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Hammer of the Ancients Barbarian Leveling Guide

Last Updated: January 26th 2024

Season 3 - ConstructA-Tier

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Welcome to the Hammer of the Ancients Barbarian Leveling Guide! This is a fan-favorite skill that returns to the franchise for Barbarians. HotA is usable in every situation, and has no real drawbacks with the right gear and gameplay technique.

When cast at 100 Fury it deals as much damage as Double Swing, but is a bit slower. If you stack Maximum Fury, it can hit harder than a fully buffed Upheaval, and it's a lot faster. Once you get the Legendary Aspect Ancestral Force, HotA has a great AoE like Whirlwind. It also has great Fury efficiency once it's "warmed up" by stacking Enhanced Hammer of the Ancients up to 10. The few weaknesses HotA has are easily overcome with the right build. On top of all that, it has incredible endgame potential due to the resource generation bonus it gives and the damage scaling it gets from Maximum Fury. Most importantly, many seasoned Barbarians swear it is the most fun core skill of them all.

This build will focus on a core combat loop that consists of a few different "rotations". In each rotation, we use our Basic Skill a certain number of times to generate Fury, and then spend the Fury with HotA. Over time this build evolves from a 3:1 rotation with 3 basic skills for each HotA to a 2:1 rotation, a 1:1 rotation, and we'll even get to the point where we can abandon rotations and just spam HotA with seemingly infinite Fury. Throughout this guide we will explore the combinations of skills and gear that enable these different rotations. By following this guide, you will get into a satisfying combat loop that is engaging and performs incredibly well.

Hammer of the Ancients Leveling Barbarian

This build guide takes you through the Campaign and Early Game up to Level 50. Check out Endgame Guides in our Barbarian Guides section!

Pros
  • Big Smash
  • Maximum Fun
  • Engaging Action
  • Legendary Endgame Potential
Cons
  • Most Restrictive Weapon Choices
  • Low Efficiency Until it "Warms Up"
  • Heavily Dependent on Codex Aspect
  • Low Damage When Cast at Low Fury

Season 3 - Season of the Construct

In Season 3, you obtain the Seneschal Construct through the Season Questline, then collect Governing Stones or Tuning Stones to add attacks and augment them to support your build. Only certain Tuning Stones work with a particular Governing Stone. Look at the bottom of any Tuning Stone tooltip to see if it is compatible with your Construct's currently equipped Stones. Lastly, they can be leveled up by getting duplicates to max out their power. Check out our full Season 3 guide for more information.

  1. Lightning Bolt - We don't take this Governing Stones for its damage, but instead for its rapid long-range attack.
    • Fortify Support - This Tuning Stones takes effect every time the connected skill is used, which makes it work well with fast attacks. This is our only early source of Fortify, which makes it a necessary part of this leveling build.
    • Resource Support - This stone is a good choice when leveling, because we need all the extra Fury we can get. Putting this on a fast attack enables us to take advantage of the benefit very often.
    • Swift Support - We take this to make the offensive ability even faster, which allows the other Tuning Stones to support us more often.
  2. Reconstruct - This is one of the best Governing Stones for Barbarian leveling builds. The healing this stone gives is significant, even at its minimum power level. When we find Tactical and Duration Tuning Stones, attaching them to Reconstruct will eventually allow our companion to have 100% uptime on this healing ability.
    • Safeguard Support - While the recent patch buffed our offense considerable, we lack the defense to stand toe-to-toe with the toughest foes. This stone helps us avoid becoming a glass cannon.
    • Tactical Support - Legendary stones like Tactical may be very difficult to find, and some may not even be obtainable until later World Tiers. However, if you don't have one of these stones, there's nothing else to take its place, so just leave this slot empty until you find this stone.
    • Duration Support - By combining Duration and Tactical, we can make the effects of some Governing Stones (and their Tuning Stones) have 100% Uptime.

Alternative Stones

Flash of Adrenaline is a great Utility type Governing Stone that boosts our damage. However, like Tactical and Duration, it can be very difficult or impossible to obtain in the early game. Once we obtain it, we can use it to increase our damage, but that seems unnecessary. Still, you may want to try using this stone instead of Reconstruct.

Tempest - This offensive AOE Governing Stones is the best option because it persists after the target's death and grows over time, meaning its maximum damage is potentially unlimited. In addition, it is the fastest stone of all, so replace Lightning Bolt with this once you obtain it.

