Welcome to Sebastian's Diablo 2 guide for a single player hardcore Frostmaiden (Freezing Arrow-based Amazon), for Diablo 2 version 1.14. More specifically, my game version was 1.14D when my Amazon defeated Baal on Hell difficulty.
About this guide
: good to expert Diablo 2 players
: Diablo 2 LOD 1.14
: single player, hardcore (one life, permanent death)
: share tactics to beat Hell difficulty with a hardcore Frostmaiden
: none; this guide assumes you play without any mods or third party programs
In addition to topics often found in other Diablo 2 guides, this guide also includes a collection of tactics I have developed while progressing my own Frostmaiden, Zon-III.
Now, a reasonable question here is "what happened to Zon and Zon-II?"
Zon (my first Frostmaiden) died at level 25 to Normal Mephisto. He stunned me with his frozen orb, immediately followed by a maximum damage lightning bolt, two-shotting me.
Zon-II (my second Frostmaiden) died at level 76 to a Nightmare pack of Undead Stygian Dolls. I turned a corner in the Durance of Hate, and was swarmed by extra fast dolls. Out of instinct, I shot a maxed Freezing Arrow. They all exploded, and so did I.
Zon-III was my third attempt, this time successful.
Guardian Zon-III emerged victorious over Hell Baal, after a 37 minute battle.
Softcore is great for beginners. You are given the opportunity to learn the three difficulties of the game with minimal penalties for death:
On the other hand, hardcore is higher risk, higher reward. I've played in hardcore mode for most of my Diablo 2 "career". I enjoy leveling heroes. In hardcore you end up leveling more often that you'd like, since you will sometimes die, this time permanently:
It is said that we ought to learn from our mistakes. After dying in hardcore Diablo 2, you will have learned how to handle a new situation, that in which you have just died. Be it by Undead Stygian Dolls or frenzied Blood Lords, each death will improve your mastery of this great game.
Each hardcore death bears a lesson.
Starting the game and looking at my character select screen, my high-level hardcore characters make me proud and satisfied with my progress. I find hardcore to be thrilling enough to keep me interested in this decade-plus old game.
Why single player?
I have played Diablo 2 off-and-on since its release in 2000. I decided to switch exclusively to single player in 2016, when I logged in after a multiple-year hiatus, and was disappointed.
Within two days, I had been rushed to Hell and had very good items, handed out to me by strangers. Most available games were created by bots which single-handedly killed Hell Baal to get free experience points for a full party. This trivialized the entire gameplay for me, causing me to quit online play.
In single player, you're on your own. There's no rushing, no duped items, no free items, no spam, no lag. The satisfaction from beating Diablo 2 in single player hardcore mode was greater than any I've experienced playing the game online.
You will not miss the incessant spam from Battle.net bots.
Unfortunately, you will miss trading with other players; especially so when finding items that would be very well suited for hero classes other than your current one.
However, Diablo 2, especially the Hell difficulty, was not meant to be played in single player. This is immediately obvious from the apparently unfair monster immunities and difficulty in Hell.
You will encounter monsters that are nearly unkillable. You will spend heaps of gold on resurrecting your mercenary and on health/mana potions. You will be extremely frustrated when you've almost reached the next waypoint but are forced to Save&Exit prematurely, to avoid dying.
Don't play while tired.
Before progressing, "warm up" by playing in a lower-difficulty area, such as an earlier act, or near the beginning of an act.
Don't rush; regard each new waypoint as good progress: it means you're still alive.
If in the least bit of doubt, Save&Exit. You now still have your hero.
When Cain says "good to see you", you'll realize that you, too, are happy to see him. It means you're still alive.
I consider the following to be the best aspects of playing a hardcore Frostmaiden:
- the Amazon has great passives to avoid roughly half of all incoming attacks (based on my point allocation and gear).
- the build's main attack is an on-impact AOE freeze. With a single skill, you will both be hindering and damaging enemies. Its effectiveness is increased when the arrows pierce through enemies, triggering the AOE freeze effect multiple times per arrow.
I find the game more fun when my main damaging skill (Freezing Arrow) is also my main crowd-control skill.
