Hell Difficulty Part One

After fourteen sessions and three months of real world time, the Low Rent Legion team was about to begin Hell difficulty. We had encountered relatively few issues and proceeded through the first two difficulties at a breakneck pace, full clearing everything in our way and racing through about half of a difficulty in each session. Hell difficulty would ramp up the monster health, damage, and movement speed while dropping vastly more random boss and champ packs into our path. We would also have to deal with widespread monster immunities for the first time, and while that wasn't quite as bad for this physical-heavy party to deal with, it would still be another obstacle to overcome when we hit Fire Immune or Lightning Immune enemies. I think that we were all looking forward to a more difficult challenge given the smooth sailing that the team had encountered to date.

IAndrosov was unavailable for this first session in Hell but the rest of the group headed out into the Blood Moor as so many other characters had done before them. I was pleased to check the character sheet for Electric Tsunami and find that all of her resistances were sitting at 50% or higher thanks to her three Diamond shield. I was planning to make some new runeword upgrades to improve upon that shield and her venerable Stealth armor but needed to find the right base items first. We began by full clearing the Blood Moor and the Den of Evil only to find that these areas... were still pretty easy, heh. There was no question that we were running into more boss packs as we hit six or seven of them in the Blood Moor and another bunch of them in the Den. All of the bosses had the full three affixes which meant more chances to roll something deadly. However, we were still dealing with fallen and quill rats and zombies, none of which were aggressive enough to be truly threatening. Corpsefire rolled Lightning and Cold Enchanted which made for double elemental sparks; fortunately he was Cold Immune which was the best immunity type for the team. None of our characters dealt cold damage and we could unload fully on the zombie and his shambling minions.

The Cold Plains also proved to be fairly routine and I don't remember any fights that stood out as causing trouble in there. Bishibosh and the big fallen camp was handled in safety thanks to Boro making good use of Howl skill to keep us from being swarmed and Gario's skeletal minions tanking for the rest of the team. Gario said that the skeletons were no longer doing more than pinpricks to the monsters, even with the additional stats that they picked up in Hell difficulty, however the skeletons continued to serve a critical function as blocking dummies by soaking up enemy attacks. With IAndrosov's fire traps missing from this session, it was my Charged Bolt and especially Burninator1729's kicksin who were carrying the damage load. Dp101's Might aura and Gario's Amplify Damage curve provided double buffs to any physical damage and the latter could even break some physical immunities. I think one of the bosses we came across rolled Stone Skin and became Physical Immune only for Amp curse to break the immunity - nice!

The Caves were a bit trickier because we started to run into a bunch of monsters with Lightning Immunity down there. The skeletons mostly seemed to have this immunity (not cold element as might have seemed more logical) and some of the corrupted rogues shared the same protection against Charged Bolt. This made my character a lot less useful although there were plenty of fallen and carver opponents along the way which were all immune to fire, not lightning. We handled Coldcrow's boss pack with no problems only to have a minor hairball against this double boss pack that downed Dp101. The pictured boss didn't have anything too dangerous in terms of traits but of course there was a second boss here with the Cursed affix and the pair of them made for a lot of enemy archers. Caves 2 went cleanly and then we headed into the Burial Grounds to deal with Blood Raven. She was a total joke as Boro and Dp101 chain-CCed her to death with Bash and Smite. It was pretty hilarious watching Blood Raven unable to move at all as the rest of the team beat her to death. Her attending mob of skeletons were all Lightning Immune and I twiddled my thumbs as the rest of the group finished them off.

If the Caves had been bad from the perspective of lightning immunity, the Mausoleum and the Crypt were worse: both of them were stocked entirely with Lightning Immune opponents!

These two areas have only two monster types that appear, skeletons and the hungry dead (zombies), each of which is immune to lightning damage. Furthermore, both of these areas also increased in size when playing on Hell difficulty which turned the pair of them into a bit of slog. Not a dangerous area by any means, just a place that took longer than normal to clear out since Electric Tsunami was essentially useless. I used the only other variant-allowed skill that I had unlocked, Ice Bolt, which did a grand total of 6-9 damage per casting. At least it chilled the zombies to slow them down a bit more. We really could have used IAndrosov in these areas since none of these enemies had any fire resistance at all. Speaking of fire element stuff, we turned up the unique shamshire Hexfire here which had +3 to fire skills, 25% fire resistance, and +10% maximum fire resistance along with a big damage bonus and ignores target's defense for potential melee use. We held onto it as something that looked potentially useful for LRL_Pyscho's fire traps.

On it was to the Stony Field where we drew... another mix of almost entirely Lightning Immune enemies. Oh come on! There are about half a dozen monster types that can appear in the Stony Field and we happened to draw a combination that had more skeletons and Lightning Immune dark rangers. We did also have Cold Immune Moon Clan goats so I was able to use Charged Bolt against them if not the other monsters but this had been almost an hour in real world time where my character was a glorified pack mule hauling items back to town to be sold for gambling money. While the danger level continued to be low our clearing pace was definitely slower than it had been in previous sessions. Rakanishu and his carver minions were of course not Lightning Immune but they died in mere seconds since they have such low health. Well I couldn't complain about that!

