After playing the beta on and off for the past couple of weeks, I feel I’ve finally digested it enough to start writing some useful commentary. I’m going to start off by discussing all of the skills, with a fairly minute level of analytical detail. First up it’s the Witch Doctor, and in this report I go into exacting detail on all of the Witch Doctor skills.
How do they work, are they fun to use, what situations are they best at, what are their pros and cons, how do they compare to other WD skills and to the comparable skills for other classes, how do their runestone effect project, how have they changed since previous tests in Blizzcon demos, and more. There are new screenshots I took myself for most of the skills, plus some jokes and potentially-amusing non-game references at no extra charge. There’s even a video, courtesy of FludDaStud, that shows every WD skill in zoom visual, as well as game use, for added reader comprehension.
Here’s the first skill, Poison Dart, and yes, they all go into this much detail. Usually more, since most skills have more to talk about than the fairly plain Poison Dart.
Cost: 176 Mana
Description: Fires a deadly poison dart that deals 100% weapon damage as Poison and an additional 80% weapon damage per second as Poison over 2 seconds.
Poison Dart is the Witch Doctor’s starting attack skill, and the unruned form is about as straight forward as a skill can be. Literally! The Witch Doctor whips out a blow pipe and spits one dart in a straight line, which deals poison damage on impact with some additional poison drain over time. Though the firing animation is kind of slow, the dart flies quickly, and I had no trouble hitting even moving targets. (There are very few monsters in the beta that do anything other than advance upon you in a straight line at a predictable speed.)
The damage of poison dart is not bad, and it’s got full screen range; much further than almost all the other Witch Doctor skills. It can not be aimed past anything, though. The first monster it meets, it hits. No shooting through the pack to hit the boss or summoner in the back.
The unruned version in the beta though, is fairly quickly surpassed by other attack skills. It’s steady and dependable, and the mana cost is negligible, but it’s kind of a boring skill. One shot, straight line, single target, etc. Other Witch Doctor skills do more damage, albeit with generally a lot less range, but as most monsters are eager to advance into close proximity, a long range skill isn’t a real necessity.
I greatly enjoyed the Indigo rune upgrade when using this one in the Blizzcon 2010 demo; the level 2 rune turned it into 4 shots in rapid succession. It wasn’t 4x the damage, but it was at least double, since you could have fired about 2 normal darts in the time it took for the 4 machine gun style. Higher level runes allow more shots, up to 8 with a level 7 rune. All of the darts are aimed at the same target, so that rune would make it a boss killer, or be best used when firing into a large crowd or down a crowded corridor.
The other rune effects look kind of plain, really. Snakes on a face sound fun, but the effect is actually pretty minor, and I can’t see many players using the runes that add fire damage, or mana leech, or slow the target. There are plenty of other Witch Doctor skills that do those things much better than runed Poison Dart.
I’m surprised there’s not something like a Poison Explosion runestone effect, that would burst on impact and send out clouds of gas to make it an AoE skill. That, especially if there were some chance of piercing (from equipment?) would make this an end game viable skill. As it is I don’t see anything but the Indigo machine gun maybe being long term useful as a boss killer.
Click through for all the rest, plus the video.
All of the Witch Doctor’s beta skills briefly demonstrated.
Plague of Toads
Plague of Toads
Cost: 211 Mana
Description: Release a handful of toads that deal 155% weapon damage as Poison to enemies they come in contact with.
Plague of Toads looks like an amphibian form of Charged Bolt (which was recently renamed Shock Pulse, for no apparent reason), and that pretty well sums it up. Ribbit.
The toads are a little slower in their movement, but like the sparks from Shock Pulse they come out three at a time (unruned) and are widely-spread at the start, making it hard to hit a target with even two of them, much less all three. Each toad does separate damage, so hitting something with two of them indeed doubles it, but you need to be at point blank range, and ideally have a large target. Even the Skeleton King is hard to hit with more than one toad, though I found this skill quite effective against the wide Unburied, and it would be broadside-of-a-barn useful against the much larger enemies found later in the game.
One way this skill differs from Shock Pulse is that the toads do not spread out so widely. They start off widely-spaced, but after that they tend to go more or less straight forward from the Witch Doctor. It’s kind of a slow process getting a bunch of toads out, since they hop not so quickly, but if you have time to cast 4 or 5 flights of them while monsters are advancing or otherwise taking time to appear in front of you, you can get a decent carpet of them laid out, which will deal considerable damage to anything that enters the Frogger zone.
