Meatbag Part Six: Blessed by the Spirits
Meatbag began Nightmare Act V at clvl 59 with the following:
Holy Shield @18+1
All prerequisites (Smite, Charge, Holy Bolt, Blessed Hammer, Prayer, Cleansing, Vigor) @1+1
Crafted Hit Power Truncheon: 64-86 dam, 7% life steal (socketed Amn rune)
Goldskin Chaos Armor: 748 def, 35% resist all, attacker takes 10 dam, +100% gold
Ancient's Pledge Akaran Targe: 153 def, 48% fire/lightning/poison resist, 43% cold resist, 10% damage taken goes to mana
Sazabi's Mental Sheath: 183 def, +1 all skills, 20% fire resist, 15% lightning resist
Ocher Heavy Gloves of Alacrity: 20% IAS, 18% lightning resist
Wilhelm's Pride Battle Belt: 75 def, 5% life/mana steal, +10 cold resist
Rare Chain Boots: 20% Faster Run, 10% Faster Hit Recovery, 31% Enhanced Defense, 17% lightning resist, 16% poison resist, -25% poison length
Rare Ring: 3% life steal, +1 max damage, +77 AR, 14% cold resist, 7% poison resist, -25% poison length
Rare Ring: 4% life steal, +1 max damage, +85 AR, 7% fire/cold/poison resist, 15% lightning resist
Crafted Blood Amulet: 4% life steal, 10% faster run, +14 life, 5% resist all, -1 dam
Sacrifice dam: 486-669 (577 avg)
Sacrifice AR: 1936
Meatbag did not aquire any new equipment of note in Act IV, not all that surprising given its short length. After checking the town merchants and finding nothing, he headed out into the Bloody Foothills. Now one nice thing about Act V in Nightmare and Hell is the randomization of monsters from other acts. You can get just about any draw possible, which spices things up considerably. (The default monster draw is on the dull side, as I wrote about in Meatbag's Normal difficulty report.) In the opening area, Meatbag found himself facing the usual enslaved melee foes, with quill rats as the guest monsters:
I knew well enough to take the quill rats seriously, as large numbers of them had given the Rogue team all sorts of fits in our Hell run. However, Meatbag was not a Rogue bowgirl, and fortunately was able to avoid many of the problems that they had faced. He quickly discovered that this draw was in fact incredibly easy, as both enemies had 7% or less odds to hit Meatbag. Mindlessly walking into mobs and swinging away until they all died was fun. Some of the barb NPCs even got into the action as well (see above) although they died pretty quickly, even with Defiance aura to help out. Shenk and his minions posed no threat; even the exploding ones didn't seem to do very much damage, and that was the only way they could possibly hurt Meatbag. They certainly weren't going to hurt much with their melee attacks.
After dispatching Eldritch to start the next area (easy), the Frigid Highlands offered up lots and lots of archers: both rogues and skeletons. With life leech useless against the skeletons, I made the decision to swap to Meatbag's alternate plated belt with additional life. This proved to be a good decision, as there were no fewer than FIVE different archer bosses right inside the entrance!
Fortunately, only two of them had to be fought together. Above you see the Extra Fast/Extra Strong rogue boss and the Stone Skin/Magic Resistant skeleton one. The rogue archer was clearly more dangerous, and yet the Extra Fast actually worked to Meatbag's advantage, because with her crazy speed she could be lured away from the nest of skeleton archers with ease. Thankfully Meatbag had plenty of retreat room (the whole Foothills!) to divert these foes and their minions apart. In addition to the two bosses pictured above, there were also Conviction/Cursed, Multishot/Teleportation, and Blessed Aim/CEB foes encountered shortly thereafter. All this before hitting the first row of fortresses, crazy stuff. Of course that meant there were basically no bosses the rest of the level, making for some tedious clearing work. At least it was low-danger fighting. All in all, this was still far preferable to the fight against the Crush Beasts encountered in the same place back on Normal difficulty.
