As of 1.03, the classes of Diablo 3 stand reasonably balanced amongst each other. All of them are useless with low-end gear and seem overpowered with high-end gear. People just want to see their own class buffed and the other ones nerfed, regardless of the facts. That said, there is much room for balance improvement, not only between the classes themselves, but also within each class’s skillsets, which I find to be the more important part. I’ve played four of the classes—Monk, Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Wizard—extensively in Inferno difficulty, and am leveling a Witch Doctor through Nightmare, so I will not speak much about the Witch Doctor. Though from what I’ve read and seen, they seem to be able to hold their own in Inferno. Alright, onto each of the classes.
Despite seemingly popular belief on the Battle.net forums that the Barbarian is the worst class and is unplayable in Inferno, Barbarians with proper gear are absolutely wrecking Inferno, being able to do things like face-tanking two elite packs at once in Act 3, or just sitting in one place to tank an Act 4 elite pack. When I leveled my own Barbarian to level 60, I was shocked at how easy it was to progress through Inferno, since I was told by the forums that it was going to be impossible. The best part is that Barbarians can progress without dying. They have enough defensive moves to survive just about anything:
- Leap/Iron Impact—Gives 300% bonus armor for 4 seconds, with a 10 second cooldown and a negative fury cost, as it actually generates fury, not to mention the leaping part can be used to escape surrounds, waller affixes, and navigate up and down cliffs.
- Ignore Pain/Iron Hide or Ignorance is Bliss—Reduces damage taken by 65% for 5 seconds, which is an amazing defensive cooldown. Iron Hide increases the duration to 7 seconds, while Ignorance is Bliss grants 20% lifesteal. Both of these are very strong for dealing with clutch situations.
- Revenge/Vengeance is Mine or Provocation—This ability is massively overpowered and is really the only reason I was able to progress with my Barbarian at all. It is just ridiculous how much life it gives back: 5% of your max life for every nearby enemy. And it has a chance to trigger upon being hit, with practically no cooldown (there is one but it’s very short). Plus, it gets more powerful as you fight more enemies at once.
- Furious Charge/Dreadnought—Heals 8% of max life for every enemy hit in a line. This is a very powerful on-demand heal.
- War Cry/Impunity—Increases armor by 20% and all resistances by 50%. The rune granting +50% to all resistances is overpowered compared to what the other classes get. The only thing that comes close is the Wizard’s Energy Armor/Prismatic Armor, but at least they must take the trade-off of having their maximum arcane power lowered. Plus, War Cry is a buff affecting allies, making a Barbarian near necessary for surviving later acts of Inferno.
And then you have the excellent defensive passives: Nerves of Steel, Tough as Nails, Superstition, and Relentlessness. What makes Barbarians really powerful is if you combine several of these abilities and passives on a single build. You become virtually unkillable, given enough gear.
Meanwhile, a lot of other abilities on the Barbarian are not viable, simply because you would die if you give up enough defensive abilities. With top-notch gear, a few more offensive options become available, but a high percentage of Barbarians trying to survive in Inferno are forced into a build using almost every single one of the abilities that I listed above. So while you can say that there technically is some diversity later on, there is absolutely no diversity for progressing. The only diversity is choosing whether you want Superstition or Relentless as your third passive.
As far as fixing this issue, there is not much that can be done on the Barbarian class itself. Short of giving every single ability some defensive rune, I don’t think it’s possible with the high damage output in Inferno to actually make many viable builds on the Barbarian. The only way to open up builds would be to nerf Inferno, but this would of course ruin the point of Inferno.
Also, almost everyone uses Frenzy for your main attack, as the other two generators, Bash and Cleave, need more viability.
The Barbarian is in an awkward spot at the moment, as every single Inferno build uses some combination of what I listed. I would nerf Revenge and War Cry/Impunity, unless you think you can buff every other ability in the Barbarian arsenal to be just as good. In fact, that would be pretty awesome.
Again, despite seemingly overwhelming belief on the forums that the Demon Hunter is massively overpowered, it is not that overpowered. It is in fact a lot more frustrating to play, in my opinion, than a Barbarian. The people who say that Demon Hunters are overpowered point to videos of the absolutely best geared Demon Hunters like Athene. But if you find a Barbarian that is as well geared as Athene’s Demon Hunter, it would probably faceroll Inferno just as well, without having to fear getting one-shotted.
The frustrating part about the Demon Hunter is the scarcity of defensive moves, as well as extremely short uptime on the few defensive moves they actually have:
- Smoke Screen/Lingering Fog—This thing costs 14 discipline, and lasts for a whole 1.5 with the rune (1 second without). Granted, it’s extremely powerful in that 1.5 seconds, but the cost is huge. Demon Hunters start with 30 discipline, and the base regeneration is very slow, something like 1 discipline per second. So if you use Smoke Screen twice in a row, you have no discipline for another 8 seconds before being able to do anything to avoid damage. You can get gear with +max discipline, but even then, this only bumps it up to 3 or 4 uses before you’re out of discipline.
