Normal difficulty had pretty much been a walk in the park for our Low Rent Legion team. That wasn't really a surprise with everyone having access to their CLVL 1 skills immediately and then pumping them to levels much higher than what would be seen in typical character builds. Normal difficulty isn't that tough to begin with and it was even easier than normal when running around with SLVL 20+ skeleton minions and high level Might aura. Things would definitely start to get tougher in Nightmare difficulty as the monsters would keep ramping up in health and damage while our skills were already hitting their limit. The real question was how much the difficulty curve would increase and when our breakneck pace of full clearing areas would start to slow down.
If things were going to start getting harder, it became immediately clear that Act One Nightmare was not the place where that would be happening. We finished Normal difficulty and moved onto Nightmare in the same session and there was no noticeable slowdown at all after crossing into the new game. Fallens and zombies and quill rats simply weren't dangerous enough monsters to threaten our team even though they did have noticeably more health. We didn't seem to draw any of the corrupted rogues as monsters across the first few areas which may have been part of the reason why things remained easy. There were definitely more bosses here in Nightmare as we jumped up from roughly one per area in Normal to something like three or four per area in Nightmare. This also meant occasionally hitting double boss packs which basically never happened in Normal. Naturally all of the bosses had two affixes here in Nightmare and when Magic Resistant rolled together with Lightning Enchanted it could create a lightning immunity as seen here. Oh no, my sorcie was completely useless against this customer! That would become common in Hell difficulty where immunities are everywhere; at least there aren't as many lightning immunities as fire immunities. We made our way through the Stony Field and completed the Blood Raven quest before calling it a day without anything too crazy happening in this first half session of Nightmare.
The next session was dedicated to making through the remainder of Act One Nightmare. I was only able to attend the first half of this session due to a vet appointment for our dog but the rest of the team made it all the way to Andariel without any issues. Electic Tsumani's completion of the Spirit runeword in the very last session of Normal difficulty had opened up the shield slot for her use now that she no longer needed to hold a staff and I had previously spent some time rerolling the shop vendors in Act Two Normal until they offered a three socket Large Shield for sale. Dp101 gifted my character three Perfect Diamonds at the start of this session and they translated into the standard 57% resist all when place into that shield. This was enough to max out Electic Tsumani's resistances for Nightmare difficulty right away which was quite nice against the various types of fire and lightning damage flying around from monsters.
The team's clearing pace continued to be brisk in the second half of Act One. The enemies in these areas definitely were doing more damage than their Normal counterparts and on the occasions where they could swarm one of our players it was enough to result in a quick death. What was carrying the team along was our damage output, strong enough at this point that the monsters kept getting bowled over in mere seconds. It was rare for anyone in our group to find themselves in much danger since our opponents collapsed immediately. The only somewhat rough fight in this session took place in Tristram where we ran into this boss pack which combined with Griswold's Cursed aura shortly thereafter. (I've found it to be safer to circle Tristram counterclockwise for this reason as it delays hitting the town center until more space has been cleared out.) These were the exceptions to the rule, however, as mostly we plowed right through everything in sight.
In tight spaces like the Pit Level Two, the team sometimes had to be more creative in skill usage. I captured Boro's Barbarian using Howl against the devilkin minions to frighten them away from the stairs and create room for the team. We generally didn't need to do too much with tactics for the moment but this kind of crowd control was extremely helpful for tight spaces. I was able to stick with the team up through the rest of the outdoor areas and then into the Outer Cloister and the Jail in order to pick up the Horadric Malus quest. The Smith rolled Teleportation for his extra ability which was about as not-dangerous as possible. After I left, the group finished up with the remainder of the act and concluded by polishing off Andariel. They would have to catch me up in the next session.
We took a break the following week since I was away on vacation and the team didn't want my character to fall too far behind. Everything was set for a normal session only for me to run into technical issues with my computer right before we were set to begin. My laptop was running slowly so I decided to restart it about an hour before our normal start time. Well apparently my computer decided that this was a great moment to install a Windows update (with no notification ahead of time!) which took about 90 minutes to complete - argh! It took so long that the rest of the team had to go ahead and start without me, running through all of the outdoor desert portions of Act Two during the intervening time. As such I don't have any pictures from these areas, not that they tend to be particularly interesting parts of the game. Then the team still had to catch me up by running through the bottom floors of the Catacombs:
One of the nice things about a group endeavor is the ability to jump players ahead from waypoint to waypoint without slogging through the intervening areas. We picked up from Catacombs 2 and hurried through the last few levels of the act. There were a couple of bosses down here (and Nightmare difficulty continued to have noticeably more bosses as compared to Normal) without any of them standing out as unusually dangerous. The only tricky part of the Catacombs was one point where I made a wrong turn and ran through an uncleared area and had to solo a mob of zombies. They were slow enough that this wasn't dangerous although one of them was a boss with the Magic Resistant affix who took a while to kill. Andariel continued to be a joke and was torn to pieces by the full team. She lasted about 15 seconds which believe or not was significantly longer than what we'd been seeing from the act end bosses in Normal difficulty.
