WillPower: Hell Difficulty Part One

WillPower started Hell difficulty right on schedule for a full-clearing character at CLVL 67. The big change for the top difficulty level was a respec to shift his main skill from Holy Fire over to Holy Shock as the fiery skill simply didn't have enough damage to serve as WillPower's primary form of attack. I was highly pleased to see that Holy Shock was dealing 1-1788 damage at SLVL 29 with the maximum 20 synergy skill points invested into the Resist Lightning skill. Remember that WillPower's elemental auras always dealt maximum damage at close range and then dwindled down to the minimum value at the extreme edge of the 22.6 yard radius. This meant that Holy Shock did more than double the old damage of Holy Fire at close range... at the tradeoff of dealing essentially zero damage out at max range. It was a very worthwhile trade to make since WillPower was usually able to get pretty close to his foes where the damage output was much better than before. He was going to need that extra damage too given the upcoming challenges of Hell difficulty.

The alternate skill for WillPower was Holy Freeze which was starting to deal real damage in its own right now that it was also SLVL 29 with 15 invested synergy points in the Resist Cold skill. The output for Holy Freeze was now reading 234-474 damage and that would go up a bit further with several more synergy skills still to be placed. In terms of WillPower's character build, I was mostly hoping to find additional +skills gear for the amulet and circlet spots where WillPower had a single +1 Paladin skills apiece. I'd been gambling amulets for a little while now without finding anything better than a plain +1 Paladin skills item. I also tried refreshing the vendors to see if any of them would sell me a Marshal's Scepter (+3 Paladin offensive skills) with additional points in Holy Shock and Holy Freeze. However, 20 minutes spent doing this was unable to turn up any scepters that had the Marshal's prefix. I did some searching online and found that WillPower's character level was still too low for this affix to appear on a scepter (although it could appear on other melee weapons, thus the Marshal's sword he had already found). WillPower would need to be CLVL 75 for Nightmare Drognan or Malah to start offering them (or CLVL 65 for Hell Drognan but he hadn't reached Lut Gholein yet); I figured I would gain eight more levels and then go shopping once WillPower met the needed requirements.

Out WillPower went into the Blood Moor and at first things weren't much different from what he had been experiencing back in Nightmare Act Five. Holy Shock had some awesome-looking lightning graphics here in D2R and the skill did an excellent job of frying through fallens and their shamans. Zombies were quite tanky and took a while to kill (with more than 5000 HP apiece) but that's always the case in Hell difficulty. The biggest issue that I found myself having with WillPower concerned the survivability of his mercenary, Durga. The Act Two spearman had proven himself in innumerable battles across Normal and Nightmare difficulties but he seemed to be struggling here in Hell, much more so than I was expecting. Durga was dying pretty frequently when boss packs showed up as he was totally unable to tank against half a dozen melee opponents at once. These were the moments that I needed him the most and his 6000 Defense rating was failing miserably. It was a bad sign that I was basically treading water on gold income, having to spend all of the money that was coming in on reviving the mercenary.

The Den of Evil wasn't too bad as Holy Shock performed extremely well against the fallen and their shamans. Corpsefire smashed Durga in mere seconds followed by WillPower walking in circles for a couple of minutes until the elemental aura could do him in. The Cold Plains were open enough that WillPower wasn't in any real danger though Durga once again kept dying repeatedly whenever bosses appeared, and that was pretty darn often given that this was Hell difficulty. Half of the corrupted rogues were Cold Immune here but the other half were Lightning Immune which forced WillPower to fall back on Holy Freeze aura. In the past, WillPower had relied on the extra physical and poison damage from Durga when his primary elemental aura was blocked by an immunity. However, Durga was spending a lot of time face-planted in the dirt and that forced WillPower to rely on Holy Freeze alone which wasn't exactly a quick killer. While I was able to full clear the Cold Plains, it took much longer than I had been expecting and required some real mousework.

Then WillPower went into the Caves and his whole gameplan for Hell difficulty started to fall apart:

The Caves were full of skeletons, zombies, and Dark Ranger corrupted rogue archers. All three of these enemies were Lightning Immune which meant that Holy Shock was out of commission and WillPower was forced back upon Holy Freeze for his offense. I was immediately confronted with this zombie boss which killed Durga in about three seconds followed by the need to walk around in circles letting Holy Freeze slowly tick them down at 470 damage per pulse. This took several long minutes followed by a skeleton boss who had the Magic Resistant trait and was taking something like 100 damage per Holy Freeze burst; I was only able to make progress at all by tagging the thing with Prevent Monster Heal to shut down its regeneration. Then there was a Lightning + Fire Enchanted archer boss who was actually dangerous, unlike the zombie/skeleton bosses, followed by another zombie boss with its own mob of zombies in tow. Every one of these bosses took long, long minutes on end to defeat and Durga was absolutely no help at all against any of them. Even worse, the random skeletons and zombies populating the Caves also took ages and ages to defeat with Holy Freeze because the damage was just so low. This wasn't quite Rogue Revival levels of tedium but it was starting to get pretty close.

