Saturday, March 31, 2012

The beta Demon Hunter

I've mentioned this plenty of times before but I will say it again: I tend to favor ranged classes in RPGs. My favorite class in Diablo 2 was the Amazon and it was only fitting that the Demon Hunter would be the first class I would try in the beta.

The Demon Hunter isn't so much as Diablo 3's Amazon but rather a combination ranger/tinkerer/rogue because apart from boring ol' arrows and bolts she also uses various devices like traps, turrets and even rockets and grenades. Diablo 3's Demon Hunter is essentially a demon assassin. Take a D2 Amazon, mix in some Assassin and this is what you get.

I chose a female for my DH, perhaps in keeping with D2's female Amazon, although the two are nothing alike.

The first thing that would make anyone hesitate to pick a Demon Hunter is the dual-resource system. At first this seemed very confusing to me. Which skills use which resource? How does each replenish? Which is more important? All these questions were hard to answer and the system itself was hard to visualize, until I got some hands-on time with the Demon Hunter.

The DH uses two resources, which is (so far) unique to this class in Diablo 3. On the left you have Hatred, and you start with 150 of that stuff. Hatred is rusty-colored. The dark blue stuff on the right is Discipline and you only get 30 of it.

Hatred regenerates quickly on its own and you use it to power some of your most potent offensive abilities.

Discipline regenerates more slowly and is used mainly for tactical abilities.

Both resources can be replenished by certain skills. Hatred, especially, can be generated by primary offensive skills, which is always a good thing. In this aspect, Hatred is similar, for example, to the Monk's Spirit. The Monk also has primary offensive skills which generate Spirit.

Read my quick primer on how skill slots work in Diablo 3, if you don't know that already.

Next, I will do a review of the skills and runes available in the beta, broken down by skill slot. Disclaimer: these are my personal opinions and tastes. YMMV.

Primary (left mouse - slot unlocked at level 1)
Lv 1 - Hungering Arrow - Hatred generator
Hungering Arrow is one of my favorite primary skills and it remained so even at level 13. It works with bows and crossbows and even though it doesn't do a lot of damage (only 115% weapon damage), it's main attraction is that it can penetrate enemies 1/3 of the time. When it penetrates, it's quite cool. If there's a single enemy, the arrow turns back and hits that enemy again, with yet another 1/3 chance to penetrate. For multiple enemies, it strikes another enemy after it passes through the first.
    Lv 6 - Rune - Puncturing Arrow
At level 6, a good skill (Hungering Arrow) becomes even better. This first rune increases the chance of the arrow to penetrate to 50%. Now you can watch in amusement how every second arrow you fire hits enemies multiple times.
Lv 3 - Entangling Shot - Hatred generator
Level 3 gives you this skill which, I will admit, I didn't use a lot. The skill itself is pretty decent because it ties 2 enemies together and slows both by 60%, also dealing 75% damage to them. It's a great crowd-control skill. At these low levels and especially in the beta, you are too powerful anyway and there's not much point in slowing enemies down, because the damage is much better with other skills. I'm sure this skill will be much more useful at higher difficulty levels.
    Lv 9 - Rune - Chain Gang
This rune simply entangles up to 4 enemies instead of 2. Again, this will be great at higher difficulties when you can fire a quick succession of Entangling Shots into groups of enemies to chain-slow them.
Lv 11 - Bola Shot - Hatred generator
This is the skill which took over from Hungering Arrow, albeit with reluctance. Bola Shot is a lot of fun to use, though it might annoy you a bit if you don't like waiting. After you hit an enemy with the "bola" there's a short 1 second delay after which the bola explodes for 130% weapon damage to the enemy. In addition, it also deals 110% damage to enemies in close proximity (7 yards). I use this skill a lot because it's barrels of fun to shoot several of these at different monsters and see them explode after 1 second. If you fire it in quick succession at monsters that are bunched together you will see them all go up in successive blasts. Unfortunately the beta is too short to give us a rune for this great skill.

