Meatbag Part One: Normal

Meatbag's adventure started out in the same fashion as so many other characters. I killed the zombies and quill rats of the Blood Moor with my starting short sword, switching to Prayer aura when I took a few points of damage. First skill point went into Prayer - a necessary prerequisite, so why not use it anyway? Second point went into Sacrifice, and I began storing up points for the next few levels after that. My stat point distribution settled into an easy routine: two level ups into Strength (10 total points), followed by a level up into Dexterity (5 points) and then a level up into Vitality (5 more points). Rinse and repeat the process over again. I did the math and determined that this would allow me to reach 100 Strength by character level 30 - close to the end of Normal difficulty - after which I could evaluate where things stood and decide how to play things further. I hoped that I would be able to spend most of my stat points in Vitality once I reached my target.

There's not all that much to say about the early parts of Act I. It's just not very hard if you take your time and are careful with what you're doing. I gained access to Defiance at level 6 and began investing some of my stored-up skill points. (I also had to drop a single point into Holy Bolt for prereq purposes.) I didn't notice much of a difference at first when using Defiance, mostly because the feeble monsters I was fighting had a hard time hitting me even without the aura. I knew that that wouldn't hold up forever, so I kept dumping more and more points into Defiance with each level up.

I bought new armors as they became available, trying to boost my Defense over all other factors. It's not like much else mattered; in D2X, it's almost impossible to get anything worthwhile in Act I Normal because of your low character level. I did turn up a Small Charm with 1-2 cold damage on it right away, which was great because it allowed me to chill all of my opponents. Early on, I stuck two ruby chips into a socketed helm and that gave me a very nice +20 to life. I think that took me from about 100 life to 120, a massive difference so early in the game. That was far better than the 7% cold resistance on most of the stuff the vendors were selling.

Blood Raven's summoned zombies had about 10% to-hit against my slvl 1 Defiance aura, not making for much of a threat. Coldcrow's death explosion was the first time my life dropped into the danger zone, and I made a note to come up with a better solution for Cold/Fire Enchanted death explosions. I took the logical step of putting javelins on weapons tab two a little bit later, which largely answered that problem. I used Sacrifice against Rakanishu and he died in three hits. Heh. That will probably be a lot harder in Nightmare... Enemies were still dying in a single hit to my normal attack, at most two or three for the sturdier monsters like Brutes. My free Rogue merc benefitted a lot from the Defiance aura, and survived for quite some time. She eventually died when clearing one of the subdungeons, I think it was the Hole.

Treehead Woodfist, Tristram, the Countess all cleared with no problems. I had a rousing fight against a room full of Devilkin shamans and a Razor Spine boss pack in the Outer Cloister. Never really came close to death, but it was a lively fight nonetheless. The Smith, frankly, was a very easy fight. If there's one thing that the Defiant paladin excels at, it's pure melee opponents. The dangerous ones are those with magical attacks (Lightning Enchanted, for example) or any opponent with Ignores Target Defense/autohit strikes. The Burning Dead archers in the Sewers are a good example. The Smith had no chance of cracking my boosted defenses, with Defiance now at slvl 6 and climbing, and was downed with minimal red potion use.

I picked up Cleansing and Charge at level 12, using up the rest of the saved skill points. I planned to use the Radament book on Blessed Hammer, then the Izual points on Vigor and (eventually) Redemption. Everything else into Defiance up until reaching clvl 24, after which I would start adding to Holy Shield until I had a playable duration, then back to maxing Defiance.

The rest of the Catacombs were rather routine, the most excitement coming from a Multishot spitter boss. I actually did have some decent Lightning resistance from my mishmashed gear, thank goodness, and Sacrifice made relatively short work of him. (Nothing in Act I Normal has very much life.) I had reached level 16 by the time I reached Cats 4:

That's a definite change from D2 classic; I used to remember finishing Act I at level 14, very rarely at 15 if I had done some repetition. Oh well. Defiance was now at slvl 11, boosting my defense by a cool 170%. On the whole, I was satisfied with my stats and gear at this point, given the meagre options available.

I lured Andariel out into the room with the blood pool and then started tanking her. Not much else a melee character can really do!