By the time that I was clearing my fifth boss of the Caves, I realized that I had made a serious mistake. Over and over again, I had told myself that WillPower would need to drop Holy Fire for Hell difficulty because the damage wasn't high enough to be viable. Somehow I had never considered the situation of what might happen with an area where everything was Lightning Immune - if the damage for Holy Fire was too low, then surely the damage for Holy Freeze was even worse! I soon understood that I needed to respec WillPower a second time and focus on the Holy Shock and Holy Fire skills while dropping Holy Freeze; I hated to lose the really cool slowing aura from Holy Freeze but Holy Fire would deal significantly more damage and that was the most important thing. Thus I reoriented WillPower over to a Holy Shock + Holy Fire combo, with Holy Shock as the preferred skill and Holy Fire as the backup for Lightning Immune foes. Thank goodness the modern patches for D2R allow three respecs or else WillPower would have been stuck here with a permanently broken skill setup.

The restored Holy Fire was dealing 263-659 damage, lower than back in Nightmare difficulty since WillPower was missing some synergy skill points that had previously been placed in Resist Fire. Nevertheless, this was still 50% more damage than Holy Freeze had been doing and the future scaling from synergy points in Resist Fire and Salvation would be better than the scaling for Holy Freeze. Higher damage meant fewer pulses needed to kill Lightning Immune foes, less time needed to dodge enemy attacks, and less opportunity for monster regen to undo the ticking damage from the elemental aura. I had not cleared the Caves when using Holy Freeze because it was becoming too tedious, with WillPower now returning a second time to give Holy Fire its own attempt. The clear pace was slow, very slow, however it was indeed possible to make progress as long as I exercised patience. There was a double champ pack of Hungry Dead zombies, seven of them in all, which took about 15 minutes in total to clear out as WillPower had to tag everything with Prevent Monster Heal and then burn them down with Holy Fire. Durga was completely useless here as he wasn't even able to tank a single isolated Possessed zombie without running bak to town for healing. I was feeding him red potions and he STILL couldn't take the thing 1 vs 1 - it was just sad what had happened to him.

Coldcrow and her archer gals were hiding around a corner which turned out to be a good place to encounter them. WillPower was able to lure away three of her archers in a small group, standing off to their right so that they would retreat to the left away from the rest of their kin, tanking their arrow shots while drinking potions until they were finally dead. Then I pulled out two further archers in the same fashion, followed by Coldcrow herself, then one final minion that had been lurking in the back. This was delicate work and I'm proud that WillPower pulled it off without ever being in too much danger. Caves 2 turned into a near disaster as I raced WillPower forward to try and eliminate the fallen shamans in the back only to get trapped by the double boss pack of skeletons emerging from the left side of the stairs. I was able to bail out of a town portal and walk all the way back from the Cold Plains waypoint; on returning, I concentrated on burning down the double skeleton bosses first with Holy Fire, allowing the fallens to revive endlessly, and only then going after the shamans once the bosses were dead. Fortunately this was sufficient to clear the rest of the Caves and finally put this area to rest; I have to remember that WillPower always must exercise patience because he's such a slow killer with his elemental auras.

One small side note: WillPower found a non-magical Monarch shield while clearing out the Caves. Corvus spent the entirety of Hell difficulty looking for this item and it dropped in basically the first possible spot that it could appear for WillPower. RNG hates me sometimes.

I skipped over Blood Raven for the moment because the Crypt and Mausoleum both feature 100% Lightning Immune opponents and I wanted to get some additional skill points in Resist Fire to boost Holy Fire's damage before tackling them. The Stony Field was therefore next and it was a relief to be back outside again in an open area where Holy Shock could be the aura of choice. There were a handful of Lightning Immune zombies here that required Holy Fire but mostly the Stony Field had fallens/carvers, goats, and crows which lacked protection against Holy Shock. The most irritating opponents proved to be the Foul Crow Nests which inevitably ran themselves out of crows to breed before WillPower could muster up enough damage to chop them down. (All of the spawning enemies have a limit to how many minions they'll produce; we hit this with pretty much everything back in Rogue Revival.) The Underground Passage was next where the Lightning Immune monsters du jure were Misshapen and their sparking projectiles. They weren't too bad except when bosses showed up, forcing WillPower to do a lot of dodging while Holy Fire burned through their lifebars. Underground Passage 2 had a pair of Misshapen bosses which forced me to lure their minions into the wider passageway near the stairs for disposal since there wasn't room to dodge in the tunnels that ran through the rest of the bottom floor.

