Intro: I often main a Frenzy Barb each ladder. I think there's a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about the class and build, which I thought I'd attempt to address with a formal written guide. There's some amazing research/artciles into D2 game
Example build: I'm going to use officer_wiggles as a point of reference for this guide. The exact gear/inventory he's using is what I'll be discussing. From my experience and research, officer_wiggles is the perfect Frenzy Barb. Note that this guide is written in the context of clearing any and all content in the game. That means anything including Blood Lords with scary stacked mods and packed throne rooms (Gloams, Dolls) and anya maps (Stygian Furies) in players 8 hell games. Beyond survivability, the build has several satisfying features including:
Wrist-friendly gameplay. I'm actually putting this first as I've experienced, and heard from others, that D2 can often cause carpal tunnel syndrome due to all the right-hand clicking that goes on. For this build, our main attack (Frenzy) is on right click. We can hold down right click and point our cursor towards where we want to move. Enemies that are in the path of the Barbarian will be attacked with Frenzy. This means that enemies do not need to be clicked to be attacked. Which saves us a ton of right-hand clicks and makes for a very comfortable playstyle.
Very fast movement speed. Faster run/walk scales linearly:
FinalRunSpeed = BaseRunSpeed+BaseWalkSpeed (skillFRW/100 +
150/(itemFRW+150)>/100 + armourRed/100)
and a level 20 frenzy gives us +171 faster run/walk. This means the character can run at speeds similar to teleport speeds of many classes. Obviously this wont match a high +Faster Cast Rate Sorceress, and you can't run over walls, but you get the deal. Frenzy barbs run fast, and this speeds up Pits and Chaos Sanctuary runs considerably, especially when under the effects of Decrepify during the latter.
Fast clear speed. This build has very high physical damage, and Barbarians have the very effective Berserk skill that scales with physical damage, for quickly dealing with unbreakable or unreasonably-high physical immune enemies (ie Stone Skin Infector of Souls). Note that if you want to compare the clear speed of this build to a Corpse Explosion Necromancer in hell cows, you're out of luck. You simply won't find better alternative to the few cookie cutter D2 builds (ie Lightning Sorceress, CE Necro, Hammerdin) for the niche things they are optimized towards (for instance, hell cows in the case of the Necro). What this build offers, rather, is a incredibly viable and fun/interesting gameplay that can succeed in any and all game content while balancing kill speed and survivability.
Find Item is effectively a second chance at looting the same monster. Great for superuniques like Pindelskin. Will not work on act bosses.
Self-contained Battle Orders. Using the Barb's skills will give us more +Health/Mana/Armor compared to using a CtA.
Weapon: This is the most important aspect of gear to consider for any melee build, but especially Frenzy Barbs as they equip two weapons. There are two important restrictions when considering options for Frenzy Barb melee weapons:
Both weapons must be of the same type (axes, swords or maces). The barbs Weapon Mastery skills boost +%Damage, attack rating (AR) and critical strike chance for only one weapon type each, and we will only invest skill points to max one of them.
Both weapons must be indestructible. Each successful melee attack has a 4% chance of reducing weapon durability by 1. Through experience, I've concluded that this build burns through weapon durability so quickly that destructible weapons are simply not an option (this is the case for many melee builds). This is why we will use only phase blades. If you were to try runewords other than the ones I recommend, they would have to be things like Oath or BOTD.
Grief simply beats any other one-handed weapon in terms of raw damage. We will use a Grief phaseblade in our main hand for this build.
Reduce enemy attack speed. This stacks with freeze effects.
Reduce the amount of physical damage enemies deal to you.
Increase physical damage taken by enemies. Note that this increase in physical damage is applied after all of your damage calculations. So Grief's damage is multiplied by the Barbs %Damage increases from skills (Frenzy, Sword Mastery) and auras (ie Might/Concentration) first. Then, this total is multiplied by (up to) 1.5 when it is applied to the decrepified enemy, resulting in a massive physical damage boost.
In addition to Decrepify, Lawbringer gives us the very stylish Sanctuary aura). This aura is broken– it does not grant the user any +%Damage to undead as it advertises. However, what is does give you, which it won't tell you, is the ability to completely pierce all physical damage resistance of undead enemies. This means that physical immune undead enemies do not exist for Lawbringer-wielding characters.
