I resumed WillPower's journey at the start of Act Three after a break of several months to test out the new gameplay in Diablo 4. This had been a convenient stopping point for the character as the early portion of the jungles are low-danger areas where I could acclimate myself back to WillPower's unique style of combat once again. For that matter, WillPower was one of the least mechanically-demanding characters that I can ever recall playing, a Paladin who never attacked or cast active skills in any way, only walked around the map using his own position to deal damage with his elemental auras. It was a definite change from the more fast-paced nature of combat in Diablo 4 where the player is always being attacked by something and monsters respawn very quickly on the massive world map. I've played so much Diablo 2 over the years that it wasn't hard at all to pick back up again with WillPower even if he did have a rather kooky character build.
As far as the jungles themselves went, WillPower had tons of health and plenty of room for maneuvering which meant that these were indeed easy areas to complete. Enemies in the Spider Forest were dying in one or two pulses of Holy Fire thanks to having low HP totals and little fire resistance. (The Amazon Basin says that the Cloud Stalkers do have 50% fire resistance but also only a little over 300 HP which still had them collapsing instantly.) I had noted back in Normal difficulty that the outdoor portions of Act Three feature swarms of weak opponents which is exactly the situation where the Paladin's elemental auras thrive the best. It really didnt matter how many fetishers or flayers might be on the screen at once, they would all take the same area-of-effect damage whenever Holy Fire went off. It was single-target opponents that caused problems for WillPower and that wasn't what he was encountering here.
The underground subdungeons in the jungle were a bit trickier without rising to the level of a true threat. The first two caves in the Spider Forest were full of arachnids as usual though fortunately the Flame Spiders lacked fire resistance here on Nightmare difficulty. Both types of spider enemies were pretty beefy and required four or five ticks of Holy Fire to down. Sszark drew Lightning Enchanted for his extra boss trait which wasn't too bad since both WillPower and his mercenary Durga had maxed lightning resistance by now. After clearing through the dead-end region of the Great Marsh followed by killing vast swarms of fetishes in the Flayer Jungle, WillPower found himself confronted by one enemy that did require real care in the Swampy Pit: undead soul killers. Their death explosions were dishing out roughly 150-200 damage each time that they went off and WillPower couldn't avoiding killing them if they ran up into his face right before Holy Fire's damage popped. I stayed behind Durga and let the mercenary do the tanking (his Defiance aura was really good at boosting Defense to the point where most of their explosions missed - and yes the damage can be avoided/blocked by shields) in order to remain safe. There was one Cursed boss down here and I made sure to clear the curse in town immediately after defeating it - no double damage death explosions from the dolls, thanks!
The remainder of the jungles were pretty uneventful after that. It took me about two hours to clear them out which was faster than I was expecting; I think I'd become accustomed to the gigantic outdoor areas in Diablo 4 where you can spend hours exploring and still cover only a small portion of the total area. The Flayer Dungeon did not contain any undead flayers which made the place pretty routine in comparison to the Swampy Pit. Endugu on the bottom floor was both Fire and Cold Immune which meant relying on Durga to stab him to death. These regions did drop some interesting unique items for WillPower; first, the unique scale mail Hawkmail appeared, the armor that Corvus had worn for most of his journey. It wasn't a good fit for WillPower though and I sold it back to the town vendors. More interesting was the unique boots Hotspur appearing since they contained 45% fire resistance along with +15% maximum fire resistance. WillPower was already getting +10% maximum fire resistance from all of his synergy points in the Resist Fire skill and sadly there is a cap here (at 90%) that prevents the player from hitting 100% fire resistance. Unfortunately Hotspur lacked any faster run affixes and I highly valued movement speed for this character build so it went into stash for the moment. Perhaps I'd use these boots if WillPower could get some movement speed elsewhere in his character build.
