Diablo 3 Hardcore Strategy

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After months of attempts at beating Diablo 3 Hardcore, I decided to buck down and get serious. I combed through Diablo 3 forumswalkthroughs, and meditated on how I was going to do this. Ultimately, I came up with a plan. This, is how to defeat Diablo on the Inferno tier of hardcore:

  • Prepare psychologically for defeat
  • Be patient and move slow
  • Don’t rely on escape spells, potions, or offense
  • Be extra careful in particular zones and gear up properly for bosses
  • Farm, grind, rinse, repeat
  • Bringing it all together: be aware about every game dynamic

Beating Diablo 3 on hardcore is more than just skillfully being awesome at hacking and slashing, knowing the dungeons, and playing the bosses right. It requires a combination of psychology, statistics, and economics. Let’s get into it.

Prepare psychologically for defeat

If you play Diablo 3 on Hardcore, you are going to die.

If you play Diablo 3 on hardcore, you are going to lose your main character, your progress in the game, and all of your favorite items. If you are unprepared for this, you will rage quit and will never complete Inferno.

Accept and embrace the inevitable because if you aren’t ready mentally, you will be done forever. There is a saying in running, “There are two types of runners, those who get injured and those who are professionals.” The point being that unless you are careful and don’t get injured, you will no longer be a runner – in some ways, just being able to train hard without injury can make you a contender. In Diablo 3 Hardcore, the equivalent is, “There are two types of Hardcore players, those who are emotionally invested in their characters and those who will finish Inferno.” Having the psychological tenacity to start over after losing a massive time investment is what it takes to finish.

Be ready to die. If you can do this, you will carry on with a new character and will persist moving forward. Learn from your mistakes, dying in the same place twice is twice as devastating. For example, had I learned the first time that Belial is a poison fiend, I would not have lost to him in subsequent battles.

Detach from your characters. When you use your favorite character name and gear them up to look awesome with carefully chosen Dyes and items, you become emotionally invested. I started giving my characters numbers in order to be less bummed out when they died. This might be helpful for you too. Characters 0 and 1 were ultimately my Inferno heroes.

Speaking of, move  two characters through the game together. More on this later, but psychologically when you lose one of your two characters, you will feel less of a sensation of failure because you don’t have to start all the way over and can use the lead character to push a new character through the game by farming items.

Be patient and move slowly

If you encounter enemies who out-level you, you will die.

Essential to surviving Hardcore is having a character that is capable beyond the enemies you encounter. This requires the second psychological preparation for completing Inferno hardcore, patience. The more slowly you move through the game, the more powerful your character will become relative to the enemies you take on.

Over-level your character relative to enemies until you reach Inferno. It took me a pile of dead Hardcore characters to learn this but taking the extra time to make absolutely sure that you will not get annihilated to instant death in dungeon sections is much more efficient than starting over. If I remember correctly, you should be going through roughly 20 levels per tier at a minimum. On my successful run, I was at Level 60 (the max) by the time I had reached the middle of Hell difficulty.

Early in the game, take the time to get the staff of herding. This gives you a great ramp-up between difficulty tiers and is an amazing level for grinding legendary items because there are 4 guaranteed elite packs.

When you reach Inferno, patiently grind a legendary weapon before Acts II and III. Getting a one-handed weapon with 700-800 DMG or a two-handed weapon with 1000+ DMG should be your goal.

As mentioned in the final paragraph on preparing for defeat, one of the most effective methods for completing Inferno is to move two characters through the game together. The strategy of moving multiple characters together which I also saw here, helps in more ways than just keeping you sane when one of the characters dies. It forces you to slow down.

Don’t rely on escape spells, potions, or offense

If you rely on escape spells, you will die.

I learned this the hard way on a second play through on Belial: if an enemy does more than  100% damage to your character, the escape spell is useless. By relying on an escape spell to give you a second life, you are mistakenly going to get into a situation where an enemy, mob, or elemental attack is going to bring you below 0%, wiping your character and progress.

If you rely on potions, you will die.

