Thursday, June 21, 2012

Witch Doctor - Primary Skills Guide

Diablo 3's Witch Doctor has a lot of utility at it's disposal.  From summoned minions to damage dealing ghosts and everything in between, navigating the multitude of skill choices players are confronted with can be a daunting task.  Thankfully, I'm here to help!

We'll be taking a look at the skills broken up by the six sections, the first of which is (rather obviously) the primary skills!

Poison Dart  - Level

Poison Dart is a very standard ranged attack.  It's great at singling out lone enemies and laying down some reliable damage from range.  It's single greatest strength is also a weakness, however, and while it does excel at single target damage, it provides nothing in the term of area-wide damage or crowd control.

Over all, Poison dart isn't a terrible choice for a primary damage dealing (See also, spamming) skill.  It's mana consumption is negligent, so there's no worries about being left out of resources at a critical moment.  Also, it's a very long range skill, so you can easily kite small groups of enemies around an area with relatively little problems - especially when coupled with other abilities.

As far as skill runes go, if you decide to stick with Poison dart as your primary attack skill, you want to use either Splinters or Snake to the face.  Acquired at levels 6 and 52, respectively, Splinters will enable you to shoot 3 darts instead of one (all hit the same target) and do 180% weapon damage versus the standard 100 with 40% additional over two seconds. 

Snake to the face will give your darts a cool snake-look and a 30% chance to stun enemies on contact for 1.5 seconds - this can really help in a tight scenario.  Don't be tempted by the other runes as they're largely very nuanced in use and really don't offer anything over better skill/rune combinations .

As far as overall use of the skill, Poison dart will be effective through about half of the normal campaign, and again once you reach the later levels of hell and into inferno difficulties where it really shines in cleaning up the powerful enemies left once the less-powerful minions have been done away with by area-of-effect attacks.

Corpse Spiders - Level 3

Corpse Spiders is a fun skill that not only looks cool but also has some pretty neat effects.  Unlike Poison Dart it can be useful throughout the majority of the difficulty levels and even holds a special place in inferno difficulty for the diehard crowd-controller. 

The notable thing about corpse spiders is that you can 'pepper' an area by throwing down multiple spiders ahead of enemies, which will be attacked when they enter the area.  This is tricky, however, as you need to time those setups right, once they land, the spiders only last for a few seconds.  Still, especially in boss fights, throwing down a ton of spiders in one area and having the boss enter it can provide a significant burst of damage. 

For skill runes, just four levels after you get this sill, you also get the first rune, Leaping Spiders, which is a really fantastic augmentation to the ability.  Instead of sitting on the ground and needing to be placed in the general area of enemies, once thrown anywhere even remotely close to a target the spiders will leap and attack - this not only enables them to land their hits faster, but potentially land them on additional targets by leaping directly to them instead of scuttling around on the ground trying to get there and undoubtedly dying en route.

Also of note are the Medusa Spiders rune.  Unlocked at level 45, your spiders will have a 25% chance to slow enemies by 60% with every attack.  This is a really fantastic form of crowd control, especially when things start to get hectic.  They still deal OK damage, and at a non-existent five mana per cast they are completely spammable in combat. 

While Medusa and Leaping spiders are certainly the two most useful runes, the others bear mentioning, specifically Spider Queen.  At level 18 you can, instead of summoning multiple spiders, summon a large one that does constant area-of-effect damage to anything around it.  It lasts 15 seconds, and you can only have ONE of these spiders out at a time.  That being said, it only does 16% weapon damage, which is so unbelievably negligent that it's not even funny - don't use this rune. 

Widowmakers is a level 33 rune and returns mana to you each time the spiders attack.  While this is kind of cool and potentially appealing, it's ultimately useless.  You have far better ways to return mana (The vision quest perk, for instance) and really shouldn't be wasting your spammable attack on returning mana for a bigger attack.

Blazing spiders is the standard damage upgrade, but it's only 2% over leaping spiders, and that's not much.  Not to mention these spiders can't leap to new targets and apply their damage immediately - they have to walk there, and they almost certainly die before they reach their new target.

Plague of Toads - Level 11

Don't use plague of toads.  Now that I've said that, I'll go into why; as a Witch Doctor you want to have one primary attack (spammable) and several other big-damage attacks at the ready.  You should only be falling back on said primary attack in order to crowd control enemies (see the medusa spiders rune above) or to finish off a handful of stronger survivors from your area-of-effect spells.
Plague of Toads costs a whopping 34 mana per cast compared to the maximum of 10 for any of the other primary skills.  That really can't make you diminish your entire mana pool, but it's certainly enough to keep it from regenerating when casting it over and over.

The toads come out in sets of three, and hop randomly in the general direction the Witch Doctor is facing.  They're totally unreliable past close range. However, they will deal decent damage (130% each), if you live long enough to stay in melee range and get a few casts off.  You'll also find it difficult to destroy environment items like barrels and such with this skill unless you're standing on top of them when you cast it.

The only rune worth mentioning is Rain of Toads, acquired at level 35.  The only reason this is worth noting is that come hell and inferno difficulties, you will run into a lot of bosses that have the walling aspect, which can effectively trap you in, or away from them - severely inhibiting your ability to damage them with most skills.  Rain of Toads is targeted, and deals OK damage (still 130%), even over walls.  No line of sight needed.  There are better skills to take care of those bosses, however, I merely note this rune here because it is a somewhat acceptable skill/rune combination in higher difficulty levels.

Firebomb - Level 21

Firebomb looks cool, and will carry you a majority of the way through nightmare, and even hell difficulties.  The skill itself it is rather lackluster, at 10 mana per cast and only 85% weapon damage to all enemies within 8 yards.  However, come level 28 you receive the flash fire rune, which disables the area of effect damage but enables the skull to bounce and hit 6 additional targets, albeit at 15% less damage per additional target. 

Trust me, while the damage falls off, spamming this skill into a group of enemies makes short work of them, nearly totally decimating everything around the casting area quickly.  It's important to note two things when using Firebomb:

1 - The skill can be aimed off the screen with both the flash fire and roll the bones runes, enabling damage to be placed on creatures you can't even see.  This more often than not means they also will have a hard time locating you and fighting back for a few seconds.  Sneaky, but effective.  Roll the bones becomes available at level 31 and really should only be used for this purpose.  It also auto-hits destroyable objects both in and out of sight - you can easily get 10-15+ destroyed object XP bonuses with this skill.

2 - Firebomb really falls off early in act III on hell difficulty.  Enemies start getting too much health to be minced to fiery bouncing death unless you've purchased a near level-equivalent weapon.  While the auction house is always a great place to get current gear, I recognize that not every player supports using it when they fall behind - I'm merely noting here that you'll see a noticeable falloff on firebomb's damage the further away from a current-level weapon you become.

As far as other runes go, stay away from them, except for ghost bomb, which you'll acquire if you make that long trek to level 60.  I note it here not because of its effectiveness, which is mediocre at best, but because it looks awesome and is something everyone should see once.  Blizzard really put their time into a few abilities over others in Diablo 3, firebomb is certainly one of them.

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