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ChainHydra Sorceress by lMarcusl

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ChainHydra Sorceress
Lightning Hydra Sorc.gif
Game Diablo II
Class Sorceress
Primary Attack Chain Lightning/Hydra
PvM/PvP PvM
Can Solo Hell? Yes
Creator lMarcusl
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The ChainHydra Sorceress specialises in some of the less “meta” Sorceress skills, namely Chain Lightning and Hydra, to deliver AoE lightning damage and sustained single-target fire damage respectively. The character’s investment into the Lightning tree also allows it to use several utility skills that tend to get overlooked by the more popular Fire + Cold Sorceress builds. The end result is a build that is both unconventional, versatile, and surprisingly durable for its class.

This guide was written and tested for an untwinked, self-found playthrough across all difficulties using patch 1.14d.

Playstyle

The character is built primarily around Chain Lightning as its core. Due to the skill’s chaining effect, the spell serves as an excellent AoE ability to clear out dense packs of enemies, deliver damage to monsters around corners that cannot fire back, and also decimate smaller, less dense groups of enemies by continuously chaining damage between them. The one aspect where Chain Lightning tends to fall short is single target damage. Unless there is a nearby monster to bounce the lightning off of back and forth, Chain Lightning in fact tends to deal less damage than Lightning, while coming with a significantly higher mana cost. That is where Hydra comes in. Similar to Assassin Traps, the Hydra appears at a target point and starts spewing out damage on the nearest enemy it sees. Unlike Traps, however, Hydra is not limited to 5-10 shots, nor does it have a fixed cap on 5 Hydras at a time, though limitations on spell duration and 1.6 s spell cooldown do technically place a cap on how much damage a Hydra can deal and how many can be active.

Entering Hell difficulty changes up the playstyle a bit. Areas with Lightning Immunes will prevent the Sorceress from using her preferred clearing skill, while Fire Immune uniques will render her single-target spell of choice useless. Thankfully, by virtue of investing into the Fire and Lightning tree, the ChainHydra Sorceress has access to a number of skills to help her combat these issues. Through Enchant, the Sorceress can increase her hireling’s attack rating, allowing it to better deal with enemies the Sorceress is unable to damage. Static Field helps bring Fire Immune bosses to a more manageable health total so that Chain Lightning and the hireling can finish them off easier. Telekinesis incapacitates single monsters through constant knockback, giving your hireling the time he needs to kill them off should the Sorceress’s damage be heavily resisted (such as by Venom Lords in Chaos Sanctuary as seen in the video below). Thunder Storm, thanks to high +skills in the Lightning tree, can also prove a potent tool for finishing off isolated Fire Immune enemies.

In addition to these, the build also uses Energy Shield to radically increase its survivability. With the right gear, even zero hard point investment in Energy Shield can give the Sorceress extremely high damage absorption, making the build uncharacteristically safe for a Sorceress.

Attribute Point Allocation

Strength 60

Dexterity base

Vitality 200+

Energy 150+

As a spellcaster, the character has little need for martial attributes. The Sorceress’s Dexterity plays no role whatsoever in her ability to survive or deal damage, and Strength is only needed in order to equip various armor pieces. As such, Dexterity should remain at base and Strength should only be brought to a level where the player feels they will be able to equip the gear they need. I generally tend to aim for 60 Str, as that is where the character can start wearing Plated Belts as soon as they become available for maximum number of potion slots. However, as the character progresses through the difficulties, Exceptional and Elite gear can provide similar advantages with a lower Strength requirement. 60 Str does open the character up to wearing a more diverse set of armor pieces, however, and though armor rating is completely irrelevant for the build, it does make it easier to find an armor piece with the right number of sockets should the character want to make a runeword.

Vitality and Energy is where the build gets peculiar, even among spellcasters. Due to the use of Energy Shield, the Sorceress does not need to have nearly as much health as would otherwise be required. With the right +skill bonuses, Energy Shield can divert over 60 % of damage away from your health and into your mana pool. This keeps the character alive, helps avoid hit recovery, which for the Sorceress is excruciatingly slow, but also takes a major bite off your mana reserves. If you want your mana to keep protecting your health pool, you need to have enough of it to last.

