Diablo 2 Best Mercenary – D2R Merc Guide

Last Updated on February 13, 2024 by Samuel Franklin

Choosing the best Diablo 2 mercenary (or merc) for your class is vital to facing the toughest enemies in D2 and the remastered D2R. Often overlooked by the new Diablo player these hired characters can provide important damage or utility when players select the best merc type and optimise them with the right equipment. While the Diablo 2 best mercenary for most classes is the Act 2 mercenary with Holy Freeze hired in Nightmare difficulty, there are some alternative Act 2 merc auras for different utility or damage that are detailed on this page. This guide also includes powerful gear recommendations to boost your merc’s damage and survivability to unlock the true potential of your Diablo 2 mercenary.

With decades of Diablo 2 experience this guide also includes my personal and community recommendations for mercenary types and equipment alongside a general overview of mercenary mechanics which should be read in conjunction with the Diablo 2 wiki page on mercenaries. This comprehensive guide to the Diablo 2 mercenary system is applicable both Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction (D2) and Diablo 2: Resurrected (D2R) as the core mechanics are unchanged between game versions although the D2R 2.4 patch (April 2022) added a significant overhaul and these variations are noted where relevant.

Table of Contents:
Mercenary Overview
Best Mercenary For Each Class
Act 2 Mercenary Auras Overview
Best Mercenary Gear

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Diablo 2 Mercenaries Overview

Each Diablo 2 act offers different themed mercenaries that can be hired as followers to fight alongside the player and can use their own equipment to further enhance their abilities. The Diablo 2 mercenaries from each act are:

  • Act 1 (Rogues): Rogues are restricted to using general bows and come with either cold or fire arrow and inner sight for their abilities. Players earn one of these companions for free after defeating Blood Raven which is generally your first experience with mercenaries. In D2R these mercenaries can equip Amazon bows, benefit from + Amazon skill levels and enhance their arrows further with freezing arrow and exploding arrow.
  • Act 2 (Desert Warriors): Melee fighters that can equip the various two handed spears, javelins and polearms while using the jab skill. They also have an aura that varies based on the game difficulty they are hired in and their specialisation that makes them the best D2 merc for the vast majority of situations due to this added utility. Aura options are Prayer, Thorns, Defiance, Holy Freeze, Blessed Aim and Might.
  • Act 3 (Iron Wolves): Offering a spell caster option the Iron Wolves specialise in fire (inferno (or firebolt in D2R), fireball and enchant in D2R), cold (glacial spike, ice blast and frozen armour (or chilling armour in D2R)) and lightning (charged bolt, lightning bolt and static field in D2R). They can use shields and swords although rarely melee attack.
  • Act 4 (N/A): There are no Act 4 mercenaries.
  • Act 5 (Barbarians): Mighty melee warriors that can be equipped with Barbarian helms and various swords. They can use Bash or Stun as abilities and are sometimes favoured for specific Diablo 2 builds due to runewords they can equip and their better survivability. In D2R these mercenaries now benefit from +Barbarian skill bonuses and are split between a dual wielding and two-handed variant that offer different specialties in skills. For dual wielding they have access to frenzy, taunt and iron skin abilities while the two-handed option has bash, stun and battle cry.

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Diablo 2 Best Mercenary For Each Class

Given the overwhelming power of the auras that the Act 2 mercenaries provide they are widely considered the Diablo 2 best merc option for most class builds and made only more useful by the powerful runewords you can craft with their weapon class. The two most popular mercenary runewords are Infinity for the Conviction aura (to reduce enemy resistance) and the budget Insight for the Meditation aura (mana recovery).

Act 5 mercenaries are a viable alternative to Act 2 for those that want to experiment with something different or for specific builds. The Lawbringer runeword is a popular choice for example as it offers a Sanctuary aura to remove physical immunity while providing further utility with Decrepify and the rare modifier of slain monsters rest in peace. All of this can be useful on characters with mostly physical damage, need a reliable tank to provide some crowd control or regularly farm undead areas and is most often seen on wind Druid builds. With the D2R changes giving these fighters some Barbarian shouts their utility is definitely second best after the Act 2 variants.

