This is a retrospective on my participation in the LRL variant and the character I used, ArchaicMight.
I wasn't particularly interested in trying D2:R, having never been incredibly enthusiastic about the original D2 and generally preferring to play Path of Exile if I wanted an ARPG fix. However, when Sullla announced the variant and allowed anyone to join, I jumped at the opportunity. While I'd gotten a fair few characters to early Nightmare, I hadn't yet beaten all of D2 before, and being dragged along as part of a group would ensure that I didn't lose focus later on like I usually do. Plus... I spent a large portion of my childhood and early teens on Sullla's site, eventually reading the Diablo reports after devouring all the civ content, and the website as a whole was essentially my gateway to the wider internet and the incredible friends I've made there. Getting to be a part of the continuation of something that shaped my life to such a degree seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. Even the scheduling of sessions being several hours before I usually wake up (and only a couple after I sleep) wasn't enough to dissuade me, though the chronic sleep deprivation resulting from this undoubtedly contributed to many of my deaths.
When it came to character selection, I picked the Paladin immediately. My main frustration with D2 in the past was how hard it was to sustain mana on all my prior characters, so being able to entirely ignore it by paying life instead sounded great. I envisioned my character as a strong melee combatant, using the power of maxed-synergies Sacrifice (base damage multiplier of 2325% after synergies!) plus might to deal damage while also holding off enemies and sustaining through lifesteal. Unfortunately, approximately none of that went to plan.
The character build in the end was fairly simple. 20 points in Might, 20 points in Sacrifice and each of its synergies (Redemption/Fanaticism), and the rest (9) in Smite. Skill distribution was similarly simple, enough strength and dex to use my sword, a bit more dex for blocking, and the rest to vitality (bar the 1 level up worth of attributes I put into energy because I wasn't really paying attention at the time, but it never seemed worth it to take the effort to respec it).
Equipment was also fairly basic, everything optimised for lifesteal to allow for sacrifice and +skills to boost Might. In the end, I couldn't get lifesteal above 20%, below the threshold of 24% needed to use sacrifice in hell difficulty, but I still kept it high enough to make it at least a fallback option if necessary. The only noteworthy pieces of equipment were my sword and shield. The sword started out as a unique war sword, which was upgraded to exceptional once I had the strength and dexterity to meet its absurd requirements. Every part of it was useful, +skills for more might, faster hit recovery, and faster attack speed became way more important than damage later on. The shield was also incredible, dropping with a base +41% allres (maximum possible is 45%) and the 4 perfect diamonds boosting that up to 118% all-res (which really should have been 117% according to the maths, but the screenshot apparently thinks otherwise). This absurd amounts meant that my resists were capped through all of hell difficulty, and also meant that gear in other slots could be more oriented towards other stats, hence my belt being pure life rather than life and res. The only truly disappointing slot were my boots, could never find anything with any stats in addition to the 30% run/walk. The weapon swap also warrants a mention, being what I called my "cheerleader" setup (not captured in the above screenshot). It consisted of a scepter and a shield, each giving +3 to might, and with them combining with the +1 helm and +3 from the amulet, I could get up to level 30 might for a 330% damage bonus overall. I tended to use it when in situations where standing on the front line would get me killed regardless of defensive equipment, as to make myself useful even if I had to stand back, and also in areas like the dreaded Maggot Lair where so few members of the party could engage at once.
Anyways, stepping back for more of a chronological look at things, Normal started out in fairly optimistic fashion. While I couldn't really use Sacrifice yet (would need to wait for a couple Cathan's Seals to drop for that), and the for fun points in smite and prayer weren't doing anything, simply pumping Might was enough to allow both me and the rest of the party to put out considerable damage, with the skeletons in particular putting the buffs to good use. Unfortunately, the recurring theme of the entire run started up right from the first session, with me dying to a bunch of enemies in a side room. I spent a lot of time dying early on for a variety of reasons - sleep deprivation slowing reactions, general inexperience with the game, inexperience with D2's potion system (I was much more used to Path of Exile's, where you recharge potion uses through kills, and can thus spam potions when in danger), failing to use potions properly due to reassigning their slots from muscle memory to cope with the different system, and in general just various symptoms associated with being on the front line. I usually died 1-3 times a session, and certainly more than anyone else.