She spit poison and turned me green, and that was about the extent of what she could do. Sacrifice proved surprisingly effective even at slvl 1, and it only took about two dozen swings before she was down for the count. Even easier than expected. I think I only used three or four reds, not even needing to use the antidotes I had in my inventory. (Yes, I have all purples on the belt. I have gotten quite good at drinking reds from inventory thanks to playing Bearlin_Wall with my druid team. My philosophy is that if I have enough time to go with a red potion, I probably have enough time to open the inventory. If I need instant healing, I want purple right away, and no mistake of drinking red off the belt by accident!)

In Act II, I started by upgrading my armor right away to the best available, which I think was chain mail at the time. My Defense lept up noticeably once again, from the 340 you saw in the previous picture to something around 500. This kept my to-be-hit percentage under 20%, which is where I wanted it. Because I had so many gem chips sitting around, I took the unorthodox step of heading for the Horadric Cube right out of the gate, full-clearing the Rocky Waste and Dry Hills and then going right into the Halls of the Dead. Only then did I go back and run the Sewers to pick up the Radament quest. It took about 20 minutes to cube all my unwanted gem chips into purples, then cube them into full rejuvs. I ended up with a full belt of rejuvs though, and a growing stack of them in inventory for emergencies. I also decided to turn the six ruby chips I had turned up into two flawed rubies, which I then stuck into another two-socket helm for a cool +34 to life. It worked so well in Act I, why not do the same thing again in Act II?

Most of the enemies out in the deserts were pretty routine. Vultures and melee cats depend on being able to hit you to cause problems... and they had a lot of trouble doing that to Meatbag. In what would become a recurring pattern, it was the enemies with magic and area-effect attacks that caused the most headaches. Beetles and their sparking bolts are always hell for a melee character; I eventually just swapped to Sacrifice so I could take them down faster. Never came close to killing me, but the red potion use (especially with constant Sacrifice) was brutal. The poison gas and explosion-tossing cats also proved troublesome, since once again their attacks couldn't be stopped by my robust Defense. I had to use careful footwork to divide up mobs and make sure I only faced a handful at a time.

I thought that Viper level two would cause problems, even going so far as to hire a merc for the battle. However, the place was practically deserted - just Fangy's crew and that was it. I lured out the minions one at a time and mugged them with ease. The merc even survived! That is, until we entered the palace and he was taken down by the Horror archers inside. I got a lot more practice with footwork in there, baiting out assassination squads of archers one at a time for easy disposal. Yeah, this being Normal I could have run in and just taken the hits - but I wanted to practice good habits for later on, when a mob of a dozen archers would mean instant death.

The Spectres in the Arcane Sanctuary proved to be the biggest challenge, since they could fly over the gaps in the terrain and overlap with one another. That made it tough to identify individual enemies and kill off the weakest one. I ended up using a lot of Sacrifice against them to speed things up (they have some minor Physical resist even in Normal). The vampires weren't as bad, so long as I made sure to get them to retreat in the right direction once wounded. The goats were a total joke, as all pure melee enemies were becoming. They swung and swung and swung - didn't hit very much though.

When I was getting ready to do the Canyon and the False Tombs, I went gambling to try and burn some of my stored-up cash. I saw that plate mail showed up on Elzik's screen, and went for it despite the pricey cost. Plate mail still wasn't showing up on Fara's screen, since my clvl was apparently too low. I would have been happy with anything, just for the defensive increase. Well, imagine my surprise when I found this juicy rare:

Wow, jackpot! Not only 40% extra defense, but also Faster Hit Recovery, two modest resists, and two other decent affixes. Here was an armor I could confidently use for the rest of Normal difficulty, and perhaps even beyond that if I made use of the Cube recipe to upgrade to the Exceptional equivalent. What a nice break. Now I could focus my efforts on gambling improved gloves and boots, both of which were still quite sad at this point.

I guess I haven't talked about my weapon have I? Throughout Act II, I made use of a nice Long Sword with 40% increased damage and the Leech life steal suffix: 5% life stolen per hit. Along with the 3% life steal on a rare ring I later turned up, this allowed me to use Sacrifice pretty much at will. With Very Fast attack speed on the sword, I couldn't have asked for much better at this stage of the game, playing a pure character at least.

One thing I found in the False Tombs was that the black stars shot by the Unravelers really did a LOT of damage. Unfortunately, this was yet another of D2's many Ignore Target Defense attacks, against which my Defiance aura was useless. My best option was to lure the undead away from the Unravelers, then get them to close to melee range, where their attacks were mostly useless (they couldn't scratch my armor!) It was tough going when champs or boss packs showed up though. I wished for Redemption aura to have some control over cleaning corpses, but that would have to wait until Nightmare.