Potions have a cooldown of 30 seconds and only heal a portion of your character’s health. In a critical situation with multiple elite mobs, you will be slaughtered. Assume that you will not have potions and you will be much less likely to get wiped when you encounter multiple elite mobs. If you get vortexed, frozen, firechained, or jailed, recovering with a potion ain’t gonna cut it.

If you rely on offense, you will die.

Wizards and Witches… both can be balanced to have insane offense that buries enemies in seconds or single shots. Don’t fall for this trap. Enemies that do elemental damage will annihilate you at the worst imaginable time and you will die no matter how strong your offense if you don’t have good D. It can also become difficult to assess your character’s capabilities when you are wiping enemies out with one shot. Make sure to keep your defense and offense balanced in order to avoid getting one-shotted by bosses, meteors, or enemies doing elemental damage.

Be extra careful in particular zones for elemental attacks and gear up for bosses

If you attempt Act II without poison resistance, you will die.

Make sure that you are prepared for elemental attacks. I touched on this a bit in the section on offense but I can’t emphasize it enough. If you run into empty rooms that you can’t see into, you will at some point be rushed by enemies that do insane elemental damage to your character. The most important resistances are fire and poison but getting resist all items and stacking up your defense is critical when you encounter bosses. The first area with signature damage is Act II where you will face spiders, venom-spitting monsters, and the ultimate poison hazard, Belial.

If you attempt Act III without fire resistance, you will die.

If you are in an area of the game with characters that come running at you and explode, these enemies will do either fire or poison damage in very high quantities. No matter how strong your armor, undefended elemental damage can pass right through and start affecting your health directly. By Act II, you will be encountering poison from the bugs that shoot poison and exploding demons. By Act III you will be frequently encountering poison bombing and exploding demons. At any point in the game an elite enemy can have vortex, mortar, freeze, incinerate, desecrator, fire chains, and so on that will insta-kill you if you don’t have sufficient defense.

Although resist-all is preferred through the game, there are particular defenses of importance for bosses.

A summary of  key defense for bosses:

Act I

  • Butcher  – Fire damage (from the level)

Act II

  • Maghda – Poison
  • Zoltan Khulle – Arcane damage
  • Belial – Poison!

Act III

  • Ghom – poison
  • Azmodan – fire, arcane

Act IV

  • Izual – cold
  • Diablo – lightning, fire, arcane

Gear up as best you can and make sure to be aware of how removing resist all items will affect your character on a particular act.

Farm, grind, rinse, repeat, gear, gear, gear, gear.

If you don’t have amazing gear on Inferno, you will die.

Oh, and it will be the most horrible death you can imagine – so close, yet so far away! Coming up on Inferno requires you to have an amazing set of gear. The best way to get excellent items is to repetitively go through sections of the game with lots of enemies and elites. This is the most critical skill to develop when running through hardcore. You both need to optimize where you grind and optimize how fast you can kill and acquire good items.

Let’s start with where to grind. The top areas in each act happen to be the same places that are the best to grind for the Hellfire ring. In Act I – fields of misery, Act II – Dalghur Oasis, Act III – Seige Missions, Act IV – Silver Spire.

This is where statistics come into play with Diablo 3. The following formulas are key to understanding how quickly you will get gear:

rD = f(MF * rK * p(d) * MP)

Where  rD is the rate of drops, MF is your character’s magic find, MP is the monster power bonus, rK is the rate of killing, and p(d) is a probability of drop from that particular enemy. As far as I know, MP and p(d) are constantly being tweaked by Blizzard, however you have absolute control over two of the variables: MF and rK, which was what I focused on. Herein lies the trade-offs you are making while grinding items: would you rather be safer with a higher rate of kills or would you rather have a higher MF bonus, increasing the probability of getting a good drop? 

My solution was to focus on MF as soon as I reached Hell and to focus on attack speed and movement speed earlier in the game. Attack speed and movement will have the most dramatic impact on rK. By Hell, when you are roughly level 45+, having low MF will significantly reduce the likeliness that you will get a useful item, which leads me to the next point. When you reach level 60+, you will have Nephalem Valor which will boost your MF sufficiently to increase the likeliness of decent drops, even without too much of a focus on MF buffs on items.

