This second part concludes my giant WD beta skills report. This installment goes into great detail about the usability, play style, effectiveness, look, and more of six Witch Doctor skills: Hex, Corpse Spiders, Horrify, Firebats, Firebomb, and Spirit Walk. The article also includes some general Witch Doctor commentary and analysis, largely spurred by questions/comments posted about part one. There’s even a video that shows off every WD skill, if you want moving pictures to go with the words.
Refer to part one of this Witch Doctor report for detailed discussion of the first six Witch Doctor skills: Poison Dart, Plague of Toads, Mongrels, Grasp of the Dead, Haunt, and Zombie Charger.
Let’s start off with Hex; click through for more general WD discussion, and the other five skills.
Summon (Level 6)
Cost: 176 Mana
Cooldown: 10 seconds
Description: Summon a Fetish Shaman for 8 seconds that will hex enemies into chickens. Hexed enemies are unable to perform offensive actions and take 20% additional damage.
Another skill I’d never seen used in a playthrough video. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it. It’s not necessary in the beta, and probably isn’t really worth using long term, but it’s very funny to use. I was eloeling every time I cast it, especially against bosses. As the description says, you summon a Fetish Shaman (which looks very much like the D2 version) and it turns enemies into chickens. They’re fairly large chickens, a bit bigger and more white in color than the gold companion chicken, but they’re definitely chickens, and they are helpless for the duration of the transformation.
I tried this skill out a lot, and it works on bosses and even SuperUniques. The only monster in the beta that wasn’t poultrified was the Skeleton King, who seemed to be completely immune to it. When you cast it the shaman appears instantly, and he will Hex something almost every time, the moment he’s active. So if you cast it with just one enemy in sight, you can count on that enemy clucking a second later. The shaman hardly ever casts it twice per duration, even when there are numerous monsters around, so you’re basically limited to one chickening per 18 seconds, given the skill duration and cooldown between casts.
Thus Hex is just for special occasions. For bosses, basically, and it’s quite useful there, since it instantly neuters their entire offensive suite. The chicken just stands there, with the hover tag still showing the boss’ name, and it’s funny. FUNNY! The effect doesn’t last that long, and with most bosses they turned back into their normal selves before I could kill them in chicken form, but it gave me free hits with bonus damage for some time.
Bear in mind though, that the boss mods do not go away while in chicken form, and also realize that almost all bosses have minions, and that all champions spawn in small groups. So you’ll get one turned into a chicken, but the rest are still their normal aggressive selves. And if the boss is Electrified or Molten or Arcane Enchanted or whatever, those effects are still active even when drumsticks are involved.
The rune effects are as weird as the skill itself. Two are straightforward: Alabaster’s Jinx increases the damage the chicken takes, and Crimson’s Painful Transformation makes targets bleed for 60% of weapon damage per second.
The Obsidian Unstable Form isn’t too much different, with the monster chicken exploding for a splash of 240% weapon damage as poison, over a very small 8 yard radius, if it dies while still a chicken. That sounds nice, but since this skill is used primarily on bosses, the monster often changes back before it dies, and there’s likely to be nothing else nearby when you kill a boss… useless! You could benefit from the splash damage when normal monsters died, but I don’t think it’s enough to bother with. Not while every other attack skill deals so much more damage than the occasional hexed monster explosion would.
Golden’s Hedge Magic changes things around, causing the Fetish Shaman to “periodically heal friendly targets for 5322 Life.” The question there, of course, is just how “periodically” that is. Once per cast? Once per second? Is there a range limit? Does it prioritize healing to chars with lower hps? Etc.
The masterpiece though, is the Indigo Angry Chicken, which turns the Witch Doctor into an “Angry Chicken.” This transformation lasts for 5 seconds, and when it ends you explode (back into human form, presumably) for 300% weapon damage to all enemies within 12 yards. (Which isn’t very far, hardly more than melee range in the Diablo III non-metric scale.) This is one of the weirder skill rune effects in the game, and I can not imagine any game scenario in which this would be optimal. Funny, yes. Useful? A Witch Doctor can always deal much more than 300% weapon damage over any five second period with just about any attack skill. Maybe as a crazy surprise in PvP, and it’s hilarious to envision other players running for their lives from the Witch Doctor in chicken form, while the counter clicks towards zero.
