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A lot of the comments on my last article got me thinking (and btw, thanks to everyone for reading and hopefully enjoying it) and opened up a whole lot of ideas for followups. But the biggest takeaway from them has to be something I've been struggling with for a long time now: the paradox of Diablo-likes, as I like to call it. Just to put a huge disclaimer at the top here: all of this is my personal opinion and preference, obviously, and there are many people who prefer to play differently, be it use the same build over and over (WW Barb comes to mind) or just push to the maximum GR every single season no matter what. This article is for the rest of us who are at least somewhat conflicted.
The what of Diablo-likes??
Ok, so bear with me here. A Diablo game is composed of three basic parts: the combat, the skills and the loot. Everything else is set-dressing and enhances (or diminishes) those three parts. I've already gone over how Diablo 3's combat is almost pitch-perfect and hasn't been matched yet in the genre (sorry Lost Ark), the skill system is problematic in most games in the genre so we'll skip that, which leaves us to focus on the real problem of (current) Diablo 3 instead - the itemization.
We all want the best gear. We all want to be optimal. We all want to push the hardest difficulties and feel powerful and awesome. That's what the game is about - power fantasy, killing demons, getting powerful rewards to kill more demons with etc. The problem arises when obtaining and using that best optimal gear becomes more important than everything else. When it becomes more important than fun. Think about that for a second. Something in a GAME you're playing is more important than having fun with said game. When you look at it from an outside perspective, it's a ludicrous statement. You play games to have fun, why on earth would you instead have less fun just so you can get better items and be more optimal? It makes no sense. And yet it's what I'd wager happens to most players. It's absolutely what happens to me every time I come back to the game. It certainly happens to anyone that goes "hardcore" (no, not the game mode) in these types of games. Now, obviously for that contingent of players that goes hard at the actual leaderboards and only wants to push themselves to ever higher Greater Rifts, THAT'S the fun in the game, but I feel pretty certain there are builds they'd rather play if they could push with those.
So the paradox here is that the point playing the game is to get better gear, but getting the better gear can make the game less fun at high levels of gear optimization, as it forces you into specific builds.
In Diablo 3, it goes a little something like this: you get the set that buffs you with infinity-gillion% damage and it's really fun to play, whether it's from the seasonal journey or from farming it the regular way. Then you play it some more and more and it gets less fun, as every repetitive activity does. Now if the set you have isn't the MOST optimal one you get to farm for the next one and when you get it, the loop repeats. But it only repeats once. Now you're stuck with this optimal set, and, ok, you can now search for the ancillary pieces of the build, the few legendaries and cube items that complement the set. Usually though, these don't add much to the build in terms of gameplay, they just make that way of playing more powerful. This is the end of the loop in terms of gameplay gains, unfortunately, as you're now farming for small percentage upgrades, that perfect roll with the maxed affixes that give you that +137 Strength or 1.5% crit chance that will push you to that next GR level (don't even get me started on Greater Rifts and their litany of issues). Now, don't get me wrong, this issue isn't related to just Diablo 3, it's a problem in all loot-based games. The better ones manage to distract you from the issue and possibly downplay the need for being optimal.
For Diablo 3 specifically, the issue really only appeared after Reaper of Souls, because that's when the excellent new legendary system was introduced. This is one of the best additions in an expansion I've seen to any game I've ever played, as it took the potential of ARPGs and put it into overdrive. Until then we had stat sticks for items and that was fine, that was the way it's always been, with the very occasional legendary that actually had an ability (ah, Maximus, you were ahead of your time), or sets that gave you just more of the same stats. But with RoS, every single slot you had was now an option for deep customization of your gameplay style. Sure, not all legendaries had gameplay changing abilities, but they all added something to your build, at the very least visually. I'd say that initial Reaper of Souls period was the absolute best in terms of itemization and build diversity (although I'm sure there were plenty of optimal and "must-have" builds even then), because legendaries were pretty scarce so you had to make do with what you had and create builds based on that.
Then came the enemy. The sets system in Diablo 3 is just bad, there's no way around that. It takes the loop and just speeds it up infinitely. When the change to sets to make them actually viable was first announced, I was thrilled. Permanent Call of the Ancients with a 6 set for Barb? Sign me up! I didn't even think of the fact that that was 6 slots immediately gone, with additional ones having to bend to the now Ancients focused build. The deathblow came when sets became infinitely powerful with the various nonsensical +28193463184327423% buffs and legendaries weren't buffed alongside them.
