Diablo II: Quick Reference Guide to Skill Builds

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There are 20 basic skill builds that are optimal, not including niche builds (Frenzy, Medic etc) or utility builds (Chanter, Popper, etc). If you are not using one of these builds, you are not playing optimally and will struggle a lot more than otherwise.

Orientation = whether this build is meant for PvP or PvM

Window = The level range where this build has viability. Some builds are only good once your character is a certain level. This is rated between Low (Under 30), Mid (Under 60), High (60+), and Peak (85+)

Note: I am not including Low Level Dueling as a factor in any of these measurements. That said, naturally, all PvP characters will be Peak.

Rating: My opinion on the builds overall effectiveness on a 1-10 scale. Keep in mind that these ratings factor in flexibility and versatility as well as strength.

Note: A * indicates a utility skill that only needs one or a few points invested.

MGT = Minimum Gear Tier. Used to indicate builds that aren't effective until a sufficient quality of gear is used.
-Optimal means that the build requires a good setup before it is worth using.
-Elite means that the build is pretty much useless unless you have, generally, the best gear in the game for it.

SF>SC = Skill Floor to Skill Ceiling rated from Easy to Mid to High and Very High.
Skill Floor is how easily you can pick it up and do well right away.
Skill Ceiling is how much more there is to learn and master that build further and how much more practice is needed to do so.

-About Variants

Some builds or classes have certain variations for different purposes. These variants will be outlined in a variant section of each class or build.

---Paladin------------------------------------------------

-Charger

Orientation: PvP
Window: Peak
MGT: Elite
PvP Rating: 6
PvM Rating: 0
SF>SC: Low to Low

Brief Description:

The epitome of Glass-Cannon builds in Diablo II. Has the highest damage potential and can "1 hit" most characters if geared optimally, but also has the biggest vulnerabilities.

Skills: Charge + Fanaticism, Vigor*, Holy Shield*

-Smiter

Orientation: PvP
Window: Peak
MGT: Optimal
PvP Rating: 8
PvM Rating: 4
SF>SC: Low to Mid

Brief Description:

Smite always hits, with few exceptions (Such as Amazon Dodge). So it can't be blocked and doesn't care about defense rating. This, alongside its massive damage potential that is second only to a Charger ("2-3 hits" most characters if geared optimally), having the highest defense rating potential in the game, and high health, makes the Smiter a very dangerous dueler. Its need to fight up-close and personal is its one and only pitfall in PvP.

Skills: Smite + Fanaticism, Holy Shield, Charge*, Vigor*, Defiance (Optional)

-Variants

Uber Smite: A Smiter designed specifically to do "Uber Tristram" and "Clone Diablo" that is more focused on defense, resistances, crushing blow, and casting lifetap.

-Hammerdin

Orientation: Any
Window: Mid to Peak
PvP Rating: 10
PvM Rating: 10
SF>SC: Low to High

Brief Description:

The most iconic build of Diablo II and arguably the very best. Its damage is among the highest despite being able to deliver it while constantly being mobile. Its offense is oftentimes its best defense, as getting close enough to a hammerdin to damage them requires dodging their hammers that linger spinning around the battlefield.

Skills: Blessed Hammer + Concentration, Vigor, Blessed Aim, Charge*, Holy Shield*

-Fister

Orientation: PvP
Window: Peak
MGT: Optimal
PvP Rating: 7
PvM Rating: 1
SF>SC: Low to Low

Brief Description:

While almost a niche build, Fisters can do such devastating damage from a distance that it's considered an optimal build. Even characters who stack on lightning resistance are not always safe from them, since their aura lowers resistance and their attacks do so much damage. Their one weakness is still that their damage is 100% elemental and so its damage can be mitigated to a tolerable degree.

Skills: Fist of the Heavens + Conviction, Holy Bolt, Holy Shield*, Charge*

-Vindicator Templar (AKA V.T.)

Orientation: PvP
Window: Peak
MGT: Elite
PvP Rating: 9
PvM Rating: 5
SF>SC: Mid to High

Brief Description:

The VT is a Smiter/Fister hybrid, with Smite as the main focus and Fist of the Heavens a supplemental ranged attack to covers the Smiters weakness to ranged characters like Hammerdins and Bone Necromancers. This makes a very well rounded build that is greater than the sum of its parts in PvP.

Skills: Smite/Fist of the Heavens + Fanaticism/Conviction*, Holy Shield, Holy Shock, Charge*

-Zealer

Orientation: PvP
Window: Any
PvP Rating: 6
PvM Rating: 8
SF>SC: Low to Low

Brief Description:

The Zealer is primarily a PvM build, but some enjoy it as a niche build in PvP. Its Holy Fire variant is arguably the strongest and most reliable build in the 1-30 level range, making it the ideal build to level a Paladin up with.

