The last class preview has been posted, this time for the Witch Doctor.
Out of the five Diablo III classes, witch doctors are receiving the most attention in patch 1.0.4. The goal for this patch, like for many of the other classes, was simple: identify the unpopular or hard-to-use skills, figure out what’s not working, and then make them better. In some cases, skills only needed slight tuning -- a little more damage here, or some increased durations there. In other cases, more significant changes were required. For the purpose of this preview, we'll focus on the bigger changes, which can be broken down into the following categories:
One of the core play styles for the witch doctor (and indeed the reason many people chose to play a witch doctor to begin with) is to have pets. Unfortunately, while witch doctor pets do pretty well in Normal difficulty, their survivability has been virtually non-existent in Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno. From our perspective, this isn't acceptable, so we're making some significant buffs to pets in 1.0.4. The goal of these buffs is to make pets not only more viable in those later difficulties, but also more enjoyable for players who prefer to base their builds around them.
From a design perspective, we want your pets to be durable enough so they can tank for you, but we don't want them to just be automatically immortal. The cooldown on summoning pets is there for a reason. Speaking more specifically, we'd like for there to be times when your pets have died, your cooldowns haven't refreshed yet, and you have that period of increased tension as you wait for the situation to stabilize again. On the other hand, we'd also like for there to be noticeable improvements for players who put thought and effort into their skill and gear selections to make their pets as strong as possible.
Trial and Error:
One of the first things we tried internally was to have Zombie Dogs scale their Life directly with their owner's Life (Zombie Dogs already inherit Armor and Resistance from their owner). This had mixed results. For example, if the player stacked a large amount of Life, Armor, and Resist, it was possible to have Zombie Dogs tank most of Act I and parts of Act 2 in Inferno. As much as it made sense to have Zombie Dogs scale directly with your gear, it actually inhibited a completely different playstyle: players who wanted their witch doctor to be more of a glass cannon, but still have their Zombie Dogs able to tank. And with that we went back to the drawing board.
The next time around we gave the Zombie Dogs a base amount of Life, and in addition to this base value, they would also receive 35% of their owner's Life. So, you had a Zombie Dog that could scale with your gear, but if you were built as a glass cannon you’d still have that base amount of Life to fall back on. To help with general survivability, we also gave Zombie Dogs some innate passive Life regeneration. This test was much more successful. The Zombie Dogs could survive through most parts of Act I and Act II of Inferno just fine and died only occasionally to really difficult encounters. In Act III and Act IV, however, they could take maybe one or two hits, but the outcome was always the same: dead Zombie dogs. We tried increasing the bonus to 100% of their owner's Life -- and even to 150% at one point, just to see what would happen -- but it was to no avail. The incoming damage just scaled up too high in those later Acts.
So, we made some more adjustments to their scaling, we gave them more passive regeneration, and we made pets resistant to even more AoE effects (such as Plagued, Frozen, and Mortar). The result was positive, but not perfect: Zombie Dogs could now tough out Acts I and II of Inferno, but they were still melting in Acts III and IV.
The Final Product:
Our final iteration was to give Zombie Dogs their own version of the wizard skill Force Armor, which limits the amount of damage a wizard can take in a single hit up to 35% of their maximum Life. Much like the rationale for reducing damage for AoE effects, pets take more damage from melee than players. Pets also don't back off when they’re low, make use of doorways, or avoid big attacks.
When translating "Force Armor" over to Zombie Dogs, we wanted to make sure they could still scale with the player's Life, Armor, and Resistances. So, rather than a flat 35%, the damage cap per hit is based on inherited Armor and Resistance values, and rather than scaling with the total Life, the mitigation amount is calculated on the base health of the Zombie Dogs, allowing additional Life to actually scale exceptionally well.