The bonus is now 75,000%.
Now look, obviously a lot of this isn't the developer's fault. The team is ridiculously small and was getting smaller ever since RoS, so tweaking % numbers is an easy way to make it seem as if something is being added. I get that, that's fine, you do what you can with what you have. But it's not just Diablo 3 that has this issue. The more power vs. more fun is an eternal struggle in the whole genre. The glaring thing with D3 isn't that its itemization is bad, it's that it has SO much potential with all of these legendary powers that's being squandered.
Is this even a solvable issue though? Yes and no, unfortunately. The basic loop I mention above will always be there, there will always be an optimal build, no matter how hard developers try to avoid it. However, there are things that make it either last longer, make it a more smooth loop or make it less noticeable. There are plenty of potential solutions, too many to write up here, but the below are the ones I feel are most relevant (and easy to explain).
The easiest way to resolve the issue is to simply not care. Take whichever combination of items you enjoy playing, head to the difficulty those items allow you to play and have fun! I'm sure plenty of people do this already, but I've tried many times and everyone I know has as well - we never keep at it. We always end up defaulting back to the "good" builds.
Items HAVE TO be hard to get. Of course everyone wants to get to play with the big toys and it's not actually fair that only people that spend insane amounts of hours in a game get to use the most powerful items. But, once you remove rarity as an issue, other than small % upgrades, the system collapses in on itself. Once the powerful builds become easily available to all, those are the ones that will be used. By all. They are supposed to be the goal, the carrot that keeps you playing and farming and enjoying the gameplay.
Now of course the reason things are as they are in D3 at the moment is because it's a 7 year old game and the hardcore players (again, not the game mode) have already had all the powerful items, so it's completely ok for more casual players to get them too, but I'm talking in general here. Making tiers of power (not tier sets, mind you) as incremental goals is the way to go. So casual players get to play with powerful things, but they know there's more out there. Getting one full complement of gear from a single tier allows you to start going for the next one and so on. Just to clarify, by tier I don't mean the same items with bigger stats, but you take your legendary pool and see which are more or less powerful and sort them that way. This is already a thing, as you can always find tier lists for items in any game, ranking them by their power. The problem there is that you can skip huge parts of that if you get lucky with a drop. So, if you get a really good top tier item, that's it for that slot, you just completely ignored the other options available there. There are so many fun and interesting legendary combinations in D3 that are simply ignored because they aren't powerful enough.
Content helps out a lot, as doing various different things to obtain gear keeps it feeling fun. Specific game modes or dungeons can completely revitalize a game. For example, if you came across a dungeon with really good rewards, but weren't allowed to use any of your top items, that would make you instantly have to change your build and playstyle, play with what you have available and adapt. Balancing said dungeon would be a nightmare, but it would be doable. Even separating the loot pool into different game modes is an option, so certain content is only accessible with the "worse" loot. It still rewards you with desirable items, but in order to get a chance at it you have to make sub-optimal builds with items that are weak. There are many different ways to do this and use content to liven up the itemization game, force players out of their comfort zone and get them thinking.
While most of the above is only applicable to a new game I've found a solution that works for me in Diablo 3 specifically. It's still a tough sell to some of my more hardcore-minded friends who physically can't have fun unless they're pushing the absolute highest GR possible, but I'll force/threaten convince them of this new way eventually. So what is it? Well it includes a bit of patience, unfortunately, but basically you make your own tiers and see how far you can get with them. If I stumble upon Ancients for my old reliable Cyclone + every single passive legendary possible that deals damage to everything around you Monk build I'm going to play it until it's no longer fun and try to see what GR level is the maximum I can get with it. Basically that Cyclone set is my own endgame. But here's the thing - I can have MANY endgames this way. Whenever I stumble upon an interesting combination of legendaries that might work well together, I'm going to try them out (or keep them in the stash because I need one or more additional legendaries to make it work) and if it's a fun build, then bam, I have another endgame goal for myself - take THAT build to it's maximum potential and gather items for it.
I'm actually going to make a spreadsheet for this purpose (yes, it's a bit much, but I have to keep myself away from those damned optimal builds somehow), charting what builds make it how far and how I can improve them.
