On the Drawing Board #23: Diablo III’s Least Loved Skills

An interesting tidbit from this week’s developer chat came when DiabloWikiWyatt Cheng listed the least popular skills in the game.

Trivia. The least used skills at level 60 are Energy Twister, Exploding Palm, Sacrifice, Ancient Spear and Strafe.

Let’s take a closer look at those. What makes them so ugh?

Energy Twister

DiabloWikiEnergy Twister I’m not surprised to find unloved. I tried it multiple times in the beta, wrote about it extensively in a two-part Beta Wizard skills overview, and could never find a scenario when it was the best choice, or even a good choice. The Arcane Power cost was way too high, the twister didn’t do enough damage, it moved too unpredictably, and it didn’t suck in or slow enemies well enough to consistently deal multiple hits. I could imagine it working very well against high hit point enemies in a tight bunch in a confined area, but 1) how often does that happen, and 2) lots of other spells would also excel in that scenario.

Do the skill runes improve things? Mistral Breeze cuts the resource cost, Gale Force increases the damage, and Wicked Wind sits the twister in one place, but clearly none of these are enough to win back adherents. Perhaps if one rune effect did all three of those?

Three suggestions for the unpopularity, aside from the strong possibility that it’s just not a very effective skill. 1) Players tried the base skill while leveling up and found it so lame (as I did during beta testing) that they just erased it from their minds and never bothered to try it again with a higher level rune effect. 2) The random movement of the skill conflicts with every other Wizard skill, which are all about precise targeting and pin point accuracy. Players get used to aim being very important and expect that of all skills. 3) There are so damn many offensive attack spells for the Wizard that this one offers nothing, save pretty graphics, to make it stand out or bear closer examination.

I have no prescription for fixing this one, since I don’t care. It’s lame, there are a ton of better Wizard skills, and not everything can be awesome. Next.

Exploding Palm

DiabloWikiExploding Palm is a sad inclusion on the list, since this was literally the coolest skill in the game at one point. Back at Blizzcon 2009, when the Monk debuted, Exploding Palm was one of the combo skills, and it was glorious. Glorious! A worth foe! *cough*

It dealt two low damage single target hits, but stuck that Kill Bill-inspired ticking time bomb on any target you tagged with the third hit. This created a steady life drain and a pulsing heart icon over their heads, and when they died their hearts burst, causing them to detonate in a massive spray of blood, which dealt giant AoE damage to everything in the vicinity. It even inspired fan art.

Here’s what I wrote about it in my mega Monk PvM report from Blizzcon 2009:

This was probably the coolest spell most people saw at Blizzcon, just for the massive blood explosions it created. It was magnificently overpowered, working like an early D2C version of Corpse Explosion. Triggering the third stage of this one, then beating that monster down with 100 Fists, was almost certain to clear any room, killing every monster anywhere near melee range.

It will have to be nerfed in the final game, and probably moved down the skill tree as well, since this is just insane for such a low level skill.

Videos or it didn’t happen? Check it out in the Blizzcon 2009 gameplay movie:

Click through to continue the article, with much more on Exploding Palm, plus coverage of the other three unloved skills as well.

The embed code should start at the right point, but if not skip to about 2:10 into the video and watch the next encounter. The domino effect of explosive deaths. The blood supernova graphics. The beating heart overhead shrine-like icon, symbolizing their impending death. Just awesome. All during Diablo 2’s development, the Necromancer’s Corpse Explosion said, “The greatest skill ever.” as its tooltip.

Why? Because it was! Because we’re all 5 year old boys at heart, and we want to see things blow up in huge sprays of blood and destruction. Jay Wilson understands this, and commented to that effect when describing what makes things “awesome” numerous times during Diablo III’s development.