This skill might have more utility later in the game than in the beta, since the monsters are so weak early on that one or two toads is usually enough to finish them off. If the enemies took more damage, a Witch Doctor could stand back and cast up 10 or 12 rows of these guys, sending them hopping into the enemies in devastating waves of splattering goo. The biggest drawback to that approach is that the toads advance slowly and don’t go that far before they splat, whether they find a target or not.
The most logical runestone enhancement would be a way to create more toads per cast. This would up the total damage, and make it easier to hit a single target with multiple toads. None of the runestone effects do this, but possibly the skill will automatically add more toads as the Witch Doctor levels up? (It’s still just 3 at Clvl 13 in the beta.) There are older screenshots of a Witch Doctor casting 4 at a time, but that might have come from more skill points, which is no longer an option.
The current known runestone effects add confusion to enemies, or change the damage to fire, or reduce the mana cost. Meh. The Indigo rune Rain of Toads might be interesting, but we’ll have to see how the damage compares to other such attacks. Finally, I don’t know if Toad of Hugeness will be any good, other than perhaps in specific situations, but it certainly sounds cool. It’s a huge, stationary toad that eats enemies in a single gulp.
We don’t know how fast the eating rate might be, or how effective it would be against bosses and champions. The huge toad will eat them, or at least try to, but as of last year’s Blizzcon demo, this wasn’t a very useful attack. It ate the enemies, but only did some X amount of damage, and if that wasn’t sufficient to kill the enemy outright, the toad would just chew on them for a moment before spitting them out, less some health, to let the fight continue. Not a bad effect, but annoying in an MP game as the other players all stood around, waiting for the toad to stop chewing, so they could continue the battle.
Summon Zombie Dogs
Summon Zombie Dogs
Summon (Level 2)
Cost: 176 Mana
Cooldown: 60 seconds
Description: Summons 3 zombie dogs from the depths to fight by your side.
Better known as “Mongrels,” this is the default tank for the beta, and a very effective one. The dogs don’t have a lot of killing power — all three of them on the same normal enemy is considerably slower than any Witch Doctor attack spell — but they’re not meant for damage in their base form. They’re meat shields, and they do a pretty good job of that.
I hadn’t seen any die in the beta play through videos, but when experimenting with the Witch Doctor I started bypassing all of the health orbs, and soon noticed the dogs losing hit points and even dying off. They take a fair amount of damage in every big fight, and can even die to a boss or a big pack, if you do not heal them or get any health globes during the battle. Most players just don’t notice it since there are always more health orbs than you need to keep the doggies healthy. (This is basically all the Witch Doctor needs health orbs for in the beta; actually needing to heal for yourself is almost unheard of, unless you’re playing without mongrels or are making a speed run.)
This skill previously worked with “one cast per dog,” so it took three casts to get all three of them out. (And you got more dogs with more skill points.) No more; now a single cast summons all three dogs, or resummons fresh ones if your current batch are wearing out or one or more have died. It’s a full replacement cast, too; if you have two left you don’t just cast one new one to join the others; you get three new dogs. You never get more than three now; whether you’re Clvl 1 or Clvl 60.
Another previous Mongrel function was the ability to set them on fire or plague them… for their own good. Those effects did not harm the dogs, but increased their damage by adding fire or poison (or even Plague of Locusts) to their attacks. This is no longer a game feature, though some of those effects can still be added with runestones.
The real dog damage comes not from anything to do with this skill, but from blowing them up with Sacrifice. Alas, that skill requires Clvl 16, and thus is not usable in the beta. It was usable in the Arena demo at Blizzcon 2010, where it served as (by far) the Witch Doctor’s most damaging spell attack. Once that one becomes available, Mongrel husbandry will change radically, as they’ll go from highly-durable tanks to quadrupedal Corpse Explosions.
In the beta the 60 second cooldown is meaningless, since you virtually never need to recast the Mongrels. That will change radically once Sacrifice becomes available, and higher level monsters capable of dealing much greater damage will make for a big change as well, making dog healing an essential part of gameplay. On the whole, Mongrel use will change radically past Clvl 16, likely in ways we can’t yet envision.
The protective nature of the Mongrels is emphasized by the rune effects, three of which are defensive bonuses. Alabaster’s Leeching Beasts grants 65% of damage dealt as life, half of which heals the WD, Indigo’s Life Link turns the dogs into mana shields, redirecting 70% of the damage the Witch Doctor takes to the dogs, and Golden’s Final Gift grants an 85% chance of a dog leaving behind a health globe when it dies. That would be useless in the beta, since the dogs don’t die. It’ll be much more interesting once Sacrifice is enabled, assuming “blown up with Sacrifice” is considered “death.”
