Normal Part Two

Because the Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday this year (and most of our team is American), we took a one-week hiatus and retured to action on July 11. This was a bit of an unusual period for me, as I was in London on a research trip, and thus playing our team variant on a laptop, in a public setting, in the middle of the night! Nonetheless, I couldn't afford to miss three straight weeks of action, so the game went on. We would be missing dathon and Namarie for this particular session, and BWardly unfortunately lost his account information, forcing him to create a new Molten Boulder character. It was sort of an odd night!

Anyway, starting from Lower Kurast the team full-cleared the rest of Act III up to and including Mephisto. There were no real difficulties, although with two of our "mage" druids missing in action, the "melee" characters had to shoulder a higher portion of the load. Thank goodness we had T-Hawk on hand; those Fissures killed the enemies in droves! Here was the scene against Mephisto:

Jaffa and I tanked, and the rest of the team did their thing from distance. It was weird not having dathon's Spirit Wolves hanging around, even if only for one session! Rather than push on into Act IV, we called it here for the night, with plans to catch up the missing parties at the start of our next evening.

Fortunately we had everyone present the following week - yay! It was great to have the full team of eight again. BouldOver, BWardly's new character, had done all of Act II up to Duriel, but he hadn't been able to squash the bug on his own. Thus, we began the night by killing the big bug (which took all of 5 minutes), again with no more deaths. After that, it was time for a frantic run through the Act III quests, starting with the Jade Figurine (which I'm not sure ever dropped or not), followed by the Gidbinn, and then into the Kurast temples before tracking down the Council and Mephisto a second time. All in all, it was a rather fast trip - tempered by the fact that this was still only Normal difficulty, of course! Our only death in this process came from BWardly, who got a little too aggressive charging into a pack of Flayers.

And so finally we were able to proceed onward into Act IV!

Zed's cold attacks had everyone turning blue, even as we went up against Mr. Frost Nova himself. Izual didn't seem to enjoy all of the fire raining down on him, and with various bears and wolves to do the tanking, he posed even less of a threat than usual. I kept this picture full size because it does a good job of showing the controlled chaos that constitutes normal play for this team. With all the druids present, these guys didn't have a chance!

Hey Fatso turned up with a Holy Freeze aura of his own, turning him into a deadlier Izual clone. Of course, the great advantage of the druid team is that we have plenty of distractions to occupy nasty bosses; just look at the various animals surrounding him. Now, how well is this going to work in Hell when everything is many times faster and the Spirit Wolves can be swatted in a single hit? Hmmm, we'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

One of the major team milestones also took place while we were making our way across the plains of Hell: WildViking reached level 30 and finally could use Summon Grizzly. Say hello to my grizzly bear brother!

I forsaw many days of tanking duty for the two of us ahead, and I would not be disappointed. Heck, the bear was already doing more damage than I was by the end of Normal difficulty!

The Chaos Sanctuary was largely routine, as all monsters were at this point. With only one bonus ability, and without juiced-up stats, the bosses in Normal weren't worth mentioning. The one place where our teammwork needed improvement revolved around opening the seals, which was frankly bungled. I blame this in part on my own mistakes, in part because Teamspeak had gone down and we lacked voice chat. It didn't really matter here in Normal (the seal bosses were not particularly dangerous), but better to get in good habits early on.

Just for fun, here's the Vizier:

This was the first Fire Immune monster that the game threw at us (due to the fact that the Vizier drew the Fire Enchanted ability). That made Fissure useless, and Molten Boulder mostly so, but we had plenty of other damage on hand to take him down. (Of course, the Stranglers surrounding the Vizier were NOT Fire Immune, and they were dropping like flies to Fissure even with their high fire resistance!)

We fought Diablo right on the pentagram, and humiliated him where he stood:

The animal menagerie held him in place, while the mage druids did most of the damage from a safe distance. I found that I had enough life to be able to absorb the entire Lightning Breath of Doom safely (and this with piddling fire/lightning resists!), although dodging it was still the smart move. It took about two minutes of pounding to take down the Big D, but down he went, and without getting a single kill. Three act bosses in one night, and BWardly's character went from Duriel to Diablo in one session. Now that's progress!

For the next week, we had a change in our roster composition: BWardly was going to have to leave us on a permanent basis. While we would miss him on the team, fortunately our alternate player was able to step in without missing a beat. sunrise089 jumped right into the role of BouldOver and handled himself quite well - despite zero prior experience with Diablo prior to joining this team!