- Shadow Power/Gloom—Grants 20% lifesteal and reduces incoming damage by 65% for 3 seconds, but also at the cost of 14 discipline.
Compare this to the Barbarian’s larger list of defensive moves, all of which are either free or have a negative resource cost (they generate resources instead of depleting them). You can get Preparation to restore all discipline every 45 seconds, but this has a cooldown. There is no way to keep Smoke Screen or Shadow Power up permanently, and thus there are always moments that you risk being one-shot killed by almost anything on the screen.
Sure, the recent unintended buff to the 4-set bonus to Natalya’s Wrath made using high-discipline moves viable, but only to those rich enough to afford it. As far as most Demon Hunters are concerned, this buff had no effect on them.
Two other popular defensive moves—Caltrops and Vault—come to mind, but they are nowhere near as good. Caltrops can slow, which is useful for kiting melee units, but it does nothing against ranged missiles, which are a huge threat. Vault just fails at dodging things. If a melee mob begins its swing animation and you Vault halfway across the screen away from it, the swing will still connect and one-shot you. This is a very high priority issue that you need to fix. Vault really needs the ability to dodge attacks.
Granted, you have quite a few powerful offensive abilities and passives. The holy trio of passives—Archery, Steady Aim, Sharpshooter—comes immediately to mind. These passives are probably why so many people perceive the Demon Hunter as being overpowered, as these abilities increase the dps number on your character sheet by a ton. Some of them may be indeed a bit overpowered.
Archery, for instance, grants 15% bonus damage to bows, 50% critical damage for crossbows, and 10% critical hit chance for hand crossbows. Due to critical hit/damage scaling with gear, all three of these cases can be at least a 15% damage boost. Compare this with the Wizard’s Glass Cannon passive, which increases damage by 15% at the cost of reducing armor and resistances by 10%. Either Archery needs a nerf or Glass Cannon needs a damage buff. I would go for the latter.
Steady Aim grants 20% bonus damage as long as no enemies are within 10 yards, which is a very small distance. Again, this is much better than Glass Cannon. The Wizard’s Glass Cannon passive should boost damage by 20%, up from 15%.
Sharpshooter is actually fine, but because of its massive effect on the character sheet’s dps display, it seems more powerful than it actually is. If you could implement some way to have Sharpshooter’s effect not show up on the dps display, this would solve the vast majority of the complaint’s of the Demon Hunter’s overpoweredness.
In addition, the Demon Hunter’s primary generator, Hungering Arrow, is very powerful compared to the other classes’ primary damaging moves. It averages 230% weapon damage per shot with Puncturing Arrow and 234% with Hungering Arrow. Keep in mind that it also generates 3 hatred per shot. And it seeks the target.
In comparison, the Wizard’s Magic Missile with Charged Blast (the highest damage rune) deals only 143% weapon damage per shot and it does not innately generate anything. It also doesn’t seek the target. Or the Witch Doctor’s Poison Dart with Splinters, does 180% weapon damage per shot but it costs 10 mana and does not seek. How can either of these stand up to Hungering Arrow? You can see from just the math that Hungering Arrow is plain overpowered. Here, I can make a table for it in case you need a visual rehash:
Granted, the table does not show the whole picture because you use other abilities besides these. Wizards don’t use Magic Missile as much, but I picked that ability to make a direct comparison (another signature spell such as Shock Pulse with Piercing Orb does even less damage but hits multiple targets, so the comparison would be moot). But the point still stands that Devouring Arrow is out of line compared to the other classes’ primary abilities. In fact, it does more average damage per shot on a single target than many of the Demon Hunter’s own skills.
So what really makes the Demon Hunter seem overpowered to many people is a combination of high-damage passives and a very high-damage primary skill. But on the other end of the stick, the Demon Hunter has no method of increasing armor or resistances, or reducing damage taken other than the costly Smoke Screen or Shadow Power. Actually, they have Sentry with Guardian Turret which reduces damage taken in an area by 15%, but this mostly useless because it wastes a skill slot and you have to remain inside a fixed area to gain the buff.
Actually playing a Demon Hunter is extremely stressful because almost anything will one-shot you. It is not apparent in Act 1 because most mobs there attack at melee range and they don’t do as much damage. But in Acts 2 and higher, it becomes a nightmare. My only hope to survive in those acts is to hope I can burn down enemies before I run out of discipline, and kite endlessly. Even a second of lag can mean a death sentence. You need incredible levels of gear to actually kill stuff fast enough to make the class seem overpowered.
The Demon Hunter needs more defensive moves. All other classes have passives that reduce incoming damage. Why does the Demon Hunter not have any? If there was something like Blur or Jungle Fortitude, I would totally take it. And then, maybe they could get some ability that passively increases armor or resistances? For now, the Demon Hunter just feels like a gimmick class.
There is a lot of talk about Barbarians and Demon Hunters on the forums, but rarely anything about Monks. Does this mean they are in a good spot? Maybe, maybe not. It seems just a tad underpowered compared to Barbarians and Demon Hunters.
