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Visit: Barbarian

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This Barbarian report was written in December 1999, after's visit to Blizzard North. It was the most comprehensive Amazon coverage ever, to that point. It's hopelessly outdated at this point, of course, but can still be read for archival value.


The Barbarian. Let's be a little retro and make an honest comment: Not everyone loves the Warrior in Diablo. In truth, many think he's one-dimensional and sort of boring, especially after a few Cathedral runs when the other characters in a party are attaining greater and more interesting spells and abilities. The higher one levels up, the less compelling the Warrior can seem: Ol' Mr. Smash and Bash. You've heard the jokes, "Me Warrior Ugh, me kill things." The Rogue and the Sorcerer increase in depth and complexity and interest, but the Warrior can seem to stay at the same superficial level in many ways.

This is not to disparage those of you who are tried and true, fully-enthralled Warrior players. It's just to explain why, when we arrived at Blizzard, we thought the Barbarian would be sort of "last pick of the litter" for characters. It turns out we were wrong. Dead wrong!

The Barbarian will be at least as interesting as any other Diablo II character, and some of his abilities and skills will make him especially complex and fun to play. While he doesn't have the spiffy magic of the Sorceress, can't summon that pack of spooky minions like the Necromancer, isn't Mr. Popular with ally-pleasing auras like the Paladin, and lacks the excellent combination of Ranged/Melee/Magic of the Amazon, he's really, really super.

The Barbarian

The Barbarian starts with an axe - nothing wonderful, just the usual middling start-up equipment quality - 1-9 comes to mind. He has no armour, but does carry in his inventory a few potions, and Scrolls of Identification and Town Portal (one each). Make a few turns around the Rogue Settlement, perhaps get a quest from Akara, and you're ready to head out the gates and into the Wilderness that surround the settlement. And then you come across a pack of monsters, and since they are the first you've seen, you know they'll be weak and piddly, but when you start taking them out so easily it seems you are landing blows even with your backswing, you hear yourself saying "Yep, that's a Barbarian all right."

Mr. Multi-Weapon -or- Is that a Javelin in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

In Diablo, every character was sorely limited in his/her ability to wield certain weapons. Though the characters could equip and use the items if they met the requirements, their success with them was quite limited. Both a Sorcerer with a Battleaxe, and a Rogue with a heavy staff were just silly. So too, could we all chuckle at the Warrior trying to shoot arrows with a bow, or cast a spell. (Can you say "fizzle?" ;-)

We have been told since early in the development of Diablo II, even before but especially at E3, that Blizzard North was aiming less for weapon specialisation and more for a well-rounded character who, although not equally adept in all weapons, at least wouldn't get sand kicked in his face if he gave a new kind of weapon a try.

Now, in Diablo II, and most clearly with the Barbarian, you get a real feel for how each character truly can use any weapon. In the course of our Barbarian's existence, he wielded a sword, a pole arm, an axe, a crossbow, a javelin, and an assortment of throwing potions and throwing weapons as well. And with all, he was at least adequate; with most one could see a great potential for major effectiveness as he grew.

We don't claim to have chosen a "smart" skill tree for the player who is investing his thoughts into building The Perfect Barbarian; rather, we scattered about a bit in order to taste the fruit from several of the Skill Tree branches. In addition, we chose some weapons a bit off the normal choice for the Barbarian. In reverse order for effectiveness, we'll begin with the least likely and move on from there:

The Crossbow Barbarian

Ok, he's not great. He's no Amazon, in other words, with her elegant ranged attack. But he didn't disgrace himself either. We tried the normal found Crossbow at about Level 8, and he did a creditable job of taking out the enemy. He shot a bit more slowly, and with his lower dexterity, his accuracy rate was lower as well. But overall, if you find a crossbow and you want to try it for a while, you'll do fine. He's not great, but he ain't half bad. The Barbarian has many Masteries, but has no Bow/Crossbow Mastery, so obviously he isn't supposed to excel in this particular weapon. Given that, he did ok with it.

When playing with bows or crossbows, recall the little hint from the Amazon Report: Be sure to stack and re-stack your arrows and bolts so as to acquire as much room in inventory as possible for picking up items or accepting the tribute paid to you when you kill a boss.