This might be a bit confusing, so let's set up an example using a level 60 witch doctor. Let’s say this witch doctor has 32,000 Life, 45% mitigation from Armor, and 30% mitigation from Resistances. (For clarity, this means that 55% of incoming damage gets past the player’s Armor, and 70% of the incoming damage gets past Resistances.)
Once you factor in some passive Life regeneration and healing from health globes, Zombie Dogs can do reasonably well in Inferno. Players who decide to go with a glass cannon build while using Zombie Dogs will have pets that can tank for short periods of time. Meanwhile, players who build with some survivability and choose pet-oriented passives like Fierce Loyalty, Zombie Handler, and Jungle Fortitude will find their pets to be extremely durable and very capable of handling all Acts of Inferno.
As it stands now, without Vision Quest, many builds feel like you never have quite enough Mana.
Don't get me wrong: feeling like you always want more Mana can be a good thing, otherwise the resource system isn’t really doing its job. Even so, there are two major issues with Vision Quest that we want to address. The first is that it can feel very "feast or famine" when you're using it; sometimes you have near limitless Mana and at other times you're starved for resources. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it forces you to keep four skills on cooldown in order to be useful. This can be frustrating for a witch doctor who wants to use a cooldown skill strategically, but ends up casting the spell early for the Mana regeneration benefits.
Let’s use Big Bad Voodoo as an example. Big Bad Voodoo might be ready to go, but you need it on cooldown for Vision Quest to stay active. So, you cast the skill with only a handful of enemies on the screen. Then, no more than 20 seconds later, you come across a nasty Elite pack. While this would be a great moment to drop a Big Bad Voodoo to help you kill everything in sight (and ultimately avoid being killed yourself)….the skill is, of course, on cooldown. This can be a very aggravating experience! This isn't a dilemma we want players to face on a regular basis, so Vision Quest is getting redesigned for 1.0.4.
We're keeping the focus of the skill on Mana regeneration, but we're going to shift the way you get that regeneration away from needlessly spamming cooldowns to attacking and doing damage. The first thing we're doing is increasing the baseline Mana regeneration of all witch doctors from 20 Mana per second to 45 Mana per second. Not only does this help to alleviate the "feast or famine" effect, it also acts as a big buff to witch doctors who choose to skip Vision Quest. As for Vision Quest itself, it will increase Mana regeneration by 30% for 5 seconds after dealing damage with Firebomb, Corpse Spiders, Poison Dart, or Plague of Toads. One of the fun things about this set up is that you can combine it with a Spider Queen (Corpse Spider rune) or a Pyrogeist (Firebomb rune) and they’ll keep Vision Quest active for you the entire time they’re out.
Of course, Vision Quest going down to 30% can seem scary. Base Mana regeneration is increased, and the new mechanics actually allow for Vision Quest to have a very high uptime, but is it enough?
As we continue internal testing, one of our checks to determine how well Vision Quest is performing is to see if a level 60 player can still summon hordes of stampeding Zombie Bears. While we can't accommodate every skill and build combination out there, the goal for Vision Quest is that a player who has chosen the right passives and gear will still be able to summon waves of stampeding bears for at least a few seconds. The new Vision Quest is a lot less "feast or famine" than before, which means some players won't be able to spam Zombie Bears for quite as long, but the tradeoff is you’ll have a more consistent stream of Mana coming in, and (more importantly) you'll have your cooldown-controlled skills available to use strategically for maximum effect. A more reliable Mana stream, being able to use your cooldowns, and having the option to use other active and passive skills seems like a better design for the class as a whole for the long term.
In case you're wondering, we’re not touching Splinters or Zombie Bears this patch. While these are the two most popular witch doctor skills right now, it’s probably not just because people love the sound of Splinters or the look of Zombie Bears (though both of those are pretty cool). Instead, their popularity is likely due to how attractive these skills are, both in terms of damage output and overall feel. To help compensate and open up more build options, we’re buffing a lot of other skills to make them as appealing as Splinters and Zombie Bears.