So how did the coolest of all DiabloWikiMonk skills (you might argue for DiabloWikiSeven Sided Strike, but you’d be wrong) during development turn into the least used Monk skill upon release? Well, it turned out there were too many combo skills, since they all had kind of the same “hit, hit, AoE effect” feel to them. So shortly before release, in that big skill and rune system overhaul we got in DiabloWikiBeta Patch 13, Blizzard reworked three of the former DiabloWikicombo skills to provide more variety, or at least less redundancy. And Exploding Palm got the short end of that stick.

Hands of Lightning (name macho’ed up to DiabloWikiFists of Thunder), Long Reach (name changed to DiabloWikiDeadly Reach), DiabloWikiCrippling Wave, and DiabloWikiWay of the Hundred Fists all remained much the same. DiabloWikiDashing Strike lost its combo-ness but became a very useful movement/attack skill. DiabloWikiSweeping Wind remained sort of a combo skill, but with a weird stacking kind of function and a defensive property that you evidently have to use to understand, since I haven’t used it and the tooltips are gibberish to me.

And finally, there’s DiabloWikiExploding Palm. It got de-comboed, though it sort of kept the time bomb explosion effect. But the damage is much lessened, and perhaps most crucially… the killer graphic is gone. Instead of the gory and delightful blood supernova, it now makes a pathetic pink flashing light, apparently under the logic that only the Barbarian can have basic attacks that cause corpses to explode into bloody chunks every single time you use them.

Is the Barbarian DiabloWikiJay Wilson‘s favorite class? Of course it it.

All that said… it might be that Exploding Palm was only awesome at low levels, since it’s so easy to trigger the massive domino blood explosion effect and wipe out entire low hit point mobs on Normal. On DiabloWikiNightmare, much less DiabloWikiHell and DiabloWikiInferno, you’re not wiping out entire packs in a few punches, so perhaps the skill would have fallen into general disuse purely based on the function and efficacy. (Though obviously the way they ruined the coolness by nerfing the graphics wouldn’t have helped.)

The best hope for Exploding Palm is that it was one of the last skills to be changed and was therefore a rush job. Hopefully one of the skill devs still working on Diablo III will remember how awesome it once was, note its current neglect, and include it in the skills to be improved in their planned v1.03 overhaul.

Be still my beating heart!


DiabloWikiSacrifice is probably the easiest unpopularity to explain and to fix. The problem isn’t Sacrifice. The problem is that all pets are grossly underpowered in Hell and Inferno, making them useless. I wouldn’t be surprised if DiabloWikiMongrels was also in the top five (or two) least used DiabloWikiWitch Doctor skills at level 60, since you can’t use Sacrifice without dogs to blow up, and while various passives and rune effects give nifty auto-dog creation options, what’s the point if they get one-shotted before you can even detonate them?

Sacrifice is a very cool skill in concept and function, and as we saw in some pre-release theorycrafting, it has the potential to scale up to gigantic damage. I think we’ll see it come back into viability when/if Zombie Dogs and the other pets get a buff in some upcoming patch. I hope so, at least, since it and Exploding Palm are the closest things we had in Diablo III to some of the awesome DiabloWikiCorpse Explosion type skills of Diablo II, and it’s sad that both those D3 descendants are currently crappy.

Ancient Spear

DiabloWikiAncient Spear is another “should have been awesome” skill that’s sad to see fallen so far. Not a one of us didn’t instinctively grunt, “Get over here!” when we first saw it in use. (Even people like me who preferred the skill and strategy of the superior Street Fighter arcade games vs. the inferior combat system and cheesy comical violence of the Mortal Kombat games.)

Even if you recently arrived from Mars and know nothing of Scorpion and his tag-line, the idea of a skill that hurls a spear on a chain and lets your Barbarian skewer an enemy, then yank them helplessly into melee range, is pretty awesome. So why is it unloved? Probably since it’s pretty damn hard to hit a moving target, since at level 60 the Barbarian’s problems do not include getting monsters to quickly come to you (they do that all by themselves), and the numerous great skills that take you right to them.

