Whirlzerker by lMarcusl

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Whirlzerker Barbarian
Game Diablo II
Class Barbarian
Primary Attack Whirlwind/Berserk
Can Solo Hell? Yes
Creator lMarcusl

The Whirlzerker is a Barbarian build using the two high-level combat skills, Berserk and Whirlwind, to deliver massive one-shot damage or a quick flurry of blows to enemies depending on the situation. Using the skills’ twin damage types, Magic and Physical respectively, the build can fight its way past Hell difficulty’s Physical immunes with ease, an obstacle that usually poses a major headache for Barbarians. To complement the character’s aggressive playstyle, the Whirlzerker invests heavily into Battle Orders to give himself extremely high amount of health and exploit some of Diablo 2’s underlying mechanics.

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


The build’s fundamental playstyle is dictated by the properties of Whirlwind and Berserk. Both skills are, obviously, melee and both expose the character to damage in an unusual way. With Whirlwind, once the character initiates the skill, he will not stop until he reaches his destination. Stuns, knockbacks, interfering monsters, hit recovery, even death cannot stop Whirlwind’s advance. Essentially, for the duration of a Whirlwind, the character is fully immune to all crowd control, but also completely uncontrollable. No use of skills, no changing direction, no drinking potions. An ill-advised Whirlwind can send the character through a mob of monsters and subject it to ridiculous amounts of damage in a short span of time. The character therefore has to be built to withstand such unfortunate incidents and obviously, the player must learn how to use Whirlwind properly to minimise the chances of such an occurrence.

Berserk’s power comes with a number of caveats as well. While the attack fully converts all its damage into Magic, thus bypassing Physical Immunities and overall targeting what is usually a monster’s lowest resistance, it comes at a price of all your defense rating. For a short time after using Berserk, the character is therefore completely exposed to enemy attacks and is likely to take a beating from whatever he did not kill with his first swing. This, once again, forces the character to build for survivability and also weigh his choice of attack. If an enemy is capable of delivering a powerful enough blow to put the Barbarian into hit recovery, it is best to use Whirlwind instead of Berserk so the player takes less damage and is not prevented from attacking. As mentioned above, Whirlwind is uninterruptible, so knockbacks and hit recovery will not prevent the character from dealing damage, where Berserk's armor penalty would almost guarantee the character will be interrupted with every blow he takes.

Luckily, Barbarian is one of the best classes when it comes to building for survivability to support this risky playstyle. By using a high level Battle Orders, the Whirlzerker easily reaches over 2000 hit points to be able to soak a ton of damage. More than that though, the ability allows the Barbarian to essentially ignore one of the game’s core mechanics. When a character, be it a monster, a hireling, or the player, takes a single blow that shaves off more than 1/12th of the character’s health, they are put into hit recovery and are unable to act for a moment. Increasing the character’s health by such a large amount allows the character to essentially completely avoid being put into hit recovery since most monsters are incapable of doing that much damage to the Barbarian’s enhanced health pool in a single blow. And that is the difference between a character that is nearly unplayable and a character that can beat Hell difficulty self-found. In normal circumstances, the Whirlzerker would take a Berserk swing at an enemy, and then suffer a long sequence of hit recoveries, as every incoming blow strikes home and takes off a major chunk of the character’s health. The character would then have to back off, heal up, approach the pack from a more favourable angle, take a swing or two and run away. Alternatively, he would have to let the hireling do absolutely all the tanking in order to even be able to attack. And he would have to do this for pretty much every monster pack for the entirety of Hell difficulty. Thanks to Battle Orders, the character can instead stand its ground and swing away to cut enemies to ribbons through Berserk’s high damage output before the monsters work their way through his sizeable health pool. The massive amount of hit points also allows the character to Whirlwind more comfortably, as a poorly chosen Whirlwind destination is less likely to result in the character’s death. Investment into this single skill thus enables both of the character’s offensive abilities to function a lot better, and permits the build to forgo what would otherwise be a nearly mandatory and large skill point investment into heavier crowd control in War Cry that would interfere with his offensive onslaught.