The arrival of Kurast proper meant that zealots and their cantor companions began showing up again. The zealot boss pictured above was a real pain in the butt since he had enough fire resistance to create an immunity. I tried using Holy Freeze instead which definitely helped but the boss would still run away on low health; I had to chase the stupid thing across half of Lower Kurast before finally trapping it in a corner for disposal. Due to the annoyance of this fellow, I was a bit concerned that WillPower would lack enough damage to overcome the healing that I'd have to contend with once the sextons and cantors began appearing in the Kurast Bazaar. The good news was that this wasn't a problem; with no fire resistance to contend with, the zealots still burned down from Holy Fire faster than their companions could heal them. I did not have to worry about divide and conquer tactics or anything like that. The rest of the monsters were even easier to handle, lots of vultures and bug swarms and tree apes that died without putting up much of a fight.
I was still trying to make the Principle runeword which I had been unable to complete at CLVL 53 for lack of a Ral rune. I had two Tal runes in stash and when an additional Eth rune dropped in the Kurast Bazaar I realized that I could Cube my way up to the desired rune. In fact, it turned out that I could have done so much sooner: I had Eth and Ith backwards for some reason, forgetting that the tier order is Eth / Ith / Ral - I was sitting on five Iths and could have easily Cubed another Tal some time earlier! In any case, I made myself a third Tal and then turned that into a single Ral which was the missing piece that I needed. Say hello to WillPower's armor for the remainder of his journey:
The Principle runeword added +2 Paladin skill levels in the armor slot (a place where it's normally impossible to get +skills as a modifier) along with very handy boosts of 126 life and 30% additional fire resistance. The Gul rune was even worth +5% maximum poison resistance although that was unlikely to come into play since I'd prefer to itemize fire/lightning/cold resistance instead. Two additional skill points boosted Holy Fire up to SLVL 29 where it was pumping out the pictured 349-874 damage on each wave of fire energy. That was an increase of almost 20% above the previous 291-738 damage at SLVL 27 and it was definitely enough to be noticeable. Remember that the listed damage on Holy Fire was not a dice roll within that range; WillPower would always do the top damage number if he was close to his target and the minimum damage number out at max range. I was usually able to position him close to his foes and sit around the 874 end of that damage spectrum which meant that Holy Fire was more powerful than calculating a simple average would suggest. Further skill points would now have to come from the amulet and circlet spots (where WillPower had +1 skills apiece and could theoretically hit +3 Paladin offensive skills) along with the possibility of finding a sceptre that had both +skills modifiers along with innate bonuses to the skills themselves.
Speaking of the range of his skills, I noticed this oddity for the first time ever:
This screenshot was taken at the northern end of the Kurast Bazaar which I had just finished clearing of enemies. That's when I heard the Holy Fire sound effect going off and wondered what in the world was taking damage from the aura. It turned out that it was this zealot who was getting hit by Holy Fire... this zealot who was over in Upper Kurast! Apparently the 22.7 yard range on Holy Fire when it's boosted all the way to SLVL 29 has a wide enough circle to be able to hit monsters in another area entirely. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by this because the player can fight enemies across area transitions all the time in Diablo 2, starting with the Blood Moor to Cold Plains entryway back in Act One where Flavie will often shoot fallens walking in from the next area. Still, this felt wrong somehow; I guess the enemies in Upper Kurast were already loaded into the game waiting around in sleep mode to be woken up? Even after all this time, Diablo 2 can still do something unexpected.
With the Kurast Bazaar full cleared, it was time to take on the first two temples. I started with the Ruined Temple to have the minimal additional life from Lam Esem's Tome before having to confront the other one. I was pleased to see that I hadn't drawn either of the "T" formations, instead getting one of the more circular layouts that has two different paths into the back room where Sarina hangs out. I had WillPower clear the entryway where there were some Night Lord vampires hanging out, then edged carefully down into the back passageway. There was a narrow chokepoint here where I wanted to confront Sarina's mob; Durga had other ideas though and charged right into the middle of her corrupted rogues, fortunately he survived thanks to his shiny Goldskin armor and Defiance aura:
Once again Lightning Enchanted was a pretty good draw here on Sarina's extra ability. The Disused Fane had no stairs trap and therefore was simple to complete without any stressful moments. The Kurast Sewers were next and fortunately there were no undead soul killers lurking down there this time around. Mosquitos and bats were basically a joke for WillPower and even the Horror skeletons / Horadrim Ancient pairing didn't cause any real issues. The Horrors lacked any fire resistance and WillPower could burn down the greater mummies at range without having to get too close to them. I would end up finding the unique bone helmet Wormskull in the Sewers, which was an awesome item in pre-expansion Diablo and has since been outclassed by stuff like the Lore runeword in every way. WillPower also found a Monk's amulet with +1 Paladin skills levels which was slightly better than the one he was wearing with +1 Paladin Offensive skills. It didn't really make a difference because WillPower's skill points in the Defensive tree were all for synergy purposes which don't get boosted by +skills gear; I suppose there was a very slight gain in the passive benefit from Resist Fire and Resist Cold - 1% additional maximum cold resistance, yay!
