I've had a strange relationship with Diablo 2 over the years, periodically reinstalling it every 2 years or so since its release and trying my hand at it, but I've found that it's EXTREMELY easy to accidentally build a character that is ineffective. My first few attempts at the game (with barbarians, I believe) ended at Andariel when I grew tired of just stacking up health potions and hoping she dropped before they dried up. My next build was a skeleton-army necromancer, but I quickly grew bored with how long it took to take down even simple enemies. My last attempt, a few years later, was with a lightning sorceress who performed admirably until Duriel, whom I simply could not beat regardless of how many potions I stacked.
There's no shortage of class build guides on these forums, but I've noticed that they're all designed with very advanced endgame content in mind. Many of the builds are described without any consideration as to how to survive your first, normal playthrough. For example, many caster builds advise against dumping too many points into energy, as mana regen and mana boost on kill items will make energy a moot point. But my sorceress reached the end of Act II without finding a single item that would help restore her mana pool, and I had no choice but to dump points into energy.
So my question is this: what build would work best for a true D2 newb who wants to have a reasonable chance to survive against most content in a normal playthrough?
Regarding you question, i will try to answer to my best abilities. First and foremost, in diablo, the key thing is to be able to survive through hell. During normal or nightmare, it is okay to die as many time you like, but you must be able to mf (magic finding) certain key monster comfortably (like normal baal, nightmare andy, meph,baal etc) to gain enough item-wealth to survive through. As for mana problem, you can just drink mana potions as much as you like or find armor pieces that add to energy in early game.Going back town as many time as you want is also fine.
I am not very proficient in sorc. However, i played barb, pally, amazon, necro, druid, sin before and none of them require me to put a single point of energy in them. As you progress through your game, you will definitely find armour piece or accessory that will provide you with life/mana leech (for melee-type player) or increase mana capacity/regen (for caster) or even mana per kill rings. So imo, do not waste point in energy (nt sure for sorc- becoz of mana shield)
Most of the character will follow this stat build
str- enough to wear armor/weapon
dex- enough to have max block or just enough to wear equipment (if you do not want to have max block)
energy- Do not put a single point in this
Vitality- Pour in as much points as possible
As for your true d2 newb build, i will still say fishymancer. Why is it so?
The main skills for fishymancer would be skelles and you already have assess to it at the beginning of the game unlike other character like hammerdin, wind druid, you need to gain level to acquire the key skills. So pour points into skelle and skelle mystery. Learn curses. All curses are like 1 point wonders for necro. Some curses to take note are amp damage, decrify. Use decrify on monster like duriel to reduce it speeds. And important point to take note, cast town portal before any boss fight so you can continue your battle even you die. If you die, you go act 1 and resummon your skelle before you go back to resume your battle. Once your skelle mystery and skelle are max, you will have a smoother time in d2. Learn corpse explosion (CE) to kill monster faster. Grab a weapon with tele charges and swap during the fight against boss to group your skelle together. If you progess to hell, you might be able to grab enough rune to make enigma and that is where you can your perm teleport skill and you will truly shine like god.
Well, if you're using the latest patch you can now respec characters. This gives you more freedom in building at the early levels.
One thing that, counter-intuitively, can also make things a bit easier is to play on Players 8 (it sounds like you are playing single player,) and turn the players setting down to Players 1 when encountering Act bosses. It's a bit cheesy but it'll make the game much, much easier.
If you want to play a sorc a Fire sorc is pretty good in Normal, especially if you can build a good "Leaf" staff. Any (non-magic) staff with two open sockets will do for that, but if you can find one with pluses to Fireball all the better. Drognan can sell them, and he's quick to shop. You can get the runes from Countess (or just wait for them to drop.) This way you can put a couple of points into 1-point wonders (warmth, static field) and then pump firebolt until level twelve (it synergizes fireball,) and then start pumping fireball. Once you can equip the Leaf staff (level 19 iirc) FB will do quite a bit of damage. You will need to chug a few potions though. You can also socket sapphires into armor to help with mana. If you really feel you have to you can put a few points into energy, since you can respec them away later, but it's not necessary.
Another thing to look for is bows with three open sockets. Three chipped gems in one can make it a pretty effective weapon in the early stages, and you can build the same thing for your rogue merc. A bit later you can switch to flawed gems. Once you get an Act II merc he can do quite a bit of damage if you get him a weapon with decent damage- even a Pike will work pretty well. I just played an untwinked sorc through Normal this way a little while ago, and by the time I got to the end of Act V I was averaging well over 1000 points of damage with my FB, without even using a Leaf with pluses to FB. I would suggest using the RWM (a mod that allows you to build ladder runewords in Single Player.) Lore, Rhyme and Stealth are all good runewords for a sorc you can make relatively early with Runes that aren't that hard to scrape together.