Registered Damage Support - When this Tuning Stone supports AOE attacks, the resulting damage scaling is overpowered in groups of many enemies. When used with Bleeding Support and Tempest, this combination has potential for exponentially scaling damage over time.

Evernight and Genesis are extremely powerful, but they are extremely rare drops from Echo of Malphas, an endgame boss.

Skill Showcase

Hammer of the Ancients

Hammer of the Ancients is our main damage dealer that has a big AOE once we acquire Ancestral Force from the Codex of Power in Act 2.

Hammer of the Ancients Leveling skill showcase

Skill Tree & Gameplay

Getting Started

To start off we have to put 2 points into Basic Skills to unlock the Core Skill section. Lunging Strike is easily the best choice because it doubles as a mobility skill with infinite dashes. This also increases our damage and Fury generation on mobile Bosses.

Hammer of the Ancients

Hammer of the Ancients is the centerpiece of this build. HotA becomes a shockwave after we acquire Ancestral Force, which significantly extends its Area of Effect. Make sure to hit enemies near full Fury to take advantage of Furious Hammer of the Ancients. While leveling, we will try to maintain a 2:1 rotation of two Lunging Strikes to each Hammer of the Ancients. To easily achieve this, we need to make use of Enhanced Hammer of the Ancients and Endless Fury, and assign our Two-Handed Slashing weapon to Lunging Strike.

Shouts and Brawling Skills

We continue to focus on mobility and Fury generation by learning Rallying Cry, Leap and Charge. Now is a good time to add Unrelenting Fury to our codex and apply it to a ring that we will probably not take off for the next 50 levels. Use Leap or Charge to close the gap to the next group of enemies. We will continue using the 2:1 Lunge to HotA rotation most of the time, but we can use Rallying Cry to temporarily maintain a 1:1 rotation instead, significantly boosting our DPS.

Hammer of the Ancients Leveling Skill Tree
Use the slider on the bottom to see the Skill progression

Key Passive and Ultimate

At this point we take Wrath of the Berserker and its passive skills. This gives us another cooldown like Rallying Cry that we can pop when we need to smash a few elites. We also take Furious Impulse, which enables us to maintain a 1:1 Lunge to HotA rotation all the time. With either Wrath of the Berserker or Rallying Cry up, we can over-generate Fury in our 1:1 rotation, which will help us to quickly go from empty to full Fury without deviating from our standard 1:1 rotation.

We also take Walking Arsenal and add Relentless Armsmaster to our codex and imprint it on our second ring. With Hammer of the Ancients using our Two-Handed Hammer, make sure Lunging Strike uses our Two-Handed Slashing weapon, and assign our One-Handed weapons to Leap and Charge. We should be able to easily keep all of the Walking Arsenal bonuses up all the time for a large boost to our DPS and Fury generation.

Check out our Renown Guide to unlock all your additional rewards efficiently. 

Barbarian Arsenal System

The Arsenal System allows Barbarians to use a specific weapon for every attack skill, each granting different Bonuses. The Technique Slot grants us 1 additional Arsenal Power of our choosing for every attack. The Weapon Expertise bonus we get from our currently equipped weapon and the Weapon Expertise bonus we get from the Weapon Technique slot stack with each other.

Unlocking the Arsenal System

The Arsenal System automatically unlocks when you reach Level 5. Opening the Expertise tab (Shift + C) shows all the different weapon types and their bonuses when using them. The Technique Slot unlocks at Level 15 via the Masters of Battle quest in the Dry Steppes which is very easy to complete. Simply walk northeast of town, kill some enemies, then walk west to a cave to slay the beast. After returning to town the Technique Slot will be yours!

How the Arsenal System Impacts Leveling

Our choices are simple to make while leveling as Hammer of the Ancients. Remember that you must have a weapon leveled up to at least 1 before it can be equipped in the Technique Slot!

Weapon type - Hammer of the Ancients can only be cast with a Two-Handed Hammer.

Weapon Technique - The Two-Handed Sword technique is a good choice while leveling because it will apply bonus Bleeding damage to all attacks. Most other Weapon Expertise options are only applicable under conditions that can be difficult to satisfy while leveling. We will eventually change to Two-Handed Axe technique when we have a reliable way of applying Vulnerable to our enemies.

