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Design Discussion: Balance, the elephant in the room


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Let's say a boss has 1000 hp.   You have 1000 hp as well for simplicity.  You both hit each other at the same rates, but you do slightly more damage per hit.  All other factors aside you barely beat the boss (by the margin that your damage is greater of course).  You consider this encounter to be "Challenging"

Now let's say we drop in a weapon that multiplies your damage by 40%.  You get this weapon, you slaughter trash mobs easily and get to the boss again.  You utterly obliterate him easily.  You now consider this encounter to be "Trivial"

Trivial is bad.  When the game doesn't present a challenge a player will zone out and AFK grind while watching Netflix, or if the whole game is trivial just go play something else that has goals worth meeting

Balance in a game is much like it's namesake implies.  You are stacking multiple elements of gameplay in order to make the game complex and engaging while trying to keep it balanced to where it is challenging and beatable (by a fair portion of your playerbase).  If you mess up, the whole thing crumbles and your game forums catch fire

Now arguably this is one of the most difficult things in design because the more systems you add to make your game interesting, the more factors you have to contend with when tweaking it for balance.  What many designers do to find balance is "incremental iteration", where certain values are changed slightly in a patch then they wait and see if that change fixes the issue, does nothing, or breaks it even further.  This is like open heart surgery by someone who isn't a real doctor, but the good thing is most of the time the procedure is at least reversible if it fails.  

Sometimes you aren't so lucky.  You've changed the mechanics of something to try and balance it and someone else has built something that relies on that mechanic already.  Say you've made a whole boss encounter that requires incapacitating him at specific times, but now you've found out that the stuns you added to character abilities are horrifically overpowered in PvP allowing them to lockdown other players and kill them without retaliation.  Your forums are ablaze

Just an example of how careful you need to be.  For a more relevant example we can examine "Frosty Power".  This was added as a flat multiplier to all damage done in the game.  In order to keep the game challenging after adding this damage boost, we have to either crank monster damage up (resulting in a less lopsided trade in fights) or crank monster hitpoints up (evening out the "time to kill" so it's back where it was without the boost)

The problem you now face is you have created a game where Frosty Power is required to play the game properly.  Anyone running without this boost has now hit a brick wall trying to progress.  Nerf the monsters so everyone can play?  The game is too trivial for Frosty Power users.  Buff the monsters to make it challenging for Frosty users?  No one without it can beat your game

Does it sound like we have a problem now?  You betcha!

So how in the world do we add items that give power to characters without the extra power destroying the balance of the game?  A common method is by making the power exclusive.  You restrict the specific abilities or items or characters that the new power can affect.  Then you release multiple new boosts that target different abilities and items and characters.  And you saturate the game until most of them are covered by the boost blanket.  A player can't stack all of the overpowered abilities to create a perfect situation where he trivializes the game.  As long as no one can create a strong outlying case to do so, you can maintain the balance

In a game like Dungeon Defenders very broad boosts to power are a huge problem.  It's very dangerous to implement things like Frosty Power, Boost Aura, Boost Beam and to some extent Hearty Blockade because they create outlying win scenarios.  A player who has them will utterly massacre the content in your game, and the players who don't will feel like they cannot make progress.  Now let's be clear, it's fine to require that certain combinations of abilities are needed to beat the hardest content in the game.  But the problem is when there's only one or very few of these combinations that work.  And broad power boosts are a huge factor in pigeonholing the gameplay into a narrow and boring niche

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Though I will say this: Working with multiplicative damage scaling is definitely tricky, but I think what upsets people is how dramatic nerfs are. I spoke on it in another feedback thread, but constantly jumping from one extreme to the other makes for a very unenjoyable ride for players.

The other issue is that the game currently doesn't get harder. It's artificial padding. You can use the same strategy from Normal the NM4 as long as you have the stats appropriate for the difficulty. Nerfing something that hits hard is just going to cause players to find the new best setup, rinse and repeat.


They could make all towers crazy OP and give us NM15, but in the game's current state, it wouldn't change how we approach the game. 