The other two runes are pure damage boosters. Crimson’s Burning Dogs (which I’m sure everyone will just call “Fire Dogs” even though they lack spots.) grants a fire effect that causes nearby enemies to burst into flame. And Obsidian’s Rabid Dogs gives the dogs an infectious bite that deals 35% of your weapon damage per second as Poison for 3 seconds. I assume that “bite” is metaphorical here, since the dog attacks are leaping slashing front paw attacks, as seen in the beta at least.
Grasp of the Dead
Grasp of the Dead
Cost: 53 Mana
Cooldown: 8 seconds
Description: Hands reach out from the ground slowing enemy movement by 50% and dealing 50% weapon damage per second as Physical for 8 seconds.
Grasp of the Dead is surprisingly fun to use. It’s never actually necessary in the beta, but that’s true for pretty much every non-attack skill. The radius of effect is fairly large, it lasts for 8 seconds, and every monster in the area is slowed and damaged that whole time. The damage isn’t huge, but 50% weapon damage per second for 8 seconds is a more than respectable 400% weapon damage over the whole skill, and with the slowing effect most of the monsters remain in the kill zone for the whole duration. Especially if you cast it on top of where your Mongrels are already tanking.
The cooldown is quite short as well; you’re not often going to use two of them in the same battle, but the 8 seconds almost always elapses before the next battle begins. While testing this one in the beta, I hardly ever tried to cast it a second time when it wasn’t available. Much more often I was surprised to see that it was already cooled-down and ready to use again. Only the fact that you just don’t *need* to use it keeps it from being on nearly every hotkey list. That and the limited hotkeys in the early game; I think this one will be quite popular in the late game, since it provides a very handy defensive aid and deals good damage as well.
The GotD rune effects are fairly unimpressive, at a glance. That seems to be a common theme in the runestone effects; the skills that are already good don’t get that much of an improvement, while the skills that are useless seem to get much better bonuses. Thus making the final runed versions more balanced than the base skills?
At any rate, the Obsidian Unbreakable Grasp is my early nomination for worst runestone bonus in the game. It does nothing but increase the monster slow from 50% to 64% at Clvl 60/Rlvl 7. Which I’m sure is almost noticeable, when used on the very fastest monsters in the game. (All of which will be stationary as they grind on your tanks anyway.)
The others are better, though I think Golden, with a reduction in the cooldown from 8 to 4.5 seconds, is either the best or the worst. Cutting the cooldown to 4.5s means you could use it almost constantly, with GotD’s 8s duration it would be active almost 2/3 of the time. On the other hand, since you usually use it once per battle and the cooldown runs out between fights… why do you need to spend a rune to cut 3.5s off the cooldown?
Alabaster’s Death is Life gives “killed targets” (killed by the GotD, presumably) a 65% chance to drop a Health Globe. Which is nice, but Witch Doctors seem to have the least use for health globes of any character in the game.
The other two both add damage, and might display the most obvious “cool vs. function” tradeoff in the game. Crimson’s Groping Eels ups the physical damage to 120% weapon damage per second. On the other hand, Indigo’s Rain of Corpses only ups the damage to 70% weapon damage (but not per second?)… but it deals it with corpses that fall from the sky. From the sky! Is the coolness of being able to rain corpses on your enemies worth 50% less damage?
Cost: 106 Mana
Description: Haunt an enemy with a spirit dealing 500% weapon damage as Arcane over 15 seconds. If the target dies, the spirit will automatically haunt another nearby enemy. You may have up to 3 Haunt effects active at once.
When using Haunt, the Witch Doctor fires out a ghostly spirit that latches onto one monster, dealing considerable DoT for 15 seconds. Better yet, if the target dies the spell can “rehaunt,” duplicating itself out to another nearby monster. Cast two or three of these into a big pack of regular monsters and you’ve set a weasel loose in the henhouse, except that hens have enough sense to run from a weasel. Monsters don’t see or know or react to Haunt, and it simply mows them down like a contagion, hopping from one corpse to the next.
Haunt is the disease. Death is the cure.
Haunt is extremely effective in the beta; probably too strong for such a low level skill. The only thing it’s not great for is quickly killing bosses, or quickly finishing off a huge mob. The DoT works nicely on bosses, but it takes a while, and while Haunt wreaks havoc on packs of monsters, this too takes a while. You can only have three Haunts out at once, each of which will rehaunt other nearby enemies when the first target dies.