Remember too, however, that as it stands just now (subject to our nagging for a change, one supposes :-) if you have a full stack of arrows or bolts, you'll not be able to split some of them off to share with a buddy. So, if you are a Barbarian who wants to dink with a bow or crossbow for a while, but figures it's only for fun, or merely as backup for your usual melee attack, consider not stacking your arrows. Why? Well, once stacked they cannot be divided. If you have two stacks of 100, you can keep 100 for yourself and give 100 to your Amazon ally. But if you stack them into a single stack of 200, you will be arrowless if you share. Barbarian with a Polearm Armed with a Polearm

The Polearm Barbarian

Polearms aren't his strongest suit, probably, but he wields these well. To our recollection, they were all two-handed weapons, and we'll get into the drawbacks of that later. But anything that has a Mastery is going to be decent for his use, and unlike bows and crossbows, he does have a Polearm Mastery. Maybe it was personal preference, or maybe it was having played the Spear/Javelin Amazon and mistakenly thinking that polearms were like spears in their manner of attack, it seemed the Barbarian was a tiny bit less proficient with the polearm than he was with axes and swords. (But he looks great with one, do check the screenshot!) Perhaps it was the slower speed that caused the impression. His attack rate was good, and the damage he inflicted was impressive. His being more than adequate, though, is proof positive that if you have a lot of muscles, you can do well with any melee attack, even if using a non-custom weapon class.

The Sword Barbarian

Now you're talking! The sword goes with the Barbarian like chocolate goes with ice cream. The sheer variety of swords, with all their pluses and special attributes, and the socketability factor, means you could have "Sword O' the Day" for a long, long time without repeating your options even once. We tried a few, a beginning sword, a broadsword, and a few others. Ranges of damage were 1-4 to about 4-12 or more. And those were the unsocketed ones, of course. He doesn't just do damage, he does it masterfully: quickly and cleanly. Imagine a movie featuring the Barbarian wielding a sword (or axe, for that matter) mowing through a mass of Fallen, or Zombies, or Fetish, or two dozen other monster types. They fall, often seemingly from one blow, and at the end of the onslaught, you see him calmly wipe down his blade and say "Next?"

The Axe Barbarian

Aside from just looking right, the Axe Barbarian has the clout to back up his appearance. It may be our imagination, but it seems that the axe attack was not quite as fast as the sword attack, but the decimated carcasses at the Barbarian's feet play mute testimony to the Axe's effectiveness as well. Axes come in a wide variety of styles, shapes and sizes, far more than in Diablo. They are one-hand and two-hand weapons. One thing we learned was that a two-handed axe may be worth more than dual-wield with two one-hand axes. Axes are socketable, and benefits are noticeably received by the addition of some elemental effects such as fire, ice/cold, poison, lightning, and so forth. (See "About Socketables" below, as well.)

Duel Wield

Of all the Barbarian Skills, this might be the one that is attracting the most attention. It's just very cool: Take two swords, or two axes, and have at a flock, herd, or bevy of monsters. The attack rate is impressive. Not sure it's twice that of a single-weapon attack, but fairly close to it, and it only increases in power and speed and accuracy with more points applied. However, to paraphrase a Blizzard staff member, "Duel Wield isn't used all that often around here. We find that a good two-handed weapon is actually better than duel-wielding two lesser-quality weapons." So a two-handed axe is superior to two one-handed axes, even, presumably, when those single-handed axes are socketed with gems

About Socketables

As of this writing, the visual effects of socketed gems have changed from the effects reported in the other Character Gameplay Reports. In the Amazon report, we describe the "paper/scissors/rock" scenario, meaning that in items socketed with more than one gem, a single skill was programmed as the visual effect, and it was always the same. For example, the "Fire" graphics of the ruby might always supplant the "Cold" graphics of the sapphire. You would still obtain the freezing/chilling effects of the sapphire, but you wouldn't see airborne Cold Arrows, they would all appear as Fire Arrows, and you would only know you had the freezing/chilling effects by noting that the monsters had turned blue or are immobilized by the skill.

