Skulla Part Eight: Hard, Hard Work
Duke Skulla continues Hell Act I at clvl 72 (no changes to equipment).
The Black Marsh is the halfway point of Act I, and it made an appropriate stopping ground for Skulla. In the last report, I took him through several of the most dangerous parts of the act: the Caves, the Underground Passage, and the awful Forgotten Tower. However, there were two more major obstacles remaining before even reaching the Monastery: the Hole and the Pit. Especially the Pit Level 2, one of the worst areas in the entire game. Remember, Skulla is full-clearing, so that means no skipping of these optional parts (that most Hardcore characters wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole!)
Why are these places so dangerous? A combination of two factors: constrained spaces and deadly opponents. Even the worst baddies can generally be danced around out in open areas like the Cold Plains or Stony Field. The underground areas in Act I are so much more restricted in terms of maneuverability, it greatly multiplies the potential to get hit - and killed. The Forgotten Tower is the worst of all due to the endless stairs traps, death before you even have a chance to react.
The other problem is the monster draw in these regions. Areas like the Crypt and Mausoleum have tight spaces as well, but those two places have all-melee monster draws, and thus are vastly less dangerous. The underground areas instead are packed with archers, and in Hell that means many, many opportunities to draw deadly bosses. Archers are the worst ranged opponents in the game from a survivability standpoint, since their arrows get scaled up with so many boss abilities. Think about it: Extra Strong, Cursed, and Might/Fanaticism auras all scale up the physical damage of arrows. The only scaling factor for elemental damage, like vampire fireballs/meteors or hierophant blizzards, is a boss with Conviction aura - which is pretty rare. There's nothing with elemental damage remotely comparable to archers that can show up with Multishot/Cursed/Extra Strong and one-hit kill even the studiest tanks. This is actually one of the broken aspects of the game (I doubt Blizzard realized how the boss abilities would synergize together when they were in development), and thus Act I is in many ways the most dangerous act for ranged characters like Skulla!
On with the game. Getting started was again a monstrous difficulty. After grabbing a full army in the Blood Moor, Skulla was set upon by a rogue archer boss + archer champ pack in the Black Marsh:
What did I tell you about those archers, eh? Three of the champs were holed up inside the ruined building on the right, and proved as tough as real-life snipers to dig out. A full army died here and Skulla took some nasty hits, having to drink a purple at one point. Nearly impossible to spot the arrows with so much stuff flying through the air, and five different un-Dimmable archers running around had the danger level extremely high. Fun way to start off a new session.
The entrance to the Hole was not trapped, thank goodness. Things started out quiet, with carvers and brutes that could easily be taken out with IM. Would it stay that way? Don't bet on it. Around a corner lay a horrible threat: Holy Shock/FEB/LEB mishapen boss with full minion pack, mixed in with another mishapen champ pack:
Unbelievable amounts of white death flew everywhere across the screen, despite all of Skulla's attempts to slow down the enemies with DV and LR. That screenie doesn't tell the real story, since Skulla had to hide far, far away from the worst of the carnage for safety's sake. Managed to kill the boss, although the army was decimated. Skulla crawled out of there with 4 mages intact, recruited more minions in the Bloor Moor, then returned and downed the remaining three champs and additional minions. At this point, half the Moor had been recleared and Skulla wasn't even close to halfway through the Hole, to say nothing of the Pit as yet! Not a good sign.
Another Multishot/Spectral Hit/Mana Burn mishapen boss made things interesting, especially because a brute wandered into the fight from a side direction and flanked the front. Skulla had to recast Golly temporarily to deal with that threat, with carnage among the warriors as a result. Fortunately, most of the rest of the level was more carvers and brutes, who were rather easy even when a boss popped up. IM killed them quickly.
Hole 2 was not trapped, and even had breathing space to work with. Very nice, for a change. Working the area counterclockwise, Skulla didn't find any bosses until close to the end, over by the gold chest. There were two bosses there - both carvers. Heh. Even though one was Cursed and the other was Extra Strong, Skulla was not at all worried, and handled this with ease. Nice to get some easy stuff for a change!
The Tamoe Highland is the largest outdoor area in Act I, and as usual it offered up all sorts of boss fights. An easy Stone Skin/Mana Burn/CEB skeleton archer boss at the start of the Tamoe Highland was one of the softies; Golly tanked beautifully there. This one was more dangerous:
Might aura + LEB was nothing to mess around with! Obviously IM was the curse of choice here, and Skulla kept recasting Golly over and over again until all the dark rogues reflected themselves to death. Another Stone Skin/Extra Fast/CEB dark rogue put up a different sort of fight, she and her minions could really move. Skulla also came across a Skill Shrine, and I took a picture to show off the power of slvl 28 Skeleton Mastery:
Over 400 life! Close to 100 damage per swing! Not to mention that Raise Skeleton hasn't even been close to maxed out yet (only 3 skill points invested so far!) Much to my own surprise, the warriors are actually holding up pretty well in Hell difficulty, backed by extremely high level Mastery. They aren't just blocking dummies; when all five mob the same enemy, it's clear that the damage isn't just coming from IM. Someday, I'd like to play a warriors-only version of this variant. I wouldn't try to take it past Nightmare, but I expect it would be quite a ride!
