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Item Balance in Diablo 3 and the Ring Dilemma

Discussion in 'Diablo 3 General Discussion' started by LukDeRiff, Mar 3, 2015.

  1. LukDeRiff

    LukDeRiff IncGamers Member

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    Ever since Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls launched the choice of viable Rings in higher difficulties was very limited. Very quickly 3 rings rose to prominence and have been dominating the competition ever since. Those 3 rings are: Ring of Royal Grandeur (RoRG), Unity and Stone of Jordan (SOJ). There are some exceptions such as the Bul Kathos Wedding Band, Tall Mans Finger and more recently the Leorics Signet and Hellfire Ring but these are only used in niche cases.

    With Patch 2.2 Blizzard seems to make a serious effort to break up this trinity of viable rings and in my opinion this presents a great opportunity to talk about item balance in Diablo 3. Balance is a delicate topic which has caused many heated debates. Most players have an intuitive opinion on balance but very few take the time to think about the concept of balance. Thus we need to take a closer look at the idea of balance itself, then we will see how it applies when it comes to items in Diablo 3 and finally how the changes from Patch 2.2 will help to resolve the Ring dilemma.


    The Concept of Balance


    [​IMG]
    "Jay, what have you done ?"

    Balance is a complex topic and an attempt to explain it fully would take far too long (and probably bore you to death). So we are going to focus on capturing and understanding the core idea of balance.
    Most people base their conception of Balance on the idea of Fairness. Fairness is concept that is used in many different situations but when it comes to games it is mostly used in relation to competitive games (e.g. Counter Strike, League of Legends, Chess). In those games players directly compete with each other and such a game is fair if every competing player/team has an equal chance to win the game. This is easily achievable in symmetrical games. In these games every player has the same set of starting options. It gets more problematic in asymmetrical games where players have different sets of starting options (e.g. in chess white moves first).

    Diablo is not really a competitive in the sense mentioned above but players still have an intuitive feeling that it is bad if one item is much better than all other items of the same type (or one class is much better that all the others but that is a discussion for another time ;)). Why is that ?

    A good place to start the search for an answer to this question is a quote from Sid Meier (creator of the Civilization Series, Pirates, Alpha Centauri and other great games).
    In Diablo 3 you make tons of decisions: Which character to play, which skills to use, which items to use, which mode to play (season or non season, softcore or hardcore) and many more. There are tons of different kinds and layers of decisions but this time we will focus on one question: Which items shall I use ?

    If you are making a decisions you choose in between at least two options. If only one option is viable then the decision becomes redundant since you will choose that option every time. Such a decision can not be interesting.
    So for a decision to be possibly interesting you have to have at least two viable options. This does not mean that if you have two viable options the decisions is interesting but that if you don't the decision can not be interesting.

    What makes an option viable ? It has to be as good or better as any other option in at least one situation from a certain perspective. That perspective is often the "playing to win" mentality, whose core ideal is to win the game (in competitive games) or achieve the goal of the game (non competitive games). Again, if an option fulfills these conditions it is not necessarily viable but if it does not fulfill these conditions it can not be viable.

    So how many options need to be viable for a decision to be interesting ? All possible options ? 90% ? 55.58% ? At this point we get into difficult territory and the short answer is: there is no clear answer.
    However some things we can say for certain (in addition to what we already know): If an option is never viable it is redundant and if all options are equally viable in every situation the choice becomes meaningless.

    To sum this section up: Balance is about identifying the viability of options. Enough of the dry theory, lets get into the juicy reality of Diablo.


    The Problem: The Unholy Trinity

    [​IMG]
    "Not one, but three rings to rule them all."
    As pointed out above many players feel that when it comes to choosing the rings for your character there is a very limited selection of viable choices. Why are these rings so much better than the others ? The answer may seem obvious, but remember balance is about identifying the viability of options so understanding what makes an options viable is essential.


    To begin answering this question we have to ask ourselves first: What is the goal of the Diablo ? A lot of people play Diablo for different reasons and with different goals. Some want to achieve the highest possible Greater Rift Level possible, some want to have a relaxed time with their friends, some want to play a Barbarians that runs around only using Frenzy. To make every item viable from every perspective is almost impossible. For the purpose of brevity we are going to focus on the "playing to win" perspective. Players with that mentality try to beat the highest Greater Rift Level possible and gain as much loot (i.e. legendaries) as possible in the shortest amount of time.