After making our way through the Underground Passage without issues, we emerged into the Dark Wood along one of the exterior walls. That's typically the safer place to appear (as opposed to the middle of the stage) although it felt otherwise on this occasion since we found ourselves immediately pulled into a major battle. The big carver camp that's always present in the Dark Wood was right next to where we appeared, and as we were dealing with the masses of carvers and their shamans running around, we kept sucking more and more enemies into the fight. One boss pack after another kept appearing from the south as we were drawn into the fenced area at the bottom of the screenshot above. There were even more bosses and champ packs down there and this running battle continued for long minutes on end. It didn't stop until we found the Tree of Inifuss and Treehead's mob - which was Extra Fast / Extra Strong / Might aura, yikes! Thank goodness we had the skeleton minions to absorb the initial blows from the big yetis and plenty of bodies on the ground for Gario to keep summoning replacements. I don't think anyone on our team died here but it was quite a battle that left the terrain soaked in the blood of the monsters. I think that I drank something like 10 full mana potions over the course of the fighting and kept grabbing more of them for belt replacements as the combat dragged out. Fun stuff, this was Diablo 2 at its best.

We once again cleared out Tristram in the unsafe way by heading to the left right away instead of the safer path by circling around to the north in counterclockwise fashion. This brought out Griswold and his minions immediately and I think that we did lose one of our party members here to his Cursed damage. Then the team charged right into the center of Tristram where the skeleton archers were able to fire at us from every angle while lurking amongst the buildings. While we were able to defeat these enemies without too much trouble it was an unnecessarily risky way to play the area. I have another amusing anecdote to share about Tristram: we full cleared the whole place and hunted down every monster... and only then realized that no one had actually clicked on the cage to release Deckard Cain! Whoops, sorry about that old man. So much for this game's lore and our supposed reason for going to Tristram in the first place.

It was getting close to the end of our session at this point and there was time enough to clear the Black Marsh and the Hole, if not to complete the Countess quest. The outdoor areas tend to be easier than the indoor enclosed spaces and we were proceeding through the Black Marsh normally enough right up until Archaic Might was blasted to zero HP before Dp101 could react. This turned out to be one of the classic Cursed / Extra Strong / Multishot archer boss packs that have ended the journey of so many Hardcore characters over the years and Dp101 never had a chance to respond after stumbling into that mob. This is exactly why Hell difficulty can be so dangerous since you never know when something like this is going to pop up around the next corner. We handled the situation by bringing over Gario's skeleton team and having them tank the arrows while Electric Tsunami carefully downed them with an ocean of Charged Bolts. Overall, the feeling in the group was that this had been an excellent first session and Hell difficulty was proving to be a lot of fun. Dp101 mentioned on our Discord that Hell difficulty was refreshing and felt like about the right amount of difficulty, my feelings exactly.

We had IAndrosov back for the next session and spent the first 15 minutes catching up LRL_Psycho through the early quests of Act One. We found the Den of Evil quickly and cleared it out of all the monsters once again, then popped over to the Dark Wood and fought our way to the Tree of Inifuss. Our first hiccup took place at the waypoint for the Stony Field as it turned out that Rakanishu and the cairn stones were right there inches away from the entry point. We did not synrchonize everyone taking the waypoint at the same time (it was the Stony Field after all!) and the first team members were immediately swarmed by Extra Fast carvers pumping out Lightning Enchanted sparks. There were a couple of character deaths before we could get the situation under control again, mostly by having more of the group join the fight via waypoint. Tristram went better this time as compared to our previous outing with Griswold rolling a pair of defensive boss affixes. This meant that he took longer to kill without posing much of a threat.

The first real objective for the session was the Forgotten Tower and the Countess quest. The subterranean levels of the Tower are substantially larger in Hell difficulty which actually makes them somewhat easier because there's more room to maneuver in each one. This place is a bit infamous for having bad stair traps and we were careful to have the whole team enter new areas at the same time. Fortunately only the very last floor had monsters present at the entrance and they were normal enemies, not bosses or champs. That's not to say that there weren't some tough fights while making our way through the Tower, with the worst encounter coming on the third or fourth floor pictured above. It was a double boss pack with the first one having a Cursed ability and then a second archer boss in the back packing Multishot. That pairing always spells extreme danger and Dp101 ran into some kind of problem trying to Smite-lock the archer which resulted in her death. This was a deadly pairing and we had to exercise real care to make it past them without suffering further losses. It helped that we had Amplify Damage curse which removed the physical immunity from all of the ghosts; they looked weird not having that immunity on their status bars.

