Telegraphing 101: A Lesson in Boss Design with Prof. Diablo
Warning: This article details the Act 1 boss encounter of Diablo 3. If you haven’t played the game yet and you’re spoilerphobic, you may not wish to read this.
So now that the second GW2 beta weekend is behind us and we’ve had a chance to process everything and settle down, most people have gone back to killing time in other, less exciting, games until the third beta starts. And since the majority of gamers are more or less done with Guild Wars 1 and/or World of Wacraft, that leaves us with the newest Blizzard behemoth to spend some time with: Diablo 3. After finishing off a few acts in Hell difficulty during my last play session, something stuck out in my mind with regards to how boss fights are played out. Diablo 3’s implementation of boss mechanics (and how it conveys the abilities which might one-shot you) are done exceptionally well, while on the other hand.. GW2 has somewhat dropped the ball so far. Or if you’re on the receiving end of a champion’s attention, it would be more accurate to say they’ve dropped the health globe. ..Instantly.
But wait, don’t roll your eyes, cry scrub, and scroll past just yet. Hear me out.
How many times throughout the weekend did you run up to a boss, ready to smash its face in, only to have your face the one that was instantly smashed in? Now, this isn’t to say that I have a problem with being killed in one hit – quite the contrary actually – I find it to be a very effective way to ensure a certain level of difficulty, while promoting proper character control and battlefield awareness. The problem, and the main point of this entire article, is that bosses do not accurately convey their one-shotting attacks. To emphasize the problem, here’s a dramatic reinactment of my encounter with the champion Sons of Svanir shaman event found in Wayfarer Foothills:
Me: OKAY SHAMAN LET’S DO THIS
Shaman: LOL UR NOOB U’LL NEVR KILL ME, SCRUB
Me: K IT IS SO ON, MY VIRTUES ARE ALL RECHARGED
Shaman: O IM SCARED
Me: YOU SHOULD BE
Me: O RED CIRCLES ON THE GROUND? SUP IM DODGIN THEM
Shaman: K STOP THAT PLZ UR SUPPOSED TO DIE IN THOSE
Me: NOP LOL PREPARE TO TASTE THE COLD STEEL OF MY GREATSWOR-
Shaman: LOLOLOL DEFEATED GG GTFO
Me: ..Uh, what in the seven hells just killed me?
The shaman didn’t slowly raise his weapon, ready to deliver a massive blow, there were no red circles of death nearby, I just seemed to drop dead. And that’s not the only boss who does it; I also remember it happening with the earth elementalist in Queensdale, Issormir in the Norn tutorial, as well as various other bosses throughout the world such as that shaman and the wasp in Queensdale. **Update: some Reddit comments have mentioned that there’s an intentional downed state which occurs during the tutorial. If this is the case, there’s currently nothing that shows an instantly-downing attack is on the way. Additionally, there (unintentionally) may be ways to somehow avoid this phase, because I’ve had tutorial boss fights on other characters in which I didn’t die.)
But hey, I’m not really the world’s biggest pver when it comes to GW. Maybe all that high level gvg experience accounts for nothing in pveland. So to make sure, I asked around to see if anyone else had similar experiences: everyone else – except for one person – encountered the same thing at least once throughout their beta playtime. And that one exception said they were playing on an ele and would stand back as far as was possible the entire fight, spending time running away and ressing people instead of fighting the bosses toe-to-toe.
So, clearly there’s some sort of instant player squishing problem happening here, but what can be done? Well, that’s where Blizzard comes in: there should never be anything that is capable of killing you instantly without it being blatantly obvious that such an attack is coming. Bosses should telegraph. Just ask any WoW Wrath raider if “BONE STORM!!” means anything to them, or what they think of when they hear “Arise, and exult in your pure form!” Almost every WoW boss has a telegraph for their abilities and phases, with the exception of gear check tank and spank encounters (such as Patchwerk), and this mechanic has been incorporated into Diablo 3 as well. Although to be clear, this is just a focus on the design of the boss encounters, not the difficulty. Unfortunately, the D3 bosses can easily be defeated with one hand behind your back – except on Inferno.
The Act 1 endboss fight of Diablo 3 is The Butcher, and there are five things to watch out for during the fight. First off, there are two things to watch out for which do not one-shot: sections of the floor will periodically ignite causing significant damage if you stand in it, and The Butcher will occasionally throw out some spears in a cone-shaped area directly in front of him, dealing a small amount of damage.
The other three mechanics are telegraphed:
- While in melee range, The Butcher will hop up and down, then slam his cleaver on the ground in front of him, dealing a large chunk of damage to anyone still standing there.
- The Butcher shouts, and a blast of fire shoots across the screen. About a second later, he’ll charge across the screen, following the path of the fire blast, knocking back and damaging anyone in the way. If he doesn’t run into anyone, he’ll smash into the wall of the arena, giving a few seconds to attack him while he’s stunned and harmless.
- The Butcher points his cleaver in the direction of a player, and then throws out his glowing hook to grab them and bring them to him, smashing them for a massive amount of damage. This is arguably one of the worst attacks, since if you get snagged you’re unable to cast spells, and if the attack doesn’t kill you in one shot, you may very well die if he’s dragged you onto a section of the floor which is ignited.
Similar mechanics can be seen throughout the other bosses in the game (and even on the hordes of general monsters you encounteer throughout the acts), but no matter where you encounter them and what kind of foe it is, it should always be explicitly obvious that you’re about to be instantly smushed if you don’t move right now, because that enemy is raising its gigantic glowing club far above his head.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in GW2.. yet. Is it a deal breaker, however? Well… not exactly. It certainly adds a level of “cheapness” to the fights, and is an additional frustration which could be – and should be – avoided, but in the end it’s primarily a quality of life change. And as Alaris’s signature says on our forums: “You can tell the quality of life of people by what they complain about.” If this is the best we can come up with after two betas, I’d say we don’t have much to worry about.