The sorceress is arguable the most fragile class in Diablo 2, since it has no minions, and has the least hp and defense. In hardcore, this makes it even harder to level up as death is permanent. In the first 30 levels, the player has to juggle between his hp, mana and equipment needs, splitting up the stat points into STR, VIT and ENE, whereas other classes do not need to focus on more than 2 initial stats with some ample life leeching or minions.
This section is a rough guide of how to level up a sorceress in the early stages with as minimal risk and danger as possible by soloing. I will not go into leveling the first 30 levels partied, because all there is to do for the sorceress is to cast static and frost nova while standing behind other players. Anyone can reach level 30 without dying by partying a lot, it just takes a longer time.
There are 2 main ways to level up a sorceress: beginning completely from scratch, and twinked to the brim. I will not go into the ethical issues on whether it is correct to twink a character or not from level 1. Most people twink.
Starting out with nothing, the basic method to level up from level 1 to 6 is by pure meleeing with the staff of Firebolt. Cast firebolts sparingly and just melee. Clear out the surface area of Blood Moor first before entering the Den of Evil. You will probably enter the Den at level 3, and come out at level 4 or 5. Proceed slowly into the cold plains and move a few steps at a time so as not to attract more than 5 monsters at the same time. Drink potions as needed to survive and pick up sashes and quilted armors to wear.
Your very first skill point should be placed in Freezing Armor, and put it on hotkey and cast it whenever it is down. It will keep you alive longer since you are doing a lot of melee fighting early on. Put the second point in warmth, and the third and fourth point into ice bolt and charged bolt (prerequisite for energy shield). On reaching level 6, throw the fifth and sixth points into frost nova and static field. Because you probably do not have any leech rings, put everything in the first 3 levels into VIT to double your hp, and from then on, put STR/VIT/ENE in a 2/2/1 fashion until you reach 75 Str.
Use frost nova to chill the enemies, static field is probably next to useless at level 1. Melee your way through Stony Fields and you should reach level 8. Put skill points into static field the next 2 levels to up it to level 3, and it should be sufficient to use both static and frost nova to melee your way through the Underground Passage.
Be aware of the dangers of Treewood Fisthead (Extra Fast, Extra Strong) and Rakanishu (Lightning Enchanted) and run away when you see them. On reaching level 12 in the Black Marsh, you can now use blaze or lightning. Using them is simple, for blaze, just cast it and run away and make monsters follow you in straight lines; for lightning, do the same, run away and make monsters follow you in straight lines so that you can cast lightning though them. By level 13 or so, you should abandon all thoughts of meleeing.
Advance slowly though Tamoe Highlands and Outer Cloister and you should reach level 15. Barracks and beyond in Act 1 is generally not a safe place for a sorceress to level in, so join a Kill Andariel game and party for that quest.
Level up in Act 2 sewers from 15 to 18, always cast frost nova to chill the skeletons and skeleton archers so that their damage is reduced by about half. Static field comes into play here, so the general idea is to frost nova a small group, cast static about 4 times, and then finish off with lightning. Pick up every item to sell if needed so that you can buy town portal scrolls to visit town every 30 seconds.
Lightning is chosen here because it is a prerequisite to Energy Shield and it can damage many monsters simultaneously, unlike ice blast. Once level 18 is reached, several options open up, but the safest route is the spike/static combo.
Whenever you STR increases to a point where you can upgrade your shield to one with a better blocking rate, do so as blocking is important for your survival with so little hp. When you come across items that add hp, wear them over those that add mana. As most of Act 1 and Act 2 deal fire damage, fire resistances is the only one of any real importance in the first 18 levels, as well as lightning resists for the occasional LEB.
From then on, level up with your preferred spell (lightning, spike, blaze) in Far Oasis, Lost City and Ancient Tunnels to level 24, party for Duriel and Mephisto and enter Act 4 at level 25. Skip Act 3 because flayers run too fast and can deal serious damage to you before you can react quickly enough to them (think of lag). Level 24 is chosen for Duriel because of Energy Shield.