All of this might seem like a lot of work and mental discipline for just one game when there's so much else to play, but it's worth it for me. Diablo 3 has many flaws and issues, but at its core, it's still the best in the genre and if I have to put in a little effort on my end to get it fresh again I'm absolutely willing to do that. Having tried literally every alternative out there in the genre for significant amounts of time, I keep coming back to D3 and there has to be a reason for it. That's not to say the other games are bad, but they're just not what I'm looking for - perhaps I truly am a gameplay snob.
The real name of the game
Creativity. Creativity and build diversity are the one and only solution in the end. Everything else I wrote about is just trying to emphasize that one aspect. If a game's items spark your imagination, make you think "OMG, if I just combine these 2 legendaries, and add this third one in, and then another and another, it'll be amazing. I can't wait to get them and try it out!", that's it, the game has you. Discovering new ways to play and creating them by yourself is what makes these games fun in the long term. As good as the gameplay can be and as good as the individual items are, they all have a pretty short expiration date. Finding new builds that change the way you play extends that to the extremes. There's nothing better to me than finding an item or items for a different class that immediately has me thinking I HAVE to try this class out now, look at how great this item is! Then, every once in a while, hop on to your optimally built destruction monster and stomp some crazy high GRs and Torments for some catharsis, just for good measure.
In closing, obviously you should play EXACTLY the way that you want to, and if pushing the high GRs and using the absolutely best gear that is available in a season is what's fun for you, then that's great, I'm actually envious of you! If using the same build all the time is what makes the game fun for you who am I to tell you different! This was just about my personal issues with the game and genre, and potential solutions to it. If you found any of this useful (or at all comprehensible), great! Let me know what you think of the whole thing above, from the paradox to the potential solutions and if I missed something in my reasoning. A big part of why I wrote this article (and hope to write more) is to see what other current Diablo 3 players think after 7 years, and to potentially be able to tell Blizzard what we want from Diablo 4, as they seem to not really have a firm idea themselves.
Why optimal builds hurt the game (for me) and how we can move away from them.
The XP/paragon farming meta is changing this season, as the extremely popular Rat runs are no longer the top dog and Demon Hunters are taking on Necromancers for the throne. We have our own guide writer Impact taking us through all the details, from the start, through the Haedrig's set and on to the actual group compositions and builds for the optimal group XP runs in the endgame!
The Rat Run
For many seasons now the “Rat Run” has held the top spot of being the most efficient and best group composition for farming XP in d3. “Rat Runs” refer to the 3x Necromancer and 1x Barbarian group composition that focuses on the two supports spawning as many health globes as possible so that the two DPS Necromancers, using Reaper's Wraps, can pick them up for quick essence gain. This enables them to continuously summon full essence Skeletal MageSingularity for insane damage potential early on. They get their name from the Rathma set that Necromancers have, which boosts their Skeletal Mage damage. Over time the build has evolved into using the Legacy of Dreams gem instead for even higher damage potential, but the name stuck. These runs were so off the charts efficient that no other group composition could ever come close to touching them, until now. With the nerfs to Reapers’ Wraps in Season 21 through a 2 second cooldown, the Necromancer has been dethroned. In its place, the Demon Hunter rises.
Demon Hunters Arrive
Season 21 is the season of the Demon Hunter.After many long seasons of the Necromancer and “Rat Runs” reigning supreme in the XP grinding meta, the DH is here to take the throne. For those of you planning out your season start, if you are looking to be the most optimal that you can be, then you should be looking to maximize efficiency in whatever you will spend the most time. During a season start, your time playing can generally be broken down into three stages.
Leveling 1-70 Starter build at 70 with Haedrig’s Gift End-game build While Necromancer is still far and away the best class in the game for a swift 1-70 leveling process, level 70 is where the Demon Hunter will truly take over. Demon Hunters get access to the Shadow’s Mantle set this season, allowing them to access the Impale build as a starter build. The Impale build has a huge multiplier baked into the 2-set for the build, allowing you to start dishing out huge number straight out of the gate. You also can upgrade level 70 rare daggers in your Kanai’s Cube which has a 50% chance to get a Karlei's Point, providing yet another easily accessible multiplier to the build and the best weapon that you will want to use. Finally, if you save your challenge rift bloodshards until level 34, you can try to roll quivers which gives you a 25% chance to get a Holy Point Shot when you roll a legendary quiver. If you do get lucky, you can easily jump straight into t8 or higher once you get your 2pc bonus, giving you a huge start at 70.