Attribute Point Allocation

Strength 180

Dexterity 100

Vitality 200+

Energy base

Here, the character can be extremely variable depending on what items the player chooses to aim for and, more importantly, what items they actually find. In general, I would recommend trying for a polearm build, as polearms offer very long range, enabling the Barbarian to Whirlwind from a safer distance or reach more enemies. Unlike spears, which also have a long range, polearms also tend to require more Strength rather than Dexterity, which the Barbarian would like to invest into anyway to wear better armor. However, the player can hope for one type of item all they want, it all goes out the window when they find a powerful unique or rare weapon from a different class. Attribute allocation should therefore be tailored to your choice of weaponry, and don’t be afraid to respec your character’s weapon mastery and attributes based on your item finds. When making these choices however, I advise strongly to keep attack speed in mind. The higher the better since weapon attack speed is the sole determiner of Whirlwind attack speed (more on that in the Skills section).

Staying with the example of polearms, I generally aim to be able to equip the faster strength-focused polearms, i.e. up to Great Poleaxe, which requires 180 Str and 100 Dex. Strangely, for being an alleged weapon master, the Barbarian tends to land on the slower side of weapon attack speed among the classes. Therefore, while a Druid might equip a Thresher or a Giant Thresher and achieve Very Fast attack speed, a Barbarian wielding the same weapon will only be at Normal attack speed, the same as if he were wielding a Great Poleaxe – a weapon which just so happens to deal considerably more damage per swing and requires 50 less stat investment to equip than a Giant Thresher. But do not hesitate to change up the Strength and Dexterity numbers depending on not just your weapon, but also armor. If you find a very high level armor with a good number of sockets to make a runeword you want, don’t be afraid to build your stats up to it, as high armor rating will make your Whirlwinds much safer. Similarly, you may build up to a Great Poleaxe, only to find an Ogre Axe with the right stats or number of sockets and you should change your stats up accordingly. Whatever points you have left once your item requirements are met should obviously go into your Vitality, since you want your base health to be as high as possible in order for Battle Orders to have the largest effect.

Skill Point Allocation


It goes without saying that the three core pillars of the build, Whirlwind, Berserk and Battle Orders, should be maxed out, along with a weapon mastery of choice (which, again, can change over the course of the game through Akara respecs based on what you find). One thing worth mentioning regarding Berserk is that it fully converts all your damage to magic. This is an important factor to keep in mind; while most enemies are not resistant to Magic at all, there are some types that have extremely high resistance (Horror Archers spring to mind) or complete immunity (Greater Mummies, Plague Bearers, to name a few), so those may give you a bit more trouble. Greater Mummies in particular will test your ability to Whirlwind properly, since they come packed with big groups of skeletons and you can only kill them using Whirlwind. Otherwise, most of these skills are rather straightforward and don’t require further explanation. I feel, however, that this is the right time to discuss some Whirlwind mechanics.

In Diablo 3 and other similar ARPGs, Whirlwind-like skills turn your entire character model into a vortex of damage that continuously mows down anything it comes into contact with. Not so in Diablo 2. Similar to Zeal or Fury, Whirlwind simply makes the character attack single random enemies a number of times in quick succession. As a result, whirling into a crowd of monsters will not inflict damage upon all of them, but will only land a handful of attacks on a chosen few. Therefore, the character will want to try and whirl in such a way as to only hit a select few enemies at a time to quickly reduce enemy numbers to manageable levels. Unlike Zeal or Fury, however, Whirlwind bestows upon the Barbarian a number of unusual properties. Firstly, the skill is not limited to a certain number of attacks per use. Given a long enough Whirlwind, it can deliver dozens of blows with a single use. However, a second factor makes this behaviour undesirable. During a Whirlwind, the character is unable to stop, use abilities, drink potions, or in any way act until the Whirlwind ends. If the situation goes sideways, the Barbarian is incapable of reacting and may find himself whirling to his death. In addition, Whirlwind deals out its damage in a peculiar way. Where Zeal, for instance, has a somewhat slower initial attack, followed by a quick series of blows, and a slow finishing attack, which we might illustrate as N-F-F-F-S (N=normal, F=fast, S=slow), Whirlwind deals out its damage periodically and rather smoothly depending on your weapon’s attack speed and only your weapon’s attack speed (off-weapon attack speed bonuses do not affect it). However, and this is the key factor here, Whirlwind also delivers two extra attacks at the start of the Whirlwind (specifically on frame 4 and 8, game runs at 25 FPS) that fall outside of the periodic attack pattern. The higher your weapon attack speed the more frequent these periodic attacks will be, often around 3 attacks per second depending on your breakpoint, which in itself is a lot when wielding massive two-handed weapons, but the initial two attacks that come off of Whirlwind within that initial split second are not affected by attack speed at all. You will always get these two extra attack checks for free. That means doing short, bursty Whirlwinds tends to be more efficient (and, granted, more mana intensive) than doing long continuous Whirlwinds back and forth through the enemy pack. You have better control over which enemies you do and do not hit, how much you are exposed to enemy attacks, and can react faster to changes on the battlefield. Last point to mention about Whirlwind is its unusual behaviour when it comes to procs. Cast on hit spells will not proc from Whirlwind at all. However, provided these come from the weapon, Whirlwind will proc Open Wounds, Crushing Blow and Deadly Strike.

