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Hands-On from Blizzcon: Mega PvM Report: Demon Hunter

Posted 24 Dec 2010 by

At long last, our massive Blizzcon article series wraps up with the mega-sized Demon Hunter PvM report. This one covers D3 Archer expectations, Blizzcon demo class strength ratings, runestones, the DH vs. the D2 Bowazon, but it mostly focuses on the DH’s play style, and her skills. Oh does it focus on her skills.

Don’t say I never got you anything for Xmas. Here’s a quote; click through to read the whole ginormous thing.

The Demon Hunter was very strong, but had to be played with some tactics to kill quickly. The Monk and Barb required no such skill; each had a melee attack that was kick ass, and could be used endlessly, in every situation. The WD required some skill, or at least a skill rune in his spells, to kill quickly, but any button-masher who knew enough to recast Mongrels and stay behind them could do okay with the WD. The Wizard and DH had to mix it up though, using defensive skills as well as offensive.

I’d put the Demon Hunter as the more challenging of the two though, since she needed to vary her offensive skills, mixing Entangling Arrow with Bolo Shot, plus adding a third attack for situational use, to be really effective. The Wiz had to use Frost Nova and retreat sometimes, but for offense she could spam DiabloWikiMagic Missile in all situations, especially once the skill had been rune’d.  (See the play style in this shaky-cam movie for a lesson in how not to play an effective DH; just using Bolo over and over again was not the way to win.)

Honestly, calling the DH “hard” or her required tactics “skillful” is stretching it. Here’s the secret formula, using just her 3 starting skills: Entangling Arrow to slow groups, 1-2 Bolos per monster to kill, Vault to maintain a safe distance. Not exactly rocket surgery, and yet from that video, you see that it was beyond the abilities of some.

This is the last and (improbably) the longest of my Blizzcon reports, and if you read it and retain questions about what’s currently known of the Demon Hunter… I don’t know what more we can do for you. I’ve enjoyed writing these and sharing the Blizzcon demo experience, and I hope you guys have found them of use. I also hope to never do so again, since with any luck D3 will be into beta testing by Blizzcon 2011, and there will be no need to write big demo reports since we’ll already know so much more than a report could detail.

Happy New Year!
Flux’s Mega Blizzcon 2010 Reports:

  • Battle Arena Report: Covers all 3 chars, their skills, and much general Arena info.
  • Quests and Dungeons: Lengthy illustrated discussion of the quests and various dungeons (their layout, theme, graphics, play style effects, and more) in the Blizzcon 2010 PvM demo.
  • Monk PvM: The Monk, his skills, and general PvM demo info.
  • Wizard PvM: The Wizard, her skills, Blizzcon demo info, and skills and skill tiers explained.
  • Barbarian PvM: The Barbarian, his skills in the demo, class long term variety, and more.
  • Witch Doctor PvM: The Witch Doctor, his skills in the demo, massive skill rune improvements, potential build variety, and more.
  • Demon Hunter PvM: The Demon Hunter, her skills in the demo, her play style, and relative demo character ranknigs.

Full Blizzcon 2010 media coverage.

The Demon Hunter

Like most fans, I was certain that the fifth class would be an archer of some kind. Blizzard had given enough hints of that, and it was logical, with the ranged attacker archetype not filled by the first four classes. So I was expecting an archer, and expecting that the class would be called the Rogue, but that expectation was streaked through by anticipation and dread. Anticipation since ranged attacking characters are among my favorite types in games like Diablo, and dread for the same reason. I wanted the class to be an archer, but since I really like archers, I knew I’d be very disappointed if I didn’t like Diablo 3’s version of the archer.

I didn’t feel this way about the other characters. Well, I’d have been pretty bummed if I’d hated the mage, but I had every confidence that the D3 mage would be cool. The game developers’ design goals, emphasizing fast action and skill variety pretty much guaranteed the Wizard would be to my liking, since those are design goals I share. And she was. But I didn’t have much weight of expectation for the summoner or the melee fighters. I liked but didn’t love those type of characters in D2, so I felt there was plenty of room for improvement on their char designs, just from my personal preferences of play style. I was hoping for a lot from the archer though, and happily… the DH delivers. Mostly.

I’m not a huge fan of the character design or backstory, but those details are pretty much irrelevant to me, compared to the playability. The DH could look like two guys in a horse suit wearing a shako and I’d be willing to overlook that, if the gameplay was right. And it was. The DH moved fast, shot fast, packed a nice variety of skills, and required some skill, or at least varied strategy, to succeed. This is a good sign for the final character design, though it’s far from conclusive, since we know so little of the final character design at this point. Only 9 DiabloWikiDemon Hunter skills and 5 very generic DiabloWikiDemon Hunter traits have thus far been revealed, so it’s possible the final character design will be quite different in focus.

