Helltooth Petdoc by J_Macc
Senior Technical Game Designer
Many concerns have been brought up regarding "the meta" - the current group composition perceived to be the best at high levels of play. From a design standpoint, our job as a development team is to give players tools and leave room for players to combine these tools and perform optimizations to reach the highest greater rift that they can. The top-performing 4-player group composition is not something we rigidly design. Indeed, we feel that if we designed in such a rigid manner so as to know what the best composition is beforehand, we likely haven't created a rich enough space for players to explore.
Over time, the community settles on a small set of ways to combine these tools. Every so often, a discovery is made that shakes up "the meta," but these discoveries become more rare as the game matures. In reaction to this some players would like us to change the balance of the game just for the sake of change. I want to be clear—"the meta" being stale is not a good enough reason for us to take action. As Diablo matures the "meta" is not going to change every season. With that in mind, there are three criteria we use to decide whether change is warranted:
1. Does the current best composition represent a variety of classes? For example, we have taken action in the past when 3 Demon Hunters was the best answer, or 2 Monks and 2 Barbarians.
2. How far ahead is the top tier vs. the next best composition? If the top composition was 2 greater rift tiers ahead there might be a sense that there's still room for alternate specs, or people could make a playstyle choice at the sacrifice of some efficiency. When the top composition is 10 greater rift tiers ahead, then even farming groups or casual community pickup groups start to organize into this composition.
3. Most importantly, how interesting is the gameplay? As much as we'd all love to see a variety of classes and gameplay styles, it's actually the most critical that when you are playing these high-end group compositions that the gameplay is interesting and engaging.
How do we define interesting and engaging?
Currently there are many suggestions on how to shake up "the meta". There have been a LOT of really great suggestions. We've reviewed many of them through the lens of the three criteria I've outlined. Most specifically many people have called for a straight up nerf of the Twisted Sword. While we are going to nerf Twisted Sword, I also want to explain why we are going to do more than that.
If all we do is nerf Twisted Sword, we believe what will happen is most groups will simply swap out the current top Wizard build and go to the next highest DPS build. You'll still see a grouper/tank (usually a Monk), a puller (usually a Barbarian), a DPS buffer (a Witch Doctor) and then whoever outputs the highest DPS in the game (currently a Wizard). Only going after the Wizard is going to do very little for addressing criteria #2 and criteria #3.
There are three major problems and three corresponding major changes we are looking to make.
PROBLEM #1: Bringing damage support buffers is more effective than bringing a second damage dealer. Why bring damage dealer #2 when you can bring a damage support who increases the damage of damage dealer #1 by 300%?
CHANGE #1: We are going to be reviewing the party-based damage buffs provided by all the classes. The degree to which some classes can buff party damage is a huge contributor to the 1 DPS - 3 Support meta.
PROBLEM #2: It is too easy to group monsters together. This is bad because:
CHANGE #2: We are going to make adjustments to crowd control and pull effects to make it harder to perpetually pull monsters onto a single point.
PROBLEM #3: Extremely high rates of healing favor standing still to do more damage instead of respecting and avoiding monster mechanics .
CHANGE #3: One of the reasons you can ignore most monster mechanics is the amount of healing available. Expect to see a drastic reduction in available healing.
Will this affect solo play? Yes - some solo builds will be affected. For the most part we are trying to target the changes so they affect groups more than solo play. Weighing the needs of solo players vs. group players is a never ending and difficult task and in this case we feel that the quality of improvement to group play warrants the changes. It is an ongoing goal to make more builds viable, and the classes closer together in competitiveness. The requests for buffs to particular class sets or legendary items have been heard, we just feel making meaningful changes to group play is more important at this time.
Will this cause the highest rift tier to go down? To be frank - probably. We've never really done this before - nerfing the top performing builds. There are open questions ahead of us. How will this make the season feel? How will this affect non-seasonal play? In the past we've always had a philosophy to adjust the balance of the game by buffing what's low, but in this case that's not really an option. Take a look at the problems and solutions being proposed - these are problems that can't be solved with larger damage numbers. These are problems with group-based damage multipliers, healing, and combat utility.
Finally - I want to circle back to a statement from the start of this post - as developers we do not know what the new optimal group composition will be. We're making some significant changes here and the game is intentionally too complex for us to figure out optimal strategies on our own. The collective wisdom of the player base is far more resourceful and capable than us. As a result - we really need people to jump on the PTR and try this stuff out! Particularly 4-player groups. If some highly competitive group discovers a composition of 4 Crusaders that is the most effective but deliberately "hides" it from the rest of the community, then there's not much we, the development team, can do. While we are ultimately responsible for the quality of Diablo III, we can't improve this game without your help.