To mention some of the other standouts among your skills, Natural Resistance should receive around 4 skill points since you want to reduce incoming damage as much as possible during Whirlwinds and you want to avoid hit recovery in Berserk. Since that is where the scaling starts to drop off and you will have a +1 skill boost from Battle Command, investing more than 4 is not advised, but getting these 4 points in will make your gearing a lot easier. Speaking of gearing, it is a good idea to have 1 point in Find Item over the course of levelling. When used, you get another chance for an item drop from monster corpses. When used on a boss monster such as Corpsefire or Lord de Seis, you roll for them to drop an entirely new batch of items and potions, which can yield you a lot of gold for gambling or good items for your character. Don’t forget to apply Battle Command before using the skill to improve your odds. Once you feel you’re set in terms of gear, however, I advise respeccing the points into your other skills. As you may have gathered by now, respeccing is a fairly important aspect of this build’s development, so be careful not to waste your respecs needlessly.

Another three key skills I need to mention here are Shout, Taunt and Battle Cry. 1) Even though Berserk drops your defense to zero, you should still keep Shout up at all times, as it helps your survivability in a big way during Whirlwinds, along in no small part with Iron Skin boosted by Battle Command. 2) Taunt is possibly the best one point wonder skill Barbarians have access to. Forcing ranged enemies, spell casters, shamans etc. to close in to melee range is an invaluable ability and one that most other melee characters would kill to have. The skill should become an integral part of your arsenal as you start approaching Hell difficulty. 3) While the Whirlzerker does not have the points to build up a strong War Cry, nor does Whirlwind gel particularly well with constant need to spam stuns on enemies, Battle Cry does exactly what the character wants: drop enemy defense massively to increase your damage output, and decrease enemy damage to further avoid hit recovery from strong enemies, while increasing survivability along the way.


In terms of equipment, I simply cannot stress this enough. You need, need, need a powerful weapon. Obviously, all melee characters live and die by their weapon. It’s what can decide whether a character is mowing through enemies or they spend most of their playthrough running away from them. But your weapon’s importance could not be any more pronounced on a character than it is on the Whirlzerker. You want enemies to drop dead to your Whirlwinds rather quickly, since you do not possess any other defense or crowd control other than your massive health pool and some boosted armor values. Your health pool can only get you so far and comes with its own downsides. Namely, it’s rather hard to heal up over 2000 hit points solely through healing potions. You’ll often find yourself chugging potions one after another after a poorly aimed Whirlwind, and your health will barely be moving. You’ll also find that healing your mercenary (Holy Freeze or Might) does not do nearly as much as you’re used to, because he will be running around with some 3500 hit points as well. You therefore simply have to be killing enemies fast, or you’ll find yourself easily losing 1500 health over the course of killing two monsters from a larger monster pack. High damage output will also help you cover your mana costs and mitigate health losses through life and mana steal.