The Endgame Build
Demon Hunters up to this point are arguably the best class, but now we get to where you will spend most of your time in Diablo: your end-game build. It is fun to optimize your season start and getting good builds early is great, but regardless of how you start you can always get to an end-game build within a couple of days, or even within the first day if you are lucky enough. For Demon Hunters, that means playing the GoD Hungering Arrow build.
Once you have your end-game build, you should be able to clear t16 Nephalem Rifts without much trouble. This means your main source of progression will be in greater rifts. Once you have your full set of correct pieces in your end-game build, your main source of power progression is going to come from farming ancient pieces, getting gem upgrades, and farming XP for paragon levels. The last two specifically are done primarily in greater rifts. With an optimized 4-man group, you can clear higher greater rift levels, much higher than you would be able to achieve solo early on in a season. This enables you to rack up the paragon levels, with some of the more optimized groups even reaching 1000 paragon within the first 24 hours of a season launch. This XP farming meta is where Demon Hunter really shines this season. The optimized 4-man group for farming XP consists of the following:
1x Support Barbarian 1x Support Demon Hunter 2x GoD Hungering Arrow Demon Hunters The true power of this group lies within the Support Demon Hunter. Thanks to the update to Leonine Bow of Hashir, your Bolas will not instantly explode, pulling in enemies within 24 yards into one spot. The DH can speed through the rift due to the movement speed that the GoD 4 piece bonus brings along with Smoke Screen, creating large, dense groupings of enemies ahead of the support Barbarian and Hungering Arrow DHs. You map out the rift for your team, create nice density of enemies through your Bolas, and then spin on top of the groups using Entangling Shot and Odyssey's End to put a 150% damage amplification on every enemy you hit. This is the single largest support buff that any class in the game can give, making DH an incredibly strong support early on when you need the extra damage.
The support Barbarian is there to do their normal job helping to toss elites onto the packs for better positioning for Area Damage, while also using all of theirs shouts and the 2 pc HotNS for double effectiveness. Finally, your two GoD DH’s can spin around without stopping, utilizing Blood Vengeance for all their hatred generation so they do not have to stop channeling Strafe.
The true devastating damage potential of this group comp lies within the innate damage that the GoD Hungering Arrow set provides. Thanks to your Devouring Arrow rune, your arrows will gain exponential damage each time they pierce enemies, but can pierce infinitely, only limited by the number of targets you have grouped. The crazy grouping potential that your two supports bring allows your arrows to pierce huge numbers of targets, which means your damage scales more than most classes would even without accounting for Area Damage.
The GoD Hungering Arrow Demon Hunter build is the best solo-pushing build this season, and the insanely high base movement speed that the build offers without any support items allows you to build for full damage while still moving fast enough to do speed clears without missing a beat. While other speed compositions often must sacrifice damage for better mobility and speed, the Demon Hunters will never need to make that trade. You can abuse the base mobility that the build offers, building full damage, and push higher greater rift levels than any other group composition would ever allow for speed clears.
If your goal is to be as optimal as possible in Season 21 with a group, you need to be playing the Demon Hunter meta to abuse it for all it is worth.
Which Class to Play in Diablo 3 Season 21? Solo, Group and Speedfarm Rankings
Diablo 3 Season 21 Start Times
Demon Hunter Set Guides Spotlight for Season 21: Gears of Dreadlands
Diablo 3 Patch 2.6.9 (Season 21 Precursor) Is Now Live + Patch Notes
Diablo 3 Ban Wave: June 19th
Is the Season 21 Power Too Good? ZDPS Barb Can Solo GR 150 Without Area Damage
Season 21 is almost done (although we might be seeing some delays/extensions) and it hasn't been the most popular of seasons, but it did have many unique aspects to it, from the almost-kinda-exploits to the crazy 10K+ gathering of the seasonal stacks outside Greater Rifts, and much more. Today we'll be taking a look back and discussing what the issues with this and similar themes, how they potentially ruin the core concept of the game, how this type of seasonal power should be done in the future and much more.
To do this we have our own guide writer Deadset and special guest sVr, an EU player and top theorycrafter who has been concocting guides and mechanical analysis to the benefit of the whole Diablo community since the dawn of seasonal play. You might remember him for unleashing the Bazooka Wizard onto Sanctuary, breaking down the veil of obscurity on Spirit Barrage, and many other math-heavy feats and word-laden reddit posts. You've certainly seen him on Twitch, both as a regular caster and a Blizz-sanctioned invitee to Gamescom and BlizzCon broadcasts. He likes crunching numbers, crunching hugs and horrible Californian iced tea. So let's get to it as the two take on the Trials of Tempests.