The Countess on the bottom floor turned out to be a disappointment. We had some miscommunication as far as which wings of the basement to clear out first and suffered a death but then sorted things out and headed over to engage her mob. The Countess was Lightning Enchanted along with some kind of aura that I couldn't see as we fought her whole mob through the doorway to the treasure chamber. The Countess is known for having the potential to drop high level runes and our grand reward for defeating her was... an Eth rune. This was such an absurd low roll that we had to laugh - we could have seen that thing appear in Act One Normal for crying out loud! Better luck next time I guess.

The Tamoe Highland was next and as an outdoor area it was relatively tame. I know that we had one dangerous fight but it wasn't bad enough for me to take any screenshots. Then it was into the Pit where the first floor had more corrupted rogue archers which were always tricky when they showed up in groups. We were making our way through the Pit 1 when we had a truly incredible stroke of luck: a Vex rune dropped from one of the random enemies!!! Vex runes aren't one of the mid-level runes that I'm used to seeing with my characters in Hell difficulty, this was a genuine high level rune that holds real value in the trading economy amongst players who grind items endlessly. It was the highest rune that I'd ever seen by a wide margin; I think that Um and Mal were the highest I'd ever seen previously and Vex was three tiers higher than that. We spent the rest of the Pit 1 discussing what to do with the rune and decided to try and make a Heart of the Oak for my Charged Bolt sorcie. We had the other rune components and now needed only a four socket mace item to serve as the base item.

Before making any runewords we had to get through the second floor of the Pit. This is notorious as one of the worst deathtraps in the whole game due to its cramped spaces and numerous boss packs that are always present in Hell difficulty. We came down the stairs and immediately plunged into a massive fight with hordes of devilkin and corrupted rogues boiling up from the bottom levels. We quickly found ourselves battling on two fronts, with an open staircase on the left and then a narrow walkway on the right. I was doing my best to clear out the big group of monsters on the right hand side as more and more enemies kept pouring into the combat. This pictured boss had Mana Burn and double elemental damage plus there was another boss somewhere else in the level with the Cursed affix so we were doing the whole fight while taking double physical damage. At one point we pushed the front lines further ahead only to have the devilkin shamans at the bottom of the stairs start reviving their little minions whose bodies were next to my character. I took a couple of hits and saw my health orb displaying 100-something HP in the split second before I could hit the full rejuv key - whew, close call. We eventually fought our way down to the bottom where we were able to slay the shamans and the remaining bosses for a satisfying conclusion to this area. I believe we had two character deaths in here and just barely managed to keep things under control without having to retreat. We absolutely needed every component of the team working together to pull this off: Gario's skeleton minions, Boro's damage and Howl crowd control (probably the MVP skill of this fight), Dp101's Might aura and Smite-lock on bosses, and then the physical/fire/lightning damage from Burninator1729, IAndrosov, and myself. Great stuff and some excellent teamwork.

The Pit 2 was unsurprisingly the worst area that we encountered over the rest of the session. We fought our way into the Monastery's Outer Cloister and through the levels of the Barracks and Jail. The Smith rolled Teleportation and Magic Resistance for his two extra boss affixes which was about as not-dangerous as it was possible to get. These areas were about as routine as it ever gets in Hell difficulty with monster encounters that we largely had under control. One amusing tidbit was the way that the team kept finding the stairs to the next floor immediately at the start of each level only to have to clear out the rest of the place anyway. We also spotted a gray-colored flail item on one of the floors of the Jail and when I picked it up the item turned out to have exactly 4 sockets. Excellent, that was the exact base item needed for Heart of the Oak! The game was telling us that this runeword was meant to be. We pushed all the way to the Catacombs 2 waypoint before running out of time to finish Act One. We figured that we could pick up from there and defeat Andariel at the start of the next week.

This proved to be a monumental session for Electric Tsunami in terms of her itemization thanks to the finding of that Vex rune. We also had a Monarch shield drop (the elite version of the Large shield) which is the first non-Paladin shield to have 4 sockets and allow for the possibility of a Spirit runeword. On top of that, I also found a 3 socket Wire Fleece earlier in the same session (the elite version of the Studded Leather armor) which was exactly the number needed for a Lionheart runeword. I started out by taking the gifted Vex rune and very carefully socketing the flail with the components needed for Heart of the Oak: Ko-Vex-Pul-Thul in sequence. This delivered the pictured item which was absolutely incredible for my character. Heart of the Oak had +3 to all skills, 40% faster cast, 15% higher maximum mana, and 39% resist all. (This was an excellent roll since the range is anywhere from 30-40% and I nearly hit the max amount.) Heart of the Oak is considered best in slot for many caster characters and was infinitely better than anything I could realistically hope to get in pure play without twinking items or repeating areas. I never imagined that Electric Tsunami would get to play around with something like this!

