Thursday, May 24, 2012

[Diablo 3] Elective Mode is a Mistake

Elective Mode in Diablo 3 is a design mistake. Further, Blizzard knew it was a design mistake, but they caved in to the whining of the hardcore, and thus weakened the game as a whole.

First, a quick explanation. In D3, you have six categories of abilities. Each category has 3 to 5 abilities within it. For example, the Demon Hunter has Primary Attack, Secondary Attack, Defensive, Hunting, Devices, and Archery categories. Under the default settings, you can only pick one ability per category.

However, if you go into Options, you can turn on a setting called Elective mode. In Elective mode, you are no longer restricted to one ability per category. Instead you can take multiple abilities from the same category, like two Defensive abilities. You are still restricted to 6 abilities in total.

Elective mode is more powerful than the default setup. This is obviously true because all default builds are a subset of elective mode builds.

The reason elective mode is bad is that it destroys any semblance of exclusive choices, which is the major advantage of Blizzard's new series of explicit choices model. Instead, it replicates the worst feature of talent trees. As I wrote about talent trees:
The lack of explicit choices means that all talents within reach are compared to each other and ranked accordingly. And this has lead to some awkwardness. For DPS, damage talents always outweigh survivability talents. For tanks, survivability talents always outweigh damage talents. So for a final build, the only choice is between a few talents that you don't really care about, that aren't really important to your role. 
In a talent tree, it is extraordinarily hard to make someone choose between two good choices. Most of the time the player will take both, and drop a third, less important choice.
This same pattern occurs in Elective mode. Trying to choose between two good Defensive talents? Don't make the hard choice. Turn on Elective mode and take both.

Restrictions breed creativity. Restrictions make games interesting. If you don't have access to both good Defensive talents, you have to choose one and adjust your play-style to match. You have to get the most value out of a weaker ability in a different category.

However, the hardcore players hate being restricted. They hate having to make choices. All they see is that it lessens their power. Thus they will whine and moan until the game developers give in.

This is one of the most important responsibilities of the game developers. To tell the playerbase that they need to deal with weaknesses, to work around the weaknesses with new tactics. Instead of watering down the game by erasing the restrictions that make the game interesting.

Blizzard knew elective mode was a mistake. It's not the default system in Diablo 3. The option to turn it on is buried in the menus where, realistically, only the hardcore will find it. The default system with the different categories produces far more interesting builds, in spite of--or maybe because of--the fact that default builds are weaker.

Blizzard gave in to the hardcore players who hate restrictions and weakened the game. The default ability system produces far more interesting and varied builds than elective mode. Unfortunately, good elective mode builds are far more effective in practice.


  1. Having just completed nightmare difficulty on my wizard and moving on to hell, I would have to disagree on this.

    The few open games I have joined was with characters with (to me) insane amounts of health: 19-21k to my 9k at level 50. After inspecting them I found that they were fully equipped with optimal rare gear that was level appropriate while I was running around with 3-4 blue items and still a level 19 rare amulet since I haven't found any upgrades. I had to conclude that thry bought gear off the auction house, which I haven't paid much attention to yet.

    Although I had low health, I played smartly and avoided most damage, which worked fine until Izual on nightmare. I managed to avoid all his freezing attacks and minions and keep at range from him, but every now and then he would charge at me and instantly kill me.

    To beat him (solo)I had a few options - buy the best gear I could find on auction, go grind till i found better gear or use more defensive abilities. I chose the latter and used both diamond armour and teleport with the mirror image rune(both of which are defensive abilities) and managed to stay away or absorb his charge when teleport was on cooldown.

    If it wrre not for this choice, I would have needed the best gear I could find(which I find an unacceptable answer for a levelling character in a game wiyh as random drops as diablo)

  2. There was no "caving." The restrictions you mention as being necessary is precisely the 6-ability limit. D3, for as long as I can remember, was being sold as a "pick 6 abilities out of a pool of hundreds" and I was genuinely shocked when I played the beta and did not have the option available (it was there, but buried as you note).

    Of course, you are free to speculate why they buried Elective mode in the options and made a restrictive default setting. I would suggest it was for the same reason big obvious tips are enabled by default, rather than some lack of moral fortitude.