Learn more details in our full Barbarian Arsenal System Guide.

Gear Progression & Global Stat Priorities

Leveling up in Diablo 4 is similar to most other ARPGs and MMOs - we're at the mercy of what drops. For the most part this means replacing Rares with better Rares all the way up to 50. If you're lucky enough to find some Legendaries or Uniques they can provide a significant power boost (discussed in the next sections). Assuming you don't find any of those, let's look at some key stats to look for along the way:

Hint: Press SHIFT over an item to compare it to what you're wearing!

Weapons

Since Hammer of the Ancients requires a Two-Handed Bludgeoning weapon, that's the only slot where the DPS matters. All other weapons become stat sticks to fuel its power. The stats to look on these for are:

  • 1-H Weapons: Damage to Close Enemies, Core Skill Damage, Basic Skill Damage.
  • 2-H Weapons: DPS (Bludgeoning only), Damage to Close Enemies, Core Skill Damage, Basic Skill Damage.

Only upgrade the weapon you're using for Hammer of the Ancients at the Blacksmith and socket your weapons with Chipped Topaz.

Armor

Armor pieces typically grant us Defense and Utility stats, except the Gloves which offer a tidal wave of Offense. Here are the important stats to look for:

  • Helm: Strength, Maximum Fury, Maximum Life.
  • Armor: Maximum Life, Strength, Total Armor.
  • Gloves: Hammer of the Ancients, Attack Speed, Critical Strike Chance.
  • Pants: Total Life, Total Armor, Ranks of Charge.
  • Boots: Movement Speed, Berserking Duration, Strength.

Jewelry

Jewelry provides powerful Offensive stats that help us on our leveling journey. Pay close attention to the rolls as higher leveled pieces aren't always better:

  • Amulet: Movement Speed, Cooldown Reduction, Strength.
  • Rings: Critical Strike Chance, Damage to Close Enemies, Maximum Fury.

Do not upgrade Armor or Jewelry while leveling. Socket Armor with Rubies.

Read more about itemization in our Damage Explained, Defense Explained, and Stats Explained articles.

Legendary Aspects

The Codex of Power is a collection of Legendary Aspects you can imprint onto Rare or Legendary items at the Occultist. They unlock after completing specific Dungeons located around Sanctuary. For leveling there are a few powers that can significantly help us if we have the funds to imprint them:

Top Codex Legendary Aspects

AspectDungeon
1. Ancestral Force Must Have!Sunken Ruins - Scosglen
2. EdgemasterOldstones - Scosglen
3. Unrelenting FuryHallowed Ossuary - Fractured Peaks
4. Relentless ArmsmasterCalibel's Mine - Scosglen
5. EarthstrikerMaugan's Works - Hawezar
6. GhostwalkerBroken Bulwark - Scosglen
7. Relentless BerserkerHakan's Refuge - Kehjistan

Warning: DO NOT imprint your Two-Handed Weapons as they are constantly replaced while leveling. Put Offensive Aspects on your One-Handed Weapons, Amulet, or Gloves instead.

Learn everything about the Codex of Power here.

Helpful Legendary Aspects

If you're lucky enough to find a Legendary while leveling, chances are it'll be an upgrade for you and you should equip it immediately. However, they are not all created equal, and some of them can accelerate your journey tremendously. Let's look at the top powers you could find and how to take advantage of them.

  1. Ancestral Charge turns Charge into the best ability in the game. With this Legendary Aspect equipped, if we have both Iron Maelstrom and Charge on our skill bar, we use Charge. Sometimes it takes longer than the cooldown just to find a monster that survived.
  2. Brawler - in case you are worried that having our strongest ability hit the entire screen every five seconds won't be enough power, this Legendary Aspect is for you. If even a single enemy dies to Charge, it sets off a chain reaction and every enemy we touch turns to dust.
  3. Veteran Brawler, while not as powerful as the previous two aspects, is also very useful. The only down-side is that you have to hit things with a Core Skill to benefit from it, which can be difficult when Charge leaves nothing but ashes in its wake.
  4. Bear Clan Berserker helps to solve Charge's only weakness: it has a cooldown.

How To Level

You level in Diablo 4 by completing the Campaign, collecting Grim Favors for the Tree of Whispers, grinding Dungeons, or interacting with Seasonal mechanics. While there are many ways to level up in Diablo 4, not all of them are made equal.

