Diablo II Strategy Guide Info:
- Patch: v1.10
- Gametype: PvE/PvM
- Class: Assassin
- Specialisation: Tiger Strike, Dragon Tail Martial Artist
- Author: Wildjinn
The Tiger Strike/Dragon Tail Martial Artist
Matriarching my first character inspired me to write this guide, an investigation into a build similar to the one that I followed. This might not be the easiest build to take through hell in 1.10, but it was certainly incredibly fun to play. The glory of taking down an entire pack with a well-placed Dragon Tail is amazing and suggested for anyone who needs to relieve some pent-up aggression, and both the attack and running speed of this build are legendary. Additionally, a Tiger Strike/Dragon Tail assassin can take on any part of any difficulty, due to the support availability of any elemental attack (from Phoenix Strike, an elemental martial arts skill, Death Sentry/Lightning Sentry, or a weapon-switch elemental claw) and huge physical and fire damage.
This guide focuses predominantly on the skills of the Martial Arts tree, specifically Tiger Strike with the Dragon Tail finishing move, with considerable additional support from the other trees. You can build this character as either a claw/shield character or a claw/claw character, and the pros and cons of each will be explained later in this guide.
This guide is also written for folks who have never played an assassin. I don't mean to insult the intelligence of people that have played them before, but I have added explanations of charges, charge releases, key bindings, and other things that we 'sin lovers (and many players of every class) take for granted. This guide is not perfect in the game or in writing. I have had difficulty taking my claw/shield assassin through hell, but mostly because she was originally built with only 60 points in vitality, making it so that most hell monsters could almost single-hit kill her, which is not so wonderful when you're trying to melee them. Also, I'm making comments based on rather deep research into the assassin class, as well as many, many hours of playing time experienced with my own. This guide contains no PvP items because I've never really found interest in dueling. There are lots of great PvP assassin builds out there, though.
This section is for those who have not yet tasted the glory of playing as an assassin and need some convincing in order to try it. No, really, it's a whole lot of fun. I really can't stand the "I hit you, now you hit me" game of other melee characters that I've played, but I've been able to fully enjoy playing as an assassin. The highlights of assassins include the following:
1) You don't need keys! I hate having to keep a square of my inventory filled with keys. I mean, seriously, adventurers who wield elemental powers or eight foot long scythes clearly aren't going to have trouble opening a damn box. But I digress...
2) You have the best of everything in your skills: you get huge melee damage skills; access to every elemental attack, including a very strong poison; "set it and forget it" traps; corpse disposal; and one of the smartest and arguably most useful summonables in the game (Shadow Master). And you can use all of that on the same build.
3) Your speed is legendary. Once you have a level 11 Burst of Speed with 40% faster run/walk boots on, you'll know what I mean and won't be able to go back. It's like the difference running made between Diablo and Diablo II.
4) Your builds are usually done around class-specific items. Other classes have cool items, but you can go a complete game as any of the other classes without using items that they only they can equip. As an assassin, you will almost never use a weapon other than a katar-class weapon. Some people might be put off by this, true, but I think it's excellent--and katar speed makes up for any misgivings.
5) You get balls of light floating around your character during most of the game. Not only are they pretty, but they're useful as well.
6) You will use most of your skills for the entire game, not just during development. The assassin is the Swiss army knife of characters. She can do almost anything in any situation. Even de-scale a fish.
7) Your weapon block skill can block elemental attacks!
But enough cheerleading. Onto the deeper stuff.
Charging up your assassin is something that takes a little experience to figure out, but is absolutely essential to the martial arts tree. Learning when to charge which of your main skills is pretty easy, assuming that you're watching the enemies that you're attacking, which everyone does. Simply put, you attack with a charge-up skill and balls of light corresponding to that skill fly around you. You hit enough times to charge to the point you wish, add additional charges from other skills if you wish, and bring the massive pain by releasing all your current charges onto an enemy with either a finishing move (the Dragon skills) or a normal attack.
For example, I'm in hell, act 1, fighting a unique pack of corrupted rogues who are immune to lightning and have a pesky immune to physical leader. I select Tiger Strike and charge it with three quick attacks on the Rogue to the left of the leader until three balls are whirling around my shoulders. I then select Cobra Strike and charge it a couple of times on the same rogue until two yellowish balls are swirling around my midsection (and the first rogue dies). I then select Phoenix Strike and charge it three times, this time on a new rogue, until I have three blueish balls dancing at my feet. I then right-click on the Rogue to the right of the leader in order to kick a Dragon Tail, and the entire pack shoots off its feet, ghosts leaping out of their chests, with chaos ice shards shooting out to paralyze the fallen milling about in the background, which I am able to easily dispatch, ready with my instantly refilled life and mana balls. A proper cycle like this takes, at maximum, three to four seconds.
This situation might sound complicated, but with the proper key setup (one is suggested later in this guide both for right- and left-handers) it becomes second nature and helps you better understand the relations between your other characters' skills.
Important Assassin Mechanics
There are some important things to know about the calculations made by the Diablo II program in order to fully understand character building with a focus in the martial arts tree. Information specific to this build includes damage calculation (specifically kick damage and stacking of damage) and increased attack speed calculation (breakpoints). If you are familiar with the way that these calculations are made, or if you don't feel particularly interested in them, you can probably skip this section. It will help both your play and your understanding of the game to read through it, although I claim to be no Diablo II statistical genius.
Several important damage calculation tidbits are vital to this build.