For this reason, I recommend keeping your Life and Mana at approximately even levels. Logic would dictate that you would want significantly more mana than health, since your mana is taking the majority of the damage. Plus, without high investment in Telekinesis synergy, Energy Shield’s conversion ratio is actually unfavourable, with every 1 point of damage absorbed actually taking off 2 points of mana. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, the developers chose to penalise players for overinvesting in their mana at the expense of life. Succubi and Baal in Act 5 normally cast a curse that drastically reduces the character’s defense. If the character has more maximum mana than health, these monsters will instead cast a Blood Mana curse that forces the character to pay for their spells with health instead of mana. Shaving off nearly 40 health with every cast of Chain Lightning, a spell that must be spammed for maximum effect, would make the character a complete pain to play in areas where these foes appear. Plus, keeping the mana and life reserves balanced makes the character less vulnerable to the Mana Burn affix. Having a build severely skewed towards mana would give Mana Burners an easy kill on you once your blue globe is depleted.

Skill Point Allocation

Skills

Naturally, you will want to max out your core skills and their strongest synergies. However, looking at both Hydra and Chain Lightning…I mean ugh. You call those synergies? Your best bet is therefore to max out your masteries to support these two skills as best you can. With all the prerequisites and 1-point wonders such as Static Field and Teleport, that doesn’t leave the character much to work with. Depending on whether your gear gives you a specific bonus to Energy Shield, you might have 3 or 4 points left to spend if we work with the assumption you will finish your playthrough at level 84. Now, to decide where these points should go, we have to take a look at what our character has and what it lacks.

As mentioned before, Chain Lightning is an outstanding skill for clearing large groups of enemies while Hydra excels at single target. Don’t be fooled by the damage numbers you see. The up-front damage may seem low, but Chain Lightning does its damage multiple times when bouncing to reach some pretty spectacular damage totals per cast. Similarly, Hydra’s damage may look pitifully low, but like Frozen Orb, the damage is deceiving. It adds up. It adds up fast. Hydra fires three Fire Bolts per volley, so that’s 3x damage right there, and you will have more than one Hydra up at a time. The only downside of having the damage spread out across many different projectiles rather than one is that Hydra is unlikely to put enemies into hit recovery. That generally doesn’t matter with Hydra cause they’re all dead. One note regarding Hydra placement: each Hydra head will target enemies closest to it. Natural instinct is to just cast a spell at the target you want it to hit, but with Hydra that may not yield the best results. If monsters are in a group around your Mercenary (Holy Freeze to increase his survivability, obviously), then placing a Hydra on one of the enemies will likely spawn the three heads around that enemy. But each of those heads may be close to another, different enemy, and so instead of focusing on that one target, each head will fire at a different one, and your single-target damage will plummet. It is best to place Hydras slightly further away so that enemy movement or random head positioning is less likely to screw up your targeting. Plus, it looks so much cooler to watch that endless stream of Fire Bolts flying through the air.

So, we have our AoE and our single-target. What more could we want, right? Well, issues arise when the two skills cannot be used for their chosen purpose due to immunities. Or when game mechanics mess things up for the player. I won’t delve too deeply into NextDelay mechanics, but suffice it to say, after damaging an enemy, projectile-based skills have a certain delay before they can damage that same enemy again. This can screw certain skills over pretty hard. A Bowazon with very high attack speed may fire her Strafe shots faster than the skill’s NextDelay (4 frames), and have half of her projectiles per Strafe volley pass through enemies harmlessly (as if Bowazons didn’t have enough damage problems). In the case of Chain Lightning, the spell will not bounce to a target if that target’s NextDelay window (4 frames as well) hasn’t passed. A group of enemies packed densely together around, oh, I don’t know, your Mercenary, will eat up those early bounces, one each, but since Chain Lightning bounces nearly instantly between closely packed enemies, they will all still be in their NextDelay window and won’t take any more of your crap…I-I mean Chain Lightning. Each of them will take one hit and the remaining bounces will not happen unless there are more distant monsters available to chain from. That means Chain Lightning’s damage can drop drastically based entirely on the monster pack’s layout.

Now that we know what the problem is, what can we do about it? Well, obviously there is nothing easier than to just spam more Chain Lightning at the problem until it goes away. You can also try pulling the pack apart through Teleport and Merc luring, or you can do some real nifty tricks by spreading enemies apart manually using Telekinesis, which is just hilarious. Frankly, most of these are going to take so long to execute that if you just spammed more Chain Lightning the pack would probably be dead by now. If the monsters are not Fire Immune, you can and absolutely should alternate between Chain Lightning and Hydra to maximise your damage output, so even though Chain Lightning won’t be doing quite as much as it should, Hydras will eat through the leftovers with ease.