By level 18, you should have an estimated amount of about 150 hp and 150 mana. Also, your warmth should be about level 6, static about 6, have one point in your main attack spell of choice at level 18 (spike/chain lightning/firewall), one in teleport and the remaining 6 points in prerequisites.
Some players have emailed in to say that Inferno and Blaze are also good spells to use in Act 1 and 2, especially if you manage to find a staff that adds to these skills. Blaze is extremely mana effective for the damage it does to monsters chasing you while inferno would be more useful against ranged attackers which do not move around much. Note that these 2 skills are not very useful beyond Normal difficulty though, with increasing enemy resists especially in a multiplayer environment.
Here, I will assume that you are twinked to the fullest possible extent, and have the following equipment at your disposal at level 1: Tarnhelm, The Eye of Etlitch, 2 SoJs, Khalim’s Will, Nightsmoke, Threads of Cthon, Wall of the Eyeless, Twitchthroe, Bloodfist, Magefist, Umes Lament or Maelstrom.
By level 18, I will also assume you have the following equipment available: Dragon’s Wand of the Magus, Frostburn, 3D-Tower shield. By level 22, I assume you can switch to a +1 sorceress amulet with other modifiers, as well as Wyrm’s rings and perhaps even Wyrm’s wand of the Magus. By definition of being fully twinked, I also assume you will have access to Act 2 at level 12 and Act 4 at level 18.
Any other combination between fully twinked and fully untwinked goes under the “semi-twinked” category, and probably parts of the information from both the Twinked and Untwinked section apply.
If you do not have Nightsmoke, Lenymo will do. A magical Amulet of the Leech (level 4) can replace the Eye of Etlitch. High mana rings can replace the SoJs but they usually have a level 18 or 22 requirement. If Khalim’s Will is too much of a hassle to transmute, a Hellforge Hammer will work as well. If there is no Twitchthroe, Greyform will work fine and quickly change into a high defense armor as soon as possible. Of all the equipment, The Wall of the Eyeless is really the key to power-leveling the first 30 levels, so try to get one, it really makes life a lot easier.
With 5% life leeching and a Khalim’s Will swinging 3 times every second, you should be able to melee everything in sight up to level 14 without using a single potion. Work your way though to Outer Cloister, even monsters there die in at most 2 swings in a 8 player game. Why? Khalim’s Will does 1-15 damage, adds 1-40 lightning damage. Add in 1-3 cold damage from the Eye. Add in 2-24 lightning damage from 2 SoJs. Add in +5 max damage from Bloodfist, and if you opt to use Hotspurs, that’s 2-4 additional fire damage. Now throw in the STR bonus and you pack a mean punch swinging at an insane speed. While meleeing, follow the same skill plan as an untwinked character, and cast frost nova occasionally.
If you happen across a LEB, melee it once to see if you lose a significant amount of life. If not, hit him 2 more times and if you feel you can handle the lightning damage with a few potions, go for it. Rakanishu is completely melee-able with 5% life steal and a Khalim’s Will.
Alternatively, once you reach level 8 or so, you can start to collect monsters, about 15 of them, in Dark Wood and Black Marsh. This is relatively easy, considering the amounts of carvers you meet there. Cast static field 5 times, cast frost nova twice, and you have a dead playing field. You used 70 mana, but you gained 75 from the Wall of the Eyeless. If you follow this method, it would be better to take off the Khalim’s Will and wear an Umes. If you don’t have the Wall, do this near the waypoint for quick town refills. At level 12, instead of using frost nova as the finisher, change to lightning. Remember that all your skills are at level 2 or 3, so they can kill in Act 1.
If you wear enough “damage reduced” items, say -4 damage, such as Bladebuckle, you can turn on Shiver Armour, and watch everything in Tamoe Highlands kill themselves when they hit you, while you suffer no or little damage.
Enter Act 2 at level 12 to 14. You can still melee effectively to level 18 in the sewers, but you will require about 150 AR. This can be achieved using AR rings and perhaps using the Centurion unique leather armour. If you’re meleeing, you probably won’t need mana from 2 SoJs anyway, so take one off and wear an AR ring. The better method would be to use frost nova/static/lightning to kill until level 18.