    In order to do this in Diablo you need to kill enemies as fast as possible while not dying (especially in hardcore) ideally on the highest difficulty (Torment 6). This means damage output and survivability are essential. Every item in Diablo is either designed to increase one or both of those factors. With that in mind we can now take a look at the three rings and identify why they are so potent choices.



    1. Stone of Jordan


    The Stone of Jordan is the best ring in the game when it comes to pure damage output. The guaranteed bonus to elemental damage and elite damage is much more potent than any of the regular affixes.

    It has to be noted though that the SOJ is not all upside. You give up two valuable primary affixes but what you get in return is much better from a damage perspective. This is also due to the fact that it is relatively hard to get large amounts of elite damage and elemental damage through other means.



    2. Unity


    The Unity is arguable only very valuable in solo play where you can get 50% damage reduction through the double Unity trick (look in the spoiler for a description).

    Equip a unity on your character and on your follower. Also equip a legendary follower token with the affix "your follower can not die" on your follower. From now on the follower will permanently absorb 50% of the damage you take. Since your follower can not come with you during multiplayer games this only works in solo play.

    Unity is an interesting case because it does not only offer the more survivability than any ring but also more survivability than any other single item in the game. This makes it basically mandatory for higher Greater Rift levels in solo play (unless you character gets one shot anyways like Demon Hunters in Greater Rift Levels above 50). In addition it always rolls with Critical Hit Chance and 10-15% Bonus to Elite Damage (which is in most cases an awesome damage increase).



    3. Ring of Royal Grandeur


    The Value of the RoRG is hard to quantify. It certainly does not come from the regular affixes since it always rolls with Life on Hit and Attack Speed which are not very desirable in most cases. However its legendary affix allows you to make it a set piece for any set and thus equip another items with a impactful legendary power.

    So to evaluate you have to ask yourself : "Would I use a ring with these stats and the legendary affix of the item I get to use because of the RoRG ?"

    The fact that the answer to this question is often "Yes!" just shows you weak rings are in comparison to other equipment pieces. This weakness is also the reason the RoRG is viable at all. Also the value of the RoRG increases if you it helps you complete multiple different set bonuses. In Patch 2.1.2 basically the only situation in which you would not use a RoRG is if you wanted to use a SOJ and a Unity.


    One major point we can take away from this analysis is that the viability of an option/item is highly context dependent. The SOJ would not be viable if there were 5 other rings that always gave a larger damage bonus or if there were easy ways to stack massive amounts of elemental and elite damage.

    The RoRG would be less powerful if set bonuses were not as strong as they are and the unity would be less potent if there were other efficient ways to gain large boosts to your survivability.


    Now we have identified the problem and the reason for the problem lets take a look at how Blizzard is going to try to solve the problem.



    The Solution: New Awesome Stuff



    [​IMG]
    "Ed Stark knew the mind of the Diablo Design team too well. Look where he ended up."
    When discussing "solutions" to balance problems it is important to realize that there is not one correct solution. In fact there are a near infinite number of possible solutions to most "balance problems". The task of balance is primarily to identify the viability of options. It is up to game design to decide whether there is a problem (imbalance is not always bad!) and if there is one what to change to solve it.


    A large part of the community felt that there was a problem when it came to rings and Blizzard apparently agrees because there are a bunch of new incredibly powerful rings on the way. Lets take a look!



    Bastions of Will


    (2) Set BonusHas been redesigned

    After casting a resource-generating attack or primary skill, gain 50% increased damage for 5 seconds

    After casting a resource-spending attack, gain 50% increased damage for 5 seconds



    This ring set used to be super rare and absolutely terrible. With this redesign it becomes a powerhouse. The different bonuses are two different buffs that are a multiplier each, effectively gving you a 125% damage bonus if you have both buffs active. If you are looking for damage look no further. This ring set beats any other combination of rings if you can make it work and some testing has shown that keeping the buffs up is relatively easy.

    Obsidian Ring of the Zodiac


    Reduces the remaining cooldown of one of your skills by 1 second each time you spend resource



    This old favorite from Diablo 1 has received a redesign. The value of the legendary affix is hard to quantify but if you look at the skills with cooldowns you will realize that those cooldowns are there for a reason. Back in Vanilla Wizards used to have a passive called Critical Mass that had a similar function and basically broke the class so Blizzard had to remove it.

    There are a ton of shenanigans you can pull off with this. Most notably and probably most problematic was permanent invulnerability. Both Monk (through Serenity) and Crusader (through Law of Hope - Stop Time) could achieve it but Blizzard hotfixed it.
    With some cooldown reduction you can permanently maintain all of the "mega transformations"(Wrath of the Berserker, Epiphany, Akarats Champion etc.) It also makes a lot of cooldown based utility Skills such as Leap, Black Hole or Provoke much better.