I don’t expect that though. After all, none of the other classes have changed much in play style from their first debut. It could happen with the DH, but from what I’ve seen so far, I’m pretty optimistic that she’ll be one of my favorite classes in the final game. Even if the support skills (none of which have yet been revealed) aren’t to my liking, or the class’ resource isn’t my favorite, I expect the gamplay style to remain much the same, and that I liked, even while maintaining criticisms of how some of the individual skills worked.

Relative Class Strength and Runestones

DiabloWikiRunestones were not enabled in the Demon Hunter’s skills (or the Monk’s) at Blizzcon, so her attacks could only be used in their default form. This was a mixed blessing. It would have been fun to experiment with runes, but since her skills weren’t yet runestone enabled, they were very powerful. In contrast, the vanilla versions of the Wizard and Witch Doctor skills (though not so much the Barbarian’s) were very weak, and required runes to become kick ass. My theory is that the skills are all quite strong when they’re first worked into the game, and only as Runestones are enabled do the base skills get turned down to more reasonable levels. This makes the runes valuable/useful/essential. Also, strong skills plus runestone effects would be overpowered. Also #2, runestone effects wouldn’t seem very special if they didn’t add damage/effectiveness, on top of cool graphics.

Whether or not it was due to her overpowered skills, DH was one of the more powerful characters in the PvM demo — she was able to kill quickly and efficiently, and never in any danger of dying when played competently. The monk was the strongest, by far. For reasons (OP skills) I wrote about extensively in the Monk report. I’d put the Barbarian third, simply because he was such a tank and did such good damage with DiabloWikiCleave.

That said… I actually had the easiest time of all with the Witch Doctor, but only once I got a good rune into DiabloWikiFirebats. The Wizard was definitely the most difficult, and I often had to use DiabloWikiFrost Nova fairly to slow down larger bunches of attackers. It was a useful debuff skill, but in no way as effective as Entangling Arrow. The biggest difference between the efficiency of the Wizard vs. DH though, , was that the Clvl 9 Demon Hunter had Vault, while the Clvl 9 Wizard did not have teleport or any other movement skill. Vault let the DH move so quickly and safely that I never felt endangered by any amount of attackers. (More on how radically Vault changed the DH’s play style below.)

That said, the Demon Hunter was very strong, but had to be played with some tactics to kill quickly. The Monk and Barb required no such skill; each had a melee attack that was kick ass, and could be used endlessly, in every situation. The WD required some skill, or at least a skill rune in his spells, to kill quickly, but any button masher who knew enough to recast Mongrels and stay behind them could do okay with the WD. The Wizard and WD had to mix it up though, using defensive skills as well as offensive.

I’d put the DH as the more challenging of the two though, since she needed to vary her offensive skills, mixing Entangling Arrow with Bolo Shot, plus adding a third skill for situational use, to be really effective. The Wiz had to use Frost Nova and retreat sometimes, but for offense she could spam DiabloWikiMagic Missile in all situations, especially once the skill had been rune’d. (See the play style in this shaky-cam movie for a lesson in how not to play an effective DH; just using Bolo over and over again was not the way to win.)

Honestly, calling the DH “hard” or her required tactics “skillful” is stretching it. Here’s the secret formula, using just her 3 starting skills: Entangling Arrow to slow groups, 1-2 Bolos per monster to kill, Vault to maintain a safe distance. Not exactly rocket surgery, and yet from that video, you see that it was beyond the abilities of some.

Demon Hunter vs. Bowazon

It might be illustrative to compare the Demon Hunter to the D2 Bowazon.

Bowazons are largely about crowd control and grouping the monsters into a killing box around the Valkyrie, where they can be controlled/slowed by chilling damage, and perforated by repeated piercing Multishots or Strafes, ideally with the aid of Amp Damage. Elemental damage can also be mixed in, via Freezing Arrow or Immolation Arrow, but whatever the attacks used, the general tactic, of getting all the monsters in a bunch around the tanking Valkyrie, then killing them with a payload of arrows, is pretty much universal.

That style was not an option for the Demon Hunter in the Blizzcon demo, since there was no tank, and since the basic attack, DiabloWikiBolo Shot, didn’t pierce. Molten Arrow and Multishot did, but both were very mana-expensive, and in any event, shelling large mobs wasn’t a necessary tactic, since the monsters would die from 2 or 3 shots each, at least in a solo game. As a result, the DH was much more about taking on small groups coming from multiple directions, and killing them quickly. And Vault worked perfectly for this, letting you keep on the move and lead monsters where you wanted them, even without the ability to tank them chill them with cold damage.

Vault facilitated a quick clicking, always moving, hit-and-run style of DH play that was much more like that of a high level mage (D1 Sorcerer style) than of the D2 Bowazon. The DH could have been played without Vault, but players would have had to be more cautious, use a lot more Entangling Shot, and her killing speed (and fun factor) would have suffered accordingly.