Campaign Leveling

  • For your first character in Diablo 4, completing the Campaign provides the best gameplay experience and gives you access to key unlocks like your Mount.
    • If you don't have your Mount, you MUST progress the Campaign until you complete the quest Donan's Favor at the start of Act 4.
    • After obtaining your Mount you can skip the remainder of the campaign at any time.
    • The Campaign is the slowest way to level, but it's worth experiencing the Campaign and Diablo 4's storyline at least once.
    • To play Seasonal Content you need to have completed or skipped the Campaign.

Seasonal/Alt Leveling

  • Complete the Season questline, progress your Seasonal Journey to unlock Legendary Aspects, and work on your Seasonal powers.
  • If your account is below Rank 5 Renown in each zone, focus on completing your Renown.
    • This only needs to be done once.
  • Complete the Dungeons needed for any Legendary Aspects from your Codex of Power.
  • From level 1-50 you should focus on getting experience, by completing dungeons with high monster density like the Domhainne Tunnels, or Sirocco Caverns.
  • After level 50 you need to balance leveling up, Glyph Experience, and participating in endgame activities like Helltide, and Bosses.
    • The fastest experience possible is completing Nightmare dungeons with monsters up to 10 levels above your current level.
      • Check out our Nightmare Dungeon Tier List for the best layouts!
      • Around level 45-50 you should move to World Tier 3.
      • Around level 60-70 you should move to World Tier 4.
  • Alternatively: Get boosted by a friend to World Tier 4 then leech experience/loot and Glyph exp (post 50), in Nightmare dungeons.

Leveling Tips and Tricks

Let's look at some tips and tricks to remember when leveling up!

  • Level Up Your Potion. You need to farm materials to upgrade your character's potion.
    • Make sure you collect all materials as you explore Sanctuary, especially Gallowvine which is used in many Elixir recipes!
  • Compare your Items... Literally. Press Shift over an item in your inventory to compare it to what you're wearing.
    • This makes it easy to determine what is and isn't an upgrade.
  • Don't Imprint Your Best Aspect Onto Your Weapon. The most critical piece of gear while leveling up is your weapon, which gets replaced constantly.
    • This makes imprinting a Legendary Aspect that CANNOT be found in the Codex of Power onto your weapon a bad idea in the long run.
    • While leveling, only imprint Legendary Aspects from the Codex of Power onto your weapon if any at all.
    • It is a better idea to put your best Offensive Aspect on your Amulet, which can be used for a long time.
  • Sacred is just better. Between level 45 and 50 you're able to beat the Capstone Dungeon and enter World Tier 3, you gain access to powerful Sacred items which have higher item power and better stats. Getting a Sacred weapon significantly improves your farming speed.
    • There's little point to entering World Tier 3 before 45 because that's the minimum level where you can equip Sacred items.
    • The same happens with World Tier 4 and Ancestral gear at level 60.

Next Steps

The HotA Barbarian Endgame Guide guides us through the final 50 levels of our character's progress toward an endgame Hammer of the Ancients build. The endgame build prioritizes defenses more than the leveling build does - this is essential in higher World Tiers and in the most challenging endgame content. Instead of taking Leap and Charge like the leveling build, the endgame build takes Challenging Shout and War Cry, and pivots to the popular 3-shout Barbarian meta. If you have been enjoying the speed and pace of the leveling build's skillset, you can continue running Leap and Charge. The endgame guide contains optimal stat priorities and an optimized Paragon board that will work for either HotA build. If you start dying in Nightmare Dungeons and wish you had better defenses, you should try swapping to the endgame guide's skillset at that time.

Video Guide

Hammer of the Ancients Leveling Video Guide

Summary

  • The Hammer of the Ancients Barbarian is a fantastic leveling build in Diablo 4.
  • Generate Fury with Rallying Cry, Leap and Lunging Strike to unleash Hammer of the Ancients on density, Elites and Bosses.
  • Your Two-Handed Bludgeoning weapon determines the DPS for Hammer of the Ancients. The other weapons are then used as Stat Sticks.
  • Look out for helpful Legendary Powers in the Codex of Power. Ancestral Force is a must have from the Sunken Ruins in Scosglen!
  • Read the Next Steps above to continue your journey.

Credits

Written by Slothmaster
Reviewed by Snail

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