But skill investment can also help alleviate the issue, depending on how much of an irritant you find NextDelay to be. With 20 skill points in Chain Lightning and Lightning Mastery, plus whatever +skills you managed to acquire, it does not take much to build a pretty decent Lightning as well. Obviously, Lightning lacks the bouncing property, so you will need to line up your targets manually rather than have the chaining do the work for you, but all things being equal Lightning would actually be doing significantly more damage than Chain Lightning if you had the points to build it up. Even though you don’t, those few skill points you have left will be able to bring Lightning almost on par with Chain Lightning and, this is the key part, Lightning drains significantly less mana. As a result, you can easily switch to Lightning when you encounter a particularly stubborn enemy pack that would drain your mana dry from Chain Lightning spam, and you can also switch to Lightning against isolated bosses with large health pools if you feel like conserving your mana. Since your Lightning damage will not be quite on par with Chain Lightning, you will be slightly reducing your DPS, but you will also be able to afford around 3 Lightnings per one Chain Lightning for your mana to compensate which can be a good enough motivator if mana sustain is a concern (such as when fighting Ancients). Even if using Lightning on switch does not appeal to you, you may still want to spend those 3-4 leftover points on Lightning anyway to make Chain Lightning just that little bit stronger so those unchainable groups and bosses drop dead a little faster. Boss killing especially can be a sore point for the ChainHydra Sorceress, since Fire Immunes leave the character without its main single target tool.

Because of Lightning’s higher damage output, there is an alternative way to build the character as well. You can invest into Lightning as your primary spell and spend your remaining points in Chain Lightning synergy to boost the skill up further. What you will end up getting is a skill that deals higher up-front damage, which will help deal with your single target problems, but a skill that also often falls short of Chain Lightning’s AoE capabilities. In situations where Chain Lightning can and does bounce repeatedly between the same enemies, which is often, Chain Lightning will be able to output more single target damage and AoE damage than Lightning will by hitting even those enemies that would not line up for Lightning’s pierce. Chain Lightning also offers the comfort of not having to spend time lining up your shots. The time you spend running around enemies to get the best pierce is time that you’re not spending doing damage, effectively decreasing your DPS. Lightning will also not be able to propagate past corners, which is a particularly handy property of Chain Lightning. Your Mercenary can have an enemy stuck in a doorway, and through that enemy, your Chain Lightning will be able to bounce to all the enemies inside the room, whether those are in a line behind the monster or not. If you’re lazy like me, once you’ve tried Chain Lightning and soaked in the comfort of having the spell autotarget for you, you might find it hard to go back to using Lightning ever again. However, if you do want to aim for better single-target against Fire Immunes and not have to deal with NextDelay issues, the option to build for Lightning is there.

You will notice in the image above that I have also invested points in Nova and Thunder Storm and you may be wondering why. Normally, builds that do not focus on the Lightning tree would pick out Static Field and Teleport and ignore the rest. Why invest more when you want your +skills focused on other trees, after all. But since our focus is with the Lightning tree as our primary, with the Fire tree as support, we will want the majority of our +skills focused on Lightning spells. With high Lightning Mastery and tons of +skills, even that single point in Thunder Storm can be a nice contributor, especially when it comes to addressing single-target issues vs Fire Immunes. If the character had more points to spare, I’d definitely opt for getting Thunder Storm as high as possible. Not only do I have a personal fondness for the skill, but it is rather unusual among Lightning spells in that it is more consistent in terms of damage. Where most Lightning spells have high variance, hitting for almost nothing or very high, Thunder Storm doesn’t peak nearly as high but also rarely disappoints. In addition, the skill improves with levels not just in terms of damage, but also in terms of firing frequency. A level 1 Thunder Storm with its firing rate of once every 4.4 seconds is laughable. A high level, +skill supported Thunderstorm, aside from doing 2k damage per pop, will fire once every 1.6 seconds. That adds up over the course of a longer boss fight. However, I chose to only spend 1 point here and leave the rest up to +skills, as I felt investment in Lightning to boost up Chain Lightning would net me more damage per second for single target, and unlike Thunderstorm, the damage scaled further due to my cast speed.

