Edit: added a little bit more to this, in a separate post here.
The “Loot 2.0” system that is the centerpiece of Diablo 3 2.0 makes acquiring gear both more fun and more interesting. The addition of a few new stats, and the enchanting system in particular, means that a little bit of understanding of the system goes a long way in helping you gear up quite quickly once you hit max level. I’ll first give an overview of important stats, and then some practical tips on how to go about putting it all together. In particular, the “Damage” and “Toughness” scores, while they have their uses in making evaluations, can limit your gear progress if you rely on them too much without understanding the underlying stats.
Your character sheet’s “damage” score takes into account your weapon damage, primary stat (“Main”), crit chance (“CC”), crit damage (“CD”), and attack speed (“IAS”) bonuses. Since all damaging skills also scale with those stats (some exceptions for IAS, see below) it is a good starting proxy for how much damage you can output. However, there are some important reasons not to simply rely on the Damage score when looking for upgrades. Here are the most prominent ones:
- The “[Element] skills deal X% more damage” affix. This works exactly as advertised, and if your build does most of its damage with skills of a particular element, adds a lot of damage that’s not reflected on your character sheet. This gives a strong incentive in Reaper of Souls to try to choose builds that focus on one elemental damage type. If you do all your damage with one element, and you mouseover a pair of bracers with +15% to that element, then even if they show a -5% Damage loss in the comparison, you should think of them as a 10% damage upgrade.
- The “Increase [Skill] damage by X%” affix. Similarly, you can probably imagine how to use this. It’s sometimes hard to leverage if your damage is spread between a few different skills, but value it highly if you use a certain skill for most of your damage.
- IAS is factored directly into your damage score. But depending on your class and build, IAS may be more or less useful to you. If you are primarily resource-capped (if combat often consists of dumping a whole energy bar into an expensive spender such a Frozen Orb), IAS actually does very little for you, as it doesn’t change the number of casts you get before you run out. Similarly if you use a lot of cooldown-based skills. Conversely, if you generally spam a resource generator (Monks, often), IAS could be better than it appears. Don’t rely on the Damage score when evaluating IAS; think about whether attacking faster is useful in your build.
- A more subtle version of the IAS issue is weapon speed. A 1.2 speed weapon and a 1.5 speed weapon might do the same DPS, but one hits much harder per swing and the other attacks faster. The same logic from the IAS discussion applies; one or the other may be much better for you even if they have the same Damage score.
- Some stats are not reflected at all in Damage; notably, cooldown reduction and resource cost reduction. Many of the types of builds that don’t like IAS like these stats, because they let you use your attacks more often in practice. Don’t worry about the fact that favoring these stats and disfavoring IAS makes your Damage score look lower.
- The CC/CD engine. While these are reflected correctly in Damage, that can be deceptive at low gear levels. The value of each of these stats depends on the other one, so when both are low (when you’re just starting out), CC and CD affixes might show up as weak in your Damage score. Trust that once you accumulate enough of both of them, the synergy is very strong, and a key part of doing high damage. Even if CC/CD items look weak at first, consider saving them because the effects will snowball as you get more.
One overarching point is that, regardless of individual stats, the Enchanting system means you can’t rely on the tooltip comparison when evaluating an item. Changing one stat can have a dramatic effect on the value of an item. The sooner you progress from looking only at Damage to knowing what stats you’re looking for on an item, the better you’ll spot items that have 3 solid stats and need a particular 4th stat to be ideal or close to ideal. Once you start doing this, you can assemble a set of good rares quite quickly. To highlight some specific stats to look for:
- Main: Available in all slots. Desired on all slots, but as with anything else, you won’t have perfect items everywhere; sometimes you can go without it when an item has other good stats.
- Crit damage: Only available on Amulet, Ring, Gloves, and weapon (in the form of a socket). Because of how important this is to the CC/CD engine, having CD in these slots should be a priority.
- Crit chance: Amulet, Ring, Gloves, Bracers, Helm, and Offhand/Shield. Once your CD is high, CC is quite strong. Having the Main/CC combo in most or all of these slots is a very solid foundation for good damage.
- +% Element damage. Bracers and Amulet. Quite important for any build that can make use of them.
