Blizzard nerfs Diablo IV character builds ahead of new season launch

Nothing brings together a community of gamers quite like a balancing patch to their favorite numbers-go-up game, does it? That’s what Blizzard’s new version 1.1.0 patch is doing for Diablo IV players, and the chorus being sung in unison by hardcore players is quite the tantrum.

But here’s the thing: Blizzard really has mucked things up at a very inopportune time.

Diablo IV’s patch 1.1.0 dropped yesterday, just two days before the start of the game’s first seasonal content drop, the Season of the Malignant, which will have players start fresh characters to run through a new quest line and premium battle pass. But within the lengthy patch notes were a large swath of changes significantly shaking up the potency of many popular character builds (i.e., lowering their damage output), as well as adjustments to the difficulty curve and rewards system that make the endgame slog even more of a grind.

The tweaks include across-the-board nerfs of all character classes thanks to a reduction of critical strike damage, vulnerability damage, cooldown reduction bonuses, experience bonuses for killing higher-level enemies (which also hinders players’ ability to boost their lower-level friends), and more. The S-tier character builds of Barbarians using Hammer of the Ancients, Necromancers using Bone Spear, Druids using Werewolf Shred, and Sorcerers using Ice Shards all took significant hits to damage output. And beyond character nerfs, the Helltide quest event that could be quite lucrative for skilled, high-level players hunting legendaries and unique items now has harder enemies and reward chests that cost more resources (RIP to one of the most fun parts of the game).

There’s a boatload more in the patch notes, which have some embedded developer notes that range from sounding concerned about balancing out the game to downright defensive about good players being too good for Blizzard’s liking.

Predictably, this has set off players who overnight felt like their characters are less powerful and the game has pushed back their progress within the highest-level difficulties. There are various Reddit posts voicing people’s disdain for the changes, and unsurprisingly, the Metacritic user score for Diablo IV has quickly tanked to a 3.6 out of 10 in just a day. But the fervor has reached a high enough point that Blizzard’s own global community development director for Diablo, Adam Fletcher, announced on Twitter that Blizzard will host a Campfire Chat stream on Friday to explain the changes. (I’m sure the Twitch chat will be completely civil.)

As much as the indignation of some ARPG players can make you cringe, I’ve also been working through my emotions about these changes to Diablo IV. I signed on last night post-patch to do some small side quests with my level 61 Bone Spear Necro, and I was taken aback by how challenging of a time I was having with a very basic dungeon in the world map. Sure, I was playing on World Tier IV (Torment), the highest difficulty level, but I had been progressing for days to a point where I could level there if I’m careful — making the post-campaign progress loop feel more open, with a slow drip of access to higher tiers of items and more experience. But all at once, I learned (before I was even aware of what changes were made in the patch) that my now-nerfed ass is probably headed back to World Tier III (Nightmare) difficulty.

My bone spears! Look how they massacred my beautiful spears!

It’s a little jarring to feel like a sizable portion of the progress you made over dozens of hours just evaporated. I don’t think all the changes are a bad idea because when all the best builds make vulnerable damage an absolute must-have to maximize, that may mean that feature is a little broken. But making the game feel artificially longer in the endgame is a bit like just getting the hang of running on a treadmill while someone else quietly cranks up the speed to try and get you to fall. I’m well-versed in the necessary evil of game balancing and how a live service game will inevitably ebb and flow on what are the builds du jour, but it gets tricky if doing so also hampers a lot of people’s fun.

Perhaps jumping into a new character with tomorrow’s Season of the Malignant might soften the sting, as starting from level one again may put you back on an endorphin-rich feedback loop of questing and leveling. At least until it’s time for more patches to unpredictably cut people down, build them back up, or (hopefully) put the fun back in Helltides.

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