- additional to the standard merc, you can summon a sturdy Valkyrie (on a short cooldown) and a decoy (no cooldown). The decoy (along with repositioning yourself) will be essential in redirecting monsters who are targetting you.
- like other ranged builds, you will be far away from fire enchanted explosions and able to position yourself to avoid lightning enchanted bolts. Evidently, you will also be away from dangerous melee attacks, especially while cursed.
Gear independence when using Freezing Arrow
- all that's needed is a bit of increased attack speed; bow damage is inconsequential.
You will have issues with the following:
Single element damage
- when you face non-cold immune monsters, you go very fast. When you face cold immune monsters, you go very slowly.
When you meet a monster like this, you will not enjoy killing it.
Gear dependence when using physical damage
- you WILL need a good bow for your physical (Strafe, Guided Arrow) attacks to be acceptable. I used Strafe and Guided Arrow to deal with cold immune monsters.
- not only is Freezing arrow is a high-cost skill, but your mana pool will be tiny. I relied heavily on mana potions, which meant VERY frequent town visits.
- between runes, magic find gear, gems, and charms, I constantly had to shuffle items to keep at least a 2x4 (as large as the largest items) empty spot in my inventory. This meant that I had no room for a second quiver of arrows towards the end of the game, furthering the frequency of my town visits.
Mercenary choice and gear
My main merc was an Act 2 Nightmare one, of the Defensive variety. They use the Holy Freeze aura, an excellent crowd control skill.
Before Act 2 Nightmare, I used an Act 2 Normal Defensive one, which provides the Defiance aura, for improved defence. I think an Act 2 Offensive (Blessed Aim aura) one would've worked as well, since most of my attacks before level 30 (when Freezing Arrow was available) were physical shots.
In terms of merc gear, here is what I prioritized:
- a must-have for boss fights, since it takes away health percentages, which scales well with bosses' high health. Your merc will have a lot of uptime on the boss, taking out visible chunks of his life when crushing blow procs.
Additionally, monsters have so much life in Hell that crushing blows take away much more of their life than normal attacks.
Crushing blow effectiveness as a proportion of current life:
Target Melee effect Ranged effect
Normal 1/4 1/8
Player or Hireling 1/10 1/20
Champions, Uniques or Bosses 1/8 1/16
There are a number of items (set, unique, and runewords) which can be worn by your merc to gain a crushing blow chance. Since you will rely solely on what you find, I recommend you keep any crushing blow items you find, since they'll make a significant difference when fighting bosses.
High damage weapon
- for my merc, I prefer pikes, lances, and war pikes, basically slow and high-damage weapons. To obtain them, I "shop-bot", by repeatedly exiting and re-entering town, to re-roll merchant inventory.
In late Nightmare, the "cruel" prefix starts appearing, boosting damage by up to 300%.
Similarly, "of evisceration" is an equally desirable suffix, adding a large damage amount.
- in later difficulties, the merc will be taking constant damage, being in the line of fire. Since only one slot in my belt was for health potions, any life leech I found for my merc translated to less frequent trips to town.
An easy way to get your merc life leech is by crafting a Blood Helm or Body (armour), which are guaranteed between 1% and 3% life leech.
Blood Helm - Magic Helm/Casque/Armet + Ral Rune + Perfect Ruby + Any Jewel
Blood Body - Magic Plate Mail/Templar Coat/Hellforge Plate + Thul Rune + Perfect Ruby + Any Jewel
Poison damage or open wounds
- the reason to get poison damage or open wounds on your merc is to stop monster regeneration in Hell. While under such a drain effect, monsters do not regenerate life, which is significant in Hell.
My merc wore the following items when I beat Baal, at level 83:
Here's how I progressed through the three difficulties. Aside from doing a few tens of Pindleskin runs on both Normal and Nightmare, all levels were gained as I progressed. I didn't skip much content; I went into non-quest related caves and dungeons, etc., for extra loot and experience.
