Skulla Part Ten: Revival
This is a report that was very nearly never written.
Skulla was a character who was left by the wayside, his quest stuck in limbo. At the time, I had been playing Diablo 2 very heavily, and the slow pace of Skulla's quest had me losing interest in the game. I decided to take a break with his journey still incomplete. Days passed, then weeks. Months eventually turned into years. I played other characters at times, but Skulla remained parked in the same location, at the start of the Palace in Act II of Hell difficulty. Perhaps I was scared of losing the character because he was Hardcore, and I didn't have the faith in myself to be able to pick up again at the same level of play. I'm not exactly sure. In any case, Skulla lay dormant for six long years.
Finally, in the summer of 2014, I made a concerted effort to go back and finish up with all of the projects that I'd left incomplete on my website. That included the Hardcore Diablo 2 characters that I'd never completed, with Skulla being first up on the list. With the Livestreaming software that had been developed over the intervening years, I could even stream footage of Skulla's quest to anyone interested in watching. I went ahead and spent a few hours practicing mechanics in some of the easier areas of the game, and this was well needed because I was extremely rusty at Diablo gameplay. Skulla nearly died to fallen out in the Blood Moor - on NIGHTMARE difficulty! - when I first started, as I fumbled about with the basics of movement and using curses. It wasn't a pretty sight. But with the passage of time, I could feel the old reflexes coming back again, and I could gradually dial up the difficulty level. By the time that I recleared the Sewers in Hell difficulty, I felt that I was ready to go. Time to resume the journey once more, to do or die.
Duke Skulla continues Hell Act II at clvl 77 (no changes to equipment).
I started the second half of Act II from the Palace. Harem Level Two was blunderbores, horror mages, and horror archers. As you'd guess, this meant a lot of Dim Vision use for the ranged attackers. The blunderbores seemed to have a ton of Physical Resistance, so Iron Maiden wasn't all that good. I tried using Lower Resist, and that worked better, and thus this was one of the rare areas to see no Maiden use whatsoever. Not a single boss on this floor! Very rare for Hell. Palace Celler Level One had a big room with a grate near the stairs, with invaders and dune beasts politely standing around to be shot down by the necromages. Fun! A Fanaticism blunderbore boss then took down the entire army - in shockingly quick fashion! Skulla managed to kill him off with the fire golem and Iron Maiden (helped that he was very slow!), using Terror to control the boss minions, then returned with a full army to polish off the situation. Tough stuff, but handled without too much danger. After cleaning that up, the next fight mixed together an FEB/Magic Resist/Cursed blunderbore with a Stone Skin/Spectral Hit/Conviction dune beast - one coming from each of two doorways. Iron Maiden for the first boss, Lower Resist against the second. Juggling those curses was... interesting.
Palace Level 2 was heavy on more ranged threats, mostly poison mages and skeleton archers with a few jungle bunnies thrown in. The lack of melee attackers meant that this region was heavy on Dim Vision usage, no surprises there. The best fight was probably against a Cursed/Magic Resist/LEB skeleton mage boss, with the sparks claiming many of Skulla's minions. I had to retreat when I was down to 5 mages (the warriors were long dead) and recruit a new army outside in the deserts. There were two or three other bosses along the way, but none as dangerous as that initial poison mage. Floor 3 had lightning mages, more archers, and invaders this time. There were a lot more melee threats on this level, and the invaders were quite tanky even with Lower Resist curse running. Perhaps Iron Maiden would have been better against them, they do have a hard-hitting melee attack. Fire Eyre rolled some decent extra traits, getting Extra Strong/CEB to go along with his innate Extra Fast/FEB, but fortunately Skulla had cleared out the entire bottom floor before running into the boss, and there was little danger. I cornered Fire Eyre and his minions, then took them down in isolation. Easy stuff.
