While working on Diablo III we've been called out for messing around with systems too much, that the game is good as-is and we should just release it. I think that's a fair argument to make, but I also think it's incorrect. Our job isn't just to put out a game, it's to release the next Diablo game. No one will remember if the game is late, only if it's great. We trust in our ability to put out a great game, but we're not quite there yet. In addition to finishing and polishing the content of the game we're continuing to iterate on some of the core game systems. So all that said, I'd like to provide everyone an update on some of the systems we're currently working on.
We're changing some of the systems we've gotten the most feedback on both internally and from the beta test, including crafting, items, core attributes, and inventory. We’ll go over those changes and the reasons for them. In addition we’re working on major changes to the skill and rune systems that we’re not ready to talk about, but I promise you we can’t possibly ship without a finished skill and rune system. :)
Let’s start off small: Scrolls of Identification are no longer in the game. Unidentified items and the act of identifying them is still very much part of the game, but now when obtaining an unidentified item you'll simply right click it, a short cast timer will occur as your character examines the item, and it will become identified. We love the double-discovery of finding a present and then unwrapping it, but we don't think it requires a physical item you have to find and keep in your bags to get the same effect. From now on you'll just be able to inherently identify all your items, no need to carry scrolls. Your character in Diablo III is just that badass now.
We're also moving the fifth quick slot button, which is becoming a dedicated potion button. A dedicated potion button is something we went back and forth on throughout development. Recently it became apparent that players need to be aware of their potions for emergency situations. Our combat model doesn’t promote or even allow chugging potions in rapid succession, but they’re certainly useful when you run into a string of bad luck with health globes, or if you just get in over your head. This is one of our newest changes, so the button and mechanics don’t actually function in beta Patch 10, but that’s our intent and you’ll be seeing it supported in future beta updates.
The design team is currently looking at systems and cleaning them up, removing any superfluous system objectives and those that are beyond fixing. Thus, we're removing the Mystic artisan. As we look at the big picture, the Mystic simply wasn’t adding anything to our customization system. Enhancement was really just the socket and gem system with a different name, and it would prolong the release of the game even further to go back to the drawing board and differentiate it, so we’ll revisit the Mystic and enhancements at a later time. Removing her from the game took some time, but it’s nowhere near the efforts that would be required to flesh out a better customization system. We hope she’ll be able to join your caravan in the future, but for now we’re going to focus on the extensive customization options the game already offers.
We're also looking at systems we’ve created and making sure that the rationale that brought us to these designs still makes sense. The Stone of Recall, for instance, has a short cast time and allows you to return to town. Early on we said we wouldn't have town portals, as they introduced too many combat exploits, but we were able to resolve them. Because we have the Stone of Recall, though, we began to evaluate systems that were originally implemented to deal with the exclusion of town portals.
So we've decided to remove the Cauldron of Jordan and Nephalem Cube. They were implemented to allow for salvaging and selling items when there was no quick and easy way to return to town. Now that the Stone of Recall exists, we found that keeping the Cauldron and Cube in the game detracted from the benefits of returning to town to sell items, salvage, craft, and interact with the townsfolk. It’s a good idea to break up combat so that players have a moment to evaluate their gear and crafting options before venturing back out. In addition, we've decided to just call it what it is and the Stone of Recall is now Town Portal, and is integrated directly onto the skill bar UI.
The Blacksmith artisan will now salvage items. With removal of the Cube we needed some mechanic in town that allowed you to salvage your items, and it just makes sense for the Blacksmith to offer it.
One other important change is that common (white) items will no longer be salvageable. We found that it caused a few itemization issues, but mostly this is due to a general philosophy shift on the importance of items. Previously, our thinking was that when an item dropped it should always be useful to you in some way, either the stats could be an improvement for you, or in the case of white items you could break it down and craft something better. Through a lot of play testing we have come full circle to the Diablo II methodology -- a lot of stuff that drops just isn’t worth picking up. Diablo II captured the loot piñata feel by dropping a lot of crap, mostly arrows and bolts, and we of course still very much want that feeling of item-explosions. To do that we need to be able to balance the value of items to how many we’re throwing at you.
This leads us to the last change I'll be detailing today:
We're changing core character attributes to Strength, Dexterity, Intellect, and Vitality, and the benefits each stat provides is being broken down as:
+Demon Hunter damage
+Witch Doctor damage
+Health from globes
We're dropping Defense, Attack, and Precision as attributes, Armor is taking over for what Defense used to provide, +Physical Resist will take over for Armor, and +Chance to Crit will fill in for Precision. Obviously these stat changes are one of the bigger systems changes we're currently working on as they have far reaching requirements to re-itemize and balance the game.
This change makes the stats more intuitive and fixes some of the itemization issues we were running into. We want to make it clear that junk items aren’t worth picking up, and make it easy to identify other items as not for your character. We want to drop a ton of items, but to really pull off a sense of excitement when finding a great item, there needs to be non-optimal items, both for your class, and in general. By specifically targeting stats at classes, we can reduce the amount of item overlap, diversify our item pool, and create a cleaner, more exciting itemization system.
By and large these changes have little impact on which items you’re going to want. The item hunt has always been based on secondary stats and affixes, and we’re working hard to ensure build diversity is as large as possible by getting as many affixes into the game as possible (adding more item affixes is also something we’ve been working on). Simply including affixes that augment specific skills greatly expands the itemization pool and build possibilities.
Moving on, with the removal of the Cauldron of Jordan, Nephalem Cube, and by moving Town Portal to the skill panel, we're now displaying character stats directly on the inventory UI. Now you can see your stats go up and down as you try on different items. All the same info is available; we’re just streamlining the UI, making it more useful. It might seem insignificant but we're pleased with the results.
All of these are changes that will in one way or another be seen in the latest beta patch, and so we hope that those of you with access please try them out and let us know what you think in the Beta Feedback forum.
There’s a lot of work left to be done, though. We’re constantly tuning and making balance changes; it’s a massive task. Some of these changes can be seen in the beta, like changes to item rarity, the levels at which we introduce affixes, and how many affixes enemies can roll up. Some you can’t see in the beta, like balancing the difficulty of the entire game for four different difficulty levels, adding tons of new affixes, creating legendary items, filling out crafting recipes and itemization, working on achievements, and implementing Battle.net features. We’re also working on a number of other large systems changes -- specifically with the skill and rune systems. We're not quite ready to share what those are just yet, but we look forward to being able to do so in the near future.
We want Diablo III to be the best game it can be when it launches. To get there, we're going to be iterating on designs we've had in place for a long time, making changes to systems you've spent a lot of time theorycrafting, and removing features you may have come to associate with the core of the experience. Our hope is that by embracing our iterative design process in which we question ourselves and our decisions, Diablo III won't just live up to our expectations, but will continue to do so a decade after it's released.
Jay Wilson is game director for Diablo III and the Inventor of Meat. He believes that Kate Beckinsale is the greatest actress that’s ever lived.