Hands-On from Blizzcon: Mega PvM Report: Barbarian


As night follows day and lethargy follows a big turkey dinner, here’s my Blizzcon 2010 Barbarian PvM report. As did the Wizard and Monk reports, this one covers extensively the Barbarian’s play style, his equipment and tactics, the skills I tried out, and lots of those miscellaneous little details that you know and love. Well, I guess you don’t know them or this would be your report, and not mine.

Anyway, this one is quite extensive and thorough, and should answer many of your unspoken Barbarian questions. The Witch Doctor and Demon Hunter reports will go up next week, along with a sixth report on the layout and ambiance and mood/tone/theme/style of the dungeons, since those are very often asked about, and my comments on them grew too extensive to easily fit into one of these character reports.  Here’s a quote from the report; click through to read the whole thing.

I didn’t pay much attention to items with the other characters, since they were strong enough not to need them; not during the short play sessions at least. With the Barb I ignored armor, but I did look at weapons, and after trying out a bigger sword, I settled on a rare spear. I don’t recall the stats, but it had some enhanced damage, plus a max damage boost, and it owned; at least compared to the crappy axe I’d begun with. The weird thing was that I wielded the spear one-handed, with a shield clutched in my other grubby mitt. I didn’t hold the weapon like a javelin, though. I swung it like an axe, at least while using Cleave. Big, sweeping tennis forehand-type slashes.

This wouldn’t work, in any sense of real world physics. The pointy end was maybe grazing some enemies, but the ones in closer to me were just being bumped by the side of the staff, which is essentially a broomstick. I don’t know if this was an error in the game and the weapon was being treated like a bladed object, instead of a poky one, or if the spear should have been two-handed. Or if it was just a compromise with reality; after all, D2 Barbs can kick ass with spears and Whirlwind, and that combination of movement and weapon has the same “wouldn’t work” physics problem as Cleave with a spear.

That aside, Cleave with the spear was extremely effective. It bumped up my damage enough that I began to one-hit kill virtually all of the regular monsters, and that was very fun. I’d usually run up to groups of 4-8 monsters, let them crowd in close, and then cut the whole damn bunch of them down with a single swing. Watching their bodies fly back like eviscerated ragdolls, was, to quote Jay Wilson, “Awesome!” It was all that “make the player feel godly” stuff they’re always talking about during the design panels, come to life. I was putty in their hands, and felt slightly dirty at being so easily manipulated.

Not dirty enough to stop enjoying it, though.

Previously:

  • Battle Arena Report: Covers all 3 chars, their skills, and much general Arena info.
  • Monk PvM: The Monk, his skills, and general PvM demo info.
  • Wizard PvM: The Wizard, her skills, Blizzcon demo info, and skills and skill tiers explained.

Full Blizzcon 2010 media coverage.

The Barbarian

I took my turn with the Barbarian in the PvM demo with some trepidation. The Barb was the last of the five characters that I tried out, and before I got around to PvM’ing the Barb, I’d already taken a PvP turn with him in the DiabloWikiArena demo. As related in my PvP Report, I didn’t do especially well. I usually dealt more damage than I took, but I was too gung-ho and wound up dying in the middle of most rounds, while the Wizard and Witch Doctor (especially the WD) on my team skated around the outside and nibbled on the enemy and bagged the DiabloWikihealth globes and ultimately won by attrition. In that Battle Arena match the final score was something like 10-3, for my team, but I was very seldom alive at the end of like one round.

It was fun, though, and the times I got Frenzied up and spent a few seconds grinding on the other team’s Barbarian or Wizard, or even one of the WD’s Mongrels, I wore a wide smile while watching the damage numbers light up like a slot machine.  Those moments were delicious, tasty enough to more than make up for the times I missed with a WW and spun like a sitting duck in a DiabloWikiSlow Time bubble, or spent my DiabloWikiSprint futilely and had no fast run left to escape the combined doom of DiabloWikiGrasp of the Dead and an incoming DiabloWikiDisintegrate beam, or screwed up the stupid 1-5 hotkeys and launched a DiabloWikiLeap Attack or DiabloWikiAncient Harpoon at nothing, when I meant to buff up with DiabloWikiIgnore Pain.

So yes, I’d enjoyed the PvP Barb. But he was high level and powerful, and I loved high level and powerful Barbs in D2. I played a lot of HC Barbarian in that game, and even wrote a fairly huge Barbarian MF guide back in v1.09. But even in those days, I dreaded building a new Barb. I loved the class past about Clvl 35, but was always bored before then.