Speaking of how a skill feels, the reason players avoid many of the lesser used witch doctor skills have more to do with the skill feeling "slow." For example, Firebomb, Plague of Toads, and Corpse Spiders all have animation timing issues which are being improved for 1.0.4. In general, all of these skills will cast faster, which will make the class feel snappier and more responsive. We're also doing a straight damage increase on many skills including (but not limited to) Acid Cloud, Firebats, Firebomb, and Spirit Barrage.
That wraps up the witch doctor, and all of our class previews! We hope you're excited about these changes and look forward to hearing your feedback.
Be sure to check out our other class previews for patch1.0.4:
Wyatt Cheng is a Senior Technical Game Designer for Diablo III. He doesn't always fold on a K-10 offsuit.
The fourth class preview has been posted, this time for the Demon Hunter.
Hungering Arrow is currently the best-performing Hatred Generator for demon hunters. With its high theoretical damage output, strong Hatred generation, and straightforward mechanics, it's an easy go-to skill to have on your bar.
As with other classes, when there's a single skill (or set of skills) that is much stronger or more worthwhile to use, it curbs potential build diversity. To help open up some other options, we're taking a look at Hatred Generators and Spenders, as well as some of the demon hunter's more iconic abilities like Rain of Vengeance and Sentry, and will be upping the damage on all of them.
Four skills are intended to compete with Hungering Arrow as a Hatred Generator: Entangling Shot, Bola Shot, Evasive Fire, and Grenades. While each of these skills offer some unique utility options (Entangling Shot slows enemies, Bola Shot has an AoE component, Evasive Fire provides an escape route, and Grenades can bounce off walls), their damage just isn’t competitive enough when compared to the theoretical damage of Hungering Arrow and its rune variants.
In the case of Grenades, the skill has some minor mechanical and control issues that keep its unique ability to bounce off walls from really shining through. It can be difficult to get the grenade projectiles to where you want them, and using the skill doesn’t always feel very smooth. We explored some alternate targeting methods over the course of 1.0.4's development cycle to help improve this, but we weren't happy with anything we came up with. Most often, we found that by introducing targeting that allowed Grenades to bounce off a wall in a satisfying way, it would often make it so you couldn’t hit a monster you directly clicked on. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a great solution yet, so the Grenades skill isn't going to get as much love this patch. However, we do want to revisit the skill in the future.
As for the other three Hatred Generators, rather than nerfing Hungering Arrow to be less powerful, we’re instead bringing up the damage values for all three skills to make them more attractive. To use Bola Shot as an example:
With these changes, Hungering Arrow will still do more theoretical damage against a single target, but Bola Shot damage will become a viable DPS alternative and it will also do AoE damage. Entangling Shot and Evasive Fire are receiving boosts to their damage as well, so they should be much more compelling choices when it comes to Hatred generation. Much like Bola Shot, they won't compete directly with Hungering Arrow in terms of raw theoretical damage to a single target, but the DPS loss won’t be as great in order to gain the utility they offer.
Our general philosophy for resource-spending skills (and this applies across all classes) is if you take the time to spend your resource, we want you to feel like you got a good return for it. Elemental Arrow is currently the most popular Hatred Spender in the demon hunter's arsenal and a good example for what works -- given how quickly you can fire off each arrow, you can deal a lot of damage to nearby enemies. Unfortunately, many of the other Hatred Spenders fail to meet this benchmark in terms of DPS output, so we're buffing them up to match.
To give you an idea of what kind of increases you’ll see in 1.0.4, let's use Chakram and Cluster Arrow as examples.
Just like Hydra for the wizard, Rain of Vengeance is intended to be a trademark spell for the demon hunter. We want it to be one of those buttons on your bar that you look forward to pushing -- not only because it's visually very fitting for the class, but also because it packs one hell of a punch.
While the skill is where it needs to be visually, mechanically it lacks the "oomph" that most iconic class abilities possess. Its damage is just far too low to compete with other skills available.
