With the reveal of D2:R and continually drip feeding of information around D4, the discussion is in full swing again. People are again clamoring for more interesting choices, more impactful choices, and/or advocating for removing the boring options. More specifically the community seems divided with one camp defending the D2 itemization for being so great with lots of meaningful choices, while the other camp is wondering what's so special about it anyway. I decided to attempt an explanation of this phenomenon as someone who's had a couple thousand hours of play in both D2 and D3, alongside playing multiple other ARPG's over the years. I'm not attempting to definitively decide what everyone in the community feels, this are just my own thoughts on the subject, from reading through a whole lot of discussions that have been made.
Did D2 truly have impactful decisions in itemization? No… not really. Please hear me out before you downvote and/or comment to explain why I'm wrong. D2 has a lot of affixes but most are completely useless to you as a player. Stuff like %mana steal, light radius, bonus stamina, reduced poison duration. These easily take up half of the available affixes in the game if not more, but by end-game they are absolutely worthless.
What are the useful stats, what decisions truly mattered? Attack speed, attack rating, cast speed, faster hit recovery, faster block rate (if using shields, and even then it was debatable), resistance, magic find and +skills. These are all part of the bread and butter of D2 itemization. Sounds familiar? It should do if you played D3. Main stat, attack speed, crit chance, crit damage, cooldown reduction, resource cost reduction and resistance. The stats are a bit different in D3 and it doesn't have breakpoints in the same way D2 had, but it had a core set of desirable affixes for all classes. Make you faster, deal more damage etc. So why is D2 considered so much better by many people?
After looking over the available affixes, there are hardly any interesting choices available in D2 in comparison to D3, and the very few you have are outliers. So what made D2's itemization so loved? I believe it has less to do with what each individual item/affix brings to the table (outside aforementioned outliers), and more to do with how the entire system comes together as a whole. I don't just mean the affixes that can spawn on items, I'm thinking of allocating stat points for gear requirements, and perhaps most importantly the diversity of base items that every other iteration of items are built on, combined with the runeword system (or rare items I guess in pre-LoD).
Let's talk base items. In D3 the base items by and large did not matter, because the impact they have was watered down, or streamlined if you will. Two-handers for more damage but slower attack, one-handers for lower damage but faster attack, you get the idea. However due to the insane stats boosts from legendary and set items, you had little choice in what base items to go for. You either used the items that gave the biggest boosts to the build you wanted, then selected your skills based on that, and that's the item type you are stuck with. This is mitigated a bit with transmogrify system for those who wants to look stylish, but it detracts from the uniqueness of the base item types or lack thereof.
However in D2 it was more pronounced, at least as far as weapons are concerned, but also armors to a certain extent. For armor pieces the choice usually boiled down to "Do I invest more in strength to access higher defence armors, or do I not need that defence and save those stat points for vitality/dexterity/energy?", while armor type did affect movement speed slightly most players did not know this from my experience. For weapons it was a whole different beast. You have the usual base item speed and damage rolls. But you also have total possible socket count and range, not to mention the base speed of a specific item would vary depending on class. While base speed, damage and sockets are undoubtedly the most important factors, the inclusion of range added that little bit of extra choice in what base item to aim for, while different base speeds for classes added a tiny bit of nuance in choices between classes. Adding on even more minor choices was the difference in superior items and weather or not to go for an ethereal item as a base.
Last but not least, D2 had a weird but fun system of allowing access to class specific skills for everyone. This came in two forms, charges and oskills. Items with charge skills came with a set number of uses of said skill, before the item needed repairs to restore them. Oskills did not have charges and could be used freely as much as you wanted. The most notable example being teleport to all classes, which can be argued is a band-aid for classes outside the sorceress lacking a movement ability (which I do not disagree with). But it also included access to whirlwind on assassins or wolf/bear shapeshifting for all classes (typically only used on barbs) to name a couple.
Was D2 items perfect? Hell no! There are many weird inconsistencies that didn't make sense. Light armor with practically the same defence values as medium armor, but with notably lower stat requirements, higher durability and slightly faster move speed. You have weapons with lower socket counts than equivalent counterparts, with no appreciable difference in damage, speed or range. You have weapons with high stat requirements, lower damage, and more or less the same speed and range modifier as a counterpart with lower stat requirements and higher damage. And as already mentioned runewords acting as band-aids in a specific instance to shore up a class design oversight, or to add some fun gimmicks to experiment with. This could have certainly been balanced better, but for those willing to make compromises or step outside the beaten path it added choice. Not an impactful one mind you, but it was there.
So how does this all come together? I believe that the increased number of smaller and more menial choices helped frame the more impactful milestones to make them stand out. The differences in base items made them different from each other in more ways than visual change and even had a small impact on how your character plays, at least as far as weapons are concerned. For the most part these things stopped mattering once you did farm up a bank of items and could afford end-game gear, but it enhanced the journey there, which leads me to in my opinion the biggest failing of D3.
Infinitely scaling content. Now I know this isn't directly related to itemization, but bear with me for a moment. Infinitely scaling content made it feel like your character was never done. Your build was never done. You never reached a point where it was good enough, because it was relatively easy to reach all the important milestones for a build, but by seeking out better and better rolled gear, you could farm higher level content for more gear and more exp. However past a certain point all you got was a bit more damage and a bit more survivability, you had minor increases to all the important stats, but there weren't any important milestones left to reach. The grind became boring without providing that same sense of satisfaction or closure of finally feeling like a build was good enough for all the content the game had to offer. I acknowledge that this is a problem with my own mentality, but I'm fairly certain I'm not alone int his camp.
TL:DR: D2's itemization offered compromises to make builds work without needing end-game items. It provided avenues to adapt during leveling and farming to get convenience, and you could reach all the vital milestones with sub-optimal gear. On the path to better gear you didn't just increase all the stats you already had from before, you changed to new or different items. You also got sense of satisfaction from being able to reach a point where a build was complete. Most importantly for me at least, D2's itemization enhanced the build you created, it did not dictate it.
I will not claim to know the solution to this, and while D4's itemization seems to be on the right track in some regards, D4's (and D3's) itemization is lacking in several aspects that makes D2 stand out from most other ARPG's on the market. Both D3 and D4 were/are streamlining and removing many of the minor options to differentiate, customize or compromise to make builds work, or ability to create your own quirky abominations, in favor if having as many impactful decisions as possible. I don't blame the developers for this, it's what the community has been craving. "Interesting loot, no boring affixes, MEANINGFUL CHOICES!" are being parroted time and time again.
The game needs a balance of menial choices to make the impactful moments stand out. Ultimately if all choices become impactful, then in a sense none of them are, they're just choices.
- Item Feedback: Linear scaling is a huge mistake.
- Item Affixes in D4
- Feedback and Ideas for the Ancestral, Angelic, and Demonic Power Stats
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