Then it was time to retire my venerable Stealth armor and switch over to the new Wire Fleece with a Lionheart runeword. We had to cube three Ko runes together to get the Fal but that was OK since Ko isn't used in particularly popular runewords. Lionheart can seem like an odd runeword choice at first due to the +25 to Strength and +15 to Dexterity - why would a Sorceress want these bonuses? Well the Dexterity truly was useless but the Strength was vital because Electric Tsunami needed to hit 156 Strength in order to equip a Monarch shield in her off hand. 25 points in Strength effectively became 25 points that could be spent in Vitality instead, and then Lionheart added a flat +50 HP and 30% resistances on top of that. It was much better to get an effective 100 extra health from Lionheart as oposed to having slightly higher resistances on something like the Smoke runeword. I would have taken Enlightenment's +2 sorcie skill levels but that runeword was unfortunately banned by variant rule.

With Lionheart in hand, then I could return to Nightmare difficulty where Electric Tsunami used her socket quest to add 4 sockets to her Monarch shield and then reassigned her stat and skill points with Akara. This was the second time that I had done so, each time increasing my character's Strength high enough to make use of a new set of gear. I added just barely enough points in Strength to reach the 156 threshhold and put the rest back into Vitality again (no points at all in Dexterity or Energy as my items gave me more than enough mana) which unlocked the Spirit runeword in that Monarch shield. The benefits from this latest runeword were amazing once again, adding another +2 skills, 32% faster cast (another good roll on the 25-35% range), all the hit recovery I would ever need at 55%, 22 Vitality, 106 mana, and more resistances in everything except fire. This put me at 92% total faster cast and the next Sorceress faster cast break point was at 105% faster cast where the frames dropped from 9 to 8. I thought about this and worked out that I could pick up 8% faster cast on a crafted Caster amulet with +1 sorcie lightning skills (a slight drop from my current +2 lightning skills amulet) and then switch over to a crafted Caster belt for the last missing 5%. Boro had a couple of Caster belts that he was happy to trade which would be enough to get me there at the start of the next session.

The net result was that Electric Tsunami kept her health right around the same 1000 HP and increased her resistances and mana while dropping a frame off her cast rate and SIGNIFICANTLY improving the damage of Charged Bolt. It had been right around 200 damage on average heading into this session and jumped up to the pictured 240 damage for an increase of roughly 20%, plus I was about to cut another frame off the casting rate to spam them out even faster. This all happened at the tail end of the session so it was going to take until the next week to try all of this out in practice - I couldn't wait!

I was able to test out my character's new equipment at length in the next session. Hitting the 105% faster cast threshhold and dropping down to 8 frames made a noticeable difference in how fast the Charged Bolts were popping out from Electric Tsunami's Heart of the Oak weapon. She was machine-gunning them out in a continuous cone of sparkling energy that made the character's name more accurate than ever. As far as our ongoing team effort, we continued from the Catacombs 2 waypoint with the goal of wrapping up Act One and seeing how far we could make it in the next act. Catacombs 3 featured zombies, vampires, and more of the Lightning Immune tainted monsters that I hated seeing. We didn't encounter anything too dangerous and the only minor issue was half the party entering the big open room with the blood pool on Catacombs 4 while the other half of the party was still back in town. The dark one shamans were cleared out as soon as everyone was grouped together again followed by tearing apart Andariel:

That's a nice image showing a bunch of the team's skills on display. My character's Charged Bolts were hogging much of the screen as usual but we also had IAndrosov's Fire Blast traps hitting Andariel's well-known weakness to fire element, zombies running away in fear from Boro's Howl, and the massive spread of high-level Amplify Damage curse from Gario. That curse literally hit everything on the visible screen and it was helpful just for identifying monsters in dark areas by placing the little Cursed graphic above their heads. Andariel died extremely quickly to continue the trend of act end bosses posing no threat at all to our accumulated efforts.

It was on to Act Two where we decided that we might as well start with the Sewers to get them out of the way. The Sewers are always full of Burning Dead skeletons and together with the invader enemies this place was heavy on Fire Immune opponents. Only the mummies were vulnerable to the damage of our Fire Blast Assassin. There were plenty of bosses as always in Hell difficulty but we avoided anything too dangerous while clearing out the three floors of the dungeon. Radament rolled Spectral Hit and Extra Strong only to find himself toothless as he was pinned against the wall and rendered helpless via Smite and Bash skills. If there was one disappointment about finishing this quest it was the fact that everyone was pretty much out of useful places to invest the free skill point! With our strictly limited variant restrictions the team's usable skills were mostly all maxed out by this point in time.