To bring Rain of Vengeance up to the level it needs to be, we made some pretty notable changes. Not only did we buff the damage, but Rain of Vengeance is one of the skills being converted to a strict X% weapon damage over Y seconds format, as alluded to in the Systems Preview. As a result, the new base skill is quite potent:
Current: 75% weapon damage for 5 seconds
1.0.4: 715% weapon damage over 5 seconds
(Anathema now also uses the "X% weapon damage over Y seconds format." Meanwhile, Dark Cloud, Beastly Bombs, Stampede, and Flying Strike are receiving straight boosts to their damage. )
Sentry is also a very distinctive spell that doesn't get used very often. It's interesting mechanically, and it has some nice potential for team play, so we'd like to make it more attractive. The solution was pretty simple for this one: we took its damage, and then we doubled it.
Be sure to check out our other class previews for patch 1.0.4:
Wyatt Cheng is a Senior Technical Game Designer for Diablo III. While living in Texas, a scorpion once crawled out of his shoe. :(
The third class preview has been posted, this time for the Monk.
The most important changes for the monk in 1.0.4 are aimed at improving damage-focused Spirit Spenders. We're happy with where Spirit Generators are right now, but unfortunately once you have Spirit, there aren’t very many appealing ways to use it. In many cases, the most effective use of Spirit has been to recast a Mantra repeatedly for the three-second bonus. While this is certainly one possibility, it doesn't seem as exciting as using one of the more offensively-focused Spirit Spenders (or at least having that option available).
From a strict usability standpoint, we think the visuals for Exploding Palm can be a little difficult to interpret. It's hard to tell who's affected by the Bleed and who's being damaged by the resulting explosion. Our Visual Effects team has made some improvements in 1.0.4 which will make it easier for players to tell who's bleeding and who's getting damaged.
From a mechanics standpoint, the three-second Bleed can make the explosion hard to pull off, and the damage just doesn't seem enough to be worth the Spirit cost. To help with both of these issues, we’re increasing the duration of the Bleed to nine seconds as well as its damage per second, which should make it more likely that monsters you’ve touched with Exploding Palm will go boom when they die.
Current: 220% weapon damage over 3 seconds
1.0.4: 745% weapon damage over 9 seconds
(Don't worry, Impending Doom is also having its duration increased to 15 seconds.)
The original intent for Seven-Sided Strike was for it to be a solid damage dealer that you could use for a quick burst. Where Serenity granted you an amazing period of invulnerability, and your other combat skills could put out some damage, Seven-Sided Strike would ideally exist somewhere in the middle by offering some invulnerability and some damage. Unfortunately, the way it currently plays out, Seven-Sided Strike feels more like a bad version of Serenity, and the damage just doesn’t seem worth it. To address this, we’ll be doing a straight damage increase to Seven-Sided Strike to make it an attractive option for those who are looking for a skill that really packs a punch.
The damage buff to Seven Sided Strike is significant. And although players rarely complain when a skill gets buffed, it does leave one wondering why a lower damage existed in the first place.
The answer is: our initial design was flawed in several ways. To get the skill where it needed to be, we identified three distinct problems that were plaguing not only Seven-Sided Strike, but other class skills as well, and each problem merited a damage increase.
We looked at making these improvements across all skills and all classes, and Seven-Sided Strike benefitted all three times. As a result, the 1.0.4 version of the skill is incredibly potent (we'll save the details for the patch notes).
Wave of Light:
Wave of Light is the kind of skill that just needs to do way more damage. It has a big Spirit cost, but it doesn’t seem to pay off based on the amount of Spirit invested into it. In general, we’d like Lashing Tail Kick to be a skill that’s good against a small number of targets and feels relatively "spammable," and for Wave of Light to be a skill that’s more of an investment -- something that you don’t use as frequently, but pays out with bigger damage numbers when you actually do hit the button.
