By All That is Holy! Do You See That Enemy Over There?

Well, here’s my first rant about Diablo 3. I dedicate it to the elites. Yes, the very things you are supposed to enjoy killing in Diablo 3: the elite mobs. They have the best drops, after all.

Elite Affixes

Since bosses are supposedly boring to run, Blizzard decided to make elite mobs the most difficult encounters and the best source of loot. Because of that, Blizzard gave these mobs absurd amounts of hitpoints and damage, and then doubled them. But that by itself isn’t the annoying part. In fact, that seems fun and and presents a nice challenge. The annoying part is the affixes. Let us take a look at some of the affixes that these elites use, as of 1.0.3, to destroy your character, sometimes with nothing you can do about it.

*A few things about me first: I have a level 60 Monk, Demon Hunter, Wizard, and Barbarian, at various points in Inferno. I will try to give both melee and ranged perspectives if possible.

  • Arcane Enchanted—It’s a good idea, but there are two big annoying issues with it that make it one of the least fun affixes to play against. The first is that when the arcane sentry is first spawned on the ground, it gives zero indication of which direction it is going to start in. This is exceedingly annoying especially if multiple sentries are spawning and you are deciding where to run. The final choice is often luck-based. The second issue is that the sentry beams pierce through everything: walls, corners, elevation. Sometimes if you are in a cramped situation, a beam might be able to spawn somewhere you cannot see, and it obliterates you without warning. These two issues make Arcane Enchanted a well-designed but terribly implemented affix. How to fix? Start the beam going but have it do no damage until a couple seconds in, so that we have time to see where they are going. And make it not go through walls.
  • Avenger—One of the easiest to deal with. To make this one a bit harder, perhaps every time one champion in the pack dies, reset the rest to full health. This would encourage a focus-fire strategy and the fight would actually get harder each time, as opposed to what you do right now: just AOE them all down, like for everything else.
  • Desecrator—GOOD!
  • Electrified—I think all of us from Diablo 2 were initially scared of this one (oh the sand beetles…), but it turns out the damage is very minimal. I breath a sigh of relief every time I see this on an elite pack, as it means it won’t have one of the bad ones. So, it’s GOOD! Though perhaps you could increase the damage by 20-30%.
  • Extra Health—This is just terrible with enrage timers being in the game, as well as the special escape abilities of some monsters (e.g. dune threshers, worms) and the flee-heavy AI of others (e.g. Fallen Shaman, Sand Wasps). Also, it needs to not spawn if the pack has Shielding.
  • Fast—GOOD! Though some monsters that are already innately fast become absurdly fast (e.g. Soul Rippers). I suppose it’s fine though.
  • Fire Chains—Very unfun, as the damage seems far too high. This would be fine if all else were equal, but the monsters tend to sometimes run in circles around you just to kill you with the fire chains. Combine this with Jailer, Waller, Teleporter, Vortex, or Fast, and this affix is truly infernal. And unlike other area-damaging affixes like Arcane Enchanted, Desecrator, Molten, and Plagued; Fire Chains has a much higher uptime. The damage could stand a 20-30% nerf. As it stands, this affix in combination with the ones I listed above can be a death sentence for most melee.
  • Frozen—Too random. It’s a big spell-dependent affix. You can almost hard counter this affix with Serenity (Monk) and Smoke Screen (Demon Hunter). On my Monk and Demon Hunter, I have absolutely no problems with it since I have Serenity and Smoke Screen in my normal builds, but if I am not running WotB on my Barbarian, or playing my Wizard, I absolutely dread facing against Frozen, since the number of ice crystals is so large. I feel like I am forced to run away from crystals half the fight, instead of actually fighting. That said, I’m not sure how to fix this, other than perhaps giving more abilities CC-breaks or CC-immunities. This would help diversify builds as well. For example: give Teleport a CC-break? Vault? Leap? Slow Time? Dashing Strike? Wave of Force? Overpower? Heck, Strafe?
  • Health Link—GOOD!
  • Horde—GOOD! It can seem absurd if paired with Arcane Enchanted or Mortar, but see those for more.
  • Illusionist—EXCELLENT! This is the best affix in my opinion in terms of fun and balance. What’s more fun than blowing up a whole room full of mobs!?
  • Invulnerable Minions—It’s the only affix in my opinion that actually should be removed from the game. It’s not too bad for melee, but an insurmountable pain for ranged. Yes, I just said that melee can sometimes have an easier time than ranged. Melee are supposed to be tanky anyways, so they can just run in to the rare mob and fight it, while ranged are forced aim all nukes at the big guy and pray.