  3. I can't say I agree with this either tbh. In my experience elective mode makes for more interesting talent choices. For example on my WD it means I can decide whether to add another defensive ability or whether the loss of dps is too painful. It also means the fact that some abilities are fairly OP atm (spirit walk) doesn't mean I efectively don't get to use any of the other abilities in that school ever.

    I must admit I am quite suprised by this post. I think the way talents work in D3 is actually one of the best things about it and elective mode only adds more viable choices. It cerainly doesn't reduce the game to cookie cutter specs which seems to be what you are implying. I am in Act 1 Inferno and I have certainly played numerous different builds which all seemed completely viable. At least on my WD if I had to take only one skill from each school in at least 3 of the schools that would be no choice at all. Now I can take those 3 OP skills and still play around with my other 3.

  4. I think Blizzard could have gone further with optional playing modes than just regular and hardcore. I could imagine an oldschool mode with no AH and no access to elective mode, and if they'd thrown in some achievements for it people would have given it a go.

  5. There are no choices for the hardcore anyway. They will all play on the flavor of the month talent. Without elective mode this will be weaker, but still there will be only one.

    And one for the elective mode: you can put other spells on the mouse. I love my multishot on mouse second button, as I use it much more often than the single target ability that was there.!Yce!baZZaZ

  6. Once PvP drops (assuming it will), Elective Mode will be required if you want to compete effectively.

    This is the same reason why I think that the theorycrafters will figure out optimal builds per class in Mists; if it can be done, it will.

  7. Uhm hope you don't mind, but i actually posted my reply on my blog as I felt that it would kinda clog up your comments a little...

    While I'm not a really great theorycrafter, I honestly think it's way too early to actually say that there's no choice in skill selections in Diablo 3

  8. I agree, but only because I think the entire current Skill UI is a mistake. Given the new Skill UI, elective mode is necessary.

    Being in the open beta, you missed Blizzard's initial Skill UI - you can probably dig up old screenshots if you weren't following things early on. It was _much_ better from both gameplay and UI Design perspectives, in my opinion, and Blizzard was foolish to abandon it. Elective mode allows people to get the builds they loved from the old Skill UI.

    Elective mode doesn't remove restrictions on choice in a game-breaking way as you still only get six of many in a creative mix that suits your style. Your skill choices largely dictate the sort of gear you hunt for and vice versa.

    Unfortunately, Blizzard decided to arbitrarily categorize the skills and stick them in a clumsy UI full of excessive whitespace and extra clicks to reach other pages.

    Perhaps these categories make the game more accessible to some, but they _are_ arbitrary. Why are Wizard armour spells in Conjuration and not Defensive. Why is Diamond Skin in Defensive instead of with the armour spells in Conjuration? I'm sure you can find a number of skills that have runes that break them from their category across the classes.

    I might go so far as to suggest that some skills are out of place in the categories intentionally because, if they weren't, those who don't enable Elective Mode would miss out on important/fun skill synergies (such as Diamond Skin with an armour spell activated).

    Anyway, as I said.. the whole Skill UI is clumsy. Really wish Blizzard would revert to the old one but they didn't cave to those (numerous) threads.

  9. NOOOOOO why are you telling me this? >.<

    Now there is a thing where I need to restrict myself by not using elective mode in order for the game to still be challenging...

    not to really blame you but yeah...

  10. Even if this choice was a mistake, I would make the argument that it was still a good choice to leave it as an option because it will act as an ease into the next product where they can then go full on into explicit choices, as you put it.

    By leaving a half-measure in, they don't need to worry about people adjusting from such a massive change from the previous game. Small steps to a new "normal" are always easier to accept then massive sweeping changes.

  11. "As I wrote about talent trees:


    Does not apply here. There is no such thing as a holy trinity (DPS, healer, tank). There is only certain spells, builds with weaknesses and strong points. For example, on some fights you do not need to have any AoE which means you can take a different rune, or replace one or a few spells. If you don't have any way to kite you need to outDPS the content. A heavy kiting build is however useless on fights where the boss is standing still. There is no perfect build for every yellow and purple mob. One may argue: just pick all defensive abilities. Yes, when you near end-game such is preferred because the other content is faceroll for most players. The "downside" is you progress less quick. Especially if you're new to a fight you're going to need to use defensive CDs. It is the same in WoW hardcore raiding during progress (where abilities one shot you, or you are undergeared). So elective mode gives more flexibility.

