Meatbag Part Two: The Search for a Weapon
Meatbag began Nightmare Act I at clvl 36 with the following:
Holy Shield @10
All prerequisites (Smite, Charge, Holy Bolt, Blessed Hammer, Prayer, Cleansing, Vigor) @1
Vicious War Hammer of Slaying: 26-47 damage
Glorious Ancient Armor of Remedy: 332 def, -25% poison length
Ancient's Pledge Akaran Targe
Rainbow Circlet: 11% resist all
Rare Heavy Gloves: 10% IAS, +15 AR, 7% Fire Resist, Half Freeze Duration
Russet Plated Belt of the Mammoth: +40 life, 11% Fire Resist
Rare Chain Boots: 20% Faster Run, 10% Faster Hit Recovery, 31% Enhanced Defense, 17% Lightning Resist, 16% Poison Resist, -25% poison length
Rare Ring: +1 max damage, +77 AR, 3% life steal, 14% Cold Resist, 7% Poison Resist, -25% poison length
Coral Ring of the Leech: 3% life steal, 21% Lightning Resist
Rare Amulet: +14 AR, +3 life regen, +11 stamina, 7% resist all
I was happy with some parts of that setup, in particular my excellent runeword paladin shield and nice boots. I would want to upgrade my footgear eventually to 30% fastest run, but they were plenty good enough for the moment. The biggest things that stood out were my weapon, headgear, and jewelry. That war hammer had been great Act III and IV Normal, not so hot in Act V, and was now really beginning to fall behind the curve. Decent damage, curtailed by the relatively slow attack speed (listed at the Arreat Summit as  speed, essentially average). I continued to hope that a decent unique one-handed weapon would drop somewhere, aside from that hopelessly obsolete "Diggler" unique dirk!
My rings were similarly falling behind the curve. The rare one wasn't bad: minor life leech, a decent AR boost, and some low-level resists. Still, I could use an upgrade there. The fact that I was making use of a non-rare ring with a mere 3% life steal on the other hand should give you an indication of my less-than-stellar setup. The amulet I was using had dropped in NORMAL Act I, yeesh! My headgear was just sad, verging on embarassing. A rainbow circlet with 11% resist all?! And yet, that was the BEST I had managed to turn up from something like 30-40 gambles on various helmets. Yikes. I planned to continue to emphasize headgear for the immediate future.
The most noticeable change out in the Blood Moor was the increase in Sacrifice damage Meatbag was doing to himself. Back in Normal, I had a healthy 6% life leech from my gear, which kept me pretty comfortable with the 8% damage Sacrifice reflects back on the user. Now that leeching was cut in half (down to 3%), and I was reflecting back 5% of my damage output onto Meatbag. Since the feeble inhabitants of the early potions of Act I rarely hit me, I was taking something like 80-90% of my overall damage from Sacrifice! Meatbag had always been a heavy drinker of red potions, and that use now increased noticeably. I began making more use of Redemption, even at slvl 1, not just to clean corpses but to give me back some life.
Very little to report from either the Blood Moor or the Den of Evil. Enemies were generally weaker than in Act V Normal, and much slower to boot. Their attacks could not be totally disregarded, however, as their damage output was high enough to matter, especially in groups. The Cold Plains was relatively routine as well; I was able to draw a pair of corrupted rogue boss packs back to a cottage and face them one at a time in the doorway. Unable to surround me, they had little chance.
The most dangerous enemies in the early parts of Act I are usually the shamans (along with rogue archers in the cave subdungeons). The danger comes from having to rush in and take out the reviving shamans, with the risk of getting surrounded and killed. That was how Meatbag had dealt with them in Normal... but now he had Redemption on hand, and even at slvl 1, found it to be a formidable weapon. Fallen and carver minions could be easily lured away from the shamans, their corpses cleaned, and then the remaining foes taken out at leisure. Even Bishibosh and the six shamans he had attending him were a cakewalk.
The Cave... was a different story.
