Skulla Part Two: Devouring All In Sight

I continued Skulla's journey at the outset of Act Two as he continued through the initial Campaign mode. This is something that would be easy to miss if you happen to be reading this months or years after the report was initially posted, but there was a real-world gap in time of about six months between the early stages of Act Two and the remainder of this section. I put Skulla aside for a while to take a break from Diablo 3 and then came back to the character in the hopes of playing through the rest of his build before Diablo 4 released. (Given how slow Blizzard works at game development, I likely still have plenty of time until that happens.) Just keep in mind that my memory is a bit hazy for the portions of Skulla's trip that took place months earlier and which I'm trying to write up based on screenshots and past recollections. With that in mind, let's recap Skulla's active and passive skills as he began this next portion of the campaign:

Bone Spikes remained the primary skill of choice for this Necromancer, employed not for damage but to generate Essence. I was using the Path of Bones rune to send out spikes in a straight line, only to find with repeated use that I didn't like the way that the spikes would slowly travel out to their destination from Skulla's starting point. Eventually I would swap back to the Sudden Impact rune (causing the spikes to stun for 1 second) so that Skulla could immediately target whatever I wanted in true point-and-click fashion. The slightly higher damage on the Path of Bones rune was irrelevant since Bone Spikes wasn't used for damage anyway. The Skeletal Mages and melee skeletons via Command Skeleton remained the core of the build, with Skulla using the Skeleton Archers rune to increase his attack speed and the Dark Mending rune to get some healing from the melee skeletons. As for his curses, Decrepify and Frailty saw constant use against virtually every opponent that popped up, with Decrepify cutting the damage and movement speed of enemies while Frailty boosted the damage of Skulla's minions and killed anything affected when they dropped below 15% health.

If there was one part of the build that I disliked it was the golem. I didn't like the way that the golem looked aesthetically in Diablo 3 and there was no real need to keep it around, not when the Bones of Rathma set would provide no benefits to Command Golem later on. I kept thinking about different options that could slot into this last active skill slot. For the passive skills, Extended Servitude (25% extended duration of skeletal mages) was a complete no-brainer for Skulla's setup and I wanted to keep the "death defy" nature of Final Service active at all times. I was running Overwhelming Essence (+40 maximum Essence) in the last slot while keeping watch for something else that might be more useful. You might think that the curse-based rune (Eternal Torment: your curses cost 50% less Essence and last forever) would be helpful for Skulla, but 30 seconds was more than enough time already and the pitifully low 10 Essence cost per curse didn't need to be cut in half. The old D2 Skulla was used to having Dim Vision last 3-4 seconds and needing to refresh it constantly, this was easy by comparison.

One of the more interesting rune choices became available at Level 47 in the form of the Life Support option for the Skeletal Mage skill. This rune caused the mages to last an additional 2 seconds, from 6 seconds up to 8 seconds, and that duration would be further lengthened by the Extended Servitude passive. Fantastic, this was exactly what I wanted! There was a huge drawback though: each skeletal mage would also cost 10% of Skulla's maximum health. Urp! That sounded awfully dangerous to me given how Skulla was spamming the raising of mages nonstop in every fight. I tested this out in practice and I quickly found that I didn't like the punishing toll that it inflicted on Skulla's life orb. Yes, the red aura surrounding the mages looked awesome from a visual standpoint and the longer duration was handy, but Skulla's goal was to stay alive and act as though he were a Hardcore character, not to achieve the highest DPS output possible. The HP cost for each mage was simply too risky. I swapped back to the Skeletal Archer rune almost immediately and that would be the choice going forward for this character.

The other major news of note was removing the Command Golem skill in favor of Devour. I just didn't have much use for the golem now that act end bosses didn't have to be taken down with Iron Maiden, and to be perfectly honest, I couldn't stand the hideous appearance of the thing here in Diablo 3. (None of the Necromancer set bonuses have much interaction with the golem either so it seems that no one cared much about this skill in D3.) In its place I substituted the Devour skill, which consumed corpses on the ground to restore Essence. This would speed up the rate at which Skulla could summon more skeletal mages, err skeletal archers, especially in big fights where there were lots of small critters dying constantly.