    "However, the hardcore players hate being restricted. They hate having to make choices. All they see is that it lessens their power. Thus they will whine and moan until the game developers give in."

    I am a semi hardcore player, and I love the new WoW talent system because it gives _compelling_ choices, and the choices are clear. This is in contrast to SWTOR and WoW pre MoP. For the same reason I love the Diablo 3 talent system. I don't like the SC2 talent system in single player because it has a big design flaw: I cannot respec barring load/save game to when I made the choice. In Diablo I'd like the option to load/save talent tree builds but other than that I like the system.

    Given you have max 6 active skills with 3 passive means you are always restricted, you always need to make choices. The pool to pick from is simply bigger due to elective mode.

    FWIW, I don't mind with or without elective mode; I'd just deal with it, since I like the principle of the Diablo 3 talent system very much. As someone above said: w/o it, we'd have less flexibility, which means we're less strong and need to grind more.

    The reason elective mode is hidden is because it makes the amount of choices one can make much larger which makes the game overly complex to a new player. It isn't required to enable elective mode to clear the game on normal mode as the advantage to it is minor in this difficulty setting.

    Regarding flavor of the month, there is no such thing; there are various playstyles and various good builds depending on fight (which you cannot know in advance due to random yellow abilities) and there are many, many bad builds or suboptimal builds. The only exception is when certain builds make something completely faceroll. Which was the case with wizard force armor / diamond skin / low vitality build, and monk invulnerability. Which got nerfed.

  12. I'm pretty sure that the variety of enemies with different spells and modifiers will not allow for one cookie cutter spec to emerge.

    There were a few enemy groups as early as in Hell Act II that forced me to rethink my current spec and take options that were definitely suboptimal versus normal trash packs.

  13. I will have to disagree with this post as well. I think having many valid, effective choices make a game great. Restrictions are more of a necessary evil so that game doesn't become easy god-mode.

    If we were to go with the restriction philosophy, I think players shouldn't be able to change talents at all, at least not as easily. Players should be basically stuck with whatever they chose and try to be creative when dealing with difficult bosses and mobs.

    But, that doesn't sound fun to me. I prefer to be creative in picking the talents and trying to figure out the most effective build that suits my play style. To me, that is the best part of Diablo 3. Although some skills are almost required since they're so powerful, I think Blizzard did a pretty good job of giving me many good choices and I would hate to see them change it.

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  15. If this starts to be a problem it shouldn't be that difficult for Blizzard to add a shared cooldown to skills you would like to not allow the player to use at the same time.

    Like what they did with potions in WoW.

  16. I thought I was the only one who hated elective mode. It totally killed the game for me, as a newcomer to Diablo. I really enjoyed the illusion of choice before I learned about elective mode; I feel like the restriction was more fun (restrictions breed creativity, etc). From reading other people's experiences, it seems like you have to go completely defensive in the harder difficulties, and that you don't really have room for other interesting or fun abilities. That just doesn't scream "choice" to me. It screams "cookiecutter". I could be wrong though.

    There's also the problem if it's placement in the UI. I remember seeing it in the menus when I first started Diablo and I couldn't figure out what the hell it actually did. I didn't realize its use until I read somewhere online, which is not the right way to go when this feature is required for higher difficulties. I feel bad for the people who don't read blogs or research on the internet, but are frustrated because they can't get past an encounter that was designed around having three defensive abilities.

  17. A difference with WoW is that D3 (at least when soloing, and probably in many groups) doesn't have separate tank/heal/dps roles. So in WoW a choice between more dps and utility is usually a false choice, as you said. But when you are responsible for all three roles, it makes more of the choices real. A WoW tank would just choose all the defensive talents, but a barbarian still has to kill things.

    I think elective mode does make it harder to balance between classes, since there are more possible combinations and interactions between the combinations, but I don't think balance is as big a priority for Diablo as WoW. Some of the talent interactions still will cause trouble though, especially if people can stack enough of particular stats on gear to complement them.

