Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The beta Barbarian

My review of the Barbarian is finally here, the very last class that I played in the beta. It's not that I hate the Barbarian, but as the only class to transfer from Diablo 2, I thought it would be the most boring. It turned out to be a lot more fun that I anticipated.

The Barbarian is a big, lumbering brute who will smash anything in his path with his humongous weapons. I just love how enemies are flung across the screen like rag dolls by many of the Barb's skills.

I tried both male and female Barbarians but I am going to stick with a male because I like his voice better and he looks more experienced and threatening than the female.

In a departure from Diablo 2, this Barbarian uses a different type of resource - Fury, which acts very similarly to the WoW Warrior's Rage. Fury is also somewhat similar to the Monk's Spirit, although it is generated by using certain skills as well as getting hit. There's a fixed pool of 100 Fury and you start with an empty bulb. You build Fury as you push forward, hitting enemies and getting hit by them. When you're out of combat your Fury slowly depletes until it reaches zero. A later passive skill not only prevents it from depleting but also generates a small amount every second. Another passive adds an extra 20 Fury to your pool and also boosts the regeneration rate.

While initially I felt a bit constrained by the lack of Fury, I realized that the Barbarian isn't that much different from the Monk. His primary skills are powerful enough to do serious damage and a few hits will build up sufficient Fury to unleash more powerful skills.

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

Next is a review of all the skills and runes in the beta, broken down by skill slot, with the usual disclaimer that these are my own opinions and tastes.

Primary (left mouse - slot unlocked at level 1)
All of the Barbarian's primary skills generate Fury.
Lv 1 - Bash
This is first spell you start the game with. It generates Fury and does 150% weapon damage to a single target. It also has a 20% chance to know the enemy back. This is a very solid single target skill that will get a lot of use early in the game.
    Lv 6 - Rune - Clobber
Your first rune at level 6 will improve Bash so that instead of 20% knockback chance it gets a 35% chance to stun the target for 1.5 seconds. This isn't much but I guess it's better than nothing. In those 1.5 seconds it's almost a given that normal monsters will be dead.
    Lv 13 - Rune - Onslaught
A more interesting rune for Bash comes at level 13. It removes the knockback component but adds 2 "reverberations" that each deal 20% weapon damage. Essentially it allows you to deal 190% total damage with one Bash. The animation looks like small shockwaves which radiate forward from the point of initial impact. This is a very good improvement but at that level I'm not using Bash anymore so it might be moot depending on your play style.
Lv 3 - Cleave
My favorite primary skill comes early, at level 3. It easily replaces Bash because now it does AoE damage to monsters in a wide arc in front of your character. The damage is only 120% but it affects so many more enemies. I have always loved spells called "cleave" in games. In WoW, one of my Warriors' favorite spells was also Cleave. So for me this is a no-brainer.
    Lv 9 - Rune - Rupture
An awesome skill is made a lot deadlier with this rune. The rune adds an explosive effect (for 85% weapon damage) to all enemies killed by your Cleave. The explosion will damage any enemy in a 8 yard radius. This makes Cleave amazing. Monsters will literally blow to bits around you in a chain reaction after cleaving them a couple of times.
Lv 11 - Frenzy
Frenzy is another old favorite from Diablo 2. The effect is similar. Each hit increases your attack speed by 15%, starting at 110% weapon damage. You can have a total of 5 frenzy stacks. The interesting thing is that the DPS display under your character's stats doesn't change while the stacks are up. Is this a bug or is it intended? I don't know, but it's hard to judge the effectiveness of this skill without a visual cue. While this skill is awesome for single targets (bosses especially) due to the high (185% total) damage, it kind of sucks for large groups of monsters. That's why I didn't use it a lot.

Secondary (right mouse - slot unlocked at level 2)
Secondary skills consume Fury.
Lv 2 - Hammer of the Ancients
At level 2 comes your first Fury spender. Learn to use it well because this could very well be one of your best secondary skills. Hammer of the Ancients slams the enemies in front of you for 200% weapon damage. In addition, it gets an extra 5% chance to crit. Positioning is obviously important here as it won't hit every monster around you, so you will have to make sure to gather them in front of you before unleashing this baby.
    Lv 7 - Rune - Rolling Thunder
This rune gives Hammer of the Ancients a shockwave that extends forward for a lengthy 22 yards and deals 155% weapon damage to everything in its path. That's in addition to the skill's 200% damage. I just love this combo.
Lv 5 - Rend
Rend is one skill that didn't jive well with me. It does 210% weapon damage to all enemies around you but that damage is a DoT, over 3 seconds. I would rather not wait 3 seconds for the damage to take effect, if you know what I mean. I simply can't get the hang of DoTs on melee characters. DoTs are excellent for ranged characters because you can run around waiting for the monster to drop but on melee classes you are just being pummeled during that time.
    Lv 11 - Rune - Ravage
This rune simply increases the range of Rend. Sorry but it didn't work out for me either way.
Lv 12 - Seismic Slam
This skill is somewhat similar to Hammer of the Ancients as it does 155% damage to everything close by in a 45 degree arc, also knocking them back. Due to the lack of runes in the beta this skill can't reach its full potential but it is very impressive nonetheless. The 45 degree arc is quite wide and it extends almost to the edges of the screen meaning that one hit will affect even enemies in the back, essentially "sweeping" everything away from you. This is my go-to secondary skill at level 13.

