White items in Diablo 2 are mostly an afterthought. Save for the runeword usage with Larzuk's quest (which only matters after a high level), these items are completely useless and only serve to clutter the screen. This goes for not only standard white items, but even more so for "low quality" items. I'd like to propose and discuss a few modifications to itemization that would perhaps give some purpose to white items.
White Items in Diablo 1
Back in Diablo 1, white items were significantly more important, for numerous reasons. It was common for players going for the "ironman" mode to try and purchase something useful with the initial 100 gold the game provides. Even a white cap or rags made a huge difference to survivability there. Of course, the reasoning for these items being so useful was due to how important armor was in D1. I'll try not to dive too deep into the AC usefulness in this particular post and tackle the issue from another angle however.
Similarly, finding your first Falchion or Large Axe was a huge deal in D1. The damage scaling was quite significant back then, and enhanced damage was a rare attribute, meaning a white Falchion or Large Axe had a huge chance to be much better than whatever you were holding at the time, even if magical.
Another aspect that made these items more valuable in D1 was the fact that items in general were more scarce in the game: in effect, every item was more important in one way or another because of that. The absence of "rare" items also reduced the overall strength of items, which could only have 2 affixes: the chance for a normal white item to be better than a magic one was non-zero.
Admittedly, D1 was far from perfect in this regard still. After some leveling, white items also became useless there. They could have an impact in early levels, but not so much in mid/high levels at all.
White Items in Diablo 2
Now, in Diablo 2, the situation became even worse. The game has (as is becoming more and more common) followed the path of "making the player feel awesome" by introducing many more affixes and item types, while at the same time making items drop much more frequently. Magic items in D2 are incredibly common, and even rare items are not that rare at all. This means the likelihood of any white item being useful at all drops dramatically. This is basic statistics: if there are more items overall, if every item has a much higher chance of having multiple affixes, and if the affixes are much stronger, white items have a much lower probability of being an upgrade.
Additionally, item progression in D2 is all over the place. Right out of the gate, one has access to many "power levels" of each weapon type. While in D1 you only have access to a "Short Sword" for some time, D2 introduces several swords that are better than it right at level 1. With a few minutes of gameplay, short swords are outperformed by pretty much everything else. Unfortunately, this applies to mostly any weapon type. Even Daggers are immediately obsoleted by Dirks, which are substantially more powerful (yes, no one uses dagger-type weapons, but you get the point here…). Obviously, there is always a chance for one to find a really strong Short Sword or Dagger, but that's much more difficult.
To make matters worse, "Low Quality" items were introduced to the game. If standard white items are hard to justify equiping, low quality ones are exponentially worse. The only time I ever equip any low quality item is right at the beginning of the game as my "first item in slot" option. Literally anything else that drops will be better than it, guaranteed. There is a cube recipe to upgrade low quality items to standard items, but again, that's just not useful at all: it comes too late into the game to be useful for actually using the white items themselves, and only serve as a late game option for Larzuk's and imbue quest.
Let's check what D2 offers right our of the gate in a clvl1 character when shopping in Charsi (speeds are on a bard char):
- Short Sword (2-7, Fast)
- Scimitar (2-6, Very Fast, 21DEX Req)
While Scimitars require the 21 dexterity to wear, this is a non-factor almost immediately. Most characters can reach that at level 2 at most (or just have the base DEX already on level 1). The power difference between these makes the Short Sword immediately obsolete.
- Buckler (4-6, 25% Block)
- Small Shield (8-10, 30% Block, 22 STR Req)
Here the difference is even bigger. The Small Shield has effectively double the armor, and 20% more blocking chance (25 -> 30 is a 20% increase). There is literally never any reason to ever buy or equip a Buckler over a Small Shield, unless the Buckler has incredibly good affixes. Remember we are talking about white items here, so effectively it is useless.
- Quilted Armor (8-11)
- Leather Armor (14-17, 15 STR Req)
- Hard Leather Armor (21-24, 20 STR Req)
Again, look at the massive power increase here that is available to the player out of the gate. Effectively, you can get 3x more armor on a white Hard Leather Armor compared to the Quilted Armor, and that's available to you on clvl1. Most characters again can wear it right away, as the 20 STR requirement is negligible. The only reason to ever wear a white Quilted Armor is if you have nothing in the armor slot, or have a low quality armor. The only reason to ever wear a white Leather Armor is similar: only useful if you have a Quilted Armor.