After clearing the very easy Upper Kurast, WillPower now had to brave the deadliest part of Act Three: the remaining four Kurast temples. I started with the Forgotten Reliquary and sure enough it had a stairs trap at the entrance:
There were a bunch of spiders here and some corrupted rogues poured in from the doorway on the left as well. One of the rogues is getting hit with a blast of Holy Fire in the screenshot just below the central spider. At least these were only normal monsters and not bosses or champs which made them relatively straightforward to defeat, with WillPower not requiring any rejuvs from his belt. I can't say that I liked having a dozen opponents in my face with three inches of space to move though! The rest of the Forgotten Reliquary was easy enough, you know, after I was able to MOVE MY CHARACTER with some space to operate. Then the other three temples all decided to play nice with me and avoided any stairs traps for WillPower. There were plenty of bosses to confront, claw vipers and vampires and beetles and rogue archers, none of which could seriously threaten WillPower since he had retreat room to work with. I have to say, it was really nice having close to 1300 HP on this character as WillPower could get tank hits of 100 or 200 damage and barely even feel them. It's going to get tougher in Hell difficulty but the old dictum still bears repeating: health stacking remains one of the critical aspects of character building in this game.
With the Kurast temples out of the way, it was on to one of my favorite parts of the game in Travincal. WillPower had the advantage of being able to hit the monsters up on the ledge that runs around the edge of the city without needing to walk to those awkward spots himself, and the range on Holy Fire was so great by this point that he was routinely killing enemies offscreen that I couldn't even see. The toughest fight took place against a pair of Hierophant champs who kept healing each other faster than Holy Fire could burn them down. I had to use some trial and error maneuvering to separate them (which was hard because the hierophants like to stay in one place), eventually getting one of them to walk inside a building where it lost line-of-sight with its partner and could be downed without more healing. Once the whole city was clear, I began luring out the Council members from the central building:
WillPower pulled out two minions one at a time and slew them individually before getting Ismail to chase along with a third minion. The danger here was the Cursed trait which increased their physical damage enough that Durga was killed before I could manage to heal him. The minion had died in the process though and Ismail fell shortly thereafter while chasing fruitlessly after WillPower. I went back to town to revive Durga and clear the curse, then found that Toorc had also drawn the Cursed trait. Ismail has it innately but it was a random addition to the ice-based Council member. Toorc died without much fuss and I returned to town to clear the curse... only for Geleb to also draw Cursed as his extra ability, sheesh! I think the Council was trying to send me some kind of message there. WillPower was able to wrap up the rest of them without issue and head down into the Durance.
This was a particularly annoying trip through the Durance as both of the floors drew undead stygian dolls including the obnoxiously large Durance 2. I had to exercise additional caution with WillPower so that he didn't run himself into a mob of the little exploding dolls and have them all go off in his face together. While WillPower had enough health to tank a couple of their death blows, I really didn't want to push his luck unnecessarily. As usual it took a little over 30 minutes of real-world time to clear the whole expanse of Durance 2, a very tedious endeavor since there were no additional bosses present and almost everything encountered were weak normal critters. Eventually it was over and I could move on to the more interesting opponents on Durance 3.
WillPower was greeted at the doorway leading into the main chamber by Bremm Sparkfist, several of his minions, and a couple of Blood Lord vampires. Bremm's extra ability was Fire Enchanted which was a bit of a bad roll since it gave him a lot of extra fire resistance to cut down on Holy Fire's damage. The enemies overwhelmed Durga before I could feed him a full rejuv and I had to scramble WillPower around the entry room for a long minute while Holy Fire burned through the Council minions. Once everything but Bremm was dead, I portaled back to town to revive the mercenary and then we took down the boss together, with Durga's physical attack and poison damage from his spear much needed here. Maffer and Wyand in the two side wings were both much easier to defeat and didn't require any additional work on my part to overcome.
