Extinguishing the Inferno

Oh boy. By the looks of the calendar I’ve come awfully close to not updating my blog for two months. TWO MONTHS! That’s absolute madness. It wasn’t for a lack of potentially having something to blog about as I’ve been up to plenty of things. All the things? Some of the things? Who knows? Definitely not me.

Anyhoo, what could have possibly kept me away from jotting down words for all of prosperity … or at least for my own sanity? I’ve been in somewhat of a funk for the past two months from the lack of being allowed to work resulting in my coping with several bouts of insomnia and a general feeling of aimlessness. I just felt like I was spinning my wheels and getting no where. Fortunately my daughter started 2nd grade (although that was weeks ago) which enforced some structure in my daily routine and my bouts with insomnia have been curbed.

So what have I been up to?

As I initially alluded, I’ve been up to lots of things. Well okay, maybe not a ton of things, but interesting things nonetheless. Probably the most interesting thing that has developed in the past week and a half is the fact that I’m filling in on my good friend Rioriel’s blog, Postcards From Azeroth, while he’s taking a much-needed hiatus from the game to recharge his batteries. I’ve always admired Rioriel and his blog so being able to contribute in my own way has been electrifying. Having an outlet for my artistic juices has revitalized my drive to get back to what I do best: art and design.

Wait. Is that what I truly do best? Well, perhaps procrastination is what I do best, but art and design would be a close second … maybe. Gaming, blogging, podcasting and living definitely wouldn’t be up there. Oh heck, who am I kidding? Getting under Rilandune’s skin deserves mentioning — I’m exceptional at that — but I digress.

So other than scouring through my screenshots and transforming them into pretty postcards for everyone to enjoy I’ve been playing a lot of Diablo 3. A. LOT.

I knew going in to D3 that I was going to become addicted to it, I just didn’t realize that I would invest over 500 hours to it in only four months. Granted there were a few occasions where I burned out a smidge on grinding and farming for little benefit, but there’s just something about the Diablo formula that GETS ME as a gamer. I’m always chasing after the “something amazing could drop from the next demon” and with patch 1.0.4 at least I can channel that into grinding Paragon XP. As of this moment my main wizard, Malnevicent, is sitting halfway through paragon level 18 and my newly minted wizard, Aiom, is paragon level 2.

Yes, folks. I do indeed have TWO level 60 wizards. Why? Why not? Everything little thing she does is magic.

My reasoning behind the madness it is actually quite simple, I want to enjoy more than just one playstyle with the wizard. Malnevicent is my tanky melee wizard whereas Aiom is my shits n’ giggles wizard where I’m not afraid to experiment with wacky builds. I could elaborate on that a bit more, but I think I’ll save blogging about Aiom for another day. I’m still honing a REDONKULOUS wizard build — which I’m sure will get nerfed come 1.0.5 — so I’d rather blog about it separately.

As for my main wizard-squeeze, Malnevicent, I recently completed all of Diablo 3 with her. Yup, that’s right. Malnevicent slayed Diablo in Inferno last week with the help of a few friends of the Shattered Soulstone podcast: Swaying Mango and MDB3. It wasn’t quite the walk-in-the-park that a lot of D3 elitist have made it out to be, but in the end we stood there victorious … err, well at least Swaying Mango and I did since sadly MDB3 had to drop immediately preceding our victory. Perhaps MDB3 was dragging us down? I kid, I kid.

If you’re familiar with the Diablo encounter, the sticking point in our multiple failures was always the Realm of Terror. Diablo isn’t too much of a threat, but man those shadow clones of ourselves … THEY HURT. BADLY. No I don’t think you quite understand the depth of which they hurt you. Getting gibbed from two simultaneous wizard’s meteors is … depressing. There was also this little issue that since both Swaying Mango and I were more tanky wizards, our DPS was rather low.

