Diablo III Balancing & Class Set Design

by DHAdmin on January 29th, 2020 at 1:45 pm

Diablo III Wizard

Blizzard are celebrating 2020 with a relaunch of The Darkening of Tristram; one of its favorite events for Season 19; released for the PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.

The Blizzard team have been working on multiple content patches for Diablo III, including Patch 2.6.7. that was made public in November. This release introduced two new class sets, one each for Crusader and Monk, and a reworked Whirlwind gameplay for the Barbarian. According to Blizzard, the end product was pivotal to the endgame meta and an ambitious undertaking that has worked out well even if they acknowledge that there's a lot more work to do!

Table of Contents

Paragon & Greater Rift Levels

Paragon greater rift

Blizzard has a lot of user feedback and stats to consider when tweaking Diablo III. This data comes in many forms, including build guides, gameplay from your favorite streamers, and the Diablo III leaderboards. Paramonth though, Blizzard also tracks its own data internally, which allows them to see a lot more than just the top 1,000 player clears for each category.

None of these stats should be taken in a vacuum though; and the dev team at Blizzard consider the following metrics:

  • Individual performers and their Paragon Level
    • Paragon level directly impacts a player's long-term progress; it's important that this is accounted for when comparing different points of data
  • The intended design and in-practice functionality of each class set
    • For example, one might ask what this set do best? Does it clear a lot of smaller monsters, or is it a good Rift Guardian killer? Does the set serve a support role? Is it better in group play over solo? Does it need to be doing something different? All these questions need to be considered.

Blizzard are also at pains to list what they specifically avoid when considering overall class balance:

 

  • Seasonal buffs and their impact on overall power
    • Blizzard aims to design fun, engaging Seasonal buffs without worrying about how they might impact class balance
      • Data from non-Seasonal players is especially helpful here
    • Some buffs may be better or worse for different classes, but since Season effects are temporary, Blizzaed say they are relaxed about this.
  • Direct 1:1 class comparison
    • While Blizzard is keen that each class must perform similarly, it is still important that classes retain their unique class fantasy
      • Each class should be able to accomplish similar goals, just in different ways

When balancing, the Blizzard team loos for a point of reference to work around. The "ideal" class set performance for Diablo III is approximately Greater Rift 130, solo, and assumes the character has 5000 Paragon levels. They point out that this might sound high and low to others but they argue that if this is the case, then they have the balance about right.

Leaderboard data

Assuming a player is at 5000 Paragon, here's where all the classes landed, on average, a few weeks into Patch 2.6.7 for non-Seasonal play, aggregated across player leaderboard data world-wide:

Barbarian

Crusader

Demon Hunter

Monk

Necromancer

Witch Doctor

Wizard

GR Avg.

130

138

125

130

123

130

130

From the data above Blizzard can be certain which classes are under or over performing.

Just for fun, here's a similar comparison during the same timeframe upscaled in Season (where many players hadn't reached 5000+ paragon):

Barbarian

Crusader

Demon Hunter

Monk

Necromancer

Witch Doctor

Wizard

GR Avg.

135

136

124

134

118

120

130

It's interesting to see which classes most likely benefit most from the Seasonal buff - it's also evident which classes are probably not being played as much or pushed as hard as others.

While this Blizzard's main goal, they are also conscious they aren't always going to hit it perfectly. Like many games, Diablo III has substantial number of mechanical details. A single change can have knock-on effects through many other parts of the game, so it's important to be mindful of what each change can affect. To take these factors into account, Blizzard has a scale for error, based on how a class is performing above or below our guideline:

  • +/- 1-2 Greater Rift Levels: Very close. Probably fine, when accounting for random elements (the perfect "fish") or high player skill cap (excellent play and timing).
  • +/- 3-4 Greater Rift Levels: The warning zone. We need to watch for buffs/nerfs in this area, but action may not yet be necessary. Time to keep an eye on it!
  • +/- 5 or more Greater Rift Levels: Warrants significant change. At this range, it's clear that something is over (or under) performing and needs to be addressed.

Blizzard are at pains to point out they are using aggregate data; the above tables only cover overall class performance rather than individual class set performance. Better performing builds may be equalizing out weaker ones when it comes to the broader picture. They make changes at the set and item level, which means that they must additionally parse out data by build performance (whether it's a class set or Legacy of Nightmares-based). The above method is meant to serve as an example of our general approach and informs them which classes most likely need more attention first.

The Greater Rift 150 Cap

It's important to note, especially for those of you who have been looking for this answer: but the dev team has no plans to increase the Greater Rift level cap beyond 150. As to why, the short answer is because it causes more problems than it solves.

The long answer is simply that continuing to expand the end game through additional Greater Rift levels hasn't been the healthiest approach for Diablo III. At this late stage of game development, Blizzard say they would prefer to focus on making the current game the best, and most varied, experience it can possibly be. We hope to accomplish this by (1) continuing to add new builds and (2) improving existing builds that have fallen behind. Maintaining a cap, and even backing away from it a little, will allow us to focus on greater gameplay variety.

Solo vs. Group Design

Solo vs Group design

It's apparently a common misconception that the Diablo III dev team looks for a balance solely around 4-man groups. They say that while they certainly take it into account, group play is not their only focus because not all players enjoy playing in groups. Blizzard wants to ensure that the content they're designing can be enjoyed by the most players, so their design decisions should take both styles into account. They note that to design solely around one style of play, the other would be severely impacted (and likely a lot less fun).

However, there is one notable exception to this. zDPS, or "zero Damage Per Second," builds tend to only thrive in group play. The team debated for a long time as to whether this was a style we should encourage or actively avoid (or possibly even remove). Any Diablo game is, at its heart, about killing monsters and getting loot, so we considered heavily whether this gameplay fit the spirit of the game they had made.

Blizzard notes that zDPS (zero damage per second) is a style of gameplay that some players like, but not all do. Blizzard ultimately decided that it's good that there are unique ways to play Diablo III, and they don't want to take that fun away from those who enjoy it. However, they're also not actively trying to create more zDPS builds. Their intent is rather to design new item powers and sets that either facilitate entirely new builds that can be used solo or in groups, or to give more item support to some of the most requested class skills. Inevitably, regardless of what gets added, they know the community will find combinations Blizzard never anticipated—and they are looking forward to our feedback!

"Creative" Game Mechanics & Animations

There have been a handful of problematic gameplay styles that have emerged over time, largely due to creative use of snapshotting or taking advantage of the ability to cancel skill animations. Blizzard claim that these impede can impede efforts at overall game balance, and it makes it very difficult for them to change skills or items without overly punishing the whole class when these tactics aren't used.

With this in mind, Blizzard is keen to be able to address the balance issues these builds pose, but at the same time they don't want these classes to fall behind as a result of these changes. Blizzard are honest that fixing these problems is going to be a game of whack-a-mole as they make fixes and other issues arise through player experimentation. Their first area of concern will be disabling animation cancellation on certain skills. The Crusader class is the most subject to this (though not alone) and Blizzard say they will ensure no class falls behind as a result of losing this "trick." Once this this specific issue has been addressed, they will continue to review and revisit areas of the game where similar mechanics are having a negative impact and act accordingly.

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