Towards the end of the Frigid Highland, one of the enemies dropped a Crown shield, the top Exceptional paladin-specific shield. I decided to use the Cube recipe for creating sockets, hoping to land either three or four. I could use the sockets for diamonds and resists or make another Ancient's Pledge runeword. Well, the spirits must have been watching over Meatbag, because he rolled the perfect result on the first try:
Jackpot! FOUR sockets! The odds of that were a straight 1 in 4; hardly out of the ordinary, but great fortune regardless. Meatbag of course planned to use his new gear for a 4D shield (76% resist all!) with more defense and a much, MUCH higher blocking percentage than his previous shield. He would be permanently at 75% block now, as opposed to the ~65% from before. That was the one downside to that otherwise excellent Akaran Targe, the default blocking only resting at 40% (default on the Crown shield is 55%). With this significant upgrade, Meatbag would be much better prepared to handle Hell difficulty - if he could make it there without dying, that is.
The Abbadon subdungeon had imps, balrogs, and frenzytaurs, a good mix of foes. A Might aura frenzytaur was the most dangerous opponent, doing a LOT of damage (250+) with each hit. Otherwise it was relatively smooth sailing, against two melee foes and a weak fire attack from the imps. The Acheron dungeon was right at the entrance of the next area, so Meatbag cleared it next, doing the two Act IV areas back to back. Acheron featured witches, imps, and corpse spitters - an odd mix of mostly ranged attackers. You might think this made things harder, but no, just the opposite. With no melee foes to worry about, Meatbag was free to chase down all of the ranged opponents. The worst draws are usually a mixture of both types, not one or the other exclusively.
The Arreat Plateau was almost entirely enslaved/overseer combos (two different types), with a few spear cats (from Act II) mixed in. This was enormously easier than the Frigid Highland, and the clear pace was healthy. I've almost started to think of the Defiance/Holy Shield combo as a really high-level version of the Necromancer's Bone Armor skill. Incredibly high Defense practically nullifies physical damage, reducing it to a level where it's not worth worrying about. Of course, there are tons of other types of attack against which Defense is useless, so Meatbag has to stay on his toes.
And then, fortune smiled once more on Meatbag. Thresh Socket (Cursed/LEB) dropped the unique Ghost Armor, the Spirit Shroud. All of the affixes were unimpressive, save the last one:
"Cannot Be Frozen" is a huge, HUGE deal to a melee character that relies on fast attacking. Forget the +1 to all skills (heck, Meatbag only uses four skills total!), that last ability is what really matters. The Spirit Shroud was stashed in expectation of use against frozen terrors, Nihlathak, and perhaps even Baal, since he uses a lot of cold attacks. The name "Spirit Shroud" seemed significant as well. I felt as though Meatbag truly had been blessed by some kind of spirits to turn up such a handy piece of gear!
Meatbag found cold skeleton mages, cold-arrow firing rogue archers, and ghosts lurking in the Crystalline Passage. A double archer boss right the start of the level kept things interesting!
The other boss was another rogue archer, Extra Fast/CEB instead of the Mana Burn. Lots of cold damage flying around! Given this monster draw, Meatbag swapped to his new Spirit Shroud armor, which transformed the caverns from a tense and difficult area into one of steady progress. Due to the lack of life leech against skeletons and ghosts, Meatbag also swapped back to an alternate plated belt for more life. He had turned up a new such belt with +84 to life, and that made a huge difference, from about ~650 with the standard belt to ~730 with the alternate one. In situations where life leech was useless, it was an obvious better call.
Next up was the Frozen River, where Meatbag faced more cold skeleton mages, gloams, and witches. The entrance wasn't "trapped" per se, but it was a little hairy until he cleaned out some room! A Might aura/Spectral Hit skeleton mage was the prime culprit there, with some help from stray witches. With two enemies again non-leechable, it was back to the plated belt of life (+84) here. Unlike the Crystalline Passage, Meatbag stuck with his usual Goldskin armor, which may have been a mistake:
Of course he wasn't exactly expecting a Holy Freeze witch boss to turn up either! All kinds of interesting boss fights here, several of them quite challenging. In the end, it worked out OK. Probably would have been better to go with the Spirit Shroud though, given the lack of physical damage on the enemies. Frozenstein had Conviction aura, a non-issue since he wasn't paired with any elemental damage monsters.
