Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Is 2.1 Patch Ready? Greater Rifts, Legendary Gems, Monk balance, DH one-trick-pony with M6 - Thier flaws and discussion on changes.

With recent developer interviews, it's hinted that Blizzard wants to get 2.1 out the door ASAP and even as soon as the end of the month. I feel, and others have voiced their opinions, that the PTR is not in a good place to go live. The elephant in the room are Greater Rifts and the legendary gem upgrade system, but there are still flaws in DH and Monk class balance that stand out the most. This is going to be a long post, so bear with me.

Greater Rifts and Legendary Gems
In reality, Greater Rifts are just a glorified “endless dungeon” system that has been proposed numerous times. The problem with a system like this, is that it is actually never “endless” like the name would imply. As you increase the difficulty (in D3 case of monster damage/hp) you will eventually reach a soft cap where you are gear limited how far you can progress in the allocated time limit. Furthermore, due to the nature of the difficulty scaling, you eventually pigeon hole yourself into a single “best build” which will have a very specific gear and skill set with little to no variation. This leads to a very stale type of end game. This is the reason why Greater Rift leaderboards are a terrible metric for class balance. You are comparing classes to their single one-trick-pony best builds and it misses what is bad about classes. The new “torment 6” milestone is now going to be Greater Rift 30. At that point, why didn’t the developers just add another torment difficulty? However, I’ll add I’m totally against adding more difficulty levels.

The current state of Legendary Gems and how they are upgraded doesn’t fit well either. We all know that there is a hard cap of level 100 for Greater Rifts, yet players are maxing out around level ~40 on the PTR. This leaves a whole limitation on what you expect to get out of your gem levels and upgrades. Level 25 is the new breakpoint of Greater Rift worth to unlock the secondary affix on the gems.

Flaws in the Greater Rift System
  • The incentive to clear a higher rift, outside of leaderboard status, is only in upgrading your legendary gems. They are terrible at getting loot (just as bad at XP). Once you have the gems you want upgraded to the maximum, which will be level 30-40 depending on what max level Greater Rift you can do, you really have no incentive to progress further or do high level Greater Rifts unless you want to progress your name on a leaderboard.
  • The best time vs reward Greater Rifts are still level 1. You clear these VERY FAST as they are ~normal difficulty in strength and get a nice loot explosion at the end. In fact, the loot explosion has no real difference between a level 1 rift and a level 100. The most efficient way to get loot in a Greater Rift is to “slow roll” your way and go level 1->2->3->etc to maximize Greater Rifts for your starting token, thus more chances at loot explosions. To do this, you run a Greater Rift, spawn the guardian and then go run some bounties to drain the timer and leave a couple minutes left, go back and kill the guardian and upgrade your tier by 1.
  • There is no incentive to try and do Greater Rifts quick (complete a level 1 in 2 minutes vs 14 minutes) as they offer the same loot reward either way. Let’s say the highest rift you can complete is a level 10. If you complete a level 1 rift in 2 minutes, you’ll get something like a level 11 rift keystone. For this, you’ll fail the rift, because you can only complete 10, and you have given up levels 2-10 in progression from your keystone progression if you’re looking to get loot. That is potential 9 “loot explosions” you give up. By completing that level 1 rift in 2 minutes, you get the same loot if you completed it in 14. You need incentive to complete a rift fast. In a way, for each Greater Rift level you skip, it should award you a bonus “loot explosion”, or bonus item drops, or just more XP for each level you skip. So, let’s say you completed that level 1 rift in 2 minutes and got a level 11. You’d get your level 1 explosion, as well as a bonus for 2-10 levels of explosion. In order for this to work, the loot reward from a Greater Rift Guardian kill needs to be adjusted. As the baseline, let’s say you get some % chance at a legendary, but skipping 10 levels might actually reward you with 5 legendary.
  • For Greater Rift Trials, you have two methods of gameplay. First, you can get as high as you can to achieve the highest Greater Rift Keystone, open up the rift, go run some bounties to waste 15 minutes, kill the guardian after they spawn and upgrade your gem. The other method, is to start the trail and TP to town to fail to collect a level 1 keystone and do the “slow roll” method to collect loot and yet at the end you still “fail” on purpose to upgrade your gem. Again, there is no incentive to start out at the most difficult Greater Rift if you want loot. The same thing should be put into place where every rift level you complete should be similar to Greater Rifts. However, each trial wave is very short compared to Greater Rift levels so the bonus rewards would be smaller possibly? Either way, it needs to be adjusted.

