The original Diablo was a groundbreaking game. Not in terms of graphics, sound or even gameplay, the latter of which was essentially patterned after the coin-op classic Gauntlet. What Diablo did for the industry was revitalize a dying genre -- that of the role-playing game or RPG. Like one of the decaying zombies found within the depths of Diablo's dungeons, the RPG was all but dead in 1995 as first-person shooter and real-time strategy titles asserted themselves in the mindset of computer gamers.
Blizzard changed this trend with a return to basics. Reminiscent of the pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons, players could assume the identity of a hero and delve into caves, crypts, and even the bowels of hell itself gathering experience points from killing monsters and amassing wealth. Controls were intentionally kept simple, boiling down to pointing at and then clicking on the monster to attack it. While magic spells and ranged weapons could also be used for strategy, the game never deviated too far from a hack-and-slash format.
The popularity of Diablo came from two areas: an array of unique items that could be found while dispatching the creatures and multiplayer support over the free service of Battle.net. Up to four players could work together to defeat the mighty Diablo, which at its best, meant cooperation, teamwork and camaraderie. A rogue could protect a fighter from afar by slinging arrows, while the mage could conjure walls of fire or lightning bolts to wear down beasties attacking in groups. In this way, Diablo felt more in common with a pen-and-paper game played with a few friends around the table than the majority of traditional computer RPGs.
Diablo II is more of an enhancement than a new game, so those who sneered at Diablo for being too simplistic or repetitive will likely curl their lips once more. Does it offer radically different gameplay? No, of course not. Blizzard knows well enough not to tinker too much with a successful formula, and as evidenced by the enormous success of their titles, few can argue with them. Diablo II replaces the four original characters with completely new classes and adds in an extra one for good measure.
Yet the biggest change is the in level design. Instead of taking place within one town (Tristram), Diablo II takes place in four themed levels that are considerably different in appearance. You'll wander across an arid desert, through a dank, rainy forest, and across green countryside until your eventual confrontation with Diablo on another plane. Architecture for each world seems patterned after realistic time periods and cultures -- the only thing missing is a snow-based level.
What makes the environments memorable is the fact you have to explore them before getting to the actual dungeons, which were the heart and soul of the first game. Since your character has to travel across the landscape before going down to the dungeons, the game feels more realistic and poses a new challenge: you might die before you get there.
Also new are skills, offering a level of customization that was sorely lacking in the original. Each character has individual abilities that can be enhanced whenever he or she increases in level. While you can complete the single-player game by concentrating on a few select skills, the diversity in abilities means you'll want to continue playing as a character if only to see the affects of learning new techniques. No two barbarians will be exactly alike; some will focus on developing certain skills to their fullest potential, while others will try to be as well rounded as possible.
Another enhancement is in the way your characters look. The attraction of the first game was the lure of new items as you hacked your way through the minions of evil. Said items are still a big part of Diablo II, but you get the added satisfaction of having them display correctly on your character. See the bone helmet on the ground? Equip your character with it and smile proudly as his or her head is encased in an animal skull. Weapons, shields and helms can also hold gems, the condition of which and the type will help influence its attributes.
Aside from the relatively similar look and feel of the game to the original, there isn't much to criticize. One particularly irksome feature, however, is the inventory management or lack thereof. Trying to fit all your wonderful toys into specific slots takes a degree of micromanagement that becomes rather cumbersome as time wears on. Also, multiplayer games were particularly difficult to join during the first month of release, but the promise of a cheat-free experience was well worth the wait. Up to eight companions can now play a game without the fear of dreaded ghosts, town-killers or other unsavory types looking to spoil a perfectly good dungeon romp.
All in all, Diablo II is certainly a worthy sequel to a title that excels at being one of the hardest games to stop playing. Those looking for detailed character and party management as well as a more intricate storyline and rewarding single-player experience should probably wait for Baldur's Gate II. But those who just want to get their licks in without committing significant hours of time will find Diablo II to be one of the more addictive games of 2000.
Graphics: The sprite-based graphics are not the game's strongest point, especially considering the release date. Still, there are some nice spell effects and the environments are well detailed.
Sound: The voices are well acted and the music is appropriate for each area you explore.
Enjoyment: While some will hunger for more in-depth role-playing elements, the amount of character customization you can do with the weapons and skills is a nice addition to the hack-and-slash combat.
Replay Value: With support for up to eight players and free multiplayer games on Battle.net, Diablo II scores high in replay value. Plus, each area has randomly constructed dungeons and item placement which only adds to the fun.
People who downloaded Diablo 2 have also downloaded:
Diablo, Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos, Warcraft 2, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, StarCraft, Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, Baldur's Gate, Age of Empires III
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