This was the first real challenging area I faced in Nightmare. An Extra Strong zombie boss pack spawned right at the stairs, and then I ran into rogue archer champs while trying to sort out that mess! Yes, the zombies were slow as dirt, but they already hit hard, and when juiced with Extra Strong it became quite a hairball. I wore them all down with considerable help from Meatbag's Prevent Monster Heal (PMH) javelins on weapons tab 2, but it was tense going. I had to drink a full rejuv at one point, which is a pretty rare occurence for Meatbag. Then I make it halfway through the level and start running into Cold Enchanted (CEB) rogue archer minions. "Ahh, must be Coldcrow," I think. Turns out there was a second CEB archer boss down there, and nearly on top of the old girl, although thank goodness I managed to fight them separately. Lured out the minions one and two at a time, made sure to tag each with PMH, and worked them over til they died.
Coldcrow herself was CEB/Multishot (see above picture). Talk about a painful combo! I was glad that the Multishot ability only spawns three arrows here in Nightmare, compared to the five it produces in Hell. This was a pretty brutal fight, but I drank oodles of reds and managed to avoid ever falling into a true close call situation. Whew!
I remember Blood Raven being a joke to kill back in D2 classic. Well, either my memory has failed me, or (much more likely) she's been beefed up considerably in the later patches. This fight was dangerous! Blood Raven quickly summoned her huge mob of some two dozen skeletons and zombies (thankfully still quite slow) and used them to run interference duty for her while sniping away at me. It looked something like this:
When she stayed within the enemy mob, I could not touch her, not with a melee character. Way too dangerous to run in there and start swinging, not with that many enemies. I had to pied piper the zombies away from her over and over again, then run back into to get in some swings before running away again. This was slow, dull business, not helped by the fact that my weapon wasn't doing all that much damage. Blood Raven seems to have a ton of hit points now, hmmm. This seemed almost like another Izual battle, with relatively low threat level that takes forever to pull off. I presume a ranged character would have had it easier though... Anyway, after about 20 minutes of running around, I finally managed to finish her off. Yay. I didn't even get a free crappy mercenary out of it, what a letdown.
The Crypt had no fewer than FIVE different skeleton boss packs inside, yeesh. Fortunately none of them were particularly dangerous. Bonebreaker turned up Magic Resistant in addition to his usual Extra Strong/Stone Skin, so that was a nice draw for me. There are a lot of combos that would have been a lot worse. The Mausoleum was tame by comparison, only two bosses inside. These little areas really liked throwing skeleton enemies at me, which was somewhat of a problem because life leech doesn't work against them. Meatbag drank even more reds.
The Stony Field was routine, no problems. Rak and his minions went down almost as fast in Nightmare as they did in Normal. Thought that would be tougher than it proved to be. I will mention here that after placing two more points in Sacrifice (for AR purposes more than damage) during my first couple level ups, I went back and invested two into Redemption, taking it to slvl 3. That gave me 42% odds to redeem corpses (up from 25%) and made fighting the shamans much less tedious. Even better, I had forgotten before that there is a synergy between Redemption and Sacrifice! 15% additional Sacrifice damage for each skill point. I had actually known that when building the character initially, then forgot while playing, heh. So the only thing those two skill points cost me was some AR boost from not raising Sacrifice, and the offset in faster corpse disposal more than made up for it.
Like the Cave, the Underground Passage immediately spawned trouble. There was a Misshapen boss pack right on top of me (stairs trap, sigh) and for the first time ever with Meatbag, I was cornered and unable to escape:
Ugh. I managed to fight off a rising sense of panic and keep swinging and drinking, until eventually one of the minions died. That allowed me to break free, open a town portal, and get the Hell out of there. Whew! This is the most serious close call I've had yet with Meatbag, and I had to drink several rejuvs off the belt to survive. I have a feeling that if and when this character dies, it will be from a situation like this, some kind of nasty stairs trap or multiple boss pack encounter fought in a sardine can. After restocking belt, I was able to come back down the stairs, kill two minions there, then take on the boss and finally slay him. All in all, I think I handled the situation pretty well. I was helped by the fact that the boss was Spectral Hit/Magic Resistant, relatively benign abilities.