ChainHydra Showcase.jpg

Another key skill that I have to mention is of course Energy Shield. The skill should either receive 1 skill point so that it can be boosted up by your +skills, or no skill point at all if you have an item that gives a bonus to Energy Shield specifically (I’m talking about the Memory runeword in particular, more on that in the Gear section). Now, it might be tempting to use the leftover points you have to either 1) invest more in Energy Shield to further mitigate incoming damage, or 2) to put the points in Telekinesis to improve the damage conversion ratio. Ad 1) provided you have enough +skills, Energy Shield should be at such a high level that further point investment will barely make a difference due to poor scaling. Ad 2) every hard point spent in Telekinesis makes Energy Shield burn 0.0625 less mana per 1 point of damage absorbed. With your 3-4 skill points, you’d be able to bring Energy Shield from burning 1.9375 mana (since you already have 1 point in Telekinesis) to 1.75. That makes Energy Shield 12.5 % more efficient from base value (2 mana burned per 1 point absorbed). That’s not bad. The thing that makes me advise against this investment is one hidden factor the game does not tell you about. Energy Shield works just like I described above for all cases of incoming damage. However, the developers decided at some point to change Energy Shield’s absorption mechanics to apply before resistances. For physical damage this essentially does not matter. If a monster is going to do a 100 physical damage to you and Energy Shield absorbs 61 %, you’ll take 39 damage to your health and some 119 damage to your mana pool (with Telekinesis at level 1). Painful, but your mana can take it, it regenerates fast thanks to Warmth and at least your health barely moved and you avoided hit recovery.

But what if a monster is going to do 100 elemental damage to you after resistances? Not an uncommon occurrence on Hell. I mean, Gloams can easily do twice as much with maxed Lightning resist. Well, assuming your resistance was 75 %, that means the base elemental attack was doing 400 damage. Ouch. Now, your Energy Shield is going to absorb 61 % of that damage. That is 244 damage absorbed because it goes through before resistance mitigation happens. Now we factor in the base absorption ratio of 1.9375 to determine how much your mana is going to take. FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTY THREE DAMAGE? There goes most of your pool. If we were to apply the more favourable 1.75 absorption ratio from investing your leftover points in Telekinesis, you end up burning 427 mana. A difference of 46 mana. That’s not even one and a half Chain Lightnings for all your leftover points. Leftover points which would have been able to increase your Chain Lightning by 300 max damage (or 150 average damage) through synergies, an increase of some 13 %, depending on your +skills.

Now you may be wondering, why in the name of Bishibosh’s rectal cavity are you willingly giving all elemental damage Mana Burn? Well, as mentioned before, Sorceress has the slowest hit recovery of all classes. The majority of deaths for a Sorceress come from being caught in the wrong position and, before she has a chance to Teleport away, taking several blows that put her into hit recovery she never walks away from. Hit recovery spells death for a Sorceress. Sure, Energy Shield may eat almost all your mana from a powerful elemental attack. Sure, you can’t Teleport without mana. But you can run. Because you’re not in hit recovery. Because you’re alive. It may take some time to unlearn the reflex of Teleporting away from trouble, since often your mana will be so drained you won’t be able to. But running works, and it’s thanks to Energy Shield that you’ll live to tell the tale. That 100 damage elemental hit may have burned 473 of your finest mana, but it did a grand total of 39 damage to your health pool, which is not enough to put you in hit recovery even if you only have a maximum 600 hit points. Without Energy Shield, you could have a thousand life and that 100 damage would put you in hit recovery and potentially result in your death shortly thereafter. Since Energy Shield does such a good job of protecting your health, you can focus more attributes on Energy to boost up your mana pool. You then get to cast a lot more of your expensive spells and your increased mana pool yields you more mana regen, both naturally, and through further passive enhancements from Warmth, so not only does your mana last longer, but it comes back quicker too.

Finally, it goes without saying that Teleport and Static Field should be a part of your core skill setup. Another two skills worth mentioning are Enchant, which you can apply to your Mercenary to improve his damage output (mainly through the attack rating bonus rather than the added fire damage) and Telekinesis, which you can use to keep incapacitating unique monsters you are unable to damage yourself. The constant knockback from Telekinesis will keep enemies in hit recovery so that your Mercenary can hopefully kill them on his own without being constantly interrupted by hit recovery himself from enemy attacks. Obviously, this strategy depends heavily on having a well-equipped Mercenary.