This is my personal issue: fun factor. Luckily, this patch didn't stop me from winning NM4 maps. I still have a lot of great gear and a variety of options. What they did do is take away towers I enjoyed while forcing me to use towers I find boring.


Small tweaks are fine, but I really and truly believe they should save stat tweaking on a large scale until they have a firm idea of how they're doing the strategic revamp. Once that's in place, they can revisit towers and adjust their behavior and stats to keep the game balanced.

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[[99024,users]]

I'll give you credit for that arguement as a whole. But as far as specifically attacking boost auras, buff beams and frosty power, well I can only agree to some extent.

With frosty power, A) its only a must have if you are building LA's/ECT's, and B) without it frosty towers have really 0 scaling with anything... But thats more of an issue with the tower.

Buff beams I think are perfectly balanced. If anything, I think their upgrade rate could use a slight boost. Currently you must hit around 150 DU worth of defenses to cost effective, and to have a good angle/position for that many towers in a striaght line like that, is sometimes a challenge, making it not always optimal.

Boost Auras are a good bit easier to place, require hitting 160 DU in a pretty large circle to be cost efficient. Additionally, it grants a damage reduction buff. It probably wouldn't hurt to town down the T1 buff a bit, and give it a bit better upgrade scaling... But since its still not optimal for 100% of builds, and is on a basic character, I don't have too many issues with it.

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@Vagnar quote:

The other issue is that the game currently doesn't get harder. It's artificial padding. You can use the same strategy from Normal the NM4 as long as you have the stats appropriate for the difficulty. 

This is precisely the issue we're hoping to fix with the enemy revamp. 

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  xArcAngel

i was more opening a discussion up for all game balance not just specifically frosty powers or even this specific game, i just needed to lace the post with something relevant as an example

and you're absolutely right that COST is a valid way to balance a boosting effect

but are you really BOOSTING at the point where you create a cost that removes the benefits of the effect?

if the cost to double my damage to 2000 is as much as just placing 1 more tower, then i haven't gained anything by placing it.  infact i've weakened my defenses by creating one point of failure rather than having 2.  if the tower is killed then i'm 2000 to 0 rather than 2000 to 1000 if i had another tower alive

if you boost aura 5 towers to double their damage you ARE circumventing the defense unit cap that would be an issue if you wanted to place 10 towers

so the question is, does the game allow you the option of placing 10 towers or does it pigeonhole you into relying on the boosts?

is anyone doing nightmare 4 with no hearty blockade, no boost beam, no frosty power, and no overpowered DPS character?  and is it because all of these things exist that people are complaining the game is "way too easy"


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The thing is... you will always need to have some builds to clear the hardest contents and that is fine. It is supposed to be impossible without good passives on the harder difficulties. That was their intention since day 1 they implemented NM. 

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@MushroomCake28 quote:

It is supposed to be impossible without good passives on the harder difficulties

this is fine.  it SHOULD be required that you get geared properly in order to tackle the harder content.  that's standard design.  the PROBLEM arises when you only have 1 method of gearing in order to beat the hardest content.  the problem is compounded when the LOOT is locked behind the clearing of this content

diablo 3 does not lock specific loot behind higher difficulty levels.  there's generally one level of loot (legendary) and that can drop anywhere.  the only thing higher levels of difficulty offers is MORE drops of the same loot

this game has ever increasing levels of loot.  if only one method of progression is successful, then there's only a point in acquiring THE set of loot that actually can complete content

what's the point of having a whole slew of heavy cannonball tower gear if the end result of possessing it means you can't even use it to clear?

in diablo 3, even in the crappiest non-viable gear you could still reduce the difficulty of the game to the point where the gear DOES work and the loot from that level is still perfectly applicable to every other aspect of the game

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^

This is really true. 

In short: you should need the best gears to clear the harder content instead of earning the best gears from the hardest content. 

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That actually seems like it would br a GREAT temporary compromise. Instead of nerfing everything right now, just add a temporary tier above NM4 that's much, much more difficult. 


The item drops would stay capped at 700, but the drop rates would be higher.


