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Welcome back to our coverage of Patch 13! In the last installment, I talked a bit about the new rune system that Blizzard unveiled. That was by far the biggest single change, but Patch 13 made a host of smaller changes to the game as well.
Every character has had the order of their skills adjusted. Few of the changes were terribly dramatic. In most cases, it is just a matter of getting a skill a little bit sooner or a little bit later than you did before. But a few skills (such as the Wizard’s Disintegrate) have been taken out of the beta entirely since they are now beyond the level 13 cap. Similarly, a few skills that used to be above that cap have now been moved down into beta territory.
The Wizard continues to be my favorite character. This time around, instead of relying on my tried-and-true combo of Spectral Blade and Arcane Orb, I experimented with using Shock Pulse as my main attack. Shock Pulse is a lot like Charged Bolt from Diablo II, in that it sends out bolts of energy that move randomly. It can be difficult to hit specific targets, even if you are standing right in front of them. But it does have two redeeming features.
First, because it is a Signature Spell, you do not have to use Arcane Power to cast it; this is even more important now that the Wizard’s Arcane Power regeneration has been reduced. Second, when you use the Explosive Bolts rune, enemies killed with Shock Pulse will explode, doing lightning damage to nearby monsters.
But the stars of the show were undoubtedly Electrocute and Arcane Torrent. Electrocute is not new, but it now unlocks at level 11 instead of level 13, which makes it much easier to reach without a bunch of grinding. It is sort of like a combination of Lightning and Chain Lightning from Diablo II.
You cast it by holding down the mouse button, and it will leap from monster to monster. It will even leap to destructible pieces of the environment, such as urns and tree stumps. In its un-runed state, it only does 70% of weapon damage as lightning damage, but since it is a Signature Spell, you can spam it all you want. When you add Arcane Orb and Wave of Force, you can handle almost anything in the beta.
Arcane Torrent is a newcomer to the beta, however, and it allows you to bombard a location with a bunch of purple arcane projectiles. Its base damage is lower than Arcane Orb, but in some respects it is easier to use because it casts faster and, unlike Arcane Orb, you do not have to worry about it detonating prematurely, in case a monster comes between you and your target.
The biggest surprise was probably the Witch Doctor. I had played her a little bit in previous versions, but she just did not ‘click’ with me the way the Wizard or the Monk did. But I like her a lot more in Patch 13. As I mentioned in Part 1, her Poison Dart skill benefits greatly from the addition of runes.
Grasp of the Dead also seems improved, though the Patch Notes only mention an increase in the amount it reduces enemies’ movement speed. Of course it could be that Grasp of the Dead is just more noticeable now, because the new guided mode automatically binds it to your left mouse button when you unlock it at level 2. Before, I had to make a conscious effort to choose it.
Sadly, the Demon Hunter remains the runt of the litter. Not only do his initial skills lack the flashy pyrotechnics of the Monk or the Wizard, but he also has the hardest time killing monsters. Part of the problem is that he does not really have a good area of effect skill at first. Hungering Arrow can hit multiple enemies, but it is still too linear.
Bola Shot can damage nearby enemies when it explodes, but I have not found it to be terribly effective in dealing with groups. The closest thing he gets to a proper AOE skill is something called Caltrops, but all it does is slow enemies who walk over it. You would think that something named after sharp metal spikes would do some sort of physical damage to enemies! As much as I would like to see D3 released ASAP, I hope they will take some extra time and polish the Demon Hunter a bit more.
I had hoped that Patch 13 would do something to make crafting seem less overpowered, but in that respect I was sorely disappointed. The stuff the blacksmith makes for you is still much better than most of the magical loot you find. There is no real downside to crafting either. The average crafted item at this level costs around 150 gold pieces and requires three Subtle Essences, yet my five characters have around 15,000 gold pieces and 50 Subtle Essences between them.
Once my characters have leveled-up enough to wear crafted items, loot becomes little more than a source of raw materials. Crafting just feels cheap, both literally and figuratively. I hope that things balance out later on in the game, so that the blacksmith’s items end up being either more expensive or less powerful.
Patch 13 has been a lot of fun, and the game continues to shape up nicely. Even though I have run through the same areas dozens of times now, the gameplay still manages to be addicting, which definitely bodes well for game’s long-term prospects. Blizzard has said it is shooting for a second quarter release, so with any luck we are already in the home stretch!