- Get level 30 before Mephisto
- Reach act 5 at around level 33
- Rescue Anya
- Run Pindleskin to level 50
- Kill ancients and Baal
- Reach act 5 at around level 57
- Rescue Anya
- Run Pindleskin to level 76
- Kill ancients and Baal
- Reach level 82 by playing through to act 5 (took about as long as Normal and Nightmare combined)
- Kill ancients (took 7 minutes), running around the room chased by Madawc, while merc and Valkyrie tanked Korlic and Talic in the centre. Madawc would sometime latch unto merc or Valkyrie, letting me get a few consecutive shots from the outside into the fray. Shortly after, he would come back to chase me.
- Clear Throne of Destruction (took 25 minutes), while trying to not die to frenzied Death Lords. The Minions of Destruction have both lots of life and high damage, so my strategy was to unload Freezing Arrows on them, while trying to contain them all around my tanks. There will be very high incoming damage in the Throne of Destruction, but, fortunately, none of the monsters that spawn there are naturally cold immune.
- Kill Baal (took 37 minutes), almost dying twice. First 10 minutes were spent in shock, after Festering Appendages stunlocked me, making me drink all of my Rejuvenation Potions. I then changed my strategy, going to town whenever too many Festering Appendages spawned. Upon returning, the appendages would sometimes disappear, I would cast Decoy next to Baal, and then unload on him as the Valkyrie was tanking him. The merc died too quickly here, and I gave up on ressurecting him, to save some gold. I wasted some time trying to kill him with Guided Arrow, when Freezing Arrow proved more effective.
Due to having very little to no life or mana leech, I needed to carry potions of all types.
I used healing potions liberally, drinking them if my life was lower than 95% of maximum.
Generally, if I had to drink a second Full Rejuvenation Potion, I would simply exit the game.
Here's a screenshot of how I allocated my stats. All gear that has +stats is off, so only base values are visible.
1 in each Passive and Magic skill, as soon as they became available
1 in each non-fire Bow and Crossbow skill, as soon as they became available
At level 30 I had many saved up skill points. Max Freezing Arrow, Cold Arrow, Valkyrie.
Once Freezing Arrow, Cold Arrow, Valkyrie were all maxed, I put a few in Strafe, and a few in defensive skills such as Dodge, Evasion, etc., spread roughly equally.
Here's an image of my skills, without any +skill bonuses, at level 83:
As you may have guessed, defensive stats (+life, +resist, +damage reduced, +faster hit recovery, +armor, in that order) were most desirable stats to me. I also kept and wore gear with +Passive and Magical Skills (Amazon), as they improve damage avoidance and tanking, as well as your offensive power.
: around 700 before Nightmare, around 1100 before Hell
: Normal Diablo: 50%+ fire and lightning. Nightmare and Hell (throughout): 50%+ resist all (except poison, which I didn't feel it was necessary at all)
I strongly suggest you get your resistances as high as you can.
Damage reduced by
: amulets can have "of life everlasting", which gives damage reduced by 20+. On average monster hits, in Hell, that's more than 10% physical damage reduction.
Faster hit recovery
: this one essentially allows you to escape subsequent attacks by allowing you to move away from attacking monsters.
Passive and Magical Skills (Amazon)
: every +1 skills here improves your damage avoidance, sturdiness of your tanks and offensive power, passively.
Offensively, your first priority is increased attack speed, followed by +Bow and Crossbow Skills (Amazon). These two will be most beneficial in boosting your Freezing Arrow. Secondarily, +elemental damage and +damage will prove worthy when fighting cold immune monsters.
Increased attack speed
: the amount here depends on your bow's natural speed. With a naturally "Fast" bow, I was happy at +40% increased attack speed.
Bow and Crossbow Skills (Amazon)
: improves Freezing Arrow damage.
: including +damage and +elemental damage. Useful when fighting cold immune monsters. At least a bit of +poison damage is advised, to help with monster regeneration in Hell.
A note on knockback and slow effects: I've read many online guides which consider such effects must-have. I've tested items with these knockback and slow, and found them to not add any further control to my gameplay.
Likely, this is because Freezing Arrow and always-on Holy Freeze (from the merc) keep things slowed enough already.