We will forget about
Life Tap. This build does not want to overwrite Decrepify, and does not want to rely on 5% chance-to-cast effect for survival (no
Dracul's Grasp). Like many melee-based D2 builds, Frenzy Barbs must be constantly
Lifestealing in order to survive. Lifesteal only comes from the physical damage you apply to an enemy. You cannot leech life from a physical-immune enemy (without Life Tap), and reducing an enemies physical damage resistance will therefore increase the amount of life you leech.
From these points I'll conclude that Lawbringer gives us an incredible:
increase in physical damage, through both Decrepify (all enemies) and Sanctuary Aura (undead)
increase in defense, by Decrepify slowing enemies and reducing the amount of physical damage they deal
increase in our strength and ability to leech life from enemies
For these reasons, and from much experience, an off-hand Lawbringer is hands down the best option to complement your mainhand Grief. Note that Lawbringer itself does very little damage when it strikes an enemy – most of your killing blows are done by your Grief. This is a good thing – since the potential of Lawbringer to stop us from using Find Item on a monster ("Slain monsters rest in peace" mod) only comes into play when Lawbringer lands the killing blow, which is rare. Lastly, I'll mention the Knockback effect of that Sancturary Aura applies periodically to undead enemies every two seconds. This can be very useful as an additional defense mechanism against mobs like the Lord De Seis pack, Gloams and Dolls. It can, however, be annoying when you knock Grand Vizier of Chaos out of attack range, but you can learn to get around this with a bit of experience.
Armor: With +%Damage from Frenzy and Weapon Mastery Skills, and a might mercenary (with Pride equipped in later stages of the game), Frenzy Barbs have a ton of +%Damage. Adding an extra +300% from Fortitude is underwhelming.
Fade gives us:
15% physical damage reduction (DR). This helps us move towards the 50% DR cap as we cannot use aStormshield).
+60% all resistances. In early gearing stages this is super helpful. Later on, it is possible to cap resistances pre-Fade thanks to gearing and the Barbarian's
Natural Resistances skill. However, over-stacking resistances will always be useful against enemies with
79% reduction in curse duration. As we are constantly taking physical damage, we need to remove the effects of
Amplify Damage and Decrepify curses as quickly as possible.
+45% increased attack speed (ias).Frenzy breakpoints are easy to hit, but overstacking ias can help negate the effects of unavoidable frozen effects and when we are Decrepified in Chaos Sanctuary.
Accessories: I'm going to summarize all other gear here as it's quite straight forward. In general, we want to focus on accumulating +Increased attack speed, +Resistances and +Lifesteal. Frenzy is an uninterruptible attack, meaning we do not need to focus on +Faster hit recovery. Crushing Blow reduces monster hit points by a fixed amount, and it's effect decreases with the number of players in the game (0.5 + (0.5 * # players)). With the inherent +%Damage stacking this build has, plus the effects of Decrepify/Sanctuary Aura, we do a ton of raw physical damage, which will often outperform the effect of crushing blow. For Frenzy barbs, crushing blow is entirely overrated and will not be sought in any items.
Deadly strike (and "critical strike") causes physical damage to be doubled, after all sources of +%Enhanced damage. It does not stack with the Barbs Mastery skill, which gives us 29% critical strike chance at level 20. Rather, upon dealing physical damage, the game will roll for one chance (such as %Chance to deadly strike) and if it is not successful, will then roll for %Chance to critically hit.
Laying of Hands. +Ias and +%Damage to demons, the latter giving us a nice damage boost as most enemies are demons in this game. Note that +%Damage to demons is added in the physical damage calculation at the same time as other damage multiplies (skills, auras).
Ravenfrost is our source of Cannot be Frozen. Our other ring slot needs to satisfy our mandatory source of a +%Manaleech.
War Traveler. Similar to belt slot, this is personal preference over Gore Riders. Again, Crushing Blow is overrated. We have sources of Deadly strike and Critical strike, though there's nothing wrong with having more. However, I find the flat 15-25 physical damage increase is very handy as it is applied before all sources of +%Enhanced damage, which we have a lot of. The fact that Travs also have +50% Magic find is an added bonus.