The Monk’s playstyle actually seems to be the most fluent of the classes. In my opinion it is the most fun class to play at the moment and doesn’t seem as gimmicky as the Barbarian or Demon Hunter. There are actually a variety of builds that can be used in Inferno, which is surprising considering its melee counterpart, the Barbarian, doesn’t have as many choices.
Nonetheless, most builds right now must contain some combination of Serenity, Breath of Heaven, and Blinding Flash, and must have the passives Seize the Initiative and One With Everything. This still leaves room for a few diverse choices, such as which generator to use, which mantra, and which offensive skills, if any.
The biggest issue with the Monk right now seems to be its spirit regeneration. I don’t understand why there is no baseline regeneration. Some people argue that the Barbarian has it even worse because fury degenerates outside of combat. But Barbarians have a lot of moves that generate massive amounts of fury. War Cry, for instances, generates 30 fury. Plus, they generate fury upon being attacked. Monks don’t even have any free abilities: other than primary attacks, they all cost spirit.
The Monk generates spirit only through the primary attacks, which makes it really strange as everything else costs a good chunk of spirit, and all other classes have passive regeneration. Sure, you can buy items that add some passive regeneration, but that feels wrong, to have to buy something to make you feel on par with the rest of the classes.
Other than spirit, the Monk seems to be in mostly good shape right now. Though, like all the other classes, it has some abilities and passives that rarely see the light of Sanctuary.
Also, it may just be me, but I seem to have troubles with Molten and Fire Chains on my Monk, but not on my Barbarian. Perhaps it’s because my Barbarian, with Leap and Furious Charge, is much more mobile? Why is a Barbarian more mobile than a Monk? (Dashing Strike might seem good on paper, but it’s not going to help you maneuver against Molten/Fire Chains.) I’ll leave the Monk with that though. Onto the Wizard.
Ah, the Wizard. I feel that the Wizard has the most Inferno-viable builds of any class at the moment, and that is due to the large variety of spells and actually useful passives. Unlike on my other characters, I am trying to progress my Wizard through Inferno with minimal Auction House usage—the only things I can buy from the AH are weapons, just to make it go a little bit faster. Right now I am having fun playing a melee wizard build through Act 2. Yesterday I was able to solo Belial with a melee build. I don’t do the greatest dps, but I’ve got a ton of armor and resistances for a Wizard.
The Wizard seems to me the second most fun class, the Monk being the first. The wide variety of spells make it fun, but the unfun part is that it’s not really viable to have multiple high-damaging spells in your skillset. You have to have a couple for defensive moves like Diamond Skin and Frost Nova or Teleport, and another for Energy Armor to boost survivability, and another for Magic Weapon or Familiar to boost damage. This leaves two entire slots for your damaging abilities. But even with only two slots there is an enormous variety. Think of any signature spell with any powerful spell. Or you can even use Ray of Frost/Disintegrate as your left-click. Of course there’s also Blizzard/Hydra. This really makes Wizards the only class that can put a non-primary spell on the left-click button and not use any primary spells as part of a viable build.
The Wizard also has the highest selection of viable passives. On the other classes, you can immediately find an obviously optimal trio of passives for your build, but on the Wizard it is not always clear. For this and the fun factor I discussed above, the Wizard gets the award for the best-designed class in my book. Except they don’t have a CC-break. Just let Diamond Skin break CC.
Since the Wizard is fun and doesn’t have any big issues (like the Monk’s spirit regeneration), I think it should be used as the baseline to balance the other classes against. Compared to the Wizard, the Monk seems to be a bit underpowered, while the Barbarian and Demon Hunter are a bit overpowered. Remember that this is coming from someone who has all four of these classes in Inferno and has invested a decent amount of time into each one.
Since I don’t have a level 60 Witch Doctor, I will be brief on this. Even at level 39, mana feels really weird. Every other class has ways to generate their resource actively, while Witch Doctors just wait for it to regenerate on its own. From what I’ve read about it, this seems to be a concern, but I won’t give any more opinions on it as I don’t have the experience.
Overall and TL;DR
- Class balance isn’t perfect, but it isn’t broken. All classes are viable and can seem overpowered with high-level gear, or conversely, helpless with low-level gear.
- Barbarian: A few strong defensive abilities are strongly reducing build variety. Revenge and War Cry seem overpowered in comparison to other Barbarian skills.
- Demon Hunter: Archery/Steady Aim are a bit too strong, Hungering Arrow is overpowered, defensive abilities cost too much and/or have too short a duration. They also need some kind of defensive passive that provides flat damage reduction, like all the other classes, or else they are a gimmick class with little build variety.
- Monk: Very fun class, has moderate build variety, has issues with spirit regeneration, needs base spirit regeneration.
- Wizard: Fun class, high build variety, needs a CC-break.
- Witch Doctor: No say.
Edit (7/2/12): I have since played a Witch Doctor into Inferno. The balance post is here.