Game Design Updates: A short analysis
Before the actual game design talk commences, Blizzard give us some figures about the first two weeks of Diablo III:
On average players have created 3 characters each
80% of characters are between levels 1 and 30
1.9% of characters have unlocked Inferno difficulty
54% of Hardcore players chose a female character
The majority of Hardcore deaths (35%) occur in Act I Normal
The most common level 60 build in the game is only used by 0.7% of level 60 characters of that class (not including Passive diversity)
The most used runes for each class at level 60 are Barbarian: Best Served Cold, Demon Hunter: Lingering Fog, Wizard: Mirror Skin, Monk: Peaceful Repose, Witch Doctor: Numbing Dart
It's interesting to decipher some of those numbers, particularly the large amount of Hardcore deaths on Act I Normal. Having played through Act I Normal about five times now (including on hardcore), this writer can guarantee that there are no special mobs that are particularly dangerous besides the Walker Trees in the Fields of Misery. It's not like Tristram and its surroundings are cluttered with Colossal Gorgors or Heralds of Pestilence, so our guess is that most of the people fall victim to the illusionary sense of immortality which can make a person play over-recklessly. Sadly, there is no statistics on which classes die the most on Act I Normal.
More surprising is the low percent of characters who managed to unlock beat Diablo on Hell and unlock Inferno. Have in mind that with an average of 3 characters per account, 1.9% is actually the absolute highest amount of players that have unlocked Inferno, while in fact this number should be lower, knowing that many players have multiple characters on Inferno. Considering how easy it actually is to beat Hell (not to boast around, just shooting a statement that holds true even when considering the more casual players), I expected it to be above the 10%. I'd love to see statistics of some actual Inferno progress (e.g. number of characters that have beaten Act II) as it communicate some even cooler information!
The third detail of interest is the figure 0.7% used to describe the most used build for each class. Although this may look like something in full support for Blizzard's intent to have great build variety, we need to take some factors into account. First, not all level 60 characters have unlocked Inferno, and we can tell you that Hell builds have really nothing in common with Inferno builds. Second, changing one rune on one skill does not make for an entirely different build, but is something that will be picked up the software. And third, skill builds are more or less linked to gear, e.g. barbarians that do not have high armor items will chose Ignore Pain or Leap [Iron Impact] or both to make up for it and this is also something that leads to the small percentage that we have here. Inferno build stats will make for a more interesting discussion but 114,000 people are not a representative sample size, I guess.
On to game changes now. A part of Blizzard's post is related to the recent Patch 1.0.2. Patch Notes. The patch saw Monk's Mantra of Healing and its rune Boon of Protection redone. Previously, after casting MoH [Boon of Protection], the monk and his allies got a shield that absorbed up to 15% of his/her maximum life. On May 22nd, the rune was hotfixed and read that "the amount of damage absorbed is now capped at the amount of healing provided by Mantra of Healing in the first 3 seconds after activation". That hotfix also addressed Wizard's Energy Armor [Force Armor] and Demon Hunter's Smoke Screen [Lingering Fog] as both of those along with Mantra of Healing [Boon of Protection] made the classes using them very hard to kill with proper itemization, even on Inferno.
Although the changes to Force Armor and Lingering Fog persisted, the Mantra of Healing was changed once again (details available in the patch notes at the link above). Blizzard's explanation is as follows:
Talking about Inferno, this is one of the places that the development team will be focusing a lot. The first changes will come with Patch 1.0.3. which is to correct the damage "spikiness" in Inferno, often resulting in characters being one-shotted without any ability to react. As this is in direct to contradiction to the intended "very consistent drain on your health", this will be fixed. And that makes perfect sense. The current state of Inferno is that either you get killed in one blow with zero chance to object to the finality of the vortex into instant death arcane laser field; or you are geared enough to tractor through the elites with the fights that are actually challenging and force you to calculate your cooldowns and optimize your rotation being a very rare sight. The gap between the two extremes is just too large at some points and balancing the elite pack fights might be the hardest job for the development team on the list.
Furthermore, Blizzard are tuning Inferno to be beatable by a variety of offensive builds, as they feel that building full defense is not that fun. I will have to agree with them there - kiting an elite pack and running around the map like a scared little girl while waiting for my defensive cooldowns is not the most exciting experience.
Final game changes include tuning the power of items and adjusting leveling costs for the artisans. The former is addressed by correcting the item level of the gear so that players can get a good explanation about why a blue item of level 63 is better than a level 60 legendary. Legendary items will also be buffed with the PvP patch, although this will not be done retrospectively, meaning that current legendaries will not be affected, only post-PvP ones. This leaves a feeling that the D3 community might not be entirely satisfied by the fact that there will still be crappy legendaries but there's no evidence that the overall idea behind the item design will change any time soon.
And it shouldn't really. When every barbarian out there carries an Azurewrath with a Stormshield, it leads to point where there's little to no diversity and characters that are indistinguishable from each other.
And this is what Blizzard say about the crafting system:
Although leveling costs were certainly one of the many things that the community desired, there's also the moment about the complete randomization of crafting in terms of random properties. Members of the community boards have been asking about the option to pay gold to limit this randomization (by choosing one of the properties, for example, or changing them post-crafting) and it will be curious to see if Blizzard will consider to address these in the future.