useful to all characters. Details remain scarce, but Points in vitality will increase life, but also effect mana regeneration, for instance. This should make more items useful to more types of characters in D3 ? a set bonus of dexterity or strength was largely useless to a Sorceress or Necromancer, but those same bonuses should be much more helpful to a Wizard or Witch Doctor.

New D3 Item Set Options
There are numerous features and item types we don?t yet know about, and it?s possible some of them might incorporate Item Sets in interesting ways. We know there will be skill runes… could there be special types of skill runes? Unique skill runes? How about skill runes that are part of item sets? Socket the rune while wearing the rest of the item set and unlock special bonuses?  How about gems for item sockets? Or gems for unknown (and possibly removed) features like the Talisman? We don?t know yet, and won?t know until much closer to the game?s release.

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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