Defensive ("1" key - slot unlocked at level 4)
Lv 4 - Ground Stomp
At level 4, along with an extra skill slot, you get Ground Stomp which is a very good crowd control skill. It will stun enemies in a 12 yard radius around you for 4 seconds (which is plenty) but has a 12 second cooldown. The cool thing is that it also generates Fury when used (instead of consuming it) so my advice is to use it whenever it is off cooldown.
    Lv 12 - Rune - Deafening Crash
If you like crowd control, this rune is a no-brainer. On top of Ground Stomp's effects, it also slows down enemies after they recover from the initial stun.
 Lv 8 - Leap
As much as I like Ground Stomp, Leap takes the cake. It should be called Leap Attack, because that's exactly what it does. The Barb leaps in the air and when he lands (preferably in the midst of his enemies) he does 85% weapon damage to everything in an 8 yard radius. It also slows the enemies' movement by 60% for 3 seconds. I love Leap because it allows me to quickly get in position right in the middle of the action and then hit those monsters hard with my AoE skills. But more than that, Leap can be used every time it is off cooldown (10 seconds) to boost your mobility, since jumping in a direction is quicker than running there. Furthermore, you can also use it to jump to lower of upper sections in the dungeon. It's much quicker than taking the stairs. If that's not enough, Leap also generates Fury when used, which gives you a further incentive to use it whenever it is off cooldown, whether to move or just to generate extra Fury. For example, if I'm fighting a tough boss, I'm standing right next to him anyway, but I will still use Leap every time it's up, for the extra Fury it gives me.

Force ("2" key - slot unlocked at level 9)
Lv 9 - Ancient Spear
I was tempted to dismiss this skill when I first heard about it but after using it I understood its utility. It acts like a grappling hook, pulling the targeted enemy towards you, dealing 185% weapon damage and slowing it by 60% (so it can't run away quickly). In addition, it also generates Fury but has a 10 second cooldown. Just like Leap discussed above, Ancient Spear is best used whenever the cooldown is up, for the extra damage it provides (albeit to a single target) and the extra Fury. I find it invaluable for those pesky summoner skeletons who call their minions right in your face and then cowardly run away.
Lv 13 - Revenge
Your last skill in the beta, at level 13, is Revenge. It's a strange one. It is a semi-active skill, in the sense that it stays inactive until the 15% chance per hit received is triggered. Only then can you activate it for a decent 220% weapon damage to everything around you. The trouble is that in 5 minutes of play this skill barely activated twice. Granted, at level 13 a character is overpowered in the beta and manages to kill monsters extremely quickly, thus avoiding being hit very often. I'm guessing this skill might become more valuable later when it's hard to avoid being hit. For now, though, I find Revenge somewhat useless, especially since you have to keep an eye on it when it activates. Even then, you have to use it within a few seconds or else it expires. Having said that, I think Revenge could use some more testing and I plan to do so in the full game. I think there's more to it than meets the eye.

Passive Skills (1st slot unlocked at level 10)
Lv 10 - Pound of Flesh
At level 10 one of your choice of passives is Pound of Flesh which increases the chance to find health globes by 25% and also doubles their effectiveness. This is quite a solid passive which gives the Barbarian extra survivability but I skipped it because in the beta it's hard to die if you are paying attention. I can see how valuable this skill will become later in higher difficulties and for hardcore characters.
Lv 10 - Ruthless
This passive simply increases your crit chance by 5% and also your crit damage by 50%. The bonuses are so awesome that it's hard not to pick it.
Lv 13 - Nerves of Steel
While I'm sure this passive will be very useful for high-Vitality Barbarians, in the beta it is useless, unless you equip your Barb specifically with Vit gear. As it is, since my Barb's Vitality at level 13 is 38, this passive merely boosts my 213 Armor by an additional 38. Very unimpressive.

Next, I will talk about my level progression from 1-13.

Level Progression

Level 1
Use Bash to bash stuff.

Level 2
Use Hammer of the Ancients whenever you have excess Fury and/or there are several monsters in front of you.

Level 3
Replace Bash with Cleave.

Level 4
Use Ground Stomp as often as possible. It mitigates damage taken and also increases your Fury.

Level 5
Skip Rend.

Level 6
Keep using Cleave and ignore the Bash rune.

Level 7
Rune Hammer of the Ancients with Rolling Thunder.

Level 8
Replace Ground Stomp with Leap.

Level 9
Ancient Spear is yummy. Use it at every opportunity, even on monsters you're fighting toe-to-toe.
Make sure to rune Cleave with Ravage.

Level 10
Grab the Ruthless passive and become even more awesome.

Level 11
Ignore Frenzy and Ravage.

Level 12
Replace Hammer of the Ancients with Seismic Slam.
If you're still using Ground Stomp, rune it with Deafening Crash, otherwise ignore it.

Level 13
Try Revenge if you feel it's better for you than Ancient Spear.
Ignore the Nerves of Steel passive.

This concludes my discussion of the Barbarian in Diablo 3's beta (patch 18, subject to change in future patches or the final game). Here's my level 13 build.

As mentioned at the beginning, the Barbarian is a lot of fun, much more than I expected. Every hit is massive and you will never get tired of seeing monsters thrown around like toys. I am very excited to play a Barbarian in the full game. Strangely enough, the Barb feels a bit more fragile than the Monk and even some of the ranged classes. I just hope he's viable at the end-game, in Inferno. From what I understand, a lot of people will be playing a Barb at launch and it's no surprise. It was one of the most popular classes in Diablo 2 and it remains so in Diablo 3.

Also read:
The beta Demon Hunter
The beta Witch Doctor
The beta Monk
The beta Wizard

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