When I came out of the Underground Passage, I saw that I was in the middle of the Dark Wood, which is never a good sign. (The entrances that spawn on one of the walls are much easier to deal with.) I take three steps and the Tree of Inifus appears on my minimap. Oh, this is not good! I tried to edge Meatbag in the other direction, but it was already too late. Here he comes:
I had about 1% of the area to work with here, so I ran in circles around that opening desperately trying not to wake any more enemies. Despite my best efforts, a couple of skeleton archers wandered by, argh! After plugging each minion with PMH, I slowly wore them all down through hit and run actions, leaving the boss for last, at which time I took the above screenshot. Another extremely hairy fight, since I lacked the room to retreat properly. That's why stair traps are so dangerous in this game, no room to maneuver. If you have space to run, you can space out the enemies with footwork and keep the mob from swarming you. All of the worst deathtraps in this game are places with confined quarters.
As it was, it was a good thing that I had limited my movements when fighting Treehead, because the giant carver camp always present in the Dark Wood was also right by the entrance. Thankfully I didn't have to deal with both at once. I found to my irritation that a lot of carvers kept running away from me; not due to their inherent AI, but because of a new item I had turned up. The unique mask dropped in the Underground Passage: the Face of Horror, with +20 strength, +25 defense, 10% resist all - and hit causes enemies to flee 50%. That last ability wasn't really what I wanted much of the time, yet the item was so much better than that rainbow circlet that I had to make the switch. I soon became adept at getting enemies to run in the direction I wanted, and even was glad at times when it separated minions from bosses (who can't be affected by Terror curse or that ability). I still would have been just as happy without the affix though.
The rest of the Dark Wood and Tristram were easy fights. Griswold just about put me to sleep, I think he hit me maybe twice. I continued to wish for a better weapon to drop, and even tried my hand at gambling various one-handed ones, with no luck. I wanted to try and craft a Blood axe with the Cube recipe, but nope, no Perfect rubies. I didn't even so much as have a normal Ruby, much less a Perfect one! They were the one gem that wasn't dropping. Not about to use an imbue on a weapon either. I'm saving those for any elite armors that might drop in Act V Nightmare. I had a nice Full Plate rare sitting in stash, just waiting for a Thul rune to drop to upgrade it to the exceptional version. Meatbag had two Amns and a Dol, still no Thuls!
The next few areas really began testing my abilities with Meatbag. The Hole level 1 was routine, but level 2 had an Extra Strong/Extra Fast archer boss right at the entrance that made for a painful fight. There was no opportunity to split them up, not without running blind into the rest of the tiny level (where there was guaranteed to be at least one more boss) so I fought them right at the entrance, drinking something like two dozens reds and suffering several close calls. Defiance + Holy Shield worked beautifully in this fight, enabling me to avoid enough shots to survive. This situation WOULD have killed most of my previous characters, no doubt in my mind. The rest of the level was tame by comparison.
Then it was into the dreaded Forgotten Tower, one of the worst parts of the game for stairs traps. I made it through the first level without any problems. Then on level two, I found goat champs right at the stairs, and while microlooping to fight them, four or five rogue archers wandered into the fight as well. Argh! Very carefully, I killed the archers first (WALKING in circles as the goats followed behind me swinging away) and then hit and ran against the champs after pegging them with PMH javs. I could not stand there and tank the fight, not even with all my defense. Tough stuff!
Tower 3 then outdid the second floor with TWO ghost boss packs camped out at the stairs:
I initially tried to fight this one out, then gave it up as hopeless when the second boss wandered into the picture with his half-dozen accompanying minions. Just look at all those enemies on top of one another! Impossible to target an individual ghost, and hard even to see WTF is going on. I had no choice but to run blindly deeper into the level, waking up more foes, and eventually portaling out to safety. Thankfully those ghosts are pretty slow and tend to get caught on terrain obstacles. Then it was back down the portal, slowly working through the level, taking down minions in ones and twos until the bosses were the last ones left. That's when the picture in the bottom corner was taken, by the way. I forgot to grab a picture of the other boss, he was Cursed and something else. Together they were a very bad combo.
Tower 4 had more bosses, but at least they weren't on the stairs for a change! Good grief. Even two packs of goat champs were relatively easy given some room to work. (Goats are pretty dumb, not that hard to separate from one another.) That brought me to the Countess, who drew LEB status in addition to her usual fire:
There's definitely something weird in that interaction, as those sparks were doing way more damage than normal. Fire damage gets added to the lightning in some wacky way. Anyway, the Countess' melee attack wasn't dangerous due to my defense and blocking. I did have to be careful with her death explosion, because (as Bearlin_Wall learned to his chagrin) the interaction between the FEB/LEB traits is bugged in Nightmare difficulty, and causes massive damage in the death explosion. Once I worked the Countess down to a sliver of life, I retreated out of the room and downed her with javelins. Only safe way to do it.