Still, it wasn't so bad. With the aforementioned Seals turning up, I could finally start using Sacrifice... for not much damage. I'd failed to pick up a good weapon, and fell back on using my +3 Might scepter for actual melee combat, which was definitely suboptimal. My resists were also not great, again leading to danger, but I slowly improved over the course of the difficulty, and started to die a little less. Nothing really posed a danger to the group as a whole, and I was still contributing via Might so long as I was alive, so I wasn't incredibly bothered by the situation, beyond my personal goal of "don't embarrass myself" looking a little shaky by that point. But then the secret cow level happened, right at the end, offering up the unique war sword, Culwen's Point. I immediately swapped to it and started assigning all level-up stats to strength and dex to be able to use the upgraded version down the line, losing a couple effective points of might for my troubles but gaining valuable damage, and finally having the ability to look after myself in combat.
Shockingly, entering Nightmare things just kept getting better. I was getting more practiced at the game, and my death count was dropping each session. Some sessions I didn't die at all, practically unheard-of previously. Of course, Nightmare was also the point at which I discovered the life leech nerf that hits with each difficulty. Sacrifice was looking shaky again, and by act 2 the hordes of undead rendered it unusable regardless of how much lifesteal I theoretically did or did not have vs regular foes. So, on a whim, I swapped my active skill to Smite, a skill I'd planned to never use... and had success? I had assumed the 0.2 second stun duration would be essentially irrelevant, but I hadn't realised just how powerful linearly scaling that up would be, and with all my +skills the stun duration was high enough to stunlock single targets completely. This was the point at which Culwen's Point started to seem even more appealing, with the 20% attack speed directly leading to increased safety.
Smite remained useful throughout Act 3, especially in cases such as the one Sullla wrote about where just the two of us had to fight a boss right outside the sewers. Without its lockdown I know I'd have died a fair few more times. The way that fight went made me realise some more things about how I could use the skill, after examining the attack speed formulas and the current stun duration. I figured out that with my current amount of attack speed and stun duration, I could not only keep 1 target stunlocked indefinitely, but multiple, as each target would be stunned long enough for me to hit 1-2 other targets before I had to reapply the stun. Additionally, this duration also made it possible to alternate Smite/Sacrifice endlessly, with the enemies taking actually reasonable damage (much better than the 30 Smite would deal by itself) while having no chance to fight back. It was slow, but I was able to now safely kill almost any non-undead target even if I got isolated from the party. Too bad smitelocking undead soul flayers didn't help at all when they were exploding all over the party again and again...
At the tail end of Nightmare, there were still some glaring holes in my equipment setup. For one, I had no idea how I was meant to get up to 24% base lifesteal to be able to keep using Sacrifice in Hell difficulty, and I also had had awful resistances throughout Nightmare, with my Ancient's Pledge looking a little outdated. The cow level was once again my saviour for at least one of the points, with the incredible 41% base resistance paladin shield I mentioned in the equipment section. It even started out with 4 sockets, no socket quest required. After we entered Hell at the very end of the session, I threw 4 perfect diamonds in it, and after failing to have passable resistances at any point during Nightmare, I was now set up to have all 4 capped for the entire duration of Hell difficulty.
Hell was... hell. My death count immediately shot up again, almost entirely as a result of the much more dangerous bosses. The multishot/extra strong/cursed archer boss was emblematic of the issues we ran into. Smitelocking was immensely helpful in general, but it did very little if I couldn't close on the enemy without being shot. Sometimes, the only option was just to hide behind the skeletons and occasionally use Sacrifice, having to alternate uses of it with healing potions just to not kill myself. On the other hand, being so useless in actual combat led to me developing other skills more. I got very good at baiting enemies to shoot at me and then running back and forth to cause their shots to lead me and miss, allowing any ranged members of the party to hit the enemies without any retaliation, though the skeletons made this rather unnecessary most of the time. I also got better at portal-parking dangerous bosses, as some of the situations (particularly whenever Gario was late) were too dangerous for us to take on all the bosses at once. After the debacle vs the triple boss fight on the third total Mephisto attempt (one of the two without Sullla and thus with little documentation), I also figured out a method for combining this with smitelocking. On a few occasions, I decided the party needed a new friend delivered, ran behind a boss or reviver, and used Smite to shove them directly into the middle of the party while leaving them unable to act, letting them be picked off easily without their minions getting involved. This could be combined with portal parking, so that instead of dangerously kiting a boss away from everyone, I could instead push them in front of me, stunlocking them the entire time, and portal out safely once they were far enough away from everything. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) there were no occasions bad enough after that to put the plan in practice.
