WillPower: Hell Difficulty Part Four

WillPower resumed his journey from the outset of Act Three at CLVL 79. I took some time off from this character after finishing Act Two, and during that period Boro asked a great question on the Sullla Discord about why I hadn't made use of the Holy Thunder runeword for this character. That runeword has +3 to the Holy Shock skill along with a bunch of other goodies and would seem to be a great fit for WillPower. The short answer is that I had never used that runeword before and didn't even think about it for this character; I had been using Holy Fire as WillPower's primary skill all through Normal and Nightmare difficulties without thinking too much about Holy Shock. Unfortunately it would also be nearly impossible to go back and make use of the runeword now because it requires a scepter to roll with four sockets, one less than the maximum five sockets that they can hold. A socket quest reward wouldn't help me here (I've always wished that the player could simply CHOOSE how many sockets they want from that quest reward which would really help players like me).

I would have needed to search for an appropriate sceptre when WillPower was a lower character level and the item's ILVL would only roll with a maximum of four sockets, not five. It was too late now and maybe for the best skipping the runeword anyway; WillPower constantly flipped back and forth between Holy Shock and Holy Fire, and Holy Fire wouldn't benefit at all from the Holy Shock runeword whereas it was getting +3 skill points from WillPower's current weapon. I spent some more time rerolling Drognan's shop looking for a better Marshal's scepter and saw exactly one item with that prefix in 30 minutes of searching, a war scepter with no +skills of any kind. It looked like WillPower would continue to rely on his current weapon for the moment.

Anyway, it was time to brave the jungles in search of the path to Kurast. The Spider Forest gave WillPower an easy draw of fetishes, mosquitoes, and cloud stalkers to ease him back into the flow of things. All of these monsters were Lightning Immune except for the mosquitoes who also had some lightning resistance making this prime territory for Holy Fire aura. WillPower flipped on his old elemental aura and didn't need to worry about changing it while cutting a path through this enemy mix. The danger level was almost nonexistent and the open spaces running alongside the river gave WillPower plenty of room to operate. I found the entrance to the Great Marsh fairly early and ignored it for the moment to keep clearing more of the Spider Forest, eventually finding the waypoint in the first alcove. That meant that I could take a temporary break from the jungles by heading down into the first of the two spider-themed caverns.

The Arachnid Lair had one of the strangest monster setups I can ever remember: 100% Poison Spinner spiders, absolutely nothing else present in the whole underground area. They had no fire or lightning resistance at all, however at just short of 10k health the spiders were pretty sturdy customers and their movement speed here on Hell was fast enough to be dangerous. More problematic was the poison attached to their bites: attacks that inflicted poison would deal 5956 damage to WillPower (!) That's not a typo, they actually deal almost 6000 poison damage over some ungodly length of time. This was a scary proposition because drinking red potions would not heal WillPower while he was poisoned, only halt the deterioration of his lifebar from dropping further. I had to drink purple rejuvs to get an actual health refill while poisoned. The only solution was to return to town frequently when poisoned since talking to Ormus would remove the green junk. I worked to clear out some retreat space near the entrance to the cavern, then slowly and methodically killed all of the spiders over the course of the next 45 minutes. There were about five or six Poison Spinner bosses scattered throughout the area and it took a while to defeat them all.

The second alcove of the Spider Forest held the creatively-named Spider Cavern which WillPower would have needed to complete even if he wasn't full-clearing everything. This cave held two opponents instead of one, Giant Lampreys and more of the familiar Poison Spinners again. Both of these monsters could inflict poison damage, and along with the mosquitoes and crows up on the surface (who can also poison on their melee attacks), WillPower spent a lot of time feeling green during this particular session. The maggots were easier to handle than the spiders since they had less health and didn't chase after WillPower in aggressive fashion. The Paladin's elemental auras also work great against swarms of little critters and easily cleared out the maggot young when they hatched out of eggs. Once again it took some time to work my way through the underground area, as usual saving Sszark's corner in the bottom-left part of the cave for last. I was able to lure out his minions and dispose them in small numbers before having to engage with Sszark himself, bring the boss back to an open area near the stairs and then walking in circles until Holy Shock finished the job. These were the only Flame Spiders in the whole area and Sszark's minions are visible on the ground in this above screenshot. All told, this whole job went perfectly and Sszark never managed to lay a claw on WillPower - very much a good thing given his Extra Strong / Cursed traits.