Once you hit 18, you can opt to jump straight to Act 4, and static/spike in Steppes. Mana potions drop everywhere on top of your high mana and regeneration. If you want to feel really safe, go to Act 4 at level 24. Level up only in Steppes and Plains. If there are burning souls in Plains, either switch to a 3D-tower shield, or avoid it if you do not like taking off the Wall, since +5 mana per kill is way too cool at low levels where spells don’t cost 40 mana to cast. With the Wall, the Flesh Spawners are an extra bonus, because each extra young you kill nets you 5 more mana with a Wall of the Eyeless and with a area effect spell like Blizzard or Spike, a few more young doesn’t really make a difference.
A sorceress probably takes the same amount of mana to kill two monsters or a group of 20, hence the key power-leveling is actually to ignore the stragglers and collect monsters. If the stragglers follow you, they will eventually die with the next group of monsters. A lot of strategies involve collecting monsters for efficient killing, since the mana pool of a sorceress is poor at low levels.
Avoid City of the Damned and River of Flame, since there are Abyss Knights and Damned monsters, both of which are cold and static resistant, and there are Urdars, which regenerate their HP way too fast.
The skill and stat points allocation should be roughly the same as that of an untwinked sorceress.
Regardless of equipment, leveling up from level 18 to 30 uses the same strategies and skills. The only difference between twinked and untwinked sorceress is that twinked ones have a lot more mana to burn, and have skills that are higher level from +items. But higher level spells means higher casting cost, so the difference is that twinked characters can clear faster with less mana problems, and probably can survive a timeout while an untwinked one will have to visit town a lot more often and cannot survive a timeout.
How to level up from 18 to 30 would largely be determined by the type of sorceress being built, and which skill tree is being followed. I will consider 3 main types of sorceress, fire sorceress (one that plans to use hydra, meteor or firewall), ice sorceress (one that plans to use blizzard, orb or glacial spike) and lightning sorceress (one that plans to use nova, chain lightning and thunderstorm). A combination sorc such as one that uses 2 skill trees can probably apply strategies from both types of sorceress, usually with greater effect.
The fire sorceress is one of the more viable sorceress to level, but when going down this path, consider the effects of causing lag to yourself and other players from using fire based spells. However, when played properly, they are equally devastating as compared to ice sorceress. It is inferior to the ice sorceress in that ice spells do not cause as much lag, and they have the side effect of chilling the monsters while fire spells rely on brute damage.
Firewall is not a good choice to use for leveling up from 18 to 24 because it’s duration is too short to be of any real use. Blaze is probably a better choice, just cast it and run. If frost nova is used to chill, you can double back and forth creating uber-blazes for the enemy to run through.
By level 24, if firewall is your main choice, it should be developed to level 5 or so now. It is now powerful enough to kill with a decent duration. Collect a few monsters, cast frost nova on them, and cast firewall in an asterisk pattern. Run around the perimeter of this asterisk of fire, keeping the enemy monsters inside. While running, cast static field every 2 steps or so. This technique is called kiting, and is similar to using blizzard.
At level 24, the meteor spell becomes available, it’s usage is the same as that of blizzard, but it takes practice to time it accurately so that it lands as the monsters walk into it.
If you’re twinked, you can go Act 4 immediately and blaze away, with a high defense armor, or Twitchthroe + Wall of the Eyeless, you probably can survive anything in the Steppes. Otherwise, Blaze is effective in Act 2, so stay in Act 2 till you are 24. Enter Act 4 at about level 25 and switch to meteor or firewall.
The ice sorceress is the easiest and safest sorceress to level. Chilling a monster slows it down by about half, so the monsters do damage at half their speed, and you will not get stunned lock. Most players have at least one way to chill the enemies and ice sorceress are the most popular choices in leveling a viable sorceress. And op top of all this, there is Cold Mastery is help as well.
