Lernie: Hell Difficulty Part Two

Lernie continued her quest from the Kurast docks at the start of Act Three. I knew that the outdoor jungle regions would be about as easy as Hell difficulty ever gets and then things would start to get considerably harder when she was forced to venture into the underground portions of the act. The monsters in the Spider Forest are heavy on lightning immunity while lacking much protection against fire element, exactly what Lernie wanted to hear. She drew fetishes along with crows and thorned hulks which didn't make for much of a challenge. I also never realized this fact until looking at the monster list while writing this report: the Spider Forest can roll two different types of fetishes but will never have their shamans appear. This was very noticeable for Lernie because the fetish shamans were Fire Immune while their attending minions were not. Progress through this part of the jungle was fast and routine.

The Spider Cavern and Arachnid Lair were also pretty easy, at least against everything that wasn't Sszark. Both of these areas wound up having lots of maggots and the Poison Spinner type of spider which, as their name would suggest, has poison immunity while lacking fire resistance. All of these opponents collapsed immediately to Hydra fire without putting up a fight. I always take care to clear out the whole Spider Cavern in counterclockwise fashion before doing the southwest corner last since that's where Old Buy-A-Vowel appears. Sszark pulled Extra Fast along with some kind of an aura for his extra abilities (I didn't catch which one, not Might or Fanaticism thank goodness) and he was Fire Immune like all of the Flame Spiders in the cavern. This was a great opportunity to practice feeding full rejuvs to Kasim via the belt hotkey and the mercenary still died despite getting several of them in rapid succession. I revived him back in town and came back to secure the kill with more spam casting of Nova in what had been a nervous fight. I was very glad that I'd been able to lure Sszark out and kill him in isolation rather than having to deal with a dozen minions at the same time.

The jungles had a weird formation on this trip, with the Spider Forest connecting to both the Great Marsh and the Flayer Jungle. In fact, the waypoint for the Spider Forest turned out to be very close to the gates of Kurast, with the Great Marsh a total dead end that led nowhere. The Marsh and the Jungle started introducing shamans into the mix which were all Fire Immune here in Hell. I found that it was far less dangerous to have Fire Immune shamans and non-Fire Immune minions as opposed to the other way around as Lernie had experienced in the Tombs of Tal Rasha with the Burning Dead / Unraveler pairing. Much better to have a smaller number of invulnerable targets and deal with the shamans last once everything else was dead. The fetish shamans also never seem to cause as many problems as the devilkin shamans from Act One and the greater mummies from Act Two which is really weird since they arrive at a later point in the gameplay. I think that this is a place where the developers thought that the fetish shamans would be a lot tougher than they proved to be and the issue was never corrected through patching.

I honestly didn't take too many pictures in these outdoor areas because they weren't that interesting, only long and rather tedious to full clear. Lernie made her way to the dead end gold chest in the Great Marsh, then took the waypoint back to the Flayer Jungle entrance and began working her way through the latter area. Everything died very easily to Hydra fireballs which continued to be roasting all non-immune monsters with ease. Eventually Lernie found the two dungeons in the Flayer Jungle and entered the much more dangerous underground areas. The difficulty level spiked immediately as she found herself encountering undead soul killers and undead stygian dolls in the Swampy Pit. Thankfully neither of them were Fire Immune but their death explosions had the potential to tear right through Lernie's healthbar. I did my best to let Kasim keep tanking them since he didn't seem to be bothered by their death explosions. I also tried to fight by placing Hydras around corners as much as possible:

The battles could get quite lively when multiple bosses popped up at the same time and started stacking up their various aura effects. This zombie boss had the Cursed affix and there was another undead doll boss with its own minions somewhere in here as well that I wasn't able to screenshot. I wasn't fooling around in these fights and went back to town to clear the curse as soon as the initial boss was downed. It's a bit of a shame, often these images fail to capture the full fury of these encounters because it isn't safe enough for me to take screenshots until the situation has been brought under control. I took my time and very patiently cleared out these two areas, scouting with Hydras around every corner and trying to draw out monsters individually as much as possible. Endugu was down on the bottom floor of the Flayer Dungeon and fell very easily to Nova casts; by this point in time, fire immunity was something that Lernie had lots of practice dealing with.

