A few hours after hitting level 60 I mowed through Hell Mode Act IV and one-shot Diablo. That’s when the real hell began.
Inferno Mode is hard, and particularly difficult for a Barbarian. As a short-range melee class, you have to take the hits, and the hits are big. Real big. The first thing I noticed about Inferno was that even the trivial zombies took a few hits to kill, and they actually do some damage. The elites are out of this world crazy. With normal Hell mode gear, the second you step into an area of effect zone (molten, plagued, desecrator, or the like), you die.
This sent me back to the Auction house for a few upgrades. I found a strong DPS 2 hander in the real money AH for $3 and this helped (1080 base DPS, 200 strength, socket). I picked up some more armor and changed my passives to be more defensive. I ended up (in several waves) spending a lot of gold to get level 60 pieces on most slots. This enabled me to slog through Act I scene by scene, but the going was tough and expensive, even before Blizzard’s repair cost hike. The elites trained me to play better and more defensively. You can’t step in their shit. You can’t get hit by their telegraphed physical attacks. If health gets low you have to run until your cooldowns recover. You have to be careful about pulling too much trash at the same time, or God forbid, two elite packs (99.9% fatal). If you can’t kill The Butcher fast enough, the whole floor starts to burn (enrage timer). I went into him with five stacks and couldn’t kill him in 30 minutes. When they wore off I switched to a more offensive build and managed to kill him with no stacks, just to get it done.
A more defensive build
Cleave (with Broad Sweep) – I still wanted an AOE main as there are far to many enemies to single target down
Seismic Slam (Stagger for Crowd Control) - This is a controversial skill. It’s a terrible fury dump on bosses, but I like it against crowds and elites because you can AOE, and more importantly, stun and knock back big groups of enemies. This keeps a little damage at bay while dishing out some punishment.
Ground Stomp (with Wrenching Smash) – This turns out to be a pretty awesome skill. Against trash it’s a great way to gather in a group for Cleave or Revenge and against champions it allows you to keep them stunned — briefly.
Revenge (with Provocation) – a combo fury-free heal/aoe. The increased chance to proc seems the best when you need it to survive.
Furious Charge (with Dreadnought) – A short cooldown escape/closer with a heal and stun. This extra heal (besides your health potion) can really keep you alive.
Wrath of the Berserker (with Insanity) – This big burst damage is pretty much a requirement to burst down tough elite packs and bosses.
Passives: Superstition, Tough as Nails, and Nerves of Steel – I ended up going all defensive for now. Later, I was able to switch out Superstition (which seemed the worst of the trio) for Ruthless.
Follower: Templar, specced fully for healing. Really, as a Barbarian, anything that heals you is good. If you can stay alive, you will prevail. The Templar also has a nice WOW Warrior style charge and stun.
Back on the Farm
Before some of the recent patches and hotfixes Act I dropped shit gear. Packs dropped mostly blues, even with 5 stacks, and bosses dropped two crap yellows. The repair costs were so high versus the rewards (not to mention the high AH prices) that you lose money to play.
This forced me to find farming spots. If you set the quest to “search for the stranger, the cursed hold” and teleport to the “old ruins” there is about 75% of the time a cellar straight to the west through the gates. The elite there is very easy and drops a lot of gold. He’s easy enough that you can kill him in a complete set of gold find gear, plus he’s real close to a checkpoint so you can repeat it quickly. This is incredibly boring but earns (for me) about 200,000 gold an hour.
I think it’s a serious flaw that the game basically requires you to farm gold in order to either progress or even play at the edge of your skills. Act I does not itself drop good enough gear to allow you to pass it easily, at least not during the first 4-6 weeks of release. The totally random nature of the gear means that you almost NEVER find a genuine upgrade yourself in Inferno. You need to sell what you find and buy stuff on the AH. But it’s EXPENSIVE. Either I’m missing some easy gold earning technique or the player base can an incredible tolerance for tedium. It takes A LOT of farming to improve your gear in Inferno, and Act I is the easy sauce.
Also, I have terrible luck selling on the AH. I keep 10 items listed on both gold and $ AH at all times, but they rarely sell. I’ve tried pricing them cheap, I’ve tried pricing expensive, but there is such an incredible supply (despite high prices), and the visibility is so low, that very little seems to sell. There are no aides to pricing and it’s very tedious to search for comparable prices. There should be a “show me stuff that is like this item” search.