At high levels Barbs were awesome; Whirlwind, Frenzy, Berserk, high resistances, tremendous foot speed and infinite stamina, tons of hit points and damage… glee!  The leveling up period though, with all that tedious single target Bash, Bash, Bash, Bash… ugh.  Thirty levels of bleh, with only the prospect of Whirlwind, and twinked dual Bloodletters, pulling me through the tedious teens and twenties.

I wasn’t much of a fan of the Warrior in D1 either; much preferring the Sorcerer or Rogue.

Obviously this is opinion; some players prefer the melee style chars and love bashing it out toe-to-toe. Both Bashiok and Jay Wilson have said the D3 Barb is their favorite of the characters, so I’m not saying he shouldn’t be in the game or anything. It’s just that the play style doesn’t really appeal to me, at least not during the lower levels. I like to move fast and hit lots of things at once, ideally from a distance, right from the start.  And that’s not the Barbarian.

Plus, I’d already played the Barb in the PvM demos at Blizzcon 2008 and 2009, and had a pretty good feel for him. He’s more fun at low levels in D3 than he was in D2, since he doesn’t feel as plodding and limited to hitting a single target at once. But he’s still pretty much a tank at those levels, and with the Clvl 9 characters in the Blizzcon 2010 PvM demo, I knew he’d be more of the same. Hence I saved him for last, and even did the PvP Barbarian first, since I knew I’d have fun with him.

Barbarian Skills

Like all of the pre-made PvM demo characters, the Barbarian had 3 skills set, one of them maxed out to five points, plus various appropriate Traits already pointed up.

DiabloWikiCleave
Description: The Barbarian swings at multiple targets at once, dealing X% weapon damage to all targets in front of him.

The basic attack skill at the start was Cleave. It was maxed out at five points, and pretty much owned anything that got in front of the Barbarian. The saving grace of this skill, and low level Barbs, is that it can can hit multiple targets per swing. Anything in front of the Barb, which is a wide arc of maybe 120 degrees, gets nailed. You can see how long a swing this one gives you from the orange streak of light it produces, and it’s no trouble to hit 3 or 4 monsters per swipe. In fact, it’s natural to ignore single targets, or try to herd them together a bit to maximize your hits per swing.

As for the skill… it does what it looks like it does. There’s no knock back or stun or anything, just a pretty swoosh of red-orange light, and lots of damage dealt to anything in reach. You wouldn’t want knockback, for that matter, since this one is useful as it lets you kill pretty quickly. With the crappy starting axe I had it took me 2 or 3 hits per monster, but if I was hitting 4 of them at once, that wasn’t too bad.

I didn’t pay much attention to items with the other characters, since they were strong enough not to need them; not during the short play sessions at least. With the Barb I ignored armor, but I did look at weapons, and after trying out a bigger sword, I settled on a rare spear. I don’t recall the stats, but it had some enhanced damage, plus a max damage boost, and it owned; at least compared to the crappy axe I’d begun with. The weird thing was that I wielded the spear one-handed, with a shield clutched in my other grubby mitt. I didn’t hold the weapon like a javelin, though. I swung it like an axe, at least while using Cleave. Big, sweeping tennis forehand-type slashes.

This wouldn’t work, in any sense of real world physics. The pointy end was maybe grazing some enemies, but the ones in closer to me were just being bumped by the side of the staff, which is essentially a broomstick. I don’t know if this was an error in the game and the weapon was being treated like a bladed object, instead of a poky one, or if the spear should have been two-handed. Or if it was just a compromise with reality; after all, D2 Barbs can kick ass with spears and Whirlwind, and that combination of movement and weapon has the same “wouldn’t work” physics problem as Cleave with a spear.

That aside, Cleave with the spear was extremely effective. It bumped up my damage enough that I began to one-hit kill virtually all of the regular monsters, and that was very fun. I’d usually run up to groups of 4-8 monsters, let them crowd in close, and then cut the whole damn bunch of them down with a single swing. Watching their bodies fly back like eviscerated ragdolls, was, to quote Jay Wilson, “Awesome!” It was all that “make the player feel godly” stuff they’re always talking about during the design panels, come to life. I was putty in their hands, and felt slightly dirty at being so easily manipulated.

Not dirty enough to stop enjoying it, though.

DiabloWikiGround Stomp
Description: Shakes the ground, stunning all enemies within X feet for X seconds.