Secondary (right mouse - slot unlocked at level 2)
Lv 2 - Impale - Hatred consumer
At level 2 your second skill slot will be unlocked and the only skill that can be used is Impale. If you read the description carefully you'll realize that this skill is weapon independent, meaning that you can use it with melee weapons if you so choose. I've read that someone finished the beta with a melee Demon Hunter. Whatever, if that's your poison, go for it. Impale is pretty straightforward. It consumes Hatred and does a massive 250% weapon damage to a single target.
    Lv 7 - Rune - Impact
This rune gives Impale a 65% chance to knock back the target and stun them for 1.5 seconds. I'm thinking that this could be useful for stronger monsters like rares/champions/bosses but at higher difficulty levels there are diminishing returns to stun duration. On the other hand this rune would be invaluable for a melee DH.
Lv 5 - Rapid Fire - Hatred consumer
Ah, finally a really cool skill. Rapid Fire transforms your puny bow into a veritable machine gun. You hold down the mouse button and start spraying bullets bolts at the enemy for 228% weapon damage. Even the sound it makes is pretty machine-gunny. The only downside is that is uses quite a lot of Hatred so you will run out of your main resource quickly. However...
    Lv 11 - Rune - Withering Fire
At level 11 you can rune Rapid Fire with this rune for a big improvement. Now, instead of using 20 Hatred when initially firing the skill, it only uses 5 Hatred. It also converts all damage to fire damage. This rune completely transforms the Rapid Fire. Now it is viable to use this skill most of the time, with only short periods of using something else (like Bola Shot) to recharge Hatred. But wait, there's more! Later on there's a passive skill that makes this even better! Read on to find out.
Lv 12 - Chakram - Hatred consumer
I will admit that I was stumped by Chakram. I honestly don't see a use for it as a ranged class. It might work if you go all crazy-melee-hunter but for a true ranged DH it feels very awkward. It fires a "chakram" which starts swirling in a spiral away from you, hitting monsters along its path for 150% weapon damage. The problem is that you can't aim it, making it extremely imprecise and impossible to control. It works better if there are lots of enemies surrounding you but what hunter worth her salt would allow that? I just don't know... if you can give me a good use for this skill (maybe at higher levels??), drop me a comment.

Defensive ("1" key - slot unlocked at level 4)
Lv 4 - Caltrops - Discipline consumer
Caltrops can easily become a signature skill for any Demon Hunter, especially if you like solo-ing stuff. It sets a trap underneath you. When a monster sets it off, it slows down all enemies for 60% in a 12 yard circle for 6 seconds. I use this all the time on my DH. It allows you to keep monsters at range and to hit them with all you've got while they're slowed. You can even set multiple caltrops if you want, as long as you don't run out of Discipline (about 3-4 of them).
    Lv 12 - Rune - Hooked Spines
This rune simple increases the slowing effect of Caltrops to 80%. This makes a good skill even better. Nothing else to say here.
Lv 8 - Smoke Screen - Discipline consumer
Once again, here's a skill which is pretty much useless in the beta. I can see how it can come in handy in certain situations, like when you are close to dying, for example. Just use this and you get 3 precious seconds to make your getaway. The beta hasn't presented any situations like this so the skill was useless for me. In Inferno it might come in handy if you are constantly in danger of dying. The problem is that this is a very situational skill and Demon Hunters are meant to stay away from enemies anyway so I would rather use other skills, like for example Caltrops. Oh ok, I admit that it might be quite useful for PvP. But enough of this.

Hunting ("2" key - slot unlocked at level 9)
Lv 9 - Vault - Discipline consumer
The Hunting category has been the most boring and under-used for Demon Hunters in the beta. The only mildly useful skill is Vault, which causes you to "tumble acrobatically" for 35 yards, in the direction of your mouse pointer. I use this skill sometimes, mostly to move quickly. I have yet to use it to escape a difficult encounter, though I can see that it can be very useful for those kinds of situations.
Lv 13 - Preparation - long cooldown, no resources used
Here's another useless skill (for the beta). This one has a 45 second cooldown and restores all your Discipline when used. Can't see it being useful unless you like to spam, say, Caltrops.

