Welcome to another fishy guide. 🙂 This time it’s for a martial arts / traps assassin hybrid. The martial arts half of the build focuses on huge physical damage. The combination of tiger strike and a two-handed weapon is downright impressive. The traps half adds corpse exploding lightning damage to the mix. CE helps a lot when confronted with large mobs while the lightning damage is good when faced with PIs or enemies you don’t want to meet head-on. The lack of defence and blocking is more than compensated for by the assassin’s incredible crowd control skills which makes this build a viable option for HC play, too. I’ll try to note the differences between SC and HC when possible, as always with my guides, the main focus is on HC and playing more or less untwinked.
I’ve found this char very fun to play, definitely one of the best I’ve had. She’s also a pretty good assassin from an RPG point of view: Fragile, yet very deadly when striking from the shadows. Just the way I think assassin should be. But despite her being quite fragile, she is very well capable of making guardian. That said, trying this in HC is not recommended if you’ve never played HC before. It’s not uncommon for assassins to use a large number of hotkeys and this one is no exception. either. What I’m trying to say is that this char requires you to have a certain amount of skill and some reflexes but it’s nothing one can’t handle with a bit of practice. Anyway, now that you have a rough idea what this is about, let’s get started.
First, I’ll illustrate the basic build that I used to make guardian. I’ll go over the base concept once so that the stats and especially the skills make more sense. This build does not use claws and it doesn’t use kicks either. The idea is to charge up tiger strike and release it with a regular attack. (I’ll add a claw using variant in the appendix, though.)
One typical approach is to have enough Strength and Dexterity to wear your gear and put all the rest of your points into Vitality. You can’t really go wrong with that. If you’re going untwinked it’s pretty hard to tell what your endgame gear will be like so it’s not easy to tell what strength you’ll need in advance. What I’d recommend is to conserve your skill points if you’re in doubt and spend them when you think you’ve found your endgame gear.
My own assassin had 105 strength, 120 dexterity, 250 vitality and 25 Energy (base) when she beat the game. I’ve found this to be a pretty good balance between Strength to wear gear, dexterity to have some flat AR and vitality to be able to take a few hits and still live. Of course you can only keep your strength this low if you find one of a few choice weapons so you might have to allocate your points differently.
At any rate, it is recommended to have about 1000 life in Hell, just in case.
As for stat progression: Early on you might want to spend most of your points on Strength and Dexterity because enemies are weak and you need some base strength and dexterity to wear your gear. But don’t neglect vitality completely or you might not get very far. It’s possible to die in normal, too. (obviously, this mostly applied to HC).
As is often the case with hybrids, you’ve got to make every skill point count here. When you are in doubt whether or not you should get a point in a skill I didn’t mention or recommended against I’d suggest to make a backup of your char and do some testing.
First, let’s go over the what and then let’s take a look at the why:
That’s around 90 skill points which is more or less doable without any major leveling. Doesn’t matter whether you have 15 or 20 points in LS.
Okay, now let’s explain why we did this, how we’re going to use what we got comes in another section.
The Martial Arts tree should be pretty clear: Tiger Strike is our main source of damage so maxing it is a good idea. Cobra Strike is especially helpful in untwinked play but even when twinked it is well worth one point.
The Traps are pretty obvious, too. We’re maxing Death Sentry to get a huge radius on the corpse explosion as well as to get our lightning damage up. Lightning sentry acts as a synergy for Death Sentry, but even before I had maxed LS I found DS’s lightning to be helpful already. Why 3 points in fire blast? Well, you get an extra shot for death sentry for every 3 points and as you have to spend one point anyway… I found it helps me because I need to recast DS less frequently. Definitely worth two more points.
The Shadow Disciplines are what makes or breaks this character. Let’s take a look at the relevant skills, starting with Cloak of Shadows. This is the most important skill for this build. It blinds all enemies in a huge radius, making them stand around doing nothing while you are free to dart around between them and bring them a swift death. The importance of this skill in terms of crowd control can not be overemphasised, more on how to use it later on. For now let’s just say it rules and move on. Burst of Speed is a very handy skill and I had it active at all times. I wouldn’t spend more than one point on it if you have a few +skills items up your sleeve. If you don’t have any I’d spend about 3-4 points but not more. Shadow Master is one of the best summons in D2, maybe even better than the Valkyrie. Her usefulness increases as you spend more skill points and at higher levels it’s almost impossible to kill her. You won’t regret spending skill points on her, that much is for sure.
