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Go Fast, Take Risks… Rethink Your Build

Posted 5 Dec 2012 by

A recent Diablo III experience you may draw inspiration, insight, or insignificance from.

My highest level character in Diablo III is a Demon Hunter, and she just dinged to Paragon 30 tonight. (Bonus trivia: 1) Demon Hunters are female, or they are wrong. 2) Male and female DHs use different DiabloWikiVault animations. Females do a cartwheel with one hand down, while males do a no-hand sideways parkour type flip.) I enjoy three of the other classes also, and my Wizard, WD, Barb, and Monk are all level 60+, all in the P5-P10 range, but the DH is clearly my favorite.

This is something of a surprise, as the Wizard was my first class when the game launched, and I expected to spend the most time with that class. Expected, but no, since while I like the Diablo III wizard, the overall class design isn’t really to my taste. I am a fan of the very fast, very intense glass cannon style, and while the Sorc in D1 and the Sorc in D2 filled that role very well, the Wiz in D3 does not. Not with all those powerful debuffs and defensive skills and CCs and the delays on Teleport.

That’s not to say the class isn’t fun, there are a ton of really awesome offensive skills and if I ever gear up enough to do one of the Wind Up builds I’m sure I’ll enjoy it… but that play style does not feed my “how a Wizard should be” mindset.

Thus is the Demon Hunter Diablo III’s DiabloWikiglass cannon, if only by default, and the DH was my favorite character during the beta, especially once Vault was lowered in level requirement and became available at level 11. Loved the fast movement from that skill in the beta, loved it in early days after release, and stuck with it all the way into Hell Act 4, even after almost everyone else had shifted to Smoke Screen. Which I finally had to switch to when v1.01 DiabloWikiRakanoth proved unbeatable for my Ironborn DH. I just could not reliably time it to dodge his insta-kill Teleport charge attack with Vault, and my DPS was fairly low, so I couldn’t kill him that quickly, which meant I had to avoid that cheesy one-shot attack at least twice during the battle. I tried several times, said to hell with it, switched to Smoke Screen, killed him the first try with that, and kept it on the bar ever after.

I soon got used to Smoke Screen though, I grew to like it. Paired with the DiabloWikiTactical Advantage passive it gave a nice speed boost. Plus, I’d assumed that Smoke Screen was just invisibility, as the tool tip suggests. Not at all, and I soon realized it broke all roots and CCs, provided complete immunity to every sort of elemental effect, allowed the Demon Hunter to run right through everything short of Waller walls, and even brainwashed monsters into instantly forgetting that I existed, even when I cast it in melee range and then stood there, motionless, blasting away for the full four three second duration.

I always sort of missed Vault though, but pre-v1.05 Inferno was hard and there were DiabloWikiVortex, DiabloWikiDesecrator, DiabloWikiJailer, DiabloWikiWaller, DiabloWikiTeleporter etc enemies around every corner, and only Smoke Screen allowed my low-gear, mostly-self-found DH to survive against virtually any combination of boss modifiers. What I didn’t realize, since it crept up on my gradually, is how Smoke Screen forced a more cautious, meticulous, careful play style, especially once I paired it with a slow-firing Manticore, and how that was really boring me.

I didn’t realize… until last night when I decided to do a new build, largely reworked my equipment, and found a new play style that was lower DPS, but much faster, much crazier, much more fun, and much more profitable.


Click through for the details of my Demon Hunter makeover, and how the philosophy behind it can be applied to every class and might just make your play experience a great deal more fun. I’m going to try the same sort of make over to my WD later this week, once I get sick of the new and so much improved Demon Hunter.


