Dev Journal: Defensive Bonuses and Monster Damage

Posted by Radoslav "Nydra" Kolev at 15 September 2012 18:53

The Patch 1.0.5. sneak peak from a few days ago mentioned, among other things, that the defensive skills are going to be nerfed to make them less mandatory. From belfry of first impressions, it all looked like a good change. Certainly, I would never drop Smoke Screen on my Demon Hunter but if my Barbarian alt is not forced into picking War Cry/Leap 100% of the time if he wants to be at least slightly viable, I would certainly label this as "good" and maybe even more colorful words had there been more information on the matter.

Luckily enough, such information appeared today as Wyatt Cheng posted a long blog post on what the changes to the defensive skills will be and below we go through both his words and our own thoughts on the matter.

We're taking a close look at defensive skills vs. incoming monster damage in 1.0.5. We’re going to be changing a few defensive skills for each class, including some direct nerfs to skills like wizard Energy Armor and barbarian War Cry - Impunity. However, we're also reducing incoming damage in Inferno, so players will actually come out ahead. In short the plan is:

1. Reduce the effectiveness of select defensive skills
2. Reduce monster damage by more than the mitigation lost by these skills
3. Putting both changes together, players actually take less damage than before

Why We're Making This Change

Why are we doing this? The reason is not complicated. High incoming monster damage combined with extremely powerful defensive skills make those skills and runes feel mandatory. Our goal is that by simultaneously nerfing defensive skills and reducing incoming damage, players who choose to continue using these defensive skills will take less damage overall, and players who choose to forego these "mandatory" skills will find themselves more survivable than what you would currently experience on live. Overall, these changes result in a huge buff in the player’s favor. Just how mandatory are these skills?

As it is now, Energy Armor is used by 83% of level 60 wizards. Also, take a look at the distribution of the War Cry skill on level 60 barbarians:


In developing Diablo III, defensive skills were made potent because we wanted to ensure they would be attractive. In some regards, we were too successful. Many players feel compelled to grab every defensive skill available to them, which can take away from some flexibility in using different build options.

This also creates problems for a class that may have less defensive skills. When one class has massive defensive buffs, abilities like Mortar, Arcane Enchanted, and Plagued can feel pretty modest, and at the same time feel overly punishing to a class without them. We’re all in favor of people being able to build their character for survivability, but there needs to be a balance.

Our Thoughts

Boy, that War Cry chart is indeed too red, despite not actually lining out the defensive vs offensive skills conflict but rather the rune distribution within a skill. Nevertheless, let us move on.

One does not need more than a quick glimpse of the changes to understand what this is meant for the end-game: Inferno is getting easier once again as monsters will be dealing at least 25% less damage which is good news by itself for all the glass-cannon users out there. This will be the third damage nerf in a row, following those in Patches 1.0.3. and 1.0.4., which were as big as 15% in the latter. From the standpoint of someone who beat the game having ~300 all resist, I had strong doubts about if this was necessary at all but I had to agree with one thing: skill builds needed diversity. If every Wizard picks Energy Armor and every Barbarian relies on War Cry to survive Inferno, then there's a problem with the philosophy Blizzard have been trying to hold to since Diablo's launch: Equal rights for every skill and for every rune.

Balancing out the receiving end is just half of the work and Blizzard will have to watch out for the other pit fall: What if it happens that usage of defensive skills sways from one extreme towards another.

It's as certain as the sunrise that people will drop the War Cries and Energy Armors and Seize the Initiatives and replace them with strictly offensive skills if only to try it out. What needs to be considered is that this will, obviously, bring other big sources of damage into the builds that were previously left on the bench just for the lack of slots. Realistically, this is a real potential for an increased damage output all across the board and if that grows up to be too big then there will be a disbalance in the skills once again.