Kaa got a very wide berth:

He's just too dangerous to mess around with. I swapped to tab two and downed him from afar with javelins in relative safety.

I leveled up to 24 while clearing the True Tomb. This gave me access to Holy Shield for the first time, and the change was immediately noticeable:

My Defense leaped up from about 900 to just shy of 1500. Just as importantly, my blocking rate increased dramatically as well, up by 14% even at slvl 1. The biggest problem is that with only a single skill point, I didn't have enough duration to run Holy Shield for very long. The skill only lasted for 30 seconds, and at a cost of 35 mana, it stretched my paltry mana capabilities to the breaking point. In a way, this was almost a violation of my character plan: the whole idea was to be completely independent of mana consumption! Still, I wasn't about to start putting stat points into Energy or anything like that. As I added my skill points, the duration for Holy Shield would quickly increase. I decided the next four points would go into Holy Shield, until it reached slvl 5 and a playable two minute duration. For the moment, I tried to save the Holy Shield for particularly difficult battles.

Such as Duriel:

I hired another merc for the battle, who lasted all of about five seconds. Pretty much what I expected there... I had 17 full rejuvs on hand (12 on belt), plus an inventory full of reds. That's as prepared as I could get! I swapped over to Sacrifice, opened up the inventory, and started drinking reds as needed while swinging away at Duriel. Now I believe that this is the cheapest battle in the entire game, a cheese-fest with no room to manuever or run away, but if there's ONE character build that can handle the Duriel fight with ease, it's a Defiance paladin. Duriel only had about a 30% chance to hit me, and at close range he couldn't use his charge attack. I made it through the battle without having to dip into my supply of full rejuvs. Mission accomplished! This was the first fight in the game that seriously had me worried, and Metbag passed it with flying colors. On to Act III.

The first thing that I did was check the vendors in town for a weapons upgrade. After a few refreshes of the merchants, Hratli offered up a war hammer with 30% increased damage and another leech suffix (4% life steal). Although I disliked giving up the Very Fast attack speed on my long sword, the damage increase was too much for me to pass on and I made the swap. I started gambling for gloves, hoping to turn up a set with Increased Attack speed. After a number of tries I did hit one with the absolute minimum: 10% IAS with no other affixes. I opted to make the switch even though it meant losing out on some resists from my previous gloves; it cut out a frame on my swings and did make a difference.

The early jungle inhabitants were a breeze: fetishes, mosquitos, and thorned hulks. The only foes that presented any kind of danger were the blowdart fetishes, and my shield did a rather good job of blocking their attacks, which didn't do much damage. I laughed at the mosquitos, who drained mana (ha!) and stamina (equally irrelevant). Oh, did I mention that I spend most of my time walking in Single Player? It's true. Managing your footwork is one of the keys to playing a melee character effectively, and dashing all over the place is definitely not the way to do that. Also remember that when running, you lose the benefit of your Defensive rating - which is kind of the whole point of this character! I bound the "R" running key to the spacebar for easy access, and swapped between them on the fly when I needed to get the Hell out of a bad situation. But mostly, I walked.

I opted to hire a cold merc for the Spider Cavern, fearing Sszark and his Cursed/Extra Strong combo. I look over the list and find Jarulf as the top option - excellent! A good omen already. We head down there together, and the expected fight was a total letdown. As it turns out, a cold mage merc beefed up with Defiance aura is pretty powerful all by himself! Jarulf froze Sszark and crew with his Ice Blasts and Glacial Spikes, while I shattered them into tiny bits using Sacrifice. Didn't even break a sweat!

As a result, I now had a friend tagging along with me, which was almost not what I wanted. Even with no equipment, in D2 classic merc style, Jarulf was virtually unkillable with his 300-something life and 500 defense from my aura. The rest of the jungles therefore became a total cakewalk. Fetishes, flayers, and the other animal residents were all frozen and taken out at my leisure. I never so much as gave Jarulf a potion, but he wasn't even scratched in most battles. I started hoping for a hairball situation to arise, so that he would be killed off and I wouldn't have to feel guilty over the game suddenly becoming so easy. Surely Stormtree and his LEB-ness would cause problems, right? Nope - Jarulf stopped them in their tracks, and I downed the crew with my hammer. This was almost too easy!