The Arcane Sanctuary was long. That's the best adjective that I can pick for this writeup, long. Skulla started in the twisty stairs quadrant, and almost right off the bat he found himself confronting a triple boss pack. We had an Extra Strong/FEB/CEB spectre boss mixed in with a Cursed/Teleportation/LEB goat boss, and there was a third boss as well that I wasn't able to screenshot. There was no choice but to use Dim Vision here for protection against the ranged ghoul lords in the back, and even so the carnage piled up in heaps right at the narrow passage in the screenshot above. The gore would have been waist-deep if this had been real life, a lot of skeleton minions and enemy monsters died in that small intersection. After that, however, Skulla cleared out the rest of that quadrant and the next one without facing a single boss or champ pack. This was slow going, since the necromages often got stuck on top of one another and I couldn't get them all firing at once. Slow going and not very dangerous, a tedious combination. The biggest danger was avoiding overconfidence, rushing ahead into unsafe areas in an effort to get them done faster. I stayed patient and stayed safe.
The first two quadrants were empty. I found the Summoner in the third one, the straight line quadrant, at the very back end of the area. Per usual tactics, I had Skulla lure away most of the spectres from the Summoner's platform, and then used a series of town portal moves (leaving through a portal and then immediately returning so that your army clumps around your character's position) to get Skulla's army up next to the Summoner himself. The poor guy has less health than one of the hell clan goats, and he died in mere seconds. Not the hardest unique boss in this game, that's for sure. The rest of the Arcane Sanctuary was happily uneventful, there was one more boss + champ pack at the start of the fourth quadrant, and that would be it. By the end of the area, I was using Iron Maiden for almost every fight, as it seemed to work the best against the goats and the vampires. Both of them have a strong melee attack, and the spectres (with their Physical Immunity) were dying easily enough to the necromages regardless. The whole area took about 3 hours to complete, and I ended my gaming session for the day afterwards. Glad to have that section done.
The Canyon of the Magi turned out to have beetles, melee cats, and spear cats for the monster draw. This meant lots of Iron Maiden use again, with only occasional Dim Vision when large numbers of the spear cats popped up. There were about a half dozen bosses in here as well, with the most intense fight taking place right at the start of the Canyon run, with a Stone Skin/CEB/Holy Aim aura beetle boss appearing next to a Magic Resist/Extra Fast/Fanaticism aura kitty. Together they destroyed the better part of my initial minion army, forcing a retreat to stretch out the monsters before picking off the bosses one by one. Progress was steady throughout the rest of the Canyon, lots of my skeletons dying but plenty of bodies for replacement. This wasn't too tough of an area after there was some room to maneuver.
The True Tomb was located in the first tomb on the far left side of the Canyon, Tomb #1. Therefore I decided to clear the False Tombs in the opposite order, starting with Tomb #7 on the far right. This one had mummies, beetles, and ghoul lord vampires lurking inside. I found the vampires to be the worst enemies, since they forced Dim Vision as a curse to stop their fire walls from appearing, and that prevented the use of Iron Maiden or Lower Resist for faster killing. Plus the vampires have that life-stealing auto attack, making it even harder to take them down, argh! I had the most success when I ran Iron Maiden to reflect their blows back upon themselves, but that wasn't always possible for safety reasons. There were plenty of bosses here again, five bosses and a champ pack crammed together into one of those small false tomb layouts. The hardest fight was a double ghoul lord boss, Magic Resist/Stone Skin/Cursed along with Extra Strong/Spectral Hit/CEB. That one room wrecked three armies and forced multiple retreats back into Act I for additional recruits. The room with the gold chest at the end had another ghoul lord boss once again. By the end of this, I was more than ready to head into another false tomb and hope for a different monster draw.
Tomb #6 featured more mummies, apparitions, and the addition of unravellers along with their attendant burning dead hordes. This meant that Skulla had no choice but to raise every body when it hit the ground, Sirian's old "Corpse Earth" tactic. Progress was slow going, very slow going, as Skulla was forced to wade through blood to make his way through every room. It felt as though nearly all of the bosses in this tomb were unravellers, and there were a good six or seven of them in total. Even worse, there was a mummy sarcophagus in the back corner of one of these rooms, spewing out more mummies faster than I could kill them. Skulla had no choice but to let the thing breed itself out. Between the bosses, champ packs, and sarcophagus in that one room, I literally spent 20 minutes of real world time clearing it out. What a pain. Uh, can I get the ghoul lords back again instead of all these unravellers?