Once the two spider caves were complete, I finished up the remainder of the Spider Forest and tried to decide where to head next. The Spider Forest waypoint was located close to the entrance of the Great Marsh so I decided to press onwards into the Flayer Jungle in the hopes of finding the waypoint there. Luck was with WillPower as the first alcove in the Jungle held its waypoint and I could stop there for the day with my progress saved. Upon starting up the next session, I hopped from the Spider Forest waypoint over to the Great Marsh which I correctly deduced would be a huge dead end. There were more fetishes here with their shamans and a new enemy in the form of gloams. Both of them were Lightning Immune and fell readily to Holy Fire, with the Paladin's elemental auras working fantastically well at hitting invisible gloams without needing to target them. It was the third monster type that caused me the most problems in the Marsh however:

Bramble Hulks. Now you wouldn't think that these things would be particularly tough customers, and indeed they posed effectively no threat to WillPower due to their pathetically slow movement speed. Unfortunately though, the Bramble Hulks were very tanky opponents with nearly 12,000 HP apiece and that gave them enough innate monster regen that WillPower's auras were highly ineffective. Holy Shock could sloooooowly chip them down over time while Holy Fire couldn't seem to exceed the rate of their regeneration. The only way to make any realistic progress was to tag every single Bramble Hulk with Prevent Monster Heal from WillPower's glaive and then zap them to death once their health stopped refilling. I had needed to do this before and I was sure that I'd need to do it again but it's never a fast method and progress crawled along throughout the Great Marsh. An hour passed and I was still nowhere close to finishing this region - did the jungle segments really have to be this big?!

The most entertaining part of this process was the need to flip between WillPower's two elemental auras on a constant basis. Gloams and fetishes were both Lightning Immune and forced the need for Holy Fire, then after they were dead I would change over to Holy Shock to zap through the health of the Bramble Hulks a bit faster. Fetish Shamans also happened to be Fire Immune and also required Holy Shock; I would often use Holy Fire to clear out most of the fetishes, then get close to the shamans to down them with Holy Shock, then go back to Holy Fire again for the last remaining fetishes. Most of the bosses in the Marsh rolled as Bramble Hulks (of course) although there were a few gloam bosses and eventually a fetish shaman boss who was Fire Immune / Lightning Immune after rolling the Lightning Enchanted trait. I had to break Durga out of mothballs to defeat that customer which gave me a chance to update his equipment:

I found two new items for the mercenary in rapid succession here in the early stages of Act Three. Hwanin's Splendor was a clear improvement over the rare helmet that Durga had been wearing, with higher Defense rating plus a bonus to cold resist and a nice life regen affix. The more significant find though was in the armor slot where I replaced the upgraded version of Goldskin with Shaftstop, the unique Mesh Armor. The upgraded exceptional version of Goldskin had a higher Defense rating, 766 to 622, and I was also losing the 35% resist all on the previous armor. However, Durga was starting to get close to maxing out his resistances naturally and gaining 60 HP along with 30% physical resistance was way too good to pass up on. Given how monsters in Hell difficulty all have astronomical attack ratings that make Defense a nearly-useless stat, physical resistance was far superior to having a higher Defense rating. I tried my best to keep Durga alive afterwards and he managed to gain a level and a half in the back corner of the Great Marsh before a boss pack of more Bramble Hulks finally smashed him into the ground. The new equipment seemed to be helping him at least a little bit when tanking melee threats.

I tackled the Flayer Jungle next at the start of a new session. My goal was to make it to the next waypoint in Lower Kurast and I knew that was going to take quite a while; I skipped over the Swampy Pit for the moment since it was right next to the waypoint and easy to make a return at any point. The Flayer Jungle lived up to its name by having nothing but fetishes present, Flayers and Soul Killers in three different varieties. They each had a different immunity type: one Lightning Immune, one Cold Immune, and one Poison Immune, but all of the little critters looked so similar that it was best to run Holy Fire at all times to make sure that everything was taking damage. The one exception was their shamans who remained Fire Immune and required Holy Shock to stop their resurrection antics. I always tried to eliminate the shamans as quickly as possible, however oftentimes that simply wasn't possible until clearing out most of the fetishes who swarmed across the jungle landscape. Although this was the exact situation where the Paladin's elemental auras excelled, lots of weak opponents, the sheer overwhelming number of fetishes meant that it took some time to make progress. At least the danger level was low and there was little chance that WillPower would find himself getting killed.

The second jungle alcove held the Flayer Dungeon which I skipped over for the moment in the hopes of pushing on to Kurast. After 75 minutes of slaying endless hordes of Flayers and Soul Killers, WillPower finally found himself reaching the gates of the temple city. Stormtree guarded the gateway as always and I was able to lure out all but one of his minions in small groups for easier disposal. They were all Thrashers with roughly 20,000 HP apiece after gaining the minion bonus to health and required the application of Prevent Monster Heal to make any progress. Stormtree himself was both Lightning Enchanted and Fire Enchanted, neither ability creating an immunity but making him something like 90% resistant to both elements. It took absolutely forever to defeat the big tree and I dragged him across a third of Lower Kurast slowly chipping away with Holy Thunder until the boss finally collapsed.