Back in town, I finally managed to gamble a set of gloves with 10% increased attack speed and some other goodies on it. Earlier in the act, I had swapped out my gemmed helmet with life on it for a circlet with 20% faster run on it, not being satified with the 10% faster run on my boots. Then I swapped my gambling over to boots, trying to land a set with faster run and some other nice affixes. Eventually, I landed a really nice pair: 20% faster run, 10% faster hit recovery, plus some other goodies. Excellent! The one downside was that I lost some more fire resistance from my old boots, taking me down into the teens. Yikes! I really felt that lack when facing the shamans with their Inferno attacks. I'd better find a way to improve that before facing Diablo... With boots and gloves temporarily satisfied, I now returned to gambling circlets as my main priority.

Kurast continued to be a breeze to complete. Jarulf's cold attacks minimized the danger of being swarmed and overwhelmed, so we just coasted through each area. By now, he had leveled up four or five times and was doing some real damage with his attacks. I thought maybe Sarina and crew would casuse problems, but nope! Once again, the power of cold blasts and Defiance aura kept the two of us in relative safety. Even when we drew a nasty stairs trap in one of the temples (can't remember which, unfortunately) Jarulf managed to make it through without losing more than half his life. I started to wonder if he was going to survive all the way into Act IV. I intended the mercs to be a short-lived minor boost, not a permanent traveling companion!

Even the Council in Travincal failed to do in Jarulf. He got lost somewhere in the level while I lured out the bosses one by one for disposal, which allowed him to survive intact. None of the Council members proved to be too difficult when faced in isolation. Sacrifice worked quite well so long as I kept drinking red potions as needed. Down in the Durance of Hate, I turned up an awesome Grand Charm: 23% fire resistance, +20 life! Yes, fire resistance - just what I most needed! And an excellent boost to life as well. That was an unbelievable find for Normal difficulty, I used charms worse than that right up until the end of Hell difficulty with Svava and Bearlin_Wall. The fact that it filled a pressing need only made it that much sweeter.

Durance Three finally saw the end of Jarulf, as he bit the farm against Bremm Sparkfist's charged bolts. Finally! I could now stop feeling bad over having gotten so much help throughout Act III. Bremm was the toughest of the Council members, the other two failing to achieve much of anything:

Maffer especially was a joke. I downed him in about 10 seconds using Sacrifice. Wasn't expecting that!

For Mephisto, it was the same deal as Duriel. Load up the inventory with reds, close to melee range and start swinging. Without the ability to chill me, he was even less of a threat. Mephisto seems to fare poorly against a melee attacker, turning to his own (weak) melee attack instead of that nasty cold shot. He had a lot of hit points, so the fight dragged out for a while. Very, very little danger however. I still had half an inventory full of reds when I emerged victorius.

In the Pandemonium Fortress, I again tried to see if I could upgrade my gear. Nothing better than plate mail from the vendors, and the odds of me improving on my awesome rare armor were essentially nonexistent. I did manange to upgrade my javelin to a better version with higher damage, although that was about it. I continued gambling circlets without finding very much of use. I eventually turned up one with +11% to all resists and nothing else, which was still lousy but better than an additional 20% faster run that I didn't need.

Shorn of Jarulf's help for the first time in ages, I had to return to a more tactical fighting style. This was refreshing, as it was more of what I had in mind when I created Meatbag. Corpse spitters were the easiest foes, unable to do much outside their melee attacks. The finger mages were an easy fight as well, I just had to make sure that they didn't flee in the wrong direction when injured. Venom Lords were a bit tougher; their melee attack was easy to dodge, but their Inferno packed a minor punch. Dangerous in groups, if not in isolation. The breeding mothers (Stygian Hags and the like) gave me the most headaches. Although their pups had a measly 15% or so to hit me, they could swarm me and do damage through sheer numbers. I always made them my first target in a mixed mob of foes.

I found a Combat Shrine on the Plains of Despair, then lured Izual back to it for the boss fight:

Even so, the fight took an agonizingly long time, and I had to return to town for more red potions twice. Why does he have so many hit points?!

Note that I've now maxed out my target strength of 100 at clvl 27. I decided to spend the next few levels alternating between Dexterity and Vitality, my Dex especially needing some pumping to get back into the vicinity of proper blocking. With Holy Shield and some pumping there, I figured I would be able to get close to the 75% cap on blocking. I've also managed at this point to get my resists into the comfortable range in all categories, a far cry from the 16% fire resist that I was using back in mid-Act III!

