Ultimate D2R Mercenary Guide
Ultimate D2R Mercenary Guide (2.4)
Having a well-equipped mercenary is a key aspect of D2R gameplay. Some builds completely rely on mercenaries, they can be just as important both for offense and defense as your own character’s skilling and gearing. Characters that mainly deal elemental damage often need their merc to kill immunes, but they can also multiply the damage output and the survivability of several builds. As mercs gain levels, their own skill levels, survivability, stats and damage all improve, so make sure to have a high level mercenary. In D2R you can recruit a merc at any stage that is only one level below your own character.
Types of Mercenaries
There are four kinds of mercenaries available in the game, Act1 Rogues, Act2 Desert Mercenaries, Act3 Iron Wolves, and Act5 Barbarians. Each of them have different gearing options, and also further different types with varying skills and stats. As their gearing options vary, each of them can wear different cornerstone items that other types cannot.
Act1 Rogue Mercenary
Rogues are bow-wielding, and their offensive style is missile attacking. Their survivability is comparable, although slightly worse than Desert Mercs. They can deal different types of elemental damage, however I only suggest using the Freezing Arrow one, as she can freeze targets and provides a great crowd control boost by slowing them down.
Act2 Desert Mercenary
Act2 Desert Paladin Mercs are the most common choice of players with good reason. Their survivability is decent, they have the highest amount of dealt damage with the Jab skills, and they also provide different kinds of auras which can be incredibly useful. There are multiple gearing options that are designed to be worn by them.
Act3 Iron Wolves
Without beating around the bush, I must say that Act3 Iron Wolves are usually poor options. Their survivability is the worst compared to any of the other types, they don’t deal a high amount of damage, and don’t have gearing options that really make them shine. There is no build I can think of which greatly benefits by having an Iron Wolf.
The barbarians have several unique properties that make them an attractive choice. They are the only merc class that can dual wield weapons (swords), they have by far the best survivability, and can even be immortal in some item setups. Their damage is lower than that of Desert Mercs, but they can still deal a decent amount.
Which mercenaries are the best?
Usually Act2 Mercs benefit builds the most, but in some instances A1 or A5 Mercs can be better options.
Act1 mercs either have cold or fire bowazon skills available, from which cold ones are usually better due to them being able to freeze/slow down targeted enemies. However this feature alone does not justify using an A1 Merc. As they wield bows, bow specific runewords can be worn on them that no other merc can wear. If a bow’s added stats are a cornerstone of your build, then a cold arrow A1 merc can be the best choice for you.
Act2 mercs best feature is that they provide six options for auras. Prayer and Thorns does not make a huge difference in the endgame, but all the rest of the auras can be very useful. Defiance provides 200%+ defense, boosting your survivability immensely, which can be a life-or-death difference especially in Hardcore. Might Aura increases your damage by 200%+, giving you a huge physical damage boost. Blessed Aim boosts attack rating by 250%+, making some builds that lack attack rating able to hit targets with almost every attack. Holy Freeze is the best skill for crowd control and slows down enemies a lot, which can make your attacking skill become much more effective. A2 mercs also have several exclusive gearing options which greatly boosts the performance of some builds.
For Act3 mercs the answer is easy, I would not recommend them for any build at all.
Act5 mercs are able to survive tough situations, in some gearing options they can even help you clear Uber Tristram. They are also able to dual wield, and wear two runeword swords, potentially with +auras on them. As an example, by wearing Plague they can provide Cleansing aura, which is a huge survival boost for Hardcore characters.
Ethereal items are always preferred on mercs, as they do not lose durability. An ethereal version of an item has +50% damage, or +50% defense compared to a non-eth type of the same version. You should also upgrade unique or set normal version items to exceptional, or exceptional versions to elite if your merc’s stats meet the item version’s strength/dexterity requirements. Upgraded items also have more damage and defense.
For all of the mercs in general, armor pieces (Helm+Body Armor) serve survivability, while weapons serve their (and possibly your) attacking abilities.
Helms: The most important stat for survivability on a helm is Life Steal. Having a fairly high life steal on your merc is crucial for his/her life sustainability. Helm slots are a great opportunity to increase your Life leech, as there are some options with high life steal %.
