The release of Diablo 2 Resurrected meant a fresh coat of paint for a classic game that many of us had been playing for the last two decades. The updated visuals are simply gorgeous and they look nothing less than amazing when toggling back and forth between the new graphics and the legacy mode. (It's genuinely amazing that all of the same coding is running underneath the spiffy new visuals.) One of the few new features in D2R is the ability to toggle a zoomed-in mode that shinks the screen down to the immediate area near your character. Diablo 3 had this same feature and it brings out the updated visuals to a much greater degree... at the expense of making the game significantly harder to play. When I was tinkering around on the first day of D2R's release, I kept returning to the zoomed-in mode because it was so beautiful and quickly realized that this would make for a fantastic new variant idea. I could create a new character and play the game entirely at the zoomed-in perspective, both getting a chance to enjoy the new graphics up-close while also adding a fresh challenge in the process.
This prompted the question of what type of character to play. Right away I realized that this variant basically required a melee character of some kind. The player has extremely limited visibility with the camera zoomed in and ranged attackers would essentially be firing blindly off the edge of the screen. So I felt that I would need to play some kind of melee build and the more I thought about it the more than I fixated on a werebear setup. A werebear character backed with heavy investment into Lycanthropy and eventually Oak Sage could be expected to reach 2000-3000 max HP eventually, and that sounded great given the fact that I was certain I'd be stumbling about in the dark much of the time. There was no way that I could play a melee character who relied on precise movements and skillful chaining of abilities for safety. No, I needed to be a big burly tank who could afford to get shot by a dozen arrows when turning around blind corners and having no clue what was around the next bend. A werebear Druid would be perfect for that while also being a great fit thematically, a grumpy bear waking up from hibernation who took out its anger at all the annoying monsters bothering it.
In terms of the skill path, a werebear Druid obviously needs to max the Lycanthropy and Werebear skills. Werebear itself increases attack damage and defensive rating, the latter of which can't simply be ignored completely for melee characters as it can for ranged characters, while the Lycanthropy skill adds to max HP and increases the duration of the werebear transformation. That can be annoyingly short at low skill levels as the base length is only 40 seconds. My character would need both of them and then naturally the Maul skill as well for its primary damage option. Maul adds to both attack damage and more minimally to attack rating while also providing a stun effect; everything about it is great. The mana cost will be prohibitively high for Normal difficulty so I don't anticipate adding more than the initial skill point until after Lycanthropy and Werebear are maxed. It will certainly be needed eventually though. After spending 60 points in those three skills, there will be room to max one additional ability and Oak Sage makes the most sense. Oak Sage is a fire-and-forget summon that will add 30% additional max HP at SLVL 1 and eventually hit +125% max HP when maxed out. This is exactly what my werebear will need to stay alive while stumbling about in the dark. I'll also put a single skill point into Shockwave and Fire Claws without the expectation of having enough points to max either of them. Shockwave will be handy for quick escapes while Fire Claws might theoretically be useful against Physical Immunes.
For a melee character like this the vast majority of stat points will go into Strength and Vitality. I want to minimize Dexterity as much as possible and of course a werebear will never need to spend anything on Energy. I'm planning to target 135 Strength and 45 Dexterity which will be enough to reach the bottom end of the elite weapons. In particular, I plan on making the Honor runeword which is one of the relatively few which is both easy to make and also strong enough to be viable for Hell difficulty. Honor has 160% additional damage along with 25% deadly strike, a big boost to attack rating, 7% lifesteal, and +1 to all skills. It even has +10 Strength which will allow me to target a slightly lower number for my desired weapon. (The one thing that Honor does not have is attack speed which again fits the werebear theme.) That desired elite weapon is the Ettin Axe which has reasonable 145 Strength / 45 Dexterity requirements and even better can have a maximum of 5 sockets. All that I'll need to do is turn up a single normal version of an Ettin Axe, use a socket quest on it to get the maximum 5 sockets, and then apply the very common Amn + El + Ith + Tir + Sol runes. Maybe I'll get lucky and find some awesome unique item that invalidates all this but for pure play you always need to have something in mind in case nothing turns up.
Elsewhere I should be able to rely on fairly standard equipment. This is not a character build that cares about +skills or needs heavy lifesteal so I'll be picking up more standard defensive equipment: extra health, resistances, faster movement speed and faster hit recovery, etc. One other thing that the werebear absolutely needs is the "Cannot Be Frozen" modifier to stop its attack speed from being hilariously slow. The best place to get this is through a Rhyme shield which has some handy other modifiers on it as well. Any elite shield that drops with two sockets should be fine in that regard. Because Rhyme only has 25% resist all for the shield slot, I'd very much like to make a Smoke armor for its 50% resist all. That depends on finding a Lum rune though which is not guaranteed and I need to think about backup options if I have poor luck with runes. Any elite armor with two sockets and a usable Strength requirement would be fine for Smoke. (Lionheart would also be great but requires the same Lum rune, d'oh!) I'll probably roll a few Blood crafted items just to pick up some additional lifesteal and hope that something decent comes out of the crafting recipe. There aren't enough rubies to do that more than a couple of times in pure play though. As always, I'll have to shift the build depending on what unique and set items appear along the way.
This is one time that I do plan to make use of a hireling and I'd like to use the initial Rogue that appears from the quest reward in Act One. The Rogue archer will be helpful not so much for additional damage as for spotting incoming threats outside the tiny visibility radius of the variant. She'll also be the primary method of dealing with Physical Immune threats once they start showing up. I'll try to get some kind of bow setup that emphasizes elemental damage and then do my best to keep her alive. As with my other characters, I'll be full-clearing all areas on one pass through the game with no tweaking of items. This character will not be Hardcore, at least partly because I hadn't completed Normal difficulty on D2R when I started and Hardcore characters weren't even an option yet. I hate dying though and I'll do my best to avoid any character deaths along the way. We'll see if I'm motivated enough to finish all three difficulties or if I get bored and stop along the way.
This character will be named BearlyVisible and I have to relate that my wife actually laughed out loud when she saw it for the first time. At least I know that one person found my concept amusing!