Skills: Zeal + Fanaticism, Holy Shield, Charge*, Sacrifice, Defiance

---Sorceress----------------------------------------------

Sorceress Variants

Energy Shield or ES: An ES Sorceress has elite level gear that is focused heavily on increasing her mana pool, as ES uses said mana pool as a life pool. An ES Sorceress also typically has lots of mana regeneration for this reason as well.

Vita: A build that doesn't invest points in dexterity for block to instead focus on a larger life pool. These builds typically are only meant to duel other casters, since having a low block makes them weak to melee characters.

That said, a Sorceress can be ES and or Vita and it depends a lot on a few things, such as: what build you choose, what purpose you have in mind for it, and how flexible you wish it to be. Some builds that require less skills to max, like Frozen Orb, tend to work better as ES (Because it has more points to put into ES) as well.

A flexible Sorceress wont be really strong against anything, but it wont be really weak to anything either. While a focused Sorceress will be really strong against certain things and really weak against almost everything else.

The overall best flexible build is ES with max block (75%), but keep in mind that good ES gear doesn't come cheap.

-Fireball

Orientation: Any
Window: Mid to Peak
PvP Rating: 7
PvM Rating: 8
SF>SC: Low to Mid

Brief Description:

More reliable damage spread than its counterpart, Lightning, and also benefits from faster cast rate more. The downside is overall less damage.

Skills: Fireball, Fire Bolt, Meteor, Fire Mastery, Teleport*, Static Field*

-Lightning

Orientation: Any
Window: Mid to Peak
PvP Rating: 8
PvM Rating: 9
SF>SC: Low to Mid

Brief Description:

The highest damage sorceress build. Its biggest downside is that its cast speed doesn't budge as much as its counterpart, Fireball, and the speed the attack travels is slower as well. That doesn't stop it from being the top choice for Sorceress builds though.

Skills: Lightning, Chain Lightning, Charged Bolt, Lightning Mastery, Lightning Storm*, Teleport*, Static Field*

-Frozen Orb

Orientation: PvM
Window: Mid
PvP Rating: 4
PvM Rating: 7
SF>SC: Low to Low

Brief Description:

Orb is a really good choice to go ES and it has the biggest AoE in the game, however, its damage peaks early. This means that it is really strong in the 40-70 level range, but becomes weak by the time you reach level 85+

Skills: Frozen Orb, Ice Bolt, Cold Mastery, Teleport*, Shiver Armor*, Static Field*

-Blizzard

Orientation: Any
Window: Peak
PvP Rating: 9
PvM Rating: 6
SF>SC: High to Very High

Brief Description:

Blizzards damage output can almost compare to Lightning, but its attack having a tiny AoE makes it harder to connect. In PvP, the Blizzard Sorceress is a bit scarier than the Lightning or Fireball Sorceress' because its attack lingers, can hit more than once, and its Cold Mastery pierces resistances.

Skills: Blizzard, Ice Bolt, Ice Blast, Glacial Spike, Cold Mastery, Teleport*, Shiver Armor*, Static Field*

-Meteorb

Orientation: PvM
Window: Mid to Peak
PvP Rating: 3
PvM Rating: 6
SF>SC: Low to Mid

Brief Description:

Typically a build used to farm certain areas for items (Such as The Pit in Hell Act 1) and commonly used as a place-holder build until the player can get the necessitated mercenary runeword, Infinity, that breaks immunities.

Frozen Orb, Ice Bolt, Meteor, Fireball, Fire Mastery, Teleport*, Chilling Armor*, Static Field*

---Barbarian----------------------------------------------

-Whirlwind
Orientation: Any
Window: Mid to Peak
PvP Rating: 8
PvM Rating: 7
SF>SC: Low to High

Brief Description:

When it comes to optimal builds, you really only have one choice with Barbarians, at least in the late game. Dual Zerker Axe Whirlwind. There are many niche builds like Frenzy, Wolfbarb, Zerker, etc, but none of them come close to Whirlwinds burst damage and utility.

Skills: Whirlwind, Axe Mastery, Battle Orders, Shout, Battle Command*, Iron Skin*, Natural Resistance*, Increased Speed*

---Necromancer-----------------------------------------------

-Bone Spear
Orientation: Any
Window: Mid to Peak
PvP Rating: 8
PvM Rating: 6
SF>SC: Mid to Very High

Brief Description:

The build of choice for PvP Necromancers. Unlike other builds, the Bone Nec's skill tree has synergy between both offensive and defensive (Bone Armor) skills, as well as utility (Bone Wall) skills, making them both dangerous and tanky.

Skills: Bone Spear, Bone Spirit, Bone Wall, Bone Prison, Bone Armor, Amplify Damage*

-Summon Stomp

Orientation: Any
Window: Any
MGT: Optimal for PvP
PvP Rating: 6
PvM Rating: 8
SF>SC: Low to Low

Brief Description:

Summon Stomp Nec's spam an army of minions. It's a very powerful PvM build for obvious reasons and a very controversial build in PvP. In PvP it is considered "Bad Manners" or "BM", so using it in organized "GM" PvP is not advised.

