Friday, April 20, 2012

The beta Wizard

Since I finished leveling my Wizard to level 13, two patches were released, one of them wiping all characters in the process. Now the beta is in patch 18 but not much has changed between patch 16 and now so this Wizard overview remains relevant, but I was forced to start a brand new Wizard thanks to the character wipe. It's a shame because my previous one was really well equipped.

The Wizard is, essentially, the direct descendant of Diablo 2's Sorceress. Many spells are similar but there are plenty of new ones as well. If you liked D2's Sorceress, you'll most likely feel at home with the Wizard, although the resource system differs.

I picked (and will pick in the full game) a female Wizard. She's cute beyond words. I already concluded that the male looks too juvenile and inexperienced, barely a whelp, while the female is more like his older sister.

The Wizard uses a different resource than the Sorceress in Diablo 2, namely Arcane Power. Arcane Power (AP) is a purple swirly-sparkly plasma thing and also the fastest recharging resource in Diablo 3. You start with 100 AP and a later passive skill gives you another 20. From what I can tell, you can't go higher than that, but there are ways in which to boost regeneration rate, including items and other skills.

While the Wizard is somewhat constrained by her Arcane Power, because powerful spells tend to use a lot of it, she can switch to her primary skills which are free to cast, while AP recharges.

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)
Lv 1 - Magic Missile
This is first spell you start the game with. It does 110% weapon damage as Arcane. Early on this is your bread-and-butter skill but I found myself using it even later at level 13 when I was fighting the Skeleton King. For that encounter, this is the best primary skill because it allows you to stay at range and it also gets a rune, making it more powerful than the other primary skills.
    Lv 6 - Rune - Charged Blast
Your first rune at level 6 will improve Magic Missile so that it now does 143% damage. No reason not to use it.
    Lv 13 - Rune - Split
At level 13 Magic Missile gets its second rune which makes it slightly more powerful and also gives it a little bit of an AoE. This rune splits your missile into 3 missiles which hit for 50% damage each. Since the trajectories of the 3 are very tight, in many cases you will hit the same monster with a salvo, for a total of 150% damage. This rune is definitely worth it if you like Magic Missile.
Lv 3 - Shock Pulse
Shock Pulse is the direct descendant of Diablo 2's Charged Bolt. Here, it doesn't work so well. You fire 3 bolts but the range is short (about half the screen) and the bolts are chaotic. Even the skill tooltip mentions "medium range" and "unpredictable". The only way this spell felt useful was for firing it at point-blank range, where all 3 bolts had the chance to hit.
    Lv 9 - Rune - Explosive Bolts
This rune attempts to make Shock Pulse better but the skill was crappy to begin with so it won't help a lot if monsters who die explode for additional AoE damage since they are so hard to kill anyway with this skill. I guess this skill could be made to work by getting lots of items with high attack speed increase and spamming the crap out of this skill. Even then, it brings you uncomfortably close to the action.
Lv 11 - Spectral Blade
I never understood the point of Spectral Blade in Diablo 2 and I was prepared to dismiss it in Diablo 3, yet I find myself really liking this skill. This is a short range skill which hits the monsters in front of you for 135% damage. You don't use your weapon directly, but instead a series of "spectral blades" slash the air in front. This spell is pretty good for finishing off stragglers or smashing objects. I can see myself using it even at higher levels, with caution. In the beta, once you get some good equipment, you can go all melee-wizard and kill everything in hand-to-hand combat. Well, except for the Skeleton King. That's the only place where I switch back to Magic Missile so I can take him comfortably at range.

Secondary (right mouse - slot unlocked at level 2)
Lv 2 - Ray of Frost
Ray of Frost is one cool spell and you get it very early as your first secondary spell, at level 2. It projects a beam of frost that damages the target for 215% weapon damage, also slowing it by 30% for 3 seconds. Since you are vulnerable early on, this spell will get a lot of use. The only downside is that it can burn through your Arcane Power quickly if you keep the mouse button pressed. I found that it's best to use it in short burts. What's interesting is that at level 28 you get a rune which allows you to cast this spell for free.
    Lv 7 - Rune - Numb
This rune simply increases the slowing down effect of Ray of Frost from 30% to 60%.
Lv 5 - Arcane Orb
One of the most used spells in the beta arrives early, at level 5. Arcane Orb does 175% weapon damage to all monsters in a 10 yard radius from the point of impact. It's a very potent spell but the high Arcane Power cost means that you can't fire it more than 3 times before your Arcane Power is entirely depleted. Another thing to watch out for is that the orb doesn't move very fast so you will have to "lead" moving targets if you want to hit them. In the beta, Arcane Orb is my secondary spell of choice. I just love AoE.
    Lv 11 - Rune - Obliteration
This rune makes Arcane Orb even deadlier, increasing the damage to 228%. It also turns the orb red, from light purple.
Lv 12 - Arcane Torrent
Either Arcane Torrent sucks or else I couldn't get the hang of it. This spell reminds me a lot of Arcane Missiles from WoW because it fires a few missiles that deal 175% damage to all enemies at the point of impact. While the animation is pretty cool, with the missiles arcing out from your fingers and speeding towards the target, the range is medium and the aim is imprecise. Besides, the length of the animation means that it takes a precious second or two before the missiles hit. Sorry but I just didn't like this spell. Arcane Orb is a lot more predictable and does more damage thanks to the rune.