Another build that gets powerful pretty quickly in Normal is a kicksin. Since your main attack is available from level one you can just keep using it all the way through. The main thing here is to try to find the best boots you can. Once you get to an appropriate level you cabn respec him into a trapper, one of the best untwinked builds in the game, IMHO. And, for that matter, a trapsin can do pretty well in Normal too.
Mainly though you want to use what's available to you (shopping, gems, jewels, socketed equipment, cube recipes, etc.) as well as you can- if you do that and play on Players 8 Normal is a breeze for lots of builds. You might want to stay away from melee builds though, for the moment, as they do best when you can get them weapons that do decent damage, which can be a bit tricky untwinked, unless you get lucky.
If you wanna make some newbie builds (that would include myself) You will find that most of them will fail when reaching HELL. I had the same problem as you, played a sorc back in the days with a build that I thought would be good and ended up at not being able to get through the Den in Hell because of the low survivability, spent most of the points in energy , str only enough for gear and no dex , a few into vitality but it seemed not enough.
Nowdays im rolling a meteor/FO sorc, trying get her ready for Hell, only lvl 41 till now and yes, im having trouble at casting a lot, only 107MP. When killing Baal I need to make at least a one way trip to the city for mana pots but I reckon it will pay off laters because I chose to get 97%MF instead of +skills or mana.
HINT: if you find it to dificult, try to hang in there till Act2 and get your merc with the defensive aura, let him do the dmg, just cast a nova here and there for mass slow. Thats how i did it and now, i can almost go solo if I want to, but why would I do that when my merc brings in another 24%MF ?
Anyways, remember, patience is the key.
Well Dr. Kissinger is talking about playing through Normal untwinked, and, from the sounds of it self-found in Single Player. So I'm thinking that Infinity, Enigma and CTA aren't going to be available (or equippable.) Even Insight is pretty hard to make in Normal untwinked- Normal Countess can't drop all the runes for it, iirc, and 4os polearms don't drop in Normal. It is possible to Larzuk a 4os polearm in Normal, again iirc, but that's not going to happen till pretty late, even if a Sol drops- it might not.
But you don't need any of those things to get through Normal. You didn't need them even before respecs- I saved almost all my skill points till level 24 with my first character, and still made it through the early stages of the game OK (though I think I died more than I'd like to admit.) With respecs Normal is really, really easy, once you know the tricks of the trade. It just takes a little while to learn them.
I am a true single player in diablo although i tried bnet ago for 2 years. And indeed you only can get insight in nm. If you are really playing single player, i can assist you in rushing if you want. To Baldanders: i have made CTA, enigma, infinity,Hoto in single player and are now using it. To Ts: So it is definitely possible to make those equipment in single player but you need to download a add-on call rwm (runeword mode) But for early stage, just spam pots and town portal as much as you want. Once you go to nm, hunt a 4os bill and make insight to solve your mp issue. The earliest SOJ you can get from is Nm andy. Frostburn is also a good glove to be worn if you manage to hunt it in normal to solve your mp issue as well. For Cta, if you get lucky and hunt the require rune in nm,good for you. But all in all, gd luck!
Sure, you can make these things in SP. But you can't make them with stuff you find in Normal, so if you are playing through the game in SP for the first time you won't have them theere (not that you could equip them even if you did.) And you'd have to get very lucky indeed to find an Ohm in Nightmare .
But again, you really don't need great gear to get through Normal. You just need some knowledge of how the game works, and what kind of stuff is useful and also generally available in Normal.
Your early experience sounds exactly like my first character: an ineffective barb who kept the local potion economy in the black.
My advice, and take it with a grain of salt as I'm a bit of a newb as well (been playing for 3 months) is to follow those guides closely. The items will come, especially as you get to higher levels and start running specific targets. Normal untwinked can be a bit of a pain, as you are often relegated to scouring dungeon floors for blue pots, but it will get easier as you find better items. Once you have a frostburn or a nightsmoke drop, you'll wonder what you were even worried about :-)
To tide you over, I'd recommend the Stealth runeword (TalEth in any 2 socket, grey armor). You can easily get the runes for it from normal countess. I usually equip all my low level casters with it. The mana regen can help.