Players who want a challenge can go there and feed their ego and NM4, for now, can be that final step to getting geared up instead of being both the place for farming and for challenge.

Once the revamp is here, purge it or do w/e.

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 - ram1024 - I just want to say that I've read a lot of your comments on the forums, and I've agreed wholeheartedly with everything that I can remember you writing (good stuff mate!).

 - I often find myself comparing things back to DD1, so forgive me for doing it yet again, but as far as gear progression is concerned, I don't think the most effective option is to introduce another difficulty (imo, there only ever really needed to be 1, or max 2, version(s) of NM, since I don't personally know of anyone who has geared up on NM1, progressed to NM2, geared up on NM2, progressed to NM3, etc. etc. -- it seems to be that players new to end-game content build some decent builders, jump into NM3, and spend their time preparing for NM4 from there). I think some effective solutions would have been...

  • Option (a.): Only having 1 (or, again, max of 2) end-game difficulties, where both item quality and difficulty increase from DD2's earlier maps to its later maps, such that gear progression isn't a repetitive grind of the same "best-loot" levels on multiple difficulties, since that's boring. An end-game progression system that takes you through different "tiers" of DD2's map options would be a lot more fun than the current system, in my opinion -- DD1's gear progression system worked like this, in that players would start farming Deeper Well (the 1st level) on NM, and would progress to later maps once they geared up on the earlier map "tiers". And I was referring to progression on Campaign mode above, but to add another progression tier, you had a similar 'map progression' system for Survival mode as well! (all of which, I found incredibly fun and satisfying).
  • Of course, the aforementioned system could never work with DD2's current state, because you have to farm specific maps for specific passives in order to have useful builders on end-game. ---------- Say what you want, but I never liked the idea of "mandatory" armor-passives (i.e. passives that your characters essentially need to be useful at end-game). I can only give my opinion, but I think passives on armor should ONLY be a "bonus"; not a "necessity" -- mandatory passives on armor create a situation where rather than receiving an armor drop with good stats and asking yourself, "How can I use this on one of my characters?" (like in DD1), DD2 (most of the time) locks you into farming a specific map, for a specific item, for a specific type of character -- all of which severely limit the amount of maps that drop useful items on end-game, such that there's no reason to play any of the others.
  • Option (b.): Having a progression system that takes you through different game modes in order to gear up. I think TE might have been shooting for this option, in that there's kind of a progressive nature to playing maps on Campaign (or "Defense"...), before you play "Challenges" + "Onslaught". With such a progression system, I think it would make the most sense to have the progression of gear-quality increase from (a.) Defense, to (b.) Challenges, to (c.) Onslaught . (a.) Defense = every map is played normally and would let players new to end-game gear up, while figuring out effective defense / character builds ; (b.) Challenges = much harder versions of Defense maps (every lane having special enemies + some kind of challenge 'theme' works well imo -- I really like the concept of Challenge maps atm), (i.) where good builds + (ii.) higher stats are required and are rewarded accordingly ; and finally (c.) Onslaught = currently endless waves (though I wish there was a wave cap with a completion reward like DD1's "Survival" mode) of [what should be] similar difficulty as Challenges (but without the 'Challenge' map theme, of course), that rewards (i.) good builds + (ii.) higher stats + (iii.) time spent ---- I think the "time" bit is what's currently missing from DD2's end-game ---> Onslaught is painful at best, and doesn't really feel comparatively "rewarding" based on how much time is spent in the game-mode ---- DD2 could use a system where time spent playing corresponds to a feeling of reward, whether it be (a.) a rewarding DD1-Survival-esque mode (we don't necessarily need 40-wave Onslaughts like new-map DD1 survivals, but I thought the 25-wave survivals worked well) or (b.) end-game that is still beatable with ipwr 700, but with a few extra item quality- / rarity-tiers (think of how DD1's end-game was beatable with Trans armor sets, which satisfied the more casual players, but the so-called "hardcore" players could be kept satisfied trying to shoot for extremely rare Ult [and Ult+/++] items --- there was practically no gear-ceiling, and always room for improving a character, and where there's room to improve your characters, there are reasons for "hardcore" players to continue playing --- concept discussed in more detail in this forum thread).
  • Option (c.): Ideally, (1.) a system that combines "map progression" (discussed in a.) AND (2.) "game-mode progression" (discussed in b.), with (3.) a few extra extremely rare item tiers that would help eliminate DD2's current "gear-ceiling" (also discussed in b.). I think all 3 of these things would considerably increase the effective "game length" (i.e. time that players will spend before they feel like they've done all that there is to do).