There were two skeleton bosses (both melee, not the mages from before) at the beginning of the Glacial Trail. Fortunately these guys were way too slow to be dangerous, the main injury as usual coming from reflected Sacrifice damage. The other foes were pit vipers and gloombats, both easier because they could be leeched off of. This was a relatively easy area for Meatbag to clear.
However, this brought him to the Drifter Cavern subdungeon. Along with the near-identical Icy Cellar, these small areas are some of the deadliest spots in Act V, much like the Kurast temples in Act III. They always have at least 3 boss/champ encounters, and with little room to maneuver are often on the player right at the stairs. Still, Meatbag is full-clearing all areas, so down we go. An evil urn right at the start of the Cavern spawned a nasty Cursed/Mana Burn rogue archer boss, firing cold arrows that slowed movement to a crawl. (And yes, I was an idiot for opening this urn before clearing the rest of the level!) The boss was so painful that Meatbag swapped back to the Spirit Shroud. He opted to stick with it when cold skeleton mages appeared too (third foe was goats, pretty easy). This made the area much, much easier, although there were still lots of interesting fights, like this one:
It's a little hard to see, but Meatbag is standing right in the blast radius of those frozen arrows and not getting chilled. That was a lot of fun!
With Anya saved, it was time for Nihlathak's Temple. This is one of my least-favorite parts of D2X: the dungeon artwork is bland and uninteresting, the floors are large and usually repetitive, and you get basically nothing for completing the quest (aside from personalization, whoop de doo). Even worse, the entrance from the red portal is designed to be a deathtrap - thanks a lot, Blizzard. Meatbag ran back to the entrance of the level the minute the walking dead woke up, and was able to avoid fighting more than 3-4 at once through careful advancing. He handled this much better than his Normal trip through here. And yes, although the melee attack on those walking dead is pathetic, their charge attack has to be taken seriously. Pindleskin was FEB/Stone Skin and died very quickly. Redemption aura made sure he and the other foes didn't get up a second time.
The Halls of Pain had devilkin/shamans, death maulers, and beetles. Kind of an odd mix; life leech worked well here, and a lot of Redemption aura got used. Halls of Anguish featured zealot/hierophant pairs, maggots, and infidels. There was a Cursed/Stone Skin hierophant boss right at the stairs that made things interesting to start. The maggots caused the most tedium for Meatbag, if not difficulty. A gem shrine on this floor completed a fourth Perfect Diamond for Meatbag's shield, topping out at 78% resist all, wow! He also picked up a very nice Grand Charm with +32 to life, just the sort of thing that Meatbag most needed. (Remember, the one downside to his very nice set belt is a lack of additional life. This was one of the holes in his character setup I was most trying to fix.) I opted to retire one of Meatbag's Dexterity charms in order to use this one, which would mandate increasing Dex at the next level up to maintain perfect blocking.
The Halls of Vaught had more enslaved (hopelessly easy), witches, and cold-arrow skeleton archers. For this draw, Meatbag again opted to go with the Spirit Shroud for the "cannot be frozen" mod. And then, in an instant, the armor was outdated:
Raven Frost unique ring dropped. Wow! This is the kind of gear that a pure character can only dream about most of the time, and Meatbag was fortunate enough to turn it up from a drop right before facing Nihthalak. And do you what? This is the perfect ring for Meatbag! No life leech, but otherwise an absolutely incredible find: a huge boost to AR for hitting purposes, tons of Dex to maintain perfect blocking, extra cold damage for physically resistant/immune opponents, and the awesome Cold Absorb mod. Plus "Cannot Be Frozen"!!! I looked over the list of other unique rings, and Raven Frost was by far the best for Meatbag. Who cares about +skills gear? These attributes were way better! No more need to put stat points in Dex, Meatbag can continue pumping Vitality all the way! Once again I felt as though the Diablo universe was showing its kind side, looking out for Meatbag and providing him with the tools he most needed to get the job done. Blessed by the spirits indeed.