The defensive skill given to new Barbs was Ground Stomp. This one’s been seen in plenty of demos and videos, and it’s effective enough. It’s basically a stunning shockwave with slightly more than melee range; anything close enough to hit you gets stunned for a couple of seconds. It wasn’t really necessary in this demo, since the monsters weren’t numerous or dangerous enough that I needed to to stun them. There weren’t any really thick bunches of nasty monsters in this demo, though.  I used Ground Stomp fairly often in last year’s demo, when I got swarmed by Overseer-charged up Fallen Imps, or hordes of Lacuni.

The was one thing in this demo I really wanted to try GS out against. Those summoning circles of Dark Vessels, where they’re free kills for about 5 seconds after you spot them, before they start pulling in demons and become the 50x nastier Activated Vessels.  Those little mushroom circles seemed like an idea use for Ground Stomp, since they’re just about the radius of the skill’s effect, and I figured the stun would refrigerate their transformation efforts, letting me slaughter them all before they could bring down their big brothers.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

First of all, I didn’t need Ground Stomp against them, since the rare spear I was using with Cleave did enough damage to one-shot the chanting Vessels. And since I could hit 3 of them with one swipe, I was able to wipe out the entire circle or 6 or 8 (the number of them vary from circle to circle, depending on where they spawn) with 3 Cleaves. (You could actually use that to plot the effective arc of Cleave; since 3 swings could hit 3 out of 8 targets, spread in an evenly-spaced circle, each Cleave covers more than 120 degrees or 1/3 of a circle.)

In other words, I could take 3 or 4 swings of Cleave and kill off all of the Cultists before any of them transformed. I didn’t need to stun them to delay their summoning, assuming I wasn’t delayed in my destruction by other enemies. (Which I usually wasn’t, since I’d just run past the stray zombies or whatever, in order to destroy the higher priority targets in the summoning circle.)

Furthermore, it didn’t really matter if I killed off the Cultists before they transformed, since it only took 3 or 4 Cleaves to kill the Activated Vessels. But even in an easy demo, one has to set goals and try to use tactics, so my objective became to wipe out the Vessels before they could Activate.

The other problem was that my only available DiabloWikirunestone added damage and knockback to Ground Stomp. I tried, it, and it was probably better for defense, but it ruined the Summoning Circles, since the damage was tiny, a fraction what I was doing with Cleave, and the knockback pushed the cultists back out of Cleave range. I could step up and hit them, of course, but only two at a time now, at best. This meant I needed at least 4 hits to take out the whole circle, more like 5 or6 usually, and by that time, even with the Ground Stomp stun, one or two of them would usually transform.

I’m not stating that the +damage/knockback rune effect in Ground Stomp is necessarily useless and awful, but it didn’t pair very well with Cleave, and was especially lame when used in the middle of the DiabloWikiDark Vessel circles. It wasn’t very good from one side either. I’d push one or two Cultists back into the middle, but the ones to the side would still get shoved out of reach. I couldn’t really use the GS knockback to push them around like hockey pucks, since the stun wasn?t long enough, and since GS isn’t exactly a spammable skill; there’s a fair delay between stomps.

That said, I can imagine high level Barbs having fun with GS and knockback. If you had gear to lengthen the duration of the stun, it might be fun to torture monsters, banging them around like shuffleboards and trying to push them in various directions. You’d need high hit point enemies though, so you didn’t prematurely kill them during the maneuvers.

DiabloWikiRevenge
Description: When hit, there is a X% chance the Barbarian may strike all enemies within X feet, dealing X% weapon damage and gaining X% health for each enemy hit.

This was the only Barbarian skill that was actually new, in style and use. The description makes it sound like some kind of automatic lash out. It’s not. What happens with Revenge is that you put it on the 1-5 keys, and it stays grayed out/unusuable until you get into a fight. At some point during the battle, if you have enough Fury and you get hit, it activates. Then you can hit the hotkey to use it, and your Barb makes a kind of spinning back swing, like a counter in a fighting game.

It can’t be saved up for later, since the skill only goes active after you get hit, and only stays active for a few seconds. (I didn’t time it, but it would go gray again after quickly every battle.) It’s not really an offensive tool, since you can’t use it that often, and since Cleave does much more damage. (Though Cleave was rank five, while this was just rank one.)

Revenge seems to be useful mostly for the novelty/variety, the ability to hit multiple enemies (which Cleave did, but a Barb using DiabloWikiBash or DiabloWikiHammer of the Ancients would appreciate the multi-target option), but especially for the life leech. Leech is very rare in Diablo III, found only on a few skills (and apparently not on items at all).