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@g_cracka88 quote:DD2 could use a system where time spent playing corresponds to a feeling of reward

i've always wondered why more games don't just simply use the existing CURRENCY of their game to facilitate the time > reward exchange.  it seems perfectly reasonable that the more money you get, the better gear you'll be able to buy

is making shops viable such a hard task?

DD1 had a useful shopping feature, although it was extremely limited and the method for populating it was strange

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@ram1024 quote:


@g_cracka88 quote:DD2 could use a system where time spent playing corresponds to a feeling of reward

i've always wondered why more games don't just simply use the existing CURRENCY of their game to facilitate the time > reward exchange.  it seems perfectly reasonable that the more money you get, the better gear you'll be able to buy

is making shops viable such a hard task?

DD1 had a useful shopping feature, although it was extremely limited and the method for populating it was strange

I can't remember the last game I played that had vendors that were relevant beyond the first few hours or at all. Why even have them?

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@Vagnar quote:

I can't remember the last game I played that had vendors that were relevant beyond the first few hours or at all. Why even have them?

i think designers get stumped by the facile argument that people make "if i can just buy my gear, why play your game?"

they either think the game they made isn't compelling enough to play on its own merits, or they actually believe someone could step in their game with magic money and just buy their way through the game

the money has to come from somewhere, it doesn't magically appear

maybe they mistakenly believe that money is a sort of intangible reward.  since there's no real use for it, they can give it out as much as they want to fool the players into thinking they're winning the game when really they're accumulating vapor

it wouldn't be hard to program a shop that takes a look at your gear and decides to populate itself with reasonable slight upgrades for a price that is "fair trade" in terms of time spent grinding the money

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I actually discussed this exact concept almost a year ago (can't believe it's been that long) - thread here.

To sum it up, there are two glaring types of issues with balance right now:

  • Passives that give a perfectly fine defense even more utility: frosty power is a perfect example here. A defense solely dedicated to firing a beam that does nothing but boost defenses in an area around its impact could easily be balanced after a few iterations. A defense that did nothing but freeze enemies could also be balanced relatively easily, making it a good single target defenses but weak against lots of goblins. An AoE slow could also be tuned to work as its own defense. But nope, we have all three of these mechanics smashed into the frostbite tower, making it ridiculous to balance. Which of the three mechanics should we buff/nerf to make it decent but not worthless or overpowered? Good luck design team on that one - I used to wish I was in charge of balancing defenses until passives were introduced, then I did not want anything to do with it because they made it nearly impossible to balance.
  • Passives that disproportionately increase the effectiveness of a defense: hearty blockade and archer damage are perfect examples here. Do you balance enemy health around the damage of archers with or without their damage/explosive passives? Do you balance enemy damage around the health of spike blockades with or without the hearty blockade passive? Good balance is mutually exclusive with these mechanics in play, so you either shun anyone who doesn't use the passive or you make the game a boring stale piece of cake for anyone who does use it.

Until we get defenses have the potential to be properly balanced, difficulty will never be tuned just right, and there will always be a fixed meta without any potential for creative builds.

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@gigazelle quote:

I actually discussed this exact concept almost a year ago (can't believe it's been that long) - thread here.

you know what?  i nominate you as the josh mosquiera this game needs.  this game has deep underlying issues that need to be addressed from the core outwards.  you seem to be very capable of tracing the problem back to its root and coming up with solid fixes for them

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@ram1024 quote:

 What many designers do to find balance is "incremental iteration", where certain values are changed slightly in a patch then they wait and see if that change fixes the issue, does nothing, or breaks it even further.  This is like open heart surgery by someone who isn't a real doctor, but the good thing is most of the time the procedure is at least reversible if it fails.  