The outdoor portions of the desert were pretty easy for this group as they tend to be. With lots of room to maneuver and less dangerous monster types to confront, these are places that rarely end the journey of Hardcore characters. The electrical bolts from the beetles had become vastly less dangerous over time as everyone picked up more lightning resistance and we no longer kept suffering the same kind of setbacks that we had faced against them in Normal difficulty. The hairest moment took place at the entrance to the optional Stony Tomb dungeon when half of the party went down the stairs while the other half was still killing monsters in the outdoor deserts. It turned out that there was a whole bunch of skeletons at the start of the Stony Tomb and they were all Horrors and therefore Lightning Immune making them invulnerable to anything that my character could do! I was able to run around in circles and escape via a town portal but some of my teammates weren't quite as lucky. We brought the whole team back to enter together and brought the situation back under control again; having Gario's skeleton minions to tank for us made all the difference. The rest of the Stony Tomb was uneventful aside from the pictured lively fight against Creeping Feature on the bottom floor.

Act Two can often turn into a lenthy slog because so many of the underground areas all use the identical "tombs" tileset and everything winds up looking the same. For example, it was only due to the little label on the automap that I knew the following picture took place in the Halls of the Dead rather than the Stony Tomb. We were making our way through the first floor when we ran into a nasty double boss pack. The first one had the Cursed affix which placed the Amplify Damage fireball above everyone's heads and doubled the physical damage that we were taking. Although this boss wasn't anything out of the ordinary, while we were still in the process of cleaning it up we rounded the corner into a new room and ran into the second boss: a nest of Multishot/Might aura spear cats. The result wasn't pretty:

The combination of Cursed + Might aura had those spears dealing 4x normal damage against our party and Multishot plus a sniper's nest of cats filled the whole room with enemy projectiles. Hey, no fair - we were the ones making use of the Amplify Damage / Might combo, you can't use it against us! The situation was bad enough that I wasn't able to get a screenshot of the boss itself due to the need to dodge spears and avoid dying. I had to drink three full rejuvs here since I'm pretty sure that my character would have been two-shot killed by this combination. Gario said that the damage was high enough that five of his skeletons were killed and those things were practically invincible against normal opponents. We were able to clear the room by advacing behind the surviving skeletons and pelting the spear cats to death with ranged abilities but our melee characters simply had no chance trying to tank that kind of damage. This is where we needed high level Oak Sage or Battle Orders to get Dp101 and Boro up to 3000+ HP which sadly was not allowed under the variant's rules.

Nothing else in the Halls of the Dead was nearly as bad as that encounter. We continued to hit lots of bosses and worked together as a team to minimize the threat that they posed. It helped that they were typically encountered one at a time after this and we avoided more double or triple boss packs. Bloodwitch rolled Teleportation and Lightning Enchanted for her extra abilities and fortunately not anything that synergized with her innate Extra Strong/Cursed. Outside in the Far Oasis, we started hitting maggots for the first time and that was where our area of effect abilities helped out immensely. Fire Blast and Charged Bolt were excellent at mowing down large groups of the chittering maggot young while the front line characters kept the ranged casters safe. This was another straightforward and low-danger region to clear.

With time running out on the session, we were stuck with the most anti-fun portion of the game to be completed:

The Maggot Lair, ugh. The Blizzard designers really did not think through the implications of taking a full party through these cramped hallways as everyone became hopelessly stuck in the narrow corridors. None of us had allowable mobility skills on our characters either, no Teleport or Leap or anything like that for us. And yet we couldn't really split up either because the monsters on Hell difficulty and the frequent bosses spawned by this difficulty level made it too dangerous to wander alone in groups of two or three. The result was a slow conga line moving forward through the tunnels with half of the party or more uselessly locked out of combat for lack of room. There were multiple points in time where we had someone stuck in front who could not move out of the way of monster attacks because they couldn't back up, forcing the drinking of rejuvs or resulting in outright death. It was bad enough that we often had to open town portals right on top of our characters just to get them unstuck from hallways. For any aspiring game designers out there, this is the exact opposite of how to do level design!

The Maggot Lair was even worse for my character due to a combination of lightning immunity and the nature of how Charged Bolt works. Beetles were a frequent monster in this area and naturally they were all Lightning Immune; I had to flee through a town portal once or twice when I found myself stuck next to a group of enemies who were completely safe from all of my damage. Charged Bolt was also severely curtailed by the long, straight lines of the Maggot Lair corridors. The lightning from Charged Bolt fans out in a wide cone and rapidly diminishes in intensity away from the caster making it a weak skill to hit anything at a distance. The vast majority of Electric Tsunami's bolts were flying right into the walls and doing nothing unless she could position herself directly on top of the enemies, nearly impossible in those cramped hallways. When we finally reached Coldworm on the bottom floor, my character contributed nothing to the boss fight because she was too far back in the hallway to have her Charged Bolts hit the big maggot queen. By way of contrast, the hero of this area was IAndrosov's LRL_Psycho as Fire Blast turned out to be the perfect skill in these circumstances. There was no fire immunity to be found in the Maggot Lair and the big arcing nature of Fire Blast's animation easily flew right over the heads of our characters to hit whatever opponents were on the front line. Overall, the Maggot Lair wasn't especially deadly to complete but it was a massive pain in the rear that we were all happy to have finished and done with.