Season 21 bears the name “Trial of Tempests” and uses a mechanic that is closely related to the one from Season 19, the “Season of Eternal Conflict” — it is once again based on abilities spawned by the game, but based on a timer rather than kill count. The goal was, once again, to make the effect Season-defining in terms of power, and the developers have matched — and even surpassed — the powers of the former mechanic. It has certainly led to a spike in build potential within the 10+ Greater Rift tiers range, with certain builds of course benefiting more from the theme than others.
Whenever a proc-reliant, percentage damage-based power gets introduced to the game, it opens a window for ‘clever use of mechanics’, or outright exploitation, and it requires careful monitoring by the developers. And while I can certainly commend the teams for squashing out abusive strategies in a timely manner, I can safely say that with two proc-based Seasons behind us — the sheer potential for abuse and the diminished feel of player agency stemming from themes like these bring down the morale of casual and veteran players alike. The visual treat of these effects fades away in the early stretch of a Season, leaving players to a prolonged period of visual fatigue, lessened screen readability, and even technical issues in certain cases.
The Trial of Tempests seasonal theme had a very similar feeling to S19, where generated (not-selfcast) abilities would spawn after a certain condition is met. A couple of severe issues were identified on the PTR and were fixed appropriately. As an example, the theme itself scaled with Area Damage equipped on one’s character, and a player was able to teleport out of the GR, safely wait in town for the countdown, re-enter the GR and “idle in the immunity phase of entering a rift” while the seasonal theme would proc and kill everything. These issues were fixed, but I feel that the general concept of auto-generator themes are flawed and they simply brick the core concept of Diablo 3 for me.
Theme Behavior and Relation to Core Gameplay
All this, of course, is not to say the theme lacks strategizing potential; simply that it externalizes the potential from the capabilities of the character and the build choices you’ve made along the way, and shifts decision making all too much in the direction of effects that feel even more arbitrary and unpredictable than the “usual suspects” of rift layout, monster composition and elite affix RNG.
To put this in perspective, a Greater Rift pushing attempt that falls into the “stars have aligned in your favor” category — one with desirable open spaces, monster density and decent Pylon spawns — can be completely ruined by a bad proc of the Seasonal theme. Some work mostly to your advantage, like the Beam proc and the decent amount of control you can apply to its effect. Some of the procs are reliant on the spaces you choose to fight in — the Twisters and Snowball, for example, benefit greatly from small, closed off spaces and tight corners. And others still require plain luck — maybe the Meteor strikes the cluster of monsters you prepared... or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the Fire Wave melts the Elite pack ahead of you, or maybe it bugs out and doesn’t spawn at all, and ends your push then and there. To make matters even worse, the harder you lean into the Seasonal theme to make the Rift clear — very understandable considering its ubiquitous power — the more you open yourself to bad RNG from the procs, inevitably leading to some very unsatisfying pushing sessions where you have played your build to the maximum of its potential, played around Rift RNG, and still fall prey to an additional layer of randomization.
To elaborate on my comment about ‘bricking the core game concepts’, this is how I see it: the power of one’s character in Diablo 3 comes from three different sources.
Paragon and Augments: Increasing one's damage via the (1 + mainstat/100) multiplier, as well as one's toughness via the respective defensive mainstat bonus (All Resistance via Intelligence, Armor via Strength/Dexterity). Gear and Affix Quality: Increasing one's damage via appropriate primary affix rolls (e.g. quadfecta weapons or gloves, trifecta jewelry) and high legendary affix rolls. Increasing one's toughness with appropriate primary (All Resistance, Elite Damage Reduction %) and secondary (Reduction of damage from melee and ranged sources, Crowd Control Reduction %, single element Resistance) affixes. Main Gems: Increasing one's damage/toughness via high gem levels. There isn't any other “dimension” that gives power to the overall capability of one's character. Sure, there is the “capability” of a player on how well one can play his character, however, for the sake of this argument, assume that everyone has the same exact skill; everyone is a god tier gamer. In this scenario, each time a player logs in to play his goal is to progress his character making it stronger. One chooses to scale these three pillars over the span of a season progressively to reach higher and higher in GRs.
