Guide to hard mode
Differences between hard mode and normal PvE
In general, hard mode is simply more difficult than normal mode PvE; however, it is useful to know the exact changes when planning the builds and strategies to be used. The changes are meant to make foes harder to defeat, but they can also be exploited. For example, a 50% faster attack speed means 50% more damage dealt to your party. At the same time, it also means a 50% damage increase from hexes, such as Spiteful Spirit and Empathy.
As a rule of thumb, only the most efficient PvE builds will do for hard mode. Many sub-optimal builds are still able to complete the normal mode missions; however, hard mode is less forgiving. Also, while using one general-purpose build for all areas might do for normal mode, in hard mode it becomes much more important to adapt your build to the special situation at hand. Check beforehand on the type of enemies you will be facing (melee or casters? hex- or condition overload?) and alter your build accordingly.
Since foes have much higher health in hard mode, your party will need to deal much more damage to them. Since you might need more healing and interrupts as well, only the very best builds in terms of damage output should be used. Similarly, to counter the higher damage dealt to you, your healing from whatever source will need to be much more effective. Also, the higher attribute levels and faster casting/attacking that enemies possess make damage prevention more important. Interrupts and all kinds of melee counter skills will become very useful.
- See also: Monster AI
Your playstyle should revolve around the AI: counter its advantages and exploit its disadvantages.
- The AI will kite away from your melee attackers. Bring along snares to counter this if you field melee attackers.
- Use the AI's fast response to AoE as a means of dispersing enemies (if needed) and do not use AoE if you want your enemies clustered.
- This means that if using Fire Storm, for example, the enemy will back out. Use it to relieve a party member in trouble.
- The AI will not focus on one target. Bring skills which protect more than one target (e.g. Aegis or Ward Against Melee) or those which recharge faster.
- Interrupting with skills like Leech Signet can make a huge difference to survivability, as it is often easier to interrupt a powerful spell (like Savannah Heat or Deep Freeze) than heal the hundreds (or thousands) of points of damage it can do to your party; however, note that the fast casting time foes have in hard mode can make it harder for some professions like rangers to interrupt so prepare your builds accordingly.
Due to their higher level, foes hit much harder. Skills that prevent extreme damage (e.g. Protective Spirit) or such that outright cancel damage (Shield of Absorption or Reversal of Fortune) are more useful compared to straightforward healing. This difference between preventative and palliative skill use is more obvious than it is in normal mode. At the same time, higher monster levels make all skills that benefit from having an enemy with higher health (Spoil Victor) more useful. Similar to PvP, Armor-ignoring damage are much more effective for taking down high armor targets like Rangers and Warriors compared to armor-respecting damage.
The faster casting and attack speed leaves ample room for exploitation. Consider skills such as Empathy, Spiteful Spirit or Backfire to take advantage of it. Reckless Haste loses its IAS, as foes are already attacking at maximum attack speed. You could also simply counter the faster attack speed problem with Shadow of Fear, although this will reduce the effects of the above exploits.
Enemy healers especially can cause many problems for ill-prepared teams especially when there is more than one in a mob as they have no problem in out-healing your own monks. Dazed (from Broad Head Arrow and other sources) and other interrupts can put a stop to their healing.
Tactics mostly stay the same compared to normal mode, but "good" tactical behavior is much more important. Having a good puller, a clear frontline-backline structure and party members who know when to run can, at times, be ignored in normal mode, but are essential now. Remember all-time favorite PvE strategies like killing healers first or using pets and minions to block enemies away from the backline and, of course, following target calls.
It should also be noted that using the surrounding environment has become even more critical. Weak members of your team should try to hide around corners or behind bumps in the terrain in order to take cover from very powerful foes such as ranged attackers, allowing melee attackers to deal with them. While this tactic is not always necessary, it can often be the difference between success and failure.
For a more complete treatment of tactics, check the PvE Tactics.
Fighting in explorable areas in hard mode is mostly the same as in normal mode, with one essential difference to remember: the party will be teleported back to the last visited outpost if the party wipes when all party members have 60% Death Penalty (DP). This makes strong defensive play more rewarding in hard mode. There are several ways to avoid accumulating DP: have the same person designated to run (and res) in case of partial wipes or make use of DP-reducing items. Another successful method for removing DP is to take advantage of experience bonuses such as experience-boosting scrolls, blessings or bounties. If you are struggling against a mob due to high DP go elsewhere in the zone and clear easier mobs until you have recovered and then return to the harder mob. For this reason it is advisable to leave easier mobs until nearer the end if possible to keep this option open. When properly handled, popup mobs may also be employed for the same purpose. Experienced parties may choose to leave the sections on a map that contain popups as a last resource to clear death penalty when vanquishing.
When trying to vanquish an area, it is also useful to know the bosses it contains and their location. Bosses are important because they recharge your Resurrection Signets when killed. Typically, the healers in your party will carry hard resurrects. If you have used up all your signets, each time they die the party loses the bulk of its defense and will eventually be wiped, resurrecting at the nearest shrine and accumulating death penalty. This is particularly true when party size is limited to four, since your group will most probably contain a single healer.
Managing bosses becomes then a significant strategy for vanquishing. When possible, groups will typically clear the path to a boss but leave it alone to be killed only when a recharge of resurrection signets is needed. In areas that do not contain bosses, parties may also choose to bring hard resurrects instead of signets.
Also, unlike most foes in Hard Mode, bosses have the same skills as they would in Normal Mode. This makes them very valuable when vanquishing areas where elites are rare or not present in Normal Mode.
Increasing party size
- See also: Vanquisher#Larger party sizes
Many areas have a party cap of 4 or 6 instead of 8. Using a method known as caravan vanquishing, vanquishing some of these areas can be made much easier. Here parties travel from 8 capped areas without stopping at outposts until they reach their destination (often vanquishing along the way).
Hard mode missions have the same enhanced enemy AI and higher monster level as explorable regions, so all of the above advice applies for missions too. Friendly NPCs are set to level 20. For most missions, the basic mission goal and bonus stays the same; however, for most timed missions, such as the ones in Factions, the time is extended. Each mission article has specific notes on how to beat that mission in hard mode.