The best merc options for each class in Diablo are:

  • Sorceress: The best merc for sorc is an Act 2 Holy Freeze (Defence hire from Nightmare) equipped with either an Insight (budget) or Infinity (expensive) runeword. Infinity is particularly powerful on late game lightning sorceress builds for the ability to break the lightning immunity of monsters. The best mercenary for sorceress before Nightmare difficulty will be a Prayer (Combat) or Defiance (Defence) Act 2 mercenary.
  • Paladin: The best mercenary for Paladin depends on your build and is either Holy Freeze for Hammerdin (Defence hire from Nightmare) or Might (Offence hire from Nightmare) for a melee focused Paladin. Insight is useful for both of these options due to the mana regeneration but when this is no longer needed you can focus on raw damage weapon options instead.
  • Necromancer: The best mercenary for Necromancer is an Act 2 Holy Freeze (Defence hire from Nightmare) or a Might (Offence hire from Nightmare) for summon necro due to the melee damage buffs to your summons. Notable weapons include Infinity for the defence reduction or the Pride runeword for the Concentration aura.
  • Amazon: The best mercenary for Amazon is an Act 2 Holy Freeze (Defence hire from Nightmare) or Might (Offence hire from Nightmare) depending on if players prefer the additional crowd control or physical damage increase based on your build.
  • Barbarian:The best mercenary for Barbarian is the Act 2 Might (Offence hire from Nightmare) for the physical damage increase which is best paired with The Reaper’s Toll as this unique item has a Decrepify cast chance. Prior to this Barbarian players can use a Blessed Aim (Offence hire from Normal) with an Insight or other high damage dealing weapon.
  • Druid: The best mercenary for Druid is Act 2 Holy Freeze (Defence hire from Nightmare) equipped with The Reaper’s Toll to cast Decrepify or alternatively a Defiance (Defence hire from Nightmare) for the additional defence as Wind Druids generally do not need the Holy Freeze aura.
  • Assassin: The best mercenary for Assassin is Act 2 Holy Freeze (Defence hire from Nightmare) for the crowd control with your ultimate goal as a trapsin to acquire an Infinity polearm.If playing a physical focused martial arts build then a Might (Offence hire from Nightmare) mercenary is an alternative.

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Act 2 Mercenary Auras Overview

The Act 2 merc auras are as follows, note that in Diablo 2: Resurrected the mercenary types of Combat, Defence and Offence are no longer used from the original Diablo 2 and you can mouse over the skill icons next to their level to see what aura the mercenary has. Note that in D2R players can also hire any of these auras in Nightmare and Hell and are no longer act restricted.

  • Prayer – Combat (Normal or Hell)
  • Thorns – Combat (Nightmare)
  • Defiance – Defence (Normal or Hell)
  • Holy Freeze – Defence (Nightmare)
  • Blessed Aim – Offence (Normal and Hell)
  • Might – Offence (Nightmare)

In general I would recommend the auras be used as follows:

  1. Holy Freeze (best all rounder)
  2. Might (best for summon Necromancer or melee characters looking for damage)
  3. Prayer (Builds that don’t need the Holy Freeze crowd control and want health regeneration)
  4. Defiance (Builds that don’t need the Holy Freeze crowd control and want additional defence)
  5. Blessed Aim (useful for melee characters during Normal and Nightmare to meet accuracy requirements until obtaining sufficient equipment)
  6. Thorns (not used)

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Each of these D2 Act 2 merc auras is explored in further detail (in order) below.

Holy Freeze (Defence Nightmare)

The most popular of all Act 2 mercenary auras for the majority of Diablo 2 character builds and the one that many consider the Diablo 2 best merc due to the crowd control that the Holy Freeze aura provides. With this aura you’ll be able to easily run past enemies and slow them from attacking that provides both utility and damage mitigation.

