IncGamers has cranked out an interview with Brother Laz, the man behind the popular Median XL Mod for Diablo II: Lord of Destruction and apparently the latest hire at Grinding Gear Games working on Path of Exile. Good news for action RPG fans, no doubt:
IncGamers: When you joined the project, how did you get up to speed and gain the expertise required to make proper unique items? You had to learn the overall item strength and values, project what high end characters would need, etc. It's good to hear that this guy understands the item game better than apparently Blizzard themselves do.
Laz: Path of Exile's character build options are very deep, which sets the game apart from most other ARPGs. Therefore it is important to stay on top of the popular builds and which builds are unpopular because they have no item support. As a relative outsider, character guides have proven to be very useful.
However, not every item should be designed towards a specific build in fact most should not. Creating items that are mandatory for build X and useless for builds !X does not add value. It is better to make items with a variety of uses and letting the players figure out what to do with them.
IncGamers: Planned obsolescence for items is a big deal while leveling up characters. Developers want players to find items that feel awesome and can be used for a few levels, until something better is found. In Diablo III this system is inexorable, with item stats cranking up so that anything found at level 40 is underpowered by level 45 and useless by 50. This differs from the system in Diablo 2, where lots of low and mid level unique remained useful even in the end game. How do you approach that obsolescence balance in PoE, and how do features like item enchanting and enhancing and socketing factor into it?
Laz: D3 made the mistake of balancing items based on the WoW paradigm of linear progression, which works well in a game that is about taking one character and developing it for the next two years but not in a game where rerolling is a thing. It is absolutely necessary to have a chance to find something awesome at low levels, otherwise you feel like you are wasting your time. This something awesome tends to come in the form of uniques (or powerful binary affixes like +skill levels).
Awesome low level uniques may include Johnny uniques like Springleaf in PoE and Thinking Cap in D1. The idea is that these items are so unusual they cannot directly be compared to regular items and therefore do not get overshadowed at higher levels. They could also take the form of a (Spike Jr.) item that is intentionally designed to be overpowered when you find it, then fall off later. Everyone likes stomping faces for 30 minutes.
Very high level items should generally be more Spike and less Johnny. Those one in a million items should be useful for people who actually optimise their character for the purpose of farming one in a million items, while build enablers should be widely available at low levels so the player can actually implement that build before the earth gets hit by [DATA EXPUNGED].