Ninja Versus Ninja: A Look Back at Diablo II

The Diablo II Assassin: Unarmed, uncatchable, nearly unstoppable.

The Diablo II Assassin: Unarmed, uncatchable, nearly unstoppable.

While I’m away from DDO during Lent, I had to find a game that I still enjoyed but

  • Could be instantly paused
  • Not be an internet game
  • Not cause rapid amounts of time wasted

Well, two out of three’s not bad.

I pulled out my old install disks of Diablo II. It took Neverwinter Nights to pull me from that 3-year long crack habit, only to upgrade my fix when I discovered Dungeons & Dragons Online.

At least I know I can only do one drug at a time. I’ve yet to purchase Diablo III. And if this blog ever, ever posts something about installing World of Warcraft, that’s the time that those of you that know where I live should arrange for a serious Intervention.

The first challenge wasn’t finding the activation codes (I’m good at keeping track of these) but in trying to get the game installed from CDs. I own an iMac model that’s quite a pleasant gaming computer while it’s in Boot Camp mode (running Windows 7 natively). But this latest model removed its built-in CD/DVD drive. I had to search around for my USB CD/DVD external drive.

Diablo II was one of the first major PC games that had a generally simultaneous release on both Mac and PC (back in the day when Steve Jobs had not only brought Apple from the brink but also started to make some very game-capable workstations). Sadly, the Mac version of D2 can no longer operate. The game was built for the old PowerPC processor. When Apple moved to Intel processors in 2006, the new Mac OS X Unix-based OS had a PowerPC emulation layer to support D2, but this disappeared over three years ago with OS 10.5 or so. Short of hyper-hacking a Mac PowerPC emulator into OS X Yosemite, using Windows was the easiest choice.

I smartly searched the Blizzard website for any compatibility issues. This is, after all, a game produced in 2000, with a late expansion in 2002. Surprisingly, Diablo II, introduced during the early Windows ME/XP days in 2000, runs excellently in Windows 7 once you tell it to run as Administrator and in Compatibility mode (with a couple of other settings for good measure). Back in the day, CDs (!) behaved as another game key to prevent copy theft. But Blizzard eventually told how to make a CD-less gameplay experience–something important when your computer is a disc-less iMac computer.

Sadly, I’ve lost my long-played saved characters used over the years, and had to start over with new characters.

Well, this blog isn’t the Sorcerer Blog, so I’m going to skip over my love affair with the Sorceress class, that hellion girl that puts the Her in “Sorcerher”. I generally played that class or the spear/bow wielding Amazon until the Lord of Destruction update introduced the Assassin.

The Assassin is an unarmed fighter, a member of an order of anti-mages that emulate magic through various finishing moves.

Sound familiar?

This is going to be a pleasantly long post. Grab some popcorn.

Now, I’ve played this class to death prior to my first entry as a Monk in the two Neverwinter Nights games. But with DDO experience under my belt, specifically Ninja Spy skills, I finding myself learning the benefits of skills I’ve ignored entirely over the years. As a result, I’ve found new joys in a age-old game, with lots of later DDO and NWN play experience to improve my game.

If It Runs Like a Monk and Fights Like a Monk…

The D2 Assassin, like a DDO Monk, is an anti-mage, with many attacks and speed designed to kill mages before they have a chance. Assassins use special hand blades or claws, rather than gauntlets or handwraps. Their skill trees (faintly similar to the DDO trees) are broken down into Martial Arts, Shadow Disciplines, and Traps.

Martial Arts are broken down into several finishing moves that magnify overall attack damage, deliver amplified area-of-effect elemental damage, or cause vampiric leaching of Life and Mana Points. Just like the DDO Monk, finishing moves are charged in sets of three.

Unlike the DDO Monk, you can and should charge up multiple finishers cumulatively. For instance, I can strike three times to fully charge a Tiger Strike (amplified general damage) then switch to charge up Fire, Lightning, Cobra (vampiric), and Ice charges before releasing them simultaneously.

How the D2 Assassin unleashes the strike is where it gets better. I can use a normal attack to do so, where all the charged effects strike at once, with fire, ice, cold and lightning go off like a bomb, while general damage and vampiric effects do so as well. But I also have special attacks to release finishers.