Lower Kurast had three monsters that didn't pose much danger: Doom Apes, Tree Lurkers (leapers), and Hell Buzzards (vultures). The apes and the leapers were both Lightning Immune while the vultures were Fire Immune, and the leapers turned out to have 80% fire resistance on top of their 100% lightning resistance. WillPower was struggling to make any progress against these annoying foes when he ran into the pictured double immune boss and I realized that I needed to bring Durga back for assistance. This turned out to be just the trick as Durga's poison damage was exactly what WillPower needed to stop these monsters from regenerating health. Everything here had low health and didn't do that much damage, I simply needed another damage type to work around their heavy fire and lightning resistances. It ended up being pretty easy keeping the mercenary alive for the whole area as I cleared it out, even if that double immune Doom Ape boss kept retreating into uncleared areas and I had to explore 70% of the region before I could finally corner it. The waypoint was in the extreme back corner and I basically cleared the whole area before it turned up, sigh.

With progress secured into Kurast, now I needed to go back and clear the Flayer Dungeon in this same gaming session to avoid having to fight through 5000 fetishes again. My plan all along had been to revive Durga for the various claustrophobic underground areas as there would be too little room for WillPower to operate safely on his own. This proved to be a wise decision as the pair immediately ran into a Fanaticism / Extra Strong Soul Killer boss pack which downed Durga in a matter of seconds. That bought time for WillPower to retreat and separate a couple of the minions, then come back and defeat the boss in isolation once Durga had been revived. As if that wasn't scary enough, the second monster type rolled as Undead Flayers:

That was just what I wanted, an Extra Fast version of the exploding dolls zipping around everywhere. This was where Durga was worth his weight in gold as the death explosions of the undead dolls didn't seem to both him at all. For whatever reason, that damage doesn't seem to affect mercenaries even as it presents a dire peril for actual characters. Durga tanked these opponents as WillPower carefully zapped them to death with Holy Shock, then had to do the whole thing over again when a second Extra Fast undead doll boss appeared later on the same floor! At least their other boss abilities were pretty tame, with both of them rolling Teleportation and the second boss having a Holy Fire aura. The third monster type on this floor was Gloombats who were significantly less scary, at least aside from the one Gloombat boss who popped up with Extra Strong / Fanaticism traits as well. I still wonder if this is a coincidence or if there's something buggy in the boss generation that causes traits to repeat in the same area more often than pure randomness says it should. With Diablo 2's creaky coding, I could be convinced either way.

The second floor of the Flayer Dungeon had the same mixture of monsters except swapping out the Gloombats for Dark Shape wraiths. That was a good trade for WillPower as the Physical Immune ghosts were easy prey for his elemental auras. I took great care with Durga and managed to keep him alive the whole time thanks to some timely retreats and portals back to town for healing. His new Shaftstop armor genuinely seemed to be making a difference in terms of adding survivability thanks to that physical resistance. The toughest foe on this floor was a Cursed fetish boss, not so much due to his own abilities as Cursed doubling physical damage taken from all sources. The third floor was almost completely deserted as usual, with the maze of corridors eventually leading to Witch Doctor Endugu:

Durga continued to be the MVP of the day, holding the corridor against all of Endugu's minions to keep WillPower safe. While they were slain without too much issue, Endugu had extremely strong defensive traits with that Magic Resistant ability cutting the damage from Holy Shock to a trickle. There was nothing I could do to stop the boss from raising his minions repeatedly, and of course they were all Lightning Immune while Endugu was Fire Immune which meant having to swap between auras constantly. Again, there was nothing here all that dangerous for WillPower but it took an annoyingly long time to sort out this mess at the tail end of a long 2.5 hour gaming session. WillPower was happy to grab Khalim's Eye and get out of this place. At least Durga was now fully caught up on experience, matching the Level 80 status of WillPower himself.

I picked up again in the Kurast Bazaar where the monster draw was a friendly mix of Thrashers, Hell Swarm (bugs), and Zealot/Sexton pairs. The danger level was low and WillPower had plenty of practice at dealing with all of these threats by now. The only tricky spot was a triple boss pack encountered in one corner of the bazaar, two of them fortunately rolling as inoffensive bug swarms which joined together with a Sexton boss in a sheltered corner. It was a simple matter to retreat and string out the big mob of opponents, made more interesting by the Cursed trait on one of those bosses which increased their damage output to the point where Durga couldn't stand and tank. I was a bit sloppy and let him die twice here though he did buy enough time to make the cleanup a straightforward process. Then I tried to go down into the Disused Fane only to find a dozen monsters crowding the stairs, no room to move at all. I tried three different times to get started and had to flee back up the stairs every time - annoying. Well I wasn't going to force WillPower to commit suicide needlessly, I'd try the area again in my next gaming session in hopes of a friendlier reception.