As for Mephisto, he killed Durga almost immediately as I had been expecting; the 10x damage bonus that the act end bosses get against mercenaries leave them with little chance in these fights. Then it was down to just WillPower and the Lord of Hatred for the remaining 95% of the battle, with WillPower standing as close as possible for the increased Holy Fire damage while having space enough to dodge Mephisto's attacks. I was reasonably good at avoiding his Lightning and Cold Shot spells and had less success at avoiding the Charged Bolts. Fortunately with maxed lightning and cold resistance WillPower wasn't in any real danger here. Dodge, dodge, dodge went WillPower; tick, tick, tick went Holy Fire on its two second interval. The in-game clock said that it took about eight minutes for WillPower to burn through Mephisto's entire lifebar. He definitely wans't a fast killer when it came to single target damage.
On then to Act Four, a place that Sirian once dubbed "the land of endless fire resistance". I knew that this was going to pose a tough challenge for WillPower, possibly even tougher here in Nightmare as compared to Hell difficulty since he'd be swapping over to Holy Shock for the final difficulty. WillPower and Durga exited the Pandemonium Fortress only to run into a double boss pack immediately, Venom Lords and Corpulents with Flesh Spawners as the third monster type. This was a nasty hairball made worse by having so little room in which to operate; I had to retreat back into town twice and would have needed to roll a new map with the stairs blocked if I hadn't had the foresight to drop a town portal. I fought doggedly, trying to use WillPower's own movements to keep as much of the heat off Durga as possible while he tanked the bulk of the swarming mob. It took about ten full minutes before I was able to clear these monsters and finally get started in the Outer Steppes for good.
It became clear almost immediately that the Venom Lords were the most difficult opponents for WillPower. The balrogs are bulky enemies and they pack a hefty 80% fire resistance in addition to being Poison Immune. That last property mattered because it meant that Durga's spear with poison damage couldn't stop them from regenerating health. I tested out WillPower's two auras and found that Holy Freeze was actually the better option against the Venom Lords. Even though the cold damage was roughly 160 per tick as compared with 850 fire damage from Holy Fire, well, that more or less evened out when fighting through 80% fire resistance. Meanwhile, the slowing aura from Holy Freeze functioned as an effective Decrepify curse and went a long way towards keeping Durga alive. By way of contrast, the Flesh Spawners and their little pups were basically a joke - all of their spawns died in one or two flashes of Holy Fire. So many of my characters have struggled with those monsters that it was nice to have an easy time for a change.
There were a lot of bosses to be found in these outdoor portions of Act Four. The Amazon Basin states that there are 0-1 bosses on Normal difficulty which jumps up to 5-6 bosses for Nightmare (and then 8-10 bosses for Hell!) Progress was relatively slow as any encounter with Venom Lords would bring WillPower's clear speed to a screeching halt. The Plains of Despair turned out to be easier simply because none of the Venom Lords were present there, and Doom Casters made for a poor substitute indeed with their lower health and a mere 50% fire resistance. WillPower found Izual about halfway through the Plains and discovered that his damage was too low to get through Durga's innate HP regeneration. Thus we stood around for several minutes as Holy Fire and Durga's poison slowly cut through his health bar; WillPower was taking about 10 damage from each of Izual's Frost Novas and I think the monster got off about 30 of them before dying. The skill points went into Holy Freeze and finally maxed it out at SLVL 20+6 for 80-162 damage. Now I could focus on skilling the Resist Cold synergy and start getting more significant damage.
