#D2R Build Log 1 - Hardcore Necro - Act 1

As a gamer who played Diablo II back when it first came out, I'm loving #D2R. I'm going to try and be a bit more analytic with my approach this time, because I like playing hardcore, and losing characters kind of sucks. I rather like the challenge of never having a character that falls behind. In normal mode, you can always die once in a while, learn a thing or two, respec and move on. But you never really learn your build, just what's wrong with the previous one. So, I'm going to record my notes as I go along. For now, I'll talk about Act I as it's the only one I've beat on hardcore thus far; Duriel has eaten my lunch.

First, some general strategy ideas. As with all roguelikes, the idea here is to ensure that you progress even when you die. The primary tool for doing so is your stash. In D2, your stash is a fixed size, and you'll fill it awfully fast. It does, however, hold 7.5 million gold so your first goal should be to have a bit of wealth to fall back on. Wealth can pay for better equipment, gambling, repairs, potions and scrolls. It can also pay for hirelings, resurrections and equipment. A new character can be outfitted in basic gear for about 2500 gold, so if it's not your absolute first character, it's not a bad idea to start them in some clothes. You should be able to make this much back before the Den of Evil is cleared.

You'll want to gather some good starting magic gear too. Don't bother with the blues, but look at all the yellows and see if there's anything worth keeping in your stash. Good candidates are low-level magic items with few if any prerequisites. I have, for example, a level 1 magic handaxe that has bonuses to attack power and a nice poison effect. This is sufficient for pretty much any character to clear the Den of Evil without much effort. I've also got some low-level leather armor and a wand or two (not necessarily magical, just has good skills) as well as a preserved head or two. Finally, I keep a starter poison dagger around, a socketed dagger with a flawed emerald in it (not really worth a better gem for something you'll replace quickly). You should be able to recycle this gear quickly and put it back in your stash for your next character.

I want to start by talking about the vision for the act I necro, and add the insights from a few failed act II runs. So, let's think about Andariel, and how we will beat her. Andariel is nasty - there's no way a necro will stand toe-to-toe with her and survive. She has multiple long range poison attacks all of which will probably kill you within 3 seconds if you don't TP after getting poisoned. And, you don't want to get hit by her melee attack either. That really doesn't leave a lot of options. It's possible to overlevel and get to level 18 and get bone spear. That doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence though since the 1st point in bone spear is not very powerful, and there's still all that poison to worry about. You will also not kill her with teeth. No, the best weapon to kill Andariel with is a bow, and your hireling has one. Of course, your hireling has the same problem you do - she won't survive the poison.

The answer to all of this is the clay golem. Clay golem will tank Andariel and end up taking the brunt of the poison damage. This will of course kill it, but with 4 points invested in the golem (2 clay, 2 mastery), it will last a few seconds before you have to resummon it. So, the basic strategy: outfit the bow hireling and keep her alive until Andariel is dead. That means we only actually need 4 skill points to beat Andariel. Of course, getting to her is another story. Let's break down what we have left, and divvy up the attribute points and skill points.

If you clear every map between the camp and Catacombs 4, you will reach Andariel somewhere around level 16. This means that you have 16 skill points to assign (you got an extra one when you cleared the Den of Evil). You also have 75 attribute points to assign. So, let's set some requirements, and see where that gets us. I'll start with attribute requirements. I want to be able to wear studded leather, and I'm ok with not going higher than that any time soon. Bone armor will keep me from being one-shotted, and I'm going to rely on agility to keep me alive. Studded leather requires 27 strength, so I start with 12 points in strength (63 to go). I'm satisfied that I can clear Act I easily with 30 vitality, so I add another 15 points in vitality (48 to go). The remaining points should be distributed between energy and dexterity approximately evenly, with maybe a little bit of an emphasis on mana over attack power. Without bonuses, you will then end up with stats something like 27-49-30-49.

OK, so that takes care of the physical build. The skill order is going to be critical to your survival though. I'd suggest that summons have a good return on investment: 5 points in skeletons goes a long way (3 skellys, 2 mastery). Paired with a magic low-level weapon, this will get you through the Blood Moor and Den of Evil very easily. Now you are at level 6, and you'll have to make do with 1 point in a lot of different skills. 1 point goes into the dagger, and the low-level magic item goes back in the stash, and the poison dagger comes out. You should have two sets of gear now: a wand with defensive and skelly bonuses paired with a preserved head (preferably skelly or golem bonuses), and a poison dagger paired with a preserved head with defensive bonuses, maybe bone armor.

This fighting style is the bread and butter of this build. A necro is basically a rogue with some magic skills. Let your minions do most of the work, and soften up your foes with a couple of points in Amplify Damage (4 points remaining after the 4 points in golems). I'd suggest that the remaining four points go into teeth (1 point, prerequisite for corpse explosion), bone armor (2 points) and corpse explosion (1 point). Your minions (all 5 of them!) will make short work of pretty much all the trash mobs. Your focus should be taking down champions, elites and rezzers. This is what the poison dagger is for. Switch weapons, cast bone armor and stab your target no more than once every 3-4 seconds (which gives you time to stab other targets). With 1 point in poison dagger, and a sufficiently poisoned dagger to begin with, there's not many rezzers that will survive even one hit. If the mobs are too packed, a few well placed teeth can clear a path.

For elites and champions, you'll probably need multiple stabs to take one down. Try to focus on one enemy until he dies, then cast Amplify Damage and Corpse Explosion. Rinse and repeat for tough groups. You will run out of mana a lot early on. This is what potions are for. Once you get the hang of this style, you'll find you spend most of your time letting the minions fight holding the wand, and then you'll get the hang of when to sprint in and poison someone to death and explode some corpses. Don't underestimate this dagger! If you've not been poisoned by strong poison yet, well...

Last note: if you or your hireling get poisoned by Andariel, you have about 3 seconds to get back to town before you die. Your hireling can even die in town, so hurry hurry! But, if you keep the golem up, dodge the poison bolts and keep Amplify Damage up, a decent bow on your hireling will take down Andariel.

I'll end this log with some thoughts about Act II. I've not beat Duriel yet, and the hireling won't work here. You will have to be able to take down Duriel all by your lonesome. My reading suggests that Bone Prison and Bone Spear are the answer here. These are level 24 and level 18 skills respectively. You can additionally add a blood golem at level 18 and skeleton mages. I also note that the summoner can be a bit of a problem as well, especially if you use the Act II merc, since he doesn't really pathfind well in the Arcane Sanctuary. It looks like a well-placed golem and a run up the stairs are your best chance to stab him with the poison dagger.

I'll add an act II build log once I finally manage to get past Duriel.