The first important piece of information is the difference between additive and multiplicative damage modifiers. Additive damage multipliers that are important to this build are weapon damage, off-gear enhanced damage, and Tiger Strike damage multipliers. Although it may seem that a +150% damage weapon will be boosted to +1500% damage with a 1000% damage tiger strike, this assumption is incorrect. The +150% damage and +1000% damage modifiers are added together for a total of +1150% base damage. This is ONLY important, though, if you are using a normal attack for your finishing move, which will almost never happen. Tiger strike damage is added to a kick (Dragon Tail, in our case) in the skill_bonus variable of the kick damage equation, which will be explored two paragraphs from here.
The second form of damage multiplier is a multiplicative multiplier. Dragon Tail damage is multiplicative. When kick damage is modified by a +1000% Tiger Strike and a 300% Dragon Tail finishing move releases the charges, the final kick damage, which includes the +1000% Tiger Strike, is multiplied by 300%, doing absolutely massive damage. This explains how you may have heard of kicks which do 60k damage, which are theoretically possible with these two skills. Even on relatively basic equipment, 25k damage (applied both directly and as splash damage) can be expected.
The calculations that have been opaque to me for some time, since I don't go code-spelunking, are the aforementioned kick damage calculations. Thankfully, jrichards has found them and explained them very well. The equations are these:
- MinDamage=((str + dex - 20)/4)*((100 + skill_bonus)/100)) + (BootMinDam*((100 + (str*StrBonus/100) + skill_bonus + non_weapon ED)/100))
- MaxDamage=((str + dex - 20)/3)*((100 + skill_bonus)/100) + ( BootMaxDam*((100 + (str*StrBonus/100) + skill_bonus + non_weapon ED)/100) )
The StrBonus term is 120 in this case, since 100 points of strength converts to an additional 120% damage for the boot-class weapon, similar to the 100Str=+100%Sword damage situation. The +skill_bonus term includes the extra damage added to the kick from skills like Tiger Strike. This total kick damage is then multiplied by the Dragon Tail modifier, which has been 300% in this example. Also, as you can tell from studying these equations a little bit, your strength is a huge part of the kick damage that you're going to do, which is why this build, and all assassin kick builds, are so dependent upon high strength values.
Increased Attack Speed
An incredibly important thing to know about as an assassin is what increased attack speed means for you. Everyone can tell when they have 20% IAS on their gloves, but how can you tell? Because an attack uses fewer frames to take place. Since the game calculates by both frames and numbers, there is bound to be some discrepancy between the two. The way that this evens itself out is in breakpoints. A breakpoint is the point at which a percentage-based increase in attack speed will transfer into a "real-world" decrease in the number of frames it takes to attack. The reason this is especially important for an assassin is because of the Burst of Speed skill. It dramatically increases attack speed, but knowing how many points to put in it should be based on the best number of frames you can get from an attack given the gear you're using.
The best way to get a grip on this idea is to check out a page of assassin break points, which should make this idea clear. I'll also refer to this table later when discussing Burst of Speed in depth. Here's the table.
If you look at the first table, you can see that, with a Greater Talon and shield and a level 3 Burst of Speed, you can have the fastest attack possible while charging a Tiger Strike with only 20% increased attack speed on your other gear (or as a modifier in your claw, including runes/jewels). This allows you to save points that you would put in Burst of Speed to put in other damaging areas.
But enough of the mathy details. Onto the meat of this guide: skill selection.
Skill Selection Logic
This guide supposes your use of Tiger Strike and Dragon Tail as main skills. The main assassin on whom this guide is based used mostly Tiger, Cobra, and Phoenix strike, all released with Dragon Tail, the supporting skills including Burst of Speed, Shadow Master, Cloak of Shadows, and Mind Blast. However, most assassin skills are covered in this section to allow for ample variation possibilities on your part.
Tiger Strike was chosen for the obvious reason: ridiculous physical damage. The charge-up bonuses allow for +1440% damage with a finishing move at level 20 and an additional +148% AR. Since patch 1.10, skill levels over 20 do increasingly more damage per level, boosting Tiger Strike damage into the stratosphere.
- Verdict: slvl20
Cobra Strike is a one-point-wonder, with an incredible amount of leech once fully charged. At level one, a fully-charged Cobra Strike will release, leeching 80% of both mana and life from the massively ramped kick damage, additionally adding 15% AR to the AR on the Finishing move. 'Nuff said.
- Verdict: slvl1
Fists of Fire is a useful skill, but not recommended with a Dragon Tail build. The neat part about it is that it converts physical damage into fire damage, but there are three considerable problems in using it with Dragon Tail. First, and most importantly, the physical damage from your kick becomes the splash damage that makes Dragon Tail a crowd control skill, and converting the physical damage will negate the most desirable part of this finishing move. Secondly, since Dragon Tail is a fire skill, you could run into tough spots in hell difficulty when you have creatures who are immune to both physical and fire damage. Third, converting physical damage to fire damage makes it so that Cobra Strike leeches from less damage.
- Verdict: slvl 0 or 1 (as a prerequisite)
Claws of Thunder is a fantastic skill that can be devastating in the late game either on its own or once completely synergized with Phoenix Strike. Its three charges add lightning damage, fire off a nova, or release charged bolts similar to the bolts released by Lightning Enchanted enemies. At slvl 20, each bolt does 1-740 damage, and, with a Phoenix Strike of slvl 20, 160% damage is added to each bolt, which makes it very powerful. This is probably the best option for synergy with Phoenix Strike for pure damage, because it deals an additional 13% damage per level of lightning damage to Phoenix Strike's second charge, an already powerful chaos lighting attack. It also adds +148% AR to your finishing move at slvl20.
- Verdict: see the build options section for a discussion.
Blades of Ice is another skill that is very useful in tandem with Phoenix Strike. Its freezing abilities make it excellent for crowd control, but it is most useful when used as the synergy for Phoenix Strike's chaos ice bolt (third) charge, adding 10% cold damage per level to the chaos ice bolts. On its own, Blades of Ice is also useful as a crowd control skill with its third charge which freezes a rather large block of enemies, although I prefer it as a synergy for PS. It also adds +148% AR to your finishing move at slvl20.