After clearing an uneventful but lengthy City of the Damned, I stopped for the night since I was getting pretty tired. My goal for the following session was to finish the rest of Act Four and I realized that I lacked a Prevent Monster Heal weapon for use on the Big D. Although I'm not entirely sure if the act end bosses have innate health regen, I didn't want to take any chances given how low the damage output of Holy Fire would be (cut further by Diablo's 50% fire resistance). Thus I took some time to refresh the town vendors back in Act One looking for some kind of Prevent Monster Heal weapon, something that took way longer than it should have done and stretched out to a good 20 minutes. I did find a PMH sword eventually while also stumbling across this Marshal's Sabre with +3 to Paladin Offensive auras. This was definitely better than WillPower's scepter that just had +3 to Holy Fire on it as I was able to pick up +3 to Holy Freeze as well. Now I needed to search for a Marshal's item that also had +skills for Holy Shock/Freeze on it innately; I figured I could do that at the start of Hell difficulty. At least this was proof that the Marshal's prefix could appear in the stores now.
The River of Flame wasn't too bad since it had more finger mages and spawning monsters along with Pit Lords. Those balrogs were heavily fire resistant but lacked the poison immunity of their Venom Lord cousins; Durga's poisonous spear had a field day against them and progress was much faster than back in the Outer Steppes. I continued to use Holy Fire against most of the enemies and then swapped to Holy Freeze when confronted exclusively with balrogs. Hephasto had Stone Skin for his extra ability which did nothing to protect him against Holy Fire; Durga was able to tank the damage with help from some red potions. The Hellforge quest served up a Sol rune which didn't do a whole lot for WillPower. I'm not sure that he really needed more runes at this point, only the chance to gamble for more +skills modifiers in the amulet and circlet slots.
I knew that the Chaos Sanctuary would be a real test and it absolutely lived up to that reputation. The final area of Act Four always has the same monster mix, Venom Lords + Storm Casters + Abyss/Oblivion Knights, and the Oblivion Knights had the lowest fire resistance at "only" 60% with everything else higher. The Abyss Knights were completely Fire Immune although in practice they still weren't as tough to deal with as the Venom Lords. This was the first place in the game where WillPower had to switch between his two elemental auras on a constant basis, Holy Fire for the Storm Casters and to cut down fleeing Oblivion Knights, then over to Holy Freeze for the meele knights and Venom Lords. This was exactly the gameplay that I had in mind when creating the character, and despite the Chaos Sanctuary being a difficult grind to complete, on some level I was definitely enjoying the struggle. Normal enemies were tough, then things got really hard when bosses showed up, forcing me to pull retreating maneuevers to string out the opposition and fight them in smaller numbers. According to the in-game clock it took about 45 minutes to get the whole cathedral completely cleared and it was stretching my abilities with this character to do it all safely.
I always leave the seal bosses for last and started out with the toughest customer, the Infector. Durga was predictably snowballed under and killed by his raging pack of Venom Lord minions, forcing WillPower to retreat back to the central pentagram. I was able to get two or three minions to chase there and downed them with the help of a revived mercenary, then carefully pulled the remaining opponents in small groups until only the boss was left. The Infector's additional ability was a Conviction aura which didn't do much to make him more dangerous. De Seis was basically the same story, Durga killed immediately when I opened the seal followed by WillPower stalking his prey and eliminating them in small groups. Holy Freeze was the aura of choice against both bosses. Then the Vizier was Fire Immune thanks to his Fire Enchanted trait, however I kept running Holy Fire here because all of the Storm Caster minions lacked the same protection against fire. They wilted quickly and then Holy Freeze finished things off.
Diablo himself forced an extended fight sequence that lasted for long minutes on end. The most dangerous part of the battle took place immediately as he trapped WillPower in a Bone Prison as I was walking into melee range to tag the boss with Prevent Monster Heal! I frantically drank a full rejuv and was able to burst out before truly hitting the scary zone on health. Durga perished right away, of course, as the mercenaries always do against the act end bosses, and then it was just down to WillPower and Diablo as they sized each other up. My Paladin had 85% fire resistance and 1300 HP which made him pretty safe against anything Diablo could do. The fight settled into a long stalemate with WillPower walking in circles just far enough away to dodge Diablo's flashy attacks while still maximizing the damage from Holy Fire. I could avoid basically everything except Diablo's Flame Nova ability which did a mere 12-13 damage against all that fire resistance. Ha, it works both ways - two can play the stacking fire resistance game! Anyway, this took quite a while but the danger level was low after that initial Bone Prison. Holy Fire goes off every two seconds and it took roughly ten minutes to defeat Diablo so WillPower needed something like 30 * 10 = 300 pulses in all. WillPower wasn't a flashy killer but he got the job done... eventually.
