Wyatt Cheng on Combat Pacing in Reaper of Souls

The philosophy behind moving away from one-shot deaths, and adding more tactical combat

Combat in Diablo III will be changing in the Reaper of Souls expansion, and the Loot 2.0 patch. Diablo III developer Wyatt Cheng provided details about what the developers would like to achieve with Diablo III combat, and how they might get there, in this installment of Blizzard Blues.

In an interview some months back, Wyatt Cheng talked about how the current health and damage structure in the end-game of Diablo III is not nearly as interesting as it is while a character is leveling up. He also discussed the issue at length in his GDC talk. With this most recent post, he continues to explain the evolution of the game's design in this very important aspect of gameplay.
Let's talk about combat.

From a big picture standpoint, it's not healthy for the game when a player's health pool goes from full to nearly empty and back to full on a regular basis very quickly, over and over, during regular play. I know not every character build plays this way - but I would assert that it's not good for the game when this is a dominant or even common way to play.

Why?

Here are a few negative effects it has:

1. A health pool that quickly goes from full to nearly empty implies that there's not a lot of room for variance in incoming damage. When incoming damage is that high, a 15% increase in monster damage would result in death. This leads to comments like "As soon as I turn up the Monster Power I get 1-shot". I'd like to see a game where a clever player can handle a higher Monster Power by reducing incoming damage through good play. Unfortunately, if the combat pacing and dominant builds are such that all players are geared to survive the biggest posisble hit from a monster and instantly heal to full then there's no room for that differentiation. Let's use mortar as a simple example. If a wave of mortar hits takes me from full to nearly dead, and then I instantly heal back to full, then mortars don't pose a realistic threat to me. In this state, there's no way for a clever player (who wants to dodge mortars) to differentiate themselves from somebody who doesn't care (and just decides to get hit). In both cases you're healing instantly to full and surviving through the damage no matter what, and in both cases turning up the monster power results in you dying no matter what if you take a single mortar wave. It becomes a pure gear check.

2. For players who push the MP up anyways, it makes the game feel like it was designed around one-shots. In my previous example with mortar, some of you may be thinking "There's room for turning up the Monster Power, just don't get hit at all!". This isn't great either. It means my death feels very binary. One moment I'm at full health, the next instant I'm dead. It also means that once you decide you are going to accept being one-shot, you don't care about your health at all. Who cares if you have 20K or 40K health if you're going to die either way? We'd be in a better place if the mortar-dodger was allowed to take the occasional hit, but can handle a higher monster power as long as a majority of them are dodged.

3. Healing very rapidly back to full also loses all the fidelity of small attacks. If players are regularly going from full to nearly empty and back to full again on a regular basis, then there's no room for mechanics which act as a slow drain on your health. Plagued is a great example of this. We don't want Plagued to be something that kills you quickly, but it also shouldn't be something you ignore forever. Standing in a pool of poison should be something that adds tension to the fight. You know you're not going to die now, but you can see the threat looming. When healing rates are very high, there is no room for the slow drain damage sources - they become insignificant.

4. My current health loses meaning. Being at 95% health should mean you're relatively safe. Being at 5% health should mean you're almost dead. Being at 50% health should mean you're somewhat in danger and you should play it safe, but as long as you do you should be fine. These are all concepts that make intuitive sense. Unfortunately, they are not at all true in the current Diablo environment. When health pools are rapidly going from empty to full and back again, these health values all blur together.

5. You lose a lot of tactical combat opportunities. Tactical combat requires that the player can properly assess the situation and react accordingly. When your health pool moves up and down rapidly you are no longer reacting to dangers. A rapidly changing health globe means you are playing in a predictable pattern and crossing your fingers hoping that you live through it. You are playing in a way that avoids situations that will instantly kill you, but there's no tension associated with being low on health that would cause you to make a tactical decision to change your play pattern.

I'm saying all of this without pointing at any specific solutions. That's because there are no instant-fix solutions. It's a challenging problem that we're actively working on. Things aren't going to be perfect overnight, but improving the pacing of combat is something we constantly work on.

I will say that the first line of defense is reducing the rate at which players heal. After we pull in the rate of healing, next we analyze the patterns in which monsters deal damage. Ultimately, defensive stats will play a role in all of this. If some life regeneration, damage mitigation or (gasp) life on hit lets me play a little more aggressively, that's a good thing.
The last paragraph gives an idea of the changes that are coming to combat pacing, starting in the Loot 2.0 patch and continuing into the Reaper of Souls expansion. The entire structure of healing Health through skills and stats like Lifesteal is being changed, as we have seen already through some of the datamined info. The actual gameplay changes that we will see down the road, will control how big of a shift this is for Diablo III players.


Crusader and Templar Orders
Another lengthy blue post is from recently added community manager Nevalistis. She talks about the difference between the Templars who we met in the original story of Diablo III, and the Crusaders that will play such a big part in Reaper of Souls.
Posted by: Cerberus

Different orders, same zealotry.


This is a pretty good summary of their differences.

The Templar order remains an enigma to many on the outside, and there are rumors abound regarding their exact founding and purpose. Though the Templars profess a dedication to the Light and seek to rid Sanctuary of demonic corruption, they are not officially sanctioned by the Zakarum church, while the Paladin and Crusader orders were founded within it. Rather, they have risen from the ashes of the Paladin order after it fell to corruption, and they view themselves as the new, pure continuation of that faith.

As for Paladins and Crusaders: A long time ago, the Paladins headed west under the command of Rakkis seeking conquest, a historic march which ultimately ended in the founding of Westmarch. Meanwhile, the Crusaders – an elite group of fighters who rallied under a different Zakarum leader – headed east on a secret mission to search for a way to cleanse their faith of the perceived taint left behind by Mephisto. Unlike the Paladins, the Crusaders have never been corrupted, and in their journeys abroad have honed new skills and talents that set them apart on the battlefield.

To put it a different way, think of the Crusaders as the “veterans of the veterans.” They take zealotry to an entirely new level, finding comfort and strength in their unshakable confidence in their cause. Their only goal is to find a way to save their faith; any other objectives will fall to the wayside should it ever threaten to impede their quest. Whereas the Paladin might meddle in a town’s affairs -- settling disputes, converting new followers, burning some witches -- and then move on, the Crusader, despite brandishing a similar level of intimidation, would quietly enter the town, ask a few questions, restock their supplies, and then depart, leaving little more than confusion in their wake. (To give you perhaps a more relatable image, if you were put a Crusader in space, he’d probably be a lot of like Hicks in Aliens. Very experienced, a little easy going on the surface, but doesn’t fool around when stuff hits the fan.)

More specific details on the Crusader will, naturally, be covered in Reaper of Souls (as well as in Acts I-V). However, if you really dig that sort of lore, definitely keep an eye out for the Book of Tyrael. You can expect to find some good juicy historical tidbits on several of the orders, the Crusader's included.

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