We’ve got an excellent, lengthy article by forum regular Adivirgi today, in which he describes a play method for making the Diablo 3 Beta challenging and much more fun. As the title suggests, it’s a demanding discipline; you play alone (not even a Templar), you don’t pick up any equipment at all, and you get just one life.

    Can it be done? Earlier this week we saw the author continuing his severe discipline with a naked Witch Doctor, during an epic battle against the skeletal pillars. Lots of you guys enjoyed that struggle, and if you like the idea of having to use strategy and nearly dying in the Diablo 3 beta, you will love this article. Here’s the opening, click through to read the highly-detailed full report.

    Naked, Hardcore, and Forever Alone: A Diablo 3 Beta Impression

    I recently had a chance to play the Beta multiple times and have to say I found it incredibly boring. The beta is unbelievably easy, there’s absolutely no emphasis on strategy, positioning, resource management or skill selection. You simply run through smashing everything in your path and no monsters can do anything about it, it is very repetitive and there is no feeling or sense of accomplishment. I understand that this is only the first hour of the game and Blizzard has explained multiple times that the game will become more difficult, but I was curious to see what challenges the Diablo 3 beta had to offer. I heard that some people in the beta were playing “naked”, or as one guy on YouTube called it “Ironman”. The rules are simple:

    Naked: Cannot equip any dropped items in the beta, you must play the entire beta using only what you start the game with.

    Hardcore: You must delete your character as soon as they die, even if your cat jumped on the keyboard, no excuses, you’re dead.

    Forever Alone: You cannot take the Templar with you, except for the small portion of the beta when you have no choice. You must dismiss him after DiabloWikiJondar.

    Before I get into a detailed impression of the gameplay, I have to say playing with these rules was the most fun I had playing the beta. It was extremely challenging, you only had 3 abilities (you wouldn’t be able to get the 4th skill at level 12 in one play though) so you had to be very careful with the skills that you selected and the times that you chose to use them, as resource management meant life or death in many situations. I was honestly scared every moment I was playing; it truly brought the “Diablo” back to Diablo 3. If this is any indication of what the higher difficulties may be like, then I have no doubt this game will be amazing. That being said, my first play through was with the Monk, and here’s how it all went down.

    You start off the beta with DiabloWikiFists of Thunder. It’s a pretty nice attack because the third strike hits multiple enemies in front of you and knocks them back a bit. As the game progressed and the monsters became tougher to kill, mashing the ability at anything in front of you wasn’t good enough. The targets you selected to attack became much more important to surviving. For example, I would attack monsters closest to me with the first two clicks and on the third strike I might turn my character around and hit a pack of monsters to damage all of them. I know that seems like a basic thing, but when your character is so weak in comparison to everything else, getting the maximum amount of damage out of each skill is incredibly important. Basically it would be a waste if your third strike landed on only one monster, especially if you could move a little to the right and hit an entire pack. It is the small decisions like this that make a difference when the difficulty ramps up.

    Playing the game like this slowed everything down and I began to notice a lot more of the design of the game, in this case, the AI and monster behaviours. While the skeletons were pretty basic, they were smart enough to swarm around you, rather than just line up behind one another waiting to attack. The scavengers were little creatures that would leap quickly at you. They pose zero threat to you if you play the game normally, but with these rules, a group of scavengers could really ambush you unexpectedly, and retreating wasn’t much of an option since they were faster than you. Fortunately you are just beginning to receive some new abilities such as DiabloWikiBlinding Flash, and DiabloWikiLashing Tail Kick, so dealing with these threats became a bit easier. Blinding Flash and Lashing Tail Kick were the two abilities I decided to keep with me for the entire play through. I only ever switched them out for special circumstances which I will talk about in a bit. Blinding Flash is absolutely crucial to surviving. You only have two skills before level 6, so I chose this ability (along with Fists of Lightning) to deal with most threats. Whenever I found myself surrounded I would use it. It has a 15 second cool down and lasts for 5 seconds, so you had to decide whether you would run to reposition yourself in the fight (blinded monsters won’t attack you unless you attack them first), or fight them off and use the 30% chance to miss you, as a bonus for survival.

    When I reached Haedrig’s wife in the cellar, I switched my Fists of Lightning for DiabloWikiDeadly Reach (just for this mini-boss battle) to keep a bit of distance from her. I pulled her out of the small area and into the main cellar where there were two pillars. When playing the beta normally you would basically just mash her in a few seconds, but this fight lasted a bit longer since my attacks didn’t do much damage. After a few seconds of fighting her and realizing that I was taking too much damage from her spit attacks (which are surprisingly hard to avoid), it was here that I noticed the world design and wondered whether the pillars were intentionally put there by the designers as a way to deal with her spitting attacks. I started positioning myself on the opposite end of the pillar, I would click just to the left or the right of it, use my deadly reach ability to get a few hits in and then click back behind the pillar to avoid the spit. I did this for a little while, switching pillars because she was chasing me a little bit, and I eventually killed her. It made me wonder whether the environment will play more heavily into the strategy of taking down the more difficult bosses that we will face much later in the game.