On swap I use weapons with +3 to Battle orders, or two HOTOs for style points.
Charms are max damage / AR / life GCs. I like to stack max damage / AR / +%Magic find SCs as well.
Uber Tristram: The gear I've outlined is for doing your normal day-to-day runs (ie Travincal, Pits, Chaos Sancturary, Baals). I've done ubers without Life Tap, but it's definitely a huge quality-of-life boost to swap out a couple gear slots when doing ubers with a Frenzy Barb. I put on a second Grief instead of Lawbringer, as I don't want to overwrite Life Tap with Decrepify. I also put on Gores for a source of Crushing Blow and Open Wounds, and throw in a few +%Lightning Resist GCs. Uber Diablo (Annihilus) is very easy and not worth going into here.
Attributes: From much experience, I always aim for at least 12,000 attack rating (AR). You need to increase Dexterity until you reach an acceptable AR level.
I increase Vitality until I have a base life pool of at least 1,000. I find going over this can be overkill.
All other points go into Strength. As the +Physical damage increase from Strength is applied before all +%Damage sources, it gives us a nice damage boost.
Skills: Maxing Frenzy and Sword Mastery is mandatory. Double Swing and Taunt are synergies to Frenzy. I like to max Double Swing, and I max Battle Orders. All other points go towards Taunt. The Barbarian has a lot of one-point skills: Howl, Berserk, Leap, Iron Skin, Shout, Battle Command, Find Item, Increased Speed and Natural Resistances.
Gameplay: Left click is set to Double Swing, right click is set to Frenzy. Hotkeys for Berserk, Leap, Howl, Battle Command/Shout/Orders and Find Item. I hold right click to move/attack enemies, and Berserk is used for the rare monsters with abnormally high physical damage resistance. I mainly run high player count Chaos Sanctuary (CS) runs. Leap is useful for hopping over lava rivers on your way to CS. Besides CS, I've enjoyed trying out other areas, as this build can clear any area of the game. This includes Act5 caves (ie Drifter Cavern, Icy Cellar) and portals (ie Abaddon, Infernal Pit). Howl is useful in "oh shit" situations, or to clear non-unique monsters from a pack.
Early ladder: As I mentioned, I often use Frenzy Barb as my main. As I'm usually the only one who mains a Barb at the start of ladder, items like Arreat's Face, String of Ears, Laying of Hands (etc) are very easy/cheap to trade people for. I like to use Lightsabre as my pre-Grief mainhand weapon. Before Grief, 2x Lem runes (Treachery and Lawbringer) are really all this build requires in terms of wealth.
After reset group finishes hell Baal, I use the Barb to run p1 Travincal or Pits in hell. I'll also run NM or hell Andy with the Barb. Once I get Lawbringer, everything becomes very easy/safe. I use a holy freeze merc as the his slow stacks with the slow from Decrepify. Upon getting Lawbringer, I shift to running p1 hell pits as the Knockback from Sancturary Aura gives a nice survival benefit against facing undead.
Once I get Grief made, I start doing public CS runs, with a cap of 5-6 players, and switch to a Might merc. Once I get Pride up on the merc, I have the damage to do p8 CS runs at reasonable speeds (~5-6min full clear).
Mercenary: Without a source of teleport, and with insane Faster Run/Walk, a consistent source of Decrepify cannot be obtained from a Mercenary using Reaper's Toll, he simply doesn't keep up. Therefore, I use Obedience until I make Pride for him. As mentioned, I use Holy Freeze merc until I'm comfortable switching to Might merc, usually upon making Grief.
Conclusion: I have a ton of fun with this build – which keeps bringing me back to using it as my main for many ladder resets. I find that using only the Barb makes early ladder more challenging and makes the overall ladder last longer for me (ie I refrain from making a CE necro/trapsin/javazon to farm the Barb's Grief on day1-2). My goal is usually to hit level 95, thought I've only ever reached 95 with officer_wiggles. Thought it would be fun to share and hear other peoples' ideas and criticisms.
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