Additionally, knockback can push groups of monsters out into other monsters you weren't ready to fight yet.
On the subject of monsters immune to both cold and physical, your best tool becomes elemental damage dished out by either yourself, Valkyrie, or merc.
Choosing a merc weapon that has lightning damage will provide a slow but sure way to kill dual immune monsters.
Upon summoning, the Valkyrie rolls equipment that may receive elemental damage. This further contributes to your efficiency against dual immunes.
If you're lucky enough to find an item with Amplify Damage (Necromancer curse) charges, use it on monsters that are immune to physical damage to remove their immunity.
I have to say, however, that I was lucky enough to find Witchwild String, which became my main weapon.
It is very efficient against physical immune monsters due to both its default magical arrows, as well as its chance to cast Amplify Damage, which removes the monsters' immunity to physical damage.
The 40 resist all was a very welcome bonus.
In terms of charms in Nightmare and Hell, +life and +resistance charms were most valuable to me. Secondarily, I also kept charms with +faster hit recovery, +armor, +faster run/walk speed. I kept at least one +poison damage charm to prevent monster regeneration in Hell.
As far as Normal goes, I had many +elemental damage charms, but I replaced them as Freezing Arrow became stronger.
Here is my gear at level 83, when I beat Hell Baal:
From my online playing days, gold was rather unimportant to me in Diablo 2. However, upon reaching the Hell difficulty, my merc started dying often, escalating my gold costs.
The levels towards the end of each act are demanding, with stronger monsters. I tried to have at least 1.5 million gold before making a push to kill a Hell difficulty act boss. Raising this much money is not difficult; just sell exceptional or elite armour pieces, staves, and wands.
As an example, keeping my merc alive through the three levels of Hell Durance of Hate cost me about 700k gold.
These were my key bindings that I used for 99% of my gameplay.
F1 - Freezing Arrow
F2 - Guided Arrow
F3 - Decoy
F4 - Valkyrie
F5 - Strafe
Exceptionally difficult encounters and areas
As you may have guessed, the hardest areas to clear as a Frostmaiden are those with high concentrations of cold immune monsters. Some encounters are also very difficult because of how they're setup.
Claw Viper Temple level 2 (Hell, act 2)
- you enter the room only to be charged by a room-full of snakes, all cold immune. Your merc dies instantly, and the Valkyrie is unable to dish enough damage to kill all snakes. Eventually, they'll get to you and kill you.
My strategy was to use a wand with charges of the Attract curse. As soon as the snakes charged, I cursed a few with Attract. This turned all other snakes on their friends, and I was able to rush the altar around the left-hand side, grab the Viper Amulet, and then Save&Exit.
Durance of Hate (Hell, act 3)
- these levels made me lose my mind. Between cold immune/physical resistant Dark Lords and Blood Lords, exploding Undead Stygian Dolls, and merc-destroying Maulers, Durance of Hate levels are sure to keep you tense. Moreover, due to numerous merc deaths, I spent about 700k gold from killing the Travincal council to killing Mephisto.
Infector of Souls (Hell, act 4, balrog seal boss)
- these spawn when the player opens the south-east seal in the Chaos Sanctuary. I'm listing them here because they made me Save&Exit, wasting 25 minutes of gameplay. They are fast, and they cornered me near the seal, killing my merc.
The second time I cleared the Chaos Sanctuary (when I killed Diablo), I killed all other seal bosses first. Upon spawning Infector of Souls, I ran around him and into the open, so that if I had to retreat, I'd retreat within an open area.
Ice caves (Hell, act 5)
- the underground caves in act 5 have a high concentration of cold immune monsters, making things very slow for you. For example, out of 10 different monster types that can spawn in the Crystalline Passage, 6 of them are immune to cold in Hell.
I saw this very frequently in act 5.
Minions of Destruction (Hell, act 5, last pre-Baal wave)
- have many mana potions ready. You'll have to continuously spam Freezing Arrow to keep the minions under control.
If they start to scatter, it will be difficult to bring them back together.
If one breaks away from the pack, retreat, so that the merc and Valkyrie can re-engage them.