For the first pillar (Paragon) people would choose to run XP meta runs, such as Rats runs (or historically Vyr Wizard XP groups, Charge Barbarian XP groups, Rend Barbarian XP groups, etc.). For the second pillar (Gear/Items) people would choose to run Bounties in "teched out 4 Man groups" (quad-Unhallowed Essence Multishot Demon Hunters) to ultimately reforge their gear into the desired rolls. For the third pillar (Main Gems) people would choose to run 1%ers (mostly solo) or group meta (GR150) to level their Main Gems to max cap. While 1%er runs are, quite frankly, a “thing of the past” nowadays, back in the days these runs constituted another end-game activity with a different group setup. Technically speaking, only solo self found players regularly play 1% runs to increase their gem levels.
How the Theme Circumvents Progression
Over the course of the Season, experienced players have learned a great deal about the inner workings of the Season 21 theme, and using them to their Greater Rift pushing advantage. The theme even enables the tantalizing proposition of dropping Bane of the Stricken — one of the game’s staple pushing Legendary Gems, which is often single-handedly responsible for taking down Rift Guardians with its damage stacking mechanic — and going all in with the proc RNG, hoping circumstances and its damage would be enough to obliterate the biggest HP obstacle in the Rift.
The general strategy for S21 Rift progression got distilled to the maximization of trash pulls, with heavy emphasis on getting the most out of the initial proc in terms of stacks, and snowballing that effect into future trash pulls — with the added factor of their even spacing and preparation for the 90-second interval of the theme effect. The timing aspect attains some additional complexity in groups, where synchronization of the procs between party members comes into play. Killing elites got relegated to (mostly) collateral damage in favor of building momentum via trash throughout the clear, although exceptions could be made when stacks were deemed high enough, elite health got low enough from circumstances, or a combination of both. The overall principle for elites, especially in a Stricken-deprived build, was to simply skip them.
If we were to summarize the optimization of the Seasonal theme’s effects, it would be to:
Amass a huge monster pull to kickstart your stacks as soon as the first proc comes into effect. Chain trash pulls for every subsequent theme proc, trying to keep your stacks well above a 50 stack minimum — although ideally, much higher. Chain trash pulls with careful positioning and judgment of your surroundings to squeeze the most of the upcoming effect. With some practice, rinsing and repeating steps 2 and 3 will take you much higher into Greater Rift progression, but also translates into half of the time spent in a GR push attempt or more being spent on proc setup and positioning, instead of using the capabilities of your own character. This is very reminiscent of the gameplay loop forced by exploitative mechanics, and I’ll once again leave it to the capable hands of SVR to walk you through his definition of the term (that I also share), as well as some of its history in Diablo 3.
Each of the gameplay pillars I described before aren't entirely perpendicular to one another, but they all serve to increase one's power — allowing for higher GRs to be DPS-ed. Once a mechanic short-circuits all those three pillars (you don't need to scale the pillars anymore to go "higher in GRs"), it fundamentally breaks the feedback loop and core concept of the game. One technically doesn't need to "scale one's character" (or in other words, play the game as intended) to increase one's power.
Historically, this was always my train of thought on how to "identify an exploit" that is clearly not just “a clever use of game mechanics” (as often postulated by 'exploit'-defenders). An example would be the “Necromancer’s Frailty curse plus Demon Hunter’s Marked for DeathGrim Reaper debuff” exploit after the Necromancer's release, where an entire screen would get one-shot by the interaction of both skills, regardless of what gear, paragon and main gems the Necromancer and Demon Hunter players had equipped. The Necro and DH were the damage dealers in that scenario - yet, their damage was "un-scalable" by any ingame playtime investment: regardless of how much time those players would've put in the game, they would've always executed the entire screen by the maximum damage value the game could apply. This mechanic short-circuited the entire concept of "power", hence, an exploit in my books.
There is depth to be found in Season 21’s mechanics and what they bring to the game; certainly, an argument can be made that it forces you to play differently, to think differently of the things you do during the Greater Rift pushing attempts, which has always been the highlight of ‘hard’ content in Diablo 3, the proving ground of your heroes. In my book however, the shift from the intrinsic qualities of the aRPG genre — gradual character development, set and legendary item interactions, proactive use of abilities and their synergy — into a thinly veiled management of timers, is the wrong one to make. I greatly appreciate the practice of “themed Seasons” and the additional developer thought and effort spent, but in the future I’d be happy to see more player control and agency over the things happening on screen.