I’ll wager that Ancient Spear will become more popular once the DiabloWikiArena is implemented, as it may have more practical utility against other characters. We’ve all found how scary the skewer and yank can be when it’s done to us by The Butcher during that Act Boss battle, after all.

In the meantime, it remains an option for mercilessly cheesing Izual.


DiabloWikiStrafe is a Demon Hunter skill that’s quite fun to use, at least at lower levels. I think the level 60 state of disuse is unsurprising, but if they asked about level 20 or even 30, it might have retained a bit more popularity.

I quite enjoyed using it on my Demon Hunter through Normal difficulty, and was a bit sad to part with it once I reached Nightmare and found that just Vault was no longer sufficient as an escape option. I needed to add Caltrops, and when I eyed my five offensive skills, Strafe was pretty clearly the weak link in that proverbial chain.

It’s fun; and easily holds the title as the best anti-destructible skill in the entire game, but the DiabloWikiHatred cost is way too high and the DPS is way too low to make it any use against monsters, other than maybe a quick click here and there to polish off one last trash beast that’s bouncing around the corner somewhere.

Even with the high resource cost and low damage, it still might be useful, if there weren’t like, fourteen other fast firing, guided aiming, multi-target, quick killing DiabloWikiDemon Hunter skills.

The silly Tasmanian Devil animation doesn’t help the cause much either. (If Bliz needed to incorporate some element of that marsupial into the game, they should have gone with the voice. Imagine how much scarier any boss in the game would be making this noise, instead of all their annoying holographic whiny lecturing?)


So, those are the five least popular skills in the game at level 60, according to Blizzard’s own game analyzing statistics. What do you guys think? Are there other skills you feel should be even less popular? Is anyone using any of these skills in their own end game builds and thinks that one rune effect is an overlooked masterpiece? If so, hop into the comments and let the rest of us know what we’re missing.

Writers Wanted: This article was pretty fun to write, and while I’d like to keep it all to myself, I’ve got a lot of other things to work on and we’re always looking for additional staff writers. If you’d like to author pieces like this, maybe focused on one class, or one or a few skills each week, let me know via [email protected], and we’ll see about getting you set up to start contributing to the Diablo III community.

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51 thoughts on “On the Drawing Board #23: Diablo III’s Least Loved Skills

    • The real issue here seems to be that Demon Hunters have a number of tools that do almost exactly the same thing as strafe. I can think of about 8 off the top of my head, most of which are simply more powerful.

      I’m really not surprised to see it there.

      • Seriously, 8 other tools that allow you to dodge out attacks while doing solid, large AoE damage? I can think of zero unless I misunderstood you.

    • The real issue here is that strafe looks like shit. We (on skype) were laughing our asses off just how ridiculous it looks. Other than that it’s got low damage compared to other AOE and mostly you would want your enemy group on one side of the screen, not around you. The movement speed is too slow while strafing. A risky move, even if you can take a hit act3 inferno.

  1. Exploding palm was awesome indeed. Its original implementation is very much missed!

    • I just read this article with horror – how could they mess this up so badly?! I just started my monk, and it was a real tossup which would be my first character, barb or monk, almost entirely based on how much fun the monk was during the BlizzCon demo the year it was revealed.

      I’m so disillusioned now! I was so looking forward to getting Exploding Palm and going around dotting everything into giant explosions (Hm… come to think of it, I really loved the old Blood Golem + Corpse Explosion necro build before it got nerfed too…)

      Man, I hope they fix this! ๐Ÿ˜ฅ ๐Ÿ˜ก ๐Ÿ‘ฟ

      • I must admit, i don’t udnerstand the article on the exploding palm course. Because I use exploding palm, and more importantly mobs literally explodes in tiny bit all over the screen when I kill them, and while different it does have an extremely cool effect when you kill shit.

        Maybe I just have a strange sense for cool :p

      • Exploding Palm is a skill many people use even in Hell (especially the last rune). Perhaps it is just that in Inferno the mobs have too high HP for exploding palm to be effective.

