My difficulty design philosophy is as follows:
• Normal: Learning the game, roflstomping, just killing time.
Challenge level: Minimal.
• Hard: Getting better at the game, looking for an interesting step up from Normal but nothing too lethal.
Challenge level: Moderate - Failure is possible but rather unlikely.
• Elite: I think I'm an expert now, I want to see just how uber my toon is, hubris & mistakes are costly.
Challenge level: Lethal - The game is trying to kill me and failure rate ranges from possible to probable.
I fully realize little if any of what's to follow can actually be implemented, and whatever could be probably won't be due to resource investment etc. I'm ok with that, this is just more of a wish list than anything else. Enjoy
Randomness. Take any given quest, and randomize the traps & mobs number, placement and type.
• Traps: Normal would use fixed spawn points and Simple traps, the common stuff we already see. Hard would use some fixed + some *random spawn points and has limited (in Heroic) to moderate (in Epic) chance to spawn Complex traps, ie: Spinning Blades + Grease, Poison + Fire. Elite would use only *random spawn points and base spawn Complex traps, with limited (in Heroic) to moderate (in Epic) chance of Exotic Traps, ie: Net Mines + Grease + Fire, Sound Burst + Sleet Storm + Spinnng Blades.
• Mobs: Normal would spawn Basic mobs at standard encounter points (pretty much what we have now). Hard would still use some standard and some *random encounter points but add limited (in Heroic) to moderate (in Epic) chance of spawning Advanced mobs (ie: Warriors with weapon effects like Limb Chopper or Paralyzing, Casters with highest level appropriate Summon Monster + Augment Summons). Elite would use only *random encounter points and base spawn Advanced mobs, with limited to moderate chance (pending quest level) to spawn Exotic mobs; Exotic mobs would have two varieties: Heroic and Epic.
Heroic Exotic mob examples: Warriors have Prestiges - AA Rangers w/Many Shot + arrow effects, Barbarian Frenzied Berserkers w/THF feats + Vorpal/GS/TF Geat Axes, Radiant Servant Clerics to Aura/Burst/cast Heal + Turn Undead, Savant Sorcs & DC built Wizzys) with level appropriate gear effects.
Epic Exotic mob Examples: Pally Defenders in Unielding Sentinal or Divine Crusader, Exalted Angle Clerics & Favored Souls, Draconic Sorcs, Shiradi Wizzys, Fury-Shotting Monkchers... Basically the Devs take our builds and apply them against us
• Monsters or Mobs?
In Normal content, again no real change from what we currently have. In Hard content, there would be a limited % chance of quest & level appropriate Monsters spawning where Mobs would and vice versa. ie: Wargs or Rust Monsters ~ melee oriented humanoids; something like Tharak Hounds or Black Widows ~ ranged humanoids; lol idk what ~ casters (suggestions?). In Elite content I would up the % chance to moderate, and the type to be *random: around that corner could be more Orcs, or a Beholder, or a Drow Necromancer (<- ready to animate their fallen comrades, ofc!), or a Medusa or... A huge Violet Ooze in a Blade Trap crossd with Lightning Bolts, or...
*Random meaning exactly that: whatever, wherever. Exceptions would generally be end bosses and mini bosses required for location specific quest progression.
Improved AI, adjusted by difficulty setting. Normal mobs can remain unchanged, Hard & Elite examples:
• Give the mobs actual tactics.
Warrior types: Hard mobs should refuse to be kited, instead using ranged options or taking cover vs Archers/Throwers/Casters when it's available. Elite mobs should be doing things like scattering vs Ranged/Casters to minimize susceptibility to IPS & AoE attacks, and moving on intercept vectors/setting "road blocks" vs a player's kiting tactics.
Caster types: Hard mobs should recognize when damaging spells are ineffective, and adjust accordingly (ie "They just Evaded my Meteor Shower, I'll try Polar Ray next.) Elite mobs should be intuitive about what to try first (ie That looks like a Caster - use Reflex based CC, or That looks like a Melee - attact the Will save) and recognize obvious things (ie Ice Storm vs a Blue Fire Shield, Firewall vs a Red one). Elite Divine mobs should be attempting to Raise their fallen comrades (Rasied Comrades do not count towards kill count bonus XP).
Hard mobs should adapt from failed CC (Disco isn't working, I'll try Web). Elite mobs should be intuitive (ie Web vs Ranged/Casters, Grease or Disco vs Melee)
Special one for Elite Casters: Charm, Dominate etc. should enable "friendly fire" and cause: Melee to auto attack/cleave (if they have it) nearest party members, Archers to auto attack/IPS (if they have it) party members agroed on the Charming caster, and Casters to cast random offensive spells at random party members. (Essentially turning the PC into an AI run mob during the Charm/effect's duraton, Charmed/effected PC is still immune to non-Charmed friendly fire.)
Hard & Elite Casters/Rangers should carry and reflexively use Resistance spells (ie casting Acid Resistance after getting Melfed).
• Danger awareness: Hard mobs should have it on the level of learning from their first encounter with a Blade Barrier or Firewall (etc.) that it hurts, and they should not touch it a second time. Elite mobs should be able to tell just by looking at a Blade Bareier or Firewall that it would be a bad idea to touch it, and avoid it accordingly.
So there ya have it: how I'ld make the game challenging if I could have my say-so about it. Again, I realize those are (at least in most cases) not any kind of realistic to suggest to the Devs - it's just how I'ld like it to be if it were up to me.