Flaws in the Legendary Gem upgrade system
  • The system still has a “fail to upgrade” system where choosing a legendary gem upgrade option is really only viable after you have failed the Greater Rift. Even if you want to upgrade a gem earlier than you would fail, it still ends your run. The end result is that it won’t really benefit doing a level 30 rift to upgrade a level 1 gem and you might as well pick the earliest breakpoint where you have 100% chance on your attempts.
  • The current system has a soft cap of 25 to get the secondary effect of a legendary gem. Beyond that, it is an added bonus but then we’re around level 30-40 limited based on rift progression. Going a couple levels beyond your highest achievable rift only gives you a small percentage of an upgrade, at that point your time vs reward is getting on the lines of trying to farm for a Wand of Woh, Starmetal, Calimity, etc. and your upgrades are FAR worse to get one more level of a gem at that point.
  • Even if there was a way to work out an unlimited gem system, eventually you would get to the point where your gems would do the majority of your damage and you would simply look for builds that had the highest proc coefficient. You could probably run a near naked character with 3 socketed rings and possibly do T6 content in theory.

  • Monks are still on the bottom of the totem pole if you’re looking at Greater Rift progression. As I mentioned, they’re a bad metric to base class balance but it’s what Blizzard wants to compare. Doing higher Greater Rifts is all about damage mitigation (or complete avoidance) with great support damage (ideally ranged) which pet builds shine and why WD/DH are very strong in Greater Rifts.
  • Monks single target damage is still heavily lacking. I feel that their AoE damage is still good. Exploding palm still works well for trash packs and is a good crowd clearing ability if you can stack it up, but you’ll need a lot more mobs to chain than you did in 2.0.6. However, when you come up to a rift guardian, the abilities still fall flat on their face and I feel like I’ll spend 7 minutes clearing a rift and 3 minutes on the guardian. The buff to the Sunwuko set is pretty awesome, giving over 3000% weapon damage per 75 spirit spent, but it almost makes running the set (and a Daibo) a requirement to be a top level monk.
  • Faster generators were a good boost, but I feel that the damage nerf they got to make their DPS the same wasn’t good and should be reverted. Honestly, buffing the generators and a slight boost to spender DPS is probably all monks need to make them feel right for baseline generator/spender skills.
  • Raiment 4 piece set bonus (and 6 piece overall) is even more garbage compared to the Sunwuko 4 piece buff. Right now, all the damage I do is more related with spending 75 spirit to proc Sunwuko over doing damage with my actual abilities. The set bonuses should supplement your damage and not BE your damage source. Furthermore, when a 4 piece set gives you more damage than your 6 piece set bonus, it shows some problems. Assuming no CDR gear, you’re doing 3000% every 8 seconds as a Raiment Monk. You would only need around ~9 spirit/second as a Sunwuko monk to output the same damage. Add into that CDR which boosts either the dashing strike cooldown, or reduces cooldowns on spirit generating abilities and they both improve. This set needs a better rework to give it a valued 6 piece bonus. Comparing the damage output in %weapon damage/s, Jade is multiple orders of magnitude better. The new Firebirds 6 piece bonus augments your existing fire damage to effectively double your existing damage and then maintains a fire DoT when you reach the limit. In a way, swap the Firebird bonus to a lightning damage bonus of a monk and it would make the set much better. Attaching it to a seizure inducing dashing strike is an annoying gameplay.

