Mercenaries in Diablo II
Diablo II Resurrected - 2024-02-17 14:45:58
Tags: Diablo II Resurrected
Explaining the changes in Diablo II patch 2.4 and what it means for mercenaries
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Runeword and Mercenary Changes in Patch 2.4

Patch 2.4 brought about several changes to already existing runewords and mercenaries. With the addition of a few new runewords, these changes aimed to increase diversity in mercenaries and to possibly move away from almost every single build simply picking Act 2 hirelings. In this article, we’re going to look at these changes, and their effect on Diablo 2: Resurrected.

    Mercenary Changes

The patch featured an overarching change to all mercenaries, that balanced out their stats regardless of which difficulty they’ve been recruited in. Previously, it was more advantageous to hire mercs in Normal difficulty, but this is not an issue anymore.
Furthermore, minor changes have been made to certain mercenaries’ stats, to make them more attractive options. Act 3 Iron Wolves gained resistances, life and defense, whereas Act 5 Barbarians now have the biggest Life pool of all the hirelings.

More importantly, however, a number of mercs have received new skills as well.
Rogue Archers can now cast Freezing and Exploding arrows, which should help their damage as well as their crowd control capabilities. These can be further amplified by the Amazon-only equipment they can now wear, such as Matriarchal Bows with +3 to Bow and Crossbow skills.
Iron Wolves have also become noticeably more useful.
The Fire variant can now cast Enchant on both himself and the player and uses Fire Bolt instead of Inferno. The Lightning variant, however, will now cast Static Field, which can be very helpful against bosses.
Moreover, the casting frequency of all of their most damaging spells has been increased, which makes them able to put out solid damage with Glacial Spike, Fireball and Lightning.
 Act 5 Barbarians now have a dual-wielding variant as well, with a different skill set than the original, claymore-wielding one. Rocking Frenzy instead of Bash, these guys may sound very effective against bosses with a high amount of Crushing Blow on their equipment, but in reality, their Taunt skill makes them unfortunately quite suicidal.

Being the most popular choice by far, Act 2 Desert Mercenaries didn’t really need a lot of changes, so they were mostly left untouched. They did receive a nice quality of life improvement, however, namely that they can now be recruited in Hell with any of the 6 Auras that they can possibly provide, including the ones that previously were only available in Nightmare.

    Runeword Changes

The developers didn’t stop at changing the mercenaries themselves, though. Realizing that the biggest factor in the dominance of Act 2 mercenaries is that they are the only ones able to wear the most popular runewords that provide the player with auras, they have eased up on the base restrictions on several of these.

Insight, the most useful early-game runeword for any character, can now be placed in Bows and Crossbows as well. While this could technically open up Act 1 Rogues to be a good pick for anyone that doesn’t benefit from any of the Act 2 mercenaries’ baseline auras, unfortunately they are still a worse option. 
One of the reasons is that missile weapons cannot be ethereal, therefore these mercenaries lose out on the biggest “free” damage increase available to them. This is not only important for their killing speed, but also because the more damage they deal, the more life they leech.
Mercenaries are notoriously fragile in D2:R, and getting the most out of their leech is paramount to their survival. All in all, even with the buffs and fancy new skills, Rogues are a bit too squishy, and there aren’t a lot of classes that absolutely do not benefit from an Act 2 merc’s aura in any way, making them still a somewhat inferior pick.

Infinity, the other notorious offender, is now usable in Spears and Amazon Spears as well. While this doesn’t directly make another merc type a better pick than the Desert Mercenaries, it’s possible that an Amazon that wants to prioritize Charged Strike and Lightning Strike to clear, will now wield an Infy and pick another hireling instead.
The same is true for Pride, another popular runeword for Bowazon mercs, but this is quite inconsequential for obvious reasons. Not only will this not magically turn a Bowazon into a Spearazon, Pride was a fairly weak runeword to begin with. 
Hirelings with Pride were already struggling with survival due to their low damage, so let’s just say that it’s very hard to imagine anyone wanting to build a Spearazon around it.
We have to briefly mention Plague and Mist here. These are new runewords, that are at least partially aimed at mercenaries, judging from the Auras they provide to the wielder.
Mist could technically work as a Pride alternative on a Rogue Archer, but unfortunately if a character needs Concentration Aura, there’s a very good chance that they will benefit from Might as well, making Desert Mercenaries with Pride a much better option.
Plague, on the other hand, is a runeword for swords, and is therefore usable by Act 3 Iron Wolves, and Act 5 Barbarians. The Cleansing Aura it offers is a nice QoL improvement, and it gives the wielder a 20% Chance to Cast Level 12 Lower Resist when struck as well.
This could be seen as an Infinity replacement, since LR is also capable of breaking immunities, like Conviction Aura. 
In practice, however, it is much less reliable, even on Barbarians casting Taunt and being in the middle of combat most of the time.

All in all, these changes haven’t exactly shaken the mercenary meta by its core, but that seems in line with the developers’ “soft touch” policy that they exercised with the rest of the patch as well. The absolute top end of players likely won’t really notice anything from these, other than the small QoL improvements. 
Players that are more open to experimenting with their builds could get a few good ideas, however, and that’s guaranteed to increase to fun factor and longevity of the game for them.

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