Now, what about the skills I recommend to spend 0-1 points on?
Venom is a neat skill but this build lacks the points to have a naturally high level here. If you’ve got a lot of +skills items one point might actually give you a sufficient boost to make it useful, though. It won’t ever be your main killer, it’s just one more way to make the most of high +skills.
Fade is okay but I just couldn’t get used to being slow again. My resis all were where I needed them without fade anyway so I didn’t really need it. Not even in the chaos sanctuary to reduce the curse duration. It doesn’t really help if the duration is reduced by X% if a new curse is cast every few seconds. Even reduced, the duration never runs out.
Mind Blast is a lot of people’s favorite crowd control skill but I found that even though I had a point in it, I rarely used it. Cloak of Shadows is just superior to it in every way. (at least for this build, might be different for other chars). For one, you have to target mind blast whereas CoS is centered on you, making it an auto-target skill. Next, CoS is a lot more reliable. It will always work (with the exception of the few monsters immune to it) whereas mind blast might not work when you really need it, or the duration might be up when you’re right next to a converted enemy. Finally, your shadow casts mind blast often enough so that it’s not really necessary to do it yourself. So, if you like mind blast, go for it, but I’d rather spend the skill point elsewhere.
I won’t give level per level instructions as this character’s skill progression is pretty straightforward and the exact numbers depend on when you get the quest skill points. Basically you more or less max your skills one after the other and get points in the one point wonders as soon as you can. First skill we work on is Tiger Strike. Get a point in Burst of Speed at 6, Cobra Strike and Cloak of Shadows at 12 and Shadow Master at 18. (don’t forget to the prerequisites ;))
Next order of business is to get Shadow Master up to a level where it starts being useful. That depends on how much + skills you can muster, I’d suggest about 10 points for starters and adding more later on.
Once that’s done I’d max Death Sentry and then put a few more in Shadow Master before synergizing DS. After you have about 10 points in LS I’d put some more into Shadow Master, again depending on your + skills. When you get the 2 other points in Fire Blast is up to you. I didn’t really use traps until I reached Hell, but in Hell I wanted them. 🙂
If you’re using venom and Mind Blast you might want to get points in there early on, especially in venom.
I think this deserves its own section as this is something that’s very important for this char. You’ve got so many hotkeys that you really can’t use the F-keys and hope to rule. You can probably do it but more likely than not you will die trying because you’re just a bit too slow (in HC at least).
Now, of course there are many ways to arrange your hotkeys, here’s what works best for me:
Potions are okay on the number keys from 1-4
The little “^” to the left of “1” is what I use for weapon switching.
Skills are placed on q,w,e,r,a,s,d,f, y/z, x,c and F12 for town portal. (y/z because it’s different for US and German keyboards 😉 the key I mean is on the lower left corner at any rate)
Mercenary Inventory is “o”
My Inventory is “i”
Quests are “u”
Stat Screen is “z/y” (the key left of “u”)
The Skill Tree is on “t”
Here’s how I mapped my skills, worked good for me. (LMB means it’s on the left mouse button for me. All the rest is on the right one)
As you can see it’s arranged by groups as best as possible. First row: Attack Skills, Second: Crowd Control and Traps, Third: Buffs and Summons.
Side note: If you’ve been using the F keys so far and are remapping just now for this build it will take some time to get used to this. At first you’ll be slower than with the F keys but that’s what normal is for: Practice. Soon you will be a lot faster than you were before.
I’ve inserted this chapter so that the following one about gear will make more sense. For the record, I’m assuming that you enter hell in your early to mid seventies and that you will beat hell around level 80. This is the way things usually work out unless you take very long leveling breaks.
First, for those who didn’t know, the chance to hit monsters and the chance to be hit by monsters displayed in the character screen are not necessarily correct. The calculations ignore the effect of levels and as most things you’ll fight in hell are of a higher level than you are your chance to hit will be worse and their chance to hit you will be better than displayed. So, the stat screen might claim your chance to hit is 80% but in fact it’s only 70% or even 60%.