After two failed attempts I swapped out Wave of Force for Archon – Arcane Destruction for slightly better DPS burns. I lost my stacks of Nephalem Valor but getting phat loots from Diablo wasn’t my goal. My goal was to complete Inferno in its entirety, preferably before any further nerfs to its difficulty happened. Needless to say when Diablo finally toppled over for us to kick his/her limp body I jumped out of my chair and fist-pumped, repeatedly.

I know many, many, many people have long since had this accomplishment under their belts but it in no way diminished my feeling of accomplishment. Inferno is HARD without amazing gear and to finally clear it out with my moderately decent gear felt amazing. I did it, ME, and it felt great.

Now with Inferno completed I can go back to farming … and fighting the urge to switch Malnevicent over to Aiom’s build. How’s that for a tease?

Breaking Through the Brick Wall

Finding the motivation to progress past Act I Inferno was becoming increasingly more difficult as the persistent nature of horrible drops continued to plague me. With each piece of complete garbage iLvl 63 gear that dropped so did my hopes. Would Act I Inferno be the furthest I’d get without luck on my side? Sure, eventually something good would drop, but even then would it be suited for a melee wizard? Then even if it wasn’t, would it actually move on the auction house?

As more and more players jump ship the potential market of buyers on the auction house gets more and more picky making it harder to sell anything that isn’t ideally rolled. This problem is compounded by the moronic sellers out there thinking that their decent wares will sell for millions upon millions of gold. It creates a false representation of how much gear is truly worth. Routinely I see decent to good gear go for far too much and great gear for obscene amounts of gold. Although I can’t say for certain, I would hazard a guess that many of those auctions expire.

Sadly day after day the perception of inflation continues to grow and create false expectations in the economy. Eventually it’ll level out and it’ll be somewhat reasonable to buy equipment, but when that day does come who will be left to reap the benefits? By that time I’d suspect that most of the remaining active player-base will be well into Inferno where actual upgrades will be perfectly rolled gear and therefore be worth all the golds.

Fortunately I have moved a few pieces of gear on the GAH and have accumulated about 13 million gold which gives me some buying power but not enough to afford true upgrades. With my still being priced out of the market to get good gear this has led to many, many farming runs with my melee wizard in Act I Inferno, rarely yielding anything of any value to me or anyone else.

That was until a fateful run with a Shattered Soulstone lisenter, Udonrun, joined one of my insomnia-fueled farming runs.

It started as many of my co-op farming runs seem to, he benefited almost immediately by having a legendary drop from the very first champion pack we ran into. Sure, it was a junky legendary, but a legendary nonetheless. We continued to farm and farm with nary a trouble as many of my farming runs go these days — a melee wizard is actually surprisingly effective — and on one of my trips to town IT happened: a one-handed 900 dps mace with INT, LoH and a socket dropped for me.

It wasn’t the most perfect weapon I’d ever seen, but it was a great weapon nonetheless which immediately improved my DPS a ton when I dropped a 70% critical damage green gem into the socket. Now my melee wizard was as lethal as she looked. Champions and elites in Act I Inferno were no longer a match for my wizard which motivated me to splurge a little and buy a few bargain pieces to put together a progression set of gear.

With a progression set of gear equipped I decided to see how my wizard would fare in Act II Inferno. I did, afterall, have plenty of gold reserves to cover the repair costs and if things did go horribly wrong I’d pull the plug on the experiment before racking up a horrifically large repair bill. What I didn’t expect, however, was for my wizard to progress through Act II Inferno as easily as she did culminating in one-shotting Belial.

Yes, you read that correctly. My melee wizard one-shot Belial in Inferno. It was surprisingly easy since the only thing that I had to worry about was the meteor phase (even then I could actually survive one blast). Only occasionally was there any resistance in Act II Inferno with particularly nasty champion/elite packs (or two of them at the same time) which is a testament to just how gear-dependent Inferno is.