I should note that I only played the DH solo, never in a group, so I don’t know how different it might have been if I’d had someone to tank for me (and monsters with enough hit points to take more than two shots to kill). Playing solo wasn’t a hindrance, mostly because Bolo Shot was quite damaging to single targets, Entangling Arrow was an awesomely-effective monster-slowing debuff, Vault was a near-miraculous escape skill, and mana regenerated quickly enough that I could almost always use my skills. I didn’t need other characters, for support or tanking, but it would have been interesting to see how the class felt different when I had them.

Demon Hunter Skills

One key note: the DH’s DiabloWikiresource has not yet been revealed or even hinted at. The character used mana at Blizzcon, but this was a temporary measure, just to have something functional. The Barbarian and Wizard used mana at Blizzcon 2008 and so did the Monk at Blizzcon 2009, so there was nothing unusual about the DH using it this time. I regularly refer to the relative mana costs of the various Demon Hunter skills in this report, and while it’s not a guarantee that the same skills will still be relatively expensive (or not) in the final game, it’s a fairly safe bet.

Like all of the characters in the Blizzcon 2010 PvM demo, the Demon Hunter started out at level 9, with 8 skill points invested in 3 skills. She had two arrow skills, Entangling Arrow and Bolo Shot, plus the movement skill Vault. Characters leveled up to 10 fairly quickly into the demo, at which point they unlocked the Fourth Tier and gained a fourth skill, plus a skill point to spend.

The Demon Hunter had 9 skills listed, in the Blizzcon build. Of those 8 were accessible, with only the 5th tier skill DiabloWikiShock Spike unattainable, due to its Clvl 14 requirement. (There wasn’t enough dungeon to level up that high, even with unlimited time to play.) I played the Demon Hunter four times, and was able to experiment with all of her skills save for DiabloWikiSpike Trap. I would have tried that one if I’d taken a fifth run, but I would have needed a third day of Blizzcon or an invisibility cloak for that, since I would have put a higher priority on playing the other classes for a second or third time than the DH for a fifth.

Follow these links for the full lists of the DiabloWikiDemon Hunter‘s skills and traits:

Bolo Shot

DiabloWikiBolo Shot
Tier One
Description: Shoot out an explosive Bola that wraps itself around its target. After X seconds the Bola explodes, dealing X% weapon damage to the target and an additional X% weapon damage to all targets within X feet.

  • Rank Five: After 1.0 seconds the Bola explodes, dealing 200% weapon damage to the target and an additional 100% weapon damage to all targets within 8 feet. Costs 5 mana.

This was the Demon Hunter’s main attack skill, to start with. The skill can be seen repeatedly in the Blizzcon 2010 gameplay movie, as well as dealing a memorable head shot to a DiabloWikiBerserker in the DiabloWikiDemon Hunter cinematic.

Using this skill was interesting, since it did not work like any bow skill in Diablo II. The projectiles look like blurry Frisbees, and they have a very wide footprint. You almost can’t miss with them, since if they’re aimed anywhere near a target, and any part of the bolo touches, the whole thing will stick. You never get a shot that’s not accurate enough to wrap up cleanly, or that deflects off or falls to the ground, etc. You can also use this one against larger targets, such as sarcophagi and other destructibles that are too large for the ropes to actually wrap around. Magic!

This makes it very easy to hit what you’re aiming for, but without any way to make them pierce, that’s both good and bad. You’ll have no trouble hitting the target, but at Blizzcon this skill could not be used against anything that wasn’t in the front row. And since the damage was dealt a second after it hit, and the DH had a fast firing rate, especially with DiabloWikiPistol Crossbows you could very easily hit the same target 4 or 5 times, wasting the last 2 or 3 shots when the enemy died from the first 2 or 3, once the started banging.

(The other starting bow skill, DiabloWikiEntangling Shot, was the same in terms of only hitting the front row, which made DiabloWikiMultishot or DiabloWikiMolten Arrow a very nice addition, to give you some ability to hit multiple targets per shot and enemies in the back row.)

My usual tactic with Bolo was to pass them out like I was dealing cards. If there were 3 or 4 monsters coming, I’d fire one or two at each of them. By the time I shot the 3rd or 4th enemy the 1st Bolo would blow up, and I could then continue to distribute them appropriately until nothing was left. There is splash damage, but it’s got a short range, and seemed much less damaging than the skill description claims, so most of my damage was from the Bolo on each individual target. It took 2 or 3 of these to kill most regular monsters, with my starting dual pistol xbows. I tried it with a regular bow, and a regular xbow in different games, and the bigger damage was noticeable, but wasn’t enough to offset the slower firing rate, so I mostly stuck with the dual xbows, since their pewpewpewpew was very rapid.

