I am currently "casually" playing through Diablo 2 on Single Player (Hardcore) with a Barbarian, and one problem I have always had, even years ago when I used to play for 8 hours+ per day on the battle.net ladder, is that I can never seem to deal "enough" damage doing leveling. In this article, I will share what I have found to work best, and my process of completing the game on Hardcore.
Playing on Hardcore was pointless when playing online, thanks to these issues. But, on single player (SP) it is actually lots of fun.
Now that I am playing on SP, certain items are not available, and I have to farm everything myself. I have just made it to nightmare and the game is starting to get harder. In a SP game, you can change the difficulty using the /player x command, where x is replaced by a number from 1-8.
I hate switching to Magic Find gear, so I am not sure I will be doing that yet. I do not have the time to farm bosses for hours to get gear, so this is likely just going to be a quick playthrough.
The game works well in Linux (using wine) on my laptop, and this makes it an ideal game for some extra fun. As a teenager, I used play it all the time.
Normal and nightmare
Even when just playing through Normal and Nightmare, things can sometimes slow down when you play with /player 8, but I am going to use the same gear strategy for both difficulties, since it takes time to farm decent uniques (farming is for the end game).
Therefor, unless you find decent unique items along the way, I have found the easiest way to deal decent damage is to create rune words, and upgrade rare or unique weapons. Rare and uniques are the only items that can be upgraded in the cube. So, you might need to recreate your rune words later, using exceptional and elite weapons.
You do not have to go crazy, like me, and clear all areas. This is mostly a waste of time, as the drops will be much better on Nightmare and Hell. I am not sure I will clear out everything on Nightmare/Hell as well, but I have done on Normal, and it took a few days of "slowly" playing the game, mostly not doing the same area more than once.
If you are playing with /players 8 all the way through normal, then you end up leveling very fast. I was around level 50 when I completed Act 5 on Normal. The game will also be harder, but if you stick to a good gear strategy, it will not really slow you down much.
Creating Rune Words
Creating rune words works well for all dificulties, but it can take a very long time to farm the runes you need. Luckily, even if you do not find the exact runes, you can still upgrade from lower ones. For normal and nightmare, there are quite a few decent rune words, but they tend to get replaced quickly by better rare or uniques.
While I was still on Normal difficulty, I managed to find enough runes to create a Malice in a Giant Sword, which I ended up using all the way to Nightmare.
Malice has a 100% Chance Of Open Wounds, causing monsters to bleed for 8 seconds. The amount of life they loose depends on your character level, so the weapon scales pretty well while leveling up. The sword is shit compared to the best in the game. But, this is also about enjoying the process of leveling and the challenge of beating the game on Hardcore.
The Drain Life -5 affect can be countered with some Replenish Life. I am not sure, but I think the affect is just the opposite of replenish life, that is, equally shitty in reverse.
Replenish Life is actually not completely useless in early game, but later it will likely provide too little healing for any noticeable benefit. Early on, you can at least use it to counter poison.
You can create the Rune word by placing the following runes in a 3 Socket Melee Weapon: Ith + El + Eth
Another easy rune word to make early on is Lore. It can be made in any 2 socket helm, which is useful if you find a helm with +skills on it.
I found a nice Avenger Guard with 3+ to Schout, boosting my defense and the duration of the Schout War Cry. You can create the rune word in a 2 socket helm with these runes: Ort + Sol
It is disappointing that many cube formulas are so expensive, and that items with rune words can not be upgraded like rares and uniques. Torchlight seem to do a better job in this area, with more options for item customization.
Rare items are actually some of the best in the game. The ones with good stats are really rare, and tend to be outperformed by uniques. But, before Hell difficulty, even the weak ones tend to perform quite well. Get something with mana steal or life steal, and use the Cube formula to upgrade it for more damage.
I found a rare sword, Pain Bite (Giant Sword), which I upgraded to the exceptional version using a Horadric Cube formula: Ort Rune + 1 Amn Rune + 1 Perfect Sapphire.
If I do not find anything better, I also plan on upgrading it to the elite version.
The Perfect Emerald (+100 Poison Damage over 7 seconds) is likely not the best option. I mostly did it for fun, since I like poison damage. But, it seems it works well when combined with the Open Wounds affect from the Malice sword.