“Buff My Class, Nerf Everyone Else”; Or, The State of Class Balance in Diablo 3

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.

Barbarian

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.

Demon Hunter

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.

Monk

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.

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.

Witch Doctor

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.

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2 Responses to “Buff My Class, Nerf Everyone Else”; Or, The State of Class Balance in Diablo 3

  1. Z says:

    I have a DH at 60, Barb at 60, Wiz 52, and Monk at 39. Lowly WD is level 2 and just a mule 🙂 For the record I also played every class to 12-14 in the beta a few times over the course of different patches. D2 played hundreds of hours probably, and I also play tons of other genres (and I’m a game programmer so I love my craft).

    (EDIT: I should also add, I’m a father, work full time, have another side business starting, and in spite of this feel like I still sink a good amount of time in this game, but obviously nowhere near the unemployed/less family responsibility crowd, and appreciate that I won’t be on their “level” (gear-wise), though I don consider my game skills to be of an “expert” level in most games).

    Warning: Rant incoming! But I guess that’s expected with the thread title 🙂 And I’ll try to be constructive.

    WIZ

    Wiz was my first char and I stopped playing her because it was getting boring. Yes there were a fair number of viable builds for fun, but not so many for efficiency. It also just felt unsatisfying hitting enemies… I don’t know if it’s the sounds or effects, but it feels so much more visceral smashing opponents with a Barb than dropping a hydra and casting a couple spells as wiz, then waiting for Arcane Power to regen. To be fair though she was my first char and had no twinked gear, I might play her again soon.

    BARB

    Barb was my second char and first to 60 and I sank a fair amount of time and gold into him. I never went very tanky on him because to me tanking is not fun, I like to smash face and watch enemies gib and feel like a badass. That said, though I can kind of survive A1 inferno in DPS 2H mode, I had to go sword+board with LOH + frenzy to really do ok in more than solo. With some pretty good bargain shopping on the AH and some lucky drops, I can solo Butcher in Inferno in 2 player games to help a friend now and then. (Btw LOH feels cheap, while lifesteal’s secret 75-80% nerfing is infuriating). A2 has been a nightmare and I just hemorrhage gold. I don’t want to go full tank because it is boring, so barb just sits in A1 and he’s getting no love right now.

    Revenge… is great. And without it I would probably have been mostly screwed in Hell and definitely screwed in Inferno. Using standard skillset I think: War Cry (resist), WotB (damage), Revenge (30% trigger), Leap (iron impact), Berserker rage (30% damage), Frenzy (damage) or sometimes Bash or Cleave for flavor (but frenzy speed for LOH). DPS took a hit with the AS nerf but still at 20k 1h, 30k 2h, more with buffs, and a nice 40% crit chance with about 180%-200% crit damage.

    MONK

    Next I tried Monk, and I think I was powerleveling him insanely fast compared to any other class. Yeah he had some twinked gear and that’s to be expected, but just with the movement speed passive and fists of thunder w/ the teleport rune on my right mouse button, I literally just held down the right mouse button for 20 minutes at a time and ate lunch or was on the phone with the other hand, warping around killing stuff on screen. But it got boring not using other skills… because the other skills mostly sucked.

    I feel locked in to pretty much the same skills the OP listed: Serenity, Blinding Flash, Breath of Heaven (I feel bad for anyone not using elective mode and having to use only 1 of those). 1 Mantra because why wouldn’t you. One spirit generator because you have to. So that leaves 1 more slot… I actually can’t think of a single spirit SPENDER THAT DOES DAMAGE worth using (maybe exploding palm but the cost is so high), so I just default to another generator with some CC qualities (crippling wave), or buff quality (deadly reach w/ armor, or fists w/ dodge).

    Seriously, the spirit spender damage skills are awful. High spirit cost for low damage. Wave of Light uses half my spirit to do 215% damage? Exploding palm needs to do *some* damage on hit for that 40 spirit cost.

    DH

    DH was second to 60 after my Barb disaster in A2, and wanting to try something different. DH was pretty fun to level after playing two melee classes. Vault + the speed passive was a great way to powerlevel and get through content quickly, which TBH is necessary by your 3rd or 4th char. Kiting was also somewhat fun after the melee experience. My crit damage is pretty insane and very gratifying (260% bonus crit damage, I know it can go higher but it feels great).

    I’m still having fun with my DH, and I can roll through most of A1 Inferno without any trouble. I tried A2 with my friend (also a DH) and it was a disaster, one shot by some leaper, one shot by bees, one shot by grenade. FYI I had 40k hp, decent LOH, and not so great armor, so I didn’t really expect much. But the jump from A1 to A2 was depressing. I’ll try it more, there’s certainly a challenge there, but the repair costs are a big turnoff. I’d rather not get penalized for trying to get through harder portions of the game slowly.