We picked up the following week from the Far Oasis waypoint with the goal of pushing as far as we could in Act Two. We immediately ran into what was arguably the worst fight of the session just to the left of the waypoint where the team encountered this hairball situation. It was a double boss pack with the pictured boss having the Cursed affix and a second boss creating that Conviction aura that slashed everyone's resistances. Just great: we were getting debuffed on both physical and magical defenses from this pair! Complicating the situation further was the fact that this was literally the first combat of the session which meant that we didn't have Gario's skeleton minions up and running yet to serve as blocking dummies. On top of that, these enemies were all beetles and vultures which were both Lightning Immune opponents leaving Electic Tsunami sitting there twiddling her thumbs uselessly. We had to break into a full retreat back towards the waypoint and kite the mob to string it out, wait for the first few bodies to drop and skeleton minions to arise, then let Burninator1729's kicks and IAndrosov's Fire Blasts take down the boss. The Fire Enchanted death explosion nearly killed three people thanks to the Cursed + Conviction aura greatly magnifying both the physical and elemental portions of Corse Explosion. This wasn't a good omen for the start of a new session!

Fortunately things calmed down from there and we returned to the steady drumbeat of progress in clearing out the next few areas. The Lost City was most noteworthy for the quest-imposed darkness that made it hard to see anything. This place was heavy on spear cats and vultures with Dark Elder's mob being the only place with zombies. The Ancient Tunnels were full of boss packs without anything truly deadly showing up. There was one point where we fought a huge mob buffed up with Fanaticism aura but they were all mummies and invaders and therefore fairly simple to handle. The most annoying enemies were probably the Fire Towers that guarded the entrance to the Claw Viper Temple since they took forever to kill. We insisted on smashing them to pieces even though each one took about 30 seconds to destroy. (That was much better than Rogue Revival which took something like five minutes apiece to plink down the Fire Towers, yikes.)

The first floor of the Claw Viper Temple took some time to clear out and it was noticeable how our pace had finally slowed as compared to Normal and Nightmare difficulties. We drew the usual snakes along with mummies and the skeleton/greater mummy pairing which meant lots and lots of resurrectable enemies that had to be dealt with. We could no longer simply run into big rooms to kill the Unravelers and that meant we did a lot of fighting through doorways with my character standing right behind our frontline tanks casting wave after wave of Charged Bolts. I made my biggest mistake of the session here by accidentally running into a room chock-full of monsters before it was safe to do so. There were a few seconds where I couldn't get back into the safety of the previous room and I had to drink through three or four full rejuvs to stay alive. This was where I thanked my lucky stars for 1000+ health, max resistances, and 55% faster hit recovery. I was able to extricate Electric Tsunami from that mess and managed to avoid any similar screw ups afterwards.

The second floor of the Claw Viper Temple is a notorious death trap due to its tiny spaces and the presence of Fangskin. The viper boss always starts with the Extra Fast + Lightning Enchanted combo and can roll some exceptionally nasty stuff on top of that in Hell difficulty. We made sure to have everyone enter the bottom floor together and caught a huge break when Fangy spawned on top of the platform rather than down on the main floor. He and his snake minions were hissing away useless up there while we we cut to the top side of the room and eliminated the normal vipers. From there it was easy to toss fire and lightning energy up onto the platform and defeat Fangskin as he raced around in circles doing nothing. This was about as easy as this area ever gets thanks to the location of the boss and his extremely non-threatening random affixes (Mana Burn/Stone Skin).

The Palace was up next with its lurking horror archer brigades. I was pleased to discover that these enemies were immune to poison and not lightning although horrors always have a lot of innate lightning resistance (75%) even without the full invulnerability. At least my character could actually hurt them though! We took our time and worked through the various dangers of the four underground floors as a team. The melee monsters rarely caused much of a problem and it was invariably the archers that posed the biggest kill threat. Boro's Howl warcry was incredibly helpful in breaking up pockets of horror archers while Gario's skeleton minions continued to do their job tanking incoming arrows so that we weren't the ones getting hit. We were able to avoid any truly bad fights in the Palace and that was largely due to how well the group functioned as a team now that everyone knew how to use their skills effectively. We had massively improved as a team over the course of the last few months of working together.