As an example, let's consider a simple Whirlwind/Sprint Barbarian - a strictly offensive spec but one that nevertheless implements War Cry as the bonuses it currently provides are too big to overlook. Now, as mobs are getting their damage nerfed, said Barbarians might consider swapping War Cry for Revenge or Overpower - skills that not only will provide an additional source of damage (fury-free to that) but will offer a defensive attribute as well, which might be very similar in size to War Cry's armor/resist bonuses.

We can take that example and apply it to every class build out there and ultimately we will get the same result and the same thing that needs to be considered - if this indirect damage output buff trumps the nerfs to defensive skills and monster damage (i.e. you can still fight mobs without defensive cooldowns and do it faster than with defensive cooldowns), then the game just swaps one problem for another.

Of course, Blizzard do have an ace up their sleeve and we'll get to it a few steps down the road.

Class by Class


War Cry - Impunity: Bonus resistance reduced from 50% to 20%.

Leap - Iron Impact: We’re adjusting the design of this skill. Rather than providing 300% armor for 4 seconds, it’s going to provide 100% armor per target hit for 3 seconds. So if you don't hit any targets, you won't get any armor. If you hit 5 targets, you'll actually get 500% armor. We are making this change because the intended fantasy of Iron Impact is a barbarian who leaps into the thick of battle and is super tough. The way the skill plays out on live it is essentially an Ignore Pain that can also move you. For the most part it is better than Ignore Pain, making not only Ignore Pain unattractive, but also the other Leap Attack runes. In 1.0.5, if you want a defensive cooldown - grab Ignore Pain. If you want to leap into the thick of battle and be super tough, take Iron Impact.

Demon Hunter:
In the case of the demon hunter, the class is a bit too binary. If you're playing a glass cannon Smoke Screen build, then you're invulnerable most of the time, and when you make a mistake, you die instantly. If you're using Shadow Power - Gloom with a legacy Natalya's set, then you have near constant uptime of 65% damage reduction, but if you're not using the legacy Natalya's set, Shadow Power - Gloom is a luxury.

Independent of the general defensive skill nerf, we had already decided to buff Shadow Power to last longer. The primary purpose of Shadow Power is to give you a short window of time during which you can unload some damage to recoup some Life. Unfortunately the 3-second duration makes this awkward to use. We are changing Shadow Power from 20% Life Steal for 3 seconds to 15% Life Steal for 5 seconds. This should be a modest buff to the skill as well as making it a lot more pleasant to use. All of the runes are scheduled to see similar changes, such as Blood Moon going from 30% Life Steal for 3 seconds to 25% Life Steal for 5 seconds. Each rune effect is slightly smaller, but for 5 seconds instead of 3 seconds, resulting in an overall buff over the duration of the effect.

Taking into account the across-the-board nerf to defensive skills, Gloom will become 35% damage reduction for 5 seconds.

This developer journal is focused primarily on defensive skill changes, but because the change to Gloom is significant, I want to mention that we are looking at concrete mechanics changes to the demon hunter to introduce new play styles. Many players have mentioned that outside of Gloom, demon hunters seem to lack defensive options. More importantly, demon hunters would like some different play styles, and we agree! Here are a few changes we are adding for demon hunters in 1.0.5 to open up new ways to play:

We are adjusting some runes and passives to provide ways to increase survivability that scales with your Life, Armor, and resistances.

We are changing the Spider, Boar, and Wolf companion pets to be actual pets that can tank for you like a Gargantuan or Zombie Dog.

We are putting a short cooldown on Sentry, but you can have two out simultaneously. On top of that, the Custom Engineering passive will let you have a third Sentry turret! This opens up a whole new play style for the Demon Hunter of establishing a "nest" that you can draw enemies into.

The strongest monk defensive skill is One With Everything. We've mentioned it before and it bears repeating - this is something we would like to fix someday, but we're going to take our time. Changes to One With Everything heavily impact existing monk gear. We still plan on addressing this in the future but will do so in a way that does not invalidate the gear monks have invested in.