Whirlzerker Showcase.jpg

Now, I can stress finding a good weapon all I want but what exactly are you supposed to do about it right? If it drops, it drops. Well, not quite. Where spellcasters will be spending their gold gambling away at circlets and amulets to get +skill bonuses, you will be spending your gold gambling your weapon base of choice. Note I’m saying weapon base, not weapon type. You don’t just want to go gambling away at any random polearm or axe or whatever you chose as your weapon type. You want the good bases, those with good attack speeds and requirements that you meet. Feral Axes, Champion Axes, Great Poleaxes, Ogre Mauls, Ogre Axes, these are the types of high level item base rares you are looking for, or their Exceptional or Normal equivalents, since you can upgrade these through the Horadric Cube, provided you find the right runes. And runes is what it all comes down to in terms of making your weapon hunt easier. Your best bet is Um, followed possibly by Lem. With Um you can make Crescent Moon (ShaelUmTir, but make sure you’re using the right weapon type – axes, swords, polearms), which gives decent, though not quite Cruel-affix damage increase, attack speed increase, Static Field on strike for your Berserk against bosses, and the all-important ignore target defense which will make killing monsters a breeze. If the rune drops for you or you farm it from Countess, what comes next is getting yourself a good weapon base to slot it into. The place of choice is probably Pit in Act 1 Hell, since that can drop the highest item bases in the game. While you would ideally like to find a 3 socket Great Poleaxe, don’t scoff at the opportunity to slot it into any other good item base you find, even if it’s not in your weapon class. It is absolutely worth respeccing into another weapon class just for that. If you don’t find Um or you already found a Lem rune, you can make the less desirable Passion runeword (DolOrtEldLem). Less desirable because, though it does provide similar attack speed and damage to Crescent Moon, and does improve your attack rating, it has a Hit Causes Monster to Flee affix which you just really aren’t looking for as a melee character.

Of course, if runes aren’t your cup of tea and you don’t want to farm Countess and Pit for hours on end, you can also buy a powerful Cruel-prefixed weapon (200+% enhanced damage) from vendors, gamble it, or find it out in the world. You can then use Larzuk’s socket reward to slot in anything the weapon lacks, which will most commonly be attack speed (Shael rune). You can have similar success with essentially any strong Unique that drops for you as well, though once again, you are likely to see the best results from Normal and Exceptional tier items after you upgrade them to Elite, which requires, you guessed it, mid-level runes.

If that news didn’t rune your day enough yet, guess what I’d recommend you do with your chest piece? That’s right, you want to make a Smoke (NefLum) to increase your defense and cap your resistances. After that, you will want the usual from your other item slots. Extra health never goes amiss, especially since you will be essentially doubling the effects of all such affixes through Battle Orders, and you want maxed resistances as well, of course. If your armor pieces have a good armor rating, that obviously scales nicely as well through Iron Skin and Shout. You will want attack speed on your gloves for Berserk, though your Whirlwind won’t be affected by it. You definitely want some mana leech and life leech somewhere on your gear to pay for Whirlwind and make up for the tons of health you’re likely to be losing during fights. Worth noting, since Berserk converts all damage fully into magic, you cannot leech from it at all. Use Whirlwind to recover lost mana and health, provided you have enough damage and leech to do so. Health especially is crucial, as your potions will not be making quite as much of a difference on your massive health pool as you are used to.

You will want the same on your mercenary. Like you, your mercenary will be enjoying a major survivability boost from Shout and Battle Orders. By being able to avoid hit recovery much like you, he will also be able to output significantly more damage than usual, and if given sufficient lifesteal on his equipment, he will be quite easily able to recover his own health through combat alone. Therefore, your Battle Orders essentially double-dips on survivability increase on your mercenary, as he will have more health and will be better able to recover his own health through lifesteal when not interrupted by hit recovery. But you have to make sure you actually give him some lifesteal in the first place, so don’t leave him hanging. And since he’s able to output more damage now, giving him any weapon hand-me-downs so that he can deal good damage himself will further assist you in clearing away enemies and not having to babysit his health pool nearly as much. Between the two of you, you might enjoy some bloody good times killing your way through the game, provided you do your utmost to secure yourself and your mercenary those crucial strong weapons.

Lastly, since your skills cover so many aspects of what a good character needs, from damage, attack rating, armor bonuses, resistances, health, mana, item find and damage reduction, it is not entirely out of the question for you to equip a +skill amulet or Barbarian helmet. Even +1 to all skills can give you a good amount of health, help you cap out those resistances, increase survivability through Battle Cry, and overall make you a much tougher beast to slay. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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