Tal Rasha’s Mask - The budget helm option, in addition to 10% LL it also provides 15 allres and 60 life.
Crown of Thieves - Up to 12% LL and 50 life, 33% fire resist and decent defense.
Vampire Gaze - 6 to 8%LL, 15-20% Physical damage reduction
Andariel’s Visage - The best (and most expensive) mercenary helm option. 8-10%LL, 2 All skills, 20% Increased attack speed, 20-30 Strength, 70 Poison resist, -30% Fire restist, decent defense.
Nothing beats an Ethereal Andariel’s Visage for merc helm, as it’s both great for survivability, but also boosts your merc’s damage output.
Body Armors: It should be able to defend against physical damage and elemental damage as-well, minimising the received damage from attacks.
Duriel’s Shell - This unique item has great defense, resistance and life bonuses, making it a very good budget option.
Stone runeword and Gloom runeword - These runewords are both optimal candidates due to their immense defence and allresist boost.
Treachery runeword - It is a close #2 choice, and a budget option. It provides 45% Increased attack speed, 20% FHR, 30 cold resist, and 5% chance to cast level 15 Fade. Fade is by far the most important property of the items, as it gives a huge boost to resistances, reduces physical damage, and curse duration as well.
Fortitude runeword - It provides a huge amount of defense (200%), a big damage boost (300% enhanced damage), 1-1.5 life per level, 25-30 all resistancess, and 20% chance to cast lvl15 Chilling Armor, which gives a 115% defense bonus.
Fortitude in an ethereal elite high defense Body Armor is the best choice for any mercenary. It provides unmatched defensive abilities (huge defense boost), good enough all-resistance, and a great deal of added physical damage.
Weapons: The best weapon for a mercenary completely depends on your build and the merc’s type. I will try to cover all the best utility examples, but there surely are some other creative combinations which are not mentioned here:
Act1 Merc Weapons
Faith Bow: If extra attack speed gives the greatest damage boost to your build, it will be by far the best option for its fanaticism aura. Note: Faith is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Insight Bow: If mana sustainability is an issue, an Insight bow on your Act1 merc will completely solve that. Note: Insight is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Brand Bow: If amplify damage boosts your damage output or farming speed the most, a Brand Bow will be your best merc weapon choice. Note: Brand is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Mist Bow: The runeword provide concentration aura, which increases your physical damage by roughly 200%. This bow is a great option when you simply wish for more physical damage. Note: Mist is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired in Ladder!
Harmony Bow: An exciting choice as it provides lvl10 Vigor Aura, increasing your walk/run speed by 36%, which is a lot. It can make farming and movement in general much faster. Note: Harmony is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Act2 Merc Weapons
If you are looking for a mercenary that deals a high amount of damage, there are multiple weapon choices at your disposal.
An Ethereal Bonehew, or Eth Obedience runeword are great budget choices.
If you can afford more expensive weapon choices, Breath of the Dying runeword in ethereal ghost spear or war pike deals even more damage.
An ethereal Tomb Reaver is a rarer setup, however it has amazing potential due to its 3 sockets and 60% base attack speed. It can have unmatched speed by shael sockets, but you can also put Amn runes in it to improve your lifesteal by 7% per Amn. The damage dealt will be on a similar level as the BOTD’s, or possibly even higher. A nice addition is that it also has +30-50% all resistances.