I can make a normal kick (which adds to the damage, depending on the boots I wear), or a Dragon Kick (greater damage with a charging attack) or a teleporting kick. This teleporting kick is designed to fight bosses who might be too powerful to fight one-on-one for long periods. So, you fight their minions, charging up and killing them, and then teleport-kick into the boss with all that charged goodness.

Now, that was my typical way to play back in the day. Then I decided on returning to put just one skill point in everything to unlock every skill to experiment. I’ve never bothered to do much in the Traps tree,  but I am loving it now.

Set Your Own Traps

The D2 Assassin can set up area-of-effect traps that throw elemental damage to anything in the area, aiding you as you fight with martial arts finishers.

To go with this, you have the ability to throw many, many throwing stars continually, per point of mana available. D2 has the Strength, Dexterity, Vitality and Energy as ability scores. D2 generally has no true “dump stat” but Energy isn’t as required for the Assassin as STR and DEX are for attack rolls and damage, just like DDO. But you need some Energy to make a sufficient mana pool (just like ki) to perform your job.

I had never used the throwing stars before. Even with two skill points, I was reliving my love of the DDO Shuricannon with my old Assassin and mowing down enemies from afar that would sometimes overwhelm and tax my defenses and Life points. It saved me a lot of resources when fighting Mephisto, one of the game bosses, by gunning him down Szyncletica-style with multiple stars.

Finishing Moves

I wondered if the DDO developers took a page from Diablo II in the development of their Monk, because the concept of finishing moves and elemental attacks are so similar. Odds are, as the D&D Monk predates the Diablo series, Blizzard (yes, that Blizzard) did the copying.

D2 uses the Life/Mana player health/magic format, of course. Rather than ki, the Assassin uses her Mana to empower her emulated attacks. As you train her abilities, the Mana cost can increase dramatically when using the most powerful abilities.

Thankfully, there’s Cobra Strike, a vampiric leaching attack that damages while pulling Life and Mana from a target. There’s also gear you can find that has vampiric effects.

Diablo 2 has only four stats: STRength, DEXterity, VITality and ENERGY. STR and DEX are needed as you expect for the Assassin. Vitality is the equivalent of CON in D&D and ENERGY works as the Mana-increasing stat. A nice balance of STR and DEX for unarmed fighting is needed (like in DDO) but VIT is key to staying power for Life (HP). A few points in Energy is needed but not too much. Assassins can generate Energy themselves, in a similar fashion to some ki generating moves from the DDO Monk stances.

Shadow Techniques

One thing that the Assassin can do that’s also very ninja (but not “Ninja Spy,” as available directly from their enhancement trees), is to create a summoned assistant. The summoned comes in a lighter drone form that doesn’t take too much damage to a much more powerful and aggressive avatar that uses the whole can of Assassin offensive martial techniques. This means that the Assassin can have that Shadow Master summon to go with their hireling–yes, hireling!–be it a Rogue archer, a spear-wielder, a mage, or a Barbarian fighter, for two allies on the field.

You can even coat your weapons for Poison damage-over-time attacks. So very ninja. The Assassin was a popular character, introduced in the game’s sole expansion, because it could change up its attacks to meet any enemy immunity. I never used the Poison attacks back in the day, and I just added it to Syn’s repertoire. Green-tinged bliss.

Monastics of Another Realm

So, enough chatter. Enjoy my moves in this video that demonstrates most of the Assassin.

It’s sad that I’m not as far away from my computer as a gaming machine as I wanted to be. But if I have to be gaming and it’s not DDO, Diablo II still holds its own, even at 12 years old.

 

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Magekiller

The Assassin from "Diablo II," trained to slay mages in style. (c) Blizzard Entertainment

The Assassin from “Diablo II,” trained to slay mages with style. (c) Blizzard Entertainment

After reading my own review of finishing moves in my last post, my right hand moved on its own and began to slap me across the face every so often for a few odd minutes.

“What is the sound of a stupid gamer crying?” the hand said.

I’ve always touted the Monk class as an anti-mage or “magekiller“; a class designed to resist or deflect magical attacks and to slay powerful spellcasters that could debilitate other classes who fail to evade or save from such attacks.

Old Diablo II fans may recall the Assassin class, a martial-arts melee class that used items and attacks that emulated magic to destroy corrupted mages.

