“Few games have aged as gracefully as this colossal hit by Blizzard.”
Diablo 3 is probably still about a year away from release as of this writing, and there are few games available to allow gamers to satisfy their thirst for quality hack and slash action. Sacred, Titan Quest, and several others have attempted to copy Blizzard’s successful formula, but just like those who tried to copy the formulas of Starcraft or World of Warcraft, they have failed to even come close to matching what they are blatantly imitating.
Rewind a full decade to the year 2000. Diablo 2 had just been released, and it drove the hack and slash RPG fanatics absolutely wild as the game became critically acclaimed faster than you can say “stay a while and listen.” Ten years later and no game in the genre is yet to make as big a splash as Diablo 2, and it will likely remain this way until Diablo 3 ships sometime in 2011.
So what made Diablo 2 so good? Why has there not been even a single game released in the past ten years capable of topping it? The simple reason is because what Blizzard does well, they in fact do very well. Blizzard strives for excellence in their games, and it shows. Whether you like or hate their games, it’s impossible to deny that they are high quality sources of entertainment.
I consider World of Warcraft to be my favourite Blizzard product of all time, but Diablo 2 is not far off. Since this is a review for that excellent game, it’s time for me to stop talking about other Blizzard products, which includes Diablo 3.
Diablo 2 picked up shortly after the first game. The hero of the first game (Diablo canon dictates that it was the warrior class) has become nothing but a vessel for Diablo as he seeks to unleash his brothers Baal and Mephisto, which would ultimately allow them to rule Sanctuary (the mortal realm in Diablo). Of course, most people didn’t play Diablo 2 for the story, since the game came out just a few years before story telling became the prime focus of almost every genre. Diablo 2 was able to get away with just having great gameplay alone, and it did just that.
If you’re unfamiliar with how Diablo 2 plays, then you have probably been living under a rock. If you have indeed been living under a rock, then I will explain how the game plays in a simple manner. Players assume the role of one of several different classes (which are all 100% unique) and must adventure across Sanctuary from an isometric view, slaughtering demons and monsters almost the entire way. The game is played mostly with the mouse, as left clicking instructs your character where to go while right clicking performs whatever action you may have assigned to a hot key. The left mouse button can also function as a hot key, but you will only perform whatever ability you have tied to the left button when you click on a hostile creature.
Players take on a variety of quests that point them in the direction of Diablo and his brothers. Experience points are awarded by killing creatures and completing quests. Once you level you are able to distribute five stat points to various attributes, and you also get to put one skill point into anything of your choosing in your talent trees. The sorceress can learn new elemental spells from their trees, while the barbarian can learn powerful physical attacks.
Diablo 2 has more pieces of equipment than any game from 2000 should have, as the different gear combinations number in the thousands. This is excluding possibilities that include socketing pieces of gear with gems and runes (the latter are only in the expansion pack) which increase stats, offer resistances, deal bonus elemental damage, and much more.
For new players, Diablo 2 can be a very overwhelming and difficult game until they fully complete at least two runs of the game before understanding how all of the encounters work and what gear should be used and when. Many creatures have resistances or weaknesses that the player will discover, and boss fights are anything but easy on the first play through the game. Diablo 2′s bosses will, almost all of the time, hit like tanks. Stocking up on health potions is imperative in this game due to the extremely high damage output of many creatures and bosses as well, especially Diablo himself.
The game spans several different geographical regions before the player journeys to Hell to battle Diablo (and then to the snowy mountains in the expansion). All regions are very unique with their own unique creatures and quests, as well as a major quest hub each.
Diablo 2 has some of the creepiest music I’ve ever heard, and if it had been used in any other games (such as survival horror titles) then the effect would have been absolutely terrifying. Fortunately for Diablo 2, it is an action packed hack and slash RPG, so you likely won’t feel any fear when you play this game. Certain areas a little unnerving though, such as when you reach Hell itself. The background music, coupled with the groans and wails you will hear, make it very unsettling while being extremely fun at the same time.
Areas that lack the creepy atmosphere come off just as well. Act 2, which is set in the desert, has some fantastic music that is hauntingly immersive. The sound effects are quite good for a ten year old game. While the sounds aren’t particular realistic (in fact many are quite cartoonish by today’s standards), they set the tone very well and compliment the game’s music and graphical style very well. Voice work, which plays a major part in the game, is quite good. Modern games certainly have more emotional voice work that comes across better, but Diablo 2′s is still very decent for it’s time.
The only part of Diablo 2 that hasn’t aged the best are the graphics. While the game looked stunning when it was first released, it is now borderline ugly in some areas. Characters are blurry and lacking a lot of detail despite being 2D. In fact, the entire game world is 2D. Though you would expect the world to be very beautiful to look at, the only areas that have great attention to detail are the towns. Wilderness areas and dungeons look and feel rather generic most of the time, and due to the areas being randomly generated, they suffer severely from what I call “Copy & Paste Syndrome” where you see familiar surrounding all too frequently, resulting in a few cases of deja vu.
Diablo 2′s positives far outweigh the negatives and the game remains a real pleasure to play even to this day. The game was quite ahead of it’s time and, if it was re-released with modern graphics, it would still score very high with practically every reviewer. Diablo 2 is one of Blizzard’s best games, and the love that they put into it still shows strongly even today. If you’ve never played the game, you owe it to yourself to give the game a play before Diablo 3 hit shelves next year.