The dreaded Ruined Temple was slightly more welcoming with "only" about half a dozen opponents crowding the staircase. There was barely enough space for WillPower to wriggle free and then walk in circles distracting a pair of Wailing Beasts while Durga tanked the other corrupted rogues for the minute needed to start getting kills with Holy Shock. I knew that WillPower could clear these enclosed temple areas if he could just GET DOWN THE STAIRS, sheesh! He had drawn the right-facing "T" formation for the Ruined Temple which meant clearing out the two side branches first and setting up an emergency town portal in case of disaster. Then I began inching WillPower forward into the main room one step at a time, hoping to draw out his foes in small groups. This worked perfectly and thankfully Holy Shock is an excellent tool for pulling monsters at a distance. First a champ pack of Flesh Hunters appeared which WillPower was able to slay one and two at a time. A few more steps brought out another Flesh Hunter boss who was not Sarina but did have Cursed trait. Not someone I wanted to fight alongside the unique boss, let me tell you! WillPower had to pull her and her minions back into the side wings where Durga stood in the doorway and tanked them individually. WillPower grabbed a few more corrupted rogues in small numbers, then finally Sarina herself appeared with another instance of Cursed trait. She was easy to down but only because I had approached the room so carefully; facing double Cursed bosses plus a champ pack all at once would have overwhelmed poor Durga in a nanosecond. The quest reward meant another five points of Vitality and an HP total hovering around 1700.

The next area on the list was the Kurast Sewers, always a tedious slog to complete due to its huge size and dark visuals. I was hoping to avoid the deadly undead soul killers and thankfully the little bone dolls were not present here in Hell difficulty. Instead the Sewers featured Preserved Dead mummies, Gloombats, and the Horadrim Ancient/Horror skeleton combo, mostly mummies and bats with relatively few of the resurrecting opponents. It was always a pain whenever WillPower came across the greater mummies though as he'd have to pull the Horrors away to prevent them from resurrection antics. There were six or seven bosses in total, with the mummies being tame enough that I could engage in close-range photography:

It's too bad that Diablo 2 is almost unplayable at the zoomed-in resolution because the game looks downright breathtaking from this perspective. Anyway, I did my best to keep Durga alive since his poison damage noticeably sped up monster encounters (by removing their health regen) and I valued his tanking ability to help keep WillPower himself safe. Durga still perished half a dozen times and cost me a huge amount of money with his 50,000 gold resurrection bills, however that was money well spent if it kept WillPower himself from biting it. I hadn't turned up anything useful from gambles in ages and WillPower's gear setup was mostly maxed out at this point. Icehawk Riftwing's mob managed to down Durga before Holy Shock sent them scattering in all directions, then there were double Mosquito bosses on the second basement of the Sewers (one Cursed, the other Extra Strong) who dropped Durga again a few minutes later. All told, it took about 90 minutes to get the full clear and I was glad to move on afterwards.

WillPower backtracked to the Disused Fane at this point in the hopes of getting a better monster draw. This time there was only one boss camping out at the stairs, a Wailing Beast fellow with only Magic Resistant / Mana Burn / Conviction aura traits who Durga was able to bottle up in a doorway. That was all that WillPower needed to get started in the small area, followed by clearing out a bunch of corrupted rogues and another Holy Freeze brute boss later in the temple. As I said before, the whole issue was getting started in each of the little temples, the monsters themselves weren't that difficult once WillPower had space to move.

I began the next session from the Kurast Bazaar waypoint with the intention of clearing Upper Kurast and the four remaining underground temples. I didn't expect much trouble from Upper Kurast which has plenty of space to maneuver and a monster mix that rarely causes much danger. Instead, WillPower found himself facing a grueling struggle to make progress thanks to the presence of Cantors with their healing abilities and two different types of healable minions in the form of both Zealots and Faithful. WillPower's low offensive output meant that he could never kill any of the zealots before they would be healed back to full by the cantors, therefore I had to isolate every single cantor of its attendant minions before it could be defeated. The zealots would also run away as soon as they dropped low on health - literally every single time - which would let them go regenerate HP or get healed by a canton before returning again. And when there were two cantors near each other, both of them would spam their heals on one another to make them both functionally immortal.

The only way to make progress was long, tedious division of the monsters through lots of footwork on the part of WillPower. The zealots would always run away from his position and I spent oodles of time playing the role of a sheepdog, using WillPower's own positioning to force their retreats into dead ends or corners. I also had to separate every single cantor so it could be slain in isolation and there was simply no way to do this quickly. It didn't help that Diablo 2 decided to roll five different zealot bosses plus a cantor champ pack across the length of Upper Kurast. The third monster type was vultures and they barely even registered, dying immediately since they couldn't be healed and didn't retreat from combat. Not a single vulture boss to be found though, of course not! It took about 90 minutes of real world time to full clear Upper Kurast, sheesh. At least the odds of WillPower actually dying had been low, which was more than I could say about the next places he was able to venture into.