The carnage attending a carver camp, in the final corner of the Tamoe Highland. There were so many enemies running around, the only safe approach was to IM everything and raise every body that hit the ground. Sirian used to call this the "corpse earth" technique, and the name is appropriate. It's just too dangerous here in Hell to try crowd control with Terror, and Dim Vision actually takes even longer. Iron Maiden everything, let it kill itself, and keep raising warriors from the bodies. Creates a LOT of gore though.
Next up: the Pit. Ugh, another of the worst parts of Act I. Well, everything started out calmly enough. A mild archer boss pack, some archer champs (not fought together with the archer boss, thankfully!), an uneventful skeleton boss, and so on. Then more camps:
The two devilkin camps were incredibly packed with enemies, a lot of forces fell on both sides in there. A lot. Fortunately the front was relatively narrow, channeling the enemies into the warrior front lines. I didn't screenshot or write down all the bosses in here, but there were quite a few bosses on Pit 1. At least six or seven, not even counting champ packs. That's "routine" for Hell, to be honest.
And then it was time for the Pit level 2. I can't even begin to express how much I hate this area... Skulla heads down there, and begins engaging devilkin, skeletons, and rogues on the left staircase down:
So far, so good. This was working fine for about 30 seconds, then an idiot necromage runs off to the right side of the screen, and wakes up the archer champ pack that was hiding over there. It's just like in Nightmare, oh joy!
Skulla casts Golly over there to block the champs, who run off after a few seconds. The position manages to hold, shakily, with warriors on the left and Golly on the right. Skulla had to return to town briefly to prevent his army from running off in three different directions (must... stay... together!) Returned and downed the champs by casting Golly BEHIND them, so they couldn't run away - ha! Down the stairs on the right, and Skulla runs into a Cursed/Extra Fast/CEB skeleton boss as well as a whole mess of devilkin:
Thank goodness this boss remained separate from the archers! What a mess that would have been, fighting archer champs while Cursed. The skeleton boss was downed with some IM use. Then it was down to the bottom floor, and nothing but a whole lot of devilkin and their shamans. Victory! And with that, the worst parts of the act were finished. Whew! I was exhilarated to take Skulla through there in one piece, but that was some hard work.
Another tough customer in the Outer Cloister:
Extra Strong/Fanaticism/Mana Burn razor spine boss was lurking here. Fortunately, Skulla spotted the aura a long way off and decoyed with Golly, never coming close to taking a hit. A Cursed boss in the area would have made this really interesting... There were two other bosses in the Outer Cloister, both razor spines, although with weaker boss abilities. Fortunately those things don't have many hit points, and go down quickly. I stopped here for a break - Skulla's stamina may be limitless, but mine certainly isn't. (How the hell did Sirian do all of Act I in one session with Skeletorr?!)
Skulla had an easy time getting started next time out, for once. Fallen champs in the Blood Moor were easy pickings for IM. The Barracks had quite a few bosses, mostly dark rogues of some kind. They were very fast indeed, forcing Skulla to open doors with great care to avoid getting swarmed and killed. Cursed kept showing up as a boss ability over and over again - fun stuff. The other main foe was bone mages; there were two different champ packs of them showing up. Quite a crowded little area.
The Smith (Extra Strong/Magic Resistant/Teleportation) was fought through a doorway, without even knowing he was there until he was halfway dead! I would have liked to get a better picture, but safety takes first priority. No way is Skulla going in there!
Jail 1 featured more bone mages, dark ones, and wraiths. This required the full assortment of DV, IM, and LR (respectively) depending on the opponent. Two champ packs and a couple of bosses, the most difficult foe being this one:
Fanaticism/LEB/Stone Skin on the boss. This is perfect positioning here, with the boss safely in the corner and getting pounded by Skulla's own necromages. Rest assured that it took multiple castings of Golly to reach this "safe" location! One saving grace is that bone mages are relatively frail opponents - the biggest problem is usually getting confused between which mages are on each side!