Gear

Which brings us to itemisation. Obviously you will want to equip your Holy Freeze Merc for survivability on helmet and chest and damage on weapon. You will want to give him lifesteal, perhaps Open Wounds to deal with extra annoying enemies that like to regenerate. I would advise against equipping him for crowd control (Woestave, Kelpie Snare) since you want him to be able to output damage to enemies you cannot harm due to immunities.

But the main goal is obviously to outfit yourself as best you can. Most of your gear should have the usual suspects: life, mana, resistances. Pay particular attention to any cast speed bonuses you might find on off-weapon gear. Lightning and Chain Lightning have a slower casting animation than most spells and you want your casting to feel snappy so you can quickly react to incoming elemental projectiles and get out of harm’s way as well as output more lightning damage to make killing those problematic Fire Immunes faster. Obviously Hydra will not benefit from casting speed due to its cooldown, but every single other spell you use will.

Your helmet (circlet) and amulet should be dedicated to +skills, preferably +2 to all, followed closely by +3 to Lightning spells. You have a decent amount of control over these as you can do targeted gambling for them from about mid-Nightmare until you get what you want. If you can get some extra bonuses on these, it goes without saying that the more the better. But don’t forget that you can have your helmet socketed by Larzuk. Even if that circlet with +3 Lightning skills has nothing else on it, a couple of resist runes in it can make it an easy keeper. For your chest, you have one main goal: getting good resistances. Most characters would resolve the issue through the Smoke runeword (NefLum), but I would not recommend doing so for the Sorceress in particular, due to her need for the Lum rune in other places. For casters, another potential candidate is their class-specific runeword, but once again, this is something I would not recommend for the Sorceress. Her runeword, Enlightenment (PulRalSol), is not the end-all be-all like, say, Bone is for the Necromancer. The absolute majority of Enlightenment’s bonuses are, frankly, pitiful. It gains you no mana, no life, very poor resistances. +2 to all skills on armor is, however, quite enticing. Ideally, you would want a better item, either a high resist rare or a versatile unique, such as Skin of the Vipermagi that gives you resistances, +skills and insane casting speed bonuses (I did find one, it was delightful, don’t hate on my magnificence). However, there is not really much you can do to get yourself one. Either it drops or it doesn’t. With runes, you can run Countess and have good odds to make Smoke or Enlightenment at some point. These runewords can therefore serve as a stepping stone to pull you through until you chance upon the drop you were looking for.

Preferably though, you will want to save Lum rune for your staff. Almost any Sorceress using the Fire tree can get her hands on Leaf (TirRal) for her staff with absurd ease. The runeword can help you breeze through early normal, where you lack all of your core skills. Once you start building up a decent Chain Lightning, the runeword will be obsolete for your purposes. From that point on, you are looking for Staves with the right skill bonuses, or the Arch-angel’s prefix to boost up your damage as much as possible. While you cannot gamble for staves, you can buy them from magic vendors, so keep checking every time you stop by in town if you have the gold to spare (they can be pricy and you want to gamble amulets and circlets). But your ultimate goal is the above-mentioned Lum rune. With it, you can make Memory (LumIoSolEth) which is outright ridiculous. +3 to all skills, specific Energy Shield bonus, faster cast rate, Vitality, Energy, minor reduced magic damage, % increased maximum mana. I mean holy crap it’s like it was made for this character. Once you have your runes, you’ll want the right staff to go with them. Throughout your playthrough, you should be saving up any good 4 socket staves you find so that you can make Memory as soon as you got the requisite pieces. Alternatively, the first staff available for purchase with a socket cap of 4 is Gnarled Staff. Those are still sold by Drognan on Normal as non-magic, so you can just keep popping in and out of town and browsing through his inventory until you find one with, say +3 to Chain Lightning, have it socketed by Larzuk for those guaranteed 4 sockets, put in Memory and you got yourself an end-game staff worthy of royalty. The runeword’s specific bonus to Energy Shield also allows you to respec your Energy Shield to yield you another skill point to allocate as you see fit. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Well, folks, that's all for this one. Hope you enjoy playing it;-)