I am going by my terrible memorization skills here. If I recall correctly, Trendy said something about keeping PC and PS4 updates consistent and on time with each other. I'm not sure if the info is outdated but something about around $40,000 patch fee for console games thus frequent updates on PS4 isn't possible. They can freely update PC but they will be going back on their words and give that one side of the community another reason to distrust Trendy.

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@gigazelle quote:

I actually discussed this exact concept almost a year ago (can't believe it's been that long) - thread here.

To sum it up, there are two glaring types of issues with balance right now:

  • Passives that give a perfectly fine defense even more utility: frosty power is a perfect example here. A defense solely dedicated to firing a beam that does nothing but boost defenses in an area around its impact could easily be balanced after a few iterations. A defense that did nothing but freeze enemies could also be balanced relatively easily, making it a good single target defenses but weak against lots of goblins. An AoE slow could also be tuned to work as its own defense. But nope, we have all three of these mechanics smashed into the frostbite tower, making it ridiculous to balance. Which of the three mechanics should we buff/nerf to make it decent but not worthless or overpowered? Good luck design team on that one - I used to wish I was in charge of balancing defenses until passives were introduced, then I did not want anything to do with it because they made it nearly impossible to balance.
  • Passives that disproportionately increase the effectiveness of a defense: hearty blockade and archer damage are perfect examples here. Do you balance enemy health around the damage of archers with or without their damage/explosive passives? Do you balance enemy damage around the health of spike blockades with or without the hearty blockade passive? Good balance is mutually exclusive with these mechanics in play, so you either shun anyone who doesn't use the passive or you make the game a boring stale piece of cake for anyone who does use it.

Until we get defenses have the potential to be properly balanced, difficulty will never be tuned just right, and there will always be a fixed meta without any potential for creative builds.

 - Damn, I read all of your comments from forever ago and it felt like I was reading someone who was perfectly putting my frustrations with the game down on paper (things I wouldn't be able to put to words well, myself), and agreed with everything that I read... You offered so many good suggestions, and helped me come to the realization that the game will probably never be perfectly balanced in its current state (at least not well...), unless TE fixes the underlying issues lurking within the foundational mechanics that the game is built on. And the fact that your comments made from September, 2015 are still so incredibly relevant to the current state of the game is a little frightening...

 - Honestly, I think the armor passive system was flawed from day 1, as it makes balance impossible (or near-impossible at best...), and locks character builds around passives that are found on farmed gear, as opposed to how players want to personally customize their character's playstyles. So many aspects of the game are fixed pretty rigidly, and there are so many potential customization options that would open up avenues for fun gameplay, but that are currently not possible due to flaws in the foundation that the game is built on.

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Today 3 people got oneshooted by a flying bomber goblin. This goblin hero killed 3 hero in burried basti!!!!! Which lead to a huge win for the old ones at the end, gobu. THIS HERO GOBLIN will be praised for the next 1000 goblin generation and this game is getting way to hard. I will explain in a minute why.

In another match a horde of bombing goblins rained destruction over the defense and defender. You guessed right it was gates incursion. In the first round hundrets of bomber goblins swarmed the barricades and bombed them, running wildly around the map killing heroes over and over again and finaly the crystal too.

What i mean is with these overpowered heroes currently, which feel like they are gods and the strongest, we goblins optained the skill "Hero Slayer" and are able to kill heroes more easier. Actually the most hero death are currently duo to us goblins, gobu. Emoji_Kobalt.pngEmoji_Huntress.pngEmoji_Goblin.png

The skill "Hero Slayer" has a 0.01% chance and it creates a miracle and oportunity for a goblin to win the map for his side.

Seeing how monster getting skills, it would not be far of that we also optain a legion skill.


I await for the "stand together, we are strong!" which buffs each goblin by 0.1 per each goblin inside a 2000 radius. Meaning a horde of goblin will start to be actually strong if left alone.