In the Arcane Sanctuary the biggest problem turned out to be the narrow corridors. While they weren't quite as bad as the Maggot Lair, we still had difficulty maneuvering everyone when passing through platforms which were only two tiles wide:

This was a sure recipe for traffic jams with no mobility skills on any of our characters. Most of the time we could work around the confined spaces but there was one point where the game simply bugged out and stopped anyone from walking forward even though there was nothing visible in the way. This was responsible for killing Dp101 as she was stuck on the other side of this invisible barrier and none of us could pass through the buggy wall of air. Outside of that bizarre incident though the Arcane Sanctuary was pretty routine. There was nothing in here that had lightning immunity and only the goats were Fire Immune which let our spellcasters let loose with impunity. The ghosts were a particularly sad sight when stripped of their physical immunity via Amplify Damage curse. Mostly it just took some time to clear our way through all four quadrants of distorted reality. The Summoner was located down the second path and he was smashed into a pulp by Gario's skeleton minions when they unexpectedly teleported onto the platform for some reason. Uh sure, why not!

We were running out of our allotted time at this point as we entered into the Canyon of the Magi. We started by clearing the area to the south of the waypoint to establish a safe backlines, then headed to the right followed by cutting back to the left again. The initial parts of the Canyon were easy pickings and we eventually discovered why: all of the bosses and champ packs seemed to be clustered together on the left side of the Canyon. No one individual opponent was that bad but we kept hitting one group of minions after another in a running fight that stretched across a wide expense of the desert. It took long minutes on end before we could slay everything in sight and bring the situation under control. We were helped by the open space of the Canyon which provided plenty of room to hit and run without ever getting truly swarmed by all of these enemies.

We wrapped up things for the week by clearing a single False Tomb so that we'd be able to skip one of them next time when finishing Act Two. This place wasn't very big however it was absolutely packed full of bosses with six or seven of them in total. We would barely finish up with one boss before the next one appeared and almost all of them seemed to be Unravelers with their Burning Dead minions. All that we could do was keep cutting them down and pushing relentlessly forward even as the ground became littered with the corpses of the monsters. I enjoyed this screenshot as it showed one of the bosses stunlocked in the corner of the room through some combination of Bash and Smite and Dragon Talon kicks. There were a bunch of tricky rooms in this False Tomb without anything quite rising to the level of truly dangerous.

There were two big finds in terms of equipment during this session, neither of them for my character. One was a unique pair of boots which I believe was Sandstorm Trek, the unique Scarabshell Boots at the third elite tier of gear. These boots were an upgrade in terms of Assassin kick damage and Burninator1729 happily grabbed them for Bootica's use. Then we also had a unique ring drop in the Canyon of the Magi which sadly proved to be a useless Nagelring... followed by a SECOND unique ring dropping literally 30 seconds later in the same area. This was the vastly better Ravenfrost which has a big bonus to attack rating, Dexterity, mana, and the all-important Cannot Be Frozen trait. All of this was excellent for a melee fighter and I believe that we gave this to Boro for his Barbarian's use. My character continued gambling for circlets in the hope of finding something with +2 or +3 to Sorceress lightning skills. I managed to hit a circlet with +3 Sorcie FIRE skills - argh, so close! There was nothing better to do with my gold so I planned to keep rolling that slot machine in the hopes of hitting paydirt.

The team began what we hoped would be the final session in Act Two from the Canyon of the Magi waypoint the following week. We had already cleared this area in the previous session and only needed to establish a safe path to the Tombs at the northern edge of the desert sands. Unfortunately we ran into the same problem that we had experienced the last week: massive difficulties getting started at the outset. We were missing Gario for the first 10 minutes of our session and we felt the lack of having the skeleton minions on hand in a gigantic way. The group headed north of the waypoint at first and ran into this Holy Freeze + Cursed maggot boss that slowed the attack speed of our melee characters to a crawl while debuffing everyone's physical defenses with the curse. Then spear cats and beetles started pouring in from both sides, complete with their own additional boss packs, and the situation collapsed in a hurry. Without the skeletons to tank for the group, we were forced to scatter in all directions which only brought more and more monsters into the battle. All of the beetles were Lightning Immune so I couldn't hurt them (and the spear cats were Fire Immune to shut down IAndrosov's Fire Blasts) which meant a lot of running for dear life against enemies that couldn't even be damaged. Fun stuff!

This was one of the first times that our position completely collapsed and everyone scattered to the winds with a heavy death toll for our team members. Things were bad enough that I had to concentrate on playing my character and not dying which made it too hazardous to take screenshots. Fortunately the whole Low Rent Legion team variant was being played on Livestream so I was able to go back to the footage and grab images like this one:

Electric Tsunami was south of the waypoint at this moment after having been chased down there by a group of monsters... only to run into even more enemies, most of them invincible beetles. Electic Tsunami's health orb dropped down to 300 HP at one point but I was able to wriggle out of this pickle through a combination of alternating between walking and running, having lots of faster hit recovery gear, drinking full rejuvs as needed, and being quick on the town portal button to escape to safety. After a few minutes of pure chaos we were able to regroup back at the waypoint and start making progress by downing a few of the worst bosses. That was roughly when Gario was able to join us and the skeletons made an enormous difference in providing safety for the team. I've tried to emphasize their importance in these reports and every time that we had to clear an area without them it invariably went badly. (The Necromancer and the Paladin are the two most important roles on the team and I was planning to play one of them if no one signed up.) Once we were able to stabilize, we could fight our way clear to the north wall of the canyon and prepare for the Tombs. This was rough going though and a sign that our days of easy sailing through Normal and Nightmare difficulties were long over.