I usually try to do the whole jungles up to Lower Kurast in a single session to avoid the need to repeat the jungle areas. It took about 2.5 hours for Lernie to make it through these regions but she did full clear everything up to the Lower Kurast waypoint in one run. I picked up from there the next time and fought through leapers, doom apes, and zealots in the first part of the temple city. All of these foes except the doom apes were heavy on fire resistance, however they lacked anything in terms of monster abilities to rise to the level of true danger. There was plenty of room to kite them around the outdoor spaces and avoid getting swarmed under by weight of numbers. There was one discovery of note along the way: a rare amulet with +2 lightning skills and 10% faster cast that Electric Tsunami would have killed to have. That actually might be better than what Lernie was using in an area with lots of fire immune enemies so I held it in stash for the moment.

The Kurast Bazaar mixed in Sexton opponents for the first time who had the ability to heal the Fire Immune zealots. This sounded like it would be problematic for Lernie but didn't wind up causing any issues in practice; it was easy to lure the zealots away from their healers or simply kill the Sextons with massed Hydras cast on top of their location. Once again, these later enemies were significantly less difficult than the devilkin shamans and Burning Dead resurrectables had been in previous acts. Lernie cleared the outdoor spaces without any problems and then began the dreaded Kurast temples. The Ruined Fane threw Lernie into the fray immediately with a Fire Immune spider boss right on top of the stairs:

Ugh, what a bad situation to be plunged into with absolutely no space to maneuver! Lernie could not move to the southwest since I spotted immediately that this was the right-facing "T" formation and Sarina's mob would be located in that direction. I opted to Teleport her to the right only to run into a second Extra Strong Wailing Beast boss in that direction, yikes! I turned around and Teleported back to the left again, fortunately drawing the spider boss and its minions into the little room on the left. I fed Kasim several full rejuvs to allow him to tank long enough to down the spider boss with Nova, then headed to the right and fought the Wailing Beast boss along with its minions, and then finally could begin to breathe once the top half of the "T" was secured. The Wailing Beasts have 75% fire resistance which made this boss feel extremely tanky against Lernie's Hydras, almost as bad as having an immunity to fire element. Now I could start having Lernie inch her way into the main room of the temple where she drew out Sarina, who was also Fire Immune thanks to drawing the Fire Enchanted trait. I pulled Kasim backwards using Lernie's Teleport and fought Sarina at the doorway where the numbers were more manageable, killed the whole crew, then had to defeat ANOTHER spider boss who was also Fire Immune and had the Cursed trait in the main room next to the altar. All that to claim the Black Tome and polish off the quest reward for five more stat points. Do you think that was enough bosses for such a tiny enclosed space?!

The Disused Fane had its own bosses inside but none of them had to be fought on top the staircase; once Lernie could actually get into the temple and had enough room to walk around, she was able to handle the threats accordingly. I sent her into the Kurast Sewers next and had the bad luck to draw both undead soul killers and the Horror skeletons / Horadric Ancients resurrectable combo. At least the third monster type rolled as the weak mosquitos and nothing down in the Sewers had fire immunity. Lernie's Hydras put on quite a pyrotechnics display in the dark confines of the waterways:

As I've said a bunch of times before, D2R certainly looks nice and pretty with its updated visuals. Anyway, the playbook for the Kurast Sewers was the same as the Flayer Dungeon: slow and steady, keep casting Hydras around blind corners, make sure that Kasim was the one tanking the death explosions from the undead dolls. Although this was somewhat on the tedious side it did work out well in practice, plus Lernie had Teleport to blink over the Sewers architecture on the rare occasions where I walked her into danger. Riftwing and his bats had no fire resistance whatsoever which turned them into Hydra barbeque with the fire lizards shooting them down before they had even woken up. I was more than glad to get this area over and done with even though Lernie avoided any slip-ups.