Might (Offence Nightmare)

This aura can dramatically boost physical damage from yourself, summons or even the mercenary themselves that make it ideal for summoner builds or melee fighters once they have the appropriate gear and are looking to push their damage further.
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Prayer (Combat Normal & Hell)

For the player that likes to have their health regularly at maximum the healing Prayer aura is actually quite effective when paired with an Insight runeword that doubles the healing effect due to the way that Prayer and Meditation auras interact. I’ve constantly used Prayer on my late game cold Sorceress builds as I find the other options lacking with this build once fully geared and I value the ability to completely disregard any small pieces of damage I pick up along the way when magic finding.

Prayer is also the best mercenary aura available in normal difficulty for most players and can definitely save you on health potion usage and trips back to town. Don’t get too attached though as you’ll likely replace them in Nightmare with a Holy Freeze mercenary (unequip any gear you have given them first).

Defiance (Defence Normal & Hell)

Provides a solid boost to your defensive statistics for both you, your mercenary and any summoned minions that improves survivability. While this concept might sound good in practice it’s actually highly niche due to the way the aura and defence in general works in Diablo 2. In brief defence reduces the chance of your character being hit from physical attacks, does not impact the damage you take, has diminishing effectiveness and is severely reduced when running. This combination of mechanics means that low defence characters like the Necromancer or Sorceress benefit little as they are likely to rarely be hit by physical attacks while characters with high defence values like the Paladin who fight in melee range already have sufficient defence that it is not a significant change in percentage chance to be hit especially when factoring the loss of a better aura option.

Blessed Aim (Offence Normal & Hell)

Blessed Aim can be a viable mercenary as you progress through the game for the melee fighter, particularly if you opt to rush through Diablo 2 quests and do little levelling given levels play such an important role in hitting enemies. Given the other Normal difficulty mercenary options in Act 2 this is not a bad pick but beyond that is likely to be sub-optimal. The creative Diablo 2 community has made some unique mercenary builds with high crushing blow percentages and Blessed Aim to ensure your mercenary regularly hits their target for those that want to try these out although they are niche choices used for the sake of doing something different.

Thorns (Combat Nightmare)

While fun to experiment with on a summon Necromancer build as you watch demons hurt themselves on your skeletons and golem of choice this aura has the least uses of all your options and best avoided unless you are looking to experiment for fun or variety.

Best Mercenary Gear

The best merc gear adds significant utility, damage and survivability to your mercenary and turns them from useful companions to powerful followers that can fight enemies by themselves. The below equipment guide is focused on the Act 2 mercenary although some elements will be applicable to other mercenary types.

Players should strive for the following from the limited equipment slots (weapon, helmet and armour) that your mercenary can equip. The below includes the best mercenary armour, best mercenary weapon and runewords to consider when building your D2 companion.

  • Lifesteal: In order to keep your mercenary alive you’ll need a reliable source of lifesteal which allows them to heal themselves from damage dealt and also requires a weapon with reasonable damage output to beffective. The helm slot is generally utilised to obtain this lifesteal with options like Tal Rasha’s Horadric Crest, Crown of Thieves, Vampire Gaze and Andariel’s Visage being popular as they also provide an abundance of other useful stats and are often considered the best merc armour options in D2. Less popular but still useful alternatives for obtaining life stolen per hit include Undead Crown, Wormskull, Stealskull, The Reaper’s Toll and Bonehew.
  • Resistance and Defence: Just like the player a lack of resistances can quickly take a mercenary from full health to zero so you should always seek to have these at the maximum possible (75%). Mercenaries do gain some all resistance per level but will still need some equipment to provide resistance particularly in Nightmare and Hell due to the resistances debuff on these difficulties. Fortitude is often considered the best mercenary armour for this reason giving you some all resistance (+25) alongside a great boost to damage and defence. Similarly Treachery can be a budget armour option which again provides a balance of defence (through Fade) and damage boosting stats (attack speed and Venom). Other possible options include Shaftstop, Smoke and Duriel’s Shell which all come with decent defence stats as well.
  • Damage: Maximising damage ensures your mercenary benefits from the life stolen per hit and therefore survivability. Popular options for the best mercenary weapon include Insight and Infinity runewords as they have high damage while also providing invaluable utility which makes them ideal mercenary runewords. Players can also utilise weapons like Bonehew, Tomb Reaver, The Reaper’s Toll and Obedience to maximise raw damage from the mercenary with ethereal weapons particularly useful as they have enhanced damage and durability does not decrease when equipment is used by mercenaries.