The rest of the day was spent rushing my character through the first half of Act Two Nightmare by taking advantage of all the waypoints the team had picked up earlier. First up was the Sewers to complete the Radament quest where IAndrosov's Fire Blast Assassin was dismayed to find that all of the skeleton fire mages on the bottom floor were immune to fire! This was the first time that a whole monster type had rolled an immunity as opposed to a boss with a resistance affix of some type. We'd be seeing a whole lot more of that in Hell difficulty and I wasn't looking forward to mass lightning immunity on critters. LRL_Psycho also suffered the only death of the session against Radament:
The game printout text made it appear that Radament was laughing in respond to IAndrosov's misfortune, one of those coincidences that made this game look as though it had a narrative instead of being a massive treasure hunt. After clearing the Sewers, we raced through the underground dungeons located out in the deserts, from the Stony Tomb to the Halls of the Dead to the Maggot Lair and finally the Claw Viper Temple. There were a lot of enemy skeletons in these areas which could make it tough to distinguish them from Gario's skeleton army. Might aura from Dp101 and Amplify Damage curse helped here in telling friend from foe but I know there were multiple times when I suddenly realized that the bony figure next to Electric Tsunami was stabbing her in the back - whoops. We were killing the monsters fast enough that the resurrecting undead from the greater mummies wasn't a problem, no need for mass corpse raising from our Necromancer to clear the bodies.
To no one's surprise, the worst area in this session was the Maggot Lair. This wasn't due to the area being difficult or dangerous, just because the danged tunnels were so tight that we couldn't move through them, especially not with the skeleton army along in tow! We had no choice but to split up into smaller groups to make progress and that worked well enough. I spent a lot of time paired off with LRL_Punching Bag, with Boro using Bash and Howl to tank for my sorcie while she unloaded electic death into the monsters. We never had to worry about running out of resources thanks to high level Find Potion skill, heh. There were a lot of beetles in this area and I was glad that I had maxed lightning resistance to pull the teeth from their sparks. Eventually we made it down to the third floor and grouped up together against Coldworm who rolled Fire Enchanted to create a double immunity. Along with Magic Resistant affix, this boss had a ton of elemental resistances and Electric Tsunami drank all three blue potions on her belt while vomiting out a constant stream of Charged Bolts for something like 30 seconds. I hope this picture conveys the total traffic jam in the hallway leading up to the chamber; much of the fight was conducted with half our team uselessly stuck in the back unable to do anything. Where were Teleport and Leap when you needed them?
The session finished by racing through the Claw Viper Temple which was unsurprisingly packed with snakes. They hit hard but have small HP totals and kept dying too fast to get off their charge attacks. On the dangerous second level, we circled around to the north side of the chamber and cleared half a dozen snakes only to have Fangskin and his group approach from back by the entrance. I didn't even get to see what boss affix Fangy had rolled before he was obliterated by our Might-enhanced physical damage dealers. That brought us to the end of a very successful session at the halfway point for the act.
Our next session took place just before the Christmas holiday and we were missing IAndrosov from the group. The goal was to make it through the second half of Act Two Nightmare starting with the various floors of the Palace. This area is somewhat notorious for rolling lots of skeleton archers that can ambush your characters as they turn around blind corners, making it one of the more dangerous parts of the act. We were up against lots of Horror skeletons who have natural lightning resistance and when a boss picked up the Magic Resistant trait it created an immunity. By and large this place was still smooth sailing but it took noticeably more Charged Bolt casts for my character to kill things thanks to that lightning resistance.