I miss that game. It was the original Neverwinter Nights RPG that pulled me away from that one, and DDO then pulled me here. I haven’t touched Diablo III out of fear it will ruin my life.

DDO’s Monks aren’t much different from the Diablo Assassin, from their martial arts, using ki rather than magic for attacks and spell-like abilities, inheriting high spell resistances and armored with saves that thwart many a spell caster.

After some four years of play, I’ve still many things to learn. I’ve surprised myself by what I haven’t used.

I’ve documented how much I love the power of Freezing the Lifeblood, a long-lasting Dark paralysis finisher that allows me to hold almost any Orange-Named or lesser enemy for very long periods (from a battle perspective). Now, I’ve found a second joy: Pain Touch.

Pain Touch will nauseate an enemy. This finisher and the Stinking Cloud spell are the only abilities in the game that cause the Nauseated effect. When something is nauseated, they cannot cast spells or attack. The only thing they can do is walk around. My DC ensures they aren’t casting or fighting for a full minute.

My bet, however, is that Stinking Cloud’s fortitude save is low and easy for enemies to beat. Else, I’d see more allied spellcasters using it to stop enemy counterparts. Or, because the effect also generates a greenish cloud that also gives Concealment, perhaps it’s a spell that few add to their spell book as clouding spells are often frowned on by party members.

Pain Touch has the usual Monk DC formula to save from this Fortitude attack: 10 + Monk level + WIS modifier, which are boosted by many enhancements such as the Henshin Mystic’s Mystical Training ability.

The advantage of Pain Touch is that it works on many enemies that may resist paralysis or won’t qualify for the Freezing attack, such as aberrations such as driders, duergar, monstrous humanoids, giants, and vermin such as spiders.

Kiricletica, anti-mage of Eberron and the Forgotten Realms.

Kiricletica, anti-mage of Eberron and the Forgotten Realms.

You need a strong DC to pull this off.

At level 25 and buffed in Grandmaster of Flowers training at present (where I’ve taken all WIS upgrades to-date at tier 4 for a 46 WIS), Kiricletica’s DC is at least 12 + 25 + 18 = 55. Since mages aren’t normally packed with CON and therefore have a lower Fortitude, Pain Touch works quite well to shut them up. Like Freezing, the enemy rarely escapes the nausea before the one-minute timer expires.

I first tried this on a solo run into “Jungles of Khyber” on Epic Normal. The Drow mages sometimes saved against it, but a Freezing attack held them tight.

The real challenge presented itself with the beholders. I sneaked up to near point-blank range to launch a Pain Touch finisher. My results were inconclusive. They still threw out an antimagic cone and some Enervation, suggesting that they either saved against Pain Touch or are immune. They still died from my other attacks and removing a couple of negative levels left me none the worst for wear.

Silencing the Mages

To express my joy in this (belated) discovery, I ventured out into the wilds of the Underdark, where plenty of nasty spellcasters lurked about to test the finisher: Drow Priestesses, illithids, Yuan-Ti, Drow Necromancers. A successful Pain Touch attack left them mute. They were still moving about but they were out of the fighting picture while I tended to other business.

The only obstacle to using these finishers are in charging them up. Each ki attack used takes 3 seconds, which can overlap with another. I can charge either finisher up in about 6 seconds, applying one while attacking and charging it for another mage. But since I don’t move around while fighting, other enemies often aren’t aware I’m there, allowing time to charge finishers again and set up Freezes or Pain Touch strikes.

Of course, easier but more ki-expensive attacks to take the mage out of the picture immediately, such as Quivering Palm, aren’t off the table. I mixed these attacks up with finishers since Quivering Palm’s use won’t affect a finisher chain.

In the epic Gianthold wilderness, where even a high Sneak skill is good only if you’re about a quarter-mile away from the eyes of a giant, Pain Touch proved remarkably helpful in stopping some giants from doing anything. Stone and Storm Giants could be halted but Fire Giants and Hill Giants were often more resistant, likely since they are often spellcasters with some innate spell resistance and/or maybe a higher buffed Fortitude.

Spiders, as you know, are quite the pain for a stealth player since they’ll detect you with tremor-sense. But using Pain Touch stops their attacks. Their lower Fortitude guaranteed a successful finisher during one visit to epic-level “Trial by Fire” in Gianthold where the arachnids were quite numerous. Trolls, being what they are, are immune from muting or my type of paralysis. But that’s where the usual flame weapons work just fine.

