Guest Article: Runewords—a Change to PVP

Player vs. Player combat has changed enormously since Diablo II was released nine years ago, back in June 2000. The expansion added 2 new classes and countless new items, subsequent patches overhauled the skills and spells, but the biggest changes have come from new items, especially from the super-powerful DiabloWikiRunewords added in recent patches. In addition to allowing for far higher defense, damage, and other stat boosts, the runewords (and some uniques) have added the “oskill” modifiers, giving all characters the ability to use skills that were formerly the exclusive property of one character class. The biggest impact of all such items has come from the Runeword armor Enigma, which grants the teleport skill to any character who wears it.

Enigma made a big difference in PvM play, chiefly by making magic find runs quicker and easier, but it had an even larger effect on PvP play, totally changing the balance of character interactions. No longer were Sorceresses uniquely gifted with the escapability their low hit points and defense mandated. Now every character can teleport, making the formerly competitive melee battles a thing of the past, and (essentially) forcing anyone who wished to be competitive at PvP to use their own Enigma.

In this guest article Sepi returns to the subject of PvP (that he discussed in a previous guest article). He’s been at PvP since the days of D2C, and in this article he discusses the evolution of head to head play in D2, and weighs in on the pros and cons of Enigma and other skill-granting items. Enigma changed everything… but was it a good change?

Click through to see the article and join the discussion.

Runewords: a Change to PVP

The Early Days

If you’re like me, and spent time PvPing during the early days of Diablo 2, you may remember the domination of sorceresses and their teleportation and bowazons spamming Guided Arrow across the screen. The good old days of Thunderstorm tracking you and Frozen Orbs everywhere. And don?t forget the Novas. Ah, memories. If you played a barbarian, you pretty much chased people until you died, and you rarely saw a good necromancer due to a lack of survivability. I guess one could have spammed Bone Prison and then hoped his opponent was too stupid to break out of it. Fist of Heaven paladins were always decent, but otherwise paladins were not the best duelers in anything other than melee.

PVP required a change. Certain classes and builds were too dominant, while others were rather useless.

Patch v1.09 and v1.10

Time passes. We?re moving fast here. The expansion launches, and we are introduced to the surprisingly popular trap assassin. A small change hits PVP as Lightning Sentries fill Blood Moor. The true change derives not from the inclusion of the assassin and druid, but the addition of game-changing runewords.

At first the runewords are not so powerful. ?Fury? balrog-blades are the best and consequently most popular runeword. That may not sound true, but I promise it is. Around this time Diablo II is also plagued with hacks, like Wizard Spike rings and super enhanced ?Fury? blades and bows with way more than six sockets full of 40/15?s. It is a strange, somewhat fun time. ?Silence? bows are also good, but for PVP Windforce remains king, or queen. Despite all this, runewords bring a nearly instant change to Diablo II.

Sometime later arrives patch v1.10. Here?s where things get somewhat silly and more interesting. More confusing, too. Runewords like ?Exile,? ?Breath of the Dying,? ?Call to Arms,? and of course ?Enigma? take the game by storm, not to be confused with Thunderstorm. (We already went over that.) I confess that I quit between v1.09 and v1.10—the hacks were too much for me. Rejoining shortly after the patch, I quickly entered a PVP game and found every class teleporting and accordingly destroying me. As a barbarian without ?Enigma? or any of the other amazing runewords, I was rendered harmless. I even Whirlwinded a sorceress and didn?t kill her. It was quite distressing.

I still remember chasing a smiter. I was about to Whirlwind him to death, when he suddenly teleported. It was one of those ?WTF? moments. Maybe I should have read the patch notes.

The Goods, the Bads, but not the Uglies

As suspected, runewords completely changed PVP, starting primarily with ?Enigma? and its ability to give teleport to any and every class. Soon enough almost every competitive non-melee duel consisted of incessant teleporting. And of course we cannot forget ?Chaos? claws lending assassins the barbarian?s Whirlwind ability, and the handful of runewords that grant different paladin auras. (Many of these: ?Faith,? ?Dream,? ?Insight? and more came a bit later, if my memory is correct.)

Like stats, runewords have an upside and downside. Like all competitive players, I abused runewords and used them as much as possible, testing every possible combination. I even had one of those necromancers with the glitched ?Dream? and ?Dragon? mercenary. While I did use runewords, I gradually saw the negative aspects they brought to Diablo II?aspects that are still very much part of the game.

In the old ages, back in my day, you see, long before ?Enigma? and all those darn contraptions, when you had to walk five or ten miles, uphill, to reach Blood Moor, melee duels were far more popular because every class could not teleport at will. We didn?t see amazons with the Fanaticism aura or sorceresses with Conviction. (Poor paladins, having to battle their own auras in almost every duel.) Despite the handful of runewords and their auras and skills and somewhat crazy procs, ?Enigma? was nonetheless the main force behind the change to PVP, and even PVE to an extent. Magic-finding became much easier for every class now that everyone could teleport. Soon all classes became fully capable PVP?ers, and with the addition of other runewords, a plethora of never before seen PVP archetypes emerged from the catacombs. You know, where you?ll usually find Andariel.

Bonemancers became amazing, as did elemental druids and hammerdins. Diablo II became a deeper game, while losing some of its diversity as a result. Skills define a class, and when you give those skills to other classes, the original class suffers. Teleport was obviously meant for sorceresses. They are defensively weak and need the ability to survive. When you give teleport to every other class, the sorceress is weakened. Granted, teleport was too powerful to begin with and something needed to be done. Was ?Enigma? the right answer? I don?t think so.

The Verdict

I?ll say it right now. While I used ?Enigma? because I wanted to be competitive, I never liked it. The same goes for every runeword with a skill attached to it. I?m an advocate of fair and balanced PVP—and PVE for that matter—that most importantly requires skill and knowledge of all classes, their strengths and weaknesses and so on. ?Enigma? and other runewords were good for PVE, even great, but in PVP they were quick fixes to encourage game play, a way to rekindle the fans. The fans wanted something new and shiny, so Diablo II became a chaotic mess of runewords and teleporting paladins. PVP was still fun, true, but at the expense of class distinction.

Somewhere in all that pandemonium certain classes became ?broken.? Paladins. Cough. Cough.

Taking one amazing skill such as teleport and giving it to all classes will of course drastically change the game. Did anyone expect ?Enigma? to so drastically alter Diablo II? I don?t know, but I do believe will we not see a repeat in Diablo III. The D3 Team has said that Runewords will not return in Diablo III. This is a good thing if runes maintained their rarity, as no one would ever build a good runeword anyway. (I have played off and on since the beginning and found two Sur, two Ber, Jah, and Cham. That?s like one runeword per ten years.) Also, I really hope items will not have skills attached to them in Diablo III. While it?s a cool idea and it?s fun to see a druid with three auras changing around him, it destroys class distinction.

I?m sure many will disagree with me. Hell, sometimes I disagree with me, but I want to see each class as their own, separate entity.


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