Next up was Tomb #5, and this one had danger written all over it within seconds after coming down the stairs. I drew one of the open room patterns, and gorebellies were on top of Skulla almost before I was down the steps. There were gorebelly champs mixed into together with a gorebelly boss and his minions, with zero room to maneuver. I tried to slip around them to the north or west, only to run into more burning dead. There must have been unravellers in here as well. Then the curse sound played, and I jumped in my chair - there was ANOTHER boss in here as well, with the Cursed attribute! I got the hell out of there, running back up the stairs, with only a single gorebelly minion killed. Now I'm not one to run from a fight, but that situation was pure suicide. Not going back in there, sorry. Not against masses of gorebellies (boss + champ pack) along with a second Cursed boss, zero room to move, zero room to fight. I would head back to Tomb #5 on the next play session and hope for a better draw.
There was just enough time remaining before I had to leave for a clear of one more false tomb, the tomb at the top of the Canyon (Tomb #4). This one was very heavy on apparitions, with much smaller numbers of beetles and mummies. That was a friendly draw for sure, as the apparitions rely on their Physical Immunity for survivability. They folded quickly under the concentrated fire of Skulla's necromages, even more so when running Lower Resist curse. Of course there were still plenty of bosses to take out, and in one spot in particular I was forced out of the tomb by a double apparition boss pack. They were Extra Fast/Teleportation/FEB and Extra Fast/Magic Resist/FEB. They came flooding out behind an opened doorway, a crashing wave of white ghosts moving way faster than normal. Double Extra Fast boss pack! I needed a fresh army to take them down. There were more apparition bosses beyond that, a Teleportation/LEB/Holy Fire aura boss and the Stone Skin/Extra Strong/LEB one pictured above. At least the Stone Skin was useless, since the apparitions were all immune to physical anyway. Overall, this was the easiest of the four tombs that I'd entered thus far, and it was done in less than 20 minutes. Skulla even found the unique poignard (Spineripper) inside, which might have been nice for a Poison Dagger necromancer. Sadly useless for him though.
I planned to do one more marathon gaming session to clear out the remaining False Tombs and then the True Tomb itself. Starting once again from the Canyon of the Magi waypoint, Skulla immediately found himself facing off against double Extra Fast crusher bosses: Stone Skin/Extra Strong/Extra Fast and Mana Burn/Spectral Hit/Extra Fast. Fortunately I had begun by recruiting a skeleton army back in Act One, because this encounter got hairy in a hurry! The crushers are already quite speedy in Hell difficulty, and juicing up a double boss pack with Extra Fast had them flying around on crack. Iron Maiden was the curse of choice here, although the Stone Skin boss was immune to physical damage and it didn't touch him at all. Skulla managed to clear out most of the enemies and the non-Stone Skin boss at the cost of his army, went back to Act One for more recruits, and then downed the rest on the return trip. Whew. At least now we could REACH the tombs.
Tomb #5 was first on the agenda, the one where Skulla had been forced to retreat from gorebellies in the previous session. I went back in with a full army, same map layout again (as always in Single Player), but fortunately this time there was no gorebelly boss + champ pack sitting on top of the entrance. Instead there were waves and waves of burning dead in there, and they cursed my army with the very first hit. At least one unraveler boss, therefore, and the burning dead minions kept coming and coming. As it turned out, there were two unraveler bosses right at the entryway, Multishot/Extra Strong/Teleportation along with Cursed/Magic Resist/Holy Fire aura. In the process of clearing them out, we woke up two more bosses: a tri-elemental apparition boss (FEB/LEB/CEB), and a third unraveler boss (Stone Skin/LEB/FEB). It must have taken close to twenty minutes just to establish a safety zone around the staircase, and Skulla still didn't have a doorway to funnel the monsters into a choke zone for easy disposal. The tombs with the open entry areas can be some of the worst layouts. There was more hard work ahead, two more unraveler bosses and an unraveler champ pack, each with more hordes of burning dead skeletons. At least Skulla was no longer in danger of being forced back up the stairs, but this was tough work and a long slog. Finally it was all cleared, and Skulla would never have to venture back into that smelly underground tomb again! Three more to go.