By way of contrast, the Arcane Sanctuary has a good deal of fire resistance on the goats and vampires while lacking much in the way of lightning protection. Just the Lightning Spires have electrical resistance and they're hardly much of a threat. The narrow walkways were pretty annoying at times as Gario's skeleton army often clumped up there and resulted in characters getting stuck in place. Of course the same thing happened to the monsters as well which was useful against the hordes of enemy goats. The ghosts were easy prey for Charged Bolt and Fire Blast whenever they flew over the actual terrain and fortunately these opponents dropped lots of mana potions to fuel the team's endless spellcasting. We found the Summoner at the end of the second branch of the Sancutary and he died offscreen before I could even capture a screenshot. With Blizzard planning to make balance changes to D2R for the first time in over a decade maybe they'll actually give that poor guy enough health so that he doesn't collapse instantly.
The Canyon of the Magi had enough open space that we weren't in any real danger. The beetles and crusher beasts in there get massively faster in Hell difficulty so it will be fun to see how that plays out on the third trip back. We spent most of this session going through the six False Tombs which had their usual collection of mummies, skeletons, beetles, and vampires. Most of the False Tombs had 2-3 bosses inside which was significantly higher than what we'd seen in Normal difficulty. We never ran into a truly dangerous moment in this session and only suffered a single character death but this was the first place in Nightmare where I could feel the challenge starting to ramp up. We'd been flying at a breakneck pace ever since the start of the variant team and this was the first sign that those headstrong days were about to run their course. Perhaps as an omen of this, Electric Tsunami placed her last skill point in the Charged Bolt / Lightning / Lightning Mastery trio of skills to take them all to base SLVL 20 (currently SLVL 24 with +4 to all skills). Charged Bolt was now dealing 173-192 damage per bolt on 24 bolts and wouldn't become any stronger aside from more +skills items. Needless to say, the monsters would be getting a wee bit tougher.
Duriel always has the potential to cause problems since he's such a variant busting boss. Fortunately we had no issues with the big bug once again as the team downed him in about 20 seconds of real world time. We were able to time our entry into the Orifice chamber much better than in Normal difficulty and I had Electric Tsunami cut down to the bottom of the screen while Boro and Dp101 kept Duriel locked up with their characters. I know that Dp101 was experimenting a lot with Smite in this session and it's a fantastic skill against dangerous single-target opponents like Duriel. Thanks to their tanking, I was able to stand in complete safety mere feet away from Duriel and hold down the right mouse button while drinking through three mana potions to send an endless stream of sparks into the monster. Duriel's fat character model caused him to get hit by nearly all of the sparks and helped speed along this fight. I remembered from previous variant teams that the act end bosses rarely caused any problems and hopefully that trend would continue with this group.
We had about ten minutes remaining on the clock after defeating Duriel and opted to spend some time gambling rather than striking out into Act Three without IAndrosov. I had about a million gold in stash and decided to gamble circlets; the second or third gamble at Alkor handed me back a cirlet with +3 to the Necromancer Summoning tree - whoa! Obviously useless for Electric Tsunami but that was an amazing pickup for Gario's skeleton build. Then I hit a circlet with +1 Assassin skills and some other nice goodies which was an upgrade for Burninator1729's kicksin character. This is one of the nice things about playing in a group enviornment, the chance to share items with the rest of the team. I think we had a nice Amazon weapon that was going to waste but pretty much everything else was useful for someone.
The goal at the start of the next session was rushing IAndrosov's Fire Blast Assassin through the back half of Act Two Nightmare. We debated whether it was faster to go through the Arcane Sancutary again or playing a guessing game with the False Tombs before realizing that IAndrosov couldn't even take a town portal to the Canyon of the Magi yet. That meant it was back to the Arcane Sancutary to complete the quest requirement where we split up into multiple groups to explore the branches faster. There was a brief period where I was soloing the monsters and I had some fun using hit-and-run tactics with Charged Bolt. Soon enough we found the Summoner in the third branch of the Arcane Sancutary and cleared the way to the red portal, after which the group could proceed on to the True Tomb. We were able to find the Orifice chamber almost immediately and Duriel fared no better the second time around. The most notable event for my character here at the tail end of Act Two Nightmare was one of the other team members turning up an amulet with +2 sorcie Lightning skills on it. This was better than the +1 skills amulet that I had been using and it took Charged Bolt up to SLVL 25. Even that one extra skill point in Charged Bolt (and Lightning Mastery) had a significant jump upwards in damage, the skill going from an average of 180 damage up to 200 damage.