That said, note that the explosion damage, and the splash, is based on the weapon damage; it’s not +20 fire damage, or something like that. Considering that, this one seems like it would be best for players with big bow damage (rather than lower damage/faster firing xbows/bows) since it will leverage your weapon damage into a huge explosion and splash.

The description of this Bolo Shot, confirmed by a photo of the skill hover taken at November’s G-star event, surprises me. That it’s Rank 5/5 is a surprise, since that’s not what I remembered, and that the splash damage is that high also surprises me. I noticed that it had some splash damage, but I’d have said it was about 1/10th the damage of the main explosion, since I can’t remember ever killing anything with the splash, rather than the main target bomb. Maybe a minion at some point, when I’d chained like 20 Bolos onto the boss right beside it, but in no normal situation did the splash make any real difference.

Assuming the description is accurate and the skill was functioning as designed, (which is far from guaranteed in a pre-Alpha show build) I think the short radius of effect was what made the splash seem less than impressive. When I had multiple enemies within “8 feet” of each other, I usually dealt them a pair of Bolos each, which was enough to kill most enemies. So whether the resulting explosions did 125% or 175% of their hit points didn’t really matter, since they were dead either way

Bolo Concept

This is a real weapon, incidentally. Not the explosive part, but heavy weights connected by a thin rope. When I was about 11 years old my friends and I used to make these from twine and hardware bolts and go around the neighborhood, throwing them at telephone poles and mailboxes and such. [Where did we get the idea? Not sure. Possibly the opening of Romancing the Stone, when the street urchin knocks out Joan Wilder's sister with a bolo. (A result that's hugely unlikely from such an attack.)]

Bolos are throw like a sling; you hold the middle of the rope and spin it around over your head, before hurling it so the centrifugal force causes the weighted ends to spin widely. The idea is to hit the target with the middle of the span, so that both weights will wrap around. The attack isn’t designed to kill or knock out; the idea is more often to entangle the legs, or perhaps wrap around the neck and suffocate. Then again, no one put explosives on the ends of the rope until the Demon Hunter came along.

Just how this device would be fired from a bow I can’t imagine, but it’s not like the other bow skills are physically possible either.

Runestone Speculation

There are a lot of DiabloWikiRunestone possibilities for Bolo Shot. The most useful in the Blizzcon demo would have been piercing or multishot, though you’d have to turn off any sense of real world physics to accept either of those functions. A rune that changed the damage type to elemental would be handy, or perhaps it could create a larger explosion that left some sort of AoE damage. I’d also enjoy some sort of supersized Bolo Shot, that would potentially rope 2 or 3 enemies together — how about it knocks back the first target until it hits another monster, then lashes them together like a hillbilly wedding? Til death did them ‘part.

Grenades

DiabloWikiGrenades
Tier One
Description: Throw out three grenades that explode for X-X fire damage.

Grenades were interesting to use, though not especially effective. They’ve been discussed in the news since the event, and you get a pretty good sense of how they work from the videos. The short skill demo one is actually a bit misleading, since the guy controlling that DH is doing exceptionally well at aiming the bang-bang-bangs. I found them pretty inefficient, and it’s hard to hit a moving target, especially one that’s nearby. The grenades spread out over distance, but not that widely; even if you aimed to the edge of the screen they’d still be close enough that two of the explosions would hit the same monster.

The grenades are thrown to the spot you click, and they bounce like hockey pucks from there, skittering along the concrete at a speed proportionate to how far you threw them, until they blow up maybe 1 seconds after the initial toss. They don’t seem to ever hit any of the monsters; only walls and other objects stop or deflect them, and they bounce around wildly and fairly realistically. You could definitely throw them at a wall diagonally and count on a nice reflection, for instance.

They’ll go right off the screen, too. Very easily; if you aimed even halfway across the screen all three grenades would vanish out of sight before the explosions. I wasn’t able to check if they were still effective when you didn’t see the boom, but if so these could be useful for scouting or used for exploits; toss them over a gap or throw bars or some other permeable obstacle and hit enemies out of range of your bow attacks.

As they worked at the default level, Grenades were mostly useful as a support skill for crowd control, as a sort of AoE attack. Three going off at once hit more enemies than any other available DH skill save Multishot or Molten Arrow. With that sort of potential, it’s only fair that they remain somewhat hard to aim; the DH has a number of traps that do their thing right where you target them, after all. The firing rate was the other issue, and it wasn’t that fast. You shot arrows much faster than you could throw grenades, so I couldn’t envision these ever serving as the primary attack, barring some massive Runestone improvement.

