Interstate 1-60: Welcome to my Nightmare
So Normal is done. “What’s next?” doesn’t even register as a question in my head as I immediately pick Diablo’s loot and start all over on Nightmare. I know every mob, every area, every quest, every trick in the book. My build is flawless, the double axes of my barbarian spin in a whirlwind of crimson death and there hasn’t been any enemy that could oppose me and my cloth-using entourage of a wizard and a witch doctor.
Or so I think.
Act I is there to endorse my delusions. In under two and a half hours the Butcher is dead, drops its crappy blue loot and I take the caravan to Act II. It’s elementary with one exception: in the catacombs between Leoric’s manor me and my party encounter the first elite pack that we virtually cannot kill. A shielding/vampiric skeleton waves the middle finger in our DPSs and so, the brave adventurers that we are, we run around the motherf****r and let him live. A mercy he did not deserve.
As we progress further into Nightmare, the way we look at the game gradually changes. Having beaten this difficulty with more than just one hero now, I can testify that this was not some kind of bad luck on gear or a reckless play or being treated to surprising combinations of monster affixes. No, it really did get harder, although not as quickly as I wished it.
Somewhere in late Act II or early Act III I am forced to start thinking differently in terms of what kind of gear I want on. The glass cannon approach to the game starts withering in effectiveness and although it does not disappear completely till late Hell or early Inferno (depending on gear or group setup) it certainly doesn’t make my job easier. As armor and especially resistances are hard attributes to stack, balancing vitality and the primary damage attribute became the most important task. Defensive skills also make their way to our builds: the Wizard picks Diamond Skin, the Witch Doctor starts using Spirit Walk, Leap or Furious Charge sneak into Barbarian’s style of play. Speaking from the experience of a player who is regularly playing on Inferno, all this is the well-polished, ornate front-door that is one’s first stop on the path to the madness that is the last difficulty. Take it from the grinder: Learn to use your defensive skills as early as possible and get used to the fact that you will not be able to one-hit stuff forever.
In Act III, I abandon my Stomp/Overpower/Whirlwind build as it was hard and dangerous to utilize at times. I find that implementing Revenge and War Cry was much more beneficial and getting used to using those skills now pays back in Inferno.
Near the end of Act III, we discover that it’s wise to start considering stacking Magic Find on top of Vitality and the damage attribute. Sacrificing MF for defense/damage is also an option, certainly, but we found it undesirable for the sheer reason that 90% of the items that will carry a player to Act II Inferno are actually picked up in Hell: the 51-60 ilvl range has incredibly good loot! Also, swapping battle gear with MF gear just before the Inferno elite dies is a common practice and the more MF gear one acquires in Hell (done through other MF gear), the better. Put in short, our approach in terms of itemization by the end of Nightmare was:
Normal: Stack as much damage as possible. We never die so might as well drill through the content the quickest
Act I and Act II Nightmare: Start stacking Vitality in addition to damage. There are nasty mobs all over the place and we want to survive the first few blows
Act III and Act IV Nightmare: Stack Magic Find as best as we can. Yet, we try not to keep bad gear on just because it has 4% MF. Staying alive is still more important than MF percentages.
Hell itemization will be covered in the next feature but overall it’s the time when gearing for armor and resistances becomes essential.
Late Nightmare is also the time when elite packs start to become a small problem. In Normal and Act I-II Nightmare, they are just a source of more and better loot, but they gradually turn into a threat that needs to be considered. The average cruise through the Nightmare content teaches me to fear the following affixes: Molten, Vortex and Arcane Enchanted. Any combination of two will be the toughest opponent in Nightmare, especially in narrow, interior areas. How did we beat them?
Vortex: We keep our emergency escape button ready. Jumping in a pack of Vortex monster is the very definition of wasting cooldowns and resources as they pull us in anyway, usually into something lethal. We keep those Teleports and Furious Charges up.
Molten: The Molten mobs are tricky and they require a little bit more than straight on face-beating. After dying several times, we learn to predict the way they move and stay constantly before them. Better take a punch to the face then trailing behind the mob and dying to fire.
Arcane Enchanted: Everybody hates AE mobs and by the time we are deep into Hell we understand know why. The lasers do massive damage and it’s almost certain death if they pass through you. Fortunately, they spin slowly so we can maneuver around them but not when you are vortexed/jailed/frozen, though. Being extra careful around those combinations becomes my second nature.
Overall, once we learned how to approach nightmare encounters we were fine throughout most of the game. Unusually high frequency of death cases was detected in the Archives of Zoltun Kulle and the Crystal Spire areas just before Diablo.
We draw the line between Nightmare and Hell at level 51 and start weighing the pluses and minuses of the experience.
The good stuff
The gradual increase in difficulty has the perfect tempo. Often after dying we wonder “Imagine what Inferno is like…” and this keeps the excitement high. If there are Nightmare battles that are too hard to handle, how often will I have to revive at last checkpoint once I am in the end game?
As there are currently severe problems with Inferno (to be discussed in later articles), late Nightmare together with all Hell are the most interesting and genuinely pleasant stages of the game. We die but not too often and we’re always given a fighting chance. The number of affixes on a monster limits the combinations that can disintegrate you in one blow and make the fight a kiting fest to essentially zero.
The bad stuff
As every active skill in the game is unlocked, it’s all runes and passives from now on. This confirmed my initial concerns that there will be a couple of level ups that mean literally squat to you. A single rune is not likely to have you change your entire build and the passives with such power are rare.
Bosses stop dropping good loot and the first time we kill a Nightmare act boss to get a few blues brings out a sincere surprise. We knew that boss’ loots are tuned after the first kill on them in order to prevent boss runs, but all until that time I presumed it meant “first kill on every difficulty”. After playing that game for over a hundred hours, I still consider it a questionable design decision.
Said bosses seem to have become easier if such a thing is even possible. Having had the worst hours of my Diablo career while trying to kill Duriel on Nightmare, I started the Belial boss fight with expectations of sky-high mortality rate. Nothing of the sort. It still doesn’t rival our 25 second kill on Maghda, though.
Frowns aside, it’s still the best part of the game.
Expect our Hell travel notes by the end of the week. Stay tuned!
Previously on "Interstate 1-60"
» "All is Normal" where Nydra recollects his very first steps in Diablo III and never speaks about himself in the third person