We spent the next hour proceeding through the jungles that make up the first half of Act Three. The outdoor areas were even easier than normal as we drew a monster mix of mosquitos, crows, and jungle bunnies in the Spider Forest, some of the least dangerous opponents in the whole game. The Spider Cavern and Arachnid Lair were tougher largely because of the poison that the spiders kept inflict on all of our melee characters. Electric Tsunami was far enough back that she didn't turn green that often but the stuff indeed lasted forever and was highly annoying. Sszark died offscreen before I could get a picture, I only realized that we had rolled over his mob when everyone was Cursed. The Great Marsh had more interesting opponents with zombies and gloams that led to fun screenshots like the one above. I love the way that the gloam lightning looks here in D2R although it could be tough to spot with my character hurling Charged Bolts everywhere.
The situation became much more dangerous in the two underground areas tied to the Flayer Jungle. These places were the first dungeons that rolled undead flayers and as a result they were probably the first truly deadly areas that we had encountered thus far. The damage from the death explosions on the little skeleton flayers scales up with their higher HP in Nightmare/Hell difficulties and makes them inifitely more dangerous than the developers expected. I don't think they were intended to be the toughest enemies in Act Three but that's how the game shook out in practice. Despite our best efforts we had several deaths against the little critters in the Swampy Pit, with the situation far worse for our melee characters who couldn't get out of the blast radius of their death explosions. I had to drink full rejuvs off my belt for the first time in ages and almost certainly would have died multiple times if this had been Hell difficulty. I guess it was good practice for later on to get those fast potion-drinking reflexes working again.
The Flayer Dungeon and the Swampy Pit were the worst areas of the session purely because of those undead flayers. The team handled everything else with ease and continued to race through the game at breakneck pace. There was enough time to full clear everything in the jungles (including all of the optional side dungeons) and proceed into Kurast proper. The outdoor parts of Kurast were easy as usual and we avoided any bad situations in the underground temples. No ridiculous stairs traps in this session thank goodness. We had the good fortune not to draw any more undead flayers in the Kurast Sewers which let us avoid anything too scary down there (aside from the tedium of full clearing the whole place). There was one incident that stood out for me when we exited the Sewers:
We came up out of the Sewers in Upper Kurast and most of the team was back in town selling the assorted junk that they had picked up. For the moment it was only me and Dp101 out in the field and we immediately ran into this Extra Fast / Magic Resistant Cantor boss with its minions. Dp101 knew exactly what to do as she Smite-locked the boss with her Paladin while my sorcie began unleashing a wave of electrical bolts. This boss was Magic Resistant so it was able to absorb a ton of Charged Bolts before croaking and Dp101 was Smite-pushing the thing backwards for something like 15 seconds until it finally was smashed into a wall, with my character hurling out Charged Bolts the whole time. It was a small moment but this was an awesome example of teamwork in action, Dp101's Paladin unable to kill anything but oh so good at providing the crowd control needed to protect the big damage dealers.
For the next session we were missing IAndrosov but the rest of the group was able to make it as usual. Our goal was to finish Act Three Nightmare and hopefully complete Act Four as well. We started out by clearing the last two temples on the Kurast Causeway which we had skipped over in the last session, and the pair of them were about as quiet as I've ever seen. No stairs traps or any difficult bosses inside. Then it was on Travincal where we cleared the monsters hanging out on the outer wall that surrounds the temple city. Casting Charged Bolts upwards at them didn't make a lot of sense from a perspective standpoint but it worked out fine in practice. Once the area was largely cleared out we proceeded to engage with the Council and they gave us a legitimately difficult fight. The narrow entryway to the Durance was immediately swarmed with enemy Hydras and there were so many spell effects flying back and forth that it was difficult to tell what was going on. Rather than plowing forward into all of that enemy spellcasting, we would have been better off retreating and letting the Council members chase out after the party. However, Gario's skeleton minions were so eager to engage that we had trouble getting any of the bosses to chase. In the end we kind of slugged our way into the temple entrance while tanking a lot of damage in the process. It worked for now although I doubted that these tactics would be as effective on the next difficulty.