I didn’t actually need it during the demo with the Barb; I was never low on hit points and could have passed up 75% of the health globes I earned. But the whole game won’t be as easy as this demo, and with more points in Revenge, or perhaps with skill runes, the life leech might be raised (or the activation might be increased in frequency) up enough to make this a really valuable source of health.

DiabloWikiLeap Attack
Description: The Barbarian makes a mighty leap, causing X% weapon damage to all enemies within X feet upon landing.

Another skill that everyone knows, from seeing in gameplay movies and using in D2. It’s improved in D3; it’s much faster in the air, and feels, yes… awesome.  I loved it in the Arena, even though I seldom hit with it, just since the visual is great. The 3D works nicely with it, since your perspective lurches upwards when the Barb jumps, and you feel like you’re flying for a second. There’s a great grunting “RAHHH!” sound too, and you must want to knock something in half with a massive club when you trigger this skill. Ideally that Wizard whose been sniping you with that damn Disintegrate from the far edge of the screen for the entire round. “Hold still and die, maggot!”

Sorry, Arena flashback there.

So yes, the Barb leaps a lot faster than he runs. I used this one quite a bit late in the demo as a movement skill, when I was rushing through the huge jail level, trying to find the last of the six ghost prisoners to finish the quest and fight DiabloWikiThe Warden before the demo time ran out. I actually think Leap Attack might be overpowered, for a fairly low level skill. With just one point in it the Barbarian could leap all the way to the visible edge of the screen, over any number of enemies, and at a very high speed. It’s damn near Teleport, plus it does damage to anything in the vicinity when you land. 

It seems like a one point wonder, at this point, which is something the developers have said they do not want. Wonders, yes, but not with just one point. Diablo III skills are supposed to require multiple points to make them really useful, and additional points should add additional function. Given how it worked at Blizzcon, it’s hard to envision what could be added to the skill to make it worth more points. Maybe they could lessen the Rank One range or speed, and then allow skill points to add to them? Generally speaking, it’s hard to figure how the movement skills can be improved by points or runes, or how they can be useful without being necessary. As this forum thread documents, in between getting hijacked more often than a stagecoach in a Western.

DiabloWikiHammer of the Ancients
Description: Calls forth a massive hammer to smash the enemy for X% weapon damage, and has a X% critical chance.

This skill confuses me. Not the skill, but my clear memory of using it at Blizzcon.

It’s confusing since don’t remember playing the Barbarian twice through the PvM demo, and yet I know I picked Leap Attack with my level 10 skill point. I did level up to 11 with at least one char, and I remember picking a DiabloWikiTrait just to see what it was like (not so special), but that wouldn’t matter in terms of trying a 5th skill, since a character has to reach Clvl 14 to get to the 5th skill tier, when they can add a 5th skill.

HotA was not available in the Arena demo, so either I played the PvM Barb twice and have conflated the two trials in my memory, or I’m remembering using HotA from Blizzcon last year. I blame all those hours standing waiting in line and watching WoW players walk past. The neck beards!

At any rate, I was unimpressed by Hammer of the Ancients. It looks cool, with the big yellow (yellow… why on Earth Sanctuary is it yellow?) mallet appearing overhead and smashing down like the Barbarian is trying to win a prize at one of those strong man carnival games. But it doesn’t hit over a very wide area, and in fact seems almost not to work at melee range. The huge hammer crushes down a good couple of yards away from the Barbarian, and when using this one I kept feeling like I was just missing my target.

The impact zone seemed very small, like a single monster in radius, which felt weird. Like it should be called Snow Shovel of the Ancients, with a narrow, blade-thin hitting end. As big as the hammer was, it should have had a crushing impact, capable of hitting multiple enemies in the area. Even basic Rank One Cleave did that, and with a much faster, more accurate, and less Fury-costly attack.

Maybe HotA is meant for a special purpose; huge damage reward for precise accuracy. Or maybe it’s all about the skill runes, and you can make it hit over a bigger area, or stun, or liquefy enemies, etc. The basic starting version of the skill was unimpressive, though. (Which wasn’t that uncommon for skills in the demo, so perhaps I’m being too hard on this one.)

Barbarian Tactics and Gameplay

There wasn’t really any strategy required for the Blizzcon demo this year. The Barb was tough and powerful, even at just level 9, and I never had to do anything more than stand my ground and Cleave the sauce out of the attackers. The more the merrier, with that useful multi-target melee skill. Revenge blended in nicely as a source of healing, but not really needed either, since fights ended pretty quickly and I was never low enough to even consider a healing pot with the Barb. Health globes were more than abundant.