If you don’t have items appropriate to your character’s level, you will die.

Look at your character’s items. Are any of the items more than 5 levels below your character’s level? If so, this should be a signal that it is time to replace that item. As you grind, make sure to scrutinize the critical weak-items on your character in order to update weak character areas.

Bringing it all together: be aware about every game dynamic

If you switch out armor, and are unaware of its defensive benefits, you will die.

When you are playing, you may be unknowingly be benefiting from a buff on a particular piece of armor. For example, I had a set of “Barter Town Pads” that added 40 resist all defensively. This piece of armor was, to my surprise, keeping me alive. I didn’t find out until I changed it for some +Attack armor and got one-shotted, that it was protecting me from poison in Act II. Whenever you change out armor, stay aware of whether it is creating a weak spot in your defensive set.

If you are unaware that you are weak, you will die.

Which brings me to the next point. Stay alert for if your health is dropping quickly or more rapidly after switching out items. I was constantly scanning my screen for signals that I was on a death trajectory once I got the hang of things. Sometimes, you drop a ring, or switch out armor and become an instant squishy that can be crushed by an elite mob. That your health is going down more quickly or that it’s sitting below the half-way point more often than not is an indication that you have made a poor decision in changing out a piece of armor.

To make matters more dangerous on the consoles, there was introduced a new quick inventory system that lets you drop and equip armor while picking it up. The quick inventory system should be used with great caution: it is easy to accidentally equip junk gear and make your character vulnerable.

If you don’t know the boss patterns and areas of refuge, you will die.

I have no idea how Blizzard chose the locations for the health pools, but they seem to always be in a spot where they are of little use. However, these areas are of great importance if you are trying to chicken run away from a mob. Don’t hesitate to run if things are looking hairy and always run to somewhere safe. As such, keep track of good escape paths as you move through the levels. On bosses, e.g. Diablo, the Butcher, and Zoltan Khulle, use those health baths before you guzzle down potions. They respawn over time and are free!

Also of great importance is knowing the boss patterns. Belial wiped me out twice because I simply could not dodge his poison bomb attack due to a lack of experience. Make sure to use your normal character to scout these boss patterns before making attempts with your hardcore character.

When you get really good at Diablo – probably because you have had to re-run the game a few times – you will learn about the efficiencies of play styles and the game economics. The core principles are:

  • Grind the right areas at the right difficulty for your character. This comes from experience with the game but in short, you should be able to grind roughly 3-4 levels per hour from Level 10-30, 2-3 from 30-50 ,and 1-2 from then on. In order to do this, optimize across offense and defense.
  • If the game is too hard you either have insufficient armor or insufficient damage.
  • Balance your character by managing the resources on your character, most importantly defensive abilities and your offensive capabilities.
  • You can safely ignore gold, the items you can buy are mostly junk after you reach 20.
  • Plans can drop anywhere in game at any point. However, most plans that drop are only useful for a character a few levels below the level you will find the drop at.
  • Squander every gem you find. Do not sell those gems, you will eventually be happy you saved them when you need to combine loads of gems together for a Marquis version.
  • Upgrade the key gems for your character class. For example, there is very little reason to be buffing DEX on a Wizard class that is INT focused. In this case, don’t waste your Tomb of Jewelcrafting or Page of Jewelcrafting resources, it’s a waste.

Closing thoughts

Beating Diablo 3 on hardcore took me roughly a year and was probably the most difficult video gaming challenge I have attempted and completed. It’s not for everybody, heck, D3 isn’t for everybody, it’s not the most awesome game. However, the challenge is exciting and actually making it through Inferno on Hardcore is very satisfying. Feel free to add more tips or let me know if what worked for me works for you in the comments.

I’ll wrap everything up with a final post on how “the end” – finishing Diablo on Hardcore – went.

Update:

You can read my closing thoughts on my Diablo III saga here.

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