Runestone Speculation

The most obvious effects are multishot and +damage/AoE. Throwing out 5 or 7 or 9 grenades would be very cool, if you were tossing them into a confined space it would be almost like your own Meteor Storm, with all the explosions going off all over the place. Other properties could include Halo-like plasma sticky grenades, modified damage types, or maybe a single giant grenade, like the size of a bowling, or beach, ball.

Entangling Shot

DiabloWikiEntangling Shot
Tier Two
Description: Release a sticky adhesive that deals X% weapon damage and entangles up to X enemies, slowing their movement speed by X% for X seconds.

A very effective debuff, this skill dealt good damage to the targeted monster, as well as slowing it down considerably. More than 50%. The chain could leap to enshare other nearby monsters as well, chaining them all together by a slightly-elastic connection. I didn’t note the exact number of potential entangles at the skill level, but I was able to snare 3 or 4 with a single shot all the time. (The others snared were slowed, but not damaged.) Not a lot more, though. It wouldn’t jump to 8 monsters in a big crowd. You needed two or more chains to do that which you could have easily; while the same enemy could not be snared by two different chains, it was possible to have multiple chained enemies in the same area, with the chains appearing to overlap pass through each other.

The chains lasted for a decent amount of time, at least 8 or 10 seconds, and were usually dispelled by the deaths of the chained monsters, rather than by the duration expiring. From what I saw, the monster you shot first remained slowed even if others in the chain died, but if you killed the original target, the chain would vanish from any others it had snagged. I wouldn’t swear to that though, and it might be changed during further dev anyway.

Since another chain could be launched out at any time, replacing or supplementing the original one, and since the chain shot did nearly as much damage as Bolo Shot (to the target only), I didn’t find it necessary to prioritize the target elimination. It wasn’t like I hit one monster, saw the chain jump to three others, and then focused my attacks on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd, in that order, just so the original chain wouldn’t break with the death of #1. I’d shoot whichever ones were available to shoot, and throw in another chain after a few Bolos, if I thought I’d need it.

Another key aspect of this skill was the physical space monsters took up. The enemies have mass; they can’t just pass through each other in Diablo III, so when you chain a bunch in the front, the other demons behind them are blocked or at least slowed down. The chain itself doesn’t seem to provide a clothesline-like barrier, but in the narrow hallways that filled the DiabloWikiHalls of Agony and DiabloWikiTorture Chambers of the Mad King, chaining 3 or 4 monsters in a bunch was almost always enough to block the movement of any number of others crowded in behind them.

Of course that barrier only lasted as long as the monsters and the chain; when I killed one of the slowed ones in front, the others would come swarming through the opening from behind. I learned to alternate entangling with Bolo Shot so I’d have a fresh slowing debuff set up as soon as the previous one vanished. This could be hard to time though, thanks to the delayed damage of Bolo Shot. I wanted to have my Entangling on the way as soon as the previous bottleneck was killed off by Bolo explosions, but if the Entanging got there too soon, it would just resnare the already slowed monster with the rope bomb around its neck. And thus vanish as soon as the Bolo went off and killed the victim.

Another cool design issue was the stretchiness of the chains between monsters. I really noticed this with monsters of varying speed, most clearly with an extra fast bunch of champion DiabloWikiGhouls. Even Entangled they were much faster than any other monster in the dungeon, and when I managed to chain a regular zombie to one of the Speedy Ghouzales, the ghoul raced after me, leaping and seeming to strain against the elastic chain, which was soon stretched out nearly a full visible screen from the zombie anchor on the other end. I never noticed normal, slower monsters being pulled along at a faster rate when chained to something quick, but that would be a pretty cool effect if it existed. I’d also love to see some small monsters chained to a big one; imagine a few Fallen Imps being dragged along behind DiabloWikiThousand Pounder or DiabloWikiSiegebreaker like tin cans behind a “Just Married” limo?

Runestone Speculation

Entangling Shot is another skill that’s fun to think about. More damage to the shot, more potential chained victims, and slower movement for those chained are obvious options. I’d like to see the chain itself become damaging; it could be electrified and zap the monsters like a taser, or it could convey poison between them, or just generally hurt like something worn by the Ghost of Christmas Past, dealing DoT to everything chained, for the duration.

Spike Trap

DiabloWikiSpike Trap
Tier Two
Description: Lay a trap that arms after X seconds and triggers when an enemy approaches. The explosion does X-X damage per second to all enemies within X feet for X seconds. You can have a maximum for X traps active at one time.

The only available Demon Hunter skill I didn’t get a chance to try out, this one is pretty simple in concept. The DH throws down the gizmo on the ground where it waits, motionless, until an enemy comes into range. At that point it blows up like a multi-stage landmine, spinning around and shooting out spikes and flames that deal damage to anything standing over them.

It’s unlike the D2 Assassin’s traps in that it doesn’t fire projectiles or otherwise seek out enemies. The damage is dealt entirely to enemies who stand right on top of it or move past it.