Passive Skills (1st slot unlocked at level 10)
At level 10 we finally get our passive skills. Luckily, you can choose between 2 of them at this level.
Lv 10 - Tactical Advantage
This one can work well with boring skills such as Vault, Smoke Screen or Evasive Fire (not available in the beta), in that it gives you 60% increased movement speed for 2 seconds after using that particular skill. I'm betting that it will be popular in some PvP builds but in the beta it's completely pointless. Luckily there's a better passive to pick at this level...
Lv 10 - Thrill of the Hunt
Now here's an interesting passive skill. The description says: "Every 10 seconds, your next bow attack will immobilize your target for 3 seconds." It seems like a very cool effect, though, to be honest, I haven't really noticed it in action. I guess that's because monsters die so quickly that it's hard to tell when they become immobilized. I also wonder if this works with attacks which hit multiple monsters. In any case, this passive is better than the alternative.
Lv 13 - Vengeance
Vengeance makes the beta Demon Hunter complete. The reason why I love it so much is that health globes now also restore some of your Hatred and Discipline in addition to health. This makes you really awesome because you can use Rapid Fire (runed) almost constantly, while also throwing down Caltrops for example. Killing lots of monsters will give you lots of health globes which replenish your resources, allowing you to kill yet more monsters.

Here ends my analysis of all the skills and runes available for the Demon Hunter in the Diablo 3 beta. Next, I will explain how my own progression from level 1 to 13 went.

Level Progression

Level 1
Really no choice here - There's Hungering Arrow and 1 skill slot.

Level 2
You get your second skill slot, as well as your second skill, Impale. Use Impale until you run out of Hatred, then switch to Hungering Arrow to replenish.

Level 3
You get Entangling Shot. You can switch to this or continue using Hungering Arrow. Either way, pick the one that feels the most fun. Entangling Shot will slow down monsters if you find they are too quick for you.

Level 4
You get your third skill slot, as well as Caltrops. Now you can finally use your Discipline resource. Place Caltrops before attacking a large group of monsters. Move to keep Caltrops between you and the monsters. Also place it behind you if you are trying to escape. There are many tactical uses for this skill and remember, you can place multiple Caltrops until you run out of discipline. Thanks to the dual-resource system you won't run out of resource for your damage dealing abilities.

Level 5
You can now replace Impale with Rapid Fire. Impale might still be a better single target skill but Rapid Fire is good for mowing down multiple enemies, especially if they are bunched together.

Level 6
The excitement starts at level 6. The first skill rune is unlocked. Hungering Arrow gets the Puncturing Arrow rune. If you switched to Entangling Shot, I suggest you switch back to runed Hungering Arrow. I find it a lot more fun.

Level 7
Nothing exciting here. Impale gets its first rune (Impact) but you won't care if you switched to Rapid Fire. If you like to play a melee DH, then this rune is mandatory.

Level 8
Smoke Screen becomes available. Yawn. I would ignore it because Caltrops is so much more useful.

Level 9
Your 4th skill slot is unlocked, along with Vault. Use Vault whenever you feel like moving quickly in one direction and you have enough Discipline, or when you are trying to escape certain death.

Level 10
Passive skills are now available. I suggest picking Thrill of the Hunt, although you may not notice the effect in action.

Level 11
Bola Shot becomes available as a primary skill. I would highly recommend trying it, if not replacing Hungering Arrow with it. Also, Rapid Fire gets its first rune, Withering Fire, which makes it way better than the basic skill.

Level 12
Chakram is unlocked. Yawn. More importantly, Caltrops gets the Hooked Spines rune which makes it more effective. No reason not to use it.

Level 13
The most useful passive for the beta becomes available, Vengeance. Use it. Also, Preparation becomes available for your Hunting Skills. I don't see any reason to use it in the beta.

In summary, here's my level 13 beta Demon Hunter build. It works really well for me and it's a lot of fun. Of course, there are tons more skills and runes until level 60 so a final build is likely to be different, also depending on your goals and style of play. I find the Demon Hunter lots of fun to play and as of now I'm 99.99% convinced that it will be my main character when the game is released.

Also read:
The beta Witch Doctor
The beta Monk
The beta Wizard
The beta Barbarian

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