Friday, February 10, 2012

HULK ANGRY! HULK SMASH!

Remember when I said the Witch Doctor was the class I was looking forward to the least in Diablo 3 (which doesn't mean much, as they all have a lot of appeal in their own ways)? The Barbarian comes a close second, and once again it's caused by resource woes, as it's the only class that can lose resource by sitting there doing nothing. I love exploring around in these games, so it's a common occurrence for me to be out of combat for a little while. And whereas the other classes benefit from being out of combat, the Barbarian suffers. I could complain about this being an annoyance, but Blizzard has always intended the Barbarian to be a character that loves and needs to be in the fray, and in that they succeeded. Besides, they were kind enough to give us a passive that cancels out natural Fury degeneration, and gives us slight regeneration as an added bonus. It comes at level 30, though, so you're expected to cope with that degeneration through the entirety of Normal difficulty.

 Love them or hate them, moon physics are most prevalent with the Barbarian and his reckless, powerful blows. I personally enjoy seeing dead monster corpses being flung off the screen by their sheer force, but others call for more realism in the physics engine. Yeah, realism in a game about angels and demons. Riiiiiight. Either way, they did a good job making the Barbarian feel obscenely powerful, even though the Monk is able to rack up more damage more quickly. The difference between the two isn't so obvious in the beta since everything dies fast except you, but the Barbarian is meant to be more naturally durable and tank-ish, whereas the Monk is a more fragile glass cannon that relies on a wide variety of skills to increase his chance of survival.

As with the Monk and the Demon Hunter, the Barbarian's skillset is separated between resource generators and spenders. Unlike these two, however, the Barbarian's generators come in two categories: spammable and with cooldown. You will absolutely have to pick one of the three skills that belong to the former, and they're balanced enough that either one is perfectly usable. Bash is the one you start with, and it deals the most damage, generates the most Fury per hit and has a nice knockback chance, but it's single target, making it the least appealing of the three in my opinion. If hitting multiple enemies is more your thing, Cleave is unlocked at level 4, though of course it deals less damage and generates a bit less Fury. This was my main skill all throughout the beta once I unlocked it, as it really shone when the Barbarian was put into the scenario he likes the most: in the middle of a mob.

Unfortunately, I didn't reach level 11 in my run, so I had to try out Frenzy on my brother's Barbarian, which was maxed out, and while it's less straightforward than the other two, it's certainly the most impressive when you charge it all the way through. The basic principle is that the more you attack with it, the faster you attack, and when fully charged your attack speed is almost doubled. Of course it's single target and deals less damage, but it's still so good many people, including myself, are planning for sets using Frenzy as our main attack, and focusing the build on increasing its effectiveness through buffs. And with the cooldown on Wrath of the Berserker now gone, this is going to be a riot.

As for the cooldown generators, only two are featured in the beta: Leap Attack, which is functionally a slight burst of speed that allows you to jump over obstacles, with a slight AoE attack at the destination. Key word here is slight, as 8 yards really isn't a lot. So it's mostly a mobility skill, which I tend to pass up on. Ground Stomp, on the other hand, is much better, as it damages and stuns all enemies near you for a few seconds, buying you enough time to finish them off with your other moves (or at the very least deal a lot of damage, such as against bosses). The stun effect, much to my surprise, even worked on Leoric! Despite the cooldown, it's a very dependable skill, and while the damage looks substantial in the beta, later on it will be used for the stun effect.

Of course, all that Fury's useless if you can't spend it, right? Well, I didn't spend much of it on Hammer of the Ancients (learned at level 2), that's for sure. I don't know why, but it looked a lot more impressive in the footage I had seen before. The AoE, to be honest, is pitiful... it definitely looked bigger before, at least. It deals a lot of damage, but not that much more than Bash, and while you CAN hit multiple targets with the hammer, it's still not quite enough to justify the Fury cost. Threatening Shout is also learned at the same level, and it actually sounds like it might be useful later on in the game, where you're actually expected to die... however, halving the enemies' damage in the beta just isn't very useful, and I didn't have enough skill slots to equip it for the most part, anyway.

The next level provides a much better Fury sink with Battle Rage, which is a straight-up 20% damage increase on all your attacks for 30 seconds. And while it's not the flashiest thing ever, it actually pays for itself fairly well, and the more you fight in these 30 seconds the better. My main problem, though, was remembering to refresh Battle Rage every now and then. It's pretty easy to forget since everything dies so quickly, Battle Rage or not, but I definitely need to learn to refresh it more often, because at one point I'm going to need it a lot.