    Again, it is very hard to evaluate this ring because it is so dependent on the set up you are running but the potential is certainly there.



    Broken Promises

    After five consecutive non-critical hits, your chance to critically hit is increased by 100% for 3 seconds



    On first look you might think that this is not really that exciting but you would be mistaken. Yes if you are hitting very slowly and have a which chance to critically hit it is obviously awful.

    But what if you gear in such a way that you do not get any bonuses to your critical hit chance from your gear ? You would be left with 5% critical hit chance. From there on the potential of this ring is entirely dependent on your ability to hit the enemy as often as possible.
    Lets assume you use some basic attack that only hits once per use the you would need 2.4 Attacks per second to get approximately 50% uptime (which is equivalent to 50% Critical Hit Chance). Pretty good stuff.
    But what if you you could hit 5,10 or 20 times per second ? You would have close to 100% uptime on the buff. That is insane! There are actually a number of ways you can achieve this. Pet builds are awesome for this. Witch Doctors, Crusaders (Bowmen) and even Barbarians (with the new Immortal King Set) can basically have permanent uptime for this ring. Then there are abilities that inherently hit at a very fast rate such Elemental Arrow - Ball Lightning, Energy Twister, Wave of Light - Pillar of the Ancients.

    Similar to the Bastion of Will Set, if you can make this work the damage boost is very potent. Additionally you free up affixes that are traditionally occupied by Critical Hit Chance (Gloves, Helmet, Bracers, Amulet, both rings).


    These three are the most notable new/redesigned rings right now but there are some other interesting additions such as the Arcstone, Oculus Ring, Skull Grasp and Little Mans Finger.


    So there are going to be new and exciting options for damage output but a lot of the viability of Unity stems from the fact that it is the most efficient way to gain survivability.


    The first steps to increase the amount of viable survivability options were taken with the constant buffs to healing affixes on items (Life per Second and Lifer per Hit) as well as the introduction of very powerful defensive legendary gems for Season 2. While those changes helped, ultimately Unity has remained a necessity in higher Greater Rifts.


    With Patch 2.2 there are a ton of changes on the way give players more good options to increase their ability to stay alive. The majority of the new set have a defensive or potential defensive bonus. Here are some examples:


    Wrath of the Wastes

    (4) Set Bonus
    • While Whirlwinding you take 40% reduced damage
    Natalya's Vengeance

    • (6) Set Bonus
        • After casting Rain of Vengenace, deal 300% increased damage and take 30% reduced damage for 5 seconds
    Zunimassa's Haunt

    • (4) Set Bonus
      • You and your pets take 2% reduced damage for every Fetish you have alive
    Tal Rasha's Elements
      • (4) Set Bonus
        • Attacks increase your resistance to that element by 100% for 6 seconds



    Also remeber survivability is improved by everything that helps you stay alive. This includes mobilty and crowd control Skills: In that sense Delseres Magnum Opus aka "The Slow Time" set, for instance, provides a survivability bonus because it allows you to cast slow time much more frequently.


    This sounds all nice and dandy in theory but how does it work in practise on the PTR ? Well, it is hard to tell at the moment. A lot of people are experementing and are coming up with cool new builds all the time. There will probably always be a "best option" but it looks like that "best option" will not be as obvious as it is right now.


    Well this turned out to be longer than I expected [​IMG]. I hope you enjoyed the read, didn't find too many typos and maybe learned something along the way. Feedback of (almost) any kind is welcome. And remember: When it comes to Balance context is king [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2015
    Flux likes this.
  2. Flux

    Flux Administrator

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    The danger of aiming at the PTR moving target! Bastion's Will has been changed again, with a bonus that doesn't reward resource hoarding.
    • After casting a resource-generating attack or primary skill, gain 50% increased damage for 5 seconds
    • After casting a resource-spending attack, gain 50% increased damage for 5 seconds
    Note that these bonuses can both be active at the same time, and their damage is multiplicative, giving a huge damage boost to players who mix a generator in with their spender output at least every five seconds.


    Also, new Legendary Gems matter, mostly in terms of providing a huge defensive buff comparable to Unity. No one really wants to use Unity, we just do to exploit the double unity trick. And the fact that doesn't work in multiplayer requires annoying regearing and actually makes MP more dangerous, especially for HC. I think nothing of GR35 playing solo in HC, if I've got double Unity on... but in a party game I have to be much more cautious. Several of the new LGems provide huge defensive buffs which might make Unity optional.