Okay, now let’s talk about defence and why this build doesn’t use it: I’ve found that defence needs to be pretty high in order to be reliable. It doesn’t really matter if you have 0, 2000 or 4000 defence. It more or less translates into “if it swings at me, it hits me”. So we ignore defence completely and with cloak of shadows at our side we can easily get away with that.
Now, what about AR? Well, it’s nice to see you’re doing 2-3k damage normally and 8-16k damage charged up but if it takes you 7 swings to get three hits for the charge ups and then another 3 to connect once on the finisher this lowers your damage over time quite a bit.
What I’m trying to say is that AR is a pretty huge issue for this character. We have two skills that help us here: Tiger Strike adds some % to your AR and cloak of shadows lowers your enemies defence which is a good start. Unfortunately, that’s as far as skills can take us. The rest will have to come from outside sources.
That’s something to keep in mind when we make our decisions concerning our gear, sockets and mercenary. I wouldn’t suggest having AR much lower than 8k in Hell. This seems like a lot and if you look at the stat screen it even translates into a decent chance to hit but don’t be fooled. Try counting your swings and your hits for a short while and you’ll be able to tell how often you hit. (20 swings, 10 hits = 50% chance to hit. Not 2 swings, 2 hits = 100% chance.) I’d be comfortable with about 12k AR or more.
I’ll mention some ways to help our AR now, though most of it will come up again later on:
- Getting a Blessed Aim Mercenary. This increases your percentile AR bonus and may be a very good idea. Most of the other mercenaries are no good to us anyway.
- Using the Angelic Amulet and 2 Angelic Rings. This is one of my favorite ways to increase AR, especially on characters that have a good percentile bonus but almost no flat AR.
- Putting points in Dexterity, 1 point in dexterity gives you 5 points of flat AR. Probably my least favorite method. I’d rather spend my points on vitality. But this char needs every ounce of AR it can get so going up to around 100 dexterity might not be a bad idea.
- Using Demon Limb’s Enchant charges. This is another way to increase the percentile bonus and it works really well. Demon Limb has 20 charges of slvl 23 enchant which lasts over 660 seconds (>11 minutes). Neat! I used this to replace my blessed aim mercenary.
- Getting more flat AR from your gear. Socketing perfect diamonds into helm and armour is definitely uncommon but a perfect diamond would probably help us more than a 40%ED/15%ias jewel.
Okay, so what are we looking for here? As our build is part martial arts and part traps we want a good compromise between physical damage for the MA side and + skills /mana for the traps side. First let’s take a general look at things. I’ll go over the item slots and say what we might want here.
Weapon Switch 1: A big, hurty two handed weapon. Damage is the main priority, followed closely by low requirements. (a thunder maul is great, but we don’t really want to have 253 Strength) IAS helps, too. Crushing blow is useful in hell when you’re reducing the players to 1. Don’t bother looking for open wounds or prevent monster heal, they are useless to this build. (this goes for all item slots).
Weapon Switch 2: This one will be for casting traps, SM and Burst of Speed, so what we’re looking for here is + skills.
Armour: Defence is not an issue here. We’ll never get it anywhere near high enough to be of use anyway. Resistances, +skills and AR are useful here. PDR (this typically means Shaftstop) doesn’t hurt but it’s not required.
Belt: Try looking for resistances and leech.
Gloves: Resistances, IAS and leech are all things you can find on gloves that are useful to us.
Boots: FRW is the main priority here, followed by resistances.
Helm: + Skills, resistances, leech, AR and resistances are what we’re looking for.
Rings: Look for AR, resistances and leech.
Amulet: +skills, resistances and leech.
Charms: Resistances, AR, Life / Mana.
Okay, so now that we have a general idea let’s take a look at a few options from the uniques and sets the game offers.
Probably the most important choice you’ll make is what to use here. As far as weapons go, the top choice is an upgraded Ribcracker. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t have one with close to 300% ED, even a mediocre one is awesome. As an added bonus you can equip it at level 56!
Another good option is Steeldriver. Damage, Speed, low requirements, all check. The regular and exceptional version make excellent weapons to use in normal and nightmare.