  18. At risk of claiming to be able to read Blizzard's mind, I have tried to stick relatively close to non-Elective mode in my ability selections but a few times I have broken that because some abilities are either much more fun to use or flat out better than the options they gave me.

    I should point out, as evidence that the game was "meant" to be played in Elective mode is the Monk's level 50 passive Combination Strike ( which increases your damage by 8% for each DIFFERENT spirit generator you use. To make use of the passive one would have to be in elective mode.

  19. "That just doesn't scream "choice" to me. It screams "cookiecutter". I could be wrong though."

    Yep, for various reasons you're wrong.

    First of all, if you read a few comments above yours someone wrote elective mode was just added to make the game less complex to new players because originally it was not part of Diablo 3. This means that originally you were able to pick a combination of any 6 skills. Imagine how this is for a new player and you'll understand why they changed it. It is like a computer program with an option "advanced mode".

    Second, what will happen is either you die from a oneshot (corpserun, durability loss) or you survive and get to practice the fight more even tho you take too much unnecessary damage. In that regard, if you die a lot, you need to adapt to a more defensive playstyle and improve your skill. It could also be that your output isn't high enough (undergeared, suboptimal talents).

    Remember you can only cast one spell at a time. By default left and right mouse button are a spell you click and is then cast. I don't like this, I feel this is a waste. You're better off with a survivability CD which counters a (combination of) abilities of an enemy.

    Also, the hard part of Diablo is the yellow mobs. The bosses are trivial. On higher difficulty the bosses get harder, but the yellow mobs can become insanely hard. You cannot have a cookiecutter spec against every yellow mob (their affix are random and get more and more). You either must adapt, or you need to have a general build with no weaknesses (but I found no such build yet; there are always weaknesses).

    I find more than you have a standard set which works for you, and you may slightly deviate from it depending on situation. Making your build to work is not about finding the cookiecutter build. If there was such a thing, they'd be known by now; they're not. It is about synergies between abilities. IF there is a cookiecutter, Blizzard will nerf it like they did with monk/wizard.

    For us WoW players, we can only hope MoP will be like this. It will be very tough to balance such for PvE and PvP.

    "A WoW tank would just choose all the defensive talents, but a barbarian still has to kill things."

    From what I heard, Barb is excellent tank in coop.

  20. Am I missing something? I found the elective mode but all it does is let me choose what key triggers the spells

  21. Hardcore players don't hate having to make choices and they certainly like seeing their power lessened.

    Only the most hardcore makes challenges such as "Castlevania (DS' portrait of ruin/Order of ecclesia for instance) level 1 very hard mode" or "Dark Souls no deaths" (the latter being... more than very hard".

    No, the hardcore players likes being challenged, being underpowered, and still work his way to destroy his enemies.

    You're mixing hardcore with casuals, who need to feel overpowered to feel good about themselves, destroying stuff.
    See: Gevlon's point of view on M&S and their mental issues in the normal world. But I digress.

    Elective mode, however, is a good idea that should stay. As Azuriel stated, it's 6 skills out of a pool of X skills.

    I should be able to choose the skills I want. Nephalem valor takes care of the rest (I need to balance my defensive, AoE and Single Target abilities in higher difficulties).

    I make the character the way I want, and assume my choices.

    Skill trees like in DII or Torchlight and Torchlight 2 pre-release (Beta "tree" system will be gone in TL2 release) are enjoyed by hardcore gamers because the choice is meaningful.

    I like them (more now that I know how to build them).

    If you make a wrong build you must start your character over. In DII they added re-specs and in TL/TL2 you can mod it in, that does it for casuals.

    That's pretty much it.

    Don't mix hardcores and retards together.

  22. I have to say that I AGREE with Rohan on this.

    A couple of points:
    1) The groupings may seem arbitrary, but they aren't. Blizz wants you to make an explicit choice between a set of abilities. Choosing one means you don't get the others. Which is very relevant with regards to the next point:
    2) Blizzard has tuned the game with the choices indicated in #1 in mind. They expect a player to only have ability out of each group. Turning on Elective Mode essentially breaks the balance.