Resolve: Damage reduction reduced from 25% to 20%.

Seize the Initiative: Changed to grant 50% of your Dexterity as Armor. This will result in anywhere from 750 to 1250 armor for most monks (depending on your Dex) which is comparable to the mitigation lost by other classes. The reduction to Resolve and Seize the Initiative should mean if you want to be a “super-tanky monk” you can still take all three defensive skills, but it should be a lot easier to pick some other passives without feeling like you’re going to blow up at the first Elite pack you encounter.

Witch Doctor:
Jungle Fortitude is being reduced from 20% to 15% damage reduction.

Energy Armor: Armor increase reduced from 65% to 35%.

Energy Armor - Prismatic Armor: Resistance increase reduced from 40% to 25%.

It’s worth noting that we’re going to provide additional alternative defensive options for the wizard such as adding flat melee damage reduction to Ice Armor and creating a Familiar variant that provides passive Life regeneration.

Our Thoughts

The change to Barbarian's Iron Impact is among the best class changes in a while as currently, there is simply no reason for Ignore Pain to be picked. 300% armor increase from Iron Impact meant that the skill provides equal defensive bonuses to Ignore Pain, but its ability to 1) generate fury and 2) provide mobility translates as total Leap supremacy over Ignore Pain.

The tweaks to Demon Hunters also feel right, especially with how Companions and Sentries are going to work. With the elimination of tank specs, in Patch 1.0.4. Demon Hunters were once again down to one playstyle: build massive DPS and rely on Smoke Screen to stay alive. Truly, builds varied but the overall feeling remained the same. What Hunters seem to be getting is a valid tank (which can incentivize experimenting with follower combinations including double companion/templar tanking) and another valid discipline-fueled damage dealer which at the same time be completely different than Caltrops.

Monks have the toughest work ahead of them as they will have to come up with potential substitutes for Seize the Initiative and Resolve as such are not explicitly mentioned in Cheng's blog. Expect to see more Monks using Combination Strike, Guardian's Path or Resonance.

The changes made to Wizards and Demon Hunters are more minor and are likely to impact the first more than it does the latter (as a 5% reduction to summons tanking sounds negligible). What this will do to Wizards is allow both the usage of previously benched skills like Familiar or Storm Armor as well as greater variance in Energy Armor runes themselves.

Why You Nerf Inferno?

Alright, so let's recap. Defensive skills are taking a hit in 1.0.5, but incoming damage from monsters is also being reduced. Taken together, the changes mean Inferno is going to be easier. For some of you this is totally cool; you welcome an easier Inferno because it’s about efficiency and not difficulty. For others, you may be skeptical but you're at least intrigued at the possibility that you'll be able to drop some defensive skills and discover some new builds. However, for others, Inferno is currently already too easy. Maybe you don't use any defensive skills; maybe your gear is so good you dropped War Cry - Impunity weeks ago. For this last group you may be wondering "Another Inferno nerf? But I crave more of a challenge, not less!"

For people in this last group, 1.0.5 is bringing the "Monster Power" system. The details of this system will be outlined as we get closer to 1.0.5, but in short this is a callback to the Diablo II ”players X” option, allowing you to increase the level of challenge for increased rewards. Our hope is that we can make Inferno easier while simultaneously providing new ways for top-end players to gauge their increasing power in tangible ways.

We’re going to lock comments here, and ask that you instead head to this forum thread to let us know what you think.

Our Thoughts

If the patch notes stopped with the class changed, it would truly be a step back: most players would agree that Inferno did not need any more nerfs. Fortunately, the "Infernal Machine" and the new "Players 8" are also coming to not only remedy that but also introduce a nicer flow into Diablo's end-game. The paragon system did its job but its magic is slowly running dry as it's that same repetitive gameplay all over again.

As game's population starts gearing for uber Diablo, however, a more even distribution between offensive and defensive skills is to appear as new builds get designed for farming and beating those new challenges.