Bonesnap is a great starting weapon as well. Upgrading it once would make it definitely fit for nightmare.
Some harder to find but useful options include (but are not limited to) Doombringer, the Grandfather, Ethereal Edge, Hellslayer, Messerschimdt’s Reaver or Windhammer. Some of those do have very high strength requirements, though, making them a less than ideal choice unless you gear can boost your strength a lot.
On the weapon switch we want +skills and loads of them. 2 Bartuc’s Claws are the best option here. Culwen’s Point and Lidless wall can serve, too. Rare assassin claws can be useful, too. Skull Collector gives +2 to all skills, too. Ondal’s wisdom even has +4 (if you’ve got a perfect one, of course) and if you’ve got the very rare loot you could even use a Mang song’s lesson.
Picking your weapon is probably the only gear choice that’s independent of what else you have available. With the other item slots it depends on the other items your char is using. For example you don’t need the resistances from the skin of the Vipermagi if you’re already at 75% resistances.
There is no single best option here, in my opinion. A lot of things are more or less equally useful. One the unique side of things there are the spirit shroud, the skin of the Vipermagi, Shaftstop or que hegan’s wisdom that could be interesting, depending on what you need.
On the rune word side, Smoke (NefLum) is interesting for twinkered and untwinked play alike. Probably the cheapest way to get 50% resist all.
Gloom (FalUmPul) is interesting for similar reasons though there are a lot of builds that profit more from it than this one.
There are a lot of things you could use here. Harlequin Crest is useful but looks ugly. A rare +2 assassin skills circlet can be interesting. Rockstopper can provide resistances and FHR. Kira’s Guardian can boost your resistances if you need that and the CBF doesn’t hurt either. Vampire Gaze is useful, too but nearly as ugly as the shako.
As far as rune words go, Lore (OrtSol) and Delirium (LemIstIo) are interesting. But with Cloak of Shadows at your disposal you don’t really need Delirium. Blinded monsters are less dangerous than confused ones.
Natalya’s Boots are a very good pick here. 40% FRW and resistances to the two most dangerous elements are quite helpful. War Traveller adds 15-25 damage which turns out to be a fair bit after tiger strike, so they might be a good pick, too. Gore Rider might be worth a look too. Other than that, rare boots can quite often be better than the set and unique versions.
The String of Ears provides PDR and leech which may be what you need. Nightsmoke has some resistances and huge damage goes to mana which is never a bad thing to have. Verdungo’s Hearty Coil adds a nice amount of vitality. Rare belts are often quite useful, too.
Mara’s Kaleidoscope is probably the first thing that leaps to mind here. It’s indeed quite useful, especially for the trapper side of our char. Cat’s Eye and Highlords Wrath are okay picks, too. Same for Crescent Moon which provides nice leech.
Surprisingly, rare rings are quite often more useful than uniques, here. AR and resistances are what we’re most interested. The Stone of Jordan wouldn’t hurt for our trapper side, though. Ravenfrost might be interesting for the martial artist but personally I’ve found the cold damage annoying since shattered corpses can’t be used by DS. CBF is only moderately useful as blinded enemies rarely freeze you anyway.
Some items that may not be interesting on their own do gain a lot when used together with others from their set. This section covers the complete and partial sets that might be useful to this build. (all considered to be good enough for Hell)
Complete Disciple Set:
This is what my own char used to beat the game. The resistances are good, +skills are there, and the set gives a very nice boost to mana, too. That LoH is part of the set doesn’t make it any less appealing either. Overall a very good pick if you can compensate the lack of AR. (and if you can find it)
Complete Iratha’s Set:
Probably my favorite set in the game. Amazing resistances, even a boost to max resistances. 20% FRW and 20% IAS from the gloves. A very good and easy to find choice. As with the disciple, the fact that it includes an amulet might cause AR issues because you can’t wear the partial angelic.
Partial Angelic Set:
Another one of my favorites. Most common combination is to wear two rings and the amulet. All in all that gives you 115 life, 20% damage goes to mana, +12 replenish life and most importantly, insane amounts of flat AR. If you have AR issues, this is the way to go. More AR will most likely prove more useful than anything uniques can provide. You could also wear the armour and two rings, if your amulet slot is already occupied. For obvious reasons you should not use the weapon.