It’s hard to see how this would work very well for the Demon Hunter, as we currently know her. It would pair very well with a melee attack, or in support of a minion or tank, since the enemies would stand still during that battle. You’d love to stick this under the belly of a big boss that your Monk friend was banging away at. But for the Demon Hunter by herself, the utility is limited since she’s always moving and so are her enemies.

Wyatt Cheng spoke about the Demon Hunter’s traps during the character panel at Blizzcon.

One of her themes is going to be traps and gadgets. This is not unlike some of the Assassin gameplay you might have seen in Diablo 2. In this case we want to sell again the shadow theme and the gadgets theme. We just take an ordinary trap spell, weave in some Shadow themes and the art kind of brings out the flavour, differentiates her from the other characters. Another thing I really like about Spike Trap is it has that sense of preparation. We want the player to know that the Demon Hunter is somebody that goes to sleep at night and dreams about killing demons. She wakes up in the middle of the night and goes “Oh, I have this great idea for a trap that will be awesome for killing demons”, goes back to sleep, wakes up and kills a lot of demons. That’s her thing.

It’s hard to predict the long term viability of this trap since we don’t know enough about the DH’s other skills. If she gets a big Valkyrie-style minion, or shorter duration weaker minions, or perhaps some kind of mechanical minion, like a clockwork golem or even just a Bone Wall-like trap that monsters can target and attack, Spike Trap would be a great skill to pair with it. Basically anything that makes the monsters stand still and get their feet chewed off. If none of those skills come in, then this one seems doomed to irrelevance, except perhaps in party games.

Her other trap, DiabloWikiShock Spike, which was too high of a level to use at Blizzcon, sounds more suited to her gameplay style. That one works better when you cast more of them, as they start shooting saw blades back and forth. The Demon Hunter could put down a nice batch of those, especially along a hallway, and turn it into something of a sawmill which the monsters had to advance over. Or she’d put down 3 or 4 in a triangle or parallelogram and Vault around the outside, getting the monsters to cluster in the middle of the grinder.

Runestone Speculation

Runestones could make Spike Trap more viable, of course. Bigger damage, a cold or stunning effect so that monsters who passed over it were slowed or held still, a wider area of effect, etc.

Vault

DiabloWikiVault
Tier Three
Description: Tumble acrobatically X feet.

This movement skill was fun and visually-pleasing to use, and was very effective. With a single click, the Demon Hunter launched into a very fast tumbling cartwheel that moved all the way to the edge of the screen (10 yards or so?), passing untouched through any number of monsters in the way. The movement speed is nearly instantaneous, and it was fantastic for escaping enemies or just moving quickly through the dungeons, since there were no cool down between uses.

It’s not a teleport; you can not Vault over a ledge or a railing, and if you smack into a chest or other obstacle, mid-vault, you’ll stop. The only hard times I had using this one were trying to move out of a dead end or around a corner, when I took too tight an angle and got caught on a protruding edge. A few times I had to vault straight ahead, then do a second Vault to the left or right, when I was trying to get through a monster pack and there were obstacles in the way. But generally, it was very useful and easy to operate.

At Blizzcon Vault just seemed fun and handy. Not until after the show, when comparing it to the other known character movement skills in DH forum conversation and the massive movement skills thread, have I realized just how powerful it was. If Vault works in the final game the way it did at Blizzcon (instant speed, covering a long distance, no cool down, low resource cost), it would be overpowered as a Tier Seven skill. As a Tier three, it’s crazy.

It might even be stronger than I thought, since I was assuming that Vault was the DH skill with 5 points invested into it. DiabloWikiBolo Shot and DiabloWikiEntangling Arrow seemed like lvl 1 or 2, and I assumed that Vault was maxed out (for normal difficulty) and that’s why it moved so far, since the description lists the distance as a skill point variable. However with the photo of Bolo Shot at rank 5/5, taken at G-Star in November, (on the same demo build as we played at Blizzcon) I think I was wrong in my assumption about Vault’s rank.

If Vault only had 1 or 2 points in it… then I’m not even going to worry about the skill’s distance or utility, since clearly Bliz just stuck the maximum distance on it so it would be fun for us to try out in the demo. (Which I think they also did with the Barb’s DiabloWikiLeap Attack too, since with just one point that one went very quickly to the edge of the screen.)

I’m sure Vault will be turned down some in the final game. There are plenty of possible ways to do so; less range, slower movement speed, potential to take damage while Vaulting, cool downs between use, higher resource cost, etc. It won’t be a one-point wonder, like Teleport in D2, since the D3 devs have said they do not want any skills to be one point wonders. You’ll need to invest multiple points into a skill in D3, to make it really good.