The Tortoise vs. The Hare

While using Smoke Screen from Paragon 1-29, I tried a variety of builds, though all were played basically the same. There were usually two pew pew skills, a Hatred-builder like Hungering Arrow or Evasive Fire or Bolo Shot or Entangling Arrow paired with a Hatred spender like Ball Lightning or Frost Arrow or Multishot. I usually had Stampede for the CC/defense, and usually Gloom or Marked for Death or Spike Trap for added damage against elites. That changed to Bat Companion when I went with Multishot, and I always had Preparation for emergency Discipline refills. (For passives, I usually went with Tactical Advantage, Archery, and Steady Aim since I was always under-DPSed.)

If you don’t play a Demon Hunter, here’s a simple resource summary; Hatred fuels almost all your offense, Discipline fuels almost all your defense, and if you ever run out of Discipline you will die immediately. If not sooner.

Like a four-armed, bare-footed idiot, Discipline can only count to 30 at the base. It’s not hard to raise it a bit; Demon Hunter capes and Quivers can have up to +10 Discipline, and various Set and Legendary items allow for a higher pool, but that sort of gear is damn expensive so most non-rich DHs have 40-50 for their pool, or less. Note that Smoke Screen costs 16 at the base — yes, that’s more than half of the entire base pool, and while it regens at 1 per second, and Preparation provides an instant full refill, a DH with self-found gear can run out of Discipline very quickly during any boss encounter, especially if using any skills that spend Discipline for offense, instead of just saving it entirely for Smoke Screen escape.

Thus must a wide Demon Hunter use Discipline very carefully. Thus did I use it, and thus did I play accordingly. Advancing carefully, trying to keep all the enemies on one side or in one direction, not letting anything touch me, etc.

My DH evolved into a very glass cannon-y character with very high Magic Find (around 250% base MF at Paragon 10-20) and low hit points. Very low, like 23k with 250ish resistances and 3500 Armor. She didn’t get one-shotted very often, but two-shots were always a threat, and even trash mobs could be dangerous. DiabloWikiReflects Damage was insane, especially after I got the DH weapon of choice, a Manticore.

The Manticore is the biggest damage bow/xbow since it personifies the triumph of critical hits as the real source of damage in Diablo III. Plenty of bows and xbows go higher in damage than the Manticore, but they can’t compare on Critical Hit Damage, which is where the killing power really comes from. The Manticore’s overall damage isn’t that huge, but it can roll up to 100 CHD, and it always has at least one socket for your emerald of choice. Plus the passive Archery adds 50% CHD when using a crossbow. The drawback of the Manticore is the slow ass firing rate, and that’s what ultimately spurred my character remodel.


Slower Pussycat! Wound! Wound!

So here’s my Demon Hunter from a few days ago. Decent damage, around 90k DPS with her best damage gear on (and thus MF lowered to around 240%), but it felt weird. Almost everything I was wearing was self-found, and by odd coincidence I had about 51% Critical Hit Chance, but nothing adding Critical Hit Damage other than the xbow and average Dexterity. Thus I got yellow numbers on almost every shot, but they were hardly any higher than the white numbers, and since I didn’t have any Attack Speed boosting stuff, using the Manticore felt like trying to run in deep mud with my shoes tied together on the same foot. And I had 22k hps, low resistances, and only 35 Discipline, which made for a very narrow margin for error.

Basically the character sucked. I could kill pretty well, so long as I was as careful as a waitress at a nudist bar; advancing cautiously and avoiding all contact. It was slow though, and unsatisfying, and after a crushing and statistically-improbable multi-play session run of zero Legendary finds, I was on the verge of shelving the DH and trying to item find with my other classes, even with the 90% MF from her Paragon levels.

So I cheated on her, playing my WD and Wiz through the rest of Inferno. It was fun, but they were both solid characters without anything special, so I had to stay conventional and thus their play style felt a lot like the Demon Hunter; slow and methodical (my WD did all of Inferno on MP1, wearing entirely self-found twinks, and only died once), and since they had minimal Magic Find they didn’t score any good items. (Though I didn’t expect them to, so at least there wasn’t the disappointment my five-stack, 330% MF DH felt.)