  • Jailer—Too random, too unavoidable. The randomness comes from the affix combos themselves. If Jailer comes along with Waller and Fast, these all have the same purpose to some extent, so it just feels like one big affix. And if the fourth affix isn’t absurd, you have an easy fight. Otherwise, Jailer is worse than hell. Combined with Desecrator, Plagued, Arcane Enchanted, Molten, or Fire Chains, you pretty much are forced to use CC-break cooldowns to survive. This is another reason for adding more CC-breaks in the game. If you don’t do that, you need to make it either avoidable or have a much lower duration. Right now it just feels like a cheap gimmick move. Not once after dying to a Jailer combo have I ever thought to myself “Let us try a new strategy, we’ll get it this time!” mainly because there is no strategy against something that is unavoidable. Every time, in fact, I have felt like throwing my laptop, followed by my head, against the wall. So give the players more options to deal with it. And if not, make it not as absurd.
  • Knockback—GOOD! However, there should be a cooldown on the entire pack for using it. It’s not fun if Knockback is paired with Vortex and you are ping-ponged around the room.
  • Missile Dampening—GOOD! Most ranged have some way of hitting the mobs anyways, such as non-projectile moves (cluster arrow, ray of frost, disintegrate, meteor) or homing projectiles (hungering arrow). This is how the other affixes should be—we should feel like we can counter them!
  • Molten—Easy for ranged, difficult for melee. The part that annoys me when I play melee is the mob AI. The mobs sometimes run in a semi-circle around you to surround you with fire, or walk forward one step to cover you in fire and then back away. Or mobs that run away (Fallen Shaman) and your character starts chasing through the fire. It just needs to do a little bit less damage.
  • Mortar—Seems to be the buggiest affix, and hence also one of the least fun to play against. The main problem is that even though it is designed as an anti-ranged affix, it absolutely demolishes melee. Even after 1.0.3 doubled the deadzone, it didn’t fix the part where if you are pinned against a wall and a melee range mob fires mortar, the mortar shell just drifts up and falls right back down on top of you. From what I’ve tested of it, it doesn’t always happen. But when it does, every single shot has a high chance of hitting because of how close up you are, thus making it do more damage on average than long-range mortar. The melee range mortar needs to be fixed, and it will be more fun.
  • Nightmarish—Dismally unfun as is. The whole elite pack very much needs a cooldown on the fear effect. I was chain-feared earlier today for what seemed like 10 seconds straight. Maybe it was only 7-8 seconds, but that’s still absurd. It needs to be about 3 seconds max every 12 seconds. Otherwise, if a group has both Nighmarish and Frozen, I spend half the fight running away from ice crystals and the other half feared. That is not fun at all.
  • Plagued—GOOD! Even though the puddles last a very long time, the damage isn’t too high. My wizard can just stand in them for the duration of a fight.
  • Reflects Damage—GOOD! However, it kinda lowers diversity by discouraging glass cannons. I’m somewhat in favor though.
  • Shielding—The uptime for this needs to be drastically reduced. Right now it is one of the most annoying affixes in my opinion. It defeats the purpose of a game where you kill stuff. Or perhaps have a limit on how much damage the shield can absorb. That way, we can still feel like we are progressing when we take down the shields faster and faster as we farm better gear.
  • Teleporter—Almost good. By that, I mean that the affix itself is fine, but the followup from the mobs is not. As you probably know, the developers designed normal melee attacks to be unavoidable once the animation starts. When a mob teleports right next to you, there’s no way to avoid the incoming attack. So it’s basically a blink-strike and not just a blink. I will talk about the attack animation in a later rant. It is a very interesting topic.
  • Vampiric—GOOD!
  • Vortex—Like Jailer, this one feels too random and too unavoidable. If you get vortexed right on top of an arcane sentry, is there something you could have done to prevent it? Barring CC-immunities, probably not. Add more CC-immunities?
  • Waller—Just like Jailer and Vortex, it feels too random. Also, champions sometimes cast the walls at strange angles and completely trap you in a tiny space where you can’t even move. Nothing you can do there. It is even worse than Jailer because CC-breaks won’t help and ranged can’t even attack out of them. Perhaps make champions cast their walls all at once, but they have to parallel to one another to prevent the random total entrapments. Or have them chain-cast, but only one wall at a time. That would be interesting, to have a constantly shifting battlefield.

Elites Overall?