Ethereal Reaper’s Toll is often considered the best Act2 merc weapon, as it has 33% chance to cast level1 Decrepify on striking, 210-240% enhanced damage, 33% deadly strike, while it also has 11-15% Life steal. Decrepify has a -50% effect on Target's Speed, Damage and Physical Resistance, and your character can greatly benefit from it while attacking Bosses.Note: The Reaper's Toll is a Ladder only item, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
A somewhat rare, but interesting weapon of choice is Phoenix in an Eth Thresher or Giant Thresher. If your build is capable of leaving plenty of corpses behind, your mercenary will continuously heal himself with the weapon’s Redemption aura, making him almost immortal. The damage output is nice too (350-400%, although it doesn’t have the increased attack speed of a Tomb Reaver or BOTD. Note: Phoenix is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Some A2 merc weapon options are cornerstone items for a variety of builds. All of these options are runeword, and ethereal giant thresher or thresher bases are the best base items to make them in. The above mentioned runewords are the following:
Insight - The runeword provides up to level17 meditation aura, which completely eliminates any mana recovery issue which is prevalent for many caster builds. It also deals a great deal of damage, and has a high attack rating bonus. Note: Insight is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Pride - The runeword provides up to level20 Concentration aura, which gives +345% enhanced damage on 30 radius (almost 2 full screens distance). Pride does not deal a high amount of damage, its main utility is purely its aura. Note: Pride is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Doom - It’s the ultimate crowd control Merc weapon. The runeword has a Level12 Holy Freeze Aura which slows down nearby enemies by 50%. The weapon is also amazing for attacking, as it has 45% IAS, up to 370% ED, 20% deadly strike and 25% chance to open wounds, while it prevents monster healing, freezes targets for 3 second on hit, and reduces enemy cold resistance by 40-60%.
Infinity - The runeword provides a level12 Conviction aura, reducing enemy resistances by 85% on a 13.3 yard radius. For Lightning damage dealing builds, it's a must have item, as it can break the lightning immunity of most monsters, while it also has -45-55% lightning resistance. The runeword is helpful for fire damage and cold damage dealing builds too, however it doesn’t break fire immunity of several monsters, and rarely breaks cold immunities. The damage dealt by the weapon is mediocre, however it has a 40% chance of crushing blows. Note: Infinity is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Act5 Merc Weapons
The Act5 Barbarians have by far the best survivability, especially the Frenzy-Iron Skin mercs. Their special ability is that they can dual wield weapons, which comes very handy in Hardcore as they can wear two swords that provides auras to boost your character’s survivability or damage. Here are the weapons that are the best choices for Act5 Mercs:
Plague runeword - This 2.4 patch ladder only runeword is the only item in the game that provides Cleansing aura to your character and the mercenary himself, reducing curse and poison damage duration by 75%+. The runeword also has a 20% chance to cast level12 Lower Resist when struck, which reduces enemy all resistance by 57%, and comes very handy for elemental damage dealing builds. Plague also has several other good stats, including the 300%+ Enhanced Damage, 1 to All skills, 20% IAS, -23% psn resist, high level based deadly strike, 25% open wounds, and it also Freezes targets. Overall it’s a very unique and great weapon choice.Note: Plague is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired ladder!
Lawbringer runeword - Similarly to Reaper’s Toll, lawbringer has the ability to cast a level15 Decrepify, reducing Target's Speed, Damage and Physical Resistance by -50%. Lawbringer also provides a level16-18 Sanctuary aura, which adds 600%+ damage against undead monsters. Other than the 7% life steal, the runeword does not have very beneficial qualities, unfortunately it does not deal a high amount of damage, but can help out your character greatly. Note: Lawbringer is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Oath - This runeword is useful as a pure, damage dealing weapon. It has 50% IAS, up to 340% Enhanced damage, and it prevents monster healing. Note: Oath is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Grief - This runeword deals the highest amount of damage on your mercenary due to its +340-400 damage stat. It also has 30-40% IAS, -20%+ poison resist, 20% deadly strike and prevents monsters from healing. Note: Grief is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
Last Wish - Since it’s the most expensive runeword in the game by far, it has multiple special attributes. It provides a level 17 Might aura to the party which gives an immense physical damage boost to every member (+200%), has a 10% chance to cast lvl18 life tap on hit, allowing physical damage dealing party members to heal completely with a single hit, has a 6% chance to cast level11 Fade when struck, boosting your Merc’s all resistances and providing physical damage reduction as well, which is a huge boost to your merc’s survivability. The runeword has a 60-70% chance of causing Crushing Blow, which comes very handy against Bosses as it quickly reduces their life. Other, not so uncommon qualities of this weapon are the +330-375% Enhanced damage, prevent monsters from healing and ignoring target defense. Combined with a Plague runeword it’s the perfect combo for Hardcore. Note: Last Wish is a Ladder only runeword, and can only acquired by trading in nonladder!
If you decide not to farm for hundreds of hours, you can quickly buy runes from our D2R Store.