- Verdict: see the build options section for a discussion.
Phoenix Strike adds elemental damage of whatever type you wish to a finishing move. At slvl 20 and one charge, a meteor is dropped from the sky, dealing 361-414 fire damage and continuing to burn for several seconds. Two charges will release chaos lightning bolts (think of the bolts released with the death of blood raven) which do 1-836 lightning damage. Three charges releases 32 (I believe) chaos ice bolts which do 171-193 damage each, freezing each enemy hit by a bolt for approximately 3.5 seconds in hell difficulty. slvl20 Phoenix strike also adds 148% AR to your finishing move. I like this skill for its versatility. It can apply any elemental damage, and, if you're interested in big elemental damage, you'll probably max this skill and use a specific charge or une it to synergize your chosen elemental skill. I am happy with this skill in hell difficulty with no synergies whatsoever, but with significant +skills.
- Verdict: see the build options section for a discussion.
Dragon Tail is the finisher I used to deliver this payload of charges to a target. At slvl20, 240% multiplicative fire damage is distributed to all the surrounding targets in an approximate two-monster radius with knockback of the entire mob once damage is applied (or even if it isn't, in the case of PI's). 305%AR is also added to the kick. I found myself finishing off packs of enemies with a single kick in the hell WSK. Additionally, the AR is additive between charges, allowing for a combined huge AR bonus on your release. If that wasn't enough, the charges of an elemental attack further help with crowd control.
- Verdict: slvl20
Burst of Speed is one of the most amazingly wonderful skills in this game. At level 81, my BoS was level 11, with skills, and lasted for 4 minutes. At level 10, it increases your attack speed by 45% and your run/walk speed by 52% for 228 seconds. Run/walk speed increase makes this skill amazing for dodging in and out of a fray and avoiding ranged attacks. Also, this skill is prebuffable, meaning that you can cast it with two +3 Shadow tree claws on your weapon switch and then switch back to your normal weapons. Check out this fabulous table of Assassin Breakpoints to find what you level of BoS you'll need to achieve specific attack breakpoints.
- Verdict: Figure out your best breakpoint from your expected claw and IAS on your gear and add points appropriately.
Mind Blast saved my ass in hell. Many times. The ability to convert monsters, stun them, and knock them back en masse is incredible and works as a great panic skill. This skill used in combination with Cloak of Shadows is incredibly useful, and the myriad uses for these two will be explained in the play section of this guide.
- Verdict: slvl1 (but the best point you'll ever spend)
Cloak of Shadows is a true one point wonder. Not only does it blind enemies to your presence, but it gives you a defense rating boost and decreases the defense of your enemies. Effectively, this allows you to keep ranged enemies from attacking you, makes it easier to hit enemies, and makes it harder to hit you. However, no additional points should ever be spent in this skill. When you blind enemies, you blind them in an area not much larger than a screen, and can usually kill everyone just in the duration of a low level of this spell. However, with a higher skill point value, and higher duration, this can become very annoying: you cannot cast the spell to affect more enemies until the timer from the previous casting wears off. I would never suggest putting additional points in this skill. Remember that this skill allows you to run past packs of monsters without them noticing you. If you're boss running and are confident that you won't die further into the lair you're currently plundering, go ahead and use this skill to bypass annoying fights. Quoting Zarhrezz on Cloak of Shadows: "...if you face a unique pack and cast Cloak of Shadows the unique will continue towards you, your mercenary and your Shadow Master, begging for a beatdown, after which you can take out the blinded minions one by one. Priceless."
- Verdict; slvl 1
Shadow Master is also wonderful. Not only is she a great tank (and prebuffable on weapon switch), but she also will cast traps like death sentry (free corpse explosion). Her upgraded AI makes her wary of the situation, which is a nice change from the Valk. For example, with a huge mob of closely grouped monsters, she'll back off and Mind Blast them to fight each other while casting traps around to kill even more. Once the pack thins, she'll run in there and fight hand-to-hand, effectively acting as a recastable tank. If you prefer to place your points elsewhere, you can put a single point in and use +skills to boost her and add points based on your assessment of her performance. She can be a simple mana-based tank or a great ally. I'm happy using her either way, and I often recast her anyway in order to reposition her in a hoarde.
Note on Shadow Master levels: Trap levels are 1/2 the Shadow Master's level. Shadow Masters are equipped with rare items, the last of which, an amulet, is added at level 17. Shade has posted a great 1.10 Single Player FAQ from which the following Shadow Master information is taken.
Initial SM equipment:
- Superior Headgear (uses your helm's base type)
- Superior Body Armour (uses your armour's base type)
- Superior Suwwayah/War Fist/Scissors Suwayyah (random)
- Superior Battle Cestus/Runic Talons/Scissors Suwwayah (random)
- Level 5: Add Superior Bramble Mitts/Vambraces/Ogre Gauntlets (random)
- Level 6: Upgrade all equipment from Superior to Magic
- Level 9: Add a magic Ring.
- Level 11: Upgrade all equipment from Magic to Rare.
- Level 13: Add a second Rare Ring.
- Level 17: Add a Rare Amulet.
The important factor in deciding how many points to put in Shadow Master is how you want to use her. If you're looking for a recastable minor tank, put few points in. If you're interested in a strong ally, put in many points.
- Verdict: slvl 1-20, as you prefer. If you're not sure, aim for 11 after +skills.