WillPower still had the remaining Kurast temples on his checklist, places that no Hardcore character would ever think about visiting due to their extreme danger level and lack of any reward whatsoever for completing them. The Forgotten Reliquary was first in order and fortunately there was no boss immediately on the stairs though this corrupted rogue boss and her minions charged out of the first room within seconds of arriving. I was pleased to see that there was nothing too dangerous here in terms of boss traits and WillPower fed Durga a constant stream of potions while he tanked the mob long enough for Holy Shock to get the kill. There were two more bosses in this area, including another corrupted rogue boss with the same Blessed Aim aura, however neither of them were encountered until WillPower had enough room to fight properly and the rest of the Reliquary ended up being fairly routine.

The Forgotten Temple had a long horizontal corridor for an entrance with two doors running off to either side. One of them was empty while the other one had beetles begin swarming through the doorway immediately. At least they were normal beetles and not a boss with some deadly ability attached, which meant that Durga could stand there and tank them until Holy Fire burned them away. There were more beetles deeper in the level and then a Blood Diver bat boss that hit really hard thanks to having Extra Fast trait who killed Durga and forced an expensive mercenary resurrection. Once again, not too bad by Kurast temple standards.

Over on the Kurast Causeway, the Ruined Fane had a large open room for an entrance with almost a dozen beetles ready to greet WillPower on entry. This was far from what I wanted to see but I did my best to remain calm, walking WillPower in as much of a loop track as I could manage while feeding red potions to Durga. The beetles were one monster type that he seemed to do well against, having max lightning resistance to cut down the damage from their sparks and enough Defense that they whiffed on a lot of their melee swings. In any case, the first minute of this temple was a bit hairy but then the beetles started dropping to Holy Fire and I could breathe a sigh of relief. There were two bosses elsewhere in the Ruined Fane which didn't cause any issues thanks to having room to fight. Only one more temple to go!

And that's when I went down the stairs of the Disused Reliquary and saw this:

Ummm... That was more than a dozen beetles and snakes, all of them literally on the stairs themselves, with absolutely no room to take as much as a step in any direction. The fact that Diablo 2 still contains these stairs traps after two decades is utterly ridiculous, one of the most unfair things that the gameplay can hurl at players. I thought that maybe WillPower could defeat this mob by doing the up-and-down-stairs tricks that he used to gain entry into the Pit Level 2 back in Act One but it just wasn't worth doing something that insanely dangerous when I could simply come back again in my next session and hope for a friendlier result. So long then Diused Reliquary: WillPower would be back shortly with a hopefully better reception.

WillPower still had to backtrack for the Swampy Pit which I had skipped over previously and I decided to use my next gaming session to finish up that underground area. The immediate threat came in the form of Gloams as there were no less than three of that boss type all hanging out together in the first main intersection of the dungeon. At least the Cursed/Extra Strong boss combo that one of them rolled was a lot less dangerous on the Gloam monster type as compared to something else. Durga really took it on the chin in these fights despite his heavy lightning resistance and I had to revive him repeatedly despite my best efforts to keep him alive. It was also imperative that the mercenary stay alive because the Swampy Pit turned out to have undead dolls on both of the first two floors. Here in Hell difficulty, I could not afford to let any of them explode on top of WillPower so Durga was critically important to keep them at arm's length. The undead soul killer boss that popped up had the Cursed trait and I did not want to discover if a Cursed death explosion would be enough to one-shot my character. Extreme danger here, do not screw up! WillPower stayed behind his mercenary protector until his auras could get the job done.

The second floor of the Swampy Pit was more of the same except that the Gloams were swapped out for zombies, probably making things less dangerous until I was really dumb and managed to get caught by the slow-movers. There were still undead dolls present though, sigh, and as a result WillPower crept forward behind the cover of Durga. At one point the two of them were facing undead soul killer champions while under the Cursed trait from a separate boss in the same room - good times! That led to more deaths on Durga's part though thankfully not on WillPower's part. The bottom basement floor was surprisingly pretty crowded for once instead of being an empty maze. WillPower fought his way to the gold chest and was happy to be done with this area.