Jail 2 had essentially the same monster mix, with goats in place of the dark ones. Most of the bosses here were goats, including a Physical Immune one (Stone Skin/LEB/Mana Burn). Skulla didn't face Pitspawn (Cursed/CEB/Spectral Hit/LEB) and his crew until the very end of the floor, which was rather fortunate as it was a tough fight:
This picture is from maybe two seconds after engaging Pitspawn, and three of the warriors are already dead. Poor guys have no prayer against LEB bosses... Obviously the strategy is a whole lot of DV use, while feeding golems to the boss to keep him occupied (easier said than done!) Skulla had just enough mages to kill Pitspawn without having to retreat. Oddly enough, I had to try five different times to get a picture of the boss' abilities - for whatever reason, he kept moving the instant I reached for the PrintScreen key! (The boss name and health are pasted in from a separate screenie, which is why Pitspawn is nearly dead.)
Jail 3... oh what a horror! The first room outside the stairs was large and open, packed with skeleton archers and skeleton mages. That would have been OK, but one of the archers was Multishot/CEB/Teleportation! And, there was a caged group of dark ones, with a Might aura/Cursed boss inside. Cursed/Might/Multishot - holy shit!
The dark one boss is arrowed above. Thankfully, Skulla and the army could not be Cursed so long as the dark ones remained in their cage, so that never triggered, but this was really bad nonetheless. Skulla had the archer boss safely distracted with Golly, only to have him teleport next to Skulla and let loose a blast of Might-enhanced arrows - OUCH! That might have been fatal if Cursed. Downed the skeleton boss, retreated with five mages and recruited a new army, then returned and cleaned up the rest of the mess. And right around the corner? Another shooting gallery full of skeleton archers, including a four-pack of champs:
Tough, tough going there. Remember the discussion about archers at the beginning of this page? There are just so many different things that can scale up the damage of those arrows, and they all stack with one another... The rest of the level was no picnic either, with constant archers and mages. Glad to be done with this floor.
Inner Cloister had an Extra Fast/Extra Strong/Mana Burn skeleton mage boss. Look Blizzard, if you're going to take out Flamespike, what's the point of adding a new random boss pack right in the same place?! The Cathedral had five different bosses inside: two dark one shamans, two wraiths, and Bone Ash (Magic Resistant/Extra Strong/CEB/Spectral Hit/Multishot). Good thing he's always easy, even with all those boss abilities.
A Cursed/Multishot/Mana Burn tainted boss waited just off the stairs at the start of Cats 1. Fun little present there, handled without too much trouble. There were also lots of rat men on this floor, including several different bosses. These were far from Skulla's favorite enemies, due to their quick foot speed, often suddenly charging out of doors or around corners. An FEB/LEB/Conviction shaman boss was interesting as well, the sparks dropping the minions like crazy with their lowered resistances. Cats 2 was packed with tons and tons of dark one shamans and their attending brood:
There were even more bosses and champs also turning up shamans, as in the above picture. There were also arach (spiders) here, which were some tough foes due to their fire immunity and high physical resistance. Not a whole lot of them, fortunately. Skulla had to use the Prevent Monster Heal (PMH) javelins against one spider boss to make any progress, first time in ages that was necessary. Guess that's why I spent something like 100 gambles turning up one way back in Normal!
Horrible mess on Cats 3: Skulla reached an intersection with three doors, the minions opened them all at once, and all three had separate bosses behind them!
Not good. The initial army was wiped out without achieving all that much - which is what you'd expect being flanked from three directions at the same time! OK, time for army #2:
This group came down the stairs and had better luck, since Skulla could now establish a single front. They slowly took down the afflicted and zombie bosses through a combination of IM, DV, and LR. This was, frankly, a whole lot of work, and I was definitely getting tired after several hours of play. Fortunately, the end of the act was within sight. LOTS of bosses on this final floor, almost ten by my rough guess.
For the third time, Skulla tried to preserve bodies on Cats 4 for the fight against Andariel. For the third time, he wasn't able to pull it off. When the doors opened to Andy's chamber, three different bosses came out:
It was much too chaotic to write down their individual abilities, but there was one zombie and two afflicted bosses in that terrible mob. This entire army is dead meat; once they engage the enemies, there's not much you can do. Just cast IM and see how many of them you can take with you. The one saving grace is that I knew instantly that the situation was hopeless, and was able to keep Skulla himself safe. After the initial army inevitably bit the dust, Skulla had to go and recruit another group of minions in the Cold Plains. With a whole lot of DV use, the second group managed to kill off the mess stirred up. And then the big show began!
Against Andariel, the warriors were instantly wiped out by her poison shot. The necromages managed to last for quite some time, until she was down to about 1/3 life, before getting eliminated. Skulla and Golly completed the job, although the whole time there were a pair of afflicted running interference during the battle. You can even see one in the above screenshot. It is so much harder now to do this fight in isolation, with Andy's chamber absolutely packed with goons. Anyway, quest complete:
Andy dropped a slightly improved ring for Skulla, as well as another useless unique: Heart Carver, the unique Rondel. Oh, and Isenhart's Lightbrand dropped too, for a useless set item. One act complete in Hell difficulty, but it was hard, hard work. Let's hope Skulla can keep it going through Act II.