Skulla had already passed through Tomb #4 at the head of the Canyon on the last run, so it was on to Tomb #3 next. (He had to kill a maggot boss along the way there, which wasn't much of a threat.) This one had the exact same opening map layout as the last tomb, the staircase on the right hand side with a large open room and three branching corridors to choose between, no doorways in any direction. It also had another flood of burning dead charge towards Skulla, which meant more unravelers. Sigh. The good news was that there were no bosses at the stairs in this tomb, making it far easier to get established and clear out a safe zone. This tomb was almost entirely burning dead/unravelers paired together with preserved dead mummies, forcing more "Corpse Earth" tactics. Must raise every body the instant it hits the ground, no chance to save bodies for use later. The unravelers would only raise them if Skulla didn't. As a result, this tomb was mostly slow and tedious. Lots of fighting through doorways for safety, progress was lethargic as Skulla was forced to battle for every chamber, every step forward. I screenshoted above a typical slog outside a doorway, this time against a double boss pack. (The other one was a Magic Resist/CEB/LEB mummy in that big group at the door.) The skeletal warriors would inevitably die here, but the fire golem could tank indefinitely in the doorway, and eventually the skeletal mages would shoot the monsters down. Eventually. This tomb took a long, long time.
Five false tombs cleared at this point, all of them the smaller versions. This meant that the last tomb would have Kaa inside, and it would be the largest one yet. Before entering Tomb #2, however, Skulla ran into a tri-elemental crusher boss (FEB/LEB/CEB) outside in the Canyon. That guy slaughtered most of the army, but with some clever golem usage and a whole lot of Iron Maiden, Skulla was just barely able to get the job done without retreating. He did still have to go back to Act One for more troops afterwards, no way was I popping into a new tomb without a full army.
This proved to be a good idea, because Tomb #2 had a gigantic mob of mummies right at the initial stairs. Extra Strong/Stone Skin/LEB were the traits on that mummy boss, a particularly awkward combo because his sparks decimated my skeletons, while the Stone Skin made him Physical Immune and thus invulnerable against Iron Maiden. The initial army was destroyed without making much progress. I recruited a second army and tried again. Skulla was pushed completely back to the stairs, his army wrecked, and seemingly no chance to go forward. The skeletons did manage to kill a good number of mummies that time, and I'd had the good sense to walk over to the right and open up a town portal so that Skulla would have another entrance point into the tomb aside from the stairs. Skulla went and recruited a third army, re-entered the tomb using that portal, and the battle was joined once more. This would have been the end of it, but another large mob of mummies flanked the skeleton army from the right, crushing it once more. Still determined to prevail, Skulla recruited a fourth army, returned via the stairs (NOT his portal)... and this army died as well. Heh. One more time, grabbed a fifth army, and finally downed that boss using Lower Resist. Even this almost failed to work, as the mummies cornered me at the stairs and I had to drink two full rejuvs before Skulla could wriggle through to safety. Now the minion army could down the mummies that had flanked us from the right earlier, and secure a safe zone around the entrance. All that to get down the freaking staircase!
That still left all of Kaa's tomb to be done, and it would be no picnic even if the hardest part had been accomplished. The monster mix was mummies, gorebellies, and burning dead/unravellers - mostly more resurrectables in the form of burning dead and mummies. I found myself using Lower Resist curse the most here, since it would break a fire immunity on the burning dead, and a poison immunity on the mummies. The mummies seemed to have heavy physical resistance because Iron Maiden wasn't doing that much to them. Only the gorebellies were Iron Maiden bait due to their strong melee attack. There were four gorebelly bosses in here, two of them fought together at one point where fire golems died holding a doorway in droves, and then two more unraveler bosses along the way. Finally we reached Ancient Kaa the Soulless, unraveller boss #3 and the eighth total boss in the tomb. Kaa had rolled a dangerous combo with Cursed/Multishot in addition to his always-present Mana Burn/Extra Strong/LEB. Nonetheless, this only caused Iron Maiden to do him in faster, and the minions handled him in stride. Because of his relative isolation, Kaa was one of the easier bosses in this tomb.