The hallmark of Pain Touch’s power revealed itself on meeting a Devil Battlefield rare encounter, Lysson, an orange-named horned devil. I sneaked behind him and launched a Pain Touch finisher against him, leaving him unable to do anything while I cleaned up his minions and then redirected my attacks to him. This horned devil, one of the game’s more resistant/immune-laden enemies, couldn’t attack me once.

But it got better.

I suspended my solo play rules and teamed up with the guild leaders for an Epic Hard “Trial by Fury.” Without a dedicated healer, the Bard, Arcane Archer and I were doing pretty well. The spiders in one test of might are, if you pardon the pun, very bugged. One pack of yugoloths appeared and gave the team a challenge, but my spell resistance and saves kept the mutts from damaging me as I whittled them down. These guys are arguably some of the nastiest casters in the game as they were punching holes in my party member’s defenses.

The last yugoloth mages, two orange names, needed some care, seeing what ordinary ones almost did to the party. I asked to go down and apply a bit of Pain Touch to each–which I did, putting them both out of the spellcasting picture while we removed their guard spiders with ease.

Blizzard…eat your heart out.

Game Events: Asking for Trouble or Triumph?

Not long ago I stumbled on an article regarding a remarkable event in “World of Warcraft”  in September 2005.

Well, really, it wasn’t a planned world event, but their worlds were apparently quite shaken by it.

The backstory goes like this. A new raid was added to WoW at that time. The end boss of the raid had a special infectious attack called “Corrupted Blood,” which is similar to debuffing and disease spells or effects in DDO that damage your CON and lower your hit points. The closest counterpart is the dreaded “Mummy Rot.,” only, imagine a version of this that would hit your whole party if someone infected was close enough to you.

This boss debuff was meant only for the raid. But somehow, a handful of players managed to leave the raid with the effect still within their character. These players intentionally walked through public areas such as towns, spreading the infection. As this was a raid level infection that hit for several hundred or more points of damage and was persistent, many low-level characters were struck dead instantly.

Watch the video above. Imagine that’s the Marketplace. You’re just shopping when your HP meter drops nearly to zero, and others around you drop dead. Many, many players are just dropping. You got to get away, but from what?

The WoW servers, predictably, went chaotic. Interestingly, people behaved as people would behave in real life. Clerical characters began to aid others. Many ran for their virtual lives, into the virtual countryside and out of the plague-ridden towns. Many died. A few more  tried to use their infection to spread it to others.

Eventually the WoW developers managed to isolate and scrub the disease from all characters and summoned pets that players purposely infected so as to continue the assault. But by then the damage was done. Not enough to cause WoW to close up shop, but enough to bring a cautionary tale to the virtual world.

The Corrupted Blood incident became quite popular in the scientific community. These epidemiologists studied the sociology of the players, comparing it to what people do in actual pandemics. Not to be outdone, the anti-terrorism community also turned an eye to the incident as a model for how terrorists become opportunists, causing the most harm to the most people in the most time possible.

Despite the fact that this was an exploit, it did something that’s missing in DDO. It caused a human reaction that required you to act, now.

Are Game Events a Thing of the Past?

I’ve never played WoW and don’t plan to do so. That’s because it took years of Neverwinter Nights gameplay to shake me from years of my Diablo II “crack habit,” so I knew that any other Blizzard game (yes, that includes Diablo III) would ruin my life. (Not that DDO is as light a habit for me as my obligations would want that to be, but that’s another tale.)

I wasn’t around as well for a DDO game event of 2008, where a game module update introduced a Shavarath invasion of Stormreach, the eventual destruction of the central Marketplace, and several quests for players to gather ingredients needed to beat back the invading hordes.

Sound familiar? It’s because the events seen in the Level 6 raid, “The Chronoscope,” allows players to relive that module, specifically a more wider invasion of the Marketplace as a whole, including the original Marketplace tent’s destruction.

Today, all we seem to have for game events in a more public sphere is a passive but quite prominent and repetitive drop-in of a white dragon near the Argonessen representatives (all dragons in human form) near the House Kundarak Marketplace bank. Occasionally, some special merchants appear and contests to gather coins or other items will activate in public spaces, such as the Risia Ice Games or Festivult. However, these are quite passive in that they don’t affect everybody and are totally optional to use.