Current: 215% weapon damage as Holy + 45% damage as AoE
1.0.4: 390% weapon damage as Holy + 45% damage as AoE
This is just for the base skill. Wall of Light, Explosive Light, and Pillar of the Ancients damage has also been buffed up by a fair amount.
In terms of passives, it's pretty clear at this point that One With Everything is considered a mandatory passive for all monks. While "mandatory" passives aren't great, making any major change would do more harm than good, particularly when a) incoming damage is so high and b) monks need the extra durability in order to survive. Additionally, as a result of this passive, monks are more heavily tied to their current gear, so making changes to One With Everything would have very noticeable negative repercussions to the gear monks have invested in.
While we'd prefer that there wasn't an "absolutely mandatory" passive, we're going to let this one ride for now. If we do try to make changes we'll ideally do it in a way that doesn't invalidate the passive, doesn't hurt monk survivability, and doesn't undermine the gear people are currently wearing.
Last but not least, we added the ability for monks to wield two-handed weapons in 1.0.3, along with supporting animations. This has allowed some monks who enjoy two-handers to play this way, but it's not always effective. In the Systems Preview, we mentioned that two-handed melee weapons are getting a buff, and that will help. As additional support, the Spirit generation bonus granted by The Guardian's Path is going to be increased from 25% to 35%.
Be sure to check out our other class previews for patch 1.0.4:
Wyatt Cheng is a Senior Technical Game Designer for Diablo III. He's currently debating whether to level his Shadow priest or "Laser Chicken" to 90 first when Mists of Pandaria comes out.
Wyatt Cheng posted the second class change this time about the Wizard.
Like the other classes, the wizard is also seeing a lot of tuning improvements to help promote build diversity. Rather than focus on those minor adjustments, though (which you'll be able to learn more about in the 1.0.4 patch notes), I'm going focus the majority of this preview on Hydra.
Here are the major points I'll cover:
Nature of the Beast
From a development standpoint, we love Hydra and put a lot of effort into its design. In fact, Hydra took many times more development time to create than an average skill. There are more art variants, more spell effects, and more lines of code associated with Hydra than almost any other wizard skill in the game (except potentially Archon). We did this because Hydra is an iconic skill in the wizard's arsenal and we wanted it to stand out. When you're in a multiplayer game and you see that Hydra spawn, it's instantly recognizable. And for those who are familiar with the class, you can also immediately tell which rune variant a wizard is running with.
Our goal for Hydra is to not just have each rune variant be visually distinct, but also for it to be better at something than the others. Specifically:
New Tristram, We Have a Problem
Despite these goals, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Venom Hydra is simply the best Hydra to use, regardless of the situation. This is mostly to do with its very high damage output. Although (technically) against fast-moving targets the Lightning Hydra does slightly more damage, Venom Hydra does three times more damage if you get the target to stand still, and that difference is simply too big to pass up.
The other rune variants have similar issues. The range on the Frost Hydra is too short to be useful. The DPS loss Arcane Hydra takes for being good at AoE makes it too weak versus single targets (especially when you consider that most of the hard fights are against high health Elites). The niche for Mammoth Hydra is very narrow and, if you can get a target to stand still, Venom Hydra does more damage in hallways than Mammoth Hydra anyways.
Five Heads Are Better Than One
To address these issues, we've decided to boost the damage of Lightning, Frost, Arcane, and Mammoth Hydra. Venom Hydra will remain the best against stationary targets, but if the targets are moving in any way, Lightning should be a clear winner. The range of Frost Hydra has been more than doubled as well, which should allow it to fill the intended role of snaring. Arcane Hydra will do less damage than Venom Hydra versus a single target, but rather than doing approximately 60% less damage, choosing it should only cause about a 15-20% DPS hit against single targets -- and you should be much better against groups. Mammoth Hydra will be getting a modest bump, but ultimately "good in hallways" just doesn't seem like a very good specialty. We're going to keep an eye on this one for now, but down the road we'd like to find something much cooler for the Mammoth Hydra -- like giving it the ability to move around the battlefield without needing to be recast (just as an example).