As usual, the reward for the quest was gold and not much else. No wonder Hardcore players skip this area like the plague! I made it through with no deaths, but it was not easy at all. Lots of genuine threats down there.
Meatbag had no problems in the Tamoe Highlands. The outdoor areas had generally been quite easy for him, all the tough fights coming down in the caves or tower regions. On the first level of the Pit, I drew a Holy Freeze/Stone Skin skeleton boss, ouch. Holy Freeze is always a bad boss trait for melee characters, and Stone Skin just made the fight last that much longer. (You can be sure I was extra careful to tag this boss with PMH!) Then I turned the next corner in the same area, and fought another skeleton boss with identical abilities!
Umm, yay? This bug's been around for ages in D2, and probably won't ever get cleaned up. Bosses with identical abilities popping up in the same region happens way too often for it to be a complete coincidence. While I was never in any real danger from these skeletons, the fights dragged out for quite some time. More slow going, sigh. That's the one downside of this character design: by pumping all those skill points into defense, the character becomes very difficult to kill - but he doesn't kill enemies very fast either. Your normal pally employing Might or Fanaticism or whatnot would probably be doing 2x-3x the damage of Meatbag. Then again, your normal pally would also probably have died at least once by now!
The Pit level 2 is often one of the deadliest parts of the game. However, Meatbag's slvl 3 Redemption made it a rather easy fight, depriving the shamans of the opportunity to swarm him. Without the need to run down to the lower levels and take out those revivers, I could work through the level at my leisure. Even though there were three boss packs in that tiny space, I handled it without any issues. Nice to see another place where my skill selection really worked out as I intended!
An Extra Strong rogue boss in the Outer Cloister nearly killed me when I became careless:
Here she is, the... "witch", I'll say. I was engaged with a Devilkin shaman and some razor spines, then the boss pack ran out of the corner. Next thing I know, I've gotten smacked a couple of times and my life orb is nearly on empty. Gulped a rejuv, ran like Hell, and put some space between me and the threat. It was my own darn fault for not getting out of that situation the minute it started to turn downhill. I would have been very angry with myself if this minor hairball had resulted in the end of Meatbag's journeys. Instead, I lured the minions around that wall one at a time, then killed the boss at the end. It wasn't even a tough fight! But anything can kill you in this game if you screw up and fail to take things seriously.
The Barracks were easy, with plenty of room to work and narrow entrances with which to divide foes. The Smith drew Mana Burn as his extra ability, and I laughed at his feeble swings as I meleed him to death:
19% to hit and 65% blocking on top of that. That means he's got less than a 7% chance to actually hit me with each blow. Yeah, that sounds about right. The Smith dropped some junk and a magic truncheon. Blah blah, exceptional club, at least it will sell for some decent money in town. Wait a minute - the CUDGEL is the exceptional club. That means that the Smith dropped the ELITE CLUB! And it's a magic item too! Wow. I hurriedly rushed back to town for an ID... only to find that the affix was worthless, +1 to barb combat skills. However, even with no additional damage mods, this was still a major upgrade over that hopelessly obsolete war hammer - and it was Very Fast attack speed [-20] to boot! I made the switch and saw a marked increase in my damage immediately. The only problem is that with greater damage and faster attacks, my own reflected Sacrifice damage lept up into the critical range. I resolved that that would be the next issue that I would tackle in terms of eqipment. Must find some more life leech gear ASAP!
The Jail levels were sooooo much easier with my new elite weapon, and it took half the amount of time as before to clear areas. I could now hit enemies again when they fled from my unique mask, often stopping them before they could get away. There were no major fights on Jail 1, while Jail 2 served up the usual Pitspawn battle:
There was another Dark One boss pack squeezed into that cage with Pitspawn and his minions. Fortunately, this was literally the last room I encountered in the whole level, giving me plenty of room to maneuever. Pitspawn was still a difficult fight, the Cursed making his melee damage significant while the CEB ensured that every lightning blast would chill Meatbag. I ended up drinking a lot of potions here. Thankfully his random third ability was the useless Magic Resistant.