The Dark Wood is often packed with carvers from end to end which is what I was hoping for since Holy Shock was performing so well against them. Instead it turned out to be full of corrupted rogues, with WillPower facing no less than five of their bosses within the first third of the area. This was honestly a pretty decent monster draw since the evil rogues were all Cold Immune and relatively easy prey for Holy Shock. WillPower has to step lively to stay ahead of an Extra Fast rogue boss, with her minions nibbling at his heels, and then there was an Extra Strong / Cursed rogue boss that hit like a truck. I managed to get the Prevent Monster Heal tag against her but it was honestly too dangerous and I should have skipped this - WillPower really needed a ranged PMH weapon so he didn't have to close into melee range against these threats. Treehead Woodfist was pretty nasty due to his Extra Fast / Extra Strong combo even without drawing anything too dangerous on the other boss affixes. WillPower walked him around in circles very carefully and still took a couple of blows that almost forced the drinking of a full rejuv.

I followed my normal pattern for Tristram by working through the fallen town in counter-clockwise fashion. The main bosses here were skeleton archers with four of them scattered across Tristram along with a champ pack in the center of the town near Cain's gibbet. WillPower hadn't found archer bosses to be too bad thus far thanks to his hefty life total that had just surpassed 1500 HP; he could tank plenty of arrow hits before getting into the danger zone. Griswold had a ton of health himself and 50% lightning resistance to make him feel even beefier. WillPower fought him alongside a Magic Resistant / Spectral Hit / Extra Fast skeleton archer boss and the double lightning resistance on the pair of them had the combat just crawling along. I slowly wore down the skeleton archer with Holy Shock and then switched over to Holy Fire for Griswold which seemed to work better; I didn't even know that Griswold had any lightning resistance until I looked it up at the Amazon Basin but I could intuit that it had to be the case based on how little damage he was taking. I grabbed Wirt's Leg for potential later use and finished up clearing the rest of the benighted town.

The Black Marsh looked very similar to the Stony Field with more crows, skeletons, and the omnipresent carvers along with their shamans. Nothing was Lightning Immune in this outdoor area and WillPower made fairly speedy progress in rooting out the monsters, fast enough that I thought I might be able to make it up to the Outer Cloister before the end of the session. Unfortunately this brought WillPower to the dreaded Forgotten Tower sequence which would prove to be a major chore for him. The stairs are often trapped on each floor so I revived Durga as a precaution before heading down to each new basement level. He handled himself reasonably well against the devilkin swarming through the Tower Cellar floors but inevitably bit the farm whenever any other kind of boss showed up. For example, something like this spelled certain doom for the poor mercenary:

There was absolutely no chance Durga could ever survive an archer boss like this and therefore I didn't even bother to try, letting him collapse to the floor while WillPower got down to the tough business of clearing out the bosses. All five floors of the Forgotten Tower have these Dark Archers present, all of which were Lightning Immune, and they gave WillPower the most problems by virtue of eliminating Holy Shock as an option. There was a Magic Resistant archer boss on the second floor of the tower who required Prevent Monster Heal application to make any progress at all, then a Lightning Enchanted goat and his minions on Tower Cellar 3 forced a lot of circling while dodging the sparks that popped out from every pulse of Holy Shock. The Multishot archer boss pictured above from Tower Cellar 4 was the nastiest customer, speeding around and shooting out five arrows at a time. I had to pull the boss over to the stairs and isolate her there, double back to eliminate her minions in small groups, and then finally return to slay the boss herself. Despite all my care, WillPower still needed to drink a full rejuv at one point as he was about to perish. These corrupted rogue archers had the chance to apply cold damage on their arrows and the slow made it tougher to dodge future arrows after getting hit once.

Reviving Durga for each new floor was highly costly as he never once managed to survive to the next staircase. I was glad that I'd been bringing him along when the last floor on Tower Cellar 5 proved to have a boss present immediately:

At least ghosts were one of the easier monster types for WillPower since their Physical Immunity was useless against him. I didn't particularly want to fight this thing in a sardine can though, not when more corrupted rogue archers were still entering the cramped room from the doorway on the left side. Durga bought WillPower about five seconds of time and managed to get poison damage on the boss, well worth the 35k gold that it required to bring him back to life. This was enough time for WillPower to set up a tiny loop around the room and wait out the further 30 seconds needed for Holy Shock to finish off the remaining ghosts, after which he could turn and deal with the archer using Holy Fire. Tower Cellar 5 turned out to be packed full of bosses and WillPower used the central room with the blood fountain at the back as he cut his way through these opponents one by one. There were two more ghost bosses off in the side wings, one of them with a Might aura, plus an archer boss that had to be killed with Holy Fire again. The Countess was Extra Fast and her minions were incredibly zippy, chomping away at WillPower's heels after he managed to draw them out in two separate groups of four. I didn't move to engage the Countess until everything else on the floor was dead; she was much faster than WillPower but her swinging animation was slow enough that she could never hit him when she paused to attack. She dropped Thul, Amn, and Eth runes along with the unique long battle bow Wizendraw, none of which was useful for WillPower.