    When I reached level 6, I was able to choose a third active skill. I chose DiabloWikiLashing Tail Kick to compliment my Fists of Lightning and Blinding Flash build, and it worked really well. Lashing Tail Kick is an amazing ability: it has some great defensive use (to knock enemies away and give you some breathing room) and was useful, not so much as a damage dealer (although it would more than double the damage I did to everything in front of me, which was awesome), but as a way to clear a path for me to get to the “resurrecting” monsters (the Puking Wretched Mothers, or the Skeleton Mages). If I found myself in a tight area, the zombies and skeletons would block my path and I sometimes couldn’t fight my way through the monsters quick enough to kill the resurrecting monster, and they would sit back shooting at me with their ranges attacks. They also kept summoning new ones entirely so if I didn’t get to them quickly, I would never be able to keep up with all of their summoned minions and the fight would never end. This is when I really started to understand how to use Lashing Tail Kick.

    It wasn’t enough to just hit them and knock them back, but I had to learn to position myself carefully so that when I did use the ability, I would be sweeping them out of the way, or knocking them of a balcony or ledge to clear a path. I used Lashing Tail Kick a lot, but it was only after using it so many times that I realised how important the positioning of your character was. The skill would kick monsters away from the direction you were facing, so although this seems like a really simple thing, clicking the mouse on the ground to move yourself and clicking again to turn your character to face the right direction was really important to the use of this skill’s knockback effectively.

    Since Blizzard increased the DiabloWikiSpirit cost to 30, and since you could easily get carried away and spam it (it has no cool down), you needed to be careful with how and when you used it. Making those decisions on the fly and picking the right position before using this skill would mean that wouldn’t have to cast it again so frequently, allowing you to save your spirit for emergency situations. It was always a rule of mine to keep at least 60-70 spirit in my reserve (out of the max of 150) just in case I found myself in a really crappy situation and needed to use a few kicks and a Blind to get myself out. Remember, this is Hardcore rules so you always need to plan for the worst situations.

    It kind of goes without saying, but DiabloWikihealth globes were a total blessing. I used just about every one that dropped (unlike in regular mode you may only need just one). I knew that I wasn’t playing as well as I could have if there were moments were I desperately needed them and they weren’t around for me. If my health was in good shape and I had a health globe on the ground it meant that I could play a bit more aggressively. If there weren’t any health globes available I knew I had to play more defensively by positioning myself in areas where I had an escape route, and by picking on the weaker, more frail monsters with the least amount of health (since killing them gave me a chance for a globe to drop).

    I used the UI function to have health bars on injured monsters as a way to track which ones that were closest to dying (some of the bat creatures would fly away from you and then come back, so it was a way to keep track of them this way). I usually don’t like to clutter up the gameplay with UI functions like that but in this play-through it really helped me decide which targets were priority (as a side note I wish the whole interface could be scaled down and made smaller so I could see more of the screen). I always made sure I had a ton of potions to keep me going in those panic situations, but they have a two minute cool down, long enough to make sure that you couldn’t rely on them too much.

    The DiabloWikiUnburied were one of the toughest units I had to fight. Since they had a ton of health, it wasn’t possible to get a health globe from them in the middle of a fight, and the 2 minute potion cool down meant I had to be very careful during those 2 minutes. They had over 200 health (I was hitting for about 3) and they hit very hard. This was one of the moments I would use my DiabloWikiStone of Recall to go back to town and switch skills. Fortunately I only had to do this a few times across the play through since they didn’t appear that frequently, and one of those times I knew I was going to fight one (just before grabbing Leoric’s crown) so I could plan ahead.

    I would swap out Fists of Thunder for Deadly Reach (for some short range damage) and Blinding Flash for Mantra of Retribution. The reason I choose to remove Blinding Flash instead of Lashing Tail Kick is because if I used Blinding Flash, I would be reducing its chance to hit me by 30%. I didn’t want that to happen, especially since using DiabloWikiMantra of Retribution reflects 40% of the damage they inflict, so I wanted it to be able to hit me. Also, for the first three seconds after using the Mantra, it would reflect 80% of the damage rather than 40%, so I really didn’t want it to miss me within those 3 seconds or I would be wasting a massive potential of damage. The Mantra allowed me to do very decent damage back to the Unburied, but I found it was only really useful in the situations where I was taking a large amount of damage from a single target. The regular skeleton swipes didn’t hit hard enough to make it a viable choice, especially since that meant I would be giving up some of the crowd control and damage mitigation options available to me through the use of Blinding Flash and Lashing Tail Kick.

    As I reached level 8, everything became much easier for me since it was then that DiabloWikiCrippling Wave became available. I was now able to attack multiple targets on every strike for 110% damage and also slow them and reduce their attack speed on the third strike. I didn’t have to focus as much on what target I was clicking on as I did for Fists of Thunder, since I was hitting all targets in front of me anyways, as well as every target around me on the third strike. It was then that I realized how overpowered this ability was in comparison to the others. It made me wonder why anyone would even bother to choose any of the other spirit generating skills that attack for 100% damage to only a single target, when they could always attack multiple targets for 110% AND offer up some crowd control and damage mitigation by slowing monsters and reducing their attack speed. I think Blizzard should either nerf this skill or buff the other skills to give players more of an option; otherwise it will boil down to using this ability throughout the entire game.