Methinks the devs just couldn’t come up with any more useful chicken-related skill effects, so they threw this one out there to see if it would fly. Not so much. Just like a real chicken!
Spell Damage Determined by Weapons?
Shortly after the beta began, Blizzard updated the skill descriptions on their website. These new tool tips all declare that the Wizard and Witch Doctor spell damage is determined by their weapon damage. (Plus item modifiers like +% spell damage, +attributes, etc.) That’s how it works in the most recent version of the game, but it’s not how it works in the older beta build. Spell damage in the beta is determined by attributes, +spell damage item modifiers, Clvl, and other such things. It is not based on your weapon damage.
I didn’t think it was, but last night I got on to check, and compared the damage my Clvl 12 Witch Doctor did with a variety of spells, while using a variety of different weapons. They were:
- A normal dagger that did 5-9 damage.
- A normal long bow that did around 8 damage.
- A magical dagger with +9% Witch Doctor spell damage and faster casting rate (my usual weapon).
- A magical two-handed axe with around 28-36 damage.
My off hand item when using the daggers was a voodoo doll which granted +experience and faster casting, so it did not affect the spell damage. When I refer to spell damage, I mean the numbers that pop up above the enemies as they are hit by an attack. I do not mean the tool tip hover text on the spells (which is useless, since it’s much lower than the damage you actually do) or the character window display (which is even more useless, since it shows the damage your weapon would do with a basic attack).
Had I already upgraded to a computer that could record video at a decent frame rate, I’d have filmed this trial. Since I didn’t, I’ll cut to the chase and say that the plain dagger, the plain bow, and the magical axe were virtually identical in the spell damage output. Zombie Charger did 28-35 or so with all three, Firebats did about 15-17 per hit with all 3, Grasp of the Dead did 5-6 per hit with all three, etc. I didn’t notice any difference in casting speed, range, to/hit, etc, either. (Incidentally, elemental damage on your weapon does not show up in spell effects. A poison bow doesn’t add poison to your Firebats, Haunt, GotD, etc. Same is true for the Wizard.)
When I used the magical dagger with +9% Witch Doctor damage, I did much higher damage than with the other 3 weapons, with every spell. Zombie Charger was around 35-43, Firebats was 18-20, GotD was 6-8, etc. All those figures are approximate, and there were often critical hits that did 50-100% more damage (the damage number is yellow when a crit triggers), but it was obvious that the weapon damage had no impact on my spell damage.
How much the game is different in the full version now, with weapon damage factoring in, is unknown. It would be nice if Blizzard put the current version into the beta so we could test it out, but as they’ve said in the past, they’re not going to make many updates to the beta client, they think their Q&A team can take care of the necessary pre-release testing, and they’re prepared to make quick patches post-release for balancing purposes.
At any rate, from the little we now know it seems like every Witch Doctor and Wizard will want to carry around a huge two-handed weapon to make their spells do more damage. As that seems inappropriate and lame, most fans are assuming the Diablo III Team will somehow rebalance wands, daggers, and other spell caster weapons to make their damage comparable with the big weapons. Or will caster weapons deal lower damage, but become useful via mods like +spell damage, faster casting rate, etc?
Witch Doctor Skill Demo
This short video demonstrates all of the Witch Doctor’s skills. Thanks to FludDaStud for creating it.
Cost: 282 Mana
Description: Summon 4 spiders to attack nearby enemies for 20% weapon damage as Physical.
Corpse Spiders changed several times during development, and should probably be renamed at this point. Initially this skill summoned a rotten looking human corpse which burst up out of the ground to about waist level. From the body came skittering spiders, eager to attack nearby monsters. Sometimes the spiders were vomited up by the zombie and other times they burst out of the chest like Aliens. Cool!
Now this skill works more like Firebomb, in that the Witch Doctor hurls a white vase (bottle?) like a grenade, and when it lands it breaks and spiders pop out. This seems a really lame change, so I’m guessing it was functional. They probably found that the summoned corpse was impossible to see on busy screens, if you cast it in the middle of a bunch of enemies, so now the Witch Doctor hurls a vase that you can see flying to the target spot. [Why not have the thrown object (something cooler than a vase) be what triggers the corpse to emerge? Too slow?]