  2. Honestly the only good thing about sacrifice is that it costs no mana. The “ridiculous” damage theorycrafted for it doesn’t really stand up to the always available, simple yet effective zombie bear spam. Again, the only difference here is the mana. You could use sacrifice now if you wanted and not have to worry about dogs dying before u detonate them (though the AI can be retarded and likely they won’t all run in at the same time or against the same target), but the problem is that you blow your load and stuff is still alive. The AI of the dogs makes this an unpredictable skill, the aoe on their detonate isn’t big enough, there’s too much RNG on hoping they revive with next of kin, and it’s too all or nothing. Either your build focuses on sacrifice, or it’s a waste to take it, and if you focus on it, that’s at least 2 skills if not 4 or 5 devoted to it.

  3. I actually like Ancient Spear, its really useful for barbs to pull range monsters (act2 bees) to your self but there is not enough skill slot to put it, and other defensive skills take priority to survive in inferno…

    • This is exactly what I wanted to say. Ancient Spear is an awesome ability, it’s fun to use, heals from range with Dread Spear against bosses, and pulls in annoying stuff that tries to run from you. The only problem is that that kind of luxurious utility is the first thing to go when you need to build up a defensive set of skills just to stay alive in Inferno. I used it all the way through Hell and it’ll be the first thing I add back when I don’t need Impunity.

    • The biggest problem with Ancient Spear to me is that it doesn’t ignore other enemies on the way to your desired target, meaning there’s like a 90% chance it hits an enemy you didn’t want on the way. It gets really frustrating to use. The way I see it, the biggest use areas for it would be pulling in an enemy that runs away that’s almost out of life for the killing blow, pulling over a ranged enemy that’s hurting you while swarmed with melee grunts, and pulling over a boss or champion to put it down first. And it’s just not possible to use in a pack like that, it hits everything else first. ๐Ÿ˜•

    • I may try that, I’m about to go up against those bees in nightmare and they gave my barb lot of problems in normal.

  4. I used Exploding Palm basically from when I got it until Inferno and I loved it. It was forced off of the bar not because I don’t think it’s a valuable skill – I actually think percentage-based damage is a useful thing to have – but because it just gets flooded off of the bar by the need to run almost a complete suite of defensive skills, and of the offensive spirit dumps, Exploding Palm has some of the least additional defensive utility. (It -does- knockback/hitstun everything around when the burst occurs.) Inferno’s lethality also means that it’s relatively tougher to time the skill in a way that it’s actually on there when the thing explodes, and hitting the wrong target with it can result in it being largely wasted.

    I was still surprised to see it in the bottom, though; what are people using Cyclone Strike for?

    • Funny that you would say that. Cyclone strike (usually with wall of wind) hasn’t been off my bar since I got it. (working on act2 inferno currently.)Even when I play solo I usually don’t swap it out.

  5. I honestly think sacrifice is a better spell than it is given credit for. At the moment, I am running a build devoted to sacrifice (4 active and 3 passives totally devoted to it) and it is awesome. It also costs no mana, which is amazing.

    But if dogs were better, it could be an instant mana recovery spell or instant full-health spell whenever needed…

  6. If Exploding Palm was an instant cast, I might find it more appealing. As it is, it requires you to drop your combo flow and follow through with its (albeit short) casting time. Kind of jarring, and multiple times I’ve tried to cast it only to realize that it didn’t actually tag the monster.

    The Monk has so many skills at his disposal, but really only one play style. “Boom, boom, BOOM!” All your primary means of damage are so similar in execution, it’s kind of a drag. More variety would be appreciated on that end.

  7. Wizard: Would you say that shock pulse / piercing orb is all about precise targetting and pin point accuracy ?
    Well I wouldn’t and I don’t use it exactly for that reason, although many inferno players seem to use it (successfully). Actually it looks like one of the 2/3 viable signature spell/rune at high level.

    • It isn’t random, it goes in a waving line where you point it. Plus, the tornadoes do damage over time, meaning they don’t do their full damage unless the enemy is inside it the entire duration (which never happens), the shock orb does 100% of its damage as soon as it hits the enemy.