Skills: Summon Skeleton, Summon Skeletal Mage, Skeleton Mastery, Fire Golem, Revive, Summon Resistance*, Amplify Damage*

---Amazon----------------------------------------------

-GA Bowazon
Orientation: PvP
Window: Peak
MGT: Optimal
PvP Rating: 8
PvM Rating: 4
SF>SC: Low to Low

Brief Description:

The Guided Arrow Zon is a fearsome build in PvP because it has the furthest range attack in the game that also locks onto you and can be fired at a fast rate. Its weakness is that it has no shield to block (but that's made up by Dodge, Avoid, & Evade skills), limited mobility, and a very low health pool. That said, GA Zons are filed as a glass-cannon build that tries to kill the opponent before they can be reached.

Skills: Guided Arrow, Dodge, Avoid, Evade, Critical Strike, Penetrate* Valkyrie*, Decoy*

-Lightning Fury Java

Orientation: PvM
Window: Mid to Peak
PvP Rating: 3
PvM Rating: 9
SF>SC: Low to Low

Brief Description:

An often underrated PvM build that is right up there with the Hammerdin and the Lightning Sorceress, but lacking severely in PvP unlike the aforementioned. Lightning Fury spreads fast to virtually all monsters in the area, wiping out large swaths of them in an instant.

Skills: Lightning Fury, Power Strike, Charged Strike, Lightning Strike, Dodge*, Avoid*, Evade*, Valkyrie*, Critical Strike*

---Assassin----------------------------------------------

Variations of Trap Assassins or Trapsins are really the only optimal choice for assassins. Kick and Whirlwind Assassins are worth mentioning, but not quite strong or versatile enough to include in an optimal list of builds.

-Ghost Trapsin

Orientation: PvP
Window: Peak
MGT: Elite
PvP Rating: 10
PvM Rating: 6
SF>SC: High to Very High

Brief Description:

In my personal opinion, the Ghost Assassin is the biggest contender to the Hammerdins top spot for best PvP build. However, it has a very high skill floor. It combines the stun effects of Wake of Fire traps and Mind Blast to keep opponents' mobility locked down and vulnerable. On top of that, its whirlwind will be loaded with poison, open wounds, and crushing blow. This is a build that takes patience, because it kills its opponents slowly but surely.

Skills: Whirlwind (via Chaos runeword), Wake of Fire, Claw Block*, Mind Blast*, Burst of Speed*, Fade*, Venom*, Shadow Master*

-Hybrid Trapsin

Orientation: PvP
Window: Peak
MGT: Optimal
PvP Rating: 9
PvM Rating: 7
SF>SC: Mid to High

Brief Description:

Whirlwind and Lightning Sentry traps are a deadly combination. While a Ghost attempts to slowly sap your life, the Hybrid Trapsin is trying to kill you as fast as possible.

Skills: Whirlwind (via Chaos runeword), Lightning Sentry, Shock Web, Charged Bolt Sentry, Death Sentry, Claw Block*, Mind Blast*, Burst of Speed*, Fade*, Venom*, Shadow Master*

-LS Trapsin

Orientation: Any
Window: Mid to Peak
MGT: Optimal
PvP Rating: 8
PvM Rating: 8
SF>SC: Low to High

Brief Description:

When someone says Trapsin or Trapper, they are likely referring to Lightning Sentry Trapsins. This build leans on its traps for virtually all of its damage and focuses its other pursuits on evading enemies and keeping a safe distance.

Skills: Lightning Sentry, Claw Block*, Mind Blast*, Shock Web, Charged Bolt Sentry, Death Sentry, Burst of Speed*, Fade*, Shadow Master*

A sort of variant of this build is to max Mind Blast at the cost of less points into trap synergies. You will do 15% less damage overall, but having a larger AoE Mind Blast with a longer stun has its perks.

---Druid----------------------------------------------

Much like the Barbarian, there are a few niche Druid builds worth mentioning like wolf & bear builds, but not quite good enough to be considered optimal. That said, there is one singular optimal build for Druids and that is the Windy (Sometimes referred to as Ele) build.

-Windy Dudu

Orientation: Any
Window: Mid to Peak
MGT: Optimal
PvP Rating: 9
PvM Rating: 8
SF>SC: Mid to Very High

Brief Description:

In PvP, the Windy Dudu is the definitive slippery character. They teleport around the map using a bunch of wolves (Which they can keep recasting) as meat shields and strike with devastating mid-range Tornado's right after their Hurricane passive freezes and damages you. As a Hammerdin main, it's one of the matchups I avoid the most.

Skills: Tornado, Hurricane, Twister, Cyclone Armor, Summon Spirit Wolf, Oak Sage
 
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