Like the other classes, the wizard is also seeing a lot of tuning improvements to help promote build diversity. Rather than focus on those minor adjustments, though (which you'll be able to learn more about in the 1.0.4 patch notes), I’m going focus the majority of this preview on Hydra.
Here are the major points I'll cover:
Skill design philosophy for Diablo as a whole
What makes Venom Hydra as strong as it is
Why, rather than nerfing Venom Hydra, we're simply going to buff all the other Hydra variants
Nature of the Beast
From a development standpoint, we love Hydra and put a lot of effort into its design. In fact, Hydra took many times more development time to create than an average skill. There are more art variants, more spell effects, and more lines of code associated with Hydra than almost any other wizard skill in the game (except potentially Archon). We did this because Hydra is an iconic skill in the wizard’s arsenal and we wanted it to stand out. When you’re in a multiplayer game and you see that Hydra spawn, it’s instantly recognizable. And for those who are familiar with the class, you can also immediately tell which rune variant a wizard is running with.
Our goal for Hydra is to not just have each rune variant be visually distinct, but also for it to be better at something than the others. Specifically:
Arcane Hydra: Best at AoE
Lightning Hydra: Good against targets that move a lot
Venom Hydra: Good against targets that stand still
Frost Hydra: Good for snaring
Mammoth Hydra: Best in hallways
New Tristram, We Have a Problem
Despite these goals, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Venom Hydra is simply the best Hydra to use, regardless of the situation. This is mostly to do with its very high damage output. Although (technically) against fast-moving targets the Lightning Hydra does slightly more damage, Venom Hydra does three times more damage if you get the target to stand still, and that difference is simply too big to pass up.
The other rune variants have similar issues. The range on the Frost Hydra is too short to be useful. The DPS loss Arcane Hydra takes for being good at AoE makes it too weak versus single targets (especially when you consider that most of the hard fights are against high health Elites). The niche for Mammoth Hydra is very narrow and, if you can get a target to stand still, Venom Hydra does more damage in hallways than Mammoth Hydra anyways.
Five Heads Are Better Than One
To address these issues, we’ve decided to boost the damage of Lightning, Frost, Arcane, and Mammoth Hydra. Venom Hydra will remain the best against stationary targets, but if the targets are moving in any way, Lightning should be a clear winner. The range of Frost Hydra has been more than doubled as well, which should allow it to fill the intended role of snaring. Arcane Hydra will do less damage than Venom Hydra versus a single target, but rather than doing approximately 60% less damage, choosing it should only cause about a 15-20% DPS hit against single targets -- and you should be much better against groups. Mammoth Hydra will be getting a modest bump, but ultimately "good in hallways" just doesn't seem like a very good specialty. We're going to keep an eye on this one for now, but down the road we’d like to find something much cooler for the Mammoth Hydra -- like giving it the ability to move around the battlefield without needing to be recast (just as an example).
One concern is how this change will affect skill diversity. If our goal is to promote a large variety of builds, why are we taking one of the most powerful wizard runes and then bumping all of the variants to match it rather than simply nerfing Venom Hydra?
From our point of view, it's okay for Venom Hydra to be extremely powerful. One of the trickiest things throughout our design process has been creating lots of appealing skills. You only have six skill slots, so the more appealing skills we can make, the more significant your choice becomes of which skills earn a spot on your bar. If a Signature skill is on the strong side, it starts to trump the other Signature skills. If a Signature skill is way too strong then it starts to trump your Arcane Power spenders as well. This hurts build diversity. Similar situations exist for Arcane Power spenders, many defensive skills, and the trio of Armor skills (Ice Armor, Storm Armor, and Energy Armor).
However, in the case of Hydra, the risk of trumping other skills is much lower. It’s totally okay for Hydra to be one of the most used skills because there’s still a lot of flexibility beyond making it your only source of DPS. If you can spare the skill slot, you’ll almost certainly want to combine it with a Signature skill to cast while the Hydra is out. If you can spare two skill slots, you can do even more damage by adding a secondary Arcane Power spender.
While patch 1.0.4 has very few nerfs, one of them does affect the wizard. Rather than waiting for players to discover this change in the patch notes or while playing, I wanted to call it out here because it affects a build that I find to be quite cool and enjoy a lot.
Energy Twister is having its proc coefficient reduced from 0.25 to 0.125. For players who may not know what proc coefficients are: they affect how effectively a skill triggers procs (or effects that have a small chance to activate). Many skills (like Magic Missile) have a proc coefficient of 1. Skills that hit multiple targets or pulse multiple times have lower proc coefficients.
In the case of Energy Twister, specifically Wicked Wind, the 0.25 proc coefficient causes the skill to generate more procs in a given time period than any other skill. Currently, this is used in combination with Critical Mass to lower the cooldown on skills like Frost Nova and Diamond Skin. By reducing the proc coefficient from 0.25 to 0.125, the build still works and remains fairly strong, but it won’t be quite as good as it is now. (For those with extremely high Crit rates, you may not even notice much difference, but I wanted to call it out anyway. )
Originally, we weren’t going to make this change, but 1.0.4 also brings with it a number of new Legendary items, and many of them have phenomenal new proc effects. If we left high proc coefficients as they were, then a handful of skills with higher coefficients would become the de facto choice to use with these sexy new items. We were faced with a choice: we could either reduce the proc coefficient, or we could make it so these skills could not trigger the procs on Legendary items at all. We opted for the former because it seemed like getting a Legendary with a proc effect but never seeing it trigger would be very disappointing. Regardless, having well-balanced proc coefficients on all skills is not only better for Legendaries, but also for the game in the long term.
The reduced proc coefficient is just a drop in the bucket, and overall wizards are seeing their fair share of buffing.
In addition to the Hydra buffs, we're also increasing the damage of some lesser used Signature skill runes. A few skills are very popular right now such as Seeker (Magic Missile) and Piercing Orb (Shock Pulse), so we’ll be buffing the other runes to match. We'll be revisiting all of the other Signature skill runes with much the same philosophy as Hydra.
Meteor and Arcane Torrent are both going to get buffs, as well, since neither of those feel strong enough to justify the Arcane Power expenditure.
Base damage increased from 200% + 60% over 3 seconds to 260% + 60% over 3 seconds
Molten Impact damage increased from 260% +78% over 3 seconds to 390% + 90% over 3 seconds
Meteor Shower damage increased from 80% to 104% for each smaller Meteor
Comet damage (of initial hit) increased from 240% to 312%
Arcane Power cost reduced from 20 to 16
Base damage increased from 175% to 210%
Arcane Mines damage increased from 150% to 180%
Cascade damage increased from 175% to 210%
Death Blossom projectiles are now less random
Meteor requires the player to correctly predict enemy movement in order to deal maximum damage, and Arcane Torrent requires you to stand still for extended periods of time to do damage. Since a player is putting in some extra effort to use these skills, some extra damage seems justified.
Wyatt Cheng is a Senior Technical Game Designer for Diablo III. He loves all of you. Especially you.