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Written by
Samuel Franklin
Samuel Franklin is the founder and lead editor of the Games Finder team and enjoys video games across all genres and platforms.

Sam has been playing the Diablo franchise for over two decades where he has commanded both spells and steel against the growing army of the Burning Hells. His favourite games in the action RPG series are Diablo 1 and Diablo 2 which he grew up playing with friends while completing Hell difficulty with every available class. The dark setting and lore continues to bring him back to the franchise with each subsequent game release where he regularly plays as the Sorceress themed class for the ability to control the battlefield with chilling area of effect abilities and teleport away from danger.

9 Comments

  1. Great guide! Thanks

    Reply
  2. I try use cold mercenary on hell but not let me chose

    Reply
    • If you are looking for an Act 2 cold mercenary (with Holy Freeze) these are only available in Nightmare so you’ll have to go back there to hire one.

      Reply
  3. Interesting guide, but of limited use to starting players as none of the recommended gear and runes are available in normal mode.

    Reply
    • Hi Joe

      For Normal follow the principles of gear recommendations as closely as possible (lifesteal, resistance and damage). For Normal this generally means you’ll be using a rare (yellow) polearm with lifesteal on it if you can find one and whatever is the best armour and helmet you pick up along the way. The min-max options here really only become required in Nightmare and Hell to ensure they survive long enough to be useful.

      Regards
      Games Finder Admin

      Reply
      • Any changes to recommendations for v 1.07 players?

        Reply
        • Hi SS,

          I assume you’re talking about pre Lord of Destruction as that was the patch before the expansion release. In this case unfortunately mercenaries are simply not useful and there is little you can do to counter that as the ability to equip items is core to their strength.

          Act 2 mercenaries would still be my recommendation (Prayer in Normal and Holy Freeze from Nightmare onwards) but they will likely die often and generally aren’t worth the trouble.

          Regards
          Games Finder Admin

          Reply
  4. Hi! I’m currently running through Hell difficulty and am having problems with my mercenary dying repeatedly in Act IV. He’s a level 80 Desert Holy Freeze Merc with an Insight, Griswold’s Heart (mainly for the massive defense buff) and a yellow helmet that gives 10% hit recovery with 70% boost to defense.

    I’m struggling with him. Mind offering advice on how to gear him so he won’t die in two seconds in Act IV? Thanks!

    Oh, I’m playing a Blessed Hammer Paladin – if you needed to know.

    Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Hi Logan

      The key thing you are missing is a source of lifesteal as this allows the mercenary to self sustain themselves. The helm is a good spot to get this and requires an item like Tal Rasha’s Horadric Crest, Crown of Thieves, Vampire Gaze and Andariel’s Visage. Ideally your Insight would also be made in a Hell Elite polearm for the large attack to make this lifesteal effective.

      Trading for or hunting these helms is your best bet. For hunting Tal Rasha’s Horadric Crest is quite a common set item in the scheme of things with the best chances from Nightmare Diablo, Mephisto and Baal. While in Hell Diablo, Mephisto and Andariel also have decent drop chance.

      You may also want to just check the resistances of your mercenary although at level 80 these are probably okay. Some of the helms (like Tal Rasha’s) also helps with resistances.

      As a blessed hammer Paladin you could also likely push through the rest of the game without the mercenary and just drink lots of potions to replace the loss of Insight runeword if you wanted to.

      Regards
      Games Finder Admin

      Reply
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