I chose the Devouring Aura rune for this skill which would automatically clean corpses in the vicinity of the Necromancer, a bit like the way that the Paladin's Redemption aura worked in Diablo 2. In part this was an attempt to reduce the number of skills that had to be actively managed from 6 down to 5, saving me some much-needed mousework. But it wasn't just laziness on my part either: each skill does have a casting animation that takes about 0.2-0.3 seconds depending on attack speed and you can't move or use the next skill until it finishes. There were many, many times in fights where I found myself trying to curse enemies and raise skeletal archers as fast as I possibly could, with the casting animation of each skill serving as a real limitation. By turning Devour into an aura, Skulla could gain back Essence from nearby corpses without having to cast another skill and eat up those precious tenths of a second. None of the other rune options looked particularly useful either; the Ruthless rune would actually kill his own minions, not what Skulla wanted! This seemed like the most useful choice for staying on top of chaotic fights.

The addition of Devour into Skulla's mix of skills had a noticeable effect on how many skeletal archers he could keep running. I included a picture above showcasing how he briefly managed to get up to 7 archers during a large fight in the underground ruins. Since each skeletal archer cost 40 Essence and Skulla only had a maximum of 240 points at the moment, having this many archers active at once wasn't possible unless he was cleaning up a fair number of corpses via Devour and really getting to spam those right-clicks to raise more and more minions. My recollection was that the skeleton army tore through the deserts in Act Two without breaking much of a sweat, even with the difficulty level set to Master. Maghda here had lost a quarter of her life before she even finished summoning her cultists onto the battlefield and she was dead within roughly 15 more seconds. Skulla was turning out to be a surprisingly strong boss killer, able to tell the melee skeletons to focus exclusively on one target via Command Skeletons (and getting healed for each of their sword swings) as well as sapping the damage of the boss with Decrepify and cutting their health by 15% with Frailty. His big weakness here was a lack of any dash or blink abilities for safety, needing to rely on the tanking of the minions to remain safe.

Act Two is a long act in Diablo 3 and I don't have a lot more to say about it. Skulla had unlocked all of his core skills and runes at this point so there wasn't too much changing in terms of his build. I found better weapons and armor as his character level increased, like the pictured legendary sword, but everything he found was certain to be replaced later and didn't ultimately matter very much. I hate the way that Act Two is such a lazy recycling of the same act from Diablo 2 and there's so much use of a dull brown color palette between the sewers and sands and tombs that the player traverses. I mostly included the picture above because I love the way that it turned out, with Skulla standing safely in a sniper's nest of five archers while the seven skeletal warriors held the line against a tide of incoming undead. Fantastic stuff there and reminscent of the gameplay from the old D2 Necromancer.

This was the point at which I stepped away from Diablo 3 for about six months to take a break, and I don't think it was a coincidence that it happened in Act Two. On my return I was able to snap this picture of Skulla with 9 skeletal archers in play; he did hit the cap of 10 archers for about one second before I managed to grab this image. This was only possible thanks to running the Devour aura and it was pretty awesome to see this many minions on the battlefield at one time. Skulla was going to need to find the Circle of Nailuj's Evol, a ring that raises two Skeletal Mages at a time, before he would routinely be able to start running against that limit of 10 archers. This was only possible at the moment in situations where there were lots and lots of weak monsters grouped together and he could feast on their bodies as they fell. Still, it was fun to get this preview of coming attractions for later on.

For the major boss fights at the end of Act Two, I had Skulla swap out his Devour aura for the third Necromancer curse skill: Leech. I was using the Cursed Ground rune for this skill now that it had unlocked at Level 59, which healed Skulla by 1% of his maximum health each second for each enemy in the cursed area. If the monsters started to get too dangerous down the road, I could see myself swapping out Devour or Frailty and substituting this skill in their place for additional safety. It largely proved to be unnecessary here as first Zoltun Kulle and then Belial both went down like a row of dominoes. The skeleton army destroyed Kulle's two construct minions in a matter of seconds before mugging the corrupt old man; it helped that they seemed to be able to walk right through his tornadoes without being affected. Then it was Belial's turn and one of the biggest issues proved to be an inability to see the curse icons over his head. The designers probably didn't think about this since the Necromancer wasn't part of the original game, but with the damage printout numbers popping up in the same space, I genuinely couldn't tell whether Skulla's curses were landing. I guess that they did because the big creature certainly died fast enough, even with some sloppy play on my part in terms of dodging the falling boulders. On then to Act Three.