However, we learned just this week that (due to our special request, we like to think :-) there will be "alternating effects." If you have three gems - say, ruby, emerald, and sapphire - you might possibly see the visual effects of Fire, Poison, and Cold/Ice alternating with each shot or strike of the weapon. Or, "alternating effects" might mean that the visible effect is chosen randomly and then applies each time that weapon is used, but isn't always in a predictable order.

Potions and Throwing

Every character can throw, it's one of their innate skills. Poison Potions come in a lovely green colour, in the requisite Diablo glass bottle (plastics not having been invented, one supposes, in Medieval times). Orange Exploding Potions, called "Fulminating Potions," also come in a glass bottle. Both kinds of potions are sometimes found after killing a monster, and they are purchasable from NPC's, although sometimes only in their weakest form. As the screenshot here shows, there are at least two sizes of Poison Potions, and we've heard of three sizes of some.

Poison Potions

Potions stack in inventory, so one inventory spot could hold at most ten of them. If you replace your equipment from one hand into your inventory, equip the Poison Potion stack in the open hand, target, and toss, the bottle explodes into a cloud of poison gas, which turns susceptible monsters a lovely green and weakens them considerably, making them much easier to kill. It is certainly possible to have a stack of throwing potions in one hand and a melee weapon in the other; that works very well. When you attack in melee mode, he deals blows with the weapon.

Potions are thrown on an arc, rather than having a straight trajectory, so you can toss them over the heads of beasties and into just the perfect spot to affect the most damage. As long as you have the "throw" ability chosen, and you have the poison stack enabled, you can toss continuing bottles of the goop towards monsters.

What is unique about the Barbarian, of course, is his Skill Level 12 Double Throw ability. With that, you can equip Poison in one hand, and Exploding in another, and do major damage without getting your weapon soiled.


The sequence of leveling the Barbarian, through Level 18, offers troubling choices. You can go for Masteries, and have a ton of great skills that are passive. Now, that means that the Barbarian has them in his being, so to speak, and doesn't have to do anything to "use" them. No mana drain, no cost, no having to choose them instead of something else. If you use a weapon for which you have a Mastery with points in, you do a better job with that weapon.

With a character like the Amazon, you have a very diverse number of options for attack - ranged, melee, magic - and a lot of choices to make while climbing the skill tree. The Barbarian isn't as complicated; it's a given that you're going to use melee as your primary form of attack. But there are still complex issues to resolve in the area of skill point application. Do you select one that applies to all your melee attacks? Or choose one that enhances the weapon you have settled upon using? What if you've not yet decided whether you like swords of axes or polearms best? Then, do you choose one that is passive, but not as dramatic, or one that requires application (and mana) but does more, overall? Those and a dozen other questions face you as you gaze at your options.

For the Barbarian, we didn't want a specialist, but to get a feel for the whole range of his skills. We refer you to our Character Section, and particularly the Skill Trees of the Barbarian, for a full description of each of the Barbarian Skills, but we'll give a very light description of the Skill, and a few notes on our experience with it. It wasn't possible to explore them all, of course, but here's what we did:

Combat Skills

With all that the Barbarian's Combat Skills (click for full info) offer, you have a nifty variety of ways to dispense death and destruction, including:


This Skill adds damage to any attack and has a chance of adding a good knock-back effect as well in some complex formula that only Erich Schaefer could devise, and whom no other human could possibly comprehend so we'll not even attempt. Used this all the time for the right hand weapon primary attack. Cost is, we seem to recall, 1 mana for each use. The knock-back was random and seemed to occur more when damage had risen with experience. Some like knock-back, as it breaks up the mass of monsters and makes them easier to pick them off. Some don't care for knock-back, thinking they want to kill things as quickly as possible once they are in hitting range. Damage was a fixed increase to the minimum and maximum melee damage, and only applies to the weapon being used. So you apply Bash to the hand with the weapon that you want to enhance with its extra benefits. And it will have a varying effect, depending upon which weapon you choose. Thought: Do not play a Barbarian without having points (perhaps even quite a few points) in Bash.