I hadn’t given up on the DH though, and each day I’d do a bit of research, reading DH forum threads, eyeballing the gear on richer DHs, and trying to figure what I could add on a budget. Her damage was okay, but everything else was a mess and I wanted to overhaul. Further motivation for that came as I worked on a big wiki update about the DiabloWikiAlkaizer Runs (that article will shortly be much bigger/better) and watched videos and read strategy guides from DHs who clear the whole thing in 12 or 13 minutes. Not as fast as the fastest Spin2Win Barbs or Archon Wizards, but pretty damn good, and vastly faster than my DH could manage.


Drastic Measures Are Required

So, like a woman scorned, I pouted. And then I went shopping. Bargain GAH time, kthx!

My DH had too much CHC, not enough CHD, and her hit points and resistances were terrible. I had a bunch of alt gear in my stash, and could pretty easily upgrade the hit points and resistances, but doing that, and adding CHD, and preserving the CHC… not on my budget. As anyone who has done some AH searching of late knows, there’s a crazy jump in prices once you try to get several good mods on the same item.

You can get the best mod on any rare item for pennies. Even the best two mods are still quite cheap. But if you want 3… uh-oh. It always reminds me of those triangular flow charts where you can have any 2, but not all 3. College: 1) Social life, 2) good grades, 3) sleep. Etc.

When drawing the triangle for gloves and jewelry in Diablo III, you can label the three points with Critical Hit Damage, Critical Hit Chance, and Increased Attack Speed. Want two of them? No problem. Fifty thousand gold. Or less. You can even throw 50 or 60 to your main stat, add some Magic Find or vitality, etc. But if you want to tack on 150 main stat, or res all, or all three of the damage mods… good luck. Prepare to add a zero or two to your maximum buyout value if you want some of those to show up in your search returns.

Since I have not that zero, and don’t want it enough to spend real money, I settled for two, plus extras. Since I had so much CHC already I prioritized Critical Hit Damage and especially Increased Attack Speed, since the glacial pace of the Manticore had been giving me D2X v1.09 Burrito-Cannon flashbacks. (All we need is a bug granting 100% Piercing on Hungering Arrow and the delusion would be complete.)

I’ll spare you every item upgrade detail (too late!) but by switching in some different boots and shoulders from my stash, and spending about 1m total on a new amulet, bracers, and helm, I added around 150% Critical Hit Damage, lost 15% Critical Hit Chance, raised my hit points to 42k, raised my resistances to ~450%, raised my MF to the 300% cap… but lowered my displayed, unbuffed DPS from 85k to 58k.

By that last number you’d think disaster, and honestly, I kind of expected it. I’ve long felt that the D3 DPS display undervalues IAS and critical hit chance (the numbers might be correct, but they don’t account for procs on CHC and more resource generation from faster attack rate, etc) but still… dropping from 85k to 58k is a huge decline, and I’d been barely able to scrape through Alkaizer runs in my old build.

That was the old build though, since I’d made skill changes as well. Smoke Screen was gone for the first time since level 50 in late May, back was my old friend Vault. The other big change was to passives, where I kept Archery, but added in Perfection (for the defense) and Vengeance (henceforth known as the best skill ever).

I was going with Multishot and Bat Companion, plus Vengeance for the big add to Hatred and Discipline from health orbs. I didn’t have much +radius, so my plan was just to empty the tank on every boss fight, then refill quickly from the health orbs so I could Vault to the next battle with minimal downtime.

As it happened, I could do a lot more fun stuff than that.

And Then It Got Messy

I had to try the new build out, of course, so I said what the hell and went right to the Bridge of Korsikk and ran out into the Fields of Slaughter. Generally that’s the last or second to last stop on the Alkaizer run, but I wanted to sink or swim. I knew that Multishot ruled in a dungeon like the Keep, but I hadn’t previously had a lot of success using it out in the open levels. It’s great for rich DHs who can just one or two shot everything, but my DH’s DPS is well below 250k, and with big monsters coming from every direction in the Fields of Slaughter, I’d previously found the Hatred costs prohibitive.