Now I still had to go back for the Disused Reliquary and:

Oh come on, again?! This may have actually been worse as there was a double boss pack at the stairs this time around, with the pictured beetle boss along with a Cold Enchanted / Spectral Hit / Mana Burn snake boss. I couldn't even see what the boss traits were at first and had to take a quick screenshot followed by checking the image out-of-game to know what WillPower was up against. I really did not want to have to try this temple a third time and therefore resolved to make my best attempt at clearing this out; I would not have tried this if the bosses had more dangerous abilities like Cursed or a Might aura. More useless Mana Burn and Spectral Hit abilities please! Anyway, I was confident that WillPower could defeat these enemies, he simply needed space to operate without having a dozen critters jammed up in his face. I tried repeatedly to get free of the mob crowding the staircase, eventually breaking free on about the sixth or seventh trip down the stairs. I had to run deeper into the underground space in completely blind fashion (which I want to be clear is insanely dangerous!), eventually finding an empty corner a few seconds later. I opened a town portal from this spot to get a quick heal and also teleport Durga to WillPower's position, then I stood there unmoving on the return trip to avoid waking up any more opponents while Durga tanked and Holy Fire killed things. The beetle boss had chased us to this spot and Durga locked him in place for the kill, followed by returning back to the stairs to drop the viper boss and its snake minions. The rest of the temple was smooth sailing after that horrifically crowded entrance sequence. It cost me four full rejuvs to survive the pounding of trying to break through and the whole thing had been way too dangerous. At least WillPower never needed to return here any longer.

I was worried about the distance that WillPower needed to travel before he could lock in his progress at the next waypoint. He could get to Travincal's waypoint easy enough but then I would need to make it down to Durance 2 and find the waypoint on that massive level all in a single gaming session; I did not want to have to go through the Council more than one time! I started out from the Upper Kurast waypoint and quickly made it over to the Causeway where WillPower found a crowd of Zealots and Hierophants guarding the gateway into Travincal. With Durga in tow, WillPower began the long process of pulling one zealot after another back into the side wings of the Causeway for disposal where they couldn't run away to be healed back to full HP. WillPower must have lured out close to three dozen of them before he could even make it inside Travincal proper:

This was the sight that greeted him inside the temple city proper: one hierophant after another as far as the eye could see. Every single one brought its own zealot minions who would have to be pulled far, far away from the hierophants or else they would instantly be restored back to perfect health. The hierophants could heal them from about two full screen lengths distance and they didn't even require line of sight to use their abilities; I was routinely seeing hierophants heal other monsters through two intervening walls with no vision at all. As bad as the zealots were with their fleeing antics, they could at least be pulled away from the hierophants for disposal purposes. The real problem were the hierophants themselves when they clumped up like in the image above, as each hierophant would heal every other hierophant and make them all immortal. WillPower's damage output was too low to burst through their healing which left him with few options for clearing these nests of healers. I had to position WillPower as far away as possible, with a single hierophant at the extreme edge of the screen, and then let Holy Shock wear them down while the other nearby hierophants hopefully remained in "sleep" mode. This wasn't very reliable but it did work sometimes, particularly if I went back to town and returned via portal to deactivate the other hierophants temporarily.

Thus progress took pace at a true snail's pace across Travincal. There were just SO MANY of the zealots and hierophants that had to be killed through this slow process: there were two vampire boss packs at either end of Travical and every single other monster was a zealot or hierophant. I've never seen this many of them in Travincal in all my years of playing this game, truly a horrible draw from WillPower in terms of the monster mix. There was a Holy Freeze hierophant boss along with its minions right on the central platform, plus a hierophant champ pack nearby, and it took ages to draw them all out for isolated elimination. Then there were more hierophants bunched up in groups along the outer walls which were tedious to dig out, plus the hierophants near the Durance entrance could actually get healing from more hierophants camped out inside with the Council members. I thought that I played the whole area almost perfectly and WillPower avoided any serious danger, but sheesh, it took HOURS to work through the infinite healing of Travincal's denizens.

After innumerable trips back to town for more supplies, everything in Travincal was finally cleared aside from the Durance entrance room. WillPower could now begin drawing out the monsters from that packed chamber, starting with Council minions in ones and two. They had to be slain individually since they could heal one another (just like the hierophants, sigh) and WillPower took out half a dozen of them before finally reaching the Council bosses themselves. Ismail was Extra Strong / Cursed so there was no way that Durga would ever be able to survive that clash, I let the mercenary die while getting the Prevent Monster Heal tag and then ran in circles until Holy Shock claimed the kill. Geleb was trickier since he was both Fire and Lightning Immune. Durga was necessary to secure the kill as WillPower swapped over to his Holy Freeze aura which was dealing all of 25 damage per tick. Fortuately something about the cold aura caused Geleb to bug out as he stood in place without moving for about five straight minutes as Durga slowly stabbed him to death. Toorc was also Cursed / Extra Strong but had minimal lightning resistance and he dropped quickly to Holy Shock, fast enough that I was able to keep Durga alive. There were two more hierophants still lurking in the room with the Compelling Orb (do you think Travincal had enough of those guys?!) which forced WillPower to kill one at max distance through the window, then he could finally head inside to drop the last one and smash the orb. All told it took about 2.5 hours to full clear Travincal - good riddance!