I full-cleared the entire River of Flame and secured the waypoint before heading to the Hellforge portion. This conveniently allowed me to turn up a second Combat Shrine, so I lured Hephasto halfway across the River before fighting him there with that assistance. I took advantage of the long chase to plug him with a bunch of javelins along the way too, hehe. All in all, it was a relatively easy fight. I know that Hey Fatso is the bane of melee characters, but as I've been saying over and over again in this report, pure melee enemies just don't pose that much of a threat for a Defiance pally. If it's a melee attack, they aren't going to hit much - period.

The River Maze and the Chaos Sanctuary were more of the same, fighting upgraded versions of the same Act IV monsters. I'd had plenty of practice in dealing with their attack patterns by now. Oblivion Knights made for an interesting battle, needing to lure out their protecting fighters before closing in for the kill. I was very careful to watch for their Iron Maiden curse, the only one that posed a true danger. Whenever it was enacted, I would back off and run around until it wore off. Patience, careful movement, and divide and conquer tactics won the day for Meatbag against these foes.

I tackled De Seis first, whose aura popped up as Fanaticism. Um, yay? Since the Oblivion Knight melee attack is rather feeble, it was the increased movement speed that caused the most danger there. I slowly lured one minion at a time away and finally finished off the boss last. I took on the Vizier and crew next, who were probably the easiest of the bunch. I used the lava pools in the south end of the Chaos Sanctuary to divide up his crew, Ember-style, then took them out with ease. The Vizier stayed back at the pentagram and was taken out last. Finally, the Infector and his minions, who put up the best fight of the lot. I managed to lure out four of his minions and kill them before waking the boss (using the window of vulnerability where they will run out towards you and then retreat back towards the boss). Then the Infector woke up with a half dozen remaining minions, and I had to run for my life back towards the entrance! I managed to split the crew down to just the Infector and one minion, which frankly gave me a difficult fight all by themselves. That Extra Fast speed made for a real pain, I tell you. From there I made my way back to the pentagram and cleaned up the remaining minions one at a time. Whew! If I make it here again in Nightmare, I'll probably just lure them all back to the River Maze for easy disposal. Too dangerous to do things the way I did here.

For Diablo, I swapped to an alternate amulet with more fire resistance, maxing it in addition to my already-maxed lightning resist. Then I loaded up with some more red potions and set him free. The Diablo fight was tense and very enjoyable. His fire attacks were more of a nuisance than anything else, with the Lightning Breath of Doom being the main danger. I had to make sure to get out of the way of that; I caught a full breath at one point and saw about 60% of my life drain away. Ahh, for the days when a few MDR items could nullify that completely!

I liked it when Diablo would use his melee attack on me, since he had trouble hitting and it would allow me to get in some shots of my own. I didn't like it when he hit with his cold slap, chilling me for a few seconds. Diablo has a lot of hit points, so we repeated the same movements for quite some time. I had to return for more reds on several occasions, always making sure to tag him with a Prevent Monster Heal item on each return from town. (I bought a PMH javelin earlier from one of the vendors, and had been using it against every boss and champ for some time.) I don't even know if Diablo regens health on Normal, but I wasn't taking any chances. On two occasions, he did a critical hit and dropped my life under 100 hit points, and both times I instantly drank a full rejuv. That was as close as he came to killing me, and I wouldn't call either one really a true "close call". After about five minutes, Diablo gave up the ghost:

That would have been the end in D2 classic, but of course this is the expansion, and so we have a whole new act to go before I could lay claim to a full game clear on Normal. I think that's a major reason why there were so many fewer entries into Sirian's Hall of Heroes for D2X as opposed to the original game. A bigger, longer game means a lot more places where you can die!

Entering the Bloody Foothills, I drew the usual mix of Enslaved and Death Maulers. The boar-faced Enslaved were a total joke, with nothing beyond a melee attack that had little chance of hitting me. I quickly found myself taking lots of damage from the Death Mauler tentacles though. Must be yet another Ignore Target Defense attack, argh! One reason why Defense is often seen as so useless is because this game is crawling with tons of enemies that employ ITD attacks. My best option was to get them to close to melee range, where they would switch over to their own (weak) melee attack. Where that wasn't possible, or when I was fighting large mobs at once, I had to resort to hit-and-run tactics and divide them with my footwork. Fortunately the rough terrain of the Foothills offered plenty of opportunities to do exactly that.

