The item hunt is core to the Diablo experience and we're determined to make it even better in Diablo III. We've made several adjustments to the item game since launch with this goal in mind, but today I wanted to talk about a few of the underlying philosophies that are driving future changes to itemization.
Rarity = Power
One of the big things we want to focus on is making sure items that feel like they are rare and powerful are actually powerful . . . instead of just rare. The first and most obvious place for improvement here is Legendaries.
By design, Legendary items are going to drop far less often than Rare items, and we want that rarity to be reflected in their power. When a Legendary drops, the question that goes through a player's mind should never be "is this a good item?" It should be "how awesome is it?" For example, if you are playing a Demon Hunter wielding a Rare crossbow and a Legendary crossbow drops, we want your reaction to be "Holy crap, YES!" not "*sigh* another Hellrack." It's a problem if players don't want to bother identifying their Legendaries, let alone pick them up. We want to change this.
Legendary Stat Ranges:
Lots of factors go into making an item good, and one of those factors is how high the stats on the item can roll. When the game first launched, an item's potential stats were largely indicated by its item level. This made it so you'd know in advance whether or not an item was worth the trouble of identifying. In 1.0.5, we made it so that the stat ranges for affixes were based on the level of the monster or container that dropped the item rather than the item's level, which created the possibility of more items rolling competitive values.
We’d like to continue with this line of reasoning and use it to make Legendaries more powerful. In the future, we plan to allow Legendary items to also roll their base stats (weapon DPS and armor value) at the level of the monster that dropped them. So, for example, if you found a Heart of Iron from a level 63 monster, its base armor would be increased to that of Archon Armor and its stat ranges would roll at level 63. This gives us the opportunity to broaden the range of Legendary items, providing players with more diversity. Love Leoric's Signet, but hate wearing a level 17 ring? Me too. Instead of farming Act II Normal to find a Leoric's Signet, let's go farm Inferno and get a level 63 version of the ring!
(Everything we're suggesting for Legendaries also applies to Sets, too, by the way.)
Increased Item Diversity:
Item diversity is a topic that comes up a lot. Right now when people are talking about the best items in the game or looking for ways to improve their power they gravitate towards items with Critical Chance, Critical Damage, and Attack Speed. While these stats are great for boosting your damage they aren’t necessarily interesting or what we like to call "game changing."
We want players to feel like entire new builds can open up if they get their hand on the right items. Glimmers of this idea are already in the game with The Three Hundredth Spear and Thing of the Deep. The plan is to embrace the idea and push them to more extremes. Potential future Legendary item ideas include a Voodoo Mask that increases pet damage, a Barbarian set that makes Call of the Ancients last until they die (after we give them full pet survivability), a Wizard Orb that allowed for two Hydras to be active at once, or the "Ethereal" boots idea I posted here. While these specific ideas may not make it into the game, they are good examples of the kinds of game changing effects we want to introduce to items. It will take time, but our goal is to try to provide players with compelling alternatives to trifecta items when talking about what items they want to acquire.
Less is More
Between Paragon levels, Nephalem Valor stacks, and all the other assorted buffs and bonuses, it's possible to find a tremendous amount of Rare items during any given play session. But the quality of these Rare items just isn't where it needs to be, so even though players see a lot of them, they no longer feel special. When you identify hundreds of Rares and only a small percentage are worth equipping or selling, those items become a burden rather than something to get excited about. "Great. Now I have to identify them all, read their stats, and I’m probably going to salvage all of them." I feel your pain.
We want to make it fun and rewarding to hunt down new items through play, and really instill the feeling that your next awesome item could come from anywhere, and is just around the corner. We need to get rid of some of the clutter first, so we plan to reduce the frequency at which Rare items drop down the road.
Before anyone panics and posts an angry comment in the forums, this doesn't mean we want players to earn even fewer good items. It just means we don't feel it's necessary to present the player with hundreds of bad Rares for every one that they might want. As an example, suppose items currently roll between 1-100 Intelligence. Now, imagine that we dropped 25% as many items, but the Intelligence range was instead somewhere around 75-100. In the end, you'd find fewer items, but more of the items you find would be worth equipping. That's our goal.
(On the topic of identifying hundreds of Rares, it's worth adding that while most of this blog is about overall item philosophy and our goals down the road, one of the short-term changes we're making is adding an "Identify All" option, which should be coming in 1.0.8.)
Gold Sinks Should be Exciting
We frequently discuss the Diablo economy, as we want players to feel that gold is a valuable commodity, useful in ways beyond just the auction house. We don't want out of control inflation, but we also don’t think that taxing players is the proper approach. Ultimately, we want to provide players with things that they are excited to spend their hard-earned gold on.
The most concrete example of how we're supporting this philosophy would be the crafting recipes we introduced in patch 1.0.7. While they aren’t meant to be the silver bullet for all economic concerns, they provide more avenues for people to spend their gold to receive something they can be happy about—in this case, potential upgrades for their character or alts.
For more insight into Bind on Account items, check out Wyatt's 1.0.7 preview here.
Other avenues we want to explore include providing players with vanity options or potential ways to differentiate themselves from their friends or other characters (i.e. character customization options in terms of gear). We are also exploring ways to make crafting more exciting by adding not just more ways to make appealing items, but also introducing ways to modify existing items.
Farm Monsters, Not the Auction House
The auction house is a new addition to the Diablo franchise. And, while it serves many purposes for our players and helps to keep the economy fluid, some would argue that it has done more harm to the game than good. There is value to be had in providing players a way to freely exchange unwanted items for gold, or giving Demon Hunters an easy means to sell unwanted rubies in order to purchase emeralds, but the question has to be asked: is what the auction house provides worth what it took away from some players?
If the "right" way for some people to play the game changes from killing monsters to camping the auction house, is the game better off for it? Ultimately we don't think it is, but we also don't want to take something away that has become such an enjoyable part of the game for others. So, the question instead becomes: how can we refocus the end game away from farming the auction house back to farming monsters? It's a complicated issue, but one we are committed to addressing.
The first solution always presented when we discuss this problem is "Why don’t you just get rid of the auction house?" and while completely removing the feature would in fact fix the problem it created, it would also create a void that the auction house was originally designed to address. For example, we don't want players to feel like the only way to trade with other people is by sitting in chat and spamming "WTS [item link]" and "WTB [awesome item]" all day. This is definitely not ideal.
There are a number of ideas for how to address this long term that don't include removing the auction house outright, and most of the ideas are centered around giving players more ways to find items they are excited about:
One idea that we have discussed is “targeted Legendaries,” where named NPCs have an increased chance of dropping specific legendary items. For example, The Butcher could have an increased chance of dropping The Butcher's Carver.
Another idea is that we introduce a system that will help alleviate some of the bad randomness players encounter by ensuring that at least some of the Rare and Legendary items you find will be something good for your class.
We've also discussed allowing bosses the first time you kill them in each difficulty to have a guaranteed chance to drop a Legendary.
The list goes on and, as with all design, nothing is ever final. This is just a snapshot of what we're working on currently with regard to itemization, and we hope to provide more specifics as we get closer to implementing these changes into the live game. In the meantime, we'd love to hear what you think about our approach, since much of what's cited above has been inspired by your feedback.
Travis Day is a Game Designer for Diablo III. His brother, Morgan, also works at Blizzard Entertainment. They're kind of like the Venture Bros, except without the super violent, super secret agent bodyguard. Go Team Blizzard!