Then I still needed to clear out the Hole's two floors which turned into its own long slog. The carvers down there were easy enough to defeat but the other monster types all caused problems in one way or another. Brutes had a lot of health that needed to be cut through, Misshapen were Lightning Immune and forced use of Holy Fire, then there were Vile Archers which had a chance to deal cold and poison damage on their arrows. That poison was really irritating and outpaced the healing from red potions when it was applied which could be very dangerous in the middle of a fight. Normal monsters were bad enough and the bosses were downright painful when they showed up. Two different rogue archer bosses rolled with the Lightning Enchanted trait which gave them a double immunity:

Fire Immune / Lightning Immune meant that both of WillPower's elemental auras were useless, ouch! In these situations, I had no choice other than running SLVL 1+9 Holy Freeze aura and bringing back Durga to apply some physical and poison damage. I spent a lot of gold reviving Durga for these two battles, several hundred thousand in all and enough that WillPower made no income over the course of this session (though at least he didn't lose net gold either). Progress would have been completely impossible without having Prevent Monster Heal on hand and I still needed to revive Durga three different times to get the kill on this pain in the rear boss. Hell difficulty rarely gives the player much of a break as WillPower faced about eight different bosses over the course of clearing out the first floor of the Hole. There was the pictured archer boss with Blessed Aim aura, a Fire Enchanted Misshappen boss which was taking almost no damage at all from Holy Fire with the extra fire resistance, the second Fire Immune / Lightning Immune archer boss, another Cold Enchanted archer boss who was just around the corner from ANOTHER Cold Enchanted archer boss with a Conviction aura... you get the idea. I was hoping that I could make it through the Hole relatively quickly and then took a full 40 minutes to clear just the first floor, argh!

Hole 2 is nowhere near as bad as the infamous Pit 2 but it still packs a hefty number of bosses into a small space. WillPower went to the right first and found his umpteenth corrupted rogue archer boss of the session along with a group of carvers. This boss had Fire/Cold Enchanted traits along with a Holy Fire aura, with WillPower having to pull her archer minions back to the stairs one and two units at a time where there was enough room to dodge their shots while shocking them to death. It wasn't until the minions were all dead that WillPower could go back and pull the boss herself, then finally take out the carver shaman who had been reviving the blue critters over and over again. I cleared the right side of the floor only to find a Fanaticism aura corrupted rogue archer as soon as I went to the left - good thing I established some safe space on the other side first! The fiery red aura didn't extend too far past the archer boss herself and so WillPower was able to eliminate the latest set of minions in relative safety, then down the boss once she was alone. Her damage was high enough that WillPower needed to drink a full rejuv for safety when he took a big hit, even when fighting just the boss alone. This was a brutal session with the endless archers to wade through, two full hours to finish the Black Marsh and its two subdungeons. If WillPower had been riding on easy street on the lower difficulties, those days were long over now. This was hard, hard work.

I started a new session in the Tamoe Highland which was comparatively much easier to complete. It helped simply by virtue of being an outdoor area with a lot more space and then also featured a less dangerous monster draw to boot. All of the opponents in the Tamoe Highland rolled as ranged enemies of some kind, quill rats along with skeleton archers and fire element skeleton mages. None of these monsters had any lightning resistance and the Thorn Beasts were downright frail with less than 2000 health apiece; they were falling in as little as two pulses of Holy Shock. For that matter, the skeleton archers and skeleton mages weren't much tankier themselves and died without much of a fuss either. I was amused at the Multishot mage shooting out triple fireballs at a time even if it wasn't very difficult to defeat. WillPower pushed onto the Outer Cloister from there to secure the waypoint and it took about as much effort to clear this region as the Highland despite its much smaller size. There were some very fast Black Rogues running around the Cloister that required care and then a champ pack of Yetis that took some time to defeat thanks to their massive health pools.