Demon Hunters
  • The current Greater Rift champs have a major flaw in their class… Marauder’s 6 piece. I agree, I would hate to see it nerfed and would rather have classes brought up in line, but the interaction of this set needs a re-look. They simply cannot buff other abilities as it only makes the M6 bonus stronger. Sure, they could almost make the DH spenders free, but an M6 is like having 3-5 copies of yourself with no resource limitations. A suggestion might be making the sentries work like the Carnevil helm, where they only fire when you do. That way, the sentry becomes an augmentation to your build and not a total replacement for your DPS output. You won’t need 3 spenders anymore and walk around while the sentries do the work. This would probably drop DH effectiveness way down, but they need a lot of love on their other spenders in order to make them a well balanced class. There are other T6 and GR 30+ options, but nothing is as good as M6.

Suggestions? Fixes?
This section is just opinions of my own and how I would rather see the systems and class balances. Some I have already touched upon above but I’m putting it down to an easier list.
  • Greater Rifts should have a hard cap level at 100 like they do, but they should be able to achieve this. This way, the leaderboard competition comes down to HOW FAST you can clear a level 100 rift and not how high of a level can you do. You’ll see someone who cleared a Greater Rift level 99 in 2 minutes, but someone who cleared a level 100 in 14:59 is still ranked higher. We both know that the level 99 in 2 minutes is actually a better accomplishment, but they could have got a bad monster RNG so they couldn’t complete what they were given. This way, builds won’t be focused so much on damage avoidance and damage output… you might actually see more diverse builds show up: Faster movement speed utilization, clumping of mobs, slow/hard hitting abilities to 1 shot trash better, etc.
  • This goes a bit with the Greater Rift level 100 hard cap, but the rift levels should be spread out more. If 100 is the hard cap, it should be equal to a lower cap as well, something like Greater Rift level 30. This makes the cap more easily obtained by more varied skill builds. But maybe not make it 100, as that is too many levels and make level 30 the hard cap. Either way, there needs to be a shrink on the range of what Greater Rifts are to make a hard cap something on a T7-T8 level but not something absurd like a T16 level you’ll never achieve.
  • Skipping Greater Rift levels by completing your current rift fast should reward you with bonus item drops at the end to incentivize fast clears. The same should be set that for the higher rift you complete, the higher chance for legendary items to drop. Barely finishing a level 1 rift in 15 minutes should not reward you the same as completing a level 100 rift in 2 minutes.
  • Legendary gems should be based on XP that you only gain in Greater Rifts and you only get the XP on completion. I don’t think the gem upgrades should be tied to a failure rate. At the end of every rift you complete, you should be allowed to apply gem XP and upgrade your Greater Rift keystone. It will bring up the same menu, you still get 3 “upgrade chances” but you are choosing what gems of your choice get the XP. Each gem will have XP where each level will require more XP. This way, you might get 3 levels for one “upgrade” on completion of a greater rift level 30. But going from a fresh 29 will only give you a fraction of an upgrade. This way, it could tie in progression of gem ranks similar to what we see now, but allow you to give you better progression towards reaching higher levels. The same will tie in if you complete a rift faster (say a 2 minute rift) where you will get bonus XP per application to account for skipped rift levels.
  • Ether re-work or eliminate the Greater Rift Trials. The whole system is so clunky, there are no champions at all as you get to higher rifts. I’ve often been able to be awarded a much higher rift than I could actually complete through the trial system. The scaling of monster waves doesn’t really seem to match when you get to higher rift levels.
  • Monks need a buff to single target damage. A boost to generators could accomplish this but also a slight increase to spender damage just a little bit would really be a good place to put Monks in a better place. While they are still far from their final form, it’s a good enough “2.1” release, but would still need further tweaks down the road.
  • Demon Hunter’s M6 set needs to be re-analyzed. There is likely never a chance that anything will compete with M6 at the moment unless there is some amazing synergy with the other two sets that can 3-5x multiply the damage of a DH with no requirement on actual player positioning or resource balance.