Other stats are still important, but these tend to be the most important to look out for when trying to scan for items with strong offensive potential. For example, Bracers can have Main, CC, and % element damage. An item with two of these, a good defensive stat, and any fourth stat is ripe to be turned into something very nice via enchanting, even though it might not look good in the initial comparison.
Brief note on dual wielding: using two weapons causes most skills to effectively alternate swings (more specifically, to check each weapon alternately for damage calculations), and also gives an overall 15% IAS boost, resulting in high sheet Damage. The biggest reason that dual wield (or similarly, weapon/offhand) setups are usually favored over two-handed weapons is the added stats you get from having two items equipped. In particular, having the CD from two weapon gems. Some skills (typically single large hits with cooldowns) read only the mainhand damage, so you want to put whichever weapon has the higher damage range (not DPS) in the mainhand (left box on the character sheet).
“Toughness” is what’s commonly called your EHP (effective HP). It’s the amount of pre-mitigation damage required to kill you instantaneously, based on your HP, armor, average resists, dodge, and certain other damage reduction effects.
“Healing” is an estimate of how much health you regen per second based your Life Per Second, Life On Hit, Life On Kill, and similar stats. It uses fixed assumptions for how often you proc things like “on hit” or “on kill”, but of course only the Life Per Second stat is totally reliable.
Gearing to chase your Toughness and Healing scores has some issues, similar to Damage. Most importantly, healing is more effective when you have low HP and high mitigation than it is when you have high HP and low mitigation. However, the best stat for pure EHP purposes is Vitality. So what happens if you chase your Toughness stat is that you’ll balloon your HP with gear that has Vitality and +%Life. That leaves you in a place where you don’t get killed instantly, but can’t easily recover your HP to full as you continue to take damage. Whereas, adding a strong mitigation stat like All Resists (“AR”) will leave you at slightly lower Toughness, but the healing you have will be more effective (even though the Healing score doesn’t show any difference).
There’s no fixed answer to how to make the tradeoff, because it depends on what the danger scenario is. To avoid getting blown up by a one-time rapid series of hits, you want higher Toughness. To fight it out against a hard elite pack that keeps damaging you, having enough Healing is paramount, and mitigation stats buff your healing in practice. It would actually be pretty handy to see an “effective healing” score that works the same way as Toughness, i.e. Healing divided by your mitigation. That would in effect tell you what level of incoming damage you could continuously heal off.
One other thing worth thinking about is that Toughness includes dodge, which can be less valuable against either 1) very large hits where bad dodge streaks can be dangerous or 2) undodgeable damage, usually ground effects like Arcane Sentries and Desecrator. This is usually not worth worrying about too much though: unless you’re a Monk or Demon Hunter, you won’t be equipping Dex gear (which gives dodge) so this won’t distort your Toughness. And if you’re a Monk or Demon Hunter, you want the Dex gear anyway for offensive reasons.
Where does that leave you?
- Vitality and %Life: as mentioned, best way to increase your Toughness. If Toughness gets too low, you might start dying to damage spikes and bad events. So you need it on some portion of pieces, but be wary of adding on more once you’re no longer being hit for large chunks of your HP bar.
- AR: very solid all-around survivability stat. Essentially never wrong, unless your Vit is so low that you fall over to damage fluctuations or minor mistakes in combat.
- Armor: same function as AR, but unfortunately the numbers are weaker. 1 point of Armor is generally 1/10 as much mitigation as 1 point of AR, but you don’t get nearly 10 times as much of it on an item. Clear second choice to AR.
- Single resists: a nice secondary stat, but you’d prefer AR, and you can’t have both on the same item. An item with 4 good primary stats and no AR is made a lot nicer by having a single resist. Monks treat single resists very differently due to their One With Everything passive.
- Life Per Second and Life On Hit: Most reliable healing stats. As with mitigation, you can’t go overboard and give up all your Vitality, but good regen makes everything much more convenient and safer.
- Life On Kill and Health Globe Healing: Factored into Healing, but unreliable. In danger situations, you’re not necessarily killing anything for many seconds. Better than nothing, and helps keep you topped off as you clear, but not strong for survival.
- Shield block: if you use a shield (typically Hardcore players and/or Crusaders), the important stat on that shield is the block chance. Because each block reduces a hit by a fixed amount post-mitigation, use of a shield increases the value of your mitigation even further. It’s similar to having a large amount of added healing. The entire effect of blocking is not included in Toughness in any way. The true defensive benefit of a shield is much higher than its apparent Toughness boost, which only reflects the Armor and other stats on the shield.