The other two Fury spenders I tried once or twice, but didn't actively use. It's not that Weapon Throw is all that bad, since the Barbarian has a noticeable lack of ranged attacks, but it's not worth it when the Barbarian performs so well at melee range. Even the massive movement speed debuff isn't that much of a selling point. The Indigo rune might be, though, as it inflicts damage to additional nearby targets in a manner reminiscent of Entangling Shot and Electrocute's own Indigo rune effects. As for Rend... it's a multi-target DoT that hits enemies all around you... but the range is so pathetic the enemies need to be right in your face, there's no margin of error whatsoever. Using Cleave a couple times is far more effective, and actually generates Fury on top of that.

There are also two other skills categorized under the "situational" category, and let me tell you, they definitely are worthy of that word. Ignore Pain (level 5) reduces all damage you take by 65% for three seconds, which is not only useless in the beta, but also theoretically vastly outdone by Threatening Shout, which reduces the damage of all enemies within 25 yards by 50% for 15 seconds. And given the choice between spending 20 Fury and a 30-second cooldown, which would you pick? Do the math, Ignore Pain SUCKS, outside of maybe some rune effects. Then there's Revenge, which is obtained at level 12 and has a 15% chance of being activated whenever you get hit. No Fury cost, no cooldown, the only restriction is getting hit enough for it to become available. Even though Fury is gained when you get hit (which is the system's main advantage over something like Spirit or Hatred), I'll pass on getting hit on purpose to activate an ability, even though it can potentially provide not only substantial damage, but potentially some very nice healing if there are a lot of enemies nearby.

Before I finish this final part of my D3 beta review, I would like to go over the skills the Wizard gets past level 10, as my brother finally finished leveling one to 13. Level 11 brings what many consider to be one of the worst skills in the game, period: Energy Twister. For the same cost as Arcane Orb, you can summon a tornado that not only deals miserable damage to enemies it passes through, but is also about as fast as Gheed with a rebate payment. Storm Armor comes at level 12, and while its base effect is fairly uninteresting (dealing damage to anything that lands a hit on you), it's going to become a lot more interesting later on, thanks to a rune effect that lowers the Arcane Power cost of every single skill while Storm Armor is active, as well as a passive that provides healing when it's in effect.

But the granddaddy of them all: Electrocute, which is logically only attainable at the level 13 cap. As a Signature skill it's entirely free to cast, and it hits as many as three targets in one hit, which is a massive improvement over the other Signature skills. Make no mistake: it's so brutal, you can be forgiven for using Electrocute and nothing else when you obtain it. Whether it has to do with the fact that your advantage over even the beta's strongest enemies is absurd at this point remains to be seen, but it's still incredible.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this skill, though, is the tooltip. In beta patches 8 and 9, it went somewhat like this: "Deals 40% damage per hit at twice the regular attack speed. The lightning can jump to two additional enemies, but the damage is reduced by 30% for each jump." But since patch 10 it reads more like: "Deals 80% damage, lightning can jump to two additional enemies". Despite this, the skill hasn't changed at all, they merely shortened the tooltip a lot. The 80% damage thing obviously comes from combining the actual damage with the double attack speed, to make it easier to compare with other skills, however the fact that they no longer say damage is lost with each jump suggests they did away with that mechanic entirely. After doing some research, I can safely say they didn't. This is important, because the way the tooltip is worded suggests the Indigo rune (which adds extra targets) is a must-have, while the Golden rune (recovers AP for each enemy hit) isn't as effective, but in reality Indigo is trash since damage keeps falling for each additional target, while Golden becomes even better since it hits at twice the usual speed. The only way Indigo would be salvageable is if the Prodigy passive is triggered once for every enemy hit by Electrocute, and not once for every successful cast. I'm not holding my breath here.

I'm going to close this review with a truly hilarious occurrence that happens whenever you redo the Reign of the Black King with a character that already unlocked the Templar. Despite the Templar being at your side when entering level 3 of the cathedral, you quickly find the exact same guy being attacked by Dark Cultists. This results in you having two copies of the same character at the same time... but the amazing thing is that not only is this not a bug of any kind, but Blizzard saw this coming, and pushed the surrealism into having the two Templars talk with each other, despite BEING THE SAME CHARACTER. Of course, the extra Templar disappears at the end of the level, but the whole thing is just ridiculous. Just a thought.

So that's it for my adventure through the Diablo 3 beta... maybe I'll return to it at some point, maybe not. Now, can the real thing PLEASE come out? (Yes, I know it was delayed again, no need to tell me.)

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