- Cap (3-5)
- Skull Cap (8-11, 15 STR Req)
Once again, look at the power difference here. The Skull Cap has more than 2x the amount of armor as a normal Cap, with only 15 STR requirement, which most classes can equip right away, or can just get as a level 2 character. Using a white Cap is only useful as the first item in the slot and nothing else.
- Short Bow (1-4, Fast, 15 DEX Req)
- Hunter's Bow (2-6, Very Fast, 28 DEX Req)
Look at how insanely more powerful a Hunter's Bow is compared to a Short Bow, and they are available at level 1 on vendors… Even with the (comparatively) steep 28 DEX requirement, it's still usable right in the first or second level up depending on the class. There is just never a sensible reason to wield a Short Bow: it's weaker and slower.
Ideas to make white items more useful
- Drop white versions of items earlier than their magic/rare counterparts
A white "Composite Bow" should be able to be dropped before its magic and rare counterparts. By enabling these items to drop earlier, they have a higher chance of being more useful to you even if you are already using a magic "Hunter's Bow" for example.The same applies to all items types: let the white version drop earlier for a while, before allowing the magic versions drop.How early an item is allowed to drop could be controlled for balance reasons: if some particular class of white items is not being that useful, make them drop earlier than the rest.
- Make item progression more evenly distributed
Too many upgrades are available to the player too quickly. There should be bigger gaps between item upgrades, so that each item can have its time to shine. The game should be changed to not provide "Leather Armor" and "Hard Leather Armor" for some time, and/or make them a much rarer drop early on. Then, "Quilted Armor" has a bigger usefulness window than "5 minutes".This goes against the "we gotta make the player feel awesome as fast as possible" mantra, so it would probably never be implemented.
- Reduce power of affixes
Again, another controversial idea that "slows the game down" and "removes power from the player". I think affixes in D2 are too powerful in general, and that's a big reason why white items are mostly useless. By reducing the power and occurrence of certain affixes, the chance of a white item being useful increases. For example, "+1/2/3 to maximum damage" early on is incredibly powerful due to the low damage numbers. These kinds of affixes make the player "skip" progression levels and obsoletes certain types of items. Additionally, faster weapons benefit more from this kind of stat, removing options from the player (faster weapons are always better).
- Reduce chance for multiple affixes on high quality items
Similarly to my idea of dropping white weapons before their magical counterparts can drop, I'd like to see single-affix items dropping before 2-affix ones do. Make 2-affix items on high quality base items much more rare, while making them more common on low quality items.Today, the number of available affixes do not take item quality into account: they always have the same chance of spawning.
- Reduce affix quality on high quality items
Similar to the above, I think more powerful affixes should be rarer on higher quality items. A "Cruel Spear" has the exact same chance of dropping compared to a "Cruel War Pike" when dropping a normal Spear or an exceptional War Pike. If you have just reached the level required for dropping War Pikes, this is completely unbalanced. Having these really powerful affixes available to you right out of the gate make messes the whole item progression aspect of it. If you are seeing a War Pike drop for the first time, it should not be possible for it to be this powerful. Make affix power progression on items depend on how rare they are to you.Sure, "high quality" should depend on the monster you are killing. A "Cruel War Pike Of Quickness" should never drop in Nightmare, but be a fairly possible drop from Hell Ball for example.
- Consider combined affix power when dropping items
A "Cruel War Pike" should be on a similar rarity to a "War Pike of Quickness", as should a "Massive War Pike of Alacrity". However, a "Cruel War Pike of Quickness" should be much, much harder to get and only available if the monster level is much higher.
- Reduce number of magical items overall
White items are useless because magic items are too common. Make magic items rarer overall, so that the player can make more choices containing white items. This would dramatically improve progression as well.
- Reduce the number of items overall
In addition to all the points above, items drop too much in current Diablo 2. Make items themselves rarer, so that each drop is more meaningful and has a higher chance of being useful.
Do you agree that the current itemization on Diablo 2 makes white items useless? Do you have any other suggestions that would improve the game on this aspect? I understand some of these modifications would not be popular, especially with Blizzard themselves, as they reduce power creep significantly and reduces the "awesomeness factor" of the game. To me however, they would improve on the game massively.
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