Unfortunately, the S21 Theme, while not technically an exploit, nominally behaves the same way as an exploit in its current iteration. No amount of time investment scales your character's capability in GRs. While this is not entirely true and definitely and over-exaggerated statement, since you still get tankier and can increase your non-theme damage output, the core of the issue remains the same: there is no reason to play, besides playing the S21 Theme itself until you clear GR150 with it. To me this fundamentally breaks what Diablo 3 and GR progression is about; a journey of your character’s progression.
Season 21 starts today! It's going to be quite a season, especially for Demon Hunters. We've already taken a look at the top builds for solo pushing, speedfarming and group compositions, as well as the meta-breaking new 3x DH-based XP farm setup which dethroned Rat runs, so now its time to head for the full guides themselves, and we have them ready for all classes!
The Support build still reigns supreme, as it retains it's place in the new XP farm meta, and the rest of the rankings haven't changed since the last season, as Barbarians didn't get many changes.
Support Barbarian (Raekor + HotNS + Istvan) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variant Rend Barbarian (WotW + Istvan) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variation Seismic Slam Barbarian (MotE + Endless Walk) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variation Frenzy Barbarian (HotNS + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Hammer of the Ancients Raekor Barbarian (Raekor + Endless Walk + Istvan) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Hammer of the Ancients IK Barbarian (IK + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Furious Charge Barbarian (IK + Raekor) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Leap/Earthquake Barbarian (MotE + Bastions) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Hammer of the Ancients GR Barbarian (Legacy of Dreams Gem) (Mid Tier) Whirlwind Wastes Barbarian (WotW + Bul-kathos) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Frenzy Thorns Barbarian (LoN) Speed Farming Variation
Crusaders also didn't get a big shift in rankings, as the seasonal power doesn't really affect the individual builds.
Heaven's Fury Crusader (Aegis of Valor) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variation Blessed Shield Crusader (Legacy of Dreams Gem) (Top Tier) Thorns Crusader (Invoker + Endless Walk) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variation Condemn LoD Crusader (Legacy of Dreams Gem) (High Tier) Condemn Akkhan Crusader (Akkhan + Bastions) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Hammerdin Crusader (SoL + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Sweep Attack Crusader (Roland + Endless Walk) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Fist of the Heavens Crusader (Aegis of Valor) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Bombardment Crusader (LoN) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Shield Bash Crusader (Roland + Bastions) Speed Farming Variation
Season 21 is very much the season of the Demon Hunter, as their new Gears of Dreadlands set brought them 2 top tier builds, both for solo pushing and XP farming.
Support Demon Hunter (GoD + Marauder) (Top Tier) (New) Hungering Arrow Demon Hunter (GoD + Bastions) (Top Tier) (New) Bolas Variation Rapid Fire Demon Hunter (Legacy of Dreams Gem) (Top Tier) Rapid Fire Natalya Demon Hunter (Natalya + Endless Walk) (Top Tier) Impale Demon Hunter (Shadow + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Group Progression Variation Sentry Demon Hunter (Marauder + Natalya + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Multishot Demon Hunter (Unhallowed + Bastions) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Cluster Arrow Demon Hunter (Marauder + Bastions) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Rockets-based Progression Variation Grenades Demon Hunter (Unhallowed + Endless Walk) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Rain of Vengeance Demon Hunter (Natalya + Bastions) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Fan of Knives LoD Demon Hunter (Legacy of Dreams Gem) Chakram Demon Hunter (Unhallowed + Bastions) Speed Farming Variation
Monk support is still on top as the class build rankings stay the same as last season.
Support Monk (Inna + Born's Command + Captain Crimson) (Top Tier) Tempest Rush Sunwuko Monk (Monkey King + Captain Crimson) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variation Tempest Rush Patterns Monk (Patterns of Justice + Captain Crimson) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variation Wave of Light LoD Monk (Legacy of Dreams Gem) (Top Tier) Wave of Light Monk (Monkey King + Captain Crimson) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Inna Variation Generator Monk (Rainment + Endless Walk + Captain Crimson + Shenlong) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Inna Variation Seven-Sided Strike Monk (Uliana + Captain Crimson + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Lashing Tail Kick LoD Monk (Legacy of Dreams Gem) (Mid Tier) Lashing Tail Kick Monk (Monkey King) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Exploding Palm Monk (Inna + Endless Walk) Speed Farming Variation Mystic Ally Pets Variation
The Necromancer may have gotten the shorter end of the new set stick, but they did get plenty of new toys to play with, resulting in a new build at the top of the list and two more top tier ones, with a whole lot of LoD!