Act Five was once again a major step downwards in terms of difficulty; Diablo 2 is really uneven in this regard across the five acts. WillPower had been fighting tooth and nail to make his way through the Chaos Sanctuary, feeding Durga red potions constantly to keep him alive while tanking against heavily fire resistant foes, then suddenly Act Five arrived and it was back to cruising on easy street again. The monsters in the initial outdoor areas beyond Harrogath simply did not pose any kind of a challenge for WillPower, dying in a couple of pulses of Holy Fire and failing to put him in any dangerous situations. This applied to both the standard monsters in the act and the random guest monsters that popped in like the blunderbores pictured above. Imps in particular were an absolute joke anywhere that they appeared, falling in a single bout of Holy Fire with their teleportation abilities completely useless due to the elemental aura's area-of-effect properties. I have very little to say about these regions and WillPower cleared his way through them in a single session over the course of several hours. The one thing that stood out was this group of Horror archers spawning out in the lava for some reason in the Abbadon subdungeon - huh?!
The only enemies that I feared were the minotaurs with their overpowered Frenzy attacks. They didn't show up in the two Act Four subdungeons, then began belatedly arriving in the Crystalline Passage and following icy caverns. This was one place where I had to go back into serious mode, making sure to limit how many opponents Durga was tanking at any one point in time and feeding him red potions to keep his health steady. Everything else was a breeze though, whether it was frozen horrors or witches or guest monster vipers and skeletons. These opponents were all lacking fire resistance and Holy Fire cut them down like wheat before the scythe. Progress was so fast that I went all the way from the start of the act up through the Glacial Trail and Drifter Cavern in a single session, something that I almost never do since I'm always full clearing and usually running some kind of wacky variant. WillPower absolutely crushed the first half of this act without breaking a sweat.
I picked up the next time at the start of Nihlathak's Temple, probably tied with Durance 2 for my least favorite part of the whole game. The initial entry area was handled reasonably well by Holy Fire thanks to hitting all of the prowling dead at once, even the ones at the edges of the screen. Then it was down into the temple proper where the first floor held beetles, fetishes, and devilkin with their shamans. This would have been an absolute nightmare for many character builds due to the swarms and swarms of enemy units on the screen at one time, not to mention the shamans reviving their devilkin minions from two rooms away. However, this was another place where Holy Fire was the absolute perfect skill to handle large numbers of weak opponents, flattening them in droves with each pulse. As I've said a bunch of times before, Holy Fire did exactly the same amount of damage regardless of how many monsters were on screen at a time and turned what could have been a disaster into something routine. The folllowing floor was heavy on hierophant/zealot pairs along with Guardian greater mummies that lacked any resurrectable minions. This was easy enough to clear through if a bit tedious due to the size of the Halls of Pain.
The bottom floor of the temple was mostly full of witches and jungle bunnies, neither of which lasted long against Holy Fire. I made sure to approach Nihlathak's corner as carefully as possible once the quest indicator popped up; even with 85% fire resistance and a ton of health, this is one opponent that shouldn't be taken lightly. I started out by pulling as many monsters as possible out of Nihlathak's room, then switched from the right over to the left entrance to avoid all of the bodies that had been spilled onto the floor. Holy Fire's enormous range allowed WillPower to stay at a safe distance while Durga kept the remaining minions away. The Corpse Explosions didn't seem to hurt the mercenary hireling as much as they did WillPower; I've noticed the same thing with the exploding dolls too. In any case, I was able to keep WillPower from getting hit by any of Nihlathak's Corpse Explosions in what turned into a routine victory. Thank goodness it's so much easier to see the bodies on the floor here in D2R as opposed to the graphics from the original game.