Even so… it seems like a mandatory skill for any DH who wants to have some DiabloWikiArena fun, and one that the vast majority of PvM players will want as well. Speaking as someone with a lot of experience playing them, it would be fantastically useful for a D2 bowazon, though it would totally change her playstyle.

Runestone Speculation

Vault’s Blizzcon demo status as a one-point wonder makes it hard to predict how it will work in the final game. Clearly the distance will have to scale up a bit with more points invested, but I don’t think it’s viable to have a linear “+1 yard per point” type of improvement. That would not be fun, much less awesome, and it would feel like you were getting ripped off, with such a small improvement per point. Plus the skill wouldn’t be very useful until you had at least 4-6 yards distance in it.

That aside, the devs will have to be pretty creative to find five good rune effects. If one of the runes added more distance, then I think everyone would use that one. Other bonuses like faster movement during the skill, or lower resource costs, also seem like things that should be covered by the basic skill/more points in it. I think runes need to do something more dramatic and interesting; perhaps dealing damage to enemies passed through, or leaving a trail of fire, ala Blaze. One might Stun or Horrify any enemies within some radius when the Vault ended?

Fan of Knives

DiabloWikiFan of Knives
Tier Three
Description: Throw knives out in a spiral around you doing X-X damage to all enemies within X feet of you. Your knives will also slow enemies by X% for X seconds.

A very cool spell, conceptually. It was instantly dubbed “knife nova” for the visual and functional effect, and that’s a fair title for it. It’s technically a “fan,” like fanning a deck of cards, since the knives are fired out in all directions in sequence, as the Demon Hunter spins in a circle. It looks like there are about 24 knives thrown, with each hand throwing 12 and covering a half-circle. And yes, of course she can do this move while dual-wielding crossbows. She has very fast hands.

The blades emerge almost instantly, but slow down at the edge of their range, giving you time to register what’s just happened visually. It’s not an instant 360 degree attack, but it’s so fast it might as well be, and the spin around and staggered knife appearance makes it more visually-appealing. It would be cool to see while slowed by some monster curse, or Slow Time/Grasp of the Dead in PvP.

The real limiting factor of this one is the very short range of the knives. They did good damage, but the range was barely beyond melee reach (not that the DH was using melee weapons), and it was fairly mana-expensive. As a result, this one was only worth using when you had at least two or three enemies at very close range. The perfect situation for it was a circle of Vessels, and I enjoyed killing all 6 or 8 Vessels in such scenarios several times with this skill. It took 2 or 3 FoKs to finish them all, but this was the fastest and most effective skill against those clusters of enemies in the entire demo.

That’s a relative measure, of course. If the circles had been 15% wider then the FoK wouldn’t have hit all of them at once, and there are no other monsters that stand around motionless in a circle like that. But still, this skill fit that monster type like a key into a lock.

Otherwise, it was fun to use, but had to be done selectively. It was too mana expensive to use against individual targets, who you were better off blowing away with your arrows. I used it a few times against boss packs, but even there I had to take hits to get in close enough to have multiple enemies in range.

Runestone Speculation

There’s a lot of potential for cool runestone effects in this one. Increased range would be a huge plus, making it useful in a much wider range of scenarios. Adding or changing to some sort of elemental damage could give the DH some variety in attack type. There could be AoE left behind by say, poisoned blades. It could be turned into an almost trap-like skill with a “death blossom” type effect, where the skill could continue to cast more than once, from a location you set. I’m definitely curious to see what the devs come up with for this one.

Molten Arrow

DiabloWikiMolten Arrow
Tier Four
Description: Shoot a piercing arrow that hits targets for X% weapon damage and leaves a trail of fire dealing X-X fire damage per second to all enemies who stand in it.

This was probably the most useful of the arrow skills, though the fact that it worked like most of the D2 Bowazon skills made it a bit less fun to use. Just because it didn’t feel so new and special. A petty complaint, I realize.

Molten Arrow is essentially a super version of Immolation Arrow, from D2. It fires an arrow that passes through everything in its path and leaves an earth-scorching wave of flame behind, dealing calamitous AoE damage to anything in the wake. It was the only piercing arrow skill (aside from Multishot) available to the Demon Hunter at Blizzcon, and was devastating when used in the narrow hallways of the dungeons. The damage wasn’t much higher than that of Bolo Shot, but the fact that it always pierced made it devastating against any large group, and the lingering AoE added quite a bit of kills to additional monsters in the area.

The animation is fun too, since the Demon Hunter ducks down like she’s blasting a bazooka, giving you the feel of using a mega-cannon with massive kick. Which you are, basically.

The AoE lasted for several seconds, and while it was much less damaging than the initial damage, it was plenty to finish off already wounded monsters, or to take a big bite out of healthy ones. It was nice against Zombies and other shamblers, who would linger in the burn zone long enough to get pretty well cooked.