Here are some raw numbers:
Frost Hydra's cone width has also been changed from 15 yards with a 60 degree spread to 35 yards with a 30 degree spread.
One concern is how this change will affect skill diversity. If our goal is to promote a large variety of builds, why are we taking one of the most powerful wizard runes and then bumping all of the variants to match it rather than simply nerfing Venom Hydra?
From our point of view, it's okay for Venom Hydra to be extremely powerful. One of the trickiest things throughout our design process has been creating lots of appealing skills. You only have six skill slots, so the more appealing skills we can make, the more significant your choice becomes of which skills earn a spot on your bar. If a Signature skill is on the strong side, it starts to trump the other Signature skills. If a Signature skill is way too strong then it starts to trump your Arcane Power spenders as well. This hurts build diversity. Similar situations exist for Arcane Power spenders, many defensive skills, and the trio of Armor skills (Ice Armor, Storm Armor, and Energy Armor).
However, in the case of Hydra, the risk of trumping other skills is much lower. It’s totally okay for Hydra to be one of the most used skills because there’s still a lot of flexibility beyond making it your only source of DPS. If you can spare the skill slot, you’ll almost certainly want to combine it with a Signature skill to cast while the Hydra is out. If you can spare two skill slots, you can do even more damage by adding a secondary Arcane Power spender.
While patch 1.0.4 has very few nerfs, one of them does affect the wizard. Rather than waiting for players to discover this change in the patch notes or while playing, I wanted to call it out here because it affects a build that I find to be quite cool and enjoy a lot.
Energy Twister is having its proc coefficient reduced from 0.25 to 0.125. For players who may not know what proc coefficients are: they affect how effectively a skill triggers procs (or effects that have a small chance to activate). Many skills (like Magic Missile) have a proc coefficient of 1. Skills that hit multiple targets or pulse multiple times have lower proc coefficients.
In the case of Energy Twister, specifically Wicked Wind, the 0.25 proc coefficient causes the skill to generate more procs in a given time period than any other skill. Currently, this is used in combination with Critical Mass to lower the cooldown on skills like Frost Nova and Diamond Skin. By reducing the proc coefficient from 0.25 to 0.125, the build still works and remains fairly strong, but it won’t be quite as good as it is now. (For those with extremely high Crit rates, you may not even notice much difference, but I wanted to call it out anyway. )
Originally, we weren’t going to make this change, but 1.0.4 also brings with it a number of new Legendary items, and many of them have phenomenal new proc effects. If we left high proc coefficients as they were, then a handful of skills with higher coefficients would become the de facto choice to use with these sexy new items. We were faced with a choice: we could either reduce the proc coefficient, or we could make it so these skills could not trigger the procs on Legendary items at all. We opted for the former because it seemed like getting a Legendary with a proc effect but never seeing it trigger would be very disappointing. Regardless, having well-balanced proc coefficients on all skills is not only better for Legendaries, but also for the game in the long term.
The reduced proc coefficient is just a drop in the bucket, and overall wizards are seeing their fair share of buffing.
In addition to the Hydra buffs, we're also increasing the damage of some lesser used Signature skill runes. A few skills are very popular right now such as Seeker (Magic Missile) and Piercing Orb (Shock Pulse), so we’ll be buffing the other runes to match. We'll be revisiting all of the other Signature skill runes with much the same philosophy as Hydra.
Meteor requires the player to correctly predict enemy movement in order to deal maximum damage, and Arcane Torrent requires you to stand still for extended periods of time to do damage. Since a player is putting in some extra effort to use these skills, some extra damage seems justified.
Be sure to check out our other class previews for patch1.0.4:
Wyatt Cheng is a Senior Technical Game Designer for Diablo III. He loves all of you. Especially you.
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