The State of Class Balance in Diablo 3: The Witch Doctor

In my previous posts I have talked about how I had four level 60s in Inferno. Yesterday I finally leveled my Witch Doctor to 60, which means I now have a level 60 of each class. So, I will now talk about the Witch Doctor in terms of balancing, which I couldn’t do in my previous balancing post.

Witch Doctor

As of 1.0.3, the battle.net forums seem to suggest that the Witch Doctor is the worst class in terms of balance, some saying that it is the worst by far. I’ve found this to be mostly false. First, I would like to preface this by saying, as in the last balancing post, that all of the classes are useless with low-end gear and seem overpowered with high-end gear. The Witch Doctor is no exception.

On the day my Witch Doctor hit 60, I bought only two items from the Auction House: two rings for 50k gold each, which is a marginal cost. I did this because the ones I had were levels 16 and 23 respectively. The new rings only had about 70 int each with some other stats. Other than the two rings, I bought no gear from the Auction House for him.

On the same day, I was able to clear all of Act 1, including every elite pack, and even do the first few quests of Act 2, up to Maghda. This was very surprising because I was under the impression that Witch Doctors were terrible. Apparently not. Of course, he would need better gear to finish Act 2 and go on to Acts 3 and 4, but he had proved his strength already.

Gear Scaling

I don’t think I would have been able to do this on any other one of my characters. With fresh level 60 gear, it would be very hard for other classes to progress even in Act 1 Inferno. In this respect, the Witch Doctor seems the least gear dependent of all the classes, at least with the build I played.

The Monk and Barbarian, being melee and needing survivability, are obviously very gear dependent. The Demon Hunter is also very gear dependent, as she has no good damage reduction moves and must rely on killing stuff really quickly, and has some passives that scale really well with gear (Archery, Steady Aim, Sharpshooter). And the Wizard has a lot of popular spells that amplify stats (Force Weapon, Familiar, Energy Armor, Glass Cannon) as well as abilities that are based on item effects (Critical Mass), and so scales really well with gear.

By contrast, the Witch Doctor scales only at the most basic level. More damage stats gives more damage, more survivability stats gives more survivability, but there is little other interaction that is present in the other classes. A Barbarian or a Monk, for example, can increase his dps by getting more survivability on his gear, because that gear allows him to use a more offensive build that would be otherwise unplayble. As for the Demon Hunter and Wizard, there is good interaction with other stats such as critical strike (say with Spray of Teeth or Healing Blades).

So the Witch Doctor, while still scaling with stats, does so at a lesser rate. This is probably what allowed my Witch Doctor to clear Act 1 with much lower gear than any of my other characters had when they first cleared Act 1. Yet, it will also mean that, depending on the exact scaling amounts, he may have more trouble with later acts than my other characters.

The only unique scaling Witch Doctors have is their pets, which other classes do not have. But the pets are just too weak. I tried to level my Witch Doctor with Zombie Dogs the whole way, but I just had to switch it out for another ability at around Act 3 Nightmare. They die far too fast for the cooldown of the summoning spell. Every 60 seconds you can summon 3 dogs that die in 5-10 seconds, depending on what mobs you are fighting. Their damage is also pretty minimal. The Monk’s Mystic Ally does more damage, and has no summoning cooldown. Sure, there are a lot of abilities that interact with Zombie Dogs, but they just don’t pack the punch when the dogs themselves are so weak. The solution is to give them a huge passive damage reduction to AOE damage. In WoW, which does a pretty good implementation of this mechanic, Hunter pets take 90% reduced damage from AOE damage. That way, if they walk into a fire or a void zone, they don’t get killed in seconds.

The Gargantuan can actually survive a bit longer, but still dies ridiculously fast. Again, it should take much less damage from AOE damage, so that Desecrator/Arcane/Molten/Fire Chains don’t kill them in seconds. Still, the gear to make the pets more viable is a big investment. Alright, onto the next part.

Mana

Mana. It flat out needs to regenerate faster. A Witch Doctor has 740 Mana at level 60, and regenerates 20 Mana per second without skills or items. This makes most builds unplayable. The low base regeneration is compounded by the fact that everything costs Mana, including the primary spells. Compare this to the other classes:

  • Demon Hunter primaries generate Hatred per attack.
  • Monk primaries generate Spirit per attack.
  • Barbarian primaries generate Fury per attack.
  • Wizard primaries are free by default, but can be runed/skilled to generate Arcane Power per attack.

So why do the Witch Doctor’s primary skills cost Mana? (Well, this is besides a couple of rune choices, which would make you waste a rune to be on par with the other classes.)

They already have really slow base regen, and on top of that, their primary skills drain Mana, thus reducing their regen even more. I’ve pretty much played a Vision Quest build since Act 3 Nightmare, as otherwise I would just not have enough Mana to use things other than primary spells. The Mana system severely gimps build diversity and needs to be tweaked. The simplest way is to just increase base mana regeneration to a more reasonable amount. Even a change that looks small on paper, such as 20 -> 30 base Mana regen, would have a huge effect, since a large amount of the 20 is wasted on your primary spell anyways.

For instance, you have a weapon with 1.40 attacks per second and are using Poison Dart as your primary spell, which costs 10 mana per shot. Then on average you are using up 14 Mana per second just from Poison Dart, leaving your net regen at a measly 6 Mana per second. Having increased attack speed on items makes this even worse (instead of better for other classes). Bumping the base regen to 30, however, would change this 6 into 16. This would mean Witch Doctors would have a lot more viable builds. And, with this change, the +Mana regeneration bonuses on items would feel cool, instead of mandatory.

With these two simple changes, adding innate AOE resist to pets (say 90% reduction) and increasing base Mana regeneration (say to 30 Mana per second), Witch Doctors would scale better with gear, not feel gimped on Mana, and have a lot more viable builds. Then they could truly let their spirits feast on some freshly slaughtered demons.

TL;DR

  • Despite popular belief, Witch Doctors are not that underpowered.
  • Witch Doctors don’t scale with gear as well as other classes.
  • By making pets much more survivable, you kill two birds with one stone: improved gear scaling and increased build variety.
  • Base Mana regen is too low, forcing certain builds/item stats, and thus reducing diversity. This could be solved by increasing the base regen even by a small amount.

The original post contains extensive discussion of the Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, and Wizard.

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