Initially I started playing this Diablo 3 season with the idea of running a pet build. The strongest Witch Doctor build this time around is Helltooth Pets, which doesn't even have a spammable skill and relies purely on pets and cooldowns. I liked the idea of that a lot, particularly because repetitive strain forced me to stop playing the last season and this build requires very little clicking. Skill matters, certainly, but I don't have to keep clicking ten times a second to play well.
Recently though I have begun doing some four player rifts and have shifted to a support build instead. Initially I was just doing my thing, letting my pets bash people, but rapidly found out that although I was a perfectly fine damage dealer there is no space for perfectly fine at the top of the heap. I just don't have a way to become absurd, and absurd is required if you want to get into good groups.
The absurdity this time around is a wizard using a weapon that makes Energy Twister do 150% more damage for each Energy Twister that exists. Normally Energy Twister wanders randomly, mostly missing the mobs, and normally it costs a lot of resources so you can't have many out at once. However, when your entire group is devoted to filling the entire screen with monsters and shovelling resources to the wizard suddenly there are dozens of Energy Twisters all about, dealing 20x the damage they are supposed to, and all of them are hitting *something*.
I was kind of blown away by a strategy that involved running away from groups of ten enemies when all ten of them are badly injured, but it turns out the only way to win at the top is to only fight groups of fifty at a time.
If for some reason you get one hundred enemies on the screen the game locks up and you lose, so everything is dependent on fighting exactly the right number of monsters in a giant pile. It is ... bizarre.
However, it does feel a lot more like old school fantasy RPGs. Instead of four characters blasting away at the monsters, you actually have roles. One character kills things, one tanks, one buffs, and one groups up enemies and supplies healing and resources. These roles are so regimented at the top that the class breakdown for the top one hundred goes something like this: 25% wizard, 25% barbarian, 24.5% witch doctor, 24.5% monk, .5% demon hunter, .5% crusader. Crusaders can't complain too much though, as they do dominate the single player ladder. Demon hunters... have my condolences.
Having a specific role to play and maximizing it is kinda cool though, and a nice change of pace from the usual. I am not used to setting myself up to help everyone else in a specific way, but it means I can play more of my favourite class while having something really new to do. One of the best parts of this is that there are actually a lot of different things you can do as a support, while the damage builds tend to be utterly regimented. My pet damage build uses the exact items everybody uses, with the exact skills everybody uses. There is no variety without being bad. While playing support though I have a bunch of different pieces of gear that all interact in interesting ways with my skills, and a lot of the tradeoffs are rather tricky to evaluate. The top people have all kinds of interesting variation, which certainly means at my level (far from the top!) there is plenty of choice. Of course sometimes you run into players who won't be involved with you unless you are a carbon copy of whatever build they think is broken, but that is true in nearly any cooperative situation I expect.
This is something I wish I could have done in WOW, but the size of the raids really ended up making it impractical. You get some interesting tradeoffs in D3 when you think about all the different sorts of builds you can use, but if you could bring a ton of people WOW would end up either having 15 paladins buffing everyone, one paladin bringing unique buffs, or none. That doesn't work so well. In the beginning when buffs were annoying and short I actually was a pure buffbot but those days are long in the past - now everybody gets to deliver the big numbers.
Not delivering the big numbers is turning out to be a really fun change.