Whether you plan to use Glacial Spike, Orb, or Blizzard as your long term spell, the method to level is simple. Walk around the area you are in, gather a huge crowd of monsters to follow you. Use Frost Nova to chill them as you gather monsters and when you have a sufficiently big crowd, chill them again with Frost Nova, cast static field twice and glacial spike once in alternation until they are dead. This uses up about 100 to 150 mana, so return to town as soon as the battle ends, or you exhaust your mana first. Granted, you may find yourself visiting town every 30 seconds. When casting Spike, aim at the stranglers first, before they drain your mana. The glacial spike method is viable all the way until you reach level 30.
When you attain level 24, a second method of leveling becomes available to you in the form of the Blizzard spell. Similarly, you walk around the area collecting monsters, but instead of casting Frost Nova, you cast 2 or 3 Blizzards, and just static as the monsters walk through the storm. If any monster actually reaches you, Spike them once and it’s probably dead. This is actually more mana efficient than simply using static/spike.
If you are twinked, you can jump straight away into Act 4 at level 18 and static/spike away. Stay in Steppes and Plains till level 30. If you are untwinked, just use spike with perhaps only one or two castings of static in Act 2, going into Act 4 at level 25. Flayers run too fast for your own good, even if you use glacial spike.
The hardest sorceress type to play is the lightning sorceress. Aside from the fact that most lightning spells do not have their minimum damage increased as the skill level increases, Chain Lightning and Lightning have a constant casting speed (23 frames) that cannot be reduced by fast cast items. Throw in the fact that most monsters in Hell Act 4 have very high lightning resists, it is easily seen why this path is rarely chosen, except for the challenged.
The typical method would be to run around collecting monsters, cast frost nova to chill, and static a couple of times, followed by a finishing Nova or a few Chain Lightnings. There really isn’t any other method for a lightning sorceress to use. At level 24, a bonus spell, Thunderstorm comes into the scene, but since that is an automatic damage dealing spell, it’s really just more of a bonus, allowing you to still finish monsters should you run out of mana to cast chain or nova.
Just like an ice sorceress, twinked characters can jump to Act 4 at level 18, while untwinked ones can remain in Act 2 till 24.
Beyond level 30, there is not much point writing a guide to how to level, because everybody would have a different set of skills and playing styles. During this time you should have already formed an idea of what spells you would like to specialize in. The only advice that I can give is what levels you should be before you advance into another act.
Enter Nightmare difficulty at level 33 to 35. Party with a group for Diablo in Chaos Sanctuary, or obtain help to kill Diablo from your friends. There is no reason to rush the confrontation, since it is a good idea to stay a while in Act4 anyway, trying to improve your sorceress for Nightmare. You should be at or near 75 STR by now to use a tower shield. Do not be afraid to go back to Act3 periodically to check the vendors for items, especially since Ormus’ supply of spell caster weapons is much larger than what Jamella offers and will have the same level of quality, given your char level. Halbu sells some pretty good armours, keep looking until you see one with the colossus suffix, which can add over 50 HP.
In Nightmare, ignore Act 1 in general, the experience is too little to be useful, and the rogues run faster than the skeletons in the sewers. Skip to Act 2 and level up from 33-42 in the Sewers, Far Oasis, Lost City and Ancient Tunnels. You can go as far as level 46 in the Lost City before suffering exp losses. Again skip Act 3 and enter Nightmare Act 4 at level 42-46. By then, a sorceress should have about 400 hp and 600 mana. A conservative player would enter Hell difficulty at level 55, but level 50 is fine as well.
Once you enter hell difficulty, get to Act 4 as soon as possible, and party with necromancers/amazons to run River and Chaos. If you prefer to solo, do the same areas in Act 2 from level 55-70 and enter Act 4 at level 70. Again, it is NOT wise to level in Act 3. Might Enchanted flayers kill in 1 second, whether in Nightmare or in Hell difficulty.
Most people do not play sorceress as their first class in hardcore, but rather other classes. The fragility of a sorceress is such that it makes a lot of difference when it is twinked and untwinked in the first 30 levels. Most players tend to play other classes first and collect items for a future hardcore sorceress. Off the record, I have managed to solo a level 30 sorceress in 4 hours twinked (with help for Act Bosses), while my very first hardcore sorceress took about 3 days (about 5 hours a day) of tedious playing and partying to reach the same level untwinked.