Whatever the delivery system, this one is fairly ineffective. The concept seems to be that this is a DoT spell that deals Physical damage instead of poison or fire or whatever is the ghost damage Haunt deals (Arcane). Unfortunately, there’s no reason (at least not in the beta) that you’d want to prioritize one type of damage over another, since all you care about is more damage against monsters that have negligible resistances. On that front Corpse Spiders fails, since the damage is very low and the spiders are slow to start delivering it.
This can be used as a sort of support skill, pairing it with something more damaging but with a shorter range and more direct attack, such as Plague of Toads or Firebats. Even for that, Corpse Spiders are slow, low damage, and not very visual, or visually-impressive. The listed damage is 20% of weapon damage per spider. Compare that to something like Haunt, which does 500% weapon damage, or Plague of Toads, which does 155% weapon damage. And both those skills are easier to target, and have a faster casting rate.
None of the rune effects really change things. You can make the spiders stun, or change the damage to fire +damage, or make the damage leech back mana, or make the spiders jump and deal more damage. The most interesting is the Indigo rune effect, Spider Queen, which summons a mother spider that births spiderlings. They deal 103% weapon damage/second as poison, which is the highest damage of any form of Corpse Spiders, but we don’t know how many spiderlings are birthed (hatched?), how quickly they start popping out, how long the big spider animation takes to start doing stuff, etc.
In any event, none of these sound damaging enough to compare with any number of other Witch Doctor spells. Alas. It’s odd that none of the rune effects actually connect back to the skill name. (Which really should be changed. Maybe to Bottle of Spiders?”) Something like Zombie Charger would have worked; you summon a zombie which then runs around, dropping spiders like rats from a sinking ship. That’s basically the same thing as Spider Queen, but at least it would live up the skill’s name.
Cooldown: 20 seconds
Description: Don a spectral mask that horrifies all enemies within 12 yards, causing them to run in fear for 5 seconds.
As you might guess, Horrify is pretty much irrelevant in the beta. It might be useful later in the game, when the monsters get more dangerous, but it’s odd to use at the base, since it’s got a very small radius, (Fan of Knives is 10 yards, for the sake of comparison; that’s about the radius of a Cultist summoning circle with you standing in the center.) the effect doesn’t last very long, and there’s a long cooldown. So basically it’s a panic button skill, but one that you can’t relax an instant after using, since in just five seconds those monsters are coming right back at you. And since the radius is so small, hardly more than melee range, there are almost certainly other monsters still coming at you who weren’t close enough to be frightened by the initial cast.
I haven’t seen anyone use this in the beta in any of the play-through videos, but I did take the time to try it out. It works, but the 5 seconds seems woefully quick. One thing to realize is that most monsters don’t really move that quickly, and this spell doesn’t give them a turbo boost. For five seconds they are moving away from you, but they won’t go all that far in five seconds, and they’re moving away in all directions, so if you were surrounded when you cast it… you still are!
You’ve got to be very quick with your reactions to make this skill useful; the instant you cast it you’ve got to switch back to your attack skill and get some kills while they run away, or else run like an emo girl’s eyeliner. And even that might not work, since all the monsters move directly away from you, so you’ll probably be running right beside some of them, no matter which direction you choose.
The skill does work on almost everything, at least. It will send bosses and champions running away, including SuperUniques. Only the Skeleton King didn’t flee, in my beta testing.
The rune effects are a mixed bag, mostly devoted to improving the basic function. So you can greatly increase the radius of effect, or increase the duration of fear (but not both). Or you can gain a heap of mana for every frightened enemy, or considerably increase your armor for 8 seconds after the cast.
The Alabaster rune effect, Stalker, is an interesting one, as it grants you 50% increased movement speed for 4 seconds after the cast. That would tie nicely into the “think fast/act fast!” mindset you need to have to use Horrify effectively, and you’d cast it and run the instant you did, flashing past the scared enemies and getting to a safe distance… but only if you got to it immediately.