Now WillPower still needed to find a path to the waypoint on Durance 2 despite my local clock pushing towards midnight. Durance 1 did not have the undead stygian dolls present which meant a monster mix of Cadaver mummies, Dark Lord vampires, and Maulers. The mummies were by far the easiest of this trio thanks to having low health totals and zero fire resistance. The vampires were a bit sturdier while still not being that tough and then the maulers were the real issue: 12k health apiece, Lightning Immune, and 50% fire resistance. They also hit extremely hard, to the point that I needed to feed Durga red potions even if he was only tanking a pair of maulers. There was a mauler boss pack that easily killed Durga and forced WillPower to walk in circles running Holy Fire after hitting them with Prevent Monster Heal, then several non-mauler bosses who were much more straightforward. I didn't find the stairs down until I had full cleared the whole place so that answered the question as far as whether it would be worthwhile to skip ahead and come back later. No need for that now.

Durance 2 dropped the vampires in favor of the dreaded undead stygian dolls, who immediately showed up with this Extra Fast boss in the first room beyond the stairs. There was another Cursed undead doll boss a little later on that kept WillPower on his toes. On the whole though, I found that I didn't really mind the undead dolls because they died quickly to Holy Shock with only 5000 HP and zero lightning resistance. It was the Maulers who dragged things out once again due to their sheer tankiness, and now that the clock was pushing past midnight, I welcomed more of the little skeletons showing up for fast disposal. A quick Google search revealed that the Durance 2 waypoint can always be found by heading left from the entrance stairs and so I hugged the left wall as it twisted and turned its way through the gargantuan area. It took about half an hour and a clear of roughly one third of Durance 2 before the waypoint appeared, to the left of the entrance stairs as promised. I was enormously pleased to sign off at 12:35 AM local time with WillPower's progress secured and the final waypoint of Act Three in hand.

Two nights later, WillPower was back with the goal of finishing up the rest of the Act. This time around I was pleased to find that Maulers were the missing enemy type, with WillPower getting the fastest (if not the safest) draw of mummies, vampires, and the undead dolls. WillPower was beginning from the waypoint and right away found himself in a pyrotechnics battle against a vampire boss who had about the worst ability possible for a spellcaster: a Conviction aura that shredded his resistances. Durga bit the dust immediately and then WillPower had to dodge fireballs and meteors for several minutes as Holy Fire chipped away at a boss who was Lightning Immune and also had the Magic Resistant affix for something like 90% fire resistance. Not dangerous but definitely tedious.

That was the story for the rest of Durance 2 as well, a long and rather dull slog that never put WillPower in too much danger. I had estimated that WillPower cleared about a third of the floor before finding the waypoint and that it would take roughly another hour to finish the rest of the level, both of which proved to be correct. It could have been worse if the maulers had been present, as the mummies and the undead dolls both fell quickly and only the vampires took some time to kill. I didn't even mind seeing the undead dolls despite them being the scariest monster type, largely because Durga was so good at locking them in place where Holy Shock made quick work of them. The mummies were also easy prey for Holy Fire although they would inevitably poison Durga and then require a trip back to town to remove the green coloring. I've talked so much about needing to apply poison or Prevent Monster Heal to enemies to shut down their HP regeneration; well, the same thing applies to the mercenary who struggled whenever he was poisoned! Durga relied heavily on his own innate HP regen and would die rapidly whenever it was turned off. Eventually, I had the rest of Durance 2 finished and could take the obligatory screenshot of the fully revealed minimap.

Now it was time to get out of autopilot mode and start taking things more seriously again: WillPower had to make his way through the boss-filled reaches of Durance 3. This is one of my favorite parts of Diablo 2 as it's full of action and tough opponents while avoiding the blatantly unfair shenanigans of things like the Duriel encounter or the stairs traps in the Kurast temples. On this occasion, WillPower entered the floor and quickly found himself up against a Blood Lord vampire boss with Extra Strong / Extra Fast / Cursed traits - ouch! That was about as nasty as this guy could possibly roll and it was small comfort that this trait combo would have been even worse on a dedicated melee attacker. Durga died in mere seconds against the 4x damage output of the Extra Strong / Cursed combo and I knew it was pointless trying to revive him for this fight. Instead, I had WillPower use those precious few seconds to get a Prevent Monster Heal tag on the boss and one vampire minion, then ran around for the next few minutes letting them both burn to death via Holy Shock. After returning to town to restock potions and javelins, I hit a few more vampires with Prevent Monster Heal and repeated the process, whittling their ranks until all of them were dead. This took about 15 minutes of real world time and secured the entry room without waking up anything else, whew.