    On the same front, I wish they'd provide a RoRG type bonus from some other item slot, (like a leg belt you'd only get from A5 caches?) and/or add a 7th item to all of the RoS 6 piece sets, as the vanilla sets are getting. It would be fun to wear a RoRG and get 4p and 4p bonuses from two different 6p sets, or get 2p with a 6p (I really miss M2 bonus ferretbros when I'm in UE set), or just have a way to get 6p bonuses without using a RoRG and still have one slot for variety of Cindercoat or Pride's Fall, etc.
     
  3. LukDeRiff

    LukDeRiff IncGamers Member

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    Updated the OP, added the part for the defensive set bonuses, put in some silly pictures to break up the wall of text.

    There are a ton of things they could do to spice things up but I actually like their current stance. Their focus seems to be on creating interesting decisions by introducing more viable options. A great exmaple for this is the state of the Marauder Set on the PTR.
    Focus and Restraint would fit perfectly into the current cookie cutter build (in SC higher DHs ignore toughness anyways). If you wanted to use them though you would have to give up either Prides Fall or Cindercoat which would effectively lower your damage output. Now you would have to see which one is better or which one you like pllaying with more.
    Mow imagine they would add a belt to the Marauder Set. The decision would be irrelevant since you would always use Bastion of Will and you RCR item of choice.
     
  4. FOJ

    FOJ IncGamers Member

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    My theory is that they're limited by the development resources required to make the legendary affixes hence the simplicity of something like "double your damage" and "double your survival". It's also very obvious that they're reusing existing assets (Firewalkers, etc.) and just slapping them on a weapon or piece of armor. Even as a programmer by trade, I can't imagine the complexity of designing something that is latency sensitive, beautiful, engaging, multi-lingual, color-blind friendly, etc. which Blizzard has to do.

    I also think that they're slowly realizing that managing the complexity of the game is "un-fun" for the players. Fuzzying the end game instead of forcing obvious best-in-slot items is, I think, the new direction that they'll be taking herein. Which I welcome. Let the "best" players sort out the theory crafting and provide strategies for others to follow.
     
  5. Flux

    Flux Administrator

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    They talked about this on the recent live stream with Software Engineer Roger Huston.
    http://diablo.incgamers.com/blog/comments/play-way-friday-live-stream-recap

    Basically that graphics and animations always took much more work to implement, so they tried to reuse graphics and spell effects where they could, maybe modifying them in palette or the like. And that influenced the rune effect changes, especially with all the different elements they've added in past months. Like say they want add a Fire rune to an existing skill; it's a combination of brainstorming a useful effect/function, and figuring a way to modify one of the current graphics or adding an existing graphic to make it Fire appropriate.

    Big gaming studio like Bliz has nearly infinite resources for making a game in the first place, and a bit less resources for making an expansion, and a lot less for adding free content in patches. So they do what they can, and in RoS they've implemented tools that let the designers make changes without requiring a bunch of animation or programming.
     
  6. FOJ

    FOJ IncGamers Member

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    Discussion about Blizzard's business is speculation at best. As much as I didn't want to steer the discussion to a "is Blizzard doing what they should" type rant fest, I realize that's the logical path of my last posting. Which I guess I was trying to simply say: As much as I welcome the new changes, they still feel "cheap".

    Flux, I'm sorry I wasn't aware of the live stream discussion. I don't usually watch these but I'm happy to hear they're actively developing tools to streamline adding content to the game.

    Back to topic, I've only thoroughly played a Witch Doctor and the new patch will suck me back in the game. I tend to play the game to explore the mechanics, then see how far I get competitively, and then quit when I realize I have to spend hours/days/months farming for that one item that pushes me ahead. My current hiatus was due to Unity not dropping and I was a little turned off by ancient weapons.

    I'm very interested in Obisdian Ring of the Zodiac and In-Geom for their cooldown munching abilities and the new Homunculus is over-powered (perma stun or auto >40% damage?!?!?! and an additional primary affix?!?!). I think they missed the boat on the new Zunimassa set bonuses. (2) is nice, (4) will probably turn out to be a worthwhile survival increase and (6) will force very complex gearing choices as opposed to being BiS for pet builds. I also like Broken Promises because it converts attack speed into crit chance and that enables some fun shenanigans.

    Edit:

    That ends up being just a handful of meaningfull decisions. A small step but one in the right direction.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2015

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