On the whole, I don’t think this skill works. The radius and duration are too short, and even with the runestone improvements it still seems like a very specialized and not very effective defensive skill. I can’t imagine many scenarios when I’d use this instead of Spirit Walk, and the fact that a Witch Doctor would hardly ever need/want it given his other skills and minion tanks is no excuse.
If I had to guess I’d say Horrify was one of the first Witch Doctor skills, way back when the devs were still planning to give the class a number of Necromancer-like mind control skills. The class has moved away from those types of abilities, and this one isn’t really any good, but since it was in the game from the start, no one wants to pull the plug on it after so long.
Cost: 352 Mana per second
Description: A swarm of fiery bats burn enemies in front of you for 130% weapon damage per second as Fire.
When I used Firebats in last year’s Blizzcon PvE demo, it was unimpressive. The spell looked fine, but the range and damage were both quite lacking, with the range the real drawback. I had to stand virtually on top of my Mongrels to be close enough to hit monsters in the second row. Happily, there were runes in that demo, and once I added one that increased the range and damage, Firebats turned into a devastatingly powerful skill. It was too good, really, since it had almost full screen damage and I was able to just stand still, sweeping it around the screen and killing every single monster as they approached my Mongrels.
Things have changed since then, in function. In the beta, the base version of Firebats is much better than it was, it starts working more quickly (previously you had to hold down the mouse button for maybe half a second before the bats really started to flow properly), and there’s no longer any rune that simply increases the range and damage of the bats.
The skill is very easy to use, and it’s safe to think of it as a flapping Inferno. The Witch Doctor remains stationary, and pours forth an endless flock of flaming bats, spending a fairly large amount of mana per second. It’s hard to estimate “yards” in Diablo III, as they’re much shorter than real world yards, but going by the scale of other skills (the default version of Fan of Knives goes out to 10 yards) I’d say that Firebats looks like it goes about 20 yards, and actually deals damage to about 25. It’s far from full screen, but it’s enough to hit three or four rows of enemies at once, even if they’re not at melee range to begin with.
As best I can remember, the graphic was identical in earlier builds. The length just differed, as monsters near the tip of the spray didn’t take any damage at all. Now targets even beyond the last bats seem to get cooked. That’s why I say the skill is visually about 20 yards, but has about 25 yards of effect. Though the visual was the same, I’d estimate that the effect was about 15 yards in the Blizzcon 2010 demo. Hence I was surprised when early F&F testers reported that unruned Firebats was really good, since it looked just as I’d remembered, when it wasn’t so useful.
They were right. It is.
There doesn’t seem to be any sweet spot; full damage is dealt to enemies anywhere in the range of the bats, and I mean anywhere; enemies in front do not soak up all the bats and save the back row from getting hit. Every monster in range gets the full damage. The only limitation on this skill is the fairly heavy mana drain. It’s the only Witch Doctor skill in the beta that can drain your mana in normal use, though you need a huge pack or the Skeleton King to fire long enough to run dry.
Crimson’s Dire Bats sounds like the best bet to me, as it creates larger bats with greater range and much higher damage (Up to 325% weapon damage per second vs. 130% at the base). It’s not clear how much more range that is, though. The tool tip says 35 yards, but the base skill doesn’t list a range, so it’s hard to compare. Also, 35 isn’t *that* far; the default version of the Demon Hunter’s Vault goes 35y, and an Indigo rune can extends that to 70y, which is presumably the very edge of the screen. So no, 35y isn’t anywhere near full screen, even on smaller resolutions. It’s still plenty far to put the winged rodent cook on anything in the immediate vicinity, though.
Golden’s Vampire Bats grants 35% of damage as life leech (which would = pretty much instant heal, as damaging as the skill is). Indigo’s Hungry Bats sounds like it creates homing bats that deal 210% weapon damage, but why would you want that, when the skill is so accurate and can be much more damaging with Crimson? Obsidian grants Plague Bats, which deal poison damage that starts slow but grows to 275% weapon damage per second, but again, Crimson does more damage, immediately, with much more range.
