Lernie: Introduction

The Low Rent Legion team variant that I put together for Diablo 2 Resurrected completed its journey through Hell difficulty in April 2022, literally running the last session on the very week that the new 2.4 patch was released. Patch 2.4 was notable for being the first patch to make gameplay changes to Diablo 2 in more than a decade, beginning the trend of D2R shifting to become a new game in its own right as opposed to merely a graphical reskinning of the base game. The patch updated dozens of different skills across all seven classes while introducing a couple of new runewords which would be "Ladder only" for the time being in a continuation of that annoying trend from earlier incarnations of the game. These skill changes opened up new character build paths which had previously been unavailable or unviable before the patch, and there was one skill in particular that I wanted to build a character around.

That skill was the Sorceress' Hydra spell. I've run innumerable sorcies over the years and featured pretty much every skill that the class has at its disposal at one time or another. However, I hadn't run a Hydra-based character since the very early days of Diablo 2 back in the pre-expansion period in 2000. This was due to the casting delays implemented around the time that the Lord of Destruction expansion initially released, sticking Hydra with an incredibly annoying 1.6 second casting delay before another Hydra could be placed on the field. The addition of the casting delay essentially lobotomized this skill as previously Hydras had possessed very weak damage but stuck around for 30 seconds so knowledge on how to place them had been very important. Sometimes the player wanted to stack them together in one big nest, sometimes it was better to spread them out to create a wider field of fire, sometimes they were best used for scouting around corners, that sort of thing. The casting delays sucked all the fun out of this skill: cast... wait... wait... cast... wait... wait... That wasn't how this skill was designed to be operated and as a result Hydra ceased to be a skill that players based their characters around for the next two decades.

The removal of the casting delay on Hydra in Patch 2.4 suddenly made the skill viable again. While there was still a limit of six Hydras on screen at once, the player would be back to having much greater control over their placement since they could be thrown down immediately with the only limitation being how much fast cast gear the player had available. Along with a modest buff increasing the synergy bonus from Fire Bolt and Fire Ball from 3% to 5% per base skill point invested, Hydra was back to being a legitimate skill again. I wanted to create a new character and feature the Hydra skill since it had been so long since I'd been able to run a Hydra-based build. This would mean maxing Hydra and Fire Mastery which would result in roughly 600 damage per Hydra fire bolt, multiplied per head (3) and per Hydra (up to 6): 600 x 3 x 6 = 10,800 damage. That should be enough to get the job done and any extra skill points left over for the Fire Bolt / Fire Ball synergies would only be the icing on the cake.

Of course, Sorceress characters can't specialize in only one element unless they're taking part in a wider team effort. I would need a second element to handle the masses of Fire Immune monsters in Hell difficulty and I wanted to avoid the cookie cutter option of the Cold tree with a handful of skill points in Frozen Orb. I decided to pick the Lightning Tree instead and make the unorthodox choice to specialize in the Thunderstorm skill. Thunderstorm was a good fit from a thematic perspective since it was another source of indirect damage like the Hydra skill, zapping nearby enemies from the sky without them being directly targeted by the sorcie herself. Naturally this is exactly the reason why it makes a poor choice as a main damage source, with the player unable to choose out a single target and largely left to twiddle their thumbs while waiting for the lightning strikes to kill things. The fact that this was such a bad option was exactly why I wanted to test it out, combining together two underused skills to see how they would play out together.

Running Thunderstorm as a skill would necessitate maxing it along with Lightning Mastery to eat up most of the character's remaining skill points. At least Thunderstorm does hit more often with additional points in the skill, down from 4 seconds per strike at SLVL 1 to roughly 1.5 seconds per strike at SLVL 20 and higher. This causes the damage to scale multiplicatively and increase faster than it might look at first glance, more damage per bolt and more bolts over time. Another nice side benefit of investing heavily into the Lightning skill tree would mean access to Teleport which I planned to have available as an option. I would also feel free to make use of Static Field against Fire Immune targets although I wouldn't invest more than a single base point into the skill. Only against Fire Immune targets though! This character build would be relying heavily on CLVL 24 and CLVL 30 skills which meant that they wouldn't unlock until the end of Normal difficulty. That was OK though, I could run Fire Bolt and then Fire Ball in the early acts and then respec into Hydra after reaching CLVL 30. The game wouldn't really begin for this character until starting Nightmare difficulty when all of her skills would be unlocked.

I also decided that I would make use of a mercenary hireling for this character which is something that I often don't do with solo characters. I have very little experience with the Act Two mercenaries and I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn more about them. I'll pick up a Defiance merc and use them as a target to focus the attention of the Hydras in combat which should make things a lot safer. The desert mercenary would also provide at least some physical damage and be another way of handling Fire Immune targets. This is quite standard for a sorcie, of course, and this whole character is not intended to be some kind of gimped challenge variant. I'm trying to play a Hydra character to the best of my ability aside from using Thunderstorm as the strategy for Fire Immunes. (Frozen Orb is always the optimal go-to choice for handling Fire/Lightning Immune monsters with minimal skill point investment in other skill trees.) As far as equipment goes, this character will look a lot like what I used for Electric Tsunami. I'll make use of standard sorcie equipment for the early game: Leaf staff, Stealth armor, and Lore helmet. Then I'll probably go into a Spirit sword and perhaps a second Spirit shield if it makes sense to do so, and see if there are runes to make Lionheart or Enlightenment in the chest slot while rolling for +skills on circlet and amulet. This character won't need as much fast cast gear as Electric Tsunami and certainly won't find a Vex rune for Heart of the Oak!

This character will be named Lernie in a double reference to the Lernaean Hydra from Greek mythology and the nickname given to said hydra by the main character in the game Hades. I needed to play this character online due to hopping between several different computers while my main laptop was in the repair shop and that meant that running her as a Hardcore character was out of the question. I'm not losing a character permanently due to a lag spike or the servers crashing, sorry. I'll still do my best to run through the whole game deathless on a single pass through, with all areas cleared and no shared/twinked gear. Characters are much more fun when they have to find their own stuff as opposed to having it gifted to them along the way. We'll see what shows up in terms of unique stuff - I certainly wouldn't say no to something like Magefist appearing by pure chance! Wish this character luck, it should be a fun journey.