Sadly my wizard’s gear isn’t quite there to progress through Act III Inferno comfortably as her resistances still need some more improvement. I actually laughed at how quickly my wizard could die if RNG wasn’t on her side and didn’t get a block or dodge when frost nova and diamond skin were on cool-down; one second full of life, the next DEAD. So there’s still plenty of work to be done to be able to finish out Inferno, but for the first time in weeks I actually have hope that I will succeed.

It’s only a matter of time …

Getting Closer

There seems to be a growing trend with the soul-sucking symbiotic relationship I have with Diablo 3: every time something fantastic happens, something else happens to pull me closer to the breaking point. If it weren’t for the carrot dangled in front of my face and how incredibly addictive the actual gameplay is I might be inclined to shelve D3 until some actual content updates start happening.

Whoa. Even the great Diablo proponent, Nevik, is reaching his last straw?

To a certain extent yes, I am. Progression in Inferno is becoming less and less desirable. Between the sky-rocketing inflation on the GAH and abysmal randomness of loot, finding decent upgrades is excruciatingly painful. Yesterday I was searching for a halfway decent shield for my melee wizard with critical chance, intelligence and either vitality or all resist (though I’d prefer to have all four but you can only select up to three criteria when browsing the AH, making that a chore in-of-itself) and the only shields I could afford with my pitiful 3 million gold were downgrades from what I already had.

So either I need to get extremely lucky with the loot drops or buy to win now that gold can be bought and sold on the RMAH. Oids.

To be fair, I have found a couple of small upgrades while farming, but they haven’t been particularly amazing. It is really frustrating to finish a Butcher run in which you have multiple iLvl 63s drop and ALL of them are junk. There’s just too much randomness with the behind-the-scene rolls when items drop to which the highest iLvl items can be completely worthless (iLvl socketed rings with no stats, I’m looking at you).

That’s another problem with finding the motivation to progress beyond Act I Inferno, sure I could shoot for it to have better chances of having higher iLvl gear drop, but for what? To have complete junk drop one after another after dying many more times than I would in Act I? Why would I bother with the repair costs and stress of dealing with Act III and IV champion/elites that are downright unfair?

Standing in the bad without a care …

I mean, sure, I do want to continue to progress and complete Inferno in its entirety just so that I can say that I did it, but what after that? Unless I can completely trivialize Acts III and IV there’s little in it that I couldn’t potentially get out of Act I for far less effort. With the adjustments I’ve made to my melee wizard build I finally have Act I Inferno on farm status. That is to say that other than the occasional death from really nasty affix combinations on champion/elite packs I breeze through my farming runs.

Act I Inferno no longer holds any challenge for my melee wizard. However, conversely, Act II still punches me in the face and then kicks me in the groin while on the ground. My melee wizard’s gear still isn’t good enough to safely — well maybe safely isn’t the appropriate word — comfortably progress through Act II. Between all of the wasps and the increased damage and health pools of the mobs Act II is still very un-fun.

If it weren’t for the fact that I’m completely in love with the playstyle of the melee wizard I’m not sure I could say that I would still be playing Diablo 3. That’s saying a lot coming from me; I routinely state that D3 has consumed my soul and to be this disenfranchised is worrisome. Now don’t fret, it’s still not my time to pull the plug on the game. Diablo 2 experienced similar itemization problems (remember how lances wouldn’t drop AT ALL for the longest time?) and D3 is still very young in terms of design iteration.

I still have plenty of faith that Blizzard will address the issues at hand and turn D3 into an amazing soul-sucking product beyond what it has already accomplished. We will just have to give it time (and hopefully the AH market will settle down by then) which is extremely easy to do considering there’s no monthly subscription involved. IF I do get to the point where I’ve had enough I can take a break and come back to the game later down the road.

And that rocks, period.

Switching Things Up

This could be a post about the Magic Find Blog debacle, but for right now I’m tired QQ’ng with design decisions; I’ll save that QQ for another day. I’m still enjoying the game quite a bit despite my lack of progress beyond Act II Inferno. Instead of spewing QQ today I will share just how close I came to shelving my wizard in favor of farming with my barb.