Leap Attack

Leap and Leap Attack - Our first reaction to Leap was that it was merely so-so… unless you consider it an "investment skill." An "investment skill" {patent pending} is a new term we just made up this very second, and means that while the skill is adequate in its early stages, it's only really impressive if you are willing to put in more skill points as an "investment" towards the skill becoming great in future. Truth be told, Leap is fairly ok. He might jump across 1/6 or 1/4 of the screen. So with some monsters, that's an incredible bonus, With quick-moving monsters, it's ok but no great shakes. We saw him with 1 skill point in it, and then a CLvl 30 cranked way up. Slvl 1 was "Eh, you call that a leap?" and Slvl 30 was "Woah!" He leapt, he hovered, we gasped. With Leap Attack, at high levels, you get the gasp and perhaps an "all right!" as well, for he Leaps great distances and lands at the ready to render an instantaneous attack of great forcefulness.

Double Swing

This is the dual-attack movement where you equip two weapons and have at the target. Of course only specific weapons can be chosen. The Barbarian will do less damage with each weapon than he would if he was using just a 2-handed weapon, and one of the Blizzard guys told us a couple of days ago "a good two-handed weapon beats Double Swing, but there are times it [the Skill] is useful." Targeting, by the way, if there are two monsters about is that the Barbarian will smack the one on the right, then swing the other weapon to smack the one on the left. In a crowd, he doesn't seem to use both weapons to attack the same monster. The way to use this is to set the right mouse button for this skill and use it when attacking multiple targets. The mana cost is 2 (if we recall correctly) and it works very well.


This "temporarily renders the target inactive, disables his attack, and gives you time to finish him off" stuff is grand. As points are added, the amount of time the foe is disabled rises with each point applied. Use this against tougher foes like bosses. The monster would stop with what appeared to be tiny stars over his head and would remain stunned for one or more blows. So, one could do "The old 1-2" fighting system, using a right-buttoned Stun, followed by a left-buttoned Bash, swapping back and forth. In this way, you could deal a goodly amount of damage while receiving little in return.


he moves, he spins like the Tasmanian Devil, he attacks, all in the blink of an eye. This is very cool, and we can't help but think it won't just work nicely, but will scare the monsters with its visuals, too. While spinning, he attacks anything in his wake, so it is best to target a rear monster. Upon reaching the targeted monster, he stops spinning but deals a few more strikes. The Barbarian does maintain his vulnerability, so best to start this unstoppable Whirlwind while at full health.

Combat Masteries

Getting Combat Masteries (click for full info) for the Barbarian are an obvious choice. Masteries increase his efficiency in the use of weapons of many different types. These are passive skills, so once acquired, they do not need to be activated but automatically apply each time the weapon in question is used. Combat Masteries Combat Masteries

We chose to pop a few points into the Masteries of those weapons we knew we'd be using most, and here is what we did:

  • Sword Mastery - 2 points
  • Axe Mastery - 2 points
  • Mace Mastery - 1 point
  • Spear Mastery - 1 point
  • Pole-Arm Mastery - 1 point
  • Throwing Mastery - 1 point
  • Increased Stamina - 1 point
  • Iron Skin - 1 point

According to our correspondent at the PCXL beta back in the summer, weapon masteries at that time lent +25% to/hit and +25% to damage, with another 10% coming with each extra point. It's not that way any more, just as the Amazon's Critical Strike isn't so linear. The +25% to the attack rating, and the +25% is a good start, but it goes up at odd increments, so that, at ECTS, a Slvl 5 Mastery added 65% to attack rating, and would have bumped to 72% at the next rating.

So, while all Masteries kick in at SLvl 1, and they never rise as much as that first point, there is an appreciable difference between one point and two, and merit in placing more points in the one(s) for your weapon or weapons of choice.

Iron Skin is quite helpful, and with more points, might prove to provide excellent protection against ranged attack, which many future Barbarians have been a bit concerned about. Increased Stamina helped too, but with just the one point that we invested, it was hard to tell. Stamina isn't such an issue with the Barbarian, so we're really not sure this is a biggie for him.