Nightmare difficulty meant that Durance 2 was obnoxiously huge and took far longer to clear than the typical area; we spent nearly half an hour down there because there were so many rooms to pass through. This was made far more dangerous by the presence of more undead flayers with their death explosions who had emerged as the deadliest basic monsters type for the team. The gray coloring of the little dolls make them difficult to spot against the dark background of the Durance and there were a bunch of different times where I found Electic Tsunami taking damage from enemies that I hadn't even seen. I drank three or four full rejuvs here where I saw my character's health orb plunge from full to near-death in a split second. At least replacing full rejuvs was trivial thanks to Boro having high level Find Potion skill on his Barbarian. (One of the least likely skills to get pumped on a normal Barbarian build, heh!) It was amazing how the other two monster types (vampires and maulers) presented essentially no danger at all while the little skeleton flayers were a dire threat. Eventually the whole place was cleared and we could move down to the final floor of the dungeon:
Durance 3 is one of my favorite areas in the game since it always leads to some lively fights. We were able to clear out the vampire lord boss pack near the initial staircase without waking any more monsters which was a good first sign. Then we crossed through the entryway into the main chamber and Bremm Sparkfist came racing out with his mob. Bremm had rolled a particularly deadly combo with a Conviction aura (reduces elemental resistances) and Multishot to go along with his always-present Lightning Enchanted nature. Dp101 had relatively low resistances on her Paladin which were likely dropped into negative range by that Conviction aura and the wave of hostile Charged Bolts rolled right over ArchaicMight. My character certainly wasn't helping here by filling up the screen with more Charged Bolts and making it impossible to tell the friendly electricity from the enemy bolts. Fortunately the skeleton minions were sturdy enough to hold the line until the group could down Bremm's minions and then finish off the boss. It was a tough fight and we were close to getting overwhelmed and having to retreat. That moment still hadn't popped up yet but I had the feeling it was coming soon.
In contrast, the rest of Durance 3 was pretty much a cakewalk. I didn't get a look at Maffer or Wyand's extra boss abilities but they couldn't have been too bad since we bowled over both of them in no time at all. Mephisto was even weaker as he stood in place ineffectually casting poison and cold spells while the team quickly beat him to death. None of the other act end bosses had been difficult thus far and Mephisto was certainly no exception. For whatever reason, the random bosses that appear throughout the gameplay tend to pose more serious challenges for full teams as opposed to the nominal big opponents.
The outdoor portions of Act Four were up next and we found them to be noticeably easier than the long slog through the Durance. The Plains of Despair had wide open spaces with plenty of room to maneuver and no undead flayers to explode in our faces. The monsters in these areas were no slouches but didn't have any abilities that constituted deadly threats. Izual was the joke boss that he always is and quickly expired after shooting off a bunch of useless Frost Novas at the skeleton minions. The City of the Damned was interesting largely because the Damned enemies had enough resistance to create a natural Lightning immunity, making them invulernable to Electic Tsunami's Charged Bolts. Of course everything else in the area was still susceptible to my character's abilities so I continued on without any real change in gameplay. Burninator1729's kick Assassin was doing the most work to clean up the Lightning immune monsters thanks to being buffed up with Might aura and Amplify Damage curse.
There was no stairs trap at the entrance to the River of Flame, thank goodness, and we were able to continue our speedy clear pace through the second half of Act Four. This area looks absolutely amazing with the updated D2R graphics and I thoroughly enjoyed the background ambiance as we continued our usual monster slaying activities. The Hellforge entrance was very close to the intial stairs and we found ourselves killing Hephasto (who had rolled a not-dangerous Magic Resistant affix) almost as soon as we spotted the quest popup appear. That's when we were in for a surprise: Hephasto dropped a Ko rune! This didn't come from the Hellforge quest, it came as a drop from the boss himself. That was the highest rune we had seen yet and a truly excellent find for Nightmare difficulty.
The Chaos Sanctuary was up next and it was full of bosses, almost half a dozen of them in total without counting the seal bosses. We ran into a double boss pack near the first lava pool and then turned the corner to run into a third boss with its own minions. Fortunately none of these opponents were too dangerous because of how quickly we were killing them but things wouldn't be so easy when we came back in Hell difficulty and everything had five times as many hit points. We were careful to make sure that everyone was ready before opening the seals which was an excellent precaution to avoid any missteps. The Infector is the most dangerous of the trio thanks to his Extra Fast trait and we were able to avoid having anyone get swarmed. The other seal two bosses presented no issues at all and were quickly defeated to release Diablo on the central pentagram:
Diablo was another easy opponent who died in less than 30 seconds of real world time. With Boro and Dp101 and the skeletal minions to tank, I was able to set up shop in complete safety just a few yards away and unload a stream of electrical energy into his demon hindquarters. Diablo only used his Lightning Breath of Doom once and I don't think that he broke out his Flame Nova even one time. This was a very, very easy fight and a fitting conclusion to Act Four. We kept getting lots of item drops which would have been perfect for an Amazon character (Diablo dropped the unique war bow Stormstrike which might have been a decent item if upgraded to its exceptional equivalent) and it was a bit unfortunate that we had lost our Amazon player back in Normal difficulty. Rather than continue on into Act Five, we decided to use the remaining 20 minutes of our session by running the Hellforge quest additional times. It only triggers for one player at a time, not the whole party, and we killed Hephasto four times in four different games in the hope of getting some more rune drops. We had the good fortunate to get a Lum rune from one of those Hellforge quests and we had earlier found another Lum rune from a random enemy during the same session. This gave us at least two copies of every rune up to Lum along with the Ko rune that Hephasto had dropped on our initial pass through the River of Flame. This would be enough for several Smoke armors once we could find the desired two socketed base items.