Defensive ("1" key - slot unlocked at level 4)
Lv 4 - Frost Nova
As your first defensive skill, at level 4 you get Frost Nova, another great spell. This used to deal damage in addition to freezing all nearby enemies for 3 seconds but Blizzard has removed the damage component. Nonetheless, this spell is really cool because you can wade into a group of monsters, freeze them and then blast them with Arcane Orb. They won't even know what hit them. Oh, there's a 12 second cooldown.
    Lv 12 - Rune - Shatter
This rune improves Frost Nova by causing monsters killed while frozen to have a 50% change of releasing additional Frost Novas. This is pretty nifty for creating a chain effect of destruction but in the beta you won't be able to see the effect a lot in action because monsters die so quickly, very often on the first hit, once you are well equipped.
 Lv 8 - Diamond Skin
Diamond Skin is another defensive skill that you can choose to use instead of Frost Nova and it acts like an energy shield which absorbs a set amount of damage for 6 seconds. I've seen people using it to "tank" with their Wizard, in concert with Spectral Blade. It can certainly be used to that effect if you so choose. Just remember that Diamond Skill doesn't last indefinitely, and when it expires you will find yourself vulnerable again.

Force ("2" key - slot unlocked at level 9)
Lv 9 - Wave of Force
At level 9 your 4th skill slot is unlocked and you get one of the most awesome Wizard spells. Wave of Force does a massive 200% weapon damage to enemies all around you, knocking them back AND slowing them down by 60%. It has a 15 second cooldown so you can't spam it, unfortunately. I just love this spell! It works especially well in concert with Frost Nova. Gather a bunch of monsters, freeze them and then blast them with Wave of Force. It's buckets of fun!
Lv 13 - Energy Twister
Energy Twister is one of those skills that feel pointless, useless, badly designed or all of the above. You fire a mini-tornado which spins randomly across the screen and fizzes out midway, dealing damage to monsters it hits, IF it hits. This spell is so random, not to mention costly, that it constitutes pure masochism to use it. Maybe runes can make it better but in the beta it is truly pointless.

Passive Skills (1st slot unlocked at level 10)
Level 10 is for passive skills. Yay!
Lv 10 - Blur
This one decreases melee damage you take. Fairly pointless at this level and I'm not sure I'd take it even later, outside of PvP because a Wizard is supposed to stay at range. If you get hit by melee enemies, you're not doing it right. I'm sure I will swallow my words in Hell/Inferno but we'll see.
Lv 10 - Power Hungry
Here's a very nifty passive. This one allows you to gain Arcane Power when you're healed by a health globe. Pretty cool. Since Arcane Power can be a problem if you like to blast away with costly spells, this passive allows you to recover your resource more quickly.
Lv 13 - Evocation
This passive reduces your cooldowns by 15% but I'm not sure how useful it is. The only spells that can use it are Frost Nova, Wave of Force and Diamond Skin. However the reduction is very small, meaning that you'll gain a couple of seconds which doesn't seem enough. I would just skip this one and keep Power Hungry.

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

Level Progression

Level 1
Magic Missile is the only spell at your disposal. Luckily it doesn't cost anything to cast so knock yourself out using it.

Level 2
Ray of Frost is the cool skill which comes immediately at level 2. Use it whenever you have Arcane Power. Remember, shorts bursts are better.

Level 3
Shock Pulse is your second primary skill. My advice? Skip it.

Level 4
Frost Nova, woohoo! Use it whenever it's off cooldown, when you're surrounded by monsters and when you're in dire straits or trying to escape.

Level 5
Arcane Orb can replace Ray of Frost if you wish. I suggest doing so. You can now take out huge groups of monsters with a couple of blasts.

Level 6
Rune your Magic Missile with Charged Blast.

Level 7
If you are still using Ray of Frost, now's the time to rune it with Numb.

Level 8
You can choose to replace Frost Nova with Diamond Skin. If you want to go melee-Wizard, it's not a bad idea.

Level 9
You get your 4th skill slot as well as Wave of Force. You will love this new spell with a passion, if you're anything like me.
You also get Explosive Bolts which augments your Shock Pulse. Skip it.

Level 10
A couple of new passives become available. Choose Power Hungry.

Level 11
Arcane Orb is now awesomer thanks to Obliteration.

Level 12
A new skill, Arcane Torrent. Skip it.
Shatter enhances Frost Nova. Equip it.

Level 13
Energy Twister, the most useless spell in the beta. Ignore it.
You also get Evocation as a passive but I suggest keeping Power Hungry.

This concludes my discussion of the Wizard in Diablo 3's beta (patch 16, subject to change in future patches or the final game). Here's my level 13 build. Though I run primarily with Spectral Blade, I switch to Arcane Missile for the Skeleton King fight so I can stay safely at range.

If played recklessly, the Wizard can be seen as a glass canon but in the beta it's hard to judge how effective or fragile it will be since it's fairly easy to out-level and out-gear all the monsters. Once the Wizard becomes powerful like that, she will rip through her enemies like a screaming banshee. But that's valid for all classes, in the beta. The Wizard was a lot of fun to play and, once again, because I love ranged classes so much, I will have a hard time choosing between her and the Witch Doctor, of course, after I get tired of the Demon Hunter.

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

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