Blizzard has implemented the first of some ongoing hotfixes to Diablo III, attempting to bring character classes into balance. The first publicized fix has been the reduction in effectiveness of the Monk's Boon of Protection rune, a skill that once provided shielding to players being healed by Mantra of Healing.
Blizzard's forum spokesman Bashiok said the Rune was "approximately ten times over its budget on the benefits it provided, and it was quite simply a mistake on our part to let the rune ship as it was." It's due to be given a more lasting fix in future, but in the meantime, it's had its shielding nerfed so badly that it's actually unusable. Blizzard suggests not using it at all for the moment.
Meanwhile, Wizard and Demon Hunter players are claiming their Force Armor and Smoke Screen skills have been de-powered. I tried my Demon Hunter and the Smoke Screen does indeed seem to last for a far shorter time than it used to. Without the rune that extends its duration, you could blink and miss it.
These fixes will prove controversial to players who have reached Hell and Inferno. Given how ludicrously overpowered the enemies are in such modes, nearly all classes have been reduced to kiting the opposition, and it seems strange that three classes have had their best survival tactics neutered. Monk players are especially infuriated, with the forum thread containing some fascinating reading for those drawn to controversy.
Most player reactions are calling for more buffing, as opposed to nerfing. It seems Blizzard's issue is with a lot of players relying on the same skills, but it's been argued that those skills are only being relied upon because the other options aren't viable. Mantra of Healing with Boon of Protection was overused because it was, by most accounts, the only decent bit of support a Monk had in the higher difficulties.
It seems to be the wrong direction to take, to bring the good skills down rather than the bad skills up. If the reliance on one skill is a problem, surely the answer is to make the other skills more attractive. I doubt making characters more effective is too much of an issue, given that Hell and Inferno feature creatures seemingly designed to mitigate the entire way certain classes are expected to be played.
"Do you not understand that you have made Inferno so ridiculous that without these abilities we can’t progress past Act 1?" responded one forum user. "How do you expect us to survive without these things?
"The only thing keeping me playing this game is that I’m able to use Smoke Screen on my Demon Hunter to survive in Inferno and even then its no easy task! Without it there is simply no effective way to stay alive. If you nerf these necessary defenses I’m sure many of us will just get so fed up that we will stop playing the game all together."
Meanwhile, Blizzard believes there is no major character imbalance, countering the argument that ranged classes are dominating while both the Monk and Barbarian struggle.
"Class balance is an ongoing investigation, and by no means do we believe the game is now perfect, but we're also seeing evidence that supports (with a few nerfs to Wizard and Demon Hunter) the Monk and Barbarian are not as bad off as they seem," claimed Bashiok. "The game is young, there were some skills that threw things out of whack, and we expect the landscape to settle out a bit more evenly. Or at least change again so we can continue to monitor the impact. Maybe we're wrong, maybe there's no current chance for Monk or Barbarian to compete with ranged, but our current suspicion is that's incorrect and until we know for sure we're not going to turn any dials."
It's certainly a questionable attitude, as far as I can see. Powering skills down, rather than up, seems like the wrong direction to me, and apparently many others. Sure, the Demon Hunter's Smoke Screen was damn effective, but it was also the only solid defense it had. Meanwhile, taking away what many Monk players relied upon to make their support builds supportive lacks much logical sense.
Balancing a game in which people invest a hours upon hours is always controversial, but with the insanity that is Hell and Inferno already driving players mad, it seems these tweaks are going to be cause for outrage for a very long time. It makes for some absorbing reading, at any rate.