My higher death count continued throughout Hell difficulty, and by the end, across all 3 difficulties I had about as many deaths as the entire rest of the team put together. The only reason I wasn't massively lower levelled was my attendance, but by the end not even that could keep me fully equal. My worsening sleep schedule leading to even fewer hours of sleep (now averaging about 0.5-1 hours the night before a session) also definitely took its toll, as I remember multiple deaths where I noticed the danger in time, but my fingers were simply disconnected from my brain when I tried to use a potion. Still, by the end, after the hell of the final cow level (well, the version without Boro, with him and Howl around there were no difficulties), I'd accepted that this was simply what being a melee character in hell was like. At least, I could do that so long as I never thought about how much more I was dying compared to my other melee comrades...
Anyway, since it seems to be practically tradition at this point to go over the rest of the group, here's some thoughts there:
Boro (LRL_PunchingBag): My main friend on tanking duties! Well, so long as he wasn't hanging back playing with his crossbow while insisting that I join him, instead of helping me keep us alive. :P The support provided by Howl, the knockback from Bash, and even the constant supply of reds and purples from Find Potion all made my life much easier at times, and I dread to imagine how much worse things would have gone without his help.
Burninator1729 (Bootica): Probably one of the most careful and precise players on the group, despite spending all his time on the front lines I hardly ever remember seeing him hitting the floor. Many times in Act 2 we'd both run past the main conflict to hunt down Unravellers to stop the reviving, and while I'd lock one down with Smite, he'd straight-up kill 2-3 in a matter of seconds. His kicks combined with my Might and Gario's Amplify Damage could make any enemy look like they had no health at all.
Gario (LRL_Gariomancer): Ah yes, the one that made me wonder whether my services were ever needed at all. :P The giant wall of bony friends never failed to immediately create a defined front line from any situation, essentially eliminating any need for me to tank the majority of the enemies and allowing for the party to act with impunity. I only remember 3 deaths from him, but the immediate collapse and panic whenever the skeletons all fell apart at once was the best evidence as to how critical the skeleton hordes were. The amplify damage curse was almost as important, as the majority of the party dealt physical damage and being able to break immunities that would otherwise nullify most of us was a massive help. I do recall some frustration from him regarding not having a more active set of abilities, but even if the playstyle was passive, no one was more critical to the group's overall functioning.
IAndrosov (LRL_Psycho): While Burninator dealt with the single-target, IAndrosov provided the invaluable AoE damage that was the only way through some particularly bad slogs in Hell. While both Sullla and Gario could deal damage to multiple targets via Charged Bolt and skeletons respectively, no one else could do it without splitting damage, and as such against any enemy that wasn't fire immune, Fire Blast ended up dealing more damage across all the targeted than anyone else could manage. Sure, the character build was extremely narrowly focused, but it was exactly what we needed. His aggressive play was at times a double edged sword, with occasionally a death notification popping up followed by a corpse in a peculiar location, but with the aforementioned damage output, I think he still had the best kill/death ratio out of anyone :P
Sullla (ElectricTsunami): As mentioned above, Sullla's past writings on Diablo and other games affected my life significantly, but I won't go over that again here, and will just focus on the specific context of this group. ElectricTsunami was one of the highest damage-dealers throughout, able to focus on single- or multi-targeted damage depending on the range at which Charged Bolt was being cast. With how close Sullla got to some of the enemies at times to rack up maximum damage, it's a miracle that his character never died (well, said miracle often took the form of the dead bodies of me and several skeletons, but his skill definitely was just as key). His leadership and documentation also made the game several times more fun, being able to review key moments on stream later (such as the post-sewers fight in Nightmare and the awful stairs trap in the Throne of Destruction) providing valuable insight into how to improve, and the constant shepherding being key to getting us all through to the end. Thanks for putting this all together!
Anyways, my main takeaways from the run are two things. The first, that I should definitely play more team Diablo as this was immensely fun, and the second, that I will stop myself from even considering playing another melee character whenever the opportunity comes. :P