Dragon Flight can be a great utility skill for specific placement in/escape from a fray. It's a teleporting kick that locks onto a specific enemy. You can teleport to an enemy on the edge of a battle to retreat from a situation or instantaneously close on a pack of archers or other ranged enemy, as well. If you find yourself cut up while trying to reach your enemies, a point in this skill would be well worthwhile.
- Verdict: slvl1
Fade can be used to great effect in this build, although I personally prefer Burst of Speed. As a hidden bonus, it gives you 1% Physical Damage Resistance per level when active and can also be prebuffed with +skills on a weapon switch. Unfortunately, the incredible number of attacks that you'll be doing in this build makes Fade take a back seat for situational use, IMO. If you can go without it, spend the point elsewhere, but it can be very helpful, especially if you plan your build around using it to its fullest effect.
Claw Mastery is another interesting animal. IMO, it's not worth more than one point unless you have nowhere else to spend your points. It will be significantly raised by +skills, and its points can be spent better in other places, especially considering that one of your main skills will be adding 1440% damage to an attack...it makes the extra 10% per level and even the critical strike of only +100% damage look awfully small. Claw mastery also does not apply on kicks. The Attack Rating bonus is useful, though, and can be very significant if you're having troubles connecting with monsters.
Death Sentry is probably the most useful trap that can be used in conjunction with a Tiger Strike/Dragon Tail build, and not for its lightning damage, but for its corpse explosion. If you've ever played a necromancer for any period of time, you've probably stumbled upon the incredible joys of this wonderful skill. Spraying gore is very appropriate for an assassin, and this trap certainly does it in abundance. Also, the ability to get rid of corpses before they can be raised/exploded by someone else is certainly very useful. You could either get a level 1 Death sentry on a claw, (You should definitely try to get this if you have a Fury or Malice runeword claw) or you could even put a high number of points in this skill with Lightning Sentry and avoid the elemental side of the Martial Arts tree.
Blade Fury adds some interesting possibilities. If you're interested in a more ninja-type build, this is a cool skill to have. A single point is all you need, and chance to cast weapons work well for it. A high-damage single handed weapon on switch would make this skill effective. However, a good Blade Fury guide will explain this skill much better than I, since I have never used it.
Weapon Block is an incredible skill, and is discussed in the section dealing with the decision to play a claw/claw or claw/shield assassin.
Ability Point Assignment
This section is basically extremely open to interpretation. Do mostly what you want based on your gear. Strength is great, straight up. It ramps damage of both your claw and kicks. Dex both adds AR and damage to your claw. Vitality is nice, but I also completed the game with 75 base, and, while I wouldn't recommend that to anyone, it's possible.
Strength: Put tons of points in Strength. Not only does it add damage to both claw and kick damage, but it also allows you to wear some sweet, high-end gear. If you have no life problems, put more points into strength.
Dexterity: Dexterity is important, too. It's easy to get AR on gear/charms, but, if you're going with a shield, you'll definitely want to have max blocking. Shoot for that with dex if you have a shield. Otherwise, stick at the requirements for your equipment.
Vitality: As much as makes you feel comfortable. I finished Hell Baal with a total of 95 Vit w/gear, so you can do it very minimally, however, it's extremely difficult to manage low HP without great gear, and I'd suggest at least 150-200 pre-gear points as a final value.
Energy: With 80% mana and life leech off of over 1400 percent damage, you don't need any energy. ever. If you do end up heavily investing in traps, +mana charms and items are abundant enough to fill your needs.
In the attempt to keep this guide general, I have kept lots of options open. In this section, I will explain some good ways to fill your build and make it both powerful and versatile. Don't feel at all bound by my recommendations in this section: begin your assassin and choose a path that you most enjoy. Any of these options will be relatively viable and very fun...don't hesitate to experiment with them because that will just make the experience more fun for you.
All these builds expect:
- Tiger Strike(20)
- Cobra Strike(1)
- Dragon Tail(20)
and at least single points in:
- Claw Mastery
- Psychic Hammer (prerequisite)
- Burst of Speed
- Weapon Block
- Cloak of Shadows
- Shadow Warrior (prerequisite)
- Shadow Master
For a total of 49 used skill points. (61 remain)
The best two pairings of skill sets are these first two builds. The Phoenix Strike/BoI or CoT build is probably the most effective since all your main skills will obtain +Martial Arts bonuses on claws, gloves, amulet, etc... The Death Sentry/Lightning Sentry is a great build also, and is probably a much safer HC build since you have the opportunity to back away from a situation and allow your traps to do damage while using support skills to avoid combat. The other builds listed can be very fun and rewarding but are aimed more at the fringe crowd and have some issue that makes them less useful than the first two builds.
Phoenix Strike/Blades of Ice or Phoenix Strike/Claws of Thunder
This build allows you to have the versatility of Phoenix Strike with an extremely overbalanced charge, either the Lightning or Ice charge and a remarkably powerful single-element chargeup skill. Blades of Ice is the best for crowd control, since it and its PS charge can freeze enemies, do big and consistent damage, and thus leave them open to further uninterruptible (since they're frozen) Dragon Tails. Claws of Thunder can deal huge damage maxed with Phoenix Strike and you can still use the third Phoenix Strike charge for crowd freezing.
- Total additional skill points: 42. (19 remain)
In this build, you either max Fire Blast in order to add shots to Death Sentry, which you can obtain from a claw, or you could max Death Sentry and Lightning Sentry for huge corpse explosion area and relatively large lightning damage. Or, you could do all three (although that would require levelling your character up to the high 90's). This idea is fun if you're interested in even greater and safer crowd control. Note that trap laying rate is based on IAS, not faster cast. General +skills items are more useful to this build than are +Martial Arts items due to the spread of skills. +trap skills on weapon switch are also a good option if you want to maintain +MA skills on your weapon, but you might run into trouble with low levels of support skills without +skills gear.