  8. A balanced Sacrifice build would need the pets to have enough survival to do the job while you wait for the right time to blow them up. A dedicated Sacrifice build would require pretty much all of your skill slots (more than the current zombie bears builds) and thus effectively be a glass cannon build.

    Can you imagine using a Sacrifice build against shielding packs?

    Anyway, they can tweak a lot to make the spell better (most of which won’t be touch the skill itself :P), I just hope they buff the blast-radius and I’ll be happy to run around in hell a bit and laugh.

    • So far, shielding packs are what my Sacrifice build struggles with most. It’s all about timing it exactly right, but they are shielded for so long that the dogs all die before you can blow them up.

      They have announced, however, that the amount of time Shielded mobs spend invulnerable will be cut, so this should get easier.

      As for survivability, I find that final gift + a huge health pickup radius gives me a lot of health globes. I use Spirit Walk as well, obviously.

  9. The problem isn’t so much worthless skills as completely unbalanced skill/rune combinations. Currently, if you looked at each skill/rune combination separately, you’d find that most of them suck (relatively) or are mostly useless.

  10. Too bad the Rage Flip rune effect from Ancient Spear is completely broken and just pulls enemies in, instead of doing the exact opposite which it is supposed to do. Fuck. So much for my Throw Build. ๐Ÿ™

    I have to use Ignore Pain, Revenge, Ground Stomp or Leap(Armor)and War Cry (Resistances) to just deal with trash mobs from barrels no place for fancy pull skills. ๐Ÿ˜

  11. Strafe isn’t the best anti-destructable skill, Elemental Arrow -> Ball Lightning is. Strafe isn’t even close.

    • I suppose it depends on how you define it, but a single second of strafe will kill every destructible on the screen. In every direction, before you can blink. Or before you can even fire a second Ball Lightning orb.

      • Two good choices, but imo the bouncing firebomb provides the best destructible-smashing entertainment value.

        What’s that over in the corner? Five Barrels? Boing, boing boing boing boing! *shinies*

    • Exploding Palm with Essence Burn is the reason i can’t go to another character yet, it’s so much fun!

      Baboom, baboom, baaaaboooooom! ‘You’re Flaws Are Revealed’. What flaw? That you’re explosive!

  12. I was not surprised to see energy twister the most unused skill for the Wizard. Like you said, I tried it in the Beta and it sucked, so I have never even tried the runed versions, which is probably the only skill I havent at least tried to see what it looks like.

    I am in Act 3 Hell and Shock Pulse/Piercing Orb is still working for me. Yeah, its not accurate, but with a good IAS kick, I can stand back and just spam it like crazy. It gets the job done on trash mobs, but I really dont use it much on Champs and Rares, unless I am out of AP.

  13. I’ve tried to make Energy Twister work in a build. Usually with mistral breeze, but it just sucks no matter what you do.

  14. @Flux: Good article, keep doing these.

    @stonecourier: That looks like a really fun spec, but can you possibly kill elites with it? Hard to see how with tougher combos. That said, I bet that is a really fun build; I wish you could use it at lower levels.

  15. A great fix in my opinion for Energy Twister is letting you cast in on the move, especially with the rune that keeps them stationary. It would be great for kiting in that manner.

  16. Mantra of retribution, shouldn’t it be the least popular skill?
    I couldn’t find a usecase for it for from it is available until lvl 60.
    The damage reflected is so pathetic to be able to supplement damage when elite monsters in inferno literally have almost 100 times your hp.

  17. Exploding palm costs way to much for far too little damage and AOE when and if it pops , 200% bleed and 30% pop is nothing compared to even the spirit generators, it needs to do 350% bleed and 80% blast and cost maby 25.

    ancient spear will get a work out in PVP without a doubt.

  18. Jay Wilson loves Barbarian?

    Then explain to me why the so-called Barbarian signature skill, Whirlwind, is utterly useless.