There was a reason that I'd been treading carefully with WillPower: the moment that he stepped through the archway into the main room, another half dozen vampires came charging out after him. This group was made up of normal enemies, not a boss and attendant minions, so it wasn't quite as bad to slay the latest group of bloodsuckers. Then WillPower began luring out Council minions, fortunately getting three of them in succession one-at-a-time. I brought Durga back to life for these little fights as his poison was helpful in speeding up the process of killing the Council minions. Next up was Bremm Sparkfist himself with one minion joining him; Durga died faster than I could blink and I managed to split off the minion from the boss with some footwork. Bremm was full of sparking energy this time around: Holy Shock aura to go with his Lightning Enchanted trait, then Magic Resistant and Extra Fast for the random abilities. The really annoying trait was actually the Magic Resistant one as it meant that it took long minutes on end to bleed away Bremm's lifebar with Holy Fire dealing something like 50-100 damage per tick. I made sure to refresh Prevent Monster Heal halfway through the duel and slowly burned him away, then came back for the other Council minion afterwards. I think that Bremm had 6-7 of them in total but WillPower was able to isolate all of them and dispose each one individually.

Fortunately Bremm is the only one of the Council bosses who spawns with minions, as Maffer and Wyand only have vampires in their rooms. Before WillPower could even reach either of them, he found another vampire boss with relatively innocuous Extra Strong / Cold Enchanted / Teleportation traits at the western side of the lava pool. I pulled this latest group of vampires back to the entry room and patiently killed them with the familiar Prevent Monster Heal plus Holy Shock combo to open a path to the western side room. There were more non-minion vampires inside which WillPower pulled out for individual slaying, then Maffer himself appeared and began wrecking havoc. Maffer is always Extra Strong / Extra Fast but this time he also rolled Fanaticism aura (!) which boosted the danger factor through the ceiling. The demon boss was incredibly fast, so fast that I had to take this screenshot three different times before I managed to hover over his boss abilities successfully. Fanaticism aura boosts both speed and damage, which made for an ugly combination the Extra Strong trait, and Maffer was too fast for me to dodge every blow. He was hitting for 300-500 damage per melee attack which was scary even for a character with as much health as WillPower. The saving grace here was no defensive traits which meant that Maffer took much, much more damage from Holy Fire than Bremm. It was a real pick your poison scenario: long and drawn out battle against Bremm or a fast but potentially deadly fight with Maffer. I think I preferred facing Bremm in that comparison, as bad as he had been. In any case, I did not screw up on the healing front and Maffer died after a couple frantic minutes of action.

After that, Wyand was a real anticlimax. He had a collection of mostly non-scary boss traits with Mana Burn / Teleportation / Stone Skin along with a real ability in Extra Fast. There was nothing here for WillPower to stress over and Holy Fire burned him to death soon enough. With both side wings cleared out, WillPower could now take on Mephisto himself:

The Lord of Hatred occupies a bit of a middle ground in terms of aggressiveness, not as willing as Diablo to charge into the player's face while also being feistier than Baal. Mostly Mephisto wanted to chase around after WillPower while constantly throwing out Charged Bolt, Lightning, and his Cold Shot projectiles. I definitely wanted to stay out of melee range where Mephisto can use a nasty poison that would have sent WillPower scurrying back to town and make use of his melee attack. Instead, most of this fight took place at medium range where I did my best to dodge the various spells that Mephisto fired off. The toughest part of the battle was hitting Mephisto with a Prevent Monster Heal javelin since this locked WillPower into the throwing animation for half a second and opened him up to getting hit. I also had terrible luck with the javelins as something like 20 in a row missed before finally connecting, sheesh! After that, it was a long, long, loooooong period of walking in circles while Holy Shock slowly did its thing. Holy Shock was dealing 1-2062 damage on each pulse so about 1000 on average, then cut by 75% due to Mephisto's lightning resistance for about 250 damage actually inflicted. Mephisto has 94,000 HP in Hell difficulty and Holy Shock hits on a 2 second interval so... yeah. The math worked out to something like 12-13 minutes required to get the kill and that was ideed how things played out, with the battle taking about 15 minutes in total when factoring in the need to apply Prevent Monster Heal and return to town twice for more potions. WillPower is a patient fellow though and Holy Shock ultimately triumphed over the forces of evil shortly before midnight local time:

Then it turned out that there were another eight or nine vampires lurking in the room behind Mephisto - good thing I pulled out the boss without waking them up! WillPower left Durga dead for the moment and cut them down using Holy Shock and more anti-healing javelins as usual. And with that, Act Three was finally cleared for good, all monsters slain from one end to another across a bunch of different gaming sessions. This was a hard act to complete, just as Act Two had been, and I was really feeling the limitations of WillPower's character build. The days of strolling into the middle of a big room and everything dropping to the first flash of Holy Fire were dead and buried eighty-five feet underground at this point. But WillPower was also getting close to the conclusion of the gameplay as well, with some of the worst dangers already in the rear view mirror. I was looking forward to tackling Act Four next and then we'd have to see about Act Five after that. Onwards!