    Skill selection feels pretty limited in Inferno, before that it was more fun trying different combos. Currently running with Smoke Screen, Caltrops, Spike Trap (x3 rune), Preparation (heal), Hungering Arrow, Elemental (lightning). Leveling up I was having a laugh every time I knew where a boss/pack would spawn, wait for sharpshooter to hit 100% crit, lay down 6 spike traps (grenadier), spam jagged caltrops, then watch the enemy spawn into instant death. I didn’t expect that to last past late Hell, and it didn’t, but it was fun.

    I tried every skill and every rune while leveling up. Some just plain sucked and I used them probably a max 1 minute ever. Now I use Hungering arrow as primary, though I really wanted to like some other ones (Bola Shot’s first hit resetting Sharpshooter crit bonus is infuriating; damage on entangling needs a boost; evasive fire is cool though sometimes it just destroys your discipline if you’re not careful). I don’t think Hungering is that OP since it’s single target, maybe a bit, but the others just aren’t good. Elemental as secondary with either shock or tentacles (I prefer shock for multiple hits and larger radius, which seems fair given the slower speed).

    I don’t see how anyone can play without Smoke Screen, maybe Vault instead but breaking out of jailer/cc is just too good. Preparation I wish I didn’t have to use, but it does feel like I *have* to to not get killed when I’m stuck, out of discipline, and need the 60% heal. I never used it until Inferno. Caltrops w/ damage rune is nice for kiting, and nice for getting LOH back. Spike trap is a major source of damage espeicallly when a couple go off at once with major crit boost.

    LOH feels necessary as usual, and I would say it was broken with multiple jagged caltrops out, however that doesn’t keep you from getting hit down to 10% life, it just lets you recover faster.

    Passives selection is pretty limited… I use Archery and Sharpshooter, and play around with the third slot.

    Bola shot sounds so cool but has so many quirks that make it so bad. I already mentioned the first hit wasting the sharpshooter crit bonus by doing 1 base damage. The fact that a bola won’t explode when an enemy is killed by something else also makes it pretty dumb. The bola is there, make it explode. I can understand not wanting a few chained/pending shots not exploding, but at least make it one please!

    Now having ran A1 Inferno too many times to call it fun, I’m getting really tired of it. Not sure what I’m going to do at this point. Hope for something awesome to sell on the AH so I can buy stuff for A2? That prospect is also not fun. I’d rather try A2 and die a fair amount w/out a steep repair bill, at least I will keep trying. Blizzard’s approach here seems anti-fun… I understand the need to avoid graveyard rushing, but I’d prefer enemies having regen if you’re dead or away than dumping gold.

    WD

    WD I actually enjoyed quite a bit in the beta, but after seeing the mana complaints from other players, and also just not wanting to grind through normal/nightmare/hell again, I don’t know if I’ll fire one up any time soon.

    General comments

    When the viability of builds leaves you 1 maybe 2 slots to play with, I just can’t believe the audacity of the early statements about the shear quantity of viable builds. I see this theme recurring in almost all the classes. Plenty of skills and runes need buffs to get in line with others. I hope they don’t just nerf the good ones, but rather buff the crap ones.

    Inferno… still not fun, at least not past Act 1. And A1 is getting boring. I guess i got my $60 worth (err, CE $99 oops). But this isn’t a game I feel like playing any more.

    There are conflicting forces at play here: I want to play Inferno, because it’s the end of the game and where the challenge is. However the challenge is a gear check, time sink, or $ check if you used RMAH (refuse to). I want to play fun builds and balance killing speed versus magic find versus see-how-this-crazy-build-works time. Repair costs and enemy damage are at odds with my fun.

    This game is not supposed to be a competition. Games are supposed to be fun. The nature of the AH turns it more into a competition. The nature of Inferno makes things not fun due to time/gear grinding. Quirky “I dodged that attack and I’m 20 feet from the enemy but I get hit due to lag and/or weird design decisions” are NOT FUN.

    Maybe I should go back to FPS games and other games that I feel are based on my skill and not my time sink / gear check. Or other ARPG games where loot feels attainable, and fun isn’t at odds with efficiency.

    • Sean Li says:

      I agree here, especially with the competition part. In Diablo 2 I couldn’t care less how much gear other people had or how fast they could clear content, but with the Auction House in Diablo 3, you are reminded every time you use it of gear that is far better than your own. This part turns the game into a meaningless grind.

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