We picked up the following week at the tail end of Act Three with IAndrosov in tow. Getting past the Council a second time was easier than our first effort and within minutes we were heading back to the Durance 2 waypoint again. That's where we ran into our nemesis once again, more undead flayers:
The hope that they might be missing from the monster draw was quickly dashed and we ran into several boss packs of the undead flayers right away. I know that one of them rolled Blessed Aim aura and I can't recall what affixes the other boss had because I was too busy running away from the horde of little skeleton dolls. This was the first time in the history of this variant team that the front lines completely collapsed and everyone had to retreat to avoid being slain. We had several characters deaths and I had to drank almost half a dozen full rejuvs before the situation was under control again. The little skeleton flayers were just so fast and so difficult to spot against the dark graphical background of the Durance that they kept exploding and taking out huge chunks of everyone's lifebars before we could react appropriately. The Howl skill on Boro's Barbarian was hugely useful in hairball situations like this one to force the monsters to retreat and allow the team to regroup. Fortunately we found the stairs down to Durance 3 quickly and didn't have to repeat more than 20% of the floor since the part that we did pass through had been downright nasty.
After that, the rest of Act Three Nightmare was a breeze. We had much less trouble with Bremm Sparkfist this time around and then melted Mephisto in a matter of seconds again. This allowed us to proceed into Act Four where there was no need to full clear each region and we could rush IAndrosov ahead to the individual quests. The Outer Steppes were completely skippable and so Burninator1729 and I decided to run ahead to find the stairs down to the Plains of Despair without bothering to fight anything along the way. This is highly dangerous for a character with no Teleport but if you keep moving along the edge of the Outer Steppes it's usually possible to avoid getting swarmed. The two of us raced off and managed to run a full circuit around the edge of the Plains, finding the steps down over on the western edge not too far from the Pandemonium Fortress, only to discover that the rest of the team had attempted to follow and then had all kinds of problems dealing with the monsters we stirred up. Whoops! That was not the intention, the goal was to get a portal in the next area and then skip the Outer Steppes entirely. In any case, Bootica and Electric Tsunami returned to the group after running all the way around the area and we were able to make it to the Plains of Despair with no further issues. Izual was hiding in a back corner but we found him eventually.
The rest of Act Four was smooth sailing on this repeat trip. We jumped ahead to the River of Flame waypoint and knocked out another Hellforge quest with the collected group, then headed into the Chaos Sanctuary. There were some large mobs of enemy units in here and at times their sheer weight threatened to overwhelm the front line of melee characters and skeleton minions. I think that we had one character death in the Chaos Sanctuary when there was a massive boss pack but for the most part we were able to keep the enemies under control. None of the seal bosses were too tough this time around and Diablo did absolutely nothing once again. On to Act Five and the conclusion of Nightmare difficulty!