If any area of the Barbarian's skills might be being underrated at this time, amongst the community, it may be the Barbarian's Warcries (click for full info.) This isn't about a beefy dude breaking into song on the battlefield. The Warcries are a very valuable tree to climb, and the Warcries contain what is, perhaps, the single-most delightful Skill in the game. Yes, that most-revered and most clap-hands-in-delight Skill: Grim Ward.

We did a lot of early "Mastery" investment, as you could see. This was because we knew we'd never attain, in 3 days, a sufficiently high Barbarian to be able to explore the highest level Combat Skills or Warcries, at least not legitimately. The second reason is because the Barbarian is reliant on "stuff" (meaning weaponry and equipment) more than any other character in the game, therefore any "stuff enhancing" abilities he is offered are surely to be explored.

Another point on Warcries is that they look good. People don't realize that too much just now, but there are great visual effects, and area of effect indicators, and you just feel good using these Skills. Yes, yes, in the end, though, it's all about effectiveness, and the Warcries come through in that area as well.

Later we will describe those high level skills we experienced with our "Pretend Barbarian" who was a Clvl 30 immortal. But as for Warcries, here are those we saw with our Level 1 - 18 Barbarian:


This skill is quite nice, and for a Level 1, effective, too. When surrounded by monsters, letting out a Howl will cause a beautiful green "rain" to fall upon your foes. The monsters would then step back a few paces and hesitate until the visual "raining" effect stopped. In what is the best part, though, rather than resuming the assault en masse, they would approach, now, in 1's and 2's instead of the horde you'd been fighting earlier. (Almost as if they had to get up their courage to rejoin the fight.)

Find Potion

A Barbarian with this skill, clicking upon the bodies of dead monsters and monster bosses, would find many more healing potions than would the other characters. When you clicked, the potion would sort of pop out. This skill seemed to work better with some monster types than others, but that could have been in our minds. Note about Find Potion: Yes, yes, we know that potions have recently been returned to Diablo II stores, where they will be sold by your friendly merchant NPC's. However, in speaking with Max Schaefer of Blizzard, we learned that this doesn't detract from the Barbarian's skill, for the potions that he finds, with Find Potion, will invariably be superior to those that are sold. At last report, Blizzard intended to keep Find Potion in the game as a Skill.


Just a note about Taunt. It might be our perception, but Taunt seemed a little bit silly as a Skill. There are only an assorted group of monsters who run away from you when they are injured, or when one of their group is killed. In Diablo, think Hidden, Fallen, Succubi. In Diablo II, there aren't that many "retreaters" either. So I don't know that I'd pop a lot of Skill Points into Taunt. Many times, you're so surrounded, as a melee attack, the last thing you want is to encourage even more to come your way at once. One possibility for its usefulness might be where you have higher-level monster mages, like the Advocates in Diablo, whom you'd otherwise have trouble catching.

Grim Ward

The description reads: "Target a corpse and create frightening totems." And because we know we've kept this for something special, and because we figure you'll like, it, here is a detailed story about what this Skill is all about:

The Barbarian has a group of monsters approaching, and is really feeling the pinch as far as taking them all down. He knows that even with a few Health Potions in his belt, and even with his stamina looking good, he's still going to have problems with this lot. As the monster crowd swells, he can feel the sweat break out on his manly brow. He realizes that this calls for something better than smashing and bashing, this calls for the invocation of Nature, with which he feels a great affinity.
The Barbarian reaches into his back pocket (well, figuratively speaking, that is), looks around him for the body of a monster he has recently killed, and targets it with Grim Ward. Poof! Out of the body springs a totem, green in colour, rather cross-ish in shape, with a skull at the top and a few bits ("battle honours," no doubt, from past victories) dangling from each arm. The totem is not massive, mind, but really quite discrete in size, about to waist or mid-chest level on the Barbarian.
The monsters, approaching en masse, see the sudden eruption of Grim Ward from the body of one of their slain members. And they are filled with horror, revulsion, and (best for you) incredible terror. They immediately turn and flee, moving back several paces and standing, helpless in their fear, while the Barbarian remains untouched. Yet, from another angle, they might approach again, 'tis true! So the wily Barbarian, instinctively knowing of their nefarious plans, turns to his right and left, and, finding other nearby bodies, casts a second, then a third Grim Ward. And up spring more totems, until he has three about him, with himself protected in a triangular field. The monsters stand helpless outside the area of the Ward. They actually try to approach yet again, and are repulsed. Forward they move, then they scuttle back. Forward again, then back once more. The Ward lasts longer than the individual "hits" of the terror effect; so while the Ward might be standing for 30 seconds, the monsters might be terror-filled, run away, and run back two, three times, even more. It's really highly amusing to watch the effect.  :-)