I had hopes for Discipline fueling my fire though, so I went right for it. And verily, it was awesome.

The health orbs worked fantastically well to fuel my resources via Discipline. It felt like magic, like the other day when I was buying gems, upgrading them, reselling the higher qualities, and clearing half a million every ten minutes.

I soon threw myself completely into it and started herding and running around madly. Kiting past huge packs, pewing off a Multishot every .5 seconds thanks to the new, much faster Manticore firing rate, circling back around to the health orbs left behind by dying enemies, and often just Vaulting right through/over/past bosses and others to get to the glowing health orbs under their feet.

Your puny cage can not contain my acrobatics.

Better yet, by a happy coincidence those red orbs that were constantly refilling my Hatred and Discipline were also healing me! Who knew? So basically I had infinite resources and life, since the more shots I fired, the more monsters died, the more health orbs were dropped, and the more resources I had to spend on attacks and escapes. I had even forgotten that Vault was upgraded in v1.04 to break out of Jailer, and that, plus the fact that it costs half the Discipline of Smoke Screen, and that it moves the DH so quickly that I could go without Tactical Advantage and use a more-beneficial passive… just great across the board.

Longer story short, the new build worked great and my first Alkaizer run took about 20m. Much longer than a RMAH-quality DH, but much faster than I’d been doing them previously, and I was running with max MF (actually 305%, so I need to find some item I can switch out to add DPS and not “waste” that 5% extra MF). Plus, I was at 58k DPS, which is well below the conventional wisdom minimum DPS for successful Alkaizer runs. (Which is, of course, why it took me 50% longer; since I frequently had to kite around to deal with bosses, even when using Stampede.)

Better than the speed though, it was really fun. This was the Vaultastic glass cannon (though less easily-shattered than before) type of play style I really enjoy. Constant movement, aiming, tactics, strategy and movement and positioning, etc. I enjoy builds that require some skill to execute (skill beyond finding good buys in the AH and gearing to the point that all play simply becomes “click until dead.”) and I had a blast playing this one. Shooting my Hatred dry, Vaulting two or three times to zip right across a huge pack of nearly-dead enemies to refill my resources from their glowing red dingleberries, blasting them from the other side, etc.

The Moral of the Story

The moral is to try something new and different with your D3 characters.

I’d stuck with roughly the same DH build for months, and while I’d gradually improved it with incremental equipment upgrades, the Manticore’s slow firing rate was sucking a lot of the fun out of things. I was playing cautiously and sticking to what I knew, rather than trying anything radically different, and not until I’d grown totally bored with a boring build did I break out and try something new. And it was a great success, but even if it hadn’t been, at least it would have been different and spurred me to try something else.

I’m curious how it’ll evolve, too. I can easily add 10-15k DPS by switching a couple of items, and I’ll do that as soon as I level a few more, since I’m only wearing the lower damage gear for the Magic Find. As close as the character feels to being a really good farmer, adding that much more DPS should make a real difference. But since much of the fun comes from the frantic pace and the crazy risks I have to take to Vault over enemies to get more resource bulbs, I might actually enjoy it less with higher DPS. Or I might just hop up to MP1 to retain some level of challenge and scramble.

How about other characters, though? Yes. Like I mentioned a billion words ago, my Wizard and Witch Doctor are both all the way through Inferno Diablo, and are in the Paragon 6 range. They’re pretty well geared with twinked stuff, and my WD actually has considerably higher DPS than my DH, especially when he’s buffed. But what am I doing with him, and with the Wizard? Simple, unimaginative, safe builds. Like I was with the DH.

Well, no more.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, but their days of being careful and cautious are numbered. Players have found a ton of really interesting, imaginative builds possible with the huge variety of skills and passives in Diablo III, and there’s no reason to settle for whatever mediocre, half-assed build you’ve stumbled into on your alts. They deserve better, and with a bit of research you can find it and unleash it.