The outdoor areas near Harrogath begin pulling in guest monsters from other acts and on this occasion we happened to draw quill rats and spear-throwing cats. This meant a lot of projectiles flying around in the air though fortunately their attacks didn't do enough damage at this point to be truly dangerous. We were finally back to full clearing areas once again and the group methodically worked through the Bloody Foothills slaying everything that we came across. Our pace was excellent given the huge size of these outdoor areas. The next region featured Burning Dead archers and there were a couple times where we would turn around a corner and suddenly face a sniper's nest of archers firing from every direction. These would be pure deathtraps in Hell difficulty and were still fairly annoying here in Nightmare. However, the real danger in this session came from the Abaddon subdungeon where we found ourselves confronted with our favorite opponents once again:
Just what we needed, more undead flayers. This area was packed with them and also featured skeleton archers shooting poisonous arrows and minotaurs with their Frenzy axes swings. We had to be very careful as we advanced and relied heavily on Gario's skeleton minions to tank for the rest of the group. Their lives were easily replaceable in a way that ours weren't. The good news was that this was a small area and it didn't take too long to reach the gold chest at its conclusion; an outdoor area or something the size of Durance 2 would have been a true pain with this monster mix. After that, the remaining outdoor areas were a breeze by way of comparison. The Arreat Plateau didn't pull in guest monsters from earlier acts and that made it pretty simple to complete as the enslaved and imp opponents weren't particularly scary. Thresh Socket at the end didn't have any minions with him and looked oddly lonely by himself.
We had enough time to continue into the Crystalline Passage and then head through the Frozen River to complete the Anya quest. The monsters in these ice caverns were heavy on witches and yetis and neither ended up posing a serious threat this time around. The Blood Stars from the witches look very different graphically here in D2R, the projectile much smaller and harder to see in comparison to the big, blocky energy balls from the original release. Anyway, these areas were quickly cleared out with a minimum of danger. We fought Frozenstein at a choke point and the shaggy monster had no success at getting through the skeleton minion front line - Gario was all the way up to 12 of the melee skeletons now!
Time was running out on the weekly session and we concluded by running the last two Hellforge quests for the remaining two members of the team. The first quest reward was an unremarkable Hel run but the final Hellforge dropped a much more valuable Pul rune! We had earlier found a third Ko rune in the session which brought us up to three of every rune up to Ko plus that solitary Pul rune. This was enough to start thinking about the Horadric Cube recipe that upgrades an exceptional unique item into its elite equivalent; Boro had one potential candidate in Aldur's Rhythm which has the jagged star as the base item type. Unfortunately that Cube recipe wouldn't work because Aldur's Rhythm is a set item, not a unique item, but these were the kind of things we could start thinking about as we moved into higher tier runes. I was keeping an eye out for a two socket elite armor for a Smoke runeword and then eventually an elite Monarch shield for a second Spirit runeword. We were starting to hit the point where elite items could drop and moving into superior equipment would be helpful for Hell difficulty.
The next session began with a trip into Nihlathak's temple via the glowing red portal. The safest path in the opening area was to race inside the temple architecture and down Pindleskin instantly, then use the more sheltered area as protection against the shambling undead. This was easy enough to accomplish and then it was onto the temple proper. The initial floor (the Halls of Anguish) proved to be the most difficult of the bunch since it wound up rolling frenzytaurs as one of the monsters. They weren't too bad when encountered as regular opponents but when bosses like this popped up we had to tread more carefully. The Halls of Pain were routine enough that I didn't take any screenshots and we cleared it out quickly. On the bottom floor, by chance we entered Nihlathak's quadrant immediately and ran into the flood of his summonable minions. I was keeping Electric Tsunami far enough back that she wouldn't get caught in any potential Corpse Explosions and as a result I never was able to get a good view of the boss. He was eliminated without killing anyone in our party and this potentially dangerous part of Act Five was completed without a hitch.
We continued through the remaining ice caverns in the Glacial Trail, the Frozen Tundra, the Ancient's Way, and their assorted optional subdungeon areas. Most of these areas were relatively low danger and the Low Rent Legion team was able to cruise through them without much worry. We came across a lot of the walking undead, frozen terrors, witches, and more frenzytaurs. The most annoying enemies for me were the Tainted guest monsters who had enough lightning resistance to create an immunity, making all of them invulnerable to Charged Bolt. We had some amusing moments in the Frozen Tundra where the stone barriers and the watch towers proved to be highly difficult obstacles to clear, as Gario's skeletons didn't want to target them and Dp101 ran the risk of killing herself via reflected Sacrifice damage. I felt pretty silly standing there casting a bunch of Charged Bolts into a wall just to open the path forward, heh. The Infernal Pit had the rare Salamanders that toss fire element Bone Spears and then Stygian Dolls... not the undead kind, whew! This area would have been much worse if we had rolled the undead version of the fetishes.