- Total additional points: 20-61. (0-41 remain)
In this claw/claw build, you expect very high plusses to all skills from great gear on your main weapons and a very high-damage one-handed weapon on the weapon switch. Add one point in Blade Fury, max Shadow Master and max Venom. You can stay away from enemies and deal with PI's with Blade Fury's poison damage through Venom, then close and do huge damage with TS/Dragon Tail. Venom's .4 second poison length makes it an excellent choice to combine with the fast-striking throwing blades. This build will strongly focus on heavy use of Cloak of Shadows and Mind Blast, as well as a probable point in Dragon Flight for utility use. It could also benefit from Fade in a way that other builds won't. You could switch auras between fade and BoS based on your distance from your target. Farther away, Fade can be activated to help with physical damage resistance and resistance with your claws. Closer to the action, you would activate BoS for quick attack.
- Total additional skill points: 42. (19 remain)
If you're interested in the amazing capabilities of Dragon Talon, you could combine that skill with the skills outlined in this build. There are many Dtalon builds around, and I'd suggest looking at one of those for better information about that skill. This hybrid will deal well with both act bosses and non PI/FI enemies. The gear for these skills is not particularly similar, which will provide confusion when choosing what to equip, since you'd have to bring along many items with you. Problems arise with physical/fire immune monsters, although it's possible to work around with a single elemental chargeup skill or venom or a huge elemental weapon and Tiamat's Rebuke on weapon switch. See the next section.
- Total additional points: 19-29. (42-52 remain)
A super hybrid would take the kicker hybrid and add something to it like Death Sentry(from a claw & maxed Fire Blast, or maxed Death Sentry for huge corpse explosion area) or Claws of Thunder. This would allow for quick killing of single enemies and dual elemental crowd control from Dragon Tail and Claws of Thunder/Death Sentry. The only problem is the lack of points to put into necessary support skills. This build is strongly +skills dependent and almost has to be a dual-claw build (for +skills on claws) because of all the skills used.
- Total additional points: 61. (0 remain)
Many other permutations exist. These are the best ones that I can come up with, but you can obviously do whatever you want with these skills. Make something fun and exciting.
This type of assassin build typically plays fast and furiously. With a fast claw or claws and BoS, you should have your maximum of three MA skills fully charged in less than 3 seconds. Then release them with a Dragon Tail, rinse, and repeat. Remember that this build's viability hinges on its speed and its leeching capabilities. A high speed attack will keep a monster permanently in recovery, allowing you to kick its butt with impunity. A high block and quick block speed will keep you attacking, as well. Being block-/recovery-locked really, really kills this type of build and can quickly suck the life out of your assassin, just as any other character. Leech is important because you will end with a relatively low-life character, and filling those mana and life balls with your kick is vital.
When charging into an area, make sure you have a Shadow Master out and ready. Once a mob comes on screen, cast Cloak of Shadows and spam Mind Blast on them until about 1/3 of the mob is converted. This will allow you to come up and attack the mob with impunity. Your shadow master will either aid you in converting/stunning, set traps, or enter the fray with you.
Particularly difficult areas of the world include areas with many champion packs of archers that cannot be converted or shadowed. To deal with them, lead a group of melee enemies nearby and convert some of them, then back away a bit to work on the back of the melee pack. The archers should attack the converted melee monsters, allowing you to charge in and work them up. You could also hop in with Dragon Flight and make short work of the pack.
Act III can be a pain for any character. Gloams suck, until you cast Cloak of Shadows on them. When they don't see you, they don't bother hiding or attacking. Flayers who shoot things with their little pipes of death are also difficult to deal with, but if you round them up into a group, (by Cloak of Shadowing, Mind Blasting, and attacking) you can do massive damage to tons of them with a well-placed Dragon Tail, due to their tiny footprint size.
Urdars with stun can easily stunlock and kill you, as can frenzytaurs, but they also are unchillable/unfreezable. In order to keep from dying from these huge damage doers, make sure to make it so that only one of them is attacking you at a time. Cloak the area in shadows, spam Mind Blast like crazy and recast your Shadow Master in the pack if necessary.
For PI monsters mixed with non-PI monsters, attack a PI monster until you charge your skills, then Dragon Tail on a non-PI monster standing nearby. The fire splash damage, calculated from your physical damage on the leechable/non-PI monster, will damage the PI's. If there are no leechable/non-PI monsters to serve as fall guys for your master plan, use your backup. For example, you can take out phoenix strike and alternate a single charge and normal attack (left click, right click), you'll be spamming meteors every fraction of a second (or your preferred element). An elementally-hurty claw & Tiamat's Rebuke on weapon switch is great for this. There's also always the option to use Cloak of Shadows to blind a group and then run past. If you're using a more specifically tweaked build and are boss running, you will undoubtedly do this at some time or another.
Unleechable monsters suck, but they usually exist in areas where leechable monsters are mixed in. Charge up on the unleechables and release your charges on a nearby leechable monster so that the Cobra Strike can take full effect. Preferably, you can group the unleechable monsters together around a leechable monster so that you can damage them all at once. The unique gloves Dracul's Grasp can help you out here with its % chance to cast Life Tap. Also remember that your chargeup skills only take about 2 mana apiece per hit. A couple of mana potions can keep you going for a long, long time.
