Wednesday, February 8, 2012

When Diablo meets Memebase + more beta impressions

Admit it, you totally read this as Derpina. I know I did.

Today I made a full runthrough of the beta with a Demon Hunter, and got started on the Barbarian, the final class I had yet to try. More info after the jump.

As I said in my last post on the subject, there seems to be a consensus around the Demon Hunter still lagging behind the other classes, despite the huge progress the class made with the introduction of Hatred generators. After playing through the entire beta with it, my impression is that the reason is related to the range of weapons each character can use. The Monk and Barbarian can easily use any melee weapon they find, whether it's a sword, a mace, an axe, a fist weapon (in the Monk's case) or something else. The Witch Doctor and Wizard use spells, so it hardly matters which weapon class they're using. The Demon Hunter, on the other hand, absolutely needs bows, crossbows and hand crossbows to perform, as most of his bread-and-butter skills run off arrow shots. (Yes, the DH is canonically female, but I use male characters, so deal with it.)

The rarity of appropriate weapons was most apparent early on, as the weapon you start with is the worst possible hand crossbow the game will allow, and while I found a few over the course of the first two quests, they barely qualified as improvements. Fortunately, I lucked out, and the Headcleaver (the skeleton boss you rescue Cain from) dropped a big ol' two-handed crossbow, and a very good one at that. One thing all classes with resource generators have to deal with is the very delicate balance between the speed at which you generate your resource (best done when dual-wielding), and the cost effectiveness of the resource spenders (which big two-handed weapons excel at). And since all the hand crossbows I found prior to that point were total junk, I took the crossbow without a second thought, since Impale and Rapid Fire were going to be that much more effective per point of Hatred spent. When I reached level 9 I crafted a very nice pair of hand crossbows, and while Impale and Rapid Fire were still great thanks to the great damage output of the crossbows, I quickly demolished everything with Entangling Shot, and didn't need to use Impale and Rapid Fire that much, except on boss packs.

The inception of Hatred generators is by far and away the biggest change since the beginning of the beta, so how do they stack up? You start out with Hungering Arrow, which oddly enough deals only 85% of a regular shot's damage, though it compensates with a chance to pierce, combined with homing properties that allow it to seek out an additional target. It's not that impressive, but it's enough to last you until level 3, where Evasive Fire comes in. Its main selling point is the Discipline-costing backflip you do if there's an enemy nearby when you fire, but at this point the 115% weapon damage was the one reason I was using it. I didn't mind the Discipline usage very much, since at that point Caltrops was the only actual Discipline skill I had (more on that later).

I didn't end up using Evasive Fire for very long either, since at level 4 I learned Bola Shot. It's a lot like Exploding Arrow from D2, except the damage has a one-second delay in exchange for the explosion doing more than paper cuts (as opposed to LESS than paper cuts in D2). A fair trade, though when opposed with scattered enemies Evasive Fire would be more effective. The choice between the two is down to preference, though the explosion from Bola Shot ended up being invaluable in finishing fights against bigger mobs earlier.

But the best Hatred generator by far is learned at level 8. Entangling Shot not only hits the target you're aiming at for full weapon damage, but also another one nearby, and both enemies are slowed down for two seconds. With no delay, either. If Crippling Wave and Electrocute are going to be stapled onto their respective classes, the same could be said of Entangling Shot, especially with the Indigo rune, which increases the number of targets hit by one for every rune rank... just like Electrocute. Both skills are likely to end up as solid free-to-cast crowd control options, which is the name of the game in Diablo. I also tried Grenades on my brother's DH, and while not as great as Entangling Shot, it covers a nice area for decent damage. It's especially impressive when you fire them repeatedly when holding two hand crossbows. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any rune effects as deliciously cheap as Indigo Entangling Shot for this.

As for Hatred spenders, the first one you learn is Impale at level 2. It's fairly straightforward in that it deals enormous damage to a single target, and I found it to destroy bosses very quickly. Do remember, though, that you can only cast it five times before your Hatred runs out - but five times will often be enough to kill the boss (or part of a champion pack) outright at this point in the game. I made sure to keep it throughout the entire duration of the game. There's even a rune effect that stuns the enemy for a few seconds, and only superbosses like Leoric are immune to stun - you can bet I'll be using this a lot when the game hits store shelves.

Rapid Fire, obtained at level 5, is another huge damage dealer, and it's also very impressive-looking, as it fires arrows at six times your normal rate (though for only a fraction of the damage, it goes without saying). Unlike other channeling skills like Disintegrate or Firebats, though, there's a resource cost just for starting the skill up, so you have to try and stay still as much as possible to get the most out of your Hatred. If you manage to do so, though, Rapid Fire becomes amazingly cost-effective. You can use it for crowd control or single targets - it's your choice. I'm willing to bet Multishot will outrageously dominate it in the crowd control department when we get out of the beta stages and into the actual game, though.

Chakram, which is learned at level 7, is probably the most disappointing skill I've tried out so far. I kept hearing about how amazing it was, but holy crap is it terrible. Remember AVGN's review of Fester's Quest, and all those weapons that would go right around monsters, completely missing them? This is Chakram in a nutshell. Elemental Arrow, which you get two levels later, is far more in line with what you'd expect out of a piercing arrow skill. It's pretty good against tightly packed monsters, but I ended up using Entangling Shot and Rapid Fire a lot more in these cases. It IS a lot cheaper than the latter, though, so throwing a few of these and cleaning up with Entangling Shot is a solid MO. It won't be beyond the beta, though, since not only are the rune effects fairly unappealing, but Multishot deals similar damage, pierces through targets as well, AND covers a much wider angle. All for five more Hatred. And it actually has some pretty neat rune effects too. Do want.

I haven't talked too much about Discipline skills so far, and for a very good reason: other than the Evasive Fire backflips, my Discipline always remained full. I tried Caltrops and wasn't very impressed with it. It's like a lesser version of the Wizard's Slow Time: whereas the latter is activated as soon as you use it, Caltrops is a trap laid down to the floor that has to be sprung by the enemy. While it slows down their movement, it doesn't lower their attack speed, and doesn't last very long either. Vault (level 6) is nothing but a mobility skill, and I don't really find these that appealing, to be honest. Especially not with limited skill slots. I tried Shadow Power on my brother's DH since I didn't get to level 12, and it's exactly what you'd expect, a straight-up attack speed increase for 8 seconds. I would say it's not all that flashy, but it gives you dark wings when it's active, which is pretty nice. They serve no function, though. I find Shadow Power to be a wee bit expensive, though, at 20 discipline a pop. I guess if it were that much cheaper, though, it'd be far too easy to keep on at all times.

As I said earlier, I also started a Barbarian, but I'll withhold any remarks on it until my run is done. One thing I'd like to point out, that's a huge improvement over D2: when you kill an enemy that's floating over an area that's not solid ground, any items or gold that they drop will be flung over to the nearest ledge. In D2, when that happened, the enemy simply dropped nothing. Which sucked. A lot.

Well, that took a while to type out. See you next time!

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