Unable to freeze Meatbag, Nihlathak (LEB) was quite easy. His Corpse Explosion did about 200 damage, as far as I could tell. Meatbag simply ignored the minions and concentrated on killing the boss; Nihlathak actually doesn't have much life, so this happened pretty fast. The new gear made all the difference in the world, as this had been a tense, difficult fight on Normal difficulty. Meatbag could now wear his Goldskin armor at all times and still maintain protection from any and all cold attacks.
The Frozen Tundra had vultures, melee (whip) cats, and imps. This was about as easy as it gets for Meatbag, especially since all of the bosses were vultures - the easiest of the three foes! The only irritation was imps blinking into the towers, where they would sit and fire Infernos down at Meatbag.
In contrast, the Infernal Pit had enslaved/overlord pairs, salamander snakes (throwing FIRE bone spears, interesting)... and oblivion/doom knight pairs, argh! Remember Meatbag's torturous fight against the oblivion knights in the Chaos Sanctuary? Of course the boss pack AND champ pack both spawned as Oblivions:
This CEB/Magic Resistant boss took a lot of slow herding to move him away from the other two oblivions near him, then down him painfully in isolation. The champ pack was perhaps even worse, including a Ghostly oblivion that took a very long time to kill. Meatbag did learn a potentially important bit of information from this fight: the oblivions will only use Decrepefy curse at melee range. This means that when cornered, Meatbag can swing away without fear of the dreaded Iron Maiden curse. Of course, cornering them (in isolation) is easier said than done... This small area took more work to clear than the whole Frozen Tundra, hands down.
The Ancient's Way had frozen terrors, walking dead, and skeleton cold mages. Raven Frost turned this area from a tedious and dangerous area into something relatively routine. Fights like the one pictured above would have been near-suicidal to take on while chilled. Unlike in Normal, Meatbag could confidently stand in the Arctic Blasts of the frozen terrors without worry - killing them in something like 1/10 the time. The real danger here turned out to be the walking dead. Their charge attack usually had little effect, but occasionally would do crazy damage, like 300-400! Not sure what was going on there, maybe a critical hit? The unpredictability of these foes was what made them dangerous. It's impossible to tell whether they will continue their slow, shambling walk or start charging all over the place.
In the Icy Cellar, a pit viper boss (Holy Shock/LEB) jumped all over Meatbag with literally no room to move at all. A dozen (unblockable!) bone spears were flying around like crazy, with no room to retreat or fight:
Meatbag had to drink two rejuvs and retreat up the stairs three times to survive this fight. Absolutely brutal stuff. He probably would have died here without Raven Frost to prevent freezing. Note that this is the second time that a stair trap of snakes has nearly killed Meatbag (the other coming in one of the Act III temples). The combination of their charge attack, chilling, and bone spears is extremely tough to deal with in a cramped space. The rest of the level was all witches (two different types), and chock full of bosses and champ packs. With room to move, however, they were all handled - with some care. Another evil urn contained another pit viper boss, and even though Meatbag ran like Hell the minute he popped the thing, he still took a half-dozen hits from bone spears before racing around a corner to safety. Sheesh. Snapchip Snapper (or whatever his name is) never landed a blow on Meatbag.
It's no wonder most players skip these areas. ALL of the worst fights in Act V for Meatbag came from the optional subdungeons: the Icy Cellar, Infernal Pit, and Drifter Cavern. I suppose that makes sense in a way, but it would be nice if there were SOME kind of reward beyond pride for players who undertake the additional challenge of clearing these regions.