Iron Maiden will kill you if you kick while cursed with it. Period. Iron maiden will kill your Shadow Master if she has it. Any time that most of 25,000+ damage is reflected at you, you're going to die. Remember that Cloak of Shadows will keep a normal Oblivion Mage from casting anything on you, be it Iron Maiden, Amp Damage, or Decrepify. Make sure that you learn the sound of Iron Maiden so that you can stop attacking and get the heck out of there if it goes off, which is not always the easiest thing, given your super-fast attack speed. Trust me. I have died to IM many, many times, mostly because I was jamming to loud music while playing D2. I sometimes interrupt an attack if I even just see an Oblivion Mage doing his casting animation. In the case that you get it and detect it, the easiest way to deal with it is to TP back to town and heal it off, or, if you're feeling brave, stick in there and use your traps (if you have them) and make them fight each other with Mind Blast.
Other than that, the difficult parts of this game will all be dependent on your skill choices. If you've thought enough to decide on a specific build, you should probably have thought of contingency plans for when your skills don't work. A huge elemental damage claw and Tiamat's Rebuke or two elemental damage weapon claws on weapon switch can deal with almost anything.
Magic Finding in a hardcore kind of way is mostly impractical with this build. Although this build can be played untwinked, all the gear is usually focused around the character to the exclusion of MF. It's still possible to do, though, if you think and twink enough. Remember that perfect topazes in a 4-socket armor and 3-socket helm makes for almost +175%MF and that traps can be cast with a double-Ist'ed Ali Baba.
Good key binding is essential to this build due to its exceptional quick skill changing. I have skills bound on ASDFGZXCVB.
Left click attacks are:
Z=Tiger Strike, X=Cobra Strike, C=Phoenix Strike. This allows quick cycling between the three while holding down the left mouse button.
Right click skills are:
V=Shadow Master, A=Dragon Tail, S=Mind Blast, D=BoS, F=Fade, G=Cloak of Shadows, (B=teleport if you have it or normal attack.)
This allows for quick spamming of Mind Blast and Cloak of Shadows, easy recasting of BoS, easy casting of Shadow Master, and a quick return to Dragon Tail. S was my panic key. If you ever are cycling through Z,X,and C, and your enemies all decide to quickly focus on you instead of each other or your shadow master, you can quickly change to Mind Blast, convert/stun, and switch back to Dragon tail quick enough to add a massive kick to the stunned group. (and run away if necessary) Teleport on an amulet can be useful if you need to beat a super-hasty retreat, but I accidentally lost my teleporting amulet about 1/2 way through hell and didn't need it once after that point.
Zarhrezz has suggested a fantastic assassin keybinding for left-handed users, which is really quite excellent. I almost wish I were a southpaw in order to take advantage of this:
- Lefthand skills: Numpad /,*,-
- Righthand skills: Numpad 7,4,1,2,3, Delete, End, PageDown
- Numpad 8 highlights items (Alt in basic setup)
- Numpad 6 toggles the map
- Numpad 5 is stand-ground (Shift in basic setup)
- Numpad 9 has Town Portal
- Numpad 0 has character screen
- Numpad . has inventory
- Numpad + switches between weapon tabs I and II
Mods to obtain
+Martial Arts skills are excellent for this build. Since you're using large damage skills from the MA tree, this will supplement your damage hugely. General +skills items also help every aspect and allow a buff of your other skill tree items. However, that's what the two prebuffing +3 Shadow Disciplines claws on weapon switch are for.
Life and mana leech: while Cobra Strike is a great leecher, it's nice to have extra on hand for those annoying mana burn enemies. Plus, being able to leech back the mana you use on every charge-up is quite nice.
IAS is also important. Check the IAS tables I posted earlier to find the fastest breakpoint for your expected endgame claw to determine how much IAS you need on equipment.
%PDR is a lifesaver. Physical damage reduction is a must if you can get it, especially since you're playing a non-tank melee character. It's really the only way to stay alive in order to run away from a randomly-spawning evil urn pack of frenzytaurs that materializes right around you.
Resists are important in 1.10 hell. Without them, you're toast to the gloams in the WSK. As usual, Fire and Lightning resists are most important.
CBF is necessary. You can do with minimalism in everything else for most of the game, but, if you're frozen, your speed will diminish and you will die. You are fiercely dependent on speed with this build, and this is a sure way to lose it.
Any source of AR or dexterity on items is fantastic. It will allow you to leave points out of dex and keep putting them into strength for sick kicking damage.
Claw/Claw or Claw/Shield?
Either option works very will in this type of build. A claw/claw setup will allow for more damage and skills, while a claw/shield setup provides dex-based blocking and the safety of a shield.
A claw/claw setup allows for massive plusses to skills, since you could come up with, for example, two +3MA claws for a huge bonus to your Dragon Tail and Tiger Strike damage. Pairs of unique claws will both do sick damage and allow for all sorts of different bonuses, including crushing blow and chance to cast on attack. Weapon Block is also an amazing skill, balanced by taking points away from your other skills. Not only does it allow blocking with your two claw-class weapons, but it will block elemental attacks as well. It will also maintain full blocking while running, unlike shields. Claw/Claw attacks are slower, though, requiring more IAS to reach higher breakpoints. Also, although it's a small thing, I don't really like the offhand claw attack animation either, but that is obviously a secondary concern.
A claw/shield setup allows for help with resistances on a shield and dex-based max blocking. In this case, you'll lose some killing power and speed for the bonuses conferred by a shield. (e.g. max block, big resistances, other useful mods) You'll be trading the extra skill points from no weapon block for some ability points that you'll need to sink into dex instead. This is probably the safer way to go, but either way will obviously work to great effect.
Specific Gear Suggestions
I have not spent tons of time MFing in my life, and rarely have access to really fantastic items. Thus, this section will not be super-complete. I'll make a few suggestions from what I know/expect, and extrapolate from my experience for other item suggestions. I'll also grade the items by use and availability.
First, a note on Natalya's Set
It is incredible for many builds, but not optimal for this one. It gives crazy +skills, resistances, PDR, IAS, and reasonable kick damage, it also makes you ethereal...and that's badass. period. But seriously, the poor damage of the boots puts this set out of the running for the best gear for this build family.