I had skipped over the Pit subdungeon in order to grab that waypoint and now WillPower returned to tackle the underground area. Pit 1 played out similarly to the first floor of the Hole, mostly a mixture of melee skeletons and corrupted rogue archers with various devilkin camps thrown in occasionally. The skeletons were Cold Immune and rather-slow moving in terms of foot speed but the rogue archers were Lightning Immune to force a lot of Holy Fire usage. No individual part of this floor was too bad aside from one Cursed archer boss who put a hurting on WillPower, it was more the cumulative total of having to wade through so many bosses and champ packs to clear out the first floor. There were seven or eight of these threats in all and WillPower had no choice but to eliminate all of them to gain credit for his full clear.

Now the danger in the Pit is not the first floor (which is a pretty routine area) but rather the infamous Pit 2 which often packs a tremendous number of enemies into a truly tiny space. I made sure to revive Durga to have another warm body for the monsters to target and then nervously tip-toed down the stairs:

Oh this was not good, not good at all! WillPower couldn't even make it past that little narrow portion of the cave two steps in front of him before he was swarmed with monsters on all sides. (One disadvantage to the massive range of Holy Shock / Holy Fire at SLVL 29: they wake up monsters a long distance away whether you want them to or not.) There was one rogue boss pack right at the stairs, a second rogue boss flooding into the area, plus additional skeletons and devilkin to further crowd the area. WillPower and Durga managed to slay all of one devilkin before being forced back up the stairs by sheer weight of numbers. And... now we were stuck. What was I supposed to do here? Nowhere to go, no room to fight, close to a dozen monsters standing right at the bottom of the stairs howling for WillPower's blood. This is the problem with Pit 2, the extremely cramped spaces can leave the player with no options at all. The only rational thing to do was give up and accept that WillPower wasn't going to be able to clear out this one area.

For whatever reason though, I wasn't ready to give up yet on this evening. Call it stubbornness, call it madness, I wanted to poke around and see if there was anything that could be done. I sent WillPower back down the stairs where he lasted for about two seconds before having to bail out back up them again. I drank some red potions and tried again. Then again. Then again and again and again. WillPower was now being Cursed when he came down the steps so the second boss must have had the Cursed trait - as if this wasn't dangerous enough! This forced me to portal back to town to clear the Curse, then back down the stairs again for another second or two before escaping back up the steps again. Rinse and repeat over and over and over again, always popping down the steps for the shortest instants before running right back up them again. Holy Shock would always go off the instant that WillPower entered Pit 2 and I tried to stick around long enough for the second pulse to go off two seconds later before retreating. WillPower dropped down under 500 HP many times without ever quite getting into the true near-death range as I timed his escapes perfectly. Three minutes passed, then eight minutes. Ten minutes, a dozen minutes of running back and forth to town. And yet, amazingly, it *WAS* working. The one great strength of Holy Shock is the fact that it hits everything on screen without needing to aim or target the ability, and repeated trips down those darned stairs were getting off enough pulses of Holy Shock to make real progress on the monsters. It was close to 15 minutes on the clock when I heard a death explosion going off and realized that one of the two rogue bosses was dead, must have been Fire Enchanted although I never actually saw her abilities. She was apparently the Cursed boss too as WillPower was no longer getting hit with Amplify Damage, excellent!

Now I was finally able to get a screenshot of the abilities on the second rogue boss: Extra Strong / Cold Enchanted along with the irrelevant Mana Burn. WillPower could never have stood and fought this enemy, especially not while being Cursed, and I still needed to clear out a bit more space before he could actually begin to move. Up and down the stairs, up and down the stairs, rinse and repeat. Three more minutes of this were enough to drop the rogue minions and allow WillPower to get off the staircase for the first time since his initial entry into the room. I walked two steps to the side and dropped a town portal, letting Durga tank the boss until his health dropped into the red and then popped back to town. Heal up the mercenary, buy more red potions, then back down to the Pit 2 until Durga was about to die again and the cycle repeated. Durga was lasting about five or six seconds before we needed to flee, however this crazed song and dance was indeed making progress on the boss, thanks to the combination of repeated Holy Shock waves and poison damage to stop boss HP regen. Finally the boss herself died and the entrance to Pit 2 was actually clear. WillPower could actually take more than three steps without having a dozen monsters in his face!