For the fight against the Ancients, Meatbag prepped with about 50 heal potions scattered in four neat piles around the arena. He used the same order as before: first Madawc (Teleportation), then Korlic (FEB), and finally Talic (Magic Resist). For what was supposed to be a climactic fight, I didn't really have to do very much. Meatbag spent most of the fight standing and swinging as I just held down the left mouse button. This is the one fight where Defiance actually works perfectly. Pretty easy, to be honest, just keep attacking and drink reds when needed. I'd like to say more, but there's no real strategy to it.
Worldstone 1 had vampires, soul killer/shaman pairs, and frenzytaurs. The Bverrit Keep unique tower shield dropped, sadly sold as useless (would have been nice in Normal!) This was the most interesting boss to pop up:
Cursed/Fanaticism frenzytaur! Don't mess around here kiddies, you're playing with fire. Meatbag handled him VERY carefully; took one hit and then ran around not engaging until after the curse wore off. Whew. Judging by the first hit, he would have done about 400 damage per swing while Cursed, enough for a two-hit kill! Fortunately there was plenty of retreat room for this fight.
Worldstone 2 had horadrim ancients, poison skeleton mages, and fiends (bats). This wasn't all that tough of a draw; a Conviction aura/Mana Burn horadrim ancient was the hardest, mostly because of his minions (and their accompanying black star attacks). Worldstone 3 had storm casters, lightning skeleton mages, and witches. This wasn't as bad as Meatbag expected it to be; although there were no easy melee opponents, none of the ranged attacks proved to be that strong. Meatbag doesn't mind witches all that much: he does a good job of blocking their blood stars, and the witches will close to melee range frequently, where they're easy pickings. Their weak curses are also irrelevant against his setup, since Meatbag doesn't care about the dreaded Blood Mana curse.
That brought Meatbag to the Throne of Destruction. This is a neat area, but I still think the Chaos Sanctuary was a much better ending location for the game. This floor had assailants (a type of invader, I had never seen them before), gloams, and more witches. Meatbag could handle that, including the three random bosses. As far as Baal's minions, Colenzo and Achmel were not a challenge for a character with Redemption (even more so with Raven Frost eliminating the chill from the horror mages!) Meatbag next lured 3 of Bartuc's minions away and eliminated them first, then baited the rest back to the maze for easy disposal. Bartuc himself was FEB/LEB. Ventar and Lister were dispatched with the usual retreat strategy, no problems. Lister and the minions of destruction were easier here than in Normal, due mostly to the lack of crazy mlvl curve problems. (They were mlvl 60 in Normal compared to Meatbag's clvl 35.) I took pictures of these fights, but they were so routine that I decided not to include them.
Baal was... long and rather tedious. His inability to freeze Meatbag made the fight immensely easier. It was definitely strange to watch Meatbag get slammed with the cold wave and then not turn blue! Baal's ton of hit points just drags things out for a very, very long time - it doesn't really make the fight harder. Meatbag returned to town about 7-8 times in all for more reds, always preferring to remain safe over sorry. The outcome was never in doubt at any point:
And down he goes! Game over for Baal. I still feel this is a much less satisfying ending than killing Diablo used to be...
Baal dropped mostly junk, aside from a set amulet. This was the "Telling of Beads" amulet from the Disciple set. It wasn't all that great, but it beat the plain +1 paladin skills amulet Meatbag had saved in stash, so he kept it. Everything else was sold.
Meatbag completed Nightmare difficulty with no deaths, full-cleared end to end with all monsters slain, no Save and Exits. Once again, it made me wish I had been brave enough to make his character Hardcore! The main reason I kept him softcore was that I doubted my own ability to complete the game without suffering a death at some point. I never had any plans of taking Meatbag into Hell difficulty when I started this character; the end of Nightmare was always planned as his stopping point. But now I know that I underestimated the character himself: Meatbag is worthy of Hell difficulty, and I plan to see just how far I can take him. Meatbag has already more than fulfilled every goal that I had for him, so from this point on he's playing with house money. I always used to wonder if I would have been skilled enough to have a character inducted into Sirian's Hall of Heroes. Thanks to Meatbag, I now know that the answer to that question is a definitive "yes".
Stay tuned, for Meatbag's journey is not finished just yet...