I have not been playing D3 for a month or so but I have been watching for the balance patch 1.04. Mostly I was hoping that my chosen class, the Witch Doctor, would be buffed such that I could actually play a summoner style. (You know, the supposed standard build and thematic focus of the class... but I'm not bitter or anything!) Blizzard released the first batch of details for 1.04 today and I thought I would go over some of the changes they are proposing.
First off they are definitely going to be buffing WD summons in particular and all kinds of other underpowered abilities in general. There is a paucity of details at this point but testing the effectiveness of various abilities is much easier now because there is a fairly stable endgame so I expect I will be able to summon up my horde of dudes and say "Slay them my minions! Bwahahaha!" and it will work. Really, that is what I was most looking forward to in D3 gameplay - getting to cackle my evil laugh as my zombies mercilessly ripped my opponents to shreds. Whether or not WD are still going to be the crappiest class is unclear but I am sure the gap will close if WD have effective dorks.
When D3 was in development Blizzard announced that Magic Find would be averaged among group members. This meant that in a group some people could stack all fighting stats and others could stack MF and everyone would get the benefit of both. In 1.04 this mechanic will be removed and every player will use their own MF stat to determine the loot they get. This will encourage people with amazing gear to enter public games more often I would think but it will also incentivize people to wear gear with only MF on it and follow others around leeching off of them. I am sure that when I randomly wander into group games I will inspect people and many of them will be wearing garbage gear with high MF values on it because that is by far the best way for them to obtain loot. Not wanting to group with people with low MF is frustrating but ending up in groups with people who have all MF and can't kill anything is even worse. Without a decent way to form groups that avoid leechers this is a recipe for much bitterness.
If I want to form a group that doesn't contain leechers I need something that is conspicuously absent from D3: Chat channels. I spoke to several friends yesterday who played some D3 and then quit specifically because all they wanted was a fun game to pass the time where they could chat with their friends. D3 failed the test of Fun + Chat. We don't need guild support. We don't need a complex social display. We need only the ability to create a custom chat channel so that we can all hang out and shoot the breeze while we play. I want to be able to ask all my friends "Anyone want to start an all Demon Hunter hardcore group?" without the intense irritation of whispering and replying to 18 different people. I want to be able to comment on the outrageous hotness of Hollywood Starlet #7 and bitch about religion and talk about how Skill X brown bags the ram. I can't do that. More than anything else Blizzard needs to make communication with your friends in D3 a fun and easy experience.
The rest of the changes seem very reasonable and I approve of the direction they are going. The D3 experience is going to get easier overall but I think that is fine. The PVE endgame is going to vanish as a source of real difficulty when PVP launches anyway so gradual nerfing and smoothing of the PVE game is a good choice. Thumbs up Blizzard ... as long as you get some chat support in, that is.