Upper Kurast proved to be easier than the earlier portions of the temple city thanks to lacking any monsters with fire immunity. The Faithful zealots here were missing the protection that their Zakarumite brethren possessed which made them easy prey for Hydras. I always enjoyed getting these enemy draws with no fire immunity for Lernie where the Hydras could simply cut loose and slay everything. Unfortunately Lernie had to head into the remaining Kurast temples next to clear out the remaining four subdungeons. The Forgotten Temple was easy enough but the Forgotten Reliquary was another story entirely. There was a Wailing Beast boss pack right on top of the stairs with a Might aura and I spotted right away that I wouldn't be able to stand and fight them in the initial room. The Wailing Beasts had that 75% fire resistance to protect them against Hydras and the Might aura simply had them doing too much damage. I had no choice but to Teleport blindly deeper into the temple, always an extremely dangerous move, where Lernie ran into a second Wailing Beast boss pack that set off the Cursed aura. The danger sirens were now blaring out of control and I Teleported even further into the temple in order to get a town portal up to escape from this horrible deathtrap. Kasim fell somewhere around this point, I was feeding Lernie full rejuvs every tenth of second as the monsters beat on her with the portal opening... only to find that she wouldn't walk through the portal. I was getting one of those stupid "I can't" voice messages and as a last deperation measure I tried to "Save and Exit" my way out of the game. Unfortunately that only works in offline Single Player mode and this was an online character.


It was only after dying that I was finally able to see the full traits on the first Wailing Beast boss who had rolled Extra Fast / Extra Strong in addition to that Might aura. And of course there was that second Cursed boss in here as well for the full 8x normal damage effect, with Extra Strong and Might aura and Amplify Damage each doubling the normal damage and compounding on top of one another. This is one of the most infamous deathtrap combos in Diablo 2 when these various monster ability stack with each other such that the Wailing Beast boss was dealing 900 damage instead of the default 115 damage on each attack. I'm actually kind of impressed that I was able to keep drinking full rejuvs in between each of its auto attacks for a couple of seconds before finally flubbing the potions. It was bad luck that Lernie's town portal chose this moment to bug out on the temple architecture rather than opening properly and I simply didn't react fast enough to Teleport away in another direction to open a second portal. I also would have survived this if I'd been playing an offline character since I did get the "Save and Exit" off in time; Lernie was an online character only because I created her when my gaming laptop was in the repair shop and I was hopping around from computer to computer. That was enough to consign her to the first death of the game.

Now I had to recover her body and that meant fighting through these bosses with a nake sorcie who lacked equipment:

I returned from the staircase, of course, not trying to come down that faulty portal where Lernie's body was located. First up was a careful killing of this *THIRD* Wailing Beast boss who had a bunch of defensive traits - how in the world was it fair to have this many bosses in such a tiny sardine can?! The Cursed boss and Might aura boss were both in the room off to the left and I had Lernie Teleport around like crazy until I was able to get them separated. That allowed me to slay the Cursed boss, head back to town and clear the curse, then finally come back to finish off the Might aura boss as the last foe in this horrible little dungeon. This was an exceptionally bad draw and Lernie was almost able to survive it. The remaining two temples on the Kurast Causeway turned out to have nothing anywhere near as bad as Lernie secured her progress up to the Travincal waypoint.

Lernie was not a Hardcore character, of course, and her journey could continue onwards through the rest of Act Three and the final two acts after that. However, now that Lernie had suffered her first death, I found that I didn't particularly have the patience to keep clearing out the remaining portions of the game. Did I really want to go through the massive Durance 2 level, followed by the endless fire immunity in Act Four, followed by the huge stretches of Act Five? Let's just say that I wasn't too eager to embark on that sequence. My goal with Lernie was to get a chance to explore the Hydra skill for the first time in two decades and she'd made it more than far enough to achieve that goal. I was able to confirm my suspicions that Hydra is back to being an exceptionally powerful skill once again, quite possibly the best skill in the whole Fire tree thanks to its fire-and-forget nature and lack of the annoying spell timers on Meteor and Fire Wall. We also had a new baby in our house at the time of writing, and it turns out that Diablo 2 isn't a great game to be playing when you might have to pop up from the computer at any moment to help with a feeding or settle down a tantrum. For more than one reason, this was a good stopping point for Lernie's journey.

Well there you have it, the Hydra Sorceress done in by a particularly nasty deathtrap in one of the Kurast temples. That's a tale that's been told about a million times in the years since Diablo 2 first came out in 2000. I'm sorry that this story doesn't have a happier ending but that's how it goes sometimes. Thanks as always for reading along with Lernie's journey and I hope you get the chance to try out a Hydra build of your own someday.