In the end, a mix of HP, mitigation, and healing is needed, and there’s a lot of judgment that can go into choosing the balance. Hopefully this helped you know what you’re looking at when you see an item, beyond the in-game comparisons.
For further details and math about the defensive comparisons, this post I made when D3 was new is still relevant, though some numbers are out of date.
Any item has up to 4 primary stats and 2 secondaries. It’s mostly primaries that the subject of this post. Secondaries are useful and you’re always happy to have them, and some builds can emphasize them, but when generally getting your gear level up you need solid primary stats in all slots. Rares are much cheaper to enchant than legendaries, once you have a supply of Death’s Breath, so this is a great way to get decked out in solid rares comparatively quickly.
The key is to spot items that have at first 2 of your most favored stats, and eventually 3. Enchanting then allows you to get a 3rd or 4th (generally don’t pay attention to items with fewer than 4 primaries total). Since an item with all but one of the key stats might actually look terrible in the in-game comparisons, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. Glance against the list of prominent offensive stats above, or look at the full list here.
By and large, it’s the offensive stats that you look at first. For defensive stats you generally want a broad mix, as discussed above. Since Vitality, AR, and Life Per Second are each available in every slot, it’s not as critical what you have on each individual item. But some key offensive stats are available only in limited slots, so you want to make them a priority.
Comments on some specific slots:
- A good weapon always needs its +damage affix, a socket, and Main. The 4th affix is somewhat open (IAS is good if your build likes it)–take a weapon where you get a good tooltip DPS roll and those 3 things.
- Bracers want Main, CC, +element damage, and a defensive.
- Amulets really want CC and CD, because they can roll higher values for these stats than most other slots, and ideally Main and/or +element damage.
- Rings and Gloves are also places to try to hunt down the Main/CC/CD setup.
- Chest/Belt/Pants have limited offensive ability and are good places to get multiple defensive stats.
- Similar for Boots, but you should consider movement speed a must-have on boots until you have enough Paragon Points to get it from there.
- Chest can have three sockets and Pants two, in each case only taking up one affix slot. These are good to have. Sockets on Rings and Amulets are poorer uses of an affix, since you only get one.
- Helm can get unique bonuses from a socket which are usually desired, and also has CC available.
- If you know what skills you want to maximize with specific +skill bonuses, they appear on: Belt and Pants for primary skills, Boots and Helm for secondary skills, and Chest and Shoulders for tertiary skills. Class-specific offhands can also have any skill.
I haven’t said much about legendaries, since the focus here is on using the rares you’ll start getting at level 70. Legendaries do follow the same principles, but they have a higher amount of every stat, and generally have either 1) a unique proc or 2) an ordinary stat on a slot that usually doesn’t get it. You can’t control what legendaries you get (with the only exception being that Horadric Caches can drop different ones based on what Act you’re doing), so go with what you find and try to work them into your build, or change to adapt to special bonuses. But all the principles here apply to evaluating and enchanting the stats you roll on legendaries.
- In armor slots, you either use Main stat gems for offense or AR (Diamond) for defense. AR is typically better stat value, but non-Hardcore characters are sometimes more limited by offensive ability and focus on Main gems.
- In your weapon, CD (Emerald) is strong once you have any reasonable amount of CC. Ruby can be okay to start with when you don’t have much good gear yet. When dual wielding, you want double Emerald weapon gems, since they stack.
- In your helm, XP (Ruby) is weak once you’re no longer leveling. %life (Amethyst) is solid use of a slot, as is CDR (Diamond) if your build can make use of it.
- Core: The Main and Vit options are quite inefficient. You want movespeed here until you’re completely capped out (50 points, or 20 for Crusader with Heavenly Strength). It’s better to get movespeed from Paragon levels than from items, but use both if you need to to reach the 25% cap.
- Offense: CC and CD tend to win out once you have some CC and CD naturally on gear (the snowball effect mentioned above). A good rule of thumb is that if the CD on your character sheet is less than 10 times the CC, spend Paragon points on CD.
- Defense: AR and Life Per Second are both strong. Life Per Second is generally better item value.
- Utility: Area Damage is a good offensive stat. Life On Hit is a good defensive stat.