The worst might be over but the rest of the Pit still needed to be finished. WillPower was able to make a stand here at this narrow choke point:

I used WillPower himself to tank the damage because I could heal him via potions much more easily than Durga. Note again the claustrophobic spaces of this level; we had gone maybe half a dozen yards from the stairs and there was a fresh big mob of opponents that needed to be dealt with here. I was able to defeat this group of corrupted rogues as well as drop the first devilkin shaman of the floor to shut down some of their resurrecting antics. A couple more steps to the right brought out the third corrupted rogue boss of the Pit 2:

Another Cursed foe and with Lightning Enchanted trait to cut down on the damage from Holy Shock, lovely. There was still zero room to operate as I didn't want to run down to the bottom floor of the cavern where even more monsters would be lurking. The only option was to portal back to town again and again as I had done before, letting Durga tank the boss for a handful of seconds before bailing out and returning to Akara to lick our wounds. It was a slow, desperate tactic that I employed for lack of any other options. WillPower must have gone through 30-40 town portal scrolls over the course of this ordeal, I made sure that he didn't run out by loading up on them every few trips back to town. Anyway, once again this did work and the latest boss slowly had her health drained away until she too was overcome. Now WillPower and Durga could finally inch their way down to the bottom floor where there were more corrupted rogues and several devilkin shamans hanging out. Fortunately no more bosses were lurking there as three had been more than enough for this cramped cave. Finally, after nearly 30 minutes of real-world time, the Pit 2 was completely cleared out and WillPower could open the gold chest at the bottom.

Seriously though, what an unbelievable sequence from start to finish. I honestly can't believe that WillPower managed to get this done given his weak variant setup and the ridiculously packed mob of enemies camping out on the staircase. It was an insane risk to take on for a character who's trying to play as though he were a Hardcore individual but somehow it all worked out. I even managed to keep Durga alive most of the time and only had to revive him three or four times in total; this would not have been possible without his help. I had been thinking of maybe replacing Durga with another mercenary type since I'd been leaving him dead for most areas. However, you don't get rid of someone after going through an experience like that with them fighting at your side. Even if Durga was unnecessary most of the time, when I really needed someone to stand there and tank for WillPower, he was clearly up to the task... with a *LOT* of help from the healers back in town, anyway!

The worst parts of Act One (The Forgotten Tower and Pit 2) were behind WillPower at this point and in theory the remaining areas should be easier to complete. He still had a long way to go before facing Andariel though and there were still plenty of opportunities to screw up along the way. I picked up from the Outer Cloister waypoint on a fresh session and WillPower immediately had a devil of a time getting things under control as monsters swarmed out from every side. That included opening some of the side doors from the central Cloister room, with corrupted rogues running around everywhere and a Yeti boss making things difficult. WillPower's path became easier once he had that sorted out and could venture into the Barracks proper where he found himself confronted with devilkin and their shamans, goats, and skeleton archers. None of these foes had any lightning resistance and they died quickly to Holy Shock; it was almost like playing a normal character in terms of the pacing. This was infinitely easier than the nightmare of the Pit 2!

WillPower didn't find the Smith until the very last room of the Barracks. The boss had a Holy Freeze aura and therefore moved slightly faster than WillPower, especially as the Smith's health dropped and his movement speed increased. Fortunately WillPower had 400 points of Vitality and could run basically forever, leading the two of them to run in circles around the forge while Holy Shock slowly chipped away at the boss' healthbar. This really felt like something out of a Looney Toons cartoon and was patently ridiculous to watch in practice. WillPower had a pretty good draw here on the boss traits; while Magic Resistant dragged things out via extra lightning resistance, it could have been so much worse. Imagine if the Smith had drawn a Might aura and Cursed trait to go with his Extra Strong - yikes.

The three levels of the Jail followed and they were honestly pretty easy for WillPower, nothing popping up that rose to the level of a true threat. All three of these floors were packed with Dark Ones, the highest tier of fallen enemy, and those little things were easy prey for Holy Shock thanks to their low HP total and lack of lightning resistance. As I've noted a bunch of times, the Paladin elemental auras work really well against large crowds of weak enemies, and WillPower generally found the fallen/shaman pairs to be the easiest monster type he encountered throughout Act One. Things were even easier with no shamans present to revive the Dark Ones - their shamans don't start appearing until the Cathedral. Other frequent opponents on these floors were goats, skeleton archers, and wraiths who didn't pose much of a threat either. There simply isn't much lightning resistance to be found in these areas and everything fell quickly before the power of Holy Shock. The toughest boss was actually a Dark One who rolled the Cursed / Extra Strong combo and smacked WillPower for something like 400 damage in the one melee blow that it landed.

I'd been a bit concerned about Pitspawn Fouldog since I knew that he would be Lightning Immune and therefore protected against Holy Shock. The boss turned out to be located in a back corner of the Jail 2 stuck inside a jail cell with the rest of his minions. That ended up being a good place to fight the group even though they vomited out a torrent of white lightning projectiles that WillPower had to dodge at half speed since he was perpetually chilled. Holy Fire was sufficient to get the job done against this boss. Then the Inner Cloister wound up having a skeleton mage boss who was Lightning Immune and packing the Cursed trait, followed by a second skeleton mage boss (also Lightning Immune) who had Multishot trait along with Fire Enchanted for extra fire resistance. Sheesh, double bosses in the tiny confines of the Inner Cloister! What was the point of removing Flamespike from the game if double bosses could end up rolling in this space anyway?