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@g_cracka88 quote:

 - Damn, I read all of your comments from forever ago and it felt like I was reading someone who was perfectly putting my frustrations with the game down on paper (things I wouldn't be able to put to words well, myself), and agreed with everything that I read... You offered so many good suggestions, and helped me come to the realization that the game will probably never be perfectly balanced in its current state (at least not well...), unless TE fixes the underlying issues lurking within the foundational mechanics that the game is built on. And the fact that your comments made from September, 2015 are still so incredibly relevant to the current state of the game is a little frightening...

 - Honestly, I think the armor passive system was flawed from day 1, as it makes balance impossible (or near-impossible at best...), and locks character builds around passives that are found on farmed gear, as opposed to how players want to personally customize their character's playstyles. So many aspects of the game are fixed pretty rigidly, and there are so many potential customization options that would open up avenues for fun gameplay, but that are currently not possible due to flaws in the foundation that the game is built on.

Indeed - if they wanted to fix the foundation, they'd want to start with the following:

  • Allow players to crank up the difficulty to their choosing. This would mean implementing all incursions on all maps, and allow the player to pick and choose any combination of which ones they want. The more incursion elements chosen, the more likely they'd get a legendary victory chest. This would not only increase the rarity of legendary items, but also increase the feeling of reward players would get in obtaining them. Imagine playing dragonfall sewers with malthius healing circles, liferoot bosses each wave, and wyvern enthusiasts. More incursions would exponentially increase the enjoyment of the game, since you could combine it with any/all existing incursions.
  • Separate all defenses so one defense = one mechanic. An easy way to do this would be to introduce the gender counterparts as heroes. For example, the monk could have the serenity aura that heals and the initiate could have an aura that does nothing but explode enemies killed within it (purge evil). She could also have the LSA as well. This would make it SO much easier to achieve relative balance with all the mish-mashed tower mechanics currently in play right now.
  • Revamp the passive system to have either weapon passives or gambits - everything else would be moved to skill spheres. Things like the betsy bow (grenades drop on hit) and other weapon mechanic-altering weapons would be the only passives on weapons. Gear would have passives that gambit their defense's traits, like damage, attack speed, and range. For example, a passive that doubled range, but caused the defense to be half as effective. Or a defense that halved range but did twice the damage. Between the five pieces of gear, you'd end up with an interesting combination of damage/attack speed/range that would be different from any other player, even with the same ipwr.

With defenses that do one job and do it well, along with gambits that allow players to truly customize defense traits (damage, attack speed, range), we would then start to see creative builds. You could contemplate whether you'd want a high range/lower damage flameburst tower cover half the map for more consistent damage and firing uptime, or a high damage/lower range flameburst right up next to a wall to obliterate melee enemies.This would work especially well when trying out different combinations of incursion elements on maps.

If those three bullet points were introduced to the game, I might just start playing again.

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@gigazelle quote:
  •  The more incursion elements chosen, the more likely they'd get a legendary victory chest

The Division recently implemented this in their "Underground" patch.  you select "directives" like ammo reduction, slowly bleeding out the whole time, enemies get ammo that stuns you, you can only use half your skills, etc to modify how the encounter is played.  then you get better rewards for beating it

It was by all accounts a design slam-dunk,.. if the game wasn't plagued by other far greater problems :P


in any case it's certainly something that can be applied to this game <nod> <nod>

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[[31834,users]]

Their issue with wanting to give towers a true identity has been killing me forever... could not agree with your 2nd and 3rd points more.

The first issue I have a little bit of reluctance to however. Aside from how technically difficult implementing such a system would be, and while I wouldn't mind options like that determining the range of loot drops, or as hardcore mode did in DD1, providing a simple slight boost. I find that giving complete control to all the options to the player, as you seem to be suggesting, creates an enviroment that would be very difficult to avoid exploitation. Complex combinations of factors result in the difficulties of games most often, and I see it being near impossible to balance the gains for each option you turn on.

I also think that when it comes to keeping players involved in the game, having clear defined difficulties and teirs of progression are what make people feel like they are progressing in the game. I think taking those away for a sliding scale system would make some parts of the community become disconnected with their progress, and if people don't feel like they aren't making progress, they will likely leave.

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