Ground Stomp was an option for defense, but it was mostly about style points and experimentation, at least playing single player. Likely in larger games the Barb could have been useful tanking and stomping while giving the Wizard or Demon Hunter free reign for artillery support. Assuming you weren’t happy just slaughtering the monsters with Cleave.

In general, you get what you’re paying for with the Barbarian. He has mashing, crushing hits, and his graphics and especially his awesome skill sounds really reinforce that. One of my clearest memories of first playing Diablo III, back at Blizzcon 2008, was how massive the Barbarian’s skill sound effects were.  Even through the cheap Blizzcon demo headphones, basic skills like DiabloWikiBash have a bass rumble that makes you want to upgrade your computer speakers. The game music is good, but the sound effects are great; I really noticed how chaotic and juicy the sounds of battle during any given DiabloWikiBattle Arena match were, this year.

You hear the sounds in the gameplay movies, but they’re not immersive and surround sounding. They lack the power and impact, and the ferocity and presence of the Barb’s animal grunts and screams do not come through anywhere near as clearly when you’re not behind the wheel.

Higher level Barbs will no doubt have a lot of variety and strategy. The seven skill limit and varied skills should make for some more variety, and not just in tactics. Not every Barb will have huge hit points from Battle Orders, as they all did in D2, and just that will force some variety in tactics.

Happily, the game seems ready to provide those. The known DiabloWikiBarbarian skills and DiabloWikiBarbarian traits show plenty of potential builds, other than just melee tanks, and that’s even without knowing what more than a handful of the DiabloWikiRunestones do. 

I think an interesting design would be a hit and run type. Pair DiabloWikiRampage or DiabloWikiSprint (or DiabloWikiWrath of the Berserker) with DiabloWikiFrenzy to zip in and grind up some DiabloWikiFury, with debuffing/slowing support skills like DiabloWikiGround Stomp or DiabloWikiEarthquake to assist. Then concentrate your attacks from a distance with DiabloWikiWeapon Throw or DiabloWikiSeismic Slam

There’s no real reason to play a Barb as a sort of ranged attacker, but who needs a reason for variety and fun? If it’s possible, you know players will find ways to do it. And it seems like it will definitely be possible.

Barbarian Conclusion

Though the Barbarian was not my favorite character to play in the demo, he was still enjoyable.  It’s obviously unthinkable that Diablo III would only have a Barbarian, but if they released a demo that was just him, I’d play it and enjoy it, while waiting for the full game.

The class isn’t awful or boring, and the D3 Barbarian is certainly more fun than the D2 Barbarian over the same stretch of early game grinding. It’s only when compared to the variety and tactics of the other D3 classes, and given my personal preference for ranged and/or multi-target attacks, that I have unkind words to speak on his behalf.

I enjoyed the class in Diablo II, even with the very limited end game options. Back in the early D2C days players had two viable end game options. They could look forward to endlessly clearing out Act Four by using Whirlwind-with-a-polearm, or Whirlwind-with-a-warclub.  That bewildering variety of play choices was increased by an astonishing 50% in a later patch, when the devs fixed a spreadsheet error and the exciting option of Whirlwind-with-a-lance was enabled. 

There was some more diversification in D2X, with Frenzy made viable, and some players were desperate enough for novelty to make Singer Barbs, or to use Berserk or Bash full time, but there were really only Frenzy Barbs and WW Barbs, with the equipment making most of the differences of degrees.  That will not be the case in Diablo III.

The Barbarian is an informative character, since as the only returning class, it’s easy to compare the options and variety and depth of the D3 builds to what we had in D2. Honestly, there’s no comparison. D3’s Barb options, hypothetical as they are at this point, are so much more varied than D2’s that it’s impossible to even calculate the differences.

Not all of that variety and possibility comes in at the DiabloWikiend game, but enough of it does that the early levels of a Barbarian look likely to remain fairly melee-centric. Getting beyond that to really fun stuff shouldn’t be too hard, though.  I certainly hope not, since that’s where my interest in the class lies.

 

Comments

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  1. How did mercs make D2 easier?
    They always died and drank all of my potions.
    I think they make the game harder (in a not so good way).

    I want mercs back, but I don’t want them super strong.  However, I want them to have better AI (runs away and fights only what it can barely take on).

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