Wait. Wait. WHAT? You didn’t … no way … no how … did you just say what I think you just said.

I know what you’re thinking, “how on Earth is that even a remote possibility?” and to be honest I was quite shocked myself but it did almost happen. How? Well that’s actually surprisingly easy to answer. Simply put Wrath of the Berserker is so incredibly OP that it made killing champion/elite packs easy — way too easy. If I had bothered to buy/keep a MF set for my barb it could have meant the end for my wizard, but thankfully for my wizard, my MF gear had INT on it.

Part of the hang up I was having on my wizard was that while most of Act I Inferno was trivial, champion/elite packs still could prove to be very troublesome. Her damage output was decent enough but not quite high enough to forsake survival gear to stack MF. This meant going with a mix of MF, DPS, and survival gear which wasn’t ideal for farming purposes. I had two options, either invest in obtaining better farming gear or switch up my wizard’s build to better use what I already had.

Considering the lack of movement on the AH front I haven’t had much in terms of gold to invest so unfortunately that meant changing up my preferred build. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do as it’s an absolute ton of fun to get up in grills and shred them to pieces with sleet storm, but in using it I locked myself in place. Then there’s also the issue of how resource intensive sleet storm is; just a few seconds of sleet storm would deplete my arcane power.

Shreddin’ Grills Yo …

Mobility is the name of the game in Inferno even if sleet storm dealt great damage and crit frequently. My wizard’s gear wasn’t quite where it needed to be (namely resistances) in order to stand in the bad and keep diamond skin up for longer than a second or two. It also did not have enough AP on crit to sustain sleet storm when I needed it to keep frost nova and diamond skin off of cool down. Between those two issues it was becoming increasingly difficult to justify not making the change, so change I did.

I’ve read on numerous forum threads that meteor (star pact) was great for a melee wizard, but I have had already tried that out and didn’t much like the feel of using meteor. It could have just been my inability to keep track of my cursor on screen or the heavy resource cost of meteor (even with star pact) as I would inevitably have to chain cast meteor to keep enemies in the AoE left on the ground. Overall it just felt awkward so I needed another option.

Another option I’ve seen out there was using explosive blast (chain reaction) and/or wave of force (forceful wave) which sounded great as they both allowed for mobility without worrying about cursor positioning. Of course by taking both abilities I would have to drop something my old build which wound up being magic weapon. Damage wasn’t quite my problem so I could afford to drop some in favor of mobility and survivability.

Yet I didn’t need to permanently drop the 15% damage buff from magic weapon since I could get it elsewhere by switching the rune on my frost nova to bone chill. Sure, it wasn’t an always active damage buff, but I didn’t really need to keep my frost nova runed with cold snap since with enough crit, that rune would be more or less worthless — or at least overkill.

Another change I made was switching out my beloved ice armor (frozen storm) in favor of energy armor (prismatic armor) to drastically improve my wizard’s chances of survival by further increasing the effectiveness of diamond skin. Taking less damage overall makes diamond skin last longer, increasing my effective health. In the future as I pick up some better resistance gear I might toy around with the idea of bringing back the frozen storm, but for now better armor and resistances is in my best interest.

My current build now looks like this. One thing I didn’t mention previously is my swapping of the passive galvanizing ward for evocation. Galvanizing ward wasn’t really doing anything for me other than the passive life regen which, to be honest, wasn’t helping much at all. If my wizard was taking damage after diamond skin falling off the regen was easily outclassed by my Life on Hit (LoH). Besides, my wizard’s health pool is nearing 40k so sadly the regen from galvanizing ward was barely noticeable.

But why evocation? Shouldn’t critical mass be enough?

One problem I’ve noticed with explosive blast and wave of force is that I’m now heavily reliant on using spectral blades to trigger critical mass which means standing in place. As previously stated there are times where my wizard needs to move and therefore can’t spam spectral blades to help pull my abilities off of cool down. Evocation helps a little, but I think I’m going to need to tinker around a little bit more to find something that I can use to reliably give me crits while retaining my mobility. That’s where energy twister (wicked wind) comes in.

