Diablo 3

Boss affixes as a symptom of design philosophy

diablo4 - Boss affixes as a symptom of design philosophy
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Hey all,

I'm adding a point of discussion to the question of general design philosophy and feel of Diablo 4. Basically, there seem to be two camps coming from two design possibilites:

  • Camp A wanting a gothic horror isometric RPG with combat that's closer to Dark Souls in the sense that you have to watch your enemy, react to their movement and choose when to attack how.
  • Camp B wanting a epic fantasy ARPG with combat that's closer to PoE in the sense that you spend time outside of gameplay to optimize builds and then play them as fluidly and fast as possible.

There is one feature that appears during D4 footage that IMO hints at the devs leaning towards design philosophy B (just like in D3), and that's boss affixes. We have seen at least frozen, molten and arcane so far. In my opinion, this is one of many symptoms that the focus of the game is not on the character-enemy interaction, and thus a shift of attention away from where it should be. Generic modifiers that are randomly attributed to mobs belong to the game of spreadsheets and probabilities, not of fighting. It moves balance and thus the player's mind to the level of "My build can ignore affix 1, so I'll mow down that pack, but not affix 2, so I'll skip that one". It's statistics vs statistics. Generic. I think it circumvents interesting monster design that is engaging and memorable.

Compare a boss from games like God of War-style spectacle fighters, Tekken-style fighting games, Souls-likes, or any other type of game that focuses on what individual monsters can do, to something like D3. With very few exceptions, you won’t even recognize what you’re fighting in D3 because it simply doesn’t matter – there aren’t movement and attack patterns to interact with, there is just a mass to click until it disappears, hopefully within a threshold of efficiency. Even just looking at the footage released so far of D4, I can’t really tell what monster is what, and I see no change whatsoever in how the player behaves. The only time we see the player doing anything other than spamming their attacks anywhere there are enemy models is when frozen or molten areas are spawned. This forces the player to temporarily move a few pixels away to a safe place, and then resume. This has nothing to do with the mob itself and doesn’t make fighting it more interesting, it conversely tries to make you interact with something that’s outside of your enemy-player interaction. Mortar would make sense as an ability of a monster that is actually equipped with some sort of weapon that shoots mortar shells and looks and behaves accordingly, but instead it’s a randomly attributed diversion tacked onto a faceless number of bland enemies to click. And of course, once you have the right items, you can just ignore these affixes anyway.

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I’m not saying that this was better or worse in other Diablo games and I’m not saying that Diablo should turn into a different genre. I am convinced that what I speak of if firmly in the realm of the ARPG, and much, much closer to the core fantasy of Diablo. Remember in Diablo 1, when you read about the Sin War? For me personally, it was far more impressive to read about this conflict that seemed so much bigger than me that I felt like an ant trapped inside an alien burrow that I could barely comprehend. It felt indescribably epic. And I was to venture down there with a stick in my hand? It was absolutely gripping. That’s dark fantasy. In D3, and now maybe D4, we’re these Nephalem who are apparently above both heaven and hell and nothing in the universe feels big anymore, everything feels small instead. Insignificant. And that’s what the gameplay conveys as well. In my opinion, the question I ask myself every step of the way should be: What can I do to defeat this demon? Not: Is build x the fastest in this area? Certainly, some aspects of these different design philosophies can be combined just fine, but we must know where the core of it all lies.

Many good points have been brought up on the design philosophy of Diablo, and I think they’re all worth discussing. But I strongly urge to first and foremost tackle what I consider the core of the game which everything else depends on: What am I fighting and how? I sincerely hope that the dev team will consider shifting towards focusing the gameplay and all its systems on the enemy-player interaction, with recognizable and coherent monster design, movement and attack patterns that are impactful and have to be reacted to, and player actions that require moment-to-moment thought and skill, instead of delegating the tension and motivation lacking in a bland chaos clicker to spreadsheets and generic, random affixes, effects, hidden numbers and insane modifiers.

Thanks for reading!

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