    And as to the very first comment by Marius, I would respectfully point out that you are suposed to be using the AH. It was designed into the game and was meant to be used regularly. Otherwise it wouldn't be there.

    Essentially, you decided that instead of playing the game the way it was supposed to be played, with the tools and choices available which Blizzard has carefully tuned mobs and boss fights around, that you would break the game's tuning by giving yourself multiple abilities from the same pool. You were supposed to be using the AH and selling / buying gear. You were supposed to be keeping your stats up... instead, you selected two defensive abilities, which are supposed to be mutually exclusive, and for which Blizzard has not tuned the game around.

    So yeah. I agree with Rohan. I think that Elective mode is a cop-out.


  23. @ Anonymous "-T"

    Then they shouldn't have put elective mode.

    They need to put their restrictions and stand by them.

    You say that the AH is there so it's supposed to be used regularly, then you imply Elective mode shouldn't be used.

    Lemme tell ya straight.

    Elective mode is there because it's meant to be used, like the AH.

    Did you read PLAY TO WIN?

    Basically, if something is objectively programmed into the game, can be used by everyone, and does not cost any real life investment other than time... if it can be accessed by only playing the game from paying only it's initial price...

    It's fair and square to use it. Only morons would not use it.

    If it's fair and helps me beat the game, why not? Vesperia grade farming through Tidal Wave with Rita...

    Bayonetta's bugged rocket combo to beat bosses easily even in Non Stop Infinite Climax... (the hardest difficulty)...

    DIII's AH...

    It's all the same. If it's not obtained through third party programs, or by spending extra real money on top of the original cost of the game, it's fair.

    Deal with it, they though about Elective mode.

    By not using it to it's full extent and using the most powerful build (that fits your playstyle), you will continuously be a bottom feeder.

    Gevlon's M&S, to be exact.

    As for Blizzard, it's time they learned to do their job. Like Capcom, all the talent has gone.

    I am impatiently waiting for TL2, and do not intend to buy another Blizzard game. No Xpac. No SCII.

    It will disappoint.

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  25. Here are my opinion,
    1) There are some catergories which i don't really use them(in my current situation). Why should i waste the slots if I can use skills from other categories?
    If you have played D2 and its expansion, you should have notice that early-skills increase late-skills effeciveness and vice versa. So, it is rather useful than a waste of investment. D3's skills are in the same thinking but from a different aspect. The aspect is that early-skills shall be as effective as late-skills. In conclusion, D2 is designed to choose between early/late skills, D3 is designed to choose between offensive/defensive skills
    2) It is not totally restriction-free. Some skills are contradict (defensive skills), or they burn out your energy source quickly (offensive skills). That is why your energy source never increases after leveling up.
    3) The reason of non-elective mode being default is because of that skills are introduced catergorized-ly. In so, one would not miss a skill on the list, rather than mess up the choice in one's mind.
    How would it mess up one's mind? let us see,
    in non-elective mode the choice would be
    6 keys x 3~5 skills=> (3~5)^6, roughly 4000 set;
    in elective mode
    6 keys x all skills => choose 6 in [6 x (3~5)], roughly 100k set.
    Also, elective mode will discourage players from testing the originally possible skills set(as they may like to stick with what they think the best)
    4) Runes choice is another restriction.

  26. "Restrictions breed creativity. Restrictions make games interesting."

    First statement yes. Second statement no.

    Choices in what I pay for is what I want. I'm not here to be a slave to Blizzard's tuning. If it breaks it so what? I don't get the on rails, bow to the developer's design mentality.

    Disclaimer: I did not purchase Diablo 3. I did purchase and complete Diablo 1, 2 and expansion.

  27. Regardless of the merits of elective mode or not, the idea that it was a sacrifice to hardcore players is simply wrong.

    If you had followed the beta, you would know that elective mode was in fact a sop to the casuals/more-easily-confused-players.

    First, they designed the game where elective mode was the basic experience (actually, it was better than elective mode is now, with a much better interface, but let's not digress). Then they decided their players were really, really dumb, and made the basic experience what it is now, with the original implementation added as the option "elective mode".