This is the same as the Terror Curse effect of the Necromancer, producing green shivery tear drops over the heads of those monsters who are affected, as in the screenshot to the right. The fear the monsters experience lasts only a few seconds, but it does cause them to scurry well back from the Barbarian, even all the way off screen. Once the fear dispels, though, they always return fairly hastily. One way you could use this offensively is to pursue the monsters and attack them while they are still paralyzed by the effects of the spell; they will be unable to resist your attack until the fear wears off.

At Level One, you need to be standing very close to the Grim Ward totem to experience its benefits; even at greater levels, the AOE isn't huge. Some ranged attack monsters will never be affected by the Grim Ward.

Additionally, Grim Ward will not last forever - the duration increases with each spell point invested, and most likely the area of effect will broaden too. Because of its short longevity, the Barbarian will need to recast it to continue its magical effects. Pending sufficient bodies about, he can do that; the mana cost is not horribly high. The reason Grim Ward works so beautifully is that it is protects those within its sphere, and allows the Barbarian and his nearby allies to used ranged attack out towards the monsters. Monsters are helpless, and drop like the proverbial flies, at which time more bodies are produced, upon which more Grim Wards can be cast…the more corpses, more Grim Wards… a lovely cycle of defence and death and destruction.

Short 'n' Sweet Gameplay Bit

Because it might be a shade confusing as to what order things happened, here is a very simplified version of the gameplay sequencing for our DiabloII.Net visits Blizzard North Barbarian:

We started with Barbarian in typical fashion with an axe and shield. At Clvl 1, we switched to a sword and shield and added the Bash skill, applying it to the left mouse button as his right hand weapon. After a while of that, and after admiring the effects of Bash, we found a nice-looking Crossbow. Not sure if we'd have tried the crossbow without it being a "found" weapon, but it worked better than we anticipated, and was a great way to have effective ranged attack and use up some surplus arrows we had picked up along the way.

Returned to sword use for a bit, and then decided to try a polearm, again having found one. This polearm weapon regenerated mana, but the loss of a second weapon option turned out to play a fairly heavy role in the decision to not use it indefinitely. At Clvl 6, having acquired the Double Swing skill, we used 2 axes for a while, and one was (again, good fortune smiled) a mana-regeneration axe. Finally, we settled on an axe for primary attack and a sword for the secondary, faster attack.

Towards the end of play, we used the innate throwing sklils, and started using left hand throw with axes, daggers, and javelins. They seemed to work with equal effect, but we selected the axes because of their higher damage/attack rating.

Ultimately, this proved to be our preferred method of attack for this particular Barbarian: Using a mana-regenerating axe in the right hand, so that there was virtually no need for mana potions, and equipping throwing axes in the left hand for ranged attack.

The Stash

The Stash is a great invention. Probably, though, the Barbarian will make less use of it than some of the other characters. Once he's settled on a few weapon choices, he'll not need things like arrows in his stash. What will be nice, though, is for him to have a second set of armour, something with some goodly immunities. If there is such as a thing as armour that is better for melee and armour that is superior for ranged attacked, he might want a set of both. Although, frankly, it doesn't seem there is such a fine line of distinction in protection from attack types.

The Barbarian - Wrap Up

He's not a thing of grace and beauty, our Barbarian. He doesn't offer quite as many choices in the area of character development. The chances are that you're going to end up a melee player, even given his throwing skills. But with Warcries, with his great attack enhancements, and with his Masteries, this is a very interesting character, deeper and more challenging to play than the Warrior in Diablo, but every bit as fun!