Hypothetical situation: There’s a pack of ten monsters, you fire three Haunts, and each Haunt takes three seconds to kill a target = it’ll take nine seconds to kill all but one of the monsters. This ignores the slight transfer time for rehaunts, and assumes that the enemies remain in close proximity. You could probably do better using Firebomb or Firebats, or even Plague of Toads, but for Firebats or Plague of Toads you’ll need the monsters to be fairly nearby, while Haunt can be fired at enemies all the way across the screen. Plus you can target Haunt at any monster you want; the spirit will pass over an unlimited number of enemies on the way to the target.
So no, Haunt isn’t that great as your only attack skill, though it can serve for that if you don’t mind dodging around a bit and waiting for things to die. (As they surely will.) It’s excellent as a support skill, though, especially when teamed with some other direct attack that you’ll use for close range combat, or boss killing.
It’s also the best skill in the beta to rack up super large massacre bonuses, due to the way the rehaunt effect lets it keep dealing damage for a considerable time.
The base skill almost seems like a rune effect already; one that ups the damage considerably, or maybe that grants the rehaunt capability. Nope, there’s more!
You can make the spirit deal more damage over a much shorter time, make it do life leech or mana leech, make it slow targets, or make it linger for up to 15 seconds, waiting for another victim to come into range.
Of those effects, the Obsidian Grasping Spirit (slow target 50%) is the sneaky effective one. That would make Haunt enough to neuter almost any enemy, including bosses. Steady damage over time, plus it slows them down too much to catch you. The biggest style changer though, is the Alabaster Resentful Spirit, which changes the damage to 320% weapon damage per second for 1.9 seconds (At Clvl 60/Rlvl 7.) That’s compared to 500% weapon damage over 15 seconds for the base skill. So the base works out to 100% weapon damage every 3 seconds, vs. 320% in 1.9 seconds. This would change the skill to a huge damage, single-target attack, one quite suitable for taking out bosses (with multiple recasts) or devastating normal monsters as the rehaunt would just tear through them.
Cost: 229 Mana
Description: Call forth a reckless, suicidal zombie that deals 150% weapon damage as Poison to all enemies in its way.
Zombie Charger is mildly useful in the beta, but only when aimed carefully and in certain situations. The skill creates a zombie that
runs walks forward in a straight line, disintegrating into a cloud of green, poisonous smoke as it moves. The damage isn’t huge, but it can pass through multiple enemies if they’re very tightly bunched, and will deal the full damage to all of them.
Drawbacks. The skill is more ambler than charger, and moves slowly. It’s got a very short range; you practically have to be at melee range to hit anything with it. The poison cloud looks nice, but it’s much narrower in effect than visual, and while this skill can hit multiple enemies, they have to be really close together for that to happen. This is well demonstrated when you cast it at barrels or crates or other destructibles, and watch the smoke pass over half a dozen barrels, while only one breaks.
More drawbacks! The poison cloud dissipates quite quickly, so monsters aren’t likely to move through it and get poisoned. Also, the charger gets stuck on any little corner or obstacles it runs into. It’s very easy to cast this one right at a monster, and see it stop immediately in front of you thanks to a corner, or a chest, or an urn, etc, blocking about 1/50th of the leftmost corner of the zombie. On the whole, the unruned version of this is probably the least effective of the Witch Doctor’s direct damage skills available in the beta.
The runestone effects seem very useful for this one, directly addressing most of the skill’s numerous shortcomings. When they don’t change the skill’s function entirely.
The Crimson rune creates the iconic Zombie Bears. Instead of the single humanoid zombie, several skinned bears rush forward, moving much more quickly and dealing greater damage. The Golden rune creates Undeath, which adds a chaining effect if it kills the target, allowing the Zombie Charger to respawn and head for a new enemy, up to 8 times. That would be devastating against large groups of weak enemies, but then again, so are most skills. Indigo creates Wave of Zombies, sending out up to 8 at once though we don’t know how widely they’re spread. And Obsidian’s Leperous Zombie causes the poisonous cloud to linger, dealing poison damage to anything that passes through it.
The one that’s most different is Alabaster’s Explosive Beast, which summons an explosive mongrel that deals fire damage over a large radius. Why they didn’t just make it a fiery exploding zombie, I dunno. Maybe this is kind of an homage to Sacrifice, which is another way to blow up the mongrels? At any rate, this is the most damaging by far, and AoE, albeit over a fairly small radius. If you could summon the mongrel anywhere you wanted (rather than right under your feet) that could be a very useful attack.