Fast experience boost - Pindleskin (Normal and Nightmare)
I have done many Pindleskin runs, going from level 34 to 50 in Normal, and from level 57 to 75 in Nightmare. He and his minions are setup perfectly for a Frostmaiden; they're packed together in a long hall, and are not immune to cold.
Furthermore, he awards high amounts of experience in Normal and Nightmare. This is where I spent a lot of time before progressing to the ancients and Baal.
A Pindleskin run in Normal or Nightmare took me about half a minute towards the end of the level interval within which I was planning to kill him.
Freezing Arrow is perfect against Pindleskin and his minions.
Pindleskin is not as generous in Hell, where the experience he awards is not enough to warrant runs, unless for gear.
I've developed these out of necessity, trying to survive, advance, and preserve gold.
My bread-and-butter skill for advancing through a level. You place a Decoy ahead of you, where you'll be in 1-2 seconds. The first advantage is that you see what's ahead, as the monsters are all drawn to the decoy. You become aware of auras, extra fasts, etc.
The second advantage is that, as you approach the swarmed decoy, the monsters are already tightly packed together around the decoy. This means that they become easier to control, perhaps with an initial Freezing Arrow.
Decoy as a damage reductor
As your merc is surrounded by monsters, cast Decoy near a few of them, "outside" the circle of monsters surrounding the merc. Doing so reduces the damage incoming to the merc, allowing him to survive larger groups.
Decoy threat redirect
Assume your merc and Valkyrie are tanking a pack of monsters, when one breaks out (or a new one joins in), and it comes straight for you.
To shake the monster off of yourself, cast Decoy right next to you, and then step away. The monster will pause briefly, after which it will redirect its threat to the decoy, "sticking" to it.
Of course, if you're fast enough, you can cast Decoy ahead of the monster running to you, causing it to stop and attack the decoy, before it even reaches you.
Neither player nor monsters can pass through the decoy, which means you can block any possible incoming monsters by sealing off narrow doorways once the Valkyrie and merc are inside, fighting the monsters.
With the monsters ahead sealed away, you are now in a much safer position.
By casting your decory near incoming monsters, or in a separate patch of land, you can reduce the damage to your merc. This is because the number of monsters attacking your merc is kept low, by virtue of the decoy isolating a second pack of monsters away from your merc.
It's always more desirable to have monsters hitting your decoy because she is cheaper to revive (re-summon) than your merc.
Maximum mana potion benefit
The idea here is to get a full benefit from mana potions despite having a mana pool that's small than what the potion would restore.
Example: your mana pool is 150, Super Mana Potion restores 375.
The idea is to never let your mana pool become completely full while the mana potion is working (which would immediately end the potion's effect). You do this by spamming Freezing Arrow, which keeps your consumption rate high.
Keep shooting Freezing Arrow while your mana is being replenished by the potion.
The result is that you put out significant damage, while actually gaining the maximum mana the potion can restore.
The idea here is to "peel" the merc away from a fight to prevent his death, if he's in trouble. Both the merc and your summons will disengage from a fight when the player moves a certain distance away from them.
However, the merc disengages from a fight sooner than the Valkyrie. This means that if there's heavy incoming damage to the merc, he can be saved by just moving away a short distance. The merc will disengage and follow you, but the Valkyrie will continue fighting, keeping the pack of monsters in place.
Town portal placement
When under pressure, never escape a level via the entrance you used to enter the level. Doing so effectively "seals you out" of that level, often forcing a Save&Exit.
If the monsters in the current level are of medium to high difficulty, I usually have a town portal up at all times.
When leaving a town portal behind as an escape route, a good place to leave it is behind a corner, but out in the open (not near the wall, and especially not INSIDE a corner).
"Most dangerous hit" evaluation
Knowing your enemy is half the battle. When I first enter an area with known heavy-hitters, such as exploding Undead Stygian Dolls, or charging Reanimated Horde, I set up an experiment.
Basically, I leave one such enemy alive, and allow myself to get hit by it. Thus, I am able to evaluate the threat posed by groups of two, three, etc., such enemies.
Ultimately, this allows me to decide between fight and flight.