So, why isn’t there a larger, more game-encompassing event going on in DDO? Something that would effect all players and (per their level or game account) strongly encourage them, perhaps require them, to marshal their efforts to the event’s goals?

Perhaps such events are dangerous to the game’s overall stability. Perhaps world events such as these would discourage general game play and turn away the free-to-play community and upset VIP subscriptions.

It’s not as if we players or the developers couldn’t think of possible storylines. I brought up a thread in the Suggestions & Ideas subforum on a Drow war, where Eberron Drow, tired of being butt monkeys to the Faerun Drow as they attempt a move on Xen’drik itself, decide to fight back. The replies generally didn’t meet with high praise. Most people seemed burned out by the Drow, with the new Menace of the Underdark expansion.

What world events we experience today are often challenges that haven’t one bit of urgency or need at all.

Some Suggestions

With the MoTU expansion, Eberron itself is being threatened with total destruction by the Demonweb. Not that anyone who just created a new character is aware of this.

And the Quori, the race that hides within the false religion of the Path of Inspiration and are known as the Dreaming Dark, have failed to invade Xen’drik long ago and are threatening to do so again, this time without the giants of old from stopping them as before. What? You didn’t know of this invasion?

And the land of Drooam has landed a massive invasion army on the outskirts, have burned down one Stormreach district, heavily damaged Lordsmarch Plaza and planned to take over Stormreach as well. Did you miss this news while you were reading the latest posts on Feydsbook on your DRUID smart-ansible by Cannith, Inc.?

I also think there’s some evil cleric that’s raising an undead horde in the Necropolis that wants to make all of Xen’drik part of his new empire, too.

I guess my point is that there are many, many world events already in play. What is lacking in the public instances is an urgency, an appearance of desperation, of fire raining down. Of some NPCs occasionally running in fear in the Marketplace while a small group of invaders slam through the city and a world event message calls out for heroes to quickly dispatch them. Of the city sky turning red and adventurers called to be alert for a Shavarath invasion–right now. Low-level players are guided to protect NPCs at their level and fight off appropriately low-level Shavarath invaders that sneak past the more fortified Epic adventurers.

And none of these events should be telegraphed or announced by Turbine. They should just show up.

These events could be tied into the quests they relate to in-game. They could form a motivation to play by leading the players to the new Sagas NPCs. I haven’t gotten into completing any of the sagas because nothing is compelling me to do so. Not loot, or experience, or even a requirement to save myself or others from harm.

The world of DDO should have a more “live” feel to it. There are limits to how much a live event can and should do, and careful attention is required to keep low level players from getting way, way over their heads and for high-level players from becoming virtual gods by giving them a serious challenge that requires more cooperation and team play. Live events should have a compulsory hold on players without fully requiring them to do them. They shouldn’t be isolated as Mabar or Crystal Cove.

World events could also be done with great subtlety and intrigue. I would love to just log in one day to find mail message that tells me to go to an NPC that wants you and others to do this and that, unlocking a chain of events that (amidst all the other work to do) requires me to save Stormreach and to guide others to do so or to safety.

C’mon. Do you think a week where a zombie plague threatens all of Stormreach wouldn’t put a spring in your step as you run to stock up on potions? In such an event there’s a chance of griefing if a live player were infected, so it would be better for NPCs to be running about doing the deed. That is, a zombiefied NPC version of you. You get infected, your character is logged out and you must log in to another character (or specially granted character given to all players) to do a specific quest to remove the affliction (with substantial rewards, of course). Players that don’t opt to play can watch the spectacle but aren’t infected.

A horde of Quori pouring out of House Cannith would make all that ghostbane weaponry useful.

The WoW Corrupted Blood event was a totally unplanned event that shook that game at its roots by its urgency. What if that Argonessen dragon suddenly started stomping down a ramp into the Bazaar? Would you call out to some guildies to try to head it off? What would or should the lower level players do? What if some evil Drow genius had weaponized Mummy Rot and was infecting the public instances? Would a world event ask others to seek out the cure? How would this Rot effect overall play? Should it?

I’m all for bringing the immediacy of adventure to DDO. It needn’t be as “oh crap” as the WoW plague. But something out of left field that all could enjoy wouldn’t be a bad thing if you just tie it in to existing adventures.