There are always a couple of barb NPCs in this opening area attacking the monsters, presumably there for flavor purposes. Usually they die pretty quickly; however, with Defiance aura boosting their defenses, they suddenly became beefy tanks. It wasn't long until I had a full crew of barb warriors following me around!

There's four of them in that shot, as we face the imp boss pack that always spawns halfway through the Foothills. Their minor help was appreciated, sped things up a little bit. They were pretty dumb though, standing around uselessly whenever they encountered a ledge without a staircase in front of them. Eventually they all wandered off or were killing by the Death Mauler tentacle attacks (an ITD move that I couldn't help them with, remember). Shenk's minions were lured out and killed, and he wasn't able to do much of anything, being another pure melee foe.

On into the Frigid Highlands, where I drew a mixture of two types of imps, plus more Death Maulers. At first I enjoyed fighting the imps. I could down them in one or two swings, and the tactical footwork needed to corner them was refreshing. And if it had just been imps, the area would have been OK. However, along with those imps came large numbers of Crush Beasts, a deadly threat for a melee character. I could not stand in their Infernos without taking a huge amount of damage, so every time a Crush Beast appeared it meant a retreat to the rear. (They will always follow you, while imps will eventually blink all over the place. Thus it is possible to separate them, with a lot of backtracking.) All of this took a tremendous amount of time, and as the area stretched on and on, I soon became beyond bored. Why are these areas so gigantic and monotonous? Maybe it's no big deal for your sorcie, who can blast all of these threats at range with no issues, but my melee paladin had to take the threats seriously, which meant slowly working each section. The original Diablo was so much better in this regard. While there were only 16 levels, there was a LOT of randomnity in terms of the monster draw on each floor. A lot. D2 mostly gives you the same enemies in each area, which is fine because there are many more areas overall - but not so cool when each area balloons in size.

The Abbadon sub-dungeon had... more imps. Yay.

The Arreat Plateau was crawling with Death Maulers and Overseer/Fire Boar pairings. Alright - a much easier group of monsters! The Death Maulers may have been a pain, but at least they were easier to kill. Anything but more of those Crush Beasts. I was able to do this area in about a third of the time that the Highlands took. Yes, I did have to kill Thresh Socket at the end, although he was a cinch with no imps riding on top!

Down in the Crystalline Passage, I was faced with witches, frenzytaurs, and frozen horrors. It was the last of those enemies that had me pulling out my hair again. The ice monsters may have been slow as molassus, but their Arctic Blast attack was a tremendous pain. It wasn't just the slowed attack speed, that thing hurt! Even with 50% cold resist. So every fight against them was a painful ordeal: swing once, dodge blast, swing again, dodge, etc. Not so hard in a one-on-one match, but of course it's pretty rare to take on single foes in this game. Any time I would wake up three or more, I would have to retreat and divide the enemies into smaller groups. Very time-consuming, very tedious business. Then in the Glacial Trail, I had to fight two champ packs and a boss that were all frozen horrors. Argh!

Compare that to the experience of a sorcie or a bowazon, who can easily shoot down such threats without ever breaking a sweat or even coming into range of the enemy. D2 has it out for melee characters in the worst way. I'm straining my brain to come up with a situation where ranged characters clearly have it worse than melee ones, and having trouble. Maybe Duriel (?) That's one of the biggest balance problems in this game, if not THE largest...

Down to rescue Anya in the Frozen River, and I thankfully didn't draw any frozen horrors! Mostly reanimated dead along with some witches and abominables. The big furry ones made for a fun fight:

Just stand there and keep swinging. They'll all die before me, that's for sure!

I had reached clvl 30 by this point and finally invested a point into Redemption. It seemed like a good time to get some practice in using the skill before facing Shamans in Nightmare Act I (presuming I would live that long, of course! This may not be Hardcore, but I intend to stop playing after I die.) The reanimated dead were a great chance to experiment with the skill, cleaning up their bodies to make sure that they wouldn't rise again. I found that Redemption was very streaky, sometimes redeeming the corpses instantly, sometimes taking ages and ages. Slow or not though, it definitely worked at preventing the skeletons from getting up again. I still hoped to find some kind of +skills item to avoid needing to put more than the one point there.