There was a boss right on the stairs in the Inner Cloister. Why did Blizzard take Flamespike out of the game if bosses are still going to spawn right on top of the player anyway?
The Cathedral was packed with enemies. Once again, Redemption pulled the teeth out of Dark One shamans and their minions. Those shamans are actually quite weak when faced by themselves. Bone Ash spawned with Magic Resist/Extra Stong/Cold Enchanted/Cursed - good thing he had so little health that he died in about ten swings. Bone Ash dropped the unique cudgel (geeze, what's with all the clubs?!) Dark Clan Crusher, which offered a slight boost in damage over my elite truncheon. I made the switch for the moment. I had looked at the crafting recipes again and saw that the Hit Power recipe would work for any blunt weapon - my truncheon would qualify! I just needed a Tir rune (check), jewel (check), and Perfect Sapphire. Well, I had two Flawless and two regular sapphires, so all I needed was a single more sapphire to do the crafting. For now though, I made use of the Dark Clan Crusher.
There were two more shaman bosses in the back end of the Cathedral - both Holy Fire enchanted!
Another bug? Probably not, although it does make you wonder. These guys were both quite easy. (Where are their minions? Redemption aura: don't enter Fallen camps without it!)
The Catacombs failed to turn up any fights of especial danger or significance. I did face a ton of Tainted bosses, at least a half-dozen across the three floors (they were present in each location). The pair of shaman bosses I faced were handled just as easily as the ones up in the Cathedral.
Finally, I turned up another sapphire in Cats 2. (I had been searching for one since the Barracks, and had found at least one of all other types of gems first! Even a long-overdue Ruby, heh.) This allowed me to finish the crafting recipe outlined above, with this result:
Woohoo! An outstanding result, as good as I could hope for. I drew a VERY nice boost to damage, a plus to max damage, and a minor ability against undead. The only thing missing was life steal, which I could make up from other gear. My search for a weapon was largely over: this was easily good enough to carry me to the end of Nightmare, and into the early sections of Hell. Just to demonstrate that, my Sacrifice damage output went from 97-354 (225 avg) to 365-497 (431 avg)! Almost doubled, just like that. And along with an improved set of gloves with 20% IAS, Meatbag was now attacking at a VERY fast rate indeed: [-40], I believe. It was... a dramatic change from just a few levels earlier, slowly plugging away with that old war hammer.
And this ultimately is another reason why melee characters are so much more difficult to play: their reliance on their equipment. A caster can fall back on the skills themselves for damage, which will always be the same regardless of your equipment setup. Obviously things can be made much easier with endless +skills candy, but you know what I mean. Now for a melee character, it's totally different. You're completely dependent on what weapon you turn up during the course of the game. Yeah, you can trade for whatever you might need on the Realms, but in solo pure play, you're out of luck if you don't get something decent. Of course, you'll probably be able to come up with SOMETHING, more or less... Still, too many luck factors here for my liking. Thankfully those crafting formulas and runewords make things easier for a skilled player to get around the luck of the draw somewhat. Compared to someone running around with uber twinked gear though, Meatbag's not even playing the same game.
Anyway, consider this: Meatbag was now attacking tremendously faster than before, and doing vastly more damage. Can you see the problem here? If you guessed it involved his Sacrifice skill, give yourself a gold star. Meatbag was beating the crap out of the enemies, and giving them an absolute pasting. At the same time, his life orb was falling so fast that I couldn't go two enemies without drinking a healing potion! His red drinking habit had gone beyond the critical range, into the life-threatening region. As I contemplated reverting back to Normal attack on the left mouse button (uhh, not going to fly for AR purposes, chief!), the game happily provided some assistance in the form of Cathan's Seal dropping on Cats 3. That's a rather lousy set item, but it does have 6% life steal on it. I retired my old ring with 3% life steal and lightning resist, hoping to use Cathan's as a temporary fix until I could find something with life steal and other goodies.
Finally, the only foe remaining in the act was Andariel:
She swung a lot, breathed poison on me, and made a lot of screeching sounds. She was also less dangerous than many of the random boss packs I encountered. I didn't even need to return to town once for more red potions before downing her, and that with most of my damage self-inflicted from Sacrifice!
One Act down, four to go. Meatbag's journey will continue in Act II, his search for a decent weapon happily resolved.