Elites are fun except when one or more of the fun-ruining affixes show up, which is nearly always. Blizzard really needs to make the players feel more powerful. Many of the affixes, such as Jailer, Nightmarish, Vortex, and Waller make us feel powerless. Combined with high-damaging affixes such as Arcane Enchanted, Fire Chains, Molten, and Mortar, it can become a deathfest. So the main solutions are either:

  1. Make the power-depriving affixes (Jailer, Nightmarish, Vortex, and Waller) avoidable or less potent; or,
  2. Lower the damage of the high-damage affixes (Arcane Enchanted, Fire Chains, Molten, and Mortar) so that even when powerless from the first set of affixes, we do not get cheaply killed; or,
  3. Give players more CC-breaks and CC-immunities on their spells, perhaps including but not limited to Teleport, Vault, Leap, Slow Time, Dashing Strike, Wave of Force, Overpower, and Strafe.

My own choice would be to go with #3. It wouldn’t change any numbers, but it would make many spells much more viable and interesting.

On the other end of the stick we have the affixes that drag out fights: Extra Health and Shielding. I strongly believe the uptime on Shielding should be decreased, or that these two should not spawn together.

Innate Monster Abilities, and the Act 1 to Act 2 Difficulty Jump

Another annoyance is when some of the affixes are paired up with innate monster abilities. Sometimes it is not the hp and damage numbers, but the abilities that can present huge issues.

Compare, for example, the Old Tristram Road in Act 1 Inferno to the Sand Canyon in Act 2 Inferno. Obviously the Sand Canyon is harder. But why? Is it just because the Act 2 things have more hitpoints and damage, or is it because instead of bashing slow-moving melee-ranged Zombies with no special abilities, you are playing bullet hell with Sand Wasps while being jumped on by Lacuni Huntresses? I bet if you gave a Zombie the hitpoints and damage of a Sand Wasp, it would still be easy to kill.

So the “gap” from Act 1 to Act 2, in my opinion, comes in only a small part from the increase in numbers. I think it’s mainly the monsters’ innate abilities, such as the jumping and mortaring of the Lacuni Huntresses in the Sand Canyon.

To really smooth the transition between Act 1 and Act 2 outside of just changing numbers, Blizzard could make Act 1 monsters have better abilities, or make Act 2 monsters have worse abilities. If you gave Zombies the ability to jump and mortar like the Lacuni, and Skeletons the ability to cloak like Serpents, I bet a lot of people would be having trouble with Act 1.

It’s somewhat too late to buff Act 1 or nerf Act 2 like this. But I just want to make the point, if it is not clear enough already, that the difficulty jump between Act 1 and Act 2 comes from a multitude of reasons, not just higher numbers. It is because of

  • higher numbers, of course, so that Act 2 is harder than Act 1;
  • level 62 mobs instead of 61 mobs, so that they hit harder and take less damage, even with the same numbers (but they have higher numbers, so they are doubly harder); and
  • faster movement and special abilities of monsters (e.g. Zombies versus Lacuni), so that they are triply harder.

The point is that Act 2 mobs could have the exact same hitpoints and damage of Act 1 mobs and still be harder. The fact that they do indeed have much more hitpoints and damage makes them much, much harder. I hope Blizzard takes this into consideration when designing future content.

When some of these special mobs become elite and gain affixes, they get really scary because they essentially have 5 affixes—the four you see and the one that they innately possess. This makes an elite Sand Wasp pack in Act 2 orders of magnitude harder than an elite Skeleton pack in Act 1. It only gets more exacerbated in Act 3, with Soul Rippers, Fallen Shaman, Winged Moloks, Heralds of Pestilence, Succubi, Phase Beasts, etc.

The status quo is that Act 2 is much harder than Act 1, and Act 3/4 are much harder than Act 2, though the gap doesn’t seem as big as that between Act 1 and Act 2. Maybe this is good, maybe it’s not. I’m not quite as opinionated on this matter right now because I went back to Act 1 to farm.

But indeed, some of the innate abilities in the later Acts (e.g. on Dune Threshers, Fallen Shaman, Blood Clan Occultists, Fallen Angels) are just really annoying in combination with Extra Health, Shielding, or Nightmarish. Dune Threshers need to submerge much less often. Fallen Shaman/Blood Clan Occultists need to run away much less often, and same with Wretched Mothers and Returned Summoners in Act 1.

Summary and TL;DR:

  • Many elite affixes need changes or else they are not fun.
  • Players should be given more CC-breaks to deal with unavoidable elite affixes.
  • Jumps in difficulty between acts come largely from more deadly innate monster abilities, not just higher numbers; therefore, huge number jumps are somewhat outrageous and extraneous.
  • AI on certain mobs need to run away much less.
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