I could not tell for sure if the AoE fire damage stacked up, but I do not think it did. So you’d get one field of fire from the Molten Arrow, but shooting 3 or 4 of them in a row wouldn’t triple or quadruple stack the AoE; just refresh the duration.

This seemed like it was designed to do big damage, and to pair with other non-piercing bow skills. It’s not precisely a boss-killer; since the AoE doesn’t (seem to) stack, but it’s great against groups of enemies, and is very useful against mobs with a shaman or other casters in the back row.

Runestone Speculation

This one almost seemed like a regular fire arrow that already had a runestone boosting it, the way it worked. For additional bonus effects the arrow could leave more of a fire trail behind it, or a trail of another elemental type. If they want to get more creative, DiabloWikiZombie Bears style, the arrow could turn into a flying dragon. It might also send out additional branches of flame off to the sides when it hit enemies, like Lightning Fury in D2, or create huge explosions and lingering AoE on the sight of each impact

Multishot

DiabloWikiMultishot
Tier Four
Description: Fire a massive volley of arrows dealing X% weapon damage.

I anticipated using Multishot was when I saw it in the demo, but wasn’t real impressed with its function. It looks awesome; you get a fantastic burst of arrows that look very impressive. Try counting them in one of the screenshots; I did a very quick scan across one shot and got to well over 100. That was at Rank 1/5 in the demo, so possibly it will produce less in the final game, but I don’t think so. It’s meant to be something of a shock and awe attack, at least visually.

It’s not a tactical, “how many points for how many arrows” skill like it was in D2. You get a huge flurry of arrows even at rank one, and more points in the skill will presumably boost the damage and/or lower the resource cost, rather than boosting the number of projectiles.

Using it at Blizzcon, it did what it looks like; hit absolutely everything in the direction you fired it in. There didn’t seem to be more than one arrow hitting per target, despite what the dramatic, “lots of holes in your thick neck” representation in the Demon Hunter artwork.

All that said, it wasn’t very effective since the damage was low (about half that of Bolo Shot), and the mana cost was high. Three or four of these and the DH’s mana was nearly dry, which made it a very situational, support skill, rather than an every-shot weapon. Bolo Shot and Entangling Arrow used about 5 mana per shot, and you had to really pew-pew-pew to run dry using those. (It happened, usually on boss fights, but took a fair amount of time of nonstop firing.) Multishot took more like 15-20 mana, and I found myself only able to use it now and then, and only found it economical when I had a lot of enemies in my sights. It was good then, since you got a hit on everything, but it wasn’t nearly powerful enough to be worth the high mana cost.

It was also very blockable, which the other DH arrow skills didn’t seem to be. There were a lot of skeletal shieldmen in the jail dungeon, and while I never saw one block a Bolo or Entangling or Molten Arrow, they blocked almost all of the MS that came their way; the little pop up “block” text making very clear that they were pwning me. I assume the skeletal guys could block regular Attack arrow shots also, but I never used those except a very few times when I ran entirely out of mana in a long battle. And even then my firing would go Attack, Bolo, Attack, Entangling, Attack, Bolo, etc, as I regenerated mana enough to shoot off a Bolo or ET every time I fired one or two regular attacks.

(I wasn’t cycling hotkeys to do that; the DH would just shoot a normal Attack by default if I tried to fire any Arrow skill with insufficient mana.)

On the whole, MS was eye candy without much use, and came in well below the other bow skills in utility. Much to my disappointment.

Runestone Speculation

I’d want to know what more points in this skill did before I considered my runestone effect. It had two problems at Blizzcon; not enough damage and too high a resource cost. If either of those were fixed, it would make a big change in how I used it. With lower mana cost this would become a chipping sort of skill, one you used all the time to nibble at multiple enemies, without having much use against DiabloWikibosses or DiabloWikichampions. If it got increased damage it would be great to supplement your normal attack, especially against big groups, where you’d splurge on it from time to time, and then use other skills in between while your resource regenerated.

It’s entirely possible that runes will provide those bonuses, one for reduced cost, one for increased damage, giving players a big choice about how they’re going to use MS depending on which rune they socketed. I think that would be pretty cool, personally. Isn’t that the whole point in Runestones? That they change skills substantially, affecting how they’re used, not just how they look.

Final Thoughts

Prior to Blizzcon 2010, I had high expectations for Diablo III’s archer. The DH met most of them, while giving me more than I wanted or expected in some ways, if a bit less in others. It’s foolish to try and judge the class with only a third of her skills revealed, but she was a lot of fun to play, rewarded player skill and accuracy, and appealed to my personal preference in archer tactics.

I’m eager to see more of the class’ abilities, and even though I find the class story pretty blah, and the traps skills don’t excite me, I have to give the archer a plus grade, on the whole.