The following areas again failed to have much of interest appear, nothing particularly dangerous or any new items dropping from the enemies. The Frozen Tundra was nothing but witches, goats, and lightning skeleton mages which were only marginally more threatening than the poor imps. The Ancient's Way did have minotaurs present which led to one lively fight against a champ pack where I had to separate the minotaurs since it was too dangerous to fight them all at once. Otherwise the place was routine. The stairs of the Icy Cellar were not trapped this time and that gave WillPower enough space to pull out several of the bosses for individual disposal on the pathway that runs around the edge of the small area. It didn't take too long before everything was complete up to the Ancients themselves:
This is another challenge that should be treated with care since a lot can go wrong against the Ancients. I clicked on the central statue and saw that one of the three Barbarians had rolled the Cursed trait - nope, not going to deal with that. Poor Skulla taught me the harsh lesson that it's never worth fighting the Ancients when one of them rolls the Cursed trait so I bailed out of a town portal and rolled their abilities again. Once again they landed the Cursed trait, reset. Then a third time they rolled the Cursed ability - what the heck was going on here?! Finally the fourth try was the charm as everyone had relatively innocuous abilities; Korlic's Extra Strong was the only thing worth worrying about and then only if I was dumb enough to let him jump on top of me.
This was a really weird battle for a character like WillPower who didn't attack or cast spells. The Ancients once again ignored Durga almost completely, something that was fine with me because I could keep WillPower alive much more easily than him. I had to give him a handful of red potions now and then throughout the fight but mostly he was invisible to their AI pathfinding. Instead the Ancients chased WillPower himself around endlessly while I walked the Paladin in loops around the central pillar. Madawc was throwing axes which looked normal enough but Talic kept spinning around and around in his Whirlwind attack while Korlic hopped around like a ridiculous bunny. The whole thing was preposterously silly and made more so by the way that it went on for long minutes on end. Madawc died very quickly since he lacks any fire resistance then it took a while longer to work through the other two with their 70% resistance. Talic was the next to fall and then WillPower was left to watch Korlic jump around for one final minute before Holy Fire did him in as well. At least one more obstacle was out of the way.
Worldstone 1 had a difficult double boss pack right at the stairs, witches and vampires working together in numbers large enough that I had to bail out of a town portal temporarily to clear some space before returning down the stairs to finish off the enemy mob. That was the roughest part of the initial floor and largely a challenge because WillPower had been stuck with zero room to maneuever safely. The next two floors were easier at least in part because they didn't have the same kind of stairs traps, with Worldstone 2 instead serving up a mild enemy draw of beetles, mummies, and snakes. Worldstone 3 brought minotaurs back into the mix which slowed down my pace considerably since I needed to be careful not to wake up too many of them at any one time. That one monster type is so much more dangerous than everything else in Act Five it has to be some kind of programming error. Virtually everything else is a total joke and then this one enemy has high health, strong resistances, incredibly fast attack speed, and high damage - really puzzling from a design standpoint.
The Throne of Destruction stairs were also not trapped for once, thank goodness for small mercies. It could have been a lot worse because the bottom floor of the Worldstone Keep was packing undead soul killers as a guest monster and that would have been truly nasty to encounter right at the steps. The little dolls were zipping around at warp speed and as much as I tried to get them stuck on Durga they did manage to land some explosions on WillPower himself, each one inflicting about 200-300 damage. A group of them going off at once could have spelled the end of his journey, high HP or not, and I crept around the corners of this floor very carefully to avoid walking into a true quagmire. Everthing had to be cleared in the side wings to ensure that there was safe retreat room for the upcoming Throne of Destruction bosses.
Then it was indeed time to brave that boss gauntlet starting with Colenzo and his fallen minions. The shaman boss was Fire Immune so WillPower broke out Holy Freeze aura here which also had the handy side effect of shattering some of the bodies. (Holy Freeze was starting to hit the point of dealing legitimate damage itself, more on this in the next difficulty.) Achmel and his undead companions lacked any such protection against fire element so I fed Durga a series of potions to keep him tanking long enough for Holy Fire to start dropping the whole mob. I doubted that Durga would be able to tank the remaining bosses though and sure enough Bartuc's crew rolled right through the mercenary before I could pull him back to safety. I had to resurrect him in town and then lure out the Council minions in small groups for the pair of us to dispose. It was the same pattern against Ventar as well, unable to stand and fight against his mob of Venom Lords which required more of the hit-and-run tactics that I had used against the Infector back in the Chaos Sanctuary. Durga died several times in the middle of all this despite my best efforts but it sufficed to get the job done.