The only real game changing rune is Alabaster’s Cloud of Bats. It creates a swirl of bats right on top of the Witch Doctor, which deal 358% weapon damage per second (as fire) to anything in range. This is the biggest damage of the lot, but requires the Witch Doctor to get up close and personal to use it. Basically this is a super effective version of Storm Armor, and if it could share to party members, it would be a fantastic group skill. As it is it seems only useful for melee Witch Doctors. I can’t see why you’d ever want to use this when Crimson does nearly as much damage, to far more targets, over much greater range?
Cost: 264 Mana
Description: Lob an explosive skull that deals 130% weapon damage as Fire to all enemies within 8 yards.
One of the simplest Witch Doctor skills, and also one of the most fun to use, this one is just what it looks like. It’s a firebomb grenade, and you chuck them wherever you want to. There is some skill to using it; you have to learn what the maximum range is (you can’t throw it all the way to the side edges or corners), and it can be hard to hit advancing enemies since there’s some hang time and you have to lead the targets a bit. But it’s very visceral and blasty and awesome, just like Jay Wilson says.
The damage is impressive, in the beta at least. It should be, as this is a Clvl 11 skill that you’re using on monsters you’d normally face at Clvl 6-8. At any rate, Firebomb kills pretty much everything in a single shot, and while the radius isn’t huge, it takes large bites out of any mob you hurl it into. Using it with Mongrels of course makes the aiming much easier, but that feels less than sporting; like those “safaris” where hunters pay to shoot tame bears in a fenced enclosure. (And get them stuffed like this.)
I enjoyed using this in the beta, but it’s almost too fun/easy. You chuck it and everything dies. I found several other Witch Doctor skills more fun since I felt like I had to do more work aiming them, or conversing mana while using them, etc.
For all the apparent speed of this skill, it’s not that great a boss killer. Well, normal bosses, sure. But it’s not that useful against Leoric, since you have to throw a LOT of them to kill him, and you will run out of mana doing so. It’s more effective against regular monsters, or even most normal monster type boss packs, and it’s fun to use. What more do you want?
None of Firebomb’s rune effects make any major changes to the skill’s function, though they all specialize it in various ways.
There are two effects that seem designed to make Firebomb a boss killer. Obsidian’s Fire Pit leaves a “pool of fire” on the ground which deals 40% weapon damage per second for 3 seconds. Presumably the “pool” is the same size as the initial explosion. Compare that to Golden’s Pyrogeist, which “creates a column of flame that spews fire at the closest enemy.” This deals 64% weapon damage (per second or total?) for 3 seconds. I’d think Fire Pit better for more situations, since you face a lot more boss packs and champion groups than you do single targets in Diablo 3. But both have promise.
The other three all serve to spread the damage more widely. I think I’ll enjoy Crimson’s Conflagration, which expands the blast zome to 28y (not clear if that’s radius or diameter, but it’s pretty big either way), at 104% weapon damage. That would turn Firebomb into an awesome AoE attack against mobs of mobs, and the bigger the better. I’m talking Secret Cow Level BBQ.
Indigo’s Roll the Bones works much the same, adding up to two bounces to the Firebomb. It doesn’t have nearly the range of Conflagration, but it does a lot more damage, going off at 182%, 167%, and 152% weapon damage, with each bounce. Maybe better for those who want to aim, and the initial hit is much improved. Plus the bounces scale to how far you throw it; longer throw = longer bounces, so if you were tossing them at monsters already on your Mongrels, you could probably get 2 or even all 3 blasts to hit the same enemies, really upping the damage in a small area.
The last rune effect sounds crazy, and I want to see it before I believe it. Alabaster’s Flash Fire basically turns the Firebomb into Chain Lightning, making it bounce “up to 8 additional targets.” Damage is reduced by 20% per bounce, so I assume that’s from the current total, rather than a flat 20% each time, or else you’d be dealing -60% damage at max level. How far the bounces will travel, how accurately they track, etc, remains to be seen. And the damage reduction seems too harsh to make this useful with more than about 3 target bounces. But it certainly does sound fun. Envision the full flaming skull bouncing from target to target like an angry pachinko ball, and unless there’s some kind of huge cooldown on this, you could surely have 3 or 4 Firebombs bouncing between multiple targets at once. Imagine just chain chucking these into a huge mob, as each one bounces around wildly, the splash explosion hitting multiple monsters with every bounce? That I want to see.