There was enough time remaining this evening that I decided to go back and finish up with the one part of Act One that I had skipped, Blood Raven and the two subdungeons that accompany the Burial Grounds. Blood Raven summoned a mob of about two dozen zombies which wasn't exactly a problem for WillPower; he'd been dealing with this exact kind of threat for ages now and the graveyard had ample space to avoid ever getting touched by the shambling dead. It took a minute or two to burn them to death with Holy Fire and then WillPower swapped back to Holy Shock for Blood Raven herself. She has strong resistances against every element and a pretty beefy health total so it took about half a dozen minutes to wear her down. There was zero danger here as Blood Raven largely ran in aimless circles firing the occassional arrow - much less dangerous than many of the random bosses WillPower had been facing.

I had previously skipped the Crypt and Mausoleum because everything inside is Lightning Immune and wanted to get some more damage on Holy Fire before tackling those spaces. The last few levels had seen WillPower adding more skill points to Resist Fire which increased Holy Fire's damage from 250-626 up to 330-826, and that was a pretty significant increase that would cut down the time needed to clear these areas. The Crypt and the Mausoleum are some of the weirdest areas in the whole game, two underground areas that only have two monster types present (Skeletons and Hungry Dead zombies) and never any variation whatsoever. Furthermore, both areas balloon out to huge sizes for Hell difficulty in a way that doesn't make much sense. Like I can see the reason for making Durance 2 so big (even if it does little to stop people doing Mephisto runs) but why in the world did anyone want a giant area with nothing but melee skeletons and zombies from end to end? I took the time to clear out everything with WillPower but jeez was it tedious at times.

Even with increased Holy Fire damage it took about 45 minutes for WillPower to slay all of the monsters in both of the underground areas. The Crypt was the worse of the two as it had notably more zombie bosses; the zombies were slower moving but had 50% more health than the skeletons and that meant more time needed for Holy Fire to land kills. The worst customer was a zombie boss with Teleportation / Extra Fast / Spectral Hit abilities, not something that should have been problematic and yet it took AGES to kill this guy. Even with Prevent Monster Heal applied, WillPower needed almost 10 minutes to kill that sucker as his healthbar sloooooly decreased over time. The danger level was almost nonexistent in these areas so I was having WillPower round up as many skeletons and zombies as possible to burn them down in groups. He was almost like a herding dog rounding up sheep since it took just as long to kill 1 zombie as it did to kill 10 zombies. There was another Fire Enchanted zombie boss in the Mausoleum who followed WillPower across half the dungeon before finally dying to Holy Fire. I was having him tag along as I cleared the rest of the level across seven or eight minutes of real world time which was pretty amusing to watch. Bonebreaker is the only unique boss in these two dungeons and he avoided rolling anything too dangerous in terms of traits. WillPower carefully applied Prevent Monster Heal and then let him roast away with Holy Fire despite his innate fire resistance. I was glad to have these areas out of the way due to sheer boredom.

One other small itemization note: I continued to gamble amulets at the end of each session hoping to find +2 or +3 Paladin offensive auras. While I wasn't able to turn up either of those item prefixes, WillPower did find a rare amulet with +1 Paladin skills that also contained 38% fire resistance along with several other unimportant modifiers. This was enough to take fire resistance up to the Resist Fire-boosted cap of 85% which was a genuine help against all of the fire damage in Act One. I was still hoping to get some additional resistances from charms where WillPower was using a pretty sad setup due to underwhelming luck over the course of his journey. Nevertheless, he now had maxed fire resistance and lightning/cold resists over 50% which was good enough to be playable for Hell difficulty.

Somehow I apparently forgot to click on the Inner Cloister waypoint in the previous session and wasn't able to start there - whoops. Fortunately with a fully revealed map here in Offline mode, WillPower could retrace his steps from the Jail 1 waypoint and made it back to the Inner Cloister in about two minutes. One of the two skeleton mage bosses was back in the Cloister and had to be cleared again for safety before opening the doors to the Cathedral. The church was packed full of Tainted enemies, with relatively few Dark Ones and their shamans like the place usually features. WillPower fought a pair of Tainted bosses in the side wing on the left, roasting them with Holy Fire while dodging their lightning shots. Bone Ash was hiding off by himself on the right side of the Cathedral and died without putting up much of a fight although he did hit WillPower with a single poison shot which required a trip back to town for cleansing.