    As for those saying Ancient Spear will see more use in PvP, I just don’t quite see it.

    It’s ridiculously easy to dodge at longer range, and there are simply much better utility skill to have over the damn thing. You can make an argument for positioning, but with so many blink/etc. effects across the board, it’ll do little to no good overall. Furious Charge and Leap are better alternatives, and I doubt if people will have all three on the bar.

  19. That promo video for the monk should have displayed him with a shield,kiting away for his dear life while 5 out of 6 slots are pure defensive stuff.

    The problems with Exploding Palm and ALOT of other monk abilities are:

    When progressing or playing with other people and you re not super overgeared you re stuck with 4 slots of defensive abilities,always the same,with little to no real variation,the aggresive part of the monk is gone,you re a pure meatshield/support.

    Big hitters like Seven Sided Strike or Wave of Light(probably the most pathetic ability in the monk’s arsenal) scale really good with 2handed weapons.Unfortunately 2hand is simply not viable in the later half of Hell and Inferno Content,you generate spirit slower,shoot less defensive abilities and with the lack of block and extra armor….you die.

    Abilities that eat too much spirit to deal neglectible damage or simply have ignorable effects(see Wave of Light,Mantra of Retribution the arguable Tempest Rush and to a lesser extent Mystic ally and Cyclone Strike.

    Maybe all this will change when people will have access to much better gear,i sincerely hope so because i cant wait for the day the monk will actually play like in that trailer.

  20. I do not understand why people continuously point out the effectiveness of skills as the primary reason for using them, or not.

    What would the point be if the skill looks lackluster and has almost no cool impact effect to the environment around it?

    Exploding palm is not just cool for the explosion graphic it creates, but for the blast which knocks things flying. The graphic alone, without a feeling of Impact to the environment, would just feel lame.

    This lame feel, for example literal twisters ground around the room but with no feel of rushing wind or sending objects scattering everywhere – this is the real problem with a lot of these skills, especially epic wizard skills which should tear apart entire rooms.

  21. I used Energy Twister for a while on my Wiz, I actually found it pretty good in certain spots. Venom Hydra just beats everything though.

  22. sacrifice is a better skill when you are in a group with a melee character/s. The Melee character has the mobs attention so you are free to run up and drop your “if target dies they have a chance to come back as a mongrel” skill.

    Bad thing about sacrifice is when you come across the Reflect damage monsters.

    As far as the pets go, I think if pets got your damage reduction that would go a long way to helping them survive longer.

  23. I like the Ideal of Exploding Palm, but it just doesn’t do as much damage as I would like from it.

  24. I’ve been sucessfully using exploding palm as my one non-spirit generator successfully in Inferno. I use essence burn that allows it to restart on other mobs once one explodes. It’s a very time sensitive skill, yet is quite effective when used on a low health mob to chain the damage to others and possibly kill them starting the chain over. If used properly with essence burn you can clear a room with it still being active on something. I think as bliz has suggested that with gear improving as you play that more offensive abilities will arise in Inferno. I use sweeping winds with the extra damage rune, way of 100 fists with the dash+more damage rune, serenity with the heal, blazing wrath damage for 45 seconds with heal, and am a shield wearing one with everything beast. I think it will just take gear for some of these to be useful again.

  25. “(you might argue for Seven Sided Strike, but youโ€™d be wrong)”

    *Shakes fist at you, in a grumpy old manner.*

  26. Blizzard.. please replace energy twister with Frozen Orb!!! (replacing blizzard is probably more realistic and would also be acceptable) I miss it so much!

  27. The summon frog skill from the WD is a skill I dislike almost entirely. The large frog rune has a decent use (snaring an enemy), but is useless other than that. The frog rain is reasonably cool, but you get it so late that you’ll be using Acid Rain anyway. And the normal frogs are unpredictable, tend to do low damage, and the WD’s scream (female) is just SO HORRIBLY ANNOYING.

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