Then Lister and his minions appeared - Lister packing a MIGHT aura of all things! Lister already has extremely high base damage and to have that scaled up by more than double from a Might aura was downright terrifying. There was zero chance that WillPower and Durga could stand against that kind of threat, forcing me to retreat back into the Throne of Destruction maze in the hopes of splitting up the enemy. Durga was slow to retreat and Lister gulped him down in about 0.1 seconds, sigh. I pulled Lister and two minions back into the maze, then revived Durga and returned back into the main chamber to go after the remaining minions. I was able to isolate one of them and kill it with Durga's help, then we fought a pair of them and just barely had enough resources to stand against the enemy duo, with me feeding Durga nonstop red potions as he tanked and tagging the enemies with Prevent Monster Heal to stop their regeneration. This established that two minions at a time (without the Might aura present) was the absolute limit of what we could deal with. I was also running Holy Freeze the whole time because it cut down on their attack speed, plus all of these enemies were heavily fire resistant anyway. Finally we were able to pull one more minion, then Lister himself, and then the final minion to bag the whole group. The screenshot above was taken at the very end of this process when all of the hard work had already been done - not easy stuff at all to accomplish!
After all of that, Baal was a pretty uneventful conclusion to Nightmare difficulty. Unlike the fight against Diablo where Durga was flattened immediately, I was able to keep the mercenary alive for the whole battle without needing much more than the occasional red potion. Baal liked to blink around and fire off lots of projectiles, none of them dealing too much damage though against WillPower and his hefty elemental resistances. Baal would summon the clone which I didn't care much about either - again, Holy Fire could hit two targets just as easily as hitting one target. (Durga was fooled and wasted a lot of time stabbing the clone though.) Mostly WillPower stood around in the near vicinity of Baal drinking red potions as needed to keep his health up, otherwise tapping his foot and looking at his watch as Holy Fire slowly burned through Baal's astronomical HP total. The boss has 117k health and 50% fire resistance in Nightmare difficulty which meant that it took an awful long time at roughly 400 damage per pulse of Holy Fire. I clocked about 15 minutes of real-world time and three trips back to Harrogath for potion refills before the boss finally bit the dust.
WillPower successfully full cleared everything in Nightmare difficulty, all monsters slain, no deaths, no need to Save and Exit out of trouble. Even here at the end of its lifespan, Holy Fire was still a very reliable skill against anything that didn't have heavy fire resistance. The damage was too low to be consistent for Hell difficulty and I'd be swapping over to Holy Shock for the final portion of the journey but I'm really glad that I was able to feature one of the most infamously useless skills in Diablo 2 for Normal and Nightmare. Much as I was surprised at the strength of the Raven skill for Corvus, Holy Fire was genuinely pretty good against average foes and downright amazing in area-of-effect situations. You probably wouldn't want to sink 20 skill points and another 20 synergy skill points into making it viable, of course, but at least I showed that it can be used to clear the first two difficulties with only minimal assistance from Holy Freeze and a mercenary.
Before we get to Hell difficulty though, there was one more thing...
MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Yes, I ran the Secret Cow Level again since the Holy Fire skill was so perfectly suited to the place. The cows are sturdy but very slow-moving which allowed WillPower to pull huge mobs of them for disposal at one time. There was no reason not to do this either as 1 cow died just as fast as 50 cows. As long as I was careful with the pathing for WillPower, he could walk in complete safety mere feet outside the range of dozens of the evil bovines. By the way, every time that a pulse of Holy Fire went off - EVERY time, let me repeat - each cow hit would call out "Moo!" Thus progress through the area was an endless series of moo cries going off on exact two second intervals, truly wacky stuff. I let Durga die early on and kept him dead for the rest of the area, then revived him at the very end to help tank against the Cow King. While nothing of interest dropped from the cattle herds, I had a blast clearing through the secret area once again.
WillPower's journey continues in Hell difficulty on the next page.