Diablo

[D4] Thoughts on Itemization and Stats

Following the BlizzCon gameplay footage of Diablo 4, there have – once again – been plenty of complaints regarding itemization and stats. Since "It's too much like D3" is in itself not helpful criticism, I believe many opinions boil down to these three core issues:

  • The numbers are too big
  • Items are not interesting
  • Most affixes won't matter

Re: The numbers are too big

This statement generally refers to two things: The attack & defense values on items are in the thousands and that's too much; and: Items have hundreds of stats on them, making level up stat allocation not matter.

Concerning the first point, we have no idea how attack & defense even work and how they interact (your attack with enemies' defense and vice versa). Attack may very well not be equal to damage, but a layer of abstraction beyond that. It may well be that the attack values we see translate into… acceptable damage numbers in combat.
I agree that the damage dealt and taken in combat should be easily readable which isn't the case for numbers in the millions or billions (even tens of thousands are rough, imho). Stating that is perfectly fine, but complaining about the attack values when we don't know what they even mean is premature, at best.

I agree with the second point: that an item with ~200 to two stats and ~70 to the two others essentially invalidates your level up stat allocations of 5 points per level = 200 at max level 40. If that was indeed a legitimate, droppable item, then that's an issue. Your stat allocations should have impact. In D2, a lot of that impact came from Str and Dex being required to equip certain items. D4 lacks those requirements on items, but has them on secondary skill effects instead, but the shown item would completely destroy those requirements, too. However, I believe that this may not actually be an issue, see the 2020 Q4 update again:

You can supplement your character's stat build with items to give you a little more Willpower here, a little more Strength there, but the vast majority of your stats will come from how you choose to spend your points.

If the team sticks to this idea, then such an item as seen in the demo should not exist. That would mean that it was merely a stat-stick specifically for demo or testing purposes.
I hope the team has heard the fan outcry on this type of design and has not, in fact, done a 180 on their previous statements. A short confirmation on whether or not this thing can drop in the game or exists just for demo/testing purposes would be nice and soothe the waves.

Outside of that, I'm actually not even opposed to the amount of stats on the item, considering that these stats function differently than in D3. As shown in the last quarterly update, even the main stat only increases skill damage by 0.05% per point, only 1/20th of D3's 1%. Meaning 200 points are a damage increase of 10% of the base value. Not the end of the world, imho.

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Re: Items are not interesting

The core of each Diablo game is the item hunt, so making items interesting is absolutely essential. Meaning that this criticism is a serious one.
I've already stated why I believe that the worst offending item we've seen is probably not 'real', so let's move on to the more general problems people seem to have: uninspired affixes and boring base items.

Of course, it's highly subjective what constitutes a good or interesting affix on an item. Still, I believe we can agree that a pure "+ x damage" or "+ x health" is pretty boring. We've so far seen much more than that though: "x% control duration", "x% reduced potion cooldown", "+x points to skill y", "x% damage while healthy". All those and more were not in D3.
Additionally, one might argue that the truly cool affixes should be exclusive to Legendary and Unique items to make sure those feel special. In D2, many Uniques had affixes that you'd normally not find on that slot (or only with lower values), but ultimately were often not truly unique. They were just more of something you could already get elsewhere. Of course, that might have a large impact on your build but I prefer Uniques to have something to them that truly makes them stand out.

Concerning boring base items, people bring up the point that everything has attack or defense, depending on slot. That there is no damage range on weapons. That the base items are just referred to by their slot or weapon type and have no further distinction.
I guess most people would agree that armor pieces all have an armor value is fine – and if that's called "defense" here, so be it. One of the main complaints regarding D3 was that everything is based on weapon damage. In D4, it looks like more items slots will contribute to that base attack value (assuming that somehow correlates to D3's weapon damage). This is, imho, a good thing since it allows you to make up for a lower damage value on your weapon on other slots. Maybe it doesn't make a ton of sense for a ring to increase the damage of the axe, but we're talking about magic items here; they already have a bunch of illogical effects.
There's also the argument that skill damage shouldn't be based on weapon damage at all, at least for magic users. There's little arguing against that. It's a design decision that will make scaling and balancing easier at the cost of some build diversity. That's a tradeoff worth considering, but impossible to tell whether it's the right decision.

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Finally, the team has stated that each zone will have a unique look to the base items (weapons only?) dropped there. I love that change from a flavor perspective, but believe it has more potential. First off, please give us proper base item names again: Every bow being just named "bow" is really bland, especially if there are already different looks to them. I assume this is the plan anyways and we just haven't seen it yet.
Then, why not extend the unique base affix per weapon type to be slightly different per zone? Even if the values are really minor, it might add a lot. As long as there isn't an across the board best base affix per slot, at least weapons would greatly benefit. It'll make them not only look different, but also feel different. Maybe a certain zone's axes are more efficient against demons, or have their bleed chance increased, or have a slightly increased attack speed. For most casual players, this won't matter much, but if you want a GG item, you could now target your farming a bit.

Re: Most affixes won't matter

A lot of this complaint comes down to the "weapon damage trumps all" worry carried over from D3, which I already addressed above. But there is another dimension to it: In D3, most builds care about main stat, crit chance, crit damage, and cooldown reduction above all. There's some others, dependent on build, but those are top priority almost across the board.
I fully agree that this isn't how things should be. Ideally, every affix is highly desired for some build(s) and none are used by all of them. But this isn't some arcane wisdom; the dev team knows this.
Thing is, that is a pure balancing issue: if Diablo 3 suddenly dropped Crit Damage on all items down to a quarter of what it is now, things would look very different. The game is in pre-alpha, balancing is far from the number one concern right now. Sure, it will be important down the line, but there's little sense in complaining based on what's in the game long before all the balancing passes have happened.

Other Thoughts

I'm not worried about the balancing of skills and itemization at release. The absolute top builds won't be found by the developers anyways, there are just too many possible combinations of skills and items. It'll be the millions of players that figure out those most powerful combinations. Some balancing will always need to happen after that.
What I am worried about is the team adapting the D3 strategy of not nerfing things, but buffing everything else to be on that same level. This is what leads to everything being overpowered and trivializing existing content. It's what brought us higher and higher Torments which needed better rewards, so higher drop rates, leading to even more power creep. I understand that logging in after a patch and finding your character weaker does not feel great, but we've seen the alternative and I'd argue that the latter is worse. So I hope that the dev team won't be afraid of the nerf hammer.

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There has also been plenty of talk about the cooldown-based abilities. I prefer them, and here's why: A purely resource-based approach will often lead to one-button builds. There will simply be a single best bang-for-your-buck skill and therefore little reason to use anything else. You'd use that one to kill stuff and the rest of your skills will be utility or support skills. That's not exactly inspired. If skills have cooldowns, you can have high impact skills that can't be used as the only damage skill because you simply can't spam them.
Diablo 3's 2-minute buff cooldowns went too far, though. Without cooldown reduction, they're useless and with it, they're OP because they're always on. There is no real middle ground. I don't mind cooldowns of up to, say, 20 seconds, that limit me to 1 or 2 uses of a skill in a single fight. But I don't want to waste a skill slot on something I can't even use in the majority of encounters because it'll still be on cooldown.
One thing I'd like to see more of are skills with conditional cooldowns or charges. Something like: "Gain a charge after freezing 3 enemies" or "Reset cooldown after triggering Exploit Weakness (Rogue only)". Things like this make you adapt to each situation. If those don't exist, your cooldowns might turn into a mindless rotation.

Source: reddit.com

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