The Drifter Cavern and Icy Cellar are infamous death traps because of their confined spaces and frequent boss packs. We were able to do both of them without issue on this pass through the game and we'll have to see whether that holds true in Hell difficulty as well. I think the biggest danger came when someone clicked on an Evil Urn and Gario was instantly surrounded by a boss pack appearing out of thin air - whoops! Gario was able to drink rejuvs fast enough to survive that hairball situation. Eventually we made it to the Ancients who present one of the other big threats in Act Five. Talic rolled Fire Enchanted and that was enough fire resistance to create an immunity so I concentrated on him since IAndrosov's Fire Blast traps wouldn't work. Madawc seemed to be taking the brunt of the team's damage and died first before I could get a screenshot. Korlic was over at the other end of the stone circle and I never was able to get a good look at him before the team finished him off. He must have had Cursed as his ability since everyone on the team wound up with the glowing aura over our heads. That left only Talic remaining and I was careful to keep my sorcie at a safe distance from his Whirlwind spins. Our melee players didn't have that luxury and might have forgotten about the Fire Enchanted boss affix that Talic picked up:
Ooops. The death explosion took out Archaic Might and Bootica since they were standing right next to Talic when he was slain. Keep in mind that Corpse Explosion deals half physical and half fire damage and the physical portion was magnified by being Cursed which is likely why this came as such a surprise. This prompted another hilarious moment: Dp101 was unable to find a way to cancel out of the speech from the Ancients - possibly because Archaic Might had been killed? - and was forced to listen to the entire text as it was slowly read out one word at a time. This was the true payback from the Ancients: forcing our party members to listen to the entirety of their cut scene! I don't know if that was a bug or whatever but it was pretty darn funny.
The floors of the Worldstone Keep proved to be quite tame as we worked our way down to the bottom level. There were a lot of skeleton guest monsters in here that looked like Gario's minions and then a bunch of Hell Spawn monsters which are among the least dangerous enemy types in the game. We had three easy floors that the group cleared out quickly and that may have led to some complacency in the group. We failed to coordinate everyone entering the Throne of the Destruction at the same time and that was a problem because the stairs were trapped with a nasty, nasty boss:
There was an undead soul killer boss pack sitting right at the bottom of the stairs which had Cold Enchanted and a Might aura (yikes!) to contend with. I believe that the Might aura does scale up the physical damage from their death explosions to the point where everyone in our group would die in two or three such attacks. IAndrosov was one of the first ones down the stairs and LRL Pyscho was flattened almost immediately. We did not have Gario with us for the first ten seconds or so of combat and the lack of the skeletons to tank was a huge problem. Boro was able to Howl some of the minions away and that's probably the only reason why this didn't turn into a party wipe situation. Unfortunately the fear effect from Howl only lasts until the target runs into a wall and that wasn't long in these confined spaces. Electric Tsunami took a couple of hits but my character wasn't focused by the little dolls and I was able to slide off to the side and start unloading Charged Bolts to kill some of these threats. The whole situation was over quickly with the monsters defeated but it put quite a scare into our group. This was one of our worst opponent types springing a trap at an unexpected moment.
We should have taken this as a warning because the other random monsters in the Throne of Destruction were just as bad. There were plenty of additional undead dolls with their death explosions along with Gloams to toss lightning everywhere and witches with their own assortment of curses. It was not at all easy clearing out the back wings of this area, especially for our melee characters who were most exposed to damage from the undead dolls. By contrast, the boss fights at the actual Throne of Destruction were all cakewalks with our variant team plowing through all five monster groups in turn. I thought that we might have to retreat from Lister and his mob but nope, we were completely fine. Gario said that the enemy damage was high enough for the skeleton minions to keep dying however there were plenty of replacement bodies to bring them back repeatedly. Baal was a complete joke and did nothing at all while the team beat him into submission:
It's weird how the act end bosses are so easy in comparison to the random enemies that pop up along the way; maybe this is something that will be addressed eventually in D2R. The real final opponent of Nightmare difficulty was that Might aura undead soul killer, not Baal. We had enough time left over to finish Nightmare difficulty by clearing the Secret Cow Level where progress was notably slower for the group. This was partly due to the immense number of cows walking around in that open area, partly because these monsters have so much more health than other enemies in Nightmare. I was used to emptying my mana orb and seeing everything die from Charged Bolts and it was sobering to unload a full assortment of spells without killing much of anything. We had never really slowed down our breakneck pace throughout Nightmare difficulty and one of the big upcoming questions was how things would look in Hell difficulty. It took 14 total sessions to complete the first two difficulties, now we were heading into our third and final pass through the game. One way or another, this was going to be entertaining.