All of the elite opponents in Act Three were spawning with the full four affixes by now, which could make for some chaotic fights. Skulla was able to keep his distance and stay safe most of the time, with the most dangerous situations occurring when elite mobs would appear with some kind of crowd control abilities. Things like Waller and Vortex were particularly bad for a character who had no way to dash out of danger. Skulla's best option in these situations was to target an opponent with Command Skeletons, any opponent at all, just to get the health regeneration flowing from having his melee skeletons hit something. I was concerned that this would eventually be the death of him, even though his Final Service passive hadn't been triggered a single time yet. Whenever Skulla could remain safely in the back, his minions handled the situation beautifully and kept those nasty enemies out of harm's way. They were his personal offensive linemen keeping the opposing pass rushers out of the backfield.

There wasn't too much of note to report throughout the bulk of Act Three. Skulla kept using the same skills combination and was largely waiting until he maxed out at Level 70 and finished the starting campaign. I did switch over to the Leech skill for both Ghom and the Siegebreaker Assault Beast, and was rewarded by sitting on a full health globe for the entirety of both fights. This was by far the most significant item to turn up:

Mara's Kaleidoscope is one of five different amulets that each protect against an individual source of elemental damage: fire, ice, lightning, poison, and arcane. These legendary items are extremely rare and I'd only found about half of them thus far, even with all of the thousands of legendary items that Spyderman and Snowbelle had turned up. Mara's Kaleidoscope was a new addition to the group, something that Skulla would wear for the moment and eventually extract into Kanai's Cube to save the unique property for future use. This ability to block all poison damage can make any character invincible against Ghom, for example - too bad that Skulla had just defeated him! It was rare for me to find non-Necromancer legendary items that I hadn't turned up on a previous character and that made this a real discovery. I was hoping that Skulla would turn up my first Primal Ancient legendary item at some point. At roughly 1 in 500 odds to appear per legendary item, I figured it had to happen eventually since Snowbelle had earlier unlocked the potential for them to drop.

Skulla's gear had been changing rapidly throughout Act Three, since all of the pre-Level 60 items were immediately outclassed by the items that could drop at character levels 61-69. He reached the level cap of 70 at the tail end of Act Three and now all of his items would immediately become outdated again, since the Level 70 items are vastly better than what can appear from levels 61-69. This was a shadowy remnant of the horribly unfun system that had existed back in the pre-expansion days of Diablo 3, back when characters faced a brutal gear check at the beginning of each new act and were forced to spend untold hours grinding away to meet it. Here in Reaper of Souls though, Skulla barely even noticed anything beyond the fact that he was getting better stuff nonstop for a few levels. The gameplay is infinitely better here in the expansion where the "smart loot" system guarantees that characters actually get stuff that they need, they can reroll individual item affixes at the Enchantress in situations where they don't get what they need, and there's no auction house subverting the entire system. Skulla just kept right on going without breaking a sweat as he reached Level 70 instead of getting crushed by merciless gear checks. It's downright incredible how much better the gameplay became over time if you were around in the early days of the pre-expansion broken systems.