I really like Tal's for the dual leech and resist all, Vamp Gaze is wonderful for dual leech AND PDR, Crown of Ages has great mods also.
Blackthorn's Face has lightning absorb. Shako gives +2 to skills, but is otherwise not as useful, unless you're planning on lots of MFing, which is not super-easy with this build.
- Poor man's
I'd suggest a rare circlet (or any other helm) with +3 to Martial Arts or + to assassin skills, +to all resistances, and IAS...not very hard to gamble or find, actually. Guillaume's face is good for crushing blow and is relatively cheap, but that is more useful to a Dragon Talon build.
Use the amulet either to boost skills (+2 to assassin skills rare w/leech or life and resistances) or to fill up some sort of void in your equipment. I used a Nokozan Relic for the extra fire resist. The amulet is probably the most variable item in this build. (or in most, for that matter.) Angelic Wings w/Angelic Rings can be very effective for increased AR if you need some.
+3 MA, resist all, other random mods, Metalgrid, Mara's Kaleidoscope, Cat's Eye for IAS if you need it.
Most important mods on the armor are +skills, +resist to all, +life, and defense.
- Guardian Angel is a great armor if you've got the resist gear to make best use of it. Chains of Honor, Lionheart, and Arkaine's valor are also very amazing.
Duriel's Shell is cheap and has2 resistances and CBF and could probably be endgame. Shaftstop is good PDR and you can put it on your mercenary when you find something better.
- Poor man's
Lionheart is cheap and one of the best. Rare armor with a combination of good defense, life, strength and resistances is excellent. Smoke (Nef+Lum) is a good development armor.
A high-damage claw is good, but not absolutely necessary for this build. Hitting the fastest breakpoint, though, is paramount, and the easiest way to do that is with either a claw and gloves, or a combination thereof. For almost all of the game, I had a two-shaeled Ferocious Scissors Suwayyah of Evisceration. Shopping in hell for a claw will net you a good enough one quickly. I'd suggest finding a high-damage, high-speed claw. +to skills is icing on the cake.
Bartuc's is great for the +skills, AR, FHR and damage. It's also easy to get 2 of them. Jade Talon is a great offhand claw for its skills, FHR, and res. Fury and Malice runewords provide Open Wounds and can have +skills on them. Be very picky in selecting claws to socket, though, looking for massive bonuses to great skills. One skill to watch out for is Death Sentry. Nat's mark is great with its demon/undead modifiers. All the unique claws can reach max speed break point rather easily. Fury and Malice are best in your right hand, while the Bartuc's or Jade Talon is best in your off hand.
Firelizard's Talons is good for IAS, Fire resistance, MA skills, and fire damage, but will be extremely expensive to repair. Venom and Chaos are also good runewords with this build, but not prime.
- Poor man's
Shop in hell for awhile and I guarantee that Anya will roll a great claw eventually.
Note: +Dragon Tail claws are more useful than +Tiger Strike claws because the Dragon tail multiplier is more effective at upping kick damage per level at higher levels than is Tiger Strike.
Dracul's Grasp allows leech on skeletons and the like and are standout gloves if you've got IAS elsewhere. However, I'm using a pair of crafted blood gloves that give 3% life leech, 5% Crushing Blow, +20 Life, +2 Martial Arts, and +25% MF. I have neither needed nor wanted any other gloves that I've come across with my assassin. But, if I didn't have a 40% IAS weapon, this is where I would have made up for it. I really think that your best bet is a pair of rare or crafted gloves with your desired mods on them. Gamble/craft like mad until you find some.
Laying of Hands, Magnus's Skin, or Sigon's (w/boots) can be useful. With the belts or boots, the IK's gloves are okay.
- Poor man's
Make some crafted blood gloves or gamble some good rare gloves. They'll be better and cheaper than anything else you can find.
I use a pdiamond Stormshield. If you can afford it, do the same. The PDR and blocking are amazing, and the resistances are icing on the cake, especially with a pdiamond. You could Eld it for 7% better blocking with lower dex if you so desire. Mosers is also a prime choice, socketed with pdiamonds, although its blocking is lacking.
A Tiamat's rebuke is good for elemental damage on weapon switch, and, I got through act 3 of hell with a pdiamonded one on my main weapon slot, but it requires much too much dex. Whitstan's Guard is a good blocking shield but has a major resistance problem. Other good shields to try are a Rhyme runeword and Gerke's.
- Poor man's
Steelclash or Sigon's will do for lower levels, as will a good old Ancient's Pledge on a high-blocking shield.
String of Ears for PDR and life leech or TGod's for lightning absorb, Str and Life is pretty nice. Verdungo's Cord provides stupidly high life. Wilhelm's pride provides dual leech.
Nightsmoke, upgraded or not, is good for resistance, Snowclash can add cold absorb, and, if you've got everything else covered, an Arachnid Mesh is +skills. A crafted Blood belt is great for Open Wounds.
- Poor man's
A good rare belt can fill holes in your other gear with resists and +life. I lived with a godly war belt of the whale for a long, long time. Other good belts include the Credendum and the Immortal King's belt (with gloves or boots for bonuses)
Rings are another good "fill the holes" type item.
Raven Frost is most important for CBF. Dwarf Star is nice for fire absorb. A Bul Kathos is cool for the +skills if you've got resistances covered, Wisp Projector is good for Lit absorb if you don't have a Tgod's.
A good rare with leech, +life, and resistances is pretty excellent. Angelic Rings with the Angelic Wings can be a huge AR and MF booster.
- Poor man's
I had two scintillating rings of something or another for awhile, and they worked wonderfully until I found better.