I'd been playing for quite some time by now, and I was seriously considering stopping here for the day. I decided to check the monster draw inside the True Tomb and see what it looked like. To my pleasant surprise, the True Tomb had drawn a highly friendly monster mix: beetles, mummies, and ghoul lord vampires. No unravelers! That was exactly what I wanted, and it would speed up the pace of the True Tomb (which is the largest of the tombs by far in terms of size) considerably. There were very few bosses in here as well, just lots and lots of normal monsters. Especially beetles, which appeared in the largest numbers. That was fine with me, since beetles are easy prey for Iron Maiden and died by the droves. Skulla could also save the corpses on the ground due to the lack of unravelers, which meant that I could replace my skeletal warriors as they died. Easy stuff. It was remarkable how the True Tomb was a pale shadow of the difficulty of the False Tombs - you'd think it would be the other way around! The hardest part of the True Tomb was honestly the mummy coffins, waiting for them to breed themselves out. Despite the larger size, this area took less time to clear than Kaa's tomb.
Now Skulla needed to retreive the Horadric Staff from the Maggot Lair, which I always leave for last to avoid taking up three inventory slots carrying the darn thing around. The Maggot Lair is a truly awful place for a summoning necromancer, lacking room for your troops to operate. Those narrow corridors aren't even particularly dangerous, since the monsters have no chance to swarm your character. They're just... tedious. This was the one and only place in the whole game that I planned to skip full clearing. Just get me down to the bottom floor ASAP, thanks. Anyway, Skulla was forced to use town portals over and over again to group his army. Your minions will group up around you after coming out of a portal, and that was the only way to get more than one or two necromages firing at once. Progress was slow going, even though there was zero danger to Skulla whatsoever. The most interesting fight is pictured above, there was a triple boss pack encounter there: Teleportation/Extra Fast/Holy Fire aura beetle along with two black locust bosses, one on either side. The locusts fared extremely poorly against my necromagers (especially with Lower Resist running), the one problem was getting enough of them in range to fire. Skulla cleared about half of the first two floors of the Maggot Lair before finding the stairs down.
On the third floor, I hugged the right side of the minimap, knowing that Coldworm always spawns in a chamber on that side. Sure enough, there she was, although Skulla had to travel a good distance from the stairs to make it there. Coldworm also posed no threat to Skulla, since any minion that died could be instantly replaced from her copious maggot young. This was almost like Meatbag's trip here, when he could use Redemption aura for an instant full heal at any point in time. Tons of corpses on the ground. I tested both Iron Maiden and Lower Resist here, without either one being definitively stronger. Eventually the maggots bred themselves out (there's a limit on how many young they will make) and Skulla's bony minions finished the job. Gimme that staff!
I didn't do a whole lot in the way of preparations for Duriel. Skulla already had a skill setup that works well against the boss, using minions to distract Duriel and Iron Maiden to reflect damage back on himself. Skulla had recently hit clvl 80 in the Maggot Lair, and Iron Maiden was now completely maxed on skill points. It was slvl 24 for 775% damage reflection and a duration of over 60 seconds even here in Hell. Skulla himself had just under 1000 health for safety. Yeah, that should be enough barring any true idiocy on my part. Let's do this.
Upon entering Duriel's chamber, I immediately cast Iron Maiden on the boss. The fire golem ignored Duriel to run over next to Skulla - no, get over there, you stupid golem! I recast the golem on top of Duriel, but two skeletal warriors were already dead, and he smashed a third one before switching over to the new golem threat. After that, it was a matter of recasting golem repeatedly over and over again when its health dropped low, while drinking mana potions to avoid running out of casting juice. Duriel never managed to get free again:
Two skeletal warriors and all ten mages survived. High level Iron Maiden destroys Duriel, the vast majority of the damage had come from that curse. Hard to say how much the necromages did in the fight, they chipped in at least a little bit. The poor fire golem was dying in three swipes from Duriel, just enough time for me to recast him when he dropped low. After the opening two seconds of the fight, Skulla was in complete control and didn't lose any more minions. I hope that Mephisto and the rest of the act end bosses will go as smoothly. We'll see.
All of the stuff that Duriel dropped was complete junk. He left me Isenhart's Case and five rares, all of them stuff that Skulla couldn't use, all of them with modifiers so bad that Skulla wouldn't use them even if he could. Total crapfest on the uberdrops there, blah. I'd been gambling circlets for some time now, hoping to roll either +3 summoning or +3 curses. No luck thus far, but not much else to do with the gold that dropped. This final gaming session had taken five and a half hours in total, a marathon run that had worn me down physically and mentally. Thank goodness it was over! Anyway, Skulla will be moving on to the jungles of Act III next, his quest revived once more.