If I thought Act I was hard, Act II was a total wake up call. There is a very steep cliff which is not present in any of the previous difficulty modes. And unlike those earlier modes, in Inferno, there is no option to just grind for a bit and level past it. You have to improve your skills, spec, and gear. At first, using gear that made Act I Halls of Agony easy enough, even Act II trash pulls of more than 2-3 mobs killed me. And forget about elites. Those annoying wasps with their mini-wasp “bullets” could easily be fatal. In Act II, as a Barbarian, you need at least 200-400 resist in every category in order to survive the area of effects.
One of the first things I did was switch from 2-hander to 1-hander and shield. Getting a shield with a reasonable block rating (17%+) helps a lot, but your DPS craters compared to 2-hander or dual-wielding. I had to farm, farm, and farm some more in order to repurchase more gear slots with a big chunk of “all resist.” This stat is essential to Inferno melee and is priced accordingly. Any gear with it, and decent other stats, is very expensive. I re-gemmed for all vitality. I got some more health on hit. Other classes can focus on DPS, but the Barbarian needs to use at least half his stat allocation for resists, armor, and healing. It sucks.
As I slowly got my resists up around 400 I was able to push through the Act. Still, even before the repair hike, progress cost me money. Some elites took a couple deaths to finish off and this cost a lot of gold. I was, however, able to move forward, defeating 80-90% of elite packs. Bosses were no problem, and single elites, but occasional pulls involving two packs or nasty affix combinations like molten and fiery chains or molten, invulnerable minions, and waller would require skipping or resetting the game. Belial was hard. After the patch where he has a enrage timer he required a more DPS/healing oriented spec (including Frenzy) and a two-hander to defeat.
The third act put me up against yet another wall. Defeating the first elite pack took me into the yellow and cost 45,000 gold. Hardly an economical solution. I put on my two hander, changed my passives to DPS, and went back to farm Act I. With my Act II gear (all purchased, at most I’m wearing one piece that actually dropped for me) I can now crush Act I Inferno. I only die when I get exceedingly sloppy (like taking on three elite packs) and can DPS the Butcher down in about 1.5 minutes.
Farming Act I earns perhaps 150,000 gold an hour direct and a huge number of rares, particularly after the most recent patch where they drop from both elite packs and bosses in good numbers. The increased drop rates of ilevel 62 and 63 stuff mean that some of it is even decent. Still, the random number generator churns out enormous amounts of crap that is barely useable by any class. Vendor fodder. I have improved my gear to about 22,000 DPS with a 2-hander, 7k armor, and 400-450 resists. Then back to Act III and see how that goes.
I can kill some elites, but I still die too often. It would cost me 200,000 gold an hour to progress. Hmmm.
Stacking it all up
I have mixed feelings about the valor stack mechanic. It’s essentially pretty good except for the fact that it requires at least an hour or two of play time. The fact that the game will disconnect you after about 20-30 minutes of pause means that you can’t really leave it. That DC will kill your stacks and reroll the world. This isn’t a big deal before 60, but loosing those stacks sucks. It can also be frustrating with the harder end-of-act bosses that really need a different spec than the rest of the Act. By the time you arrive at them, you usually have 5 stacks, and killing them without any is useless. I don’t like being forced to kill trash with a single target DPS spec just so I can save my stacks for the boss.
The Gear/AH Problem
The relationship between gear, progress, and the Auction House seems fairly broken. In order to progress in Inferno you need extremely specific gear that is very expensive. During the first couple of weeks the acts themselves were not dropping this in sufficient quantity. The RNG generates a lot of crap. I try to have no more than one “second rate affix” on any piece too, ideally zero. A second rater for a Barb is something like Int, or Dexterity. I try to have no “third rate” like gold pickup range or something specific to other classes. This kind of gear drops once in a blue moon.
With the new drop rates, and my ability to farm Act I and Act II it should be possible to get a lot of good gear, but I despair of actually finding much I might want myself. Which leaves the AH. It just seems very difficult to sell anything, and what I want to buy is frightfully expensive. Prices are random and all over the place. The AH needs a lot of improvement for finding items. It needs more than three filters and ways to sort your finds better. It needs tools for pricing your loot and probably a higher limit on the number of sales and a shorter sale time.
It just seems broken to have progress come only from an external mechanism (or willingness to pay significant real dollars or farm insane gold stacks). Blizzard has made improvements (and a few backward steps like the repair cost hike). The increase drop rates are good and the reduction of crafting costs. Still, merging gems is frightfully expensive. Blacksmithing requires a lot of materials considering how random the results are.
Coming from WOW, which also had a very steep cliff in vanilla at level 60, this one seems even odder. That was gated by your ability to raid (and to a lesser extent by a similar willingness to grind), but this one seems “pay to play” or “grind to play.” Neither seems super appealing.