Movement (Level 12)
Cost: 176 Mana
Cooldown: 15 seconds
Description: Enter the spirit realm for 3 seconds. While in the spirit realm, your movement is unhindered. Your link to the spirit realm will end if you cast any spell or your physical body sustains 50% of your maximum health in damage.
Another skill that no one has used on purpose in the Diablo 3 Beta, Spirit Walk is the Witch Doctor’s escape movement skill. When cast, the Witch Doctor takes on a transparent, skeletal, ghostly appearance that is invisible to enemies. Like the base effect of Horrify, this is a very quick reflexes skill, with just 3 seconds of invisibility granted. The skill description doesn’t make it clear, but you get a substantial speed boost in this form, and you can put quite a bit of distance between yourself and the spot you cast the spell at.
To compare it to Horrify, you can run a LOT further, in Spirit Walk form, in 3 seconds, than monsters will move in 5 seconds of being Horrified. Probably further than they’d move in 10 seconds of being Horrified, though that would of course depend on the monster. But you’ve got to put the pedal to the proverbial metal the instant you cast it, since 3 seconds is not very long indeed.
This skill can be used as a general purpose “get somewhere faster” skill, say when you’re running through already cleared dungeons. It’s not exactly efficient at that, since it only lasts 3 seconds, but the mana cost is pretty low and the cooldown isn’t that long, so I found it useful for speeding my pace a little bit, while exploring.
The rune effects are varied, for this one. Several are pretty simple and straightforward; Alabaster’s Healing Journey lets you regain 16% of your maximum life per second, Golden’s Honored Guest lets you regain 11% of your mana per second, and Indigo’s Jaunt increases the duration to 10 seconds. That’s probably the most useful of the effects, at least if you’re using this as an escape skill. Hardcore players certainly will want that one.
Crimson’s Severance changes the style, and you deal 180% weapon damage to any enemies you pass through. Which sounds cool, but when you consider that it’s only for 3 seconds, and that you’re probably using it to escape, not attack… it would make for a pretty nasty trick in PvP, though, giving you an escape/attack that other players could do little to avoid.
The other cool one is Obsidian’s Umbral Shock, which causes your physical form to burst into flame, dealing 135-249 Fire damage to all enemies within 10 yards. That sounds cool, but that’s the damage at Clvl 60/Rlvl 7, when monsters will have hit points in the thousands. So big whoop, then.
I played the Witch Doctor first in the Diablo III Beta, and did not regret it. I didn’t plan to do this class first, but when I got beta access I was right in the middle of writing the script for our Witch Doctor class intro movie (coming soon) and needed some hands-on inspiration. And he provided it.
The class plays much as I expected; and while it’s hard to judge that much long term from the easy Beta play, I think I will like the WD in the final game. I was never quite happy with the D2 Necromancer: I wanted a bit more variety in my spells, I got bored with such strong minions. And yes, the WD’s more active play style does work for me. He’s got a ton of spells, many of them as good as the Wizard’s, plus his minions are tough, but not as indestructible or numerous as the zoomancer’s.
I do wish the WD had a bit more strategy with some Curse-like effects, though. Necromancers were well-rewarded for using their Curses wisely, and I’d like something like that for the WD. As far as I can tell from the beta, Horrify is going to be irrelevant in the final game, which leaves just two semi-mind control abilities. Mass Confusion for sure, and some of its rune effects do very curse-like things. The other is Big Bad Voodoo, but it’s even less curse-oriented, and I think more could be done with that element of the Witch Doctor’s spell arsenal. He’s too focused on attacks and pets now, without much of the spooky medicine man jungle mental powers stuff that Blizzard stressed in his initial lore.
I think more fans will come to like the WD, once they give him a try. I see people in the forums still rejecting the class out of hand, or for silly reasons like they don’t like his animations, or the sounds he makes while casting spells. As if. You all wore Shakos in D2, even though it was the ugliest hat in the game, since it had awesome stats. You’re going to try the WD, and if you like his play style, you’re going to play him. No matter what he looks or sounds like.