    Moving on toward the end, the most difficult situation I found myself in was in the room with the 4 activated pillars just before the Leoric Battle. There were skeleton archers (who do insane amounts of damage) in each of the four corners and the pillars kept summoning new skeletons. My screen flashed red more than a few times during this fight and I may have crapped my pants a little, especially in the moments when my potions were on cool down. I ended up running out of that room (dodging arrows as I ran) and pulling all of the monsters back to the previous room where the spirit of Lachdanan stabs Leoric.

    There I waited around the edge of the archway and attacked the monsters as they came through. Killing the skeleton archers was a priority, dodging their arrows was very tough to do while fighting, so getting in close to them was vital to survival. Their AI was very smart too; they hung back behind the crowd and would run away from me if I got to close, making it very difficult to get to them. With time I eventually fought my way through, using walls, angles and obstacles to block the incoming arrows, and took down those archers. Although there were some pretty tough situations across the play-through with the resurrecting skeletons, the fat exploding DiabloWikiGrotesques, and with champions and magically enhanced monsters, the skeleton archers were the ones who caused me more grief than any other unit in the whole beta.

    Despite coming close to death multiple times, I got through the pillar area and prepared myself for Leoric. I used the waypoint back to New Tristram and bought 10 potions before heading back into the crypt. I choose to fight him and his minions with Crippling Wave, Blinding Flash, and Lashing Tail Kick.

    The fight against Leoric was incredibly long. It went in a few phases that would repeat. Leoric would swing at you if you were in close range (which you had to be to do damage). I could have used Deadly Reach to keep a bit of distance from him, but he lunges towards you when he strikes, so I’m not sure it would have provided me with enough range to avoid the attack. Also Deadly Reach would make it incredibly difficult to kill his many minions, which over the course of the fight there were swarms of them, and I needed to kill them in order to get health globes. Leoric would also teleport to hit me, which I found pretty much unavoidable. It was just one of those attacks I knew I would be taking, so I had to make sure my health was always above a certain point. It gave me even more of a reason to have to kill his minions for health globes.

    The other thing Leoric did was swing wildly towards me for a few seconds in a spirit form. If I kept my distance this wasn’t much a threat to me, but after he had done this a few times, there was one moment when I was running away that I noticed the sound effects of his skeletons being crushed and killed, and it gave me an idea. I tried to pick out the moments when he was going to use that swirling attack and I would try and position myself behind his minions. This way he would swing towards me, killing his minions and dropping health globes for me without me having to risk myself by fighting the minions (who were armed with shields and were very tough to kill).

    Since using his own attack against his minions was enough to get me a health globe or two, repeating this strategy as best as I could kept me alive for a long time and allowed me to focus my attacks on him and less on his minions,. Unfortunately, his teleport attacks sometimes forced me to use my potions and since I was an idiot and only bought 10 (I should have gone in with 50), I ran out of potions and I was at the mercy of the dropping health globes. Soon after that Leoric killed me, making it the first time (and the only time thus far) that I have died in the beta, and it unfortunately was the end of my monk.

    In total, my play through lasted 3 and half hours and I had killed close to 1700 monsters (I was lucky enough to see the Den of the Fallen in this run and there were a ton of monsters down there).

    In retrospect, I should have bought more potions, but I think I would have swapped Blinding Flash out (since I used Leoric’s attack against his minions, I didn’t really need it) for Mantra of Retribution so that I could have done some big damage on those unavoidable teleport hits. I think Dash would have been more useful than Lashing Tail Kick, since it would have allowed me to attack Leoric more and Dash to the opposite side of his minions just as he was going to use his swirly ghost attack. If I had done all of those I think I would have been able to defeat him, but I am still proud that I was able to not only make it to him alive, but to get him to close to half health without any of those options.

    Final Thoughts

    Playing with these rules revealed a lot more of the game mechanics, design, and strategies to me and I think everyone who has the beta should be doing the same, especially the ones who are complaining about being bored (I don’t blame you). I also think, even though we will eventually be playing on the hardest difficulty, it may actually be easier than playing it in the beta like this because you will have the option to choose from 6 abilities plus all the rune effects, instead of only 3 with no runes, and you will also have more control over choosing your weapons and gear to build specific specs (for example having a ton of armor, runes and passives that give you more defense, combined with Retribution to be able to take more damage and dish more out at the same time).

    I think this also gave me a bit of insight as to which abilities are currently not as strong/useful as others, and which skills should be nerfed/buffed so that we actually have to make a choice between the 20 or so active skills as opposed to picking only 6 because they are way better than the rest. I am really looking forward to trying out the rest of the characters like this. I have already played the Wizard with these rules and had a much easier time than I did with the Monk, which may say something about the balance of the characters.

    Thanks for reading and if you have a chance to play be sure to share your discoveries with us as well.

    –Anthony (adivirgi)

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