Thursday, June 21, 2012

Witch Doctor - Secondary Skills Guide

Grasp of the Dead - Level 2

Grasp of the dead is a little bit like the girl that got away - sure, you'll eventually let go of the ability in lieu of more tempting options, but in the end - you'll find yourself constantly gravitating towards it, or desperately in search of something like it.

The sad literary reference aside, Grasp of the Dead is a fantastic crowd control ability with with a small damage component.  It's cooldown is only 8 seconds, so placing it on top of enemies as they move about the field isn't a problem, and with an average 122 mana cost, it's something you can cast somewhat freely without giving much attention to your current mana pool.

Something Diablo 3's near-useless tooltip's don't mention is that it deals 20% weapon damage as physical for 8 seconds - but it does this each of those 8 seconds.  So that's 100% damage total (before resistances, of course).

The 60% slow is really what you're looking for here, coupled with wall of zombies it can provide fantastic battlefield control.  It's easily big enough to bottleneck enemies down corridors, and/or force them to walk through it in order to get to you - and as with most classes in D3, positioning is everything.

Sticking with the first/last theme; the first rune 'unbreakable grasp' and the last 'rain of corpses' are the most useful.

Unbreakable grasp takes that 60% slow and makes it 80%, very useful against 'fast' aspect bosses that you can never seem to get far enough away from.

Rain of Corpses follows the same damage style as the base skill, dealing damage every 1 second for 8 seconds as the duration lasts, however on top of the base damage enemies receive from standing in the ability, corpses will also fall from the sky and deal area-of-effect (AOE) damage in the form of physical at 80% of your current weapon.  It's a nice augmentation that gives the min/maxers out there a little more bite for a quick-cooldown crowd control skill.  It also looks pretty boss.

Firebats - Level 5

You need to use Firebats with one of two runes, unless you like being locked into an area and getting crushed by enemies over and over.  There's really only one rune worth mentioning:

At level 11 you get the Dire Bats rune, which turns your standard AOE-Cone of bats into a semi-aimable instant-cast fiery bat of death that streaks across the battlefield through multiple targets.  It does fantastic damage at %220, and can hit multiple targets.  It's as mana-efficient as Grasp of the Dead, and it's the highest direct-damage skill you'll have for quite some time.  You can clear entire areas of enemies with just a few casts, although aiming them becomes somewhat guess work.

Reasons not to use the other runes:

Vampire Bats (level 19) - turns the spell back into a cone-shaped AOE centered on you and returns 2.5% of the damage done as health.  That's cool, but you're locked into position and will burn through mana quite quickly.  Sitting still for any reason late-game (hell act III or harder) is suicide.  That in effect makes this skill/rune combination a suicide button.

Plague Bats (level 29) - See Vampire Bats.

Hungry Bats (level 24) - A cool effect, but again, you stand still while channeling/casting this ability, the bats seek random targets, and don't do near enough damage.  Since you're only shooting out one bat, you're doing 280% weapon damage to one enemy about every half-second or so.  As opposed to shooting out one Dire Bat and having it hit ten enemies for 220% damage.  I shouldn't need to tell you that 220x10 > 280 x1.  Also, you can't aim it, and you stand still while casting it.  Yes, I wrote that twice intentionally.

Cloud of Bats (level 56) - Another cool effect, but as a point-blank area-of-effect skill, the radius is too small, and YOU'RE STANDING STILL WHILE YOU CAST IT.  No. 

Haunt - Level 12

The highest damage single-target damage-over-time ability you'll get.  That's a mouthful, and while it's appealing and somewhat useful, Haunt just isn't used by many players.  I'm not sure why, I think it's fantastic.  I've literally gotten past numerous bosses and champions because I've haunted them, ran away, and repeated the process.  It's important to note that if the target dies, the spell chain's onto another target - but in doing so, it can't effect the same target twice; so if you haunt grunt1 and grunt2, and grunt1 dies - his haunt doesn't go over to grunt2 and double the damage, it'll just refresh his haunt timer.

Consuming Spirit, by far the best rune for this ability, returns life to you as haunt deals damage to an enemy.  And while the Haunt skill isn't mana-efficient enough to haunt an entire pack of enemies, haunting a half-dozen or so and running around will keep you alive long enough to finish the entire wave off.

The other runes aren't worth mentioning - you have abilities that do all the other potential augmentations of this skill better then the rune set provided.  Use consuming spirit to deal damage to bosses and keep you somewhat healed while you finish off their friends.  If you want to deal massive damage over time to a big group - that's what this next skill is for.

Locust Swarm- Level 21

Everything about this ability is good, except for the need to nearly be in melee range when casting it.  Attempting to use this skill on Inferno often gets you killed because the casting animation is about two seconds, and you need to be within an arm's reach of an enemy to use it.  A recipe for disaster.

Pestilence, a rune you acquire just six levels after you get this skill (level 27) makes it spread through a pack of enemies very, very quickly.  Without this rune, Locust Swarm jumps from target to target - if there's 20 enemies, it has to jump from one to the other in single-file.  With pestilence, you hit the initial target, then it spreads to two targets, then it spreads to four targets, etc.  You can get immediate damage on an entire group of enemies - it'll even jump to enemies off the screen if they're close to an infected target!  Awesome!

Devouring swarm (level 33) gives you mana back every time the swarm hits a new target.  But you shouldn't need spells to give you mana back - after all, you don't need mana if everything's or soon-to-be dead because the swarm has already spread to them via pestilence.

Cloud of insects is cool in theory, extending the duration from 8 to 10 seconds, but again, it spreads slowly and can take awhile to work its way through a pack of enemies.  Same thing with diseased swarm which leaves behind a cloud of damage-dealing bugs when an infected enemy dies.  Cool idea, but a poor substitute.

Searing locusts is the only other near-acceptable substitute to pestilence.  It jumps the damage from 360% to 468%, and makes it fire damage (which as far as anyone can tell doesn't mean anything, damage types don't matter).  Again, it spreads slowly, but that might not be a concern on higher difficulties where you need damage to be dealt and will refresh the ability several times over a big fight.

A handful of other things to be aware of when using searing locusts:

- You can cast it on a few enemies, making it have more central points of origin, and spread through a pack faster.  This costs more mana (196 a cast) and can leave you strapped for resources if you're in a mana-intensive build.

- Life steal, or life per hit works wonders with this ability.

- Some bosses will summon lots, and lots, and lots of minions.  Low health annoyances that usually require some attention from other classes to clear.  Not Witch Doctors.  Keep this ability loaded with the pestilance rune and you'll clear the entire wave, several hundred, of them with ONE blow, granting a HUGE experience bonus and an achievement if you can get 100.  PM me if you want the details for where this fight occurs.

  NOTE: This article was originally featured on - you can find the link to it, as well as many other great Diablo 3 articles, here.