You can see me running Redemption in this next picture, during the Pindleskin fight:

One of the corpses is being redeemed as I snapped the screenshot, as shown by the little red spirit just to the left of Meatbag. That red, sunburst aura looked nothing like my normal blue Defiance one - at least I wouldn't be getting them confused! This particular fight was tougher than I expected. The walking dead weren't dangerous from their melee attack (pitifully slow and easy to dodge), but from their periodic charges. And yes, their charge move is another ITD attack, argh! Although I tried to use the terrain obstacles here to block their movements, I don't think I was particularly successful. I have some ideas about how to manage this fight better if I should make it back here in Nightmare. It's virtually impossible not to wake up a huge mob right at the start...

I finally recognized the art style used in Nihlathak's temple and the Arreat Summit: it's Thai architecture! This as a result of visiting Thailand on vacation earlier this year. Pretty good choice by Blizzard, as it definitely looks very exotic.

The Halls of Anguish/Pain were... long. Not hard, just long. I found the battles growing tedious yet again. Blizzard's philosophy in some of these areas is difficult to understand; making dungeons larger and bosses have more hit points doesn't make them harder. It just makes them a test of patience. It didn't help that this was about the fourth area in row that was crawling with reanimated dead. Give me something else to fight, please! Less repetition of the same enemies would be nice...

The Nihlathak fight was brutal. I carefully cleared out all the corpses in the adjoining room and left him for last in the level. Well that was a waste of time, heh. He keeps summoning more monsters, so there's really very little you can do. Now thank goodness Blizzard did fix his Corpse Explosion attack in one of the later patches, so the fight is no longer instant death. But this is still a nasty, nasty fight. Nihlathak is always surrounded by minions, and he has an Arctic Blast chill attack to make things worse for melee characters. I kept having to lure the minions away, run in for one or two swings at the boss, then run away again, frequently getting chilled in the process. It doesn't exactly help either that Nihlathak is mlvl 68 in Normal, and little old me facing him at clvl 33. Gee thanks, Blizzard. Nothing's more fun than swinging and missing 2/3 of the time because my level isn't deemed to be high enough. I wasn't pleased with my performance here, as I took a brutal pounding from both the summoned minions and Nihlathak himself. What could I do? It was an ugly fight. I have no idea how I will handle this if I make it back again in Nightmare. Thankfully, his mlvl and hit points don't go up much at all on the next difficulty, which may make things doable...

In the Frozen Tundra, the monster draw was all imps - again.

Just what I wanted, thanks! By now I was using all Sacrifice, due to the difficulty of hitting the enemies. I later realized this wasn't so much due to a low AR as the fact that many of these monsters had a much higher level than me, imposing an additional to-hit penalty. The one saving grace was the fact that the Frozen Tundra isn't as large as the Frigid Highlands. I eventually moved on to the Ancient's Way, which was packed with... more frozen horrors! It's like the game can't stop giving me the most painful draws possible. I continued to grit my teeth and slug on through. What I wouldn't have given to have a Meteor sorcie at some of these points!

That brought me up to the Ancients. I expected this battle to be relatively smooth sailing, being one place where Defense would actually mean something, so I prepped the battlefield with some extra reds, mentally prepared myself, and hit the statues.

You can see one such stack of reds up at the top of this screen. I've always loved the scenery up at the Arreat Summit; I think the view "down" off the left side is some of the most impressive artwork in the game. As for the fight itself, I took them on in the usual order of Madawc, then Korlic, then Talic. Poor Madawc. Throwing barbs just aren't that dangerous. Korlic seemed to have the most hit points of the bunch, however his attacks didn't have much success in hitting me. Mr. Whirlwind was left for last, as the most dangerous and difficult to kill. Here on Normal, the attacks didn't do enough damage to put me in the danger zone at any point. I didn't even finish off the reds in my inventory, and only needed a single purple during the fight. All in all, pretty well handled.

Worldstone One had mostly witches and more reanimated dead. These witches were the first ones to start shooting their blood stars at me, although they didn't cause any real problems. My shield blocked them pretty well. I remember having one Hell of a time against them with the Rogue team, although that was of course on a much higher difficulty.