Boots are extremely important to this build. Upgraded Gore Riders are your best option. Period. Shadow Dancers are also pretty good, but rare Myrmidon Greaves are cheaper and probably easier to find than either, and not a bad choice for a hell imbue.
IK boots with gloves or belt are okay for development. Rite of Passage is nice for the mods, but doesn't have great damage. Upgraded Tearhaunches could be okay, Waterwalk and Infernostride are definitely good, especially upgraded.
- Poor man's
Rare high-damage boots are great for anyone to enjoy. If you get a wonderful set of mods on the right boots, consider upgrading them to either mirrored boots or myrmidon greaves.
Charms can make an assassin into a reasonably useful Magic Find character with lots of 7% Magic Find small charms, if that's the route you want to take. +Martial Arts grand charms can be amazing, since skill levels over 20 give huge returns in the Martial Arts tree. +Shadow or +Traps can be useful as well to iron out your build in those areas. Resistances can also be found in charms if you want to specifically twink equipment for super damage or Magic Finding. +Life is another big charm use. Basically, charms fill up the gaps in your equipment or let you equip really cool stuff that leaves you open somehow. For example, Guardian Angel+Tgod's+Dwarf Star+Raven Frost+Nokozan Relic+resistance charms=practical elemental immunity.
My Matriarch setup was as follows:
- Natalya's Set,
- Stormshield w/PDiamond,
- either Mahim-Oak Curio or Nokozan Relic, situationally,
- Dwarf Star
- Raven Frost
- Crafted Blood Gloves
- Tiamat's Rebuke on switch for elemental damage.
My dream setup is:
- Perfect Vamp Gaze,
- Chains of Honor Armor,
- Cruel Rare claw w/IAS, +2 Assassin Skills, +3 Tiger Strike, +3 Dragon Tail, +3 Death Sentry
- Dwarf Star
- Raven Frost
- Dracul's Grasp/Blood Crafted Vampirebone Gloves
- Upgraded Gore Riders
Any. Yes. I said it. Pick any mercenary and use it to your best ability. I actually used no mercenary for the last several parts of hell, as I didn't have enough good gear to keep him alive and I didn't bother feeding him potions.
A rogue can be good as an additional damage doer/chiller (w/cold arrow), or can add another elemental/magic attack, especially with something cool like a kuko shakaku (for any element rogue, especially fire) or witchwild string for magic damage, to which only one type of monster is immune. Other bows are obviously also useful, but those are pretty easy to find.
Any sort of Desert Mercenary would be helpful for this build, especially Defiance for a huge armor boost or Holy Freeze, which will make you exponentially faster than the monsters surrounding you. Might is OK, but not as wonderful as you might expect, IMO. I used a defiance mercenary due to crappy armor until recently. Blessed Aim is a possibility, especially if you are having difficulties with Attack Rating, but he'll probably have trouble staying alive unless he's got amazing gear.
Iron Wolves can be cool for an additional source of elemental damage, and with lots of +skills, they can be marginally effective killing machines. If you want a source of freezing, the cold Iron Wolf is a good option. These guys run out of steam in late NM, though, so you might consider picking up a new mercenary there or in early hell.
Barb mercenaries can be sweet tanks, taking more attention off you and your amazing skills. With lots of life leech, a barb mercenary can stay alive practically for ever in most areas (and is a great choice).
Leveling Guide for a Sample Build
I don't really want to tell you where to put skill points when, because I feel that it's gear-dependent and should be done based on how you feel about the game, but it would undoubtedly be useful for first-time builders to have a levelling guide, so here it is. The basic plan is to put points in all prerequisites as soon as they open and max TS first a smattering of BoS, then alternate PS/Shadow Master, then fill everything else that needs filling. That's the way that I play D2, that will create a safe assassin build, and that's the way that I played to Matriarch. This levelling guide shows final values at the end of the levels. For example, "Dragon Tail (6)" in the 26-50 category would mean that, by level 50, you should have 6 base points in Dragon Tail.
Levels 1-25: 28 points (24 from levels +4 from quests)
Levelling early on should be a cakewalk. Once you get Dragon Tail, the game will become incredibly easy until nightmare difficulty because of very high splash damage.
- Dragon Talon (1)
- Dragon Claw (1)
- Fists of Fire (1)
- Cobra Strike (1)
- Claws of Thunder (1)
- Blades of Ice (1)
- Claw Mastery (1)
- Psychic Hammer (1)
- Claw Block (1)
- Cloak of Shadows (1)
- Fade (1)
- Shadow Warrior (1)
- Mind Blast (1)
- Burst of Speed (4)
- Dragon Tail (2)
- Tiger Strike (9)
Clvls 26-50: 27 points (25 from levels, +3 from quests)
Start this out with one in Phoenix Strike followed by one in Shadow Master. Phoenix Strike will be mainly used for freezing enemies at this point to allow you to make short work of them. Deviate from this guide if you want more points in Shadow Master to give her greater longevity.
- Shadow Master (1)
- Burst of Speed (4-7 depending on breakpoint of final weapon and expected +to skills...if you're unsure, plan on a maximum level of 11 for BoS including +to skills)
- Dragon Tail (12)
- Phoenix Strike (5)
- Tiger Strike (17)
Clvls 51-75: 28 points (25 from levels, +4 from quests
- Shadow Master (4)
- Dragon Tail (20)
- Phoenix Strike (20)
- Tiger Strike (20)
Clvls 76-99: 26 points (24 from levels, +2 from quests)
Here, you can do whatever you want. If you feel like your Shadow Master needs more help, add points. I would suggest maxing either Claws of Thunder or Blades of Ice for ease of use and elemental damage, but by this point you'll have a great feel for your character and will be able to make a best choice based on your gear and play style.