Partial Immortal King’s Set:
Another commonly used (partial) Set. The Gloves, Belt and Boots are relatively easy to find and give good bonuses, mainly to strength and some resistances. May be useful if you need extra Strength to equip a weapon for example.
There are only two mercenaries that you should consider for this build: Might and Blessed Aim. I don’t think I need to go over why prayer and thorns are no good to us.
Defiance is pretty useless because 1) even with defiance our defence will most likely not reach a level where it starts being useful and 2) with cloak of shadows at our disposal the need for defence vanishes anyway.
Holy Freeze is useless for similar reasons. We don’t need enemies to be slowed and blinded. They don’t move when they’re blinded in the first place, we don’t need them to not move slowly. 😀
Now, when should we pick blessed aim and when might? That’s easy: Pick blessed aim when your AR is lower than you’d like it to be. If that’s not the case, pick might. I’d suggest getting the might mercenary in NM and if you find that your AR is too low in hell change mercenaries there. That’s easier than switching back to Might if you reach hell with your aimer and notice that you don’t need him.
Personally I think I’d go with might. As you don’t have anything enhancing your physical damage while charging up, might has a pretty large impact then. It doesn’t do anything on the finisher, though. 1400% ED or 1600% ED is basically the same. The thing is that with might you are often able to kill one foe while charging up, finishing him on the 3rd strike and then knocking another one down in one hit with the finisher. If you go with the other AR hints I’ve given somewhere in here you can probably make do without BA.
As for his gear… Try to give him a big damage weapon with life leech if possible. An ethereal honor weapon leaps to mind. His armour should provide PDR if possible, Shaftstop being the obvious choice. If you don’t have that, aim for resistances. His Helm should provide leech, PDR or resistances. Tal Rasha’s Helm, Vamp Gaze or the crown of thieves are common picks.
Well, most of the time our tactics are pretty straightforward. First, we’ll always run, not walk, in case that needs to be mentioned. Of course you should cast your shadow and buffs before entering battle. Now, remind yourself of the strengths of this build: Speed, crowd control and a mean punch. So, at the start of a battle we move in close, trying not to get hit, cast Cloak of Shadows (using the weapon switch with fewer +skills as you can’t recast CoS until the duration is up) and then start kicking ***. (and *don’t* forget to recast CoS as soon as you can)
But don’t just start flailing around mindlessly, either. This char needs a bit of thinking to work well. Let’s say you start hitting an enemy with tiger strike and you reach the third charge up, what do you do now? If you think the answer is release the charges, you’ve got it wrong. 😉 First, look at how much life the enemy you’re hitting right now has left. If it is little, keep hitting with Tiger Strike (or switch to Cobra) until he’s dead and then release your charges on a fresh enemy. The best way would be to release the charges on a fresh enemy as soon as you’re charged up and then kick the first enemy some more but I’ve found that this is pretty hard to do. I think the way I described above is a reasonable compromise. 🙂
Well, this is already the most important lesson: Cast CoS, then kick ***.
On a side note, don’t forget that you’ve (probably) got 2 claws on switch which allows you to use weapon block. So if you approach a pack of archers for example it might be a neat idea to do so with the claws active.
Once you get traps you’re presented with more options. You could cast your death sentry before starting to attack. That way it helps with its lightning damage but might already be used up by the time you get the first corpses. Or you could back away after you get a couple of corpses and then cast DS. Both work okay. If you’re faced with something that scares you it might even be a good idea to play trapper for a while and let your mercenary and shadow do the tanking.
Well, that’s already pretty much all there is to say about normal game play. Just dart around kicking ***, keep CoS active and season the whole thing with a few traps. Rinse and repeat.
Now, on to some specific problems:
Act Bosses are generally not a huge problem for this character. She’s good at dealing with single enemies that have a lot of life. Just make sure you have your shadow out and in case of bosses with dangerous attacks (Diablo) be ready to dodge. Against Baal it proved to be a neat idea to charge up on his tentacle buddies and release on him.
Gloams are a joke with this lady. Once blinded they don’t do anything and before they’re blinded you are probably too fast for them to hit you. (then again, I’ve practiced a lot against them so they may just seem easier to me) At any rate, CoS is the answer (again). Death Sentry takes the trash out after you got the first few down.