Wait. Energy twister? Really? REALLY? Isn’t that ability pure garbage?

That’s what I thought too, but reports from the forums indicate that energy twister runed with wicked wind is fantastic for not only critical mass procs but LoH as well. I’ve even heard that there are melee wizards out there with enough LoH and resistances that can stand in the bad while energy twister keeps diamond skin off of cool down while funneling life back. There’s only one thing about it that I might have an issue with, it once again relies on positioning to be effective.

If it works out and I’m able to put the gear together I’d eventually like to try out this crazy build. My wizard’s gear is definitely not yet there to make that build work, but it does seem completely plausible. Until then I will probably just go with this build while farming though I might rune energy armor with pinpoint barrier and see if that’s enough to drop evocation.

Time will tell, but I’ll be sure to report my findings and experiences, soon’sh.

Into the Depths of Hell

While I may not have plowed through Diablo III as fast as some — someone was already able to kill Diablo in Inferno? — I am pleased with how far I have progressed. Earlier this morning my wizard, Malnevicent, solo’d Diablo in Nightmare with only a modicum of trouble. Namely she was having trouble surviving phase 2 but after making a few adjustments to a few of the skill runes she triumphed victoriously.

Speaking of adjustments, about midway in Nightmare Act II my wizard started having massive amounts of trouble. Most champion and unique packs were just far too difficult to outlast. Her damage output wasn’t sufficient and her survivability was in the gutter even with THREE defensive skills. Although I was quite fond of her shock pulse orbs, disintegrate and lightning hydra it was about time for a change.

I had been toying with the idea of creating a melee wizard, but had planned on going that direction with a secondary wizard. I mean, lightning spells are by far my FAVORITE and I was going to shock the living hell out of the legions of er … *ahem* Hell. Yet I was beginning to become discouraged with my wizard so I figured the time was right to make the change.

So change she did.

She kept Frost Nova, Diamond Skin and Ice Armor but instead of Shock Pulse she chose Spectral Blades. Disintegrate was replaced by Ray of Frost (Sleet Storm). Her Lightning Hydra gave way for Magical Blade. The final skill transformation was switching her passives to Blur, Cold Blooded and Galvanizing Ward (level 40).

Then of course she needed a makeover with her gear. Instead of raw output it was time to focus on getting lots of vitality and as much health regen and leech as she could muster. This also meant sticking exclusively to a 1H weapon and a shield  but fortunately she was already carrying a shield in an attempt to minimize (fruitlessly) dirt naps.

When it was all said and done Malnevicent went from admiring the dirt in the back to DESTROYING things up in their grills. No longer did champion or unique packs give her trouble (with a few exceptions). Instead of ALWAYS retreating and fleeing for her life she was running HEAD FIRST into packs of enemies, freezing them in place and slicing them to shreds with her spectral blades and swirling sleet storms.

It was a breath-taking transformation which was exactly what I needed to keep motivated and encouraged to press forward. Sure there were a few bumps along the way (tons of ranged mobs still give her trouble) but for the most part finishing out Nightmare felt good even if it wasn’t by lightning up all the things.

Sure I would have preferred to have stuck with primarily using lightning skills, but going melee was still immensely satisfying. I’ve always been a fan of peculiar builds anyhow so we’ll have to see how viable a melee wizard is in Hell and Inferno … that is if she gets there; things hit really, really hard in hell.

Anyhoo, I figured I would share this story of adaptation and transformation in case anyone else is having difficulties and might also be losing their nerve. Sometimes a few changes (big or small) can make all the difference in the world. If you have a similar story why not share it? I’ll read it aloud on my Diablo podcast, the Shattered Soulstone (unless you’d rather I not).

Now back to the auction house to try to find more survival gear for Hell. Hell really is Hell. It hurts. Hella bad.