We had cleared a single False Tomb in the previous session which left us with five additional False Tombs (one of them sure to be Kaa's larger area) followed by the True Tomb and Duriel. Our clear pace had been great for the entirety of the variant thus far and therefore it was a noticeable change to see how much slower we were forced to proceed in these areas. The False Tombs were the first place that I can fairly state was a true slog for the Low Rent Legion team, an arduous ordeal as we methodically cleared out one room after another over the course of nearly two hours. I think that part of the issue was the constant use of the same tileset where everything looked exactly the same; Blizzard's developers clearly didn't intend players to do all of the False Tombs and expected that everyone would skip ahead to the True Tomb (as 99% of players do!) The monsters were deadly enough that we were forced to stand and fight at the entryway of seemingly every room, tossing out our skills behind the front line provided by the skeleton minions, until it was safe to rush inside and take out the resurrecting greater mummies. We also kept drawing beetles in every single Tomb which cut down on the usefulness of my character just as the Burning Dead and their fire immunity blocked IAndrosov's fire traps. Like I said, it was a long and steady march as opposed to the easy sprint of earlier days.

Combat was particularly brutal on our melee characters who had to put themselves in extreme danger to use their physical damage. Diablo 2 has always been heavily biased against melee characters and our variant naturally took away many of the skills designed to mitigate things somewhat. Boro's Howl warcry continued to be incredibly useful for crowd control while Dp101's Might aura and Smite-locking were awesome at shutting down Unravelers whenever she could get close enough to reach the greater mummies. Burninator1729 had the highest single-target damage of anyone with his kicksin which was highly useful for dealing with bosses when we could fight our way clear to them. However, we often found ourselves in situations like the one pictured above with a Cursed/Extra Strong Blunderbore boss where the enemy damage was much too high to fight hand-to-hand. There was no choice but to wait behind the skeletons and let the ranged casters deal with these threats which slowed things down considerably.

There were innumerable dangerous fights in the Tombs but one stood out as catastrophic:

This room didn't look as bad as many of the others at the outset and that may have baited the team into disaster. We proceeded into the room with its usual assortment of beetles, vampires, and skeletons/greater mummies only to be swarmed on all sides by a tidal wave of monsters. Gario was killed by one of the beetles (an extreme rarity for our normally-safe Necromancer) and that was the signal for a full-on collapse of the front lines as the skeleton minions instantly crumbled into piles of bones. Without their protection Dp101 and IAndrosov fell immediately thereafter and the surviving members of the team were forced into a total retreat backwards. We skedaddled back two rooms and tossed up a safe town portal so that our fallen comrades could return and get back into the fight (minus their gear). This allowed Gario to start raising more skeletons for tanking purposes as the team fought a pitched battle in the narrow hallway on the left side of that image. We slowly killed the beetles, the one monster that wouldn't come back to life again via resurrection, and once they were gone my character could safely unload Charged Bolts into the vampires and skeletons without them getting wasted on the Lightning Immune enemies. From there, we fought our way back into the main room and slew the Unravelers and finally gained access to the bodies of our teammates. Whew, not easy stuff at all! (As if everything else wasn't bad enough, Battle.net was also experiencing a lot of lag in this session. It was kind of hard to make precise movements with melee characters when everything on the screen kept jumping around due to mini lag spikes.)

We did end up finding Kaa's Tomb in the fourth or fifth False Tomb of the session which was about triple the size of the other False Tombs. The team killed Kaa so quickly that I wasn't able to get a screenshot as he didn't wind up being dangerous despite his five boss affixes. We saved the True Tomb for last and it took quite some time to make our way through all of those dull brown rooms. We found the Orifice Chamber in the absolute last room possible which would have necessitated a full clear anyway even if that hadn't been part of the variant. There was some concern about Duriel due to his reputation but I was convinced that we would stomp him into the ground:

And indeed that was exactly what happened, with Duriel perishing in something like 10-15 second of real world time. Diablo 2 does a poor job of calibrating its difficulty level with the random boss packs being so much more dangerous than the act end bosses that are supposed to be focus of the story. ("Dark Wanderer? Not a threat, we're much more concerned about this Extra Strong/Cursed/Mutishot spear cat!") To be fair to Duriel, Gario mentioned that the big bug did kill several of the skeleton minions in the brief moments before we squashed him - I'm glad we weren't the ones taking that kind of punishment. Now we could move on to the jungles of Act Three which I'll cover on the next page as the team headed into the second half of Hell difficulty. Three more acts to go!