Corpse Explosion LoD Necromancer (LoD) (Top Tier) (New) Key Farming Variation Support Necromancer (Pestilence + Captain Crimson) (Top Tier) Poison Scythe LoD Necromancer (LoD) (Top Tier) (New) Trash Killer Variation Corpse Lance LoD Necromancer (LoD) (Top Tier) Skeletal Mage Singularity/Archers LoD Necromancer (LoD) (Top Tier) (New) Speed Farming Variation Key Farming Variation Corpse Lance Necromancer (Pestilence + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Trag'Oul Variation Group Progression Variation Skeletons Thorns Solo LoD Necromancer (LoD) (High Tier) Generator Necromancer (Inarius) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Skeletal Mages Rathma Necromancer (Rathma + Jesseth) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Group Speed GR Variation Skeletal Mages Trag'Oul Necromancer (Trag'Oul + Jesseth) (Mid Tier) Solo Progression Variation Blood Nova LoD Necromancer (LoD) (Mid Tier)
The WD's new set from a while ago has crept up the rankings and landed on top, edging out the ever popular Poison Dart build.
Spirit Barrage Witch Doctor (Mundunugu + Endless Walk) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variation Carnevil Poison Dart Witch Doctor (Zunimasa + Aughild's Authority + Endless Walk) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variation Carnevil Poison Dart Dagger of Darts Witch Doctor (LoD) (Top Tier) Soul Harvest Witch Doctor (Jade Harvester) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variation Spirit Barrage Witch Doctor (Legacy of Dreams Gem) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Group Progression Variation Firebats Witch Doctor (Arachyr + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Group Progression Variation Gargantuan Zunimasa Witch Doctor (Zunimasa + Endless Walk) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Gargantuan Helltooth Witch Doctor (Helltooth + Endless Walk) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Zombie Bears Witch Doctor (Helltooth + Endless Walk) Speed Farming Variation Acid Cloud Witch Doctor (Helltooth + Bastions) Speed Farming Variation Grasp of the Dead Witch Doctor (Helltooth + Endless Walk)
Wizards retain their rankings from last season, with the ubiquitous Archon remaining on top.
Archon Wizard (Vyr + Chantodo) (Top Tier) Speed Farming Variation Mammoth Hydra Wizard (Legacy of Dreams Gem) (Top Tier) Frost Hydra Wizard (Typhon's Veil) (High Tier) Meteor Wizard (Firebird + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Speed Farming Variation Tal Rasha Variation Star Pact Variation Frozen Orb Wizard (Delsere + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Energy Twister Wizard (Delsere + Endless Walk) (High Tier) Manald Lightning Archon Wizard (Tal Rasha + Vyr) (Mid Tier) Group Progression Variation Solo Progression Variation Archon Wizard (Firebird + Chantodo + Endless Walk) (Mid Tier) Speed Farming Variation Arcane Torrent Manald Wizard (Tal Rasha + Endless Walk) (Mid Tier) Electrocute Variation Spectral Blade Variation Arcane Orbit Wizard (Delsere + Endless Walk) Speed Farming Variation Explosive Blast Farming Wizard (Tal Rasha + Sage) Greater Rifting Variation
Those are all the class guides we have, the season start in a matter of hours and we hope you have a great time!
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Diablo 3 Season 21 Start Times
Demon Hunter Set Guides Spotlight for Season 21: Gears of Dreadlands
Diablo 3 Patch 2.6.9 (Season 21 Precursor) Is Now Live + Patch Notes
Diablo 3 Ban Wave: June 19th
Is the Season 21 Power Too Good? ZDPS Barb Can Solo GR 150 Without Area Damage
Wudijo scored the world's fastest Solo Greater Rift 150 in time in Season 21 with his Demon Hunter after 5,500 used keys and weeks of attempts. Congrats!
UPDATE: This is currently the world's second clear of Solo GR150, not world first as we thought, we apologize for the confusion!
Placeholder for tweet 1289929742800449540 The player completed the rift and killed the Infernal Maiden with 1 minute and 4 seconds remaining on the timer.
Here are the final moments of the run!