Best of all, I found a three socketed exceptional paladin shield on Worldstone One. Yes! I had been looking for a socketed paladin shield all game, never finding one with more than one socket. So to turn up one with the full three sockets - and exceptional to boot! - was more luck than I knew what to do with. The only question was whether to use them for three diamonds or the Ral/Ort/Tal runeword. I already had two Perfect diamonds in inventory stash, so this required some thought. It came down to having 10% extra resists from the diamonds, or 50% increased defense on the shield from the runeword. With this being a Defiance variant, and lacking a third Perfect diamond, I went with the runeword:

You see me wearing full plate mail in that screenshot of my inventory. However, during the same visit to town that I crafted the Ancient's Pledge shield, I checked Anya and saw a Blessed Ancient Armor on sale, defense 300+. I bought that and snapped the shot of my character screen you see above, editing them together into one shot. With Defense in the 4400 range and resistances beyond maxed, I was now set to finish the game.

Worldstone Two had more witches and some (easy) frenzytaurs, the latter of which especially struggled against my new armor. Worldstone Three was all Greater Hell Spawn and suicide minions - a 100% melee level! Total cakewalk. That helped warm me up for the Throne of Destruction boss packs. Colenzo and Achmel's packs were lured away and cleaned up with Redemption, making for very easy fights. Bartuc, Ventar, and Lister were all fought using the same logical strategy: lure them away, divide the minions in the passages back by the stairs, then take them out one at a time. I was using my Prevent Monster Heal javelins against all of these foes, greatly reducing some of the tedium. Lister was the hardest fight of the bunch, due to his very fast attack speed. I also noted that I was having a lot of trouble hitting him; I later checked the Arreat Summit and found that that was due to him having a ridiculous mlvl of 60 or something like that. Yet another way the game makes it so tough for melee characters...

Baal is of course another example of a foe with a crazy mlvl (60), making it extremely tough for a melee character to fight him. I quickly found that his attacks weren't particularly dangerous in terms of hurting me. Baal's melee attack is unimpressive, and his magical ones were mostly canceled out by my high resists. His dreaded "Orange" blast has fortunately been toned down from some of the earlier versions of D2X (when it was pretty much a one-hit kill). However, to compensate for this, Blizzard instead gave Baal enormous amounts of hit points, Izual part two. Even in Normal, Baal has 26,000 hit points (Mephisto has 6000, in comparison). It really makes you wonder what the hell they were thinking with that. It really doesn't make the fighter harder, just... longer.

In a similar vein, Baal also creates a clone periodically throughout the fight. Every time the clone appeared, I had to lure him away from the real Baal, since it was too difficult to take them on at the same time. Now this did increase the danger factor, but mostly it was simple tedium. At one point, I decided to kill the clone, to see if that would keep him from coming back. That proved to be wrong, as Baal just summoned another one. *sigh* I made many, many trips to town for more potions, the fight lasting somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes overall. With enough effort though, even the toughest monsters will eventually drop dead.

Caught the death shot and cropped it into the corner. I ended up using four rejuvs during the fight, in moments where I slipped up or Baal got in a particularly good series of hits. He dropped complete and utter garbage: no uniques, a rare light belt, a rare war bow, and a rare poleaxe. All worthless. In fact, I only turned up two uniques in the whole game: the unique dirk (the Diggler) from Mephisto, and then... the unique dirk again in Act V! You gotta be kidding me! I had one saved in stash against the odd time where I might need it, sold the second drop.

Meatbag completed Normal difficulty with no deaths, full-cleared end to end with all monsters slain, no Save and Exits. It made me wish I had been brave enough to make his character Hardcore! This was the first time that I had ever completed all of Normal without dying though, at least outside of a team environment, so perhaps the caution was justified.

I hate the titles that are used in D2X. D2 classic had the perfect ascending scale: Sir, Lord, Baron, Count, Duke, King. The expansion ditches the English peerage system and instead uses these lame generic titles like "Slayer" and "Guardian" and whatnot. I'll think of him as Sir Meatbag in my head, rather than use that silly Slayer thing.

Now that I know that I can do Normal, the key question is whether I can repeat the same on Nightmare. I'll finally be able to add some skill points to Sacrifice beyond slvl 1, which should help out a lot. I also have a very nice rare full plate mail to upgrade to the exceptional version, once I manage to turn up a Thul rune for the Cube recipe. I still need to find a decent one-handed exceptional weapon too; hopefully I'll find one with a couple of sockets and can make one of the basic runewords out of it. I'll use my Imbue on an exceptional weapon if I have to!

More to come in the future, so long as I continue to avoid death...