Catacombs 1 continued to have more Tainted enemies while dialing up the Dark Ones and their shamans to a much higher degree. There were several shaman bosses who had the ability to revive the non-boss shamans which is always irritating to deal with. Holy Shock was a perfect tool for dealing with these situations and handled them well overall. The biggest headache on this floor came from the third monster type, the Rat Men, an Act One version of the fetish/flayer enemies. These things were incredibly fast and when one of their bosses rolled the Extra Fast trait it was not possible for WillPower to avoid their attacks, the little buggers simply too fast to avoid. WillPower essentially had to tank hits while drinking red potions until Holy Shock could zap the boss into defeat.

Catacombs 2 maintained the Tainted and Dark One monsters while swapping out the Rat Men for these Arach spiders. WillPower was clearing out a shaman boss and its minions when he encountered the pictured spider boss and nearly ran into an epic disaster. This boss had the Cursed trait to boost its damage along with Cold Enchanted / Extra Fast traits to make escaping nearly impossible once chilling damage was applied. Even worse, when the spiders dropped low on health they would start leaving a webbed trail behind which dropped WillPower's foot speed to basically zero. I was caught off guard by this combo and found WillPower stuck in place on top of a web while he was getting pounded by four spiders at a time - while Cursed! The only option was to gulp down full rejuv potions from the belt while frantically trying to break free of the webbing. I managed to wriggle him free while drinking five or six full rejuvs in the process in a truly terrifying moment. This is why I keep about 25 extra full rejuvs in stash though, so that there's always an extra supply in case your character truly needs them. Eventually the spider boss had taken enough damage that it ran off into the corner where Holy Shock finished it off; I would spend the remaining two floors of the Catacombs rebuilding WillPower's stock of purple potions.

That was the worst moment from this particular session as it nearly gave me a heart attack. Another interesting moment popped up on Cats 2 where there was both a Dark One shaman boss and its minions mixed in together with a shaman champ pack. There was an awful lot of reviving taking place in that room until Holy Shock could start dropping the shamans. Then Catacombs 3 turned into a Night of the Living Dead convention:

The entire floor was crawling from end to end with zombies, a gigantic shambling horde that slowly walked towards WillPower. I counted no less than seven different zombie bosses along with a zombie champ pack before the floor was finished. This was the most notable encounter, a double boss pack with one zombie boss having a Holy Freeze aura to slow WillPower's movement while the other boss had the Fanaticism + Extra Strong + Cursed combo (!) Thankfully these zombies were all really slow movers and I could use foot speed to keep them from ever hitting WillPower, but a Cursed hit with that combo could have easily done 700 or 800 damage for a two-shot kill. Do not attempt this variant without a *LOT* of practice at Diablo 2! (I mean it sounds easy enough, just walk in circles while the Paladin auras kill things, but in practice it takes a lot of skill to stay out of danger while still maximizing damage inflicted.) The other common monster on this floor was The Banished vampires who had a lot of health, lifesteal on their fireballs, and some lightning resistance for protection. It was worth WillPower's time to plug them with Prevent Monster Heal to speed things up and because their melee attacks were not dangerous when WillPower moved into close range to apply PMH. I was glad that the floor rolled almost entirely zombie bosses instead of giving me seven different vampire bosses.

This brought WillPower down to the bottom floor on Catacombs 4. I began by clearing out the entry room around the blood pool, using Holy Shock to eliminate the Dark One shamans and their minions before switching over to Holy Fire to burn through the handful of Afflicted populating the room. There was a champ pack of zombies right inside the main doors that WillPower lured back to the blood pool for disposal, then he took out several shamans in the two side wings. Finally Andariel herself came racing out; WillPower brought her back to the blood pool as well:

Round and round they went on a perfect little loop track. Andariel's -50% fire resistance meant that Holy Fire was the aura of choice here, much better than trying to punch through her 66% lightning resistance with Holy Shock. She spent most of her time just walking in circles behind WillPower while pausing periodically to throw out a poison shot or her circular poison breath. These were pretty easy to dodge and WillPower was only hit a single time, with the poison cleared instantly by an Antidote potion that I had grabbed ahead of time. It only took two minutes to burn through Andariel's health before she was finished - if only all of the act end bosses were this simple to defeat!

To my own surprise, WillPower managed a full clear of Act One with all areas completed and all monsters slain. Hell difficulty was MUCH harder than Nightmare had been and it wasn't clear to me how much longer he could keep this up. There's a reason why no one builds characters around the Paladin elemental auras as it takes a tremendous amount of patience to get through each area with the ticking aura damage alone. I'm pretty stubborn though and I plan to keep this up until something actually defeats WillPower; let's hope he can keep things going through the upcoming deserts of Act Two.