Azmodan fared no better than the previous bosses in Act Three and went down to the skeleton army in less than 30 seconds. I only included this picture to highlight two things. First, note the bloody circle undernearth his feed from the Leech curse being used together with the Cursed Ground rune. The visual effect for this particular curse/rune combination was much more distinctive than Decrepify and Frailty, sticking that big red circle on the ground and keeping it present for the full 30 second duration. It was extremely easy to see if the target in question was inside the circle and recast the curse if they moved out of the way - thank you, visual effects artists! Second, I circled the dialogue box in the corner of the screen to emphasize the cheesy lines that Azmodan spouts off during the battle. Azmodan is a terrible offender here, doing his whole mustache-twirling villain thing throughout Act Three in a way that makes him impossible to take seriously as an opponent. (It's too bad that the writing for D3 was so much worse than its beautiful visuals.) Azmodan was dying so fast in this battle that he could barely get his hackneyed lines out, with the result that they all ran atop one another and left him looking like even more of an idiot. Hoo boy. I don't think anyone's going to be clamoring to bring back Azmodan in D4, this guy is a real doofus.

I had no trouble playing through all of Act IV in one sitting since it's such a short act. The most significant item drop was The Tormentor, Skulla's first post-Level 70 legendary weapon. A two-handed staff was hardly what he was looking for long term, but sure, he'd use it for right now since it was the best thing currently available. At least the glowing dark purple color was pretty cool-looking. Once again the bosses along the way continued to be easy to defeat. Iskatu was happy to stand inside the Leech circle and that meant infinite healing for Skulla from the Cursed Ground. I dropped Devour to run the skill and that was probably a mistake; with all of those corpses Skulla might have been able to reach 10 skeleton archers for more total damage. I'm not sure what Rakanoth was trying to do, he died before he launched so much as a single charge. Izual managed to freeze Skulla once and that was about it, his damage unable to get the red health orb to move more than an inch below full. I suppose that Skulla had simply outscaled these opponents by now, with him unlocking Level 70 items and the difficulty level still set to Master. Well, he'd be on to Torment I difficulty soon enough once he finished up with the last stages of the campaign.

Diablo was unsurprisingly just as anti-climactic as the rest of his crew. I pulled my usual little trick of running behind Diablo for the initial cut scene so that he was left talking to the empty air, then proceeded to watch the skeletal army demolish the first phase of the battle in mere seconds. I noticed that the melee skeletons backed by the active portion of the Command Skeletons skill were doing real damage, getting in a bunch of 150k damage hits in comparison to the 400k damage arrows from the archers. Since there were more melee skeletons and they were attacking at a faster speed, their blades probably ended up producing the majority of the total offensive output. In the Realm of Terror, Skulla's shadow clone proved that he was no summoner by trying to attack with melee scythe attacks. Yeah, that definitely wasn't Skulla there even if it looked like another Necromancer. The shadow clone seemed to get stunlocked by the skeleton minions and dropped almost immediately all three times that it appeared.

Then it was back to the High Heavens once again and Diablo was in for another pasting. I don't know if the skeletons were causing issues for his pathfinding or what, but he only used his Flame Nova one time and he never broke out the Lightning Breath of Doom. Perhaps he simply didn't get enough time to use the move? He was really taking a beating and even grabbing Skulla once (after I was foolishly caught in a Bone Prison) didn't have much effect because the skeletons kept wailing on him the whole time. The Frailty curse meant that Skulla only needed to remove 85% of Diablo's healthbar and soon enough it was all over.

Or at least it was over for Skulla himself. Diablo has a lengthy death animation that lasts about 10 seconds and the minions kept attacking the whole time. They were curb-stomping the dead body of the Lord of Terror like it was some kind of cheap gangster movie! I was literally laughing out loud as the melee skeletons kept swinging their swords again and again and again at the comatose body of Diablo. "Stop, stop, he's already dead!" Just one of those random moments in gaming with an unintended programming interaction that has you laughing for minutes on end. Eventually Diablo finished up with his dying and the skeletons finally settled down. Enough of that boys, you'll get your chance for more destruction in the days ahead.

This brought the campaign portion of the game to a close; there was no need for Skulla to travel through Act Five since he had already hit the level cap and was more than ready for Torment I difficulty. It was time to begin the long search for the Bones of Rathma and Jesseth Arms legendary items to unlock the full potential of the summoning Necromancer. I had Skulla's skills down at this point and felt comfortable with his strengths and weaknesses. Now we'd see just how far he could make it in terms of climbing the ladder to higher and higher difficulties.