Zed was missing on this night, and T-Hawk running late, so we again had a bit of a different feel with two of the mage druids temporarily out. The killing was definitely slower without Arctic Blast and Fissure, as we fought our way across the Bloody Foothills:

We used mostly melee attacks to whittle away at Shenk and his crew, but down they went. The narrow lanes of the Foothills often seemed to offer some particularly good "lanes" for bowling down the enemies, although sunrise could probably tell you more about that.

The tundra levels were largely uneventful on this night; most of the best fights took place down in the "Hell" sub-dungeons:

This frenzytaur boss pack, with imps for artillery backup, made for a nice mob. At times like this, Jaffa's Rabies attack was especially prominent - green glow all over the place! It was also becoming increasingly obvious that Namarie's wind attacks were turning into a force to be reckoned with. Those Twisters and Tornadoes had been doing negligible damage back in Act II, but now that we were hitting clevel 40, with another two dozen allocated skill points, they were cutting a path of destruction across the landscape. Along with Fissure and Molten Boulder, the damage from the mages was already well on its way to rendering my own attacks insignificant.

By the time we reached Thresh Socket and the end of the tundra, T-Hawk had joined us: the Fissures all over that picture should indicate. From here, the team cleared the Crystalline Passage, at which point I had to get some sleep (it being 3am in London). Without me, the rest of the group full-cleared the Glacial Trail and Drifter Cavern, then ended the session by running the Hellforge quest again for additional jewels and runes. Once again, no deaths on the night for the whole team - though I think that running high-level Oak Sage at all times had something to do with that.

For the following session, we were once again missing Zed, but everyone else was present and ready to go. Starting at the Glacial Trail, we headed up to the Frozen Tundra and cleared it end to end. While waiting for the rest of the team to return from a visit to town, T-Hawk decided to mess around a bit with Arctic Blast:

I swatted a paw at him, but didn't mean it too seriously. After all, Fissure's already saved my butt about a hundred times.

After finishing the Frozen Tundra and Ancient's Way, giving Zed time to show up in case he was running late, it was back to the Frozen River to do the Anya quest. Oddly enough, we ran into the same repeating "freezing" bug that the Rogues had encountered in Act V Hell, the game running for 2 minutes than pausing for 15 seconds, and repeating over and over again. Weird.

Frozenstein guarded the prisoner as usual, but he didn't seem to like Fissure and Molten Boulder very much. One of sunrise's boulders has just exploded in the picture above, spraying lovely flames all over the place. The little white circles over the heads of the enemies are stun indicators from my Shockwave ability, which I was using more and more as time passed.

Next up: Nihlathak.

Thank goodness they fixed his Corpse Explosion technique in one of the later patches (I don't know which one, sorry!) so that it's no longer an instant one-shot kill. Now he's actually an entertaining boss instead of a deathtrap. On this occasion, he teleported so much that he nearly made it to the stairs at the center of the Halls of Vaught. Nihlathak wasn't dangerous, but it was a change to fight someone who couldn't be cornered easily with our assortment of animal tanks!

Without bonus abilities, the Ancients didn't prove to be all that difficult either. I lured Talic after me, and dathon got Korlic to follow him, while everyone else crushed Madawc in short order. Then Korlic followed, and Talic (as usual) was the last to go down. I just pray that we never see another Stone Skin/Fire Immune Talic like the Rogues did!

The bosses in the Throne of Destruction were rather amusing; T-Hawk was opening up Fissures on the ground prior to their appearance, causing many of the enemies to die instantly as they spawned. I think Colenzo's whole pack died that way, although he was Fire Immune and so lived long enough to die under a hail of wolf teeth and bear claws. Even Lister's pack didn't fare too well:

Packed into a tight space, the area-effect spells were really going to town. Look closely and you'll see Tornadoes, Fissures, and Boulders all at work doing major damage. With the Spirit Wolves and Viking's Grizzly pinning the enemies in place, it was all over.

Then it was time for Baal:

Oh, he tried his best. Fired off the "Orange" a bunch of times, created his clone, did that thing with the tentacle hands. All useless. The druids were taking him down.

It was a total team job at the end, with everyone getting in on the action. Just look at that life bar - he's about to blow!

And so, on August 1 2007, the druid team completed Normal difficulty, taking a total of eight sessions. We had only a handful of deaths throughout the whole team, due to some good team play and a hefty boost to life from Oak Sage. Would we be able to continue at the same pace in Nightmare? Only time would tell.

* * * * *

There was just one piece of unfinished business left to take care of in Normal...

The druid team will be moooooving on to Nightmare in the next session. See you there!