Boss Packs are usually no big problem either. You deal so much damage that taking out the boss should be easy, especially since he is the only one that chases you after you cast CoS. This also applies to the seal guardians in the chaos sanctuary and Baal’s minions. Lister is a different story as he and his gang can’t be blinded. I’ve found that Death and Lightning Sentry are great to deal with them. Just retreat slowly and cast traps as you go.
The Ancients are tricky with this one. Needless to say that you need to re-roll them when they’re FE. Assuming you can get them unbugged I’d suggest to try and get at least two of them to attack your mercenary and shadow and then quickly dispatch the third. Be careful if they pack mods like cursed, extra strong or damage enhancing auras. If your mercenary and shadow can tank them and they’re not LI you can also use traps. That worked great for me.
Iron Maiden: Watch out when cursed with this one! Even a regular attack will probably be enough to kill you. My way to deal with this is to either cast traps, or run past the melee fighters and engage the oblivion knights as soon as they cast a different curse on me.
The FE Bug : Well, there is nothing you can do to survive if you get hit by a bugged enemy in hell. You’re just dead, end of message. One way to deal with this is to scan every single boss you meet for the bug and stay away if he is FE (stay away from the minions, too). Let your mercenary kill him or use traps. Just to be sure that everyone knows it, the bugged damage is not only active on the death explosion. It can transmit to charged bolts of LEs or beetles, regular attacks or just be dealt when the boss feels like it. Don’t be fooled if you happen to survive an FE boss, not all of them are bugged. Imo the best way to deal with this is to stay in SC or get a mod.
This is just a very small section but it doesn’t really fit elsewhere. I’d suggest to not have just rejuvenation potions with you, even if you have enough to fill your belt. I always use the first 2 rows for healing, third for rejuvenation potions and fourth for mana. This is simply because I like to have the right potion for the right moment. Sometimes I lose about 1/4 of my life and don’t want to use a rejuvenation potion, but especially in HC it’s beneficial to be at more or less full life if possible. I’ve found that I have less qualms about burning a healing pot than a rejuvenation. You don’t have to do it this way, it’s just something to think about.
Despite her being quite fragile, this is not a bad build for MFing. Of course she is not as good at it as the top notch chars but she is definitely capable. I’d suggest to keep your lightning resistances high and not completely ignore +skills but you can easily reach a decent level of MF with her.
She’s very good at running Hell Mephisto, for example. (assuming a fast map, of course). Once you enter durance 3, head straight for Mephisto: Turn south at the first crossroads and keep to the northern wall in the council member’s room. He’ll ignore you almost always leaving you free to deal with Mephisto himself. Recast your shadow on top of him and start kicking his ***.
Baal / WS K Runs are no big problem either. CoS keeps you safe from most things and DS makes sure you can clean the place quickly. (same applies to the pit)
Running the countess is also an option with her. A good map for her is pretty hard to get, though.
Andariel is not safe from her either. Her goons fall to traps easily and killing Andariel herself should not prove difficult for this one.
That said, I would probably not use her for HC MFing, simply because I tend to get sloppy when MF and this char does not tolerate a huge amount of sloppiness. She does stay fragile. But you’ve got discipline and want to keep using this char after she makes matriarch or guardian she’s definitely ready for more.
If you want to use claws with TS you only need to change a few minor things. First, you need a claw with good damage, obviously. Then you might want to play once point in Dragon Claw. While it does not add the bonus to both claw attacks as the skill description implies, the AR boost alone is worth the two skill points that takes. You might also want to place a few extra skill points in Weapon Block if you have very low +skills. The AR you will get from claw mastery (even if you leave it at base or low) will help a bit, too.
Basically this variant is a little safer (as you get weapon block), still stylish (in contrast to the use of a shield) but it deals quite a bit less damage. One might argue though (and in fact I do) that the added safety is not really needed most of the time as CoS takes care of that. Factor in that you forfeit >50% of your damage and you know why fishy loves his Ribcracker.
Okay, I think this should more or less cover it for now. I had a great time playing this char, and to a (slightly) lesser extent writing this guide, I hope it proves useful for somebody. 🙂