Diablo II Review

Any review of Diablo II has to start with a tip of the hat to the original Diablo. This great Blizzard gaming hit swept the county, and the great reception that it received from millions of fans is the reason that we have Diablo II today. While it was almost a given that Blizzard would have to create a sequel, it was open for debate how the next installment would differ from the first. The differences in Diablo II are both subtle and compelling, and Blizzard has again given us a master piece of gaming.

Story Line

The Lord of Terror has returned in Diablo II, and he has befouled three different areas of the mortal plane, and a supernatural one. Your job is to rid each area in turn of his evil influence. Naturally, there will be many side quests in each area, fighting many lesser demons and one larger one on the road to the next area. There is a very nice quest log available to you as you play, to help keep what needs to be done next straight.

Game Play

There are five new classes of characters to choose from. The Amazon can be played successfully as either a master of the bow and arrow or a master of the javelin. The Paladin is a holy terror and can use magic as well as weapons to fight the evil which abounds in the land. The Sorceress, like the Sorcerer of old Diablo, is a magical engine, churning out spells to flatten the bad guys. The Barbarian relies on brute strength and weapons mastery to slice his way through the evil hordes. And finally there is the Necromancer, who can be played either as a general who controls his undead army from the shadows, or as a magical fighter.

For each character class, there is a list of 30 skills that you can learn. Because you have a limited number of skill points to invest, you must pick a select few skills to master and leave the others unlearned. If you spread your skill points too thinly, you'll have a tough time getting to Diablo, much less beating him. This is really a great game design decision by Blizzard, as it means you can replay each character class several times, building a totally different type of character each time through.

You can also replay the game in higher difficulty modes, from normal to nightmare to hell. You also have the option to try playing in hardcore mode, where your character is permanently wiped out if you die. Playing in the more difficult modes lets you find more interesting and powerful magic items, which will give your character a much needed boost in these difficult environments. Another interesting addition to the game is that magical items can be part of a set. You always get a special added magic effect by completing the set, which may be something very good for your character class.

The user interface is very good, but it still has a few rough edges. You will still have to pack your inventory by hand if you want to fit every goodie you find into it. There is a nice inventory size expander item available, but I will leave that to you to find. The size of your inventory is more important than in the original Diablo, because you can no longer leave your gold and items lying on the ground in town, or they may disappear on you. You do get a rather small stash to keep some items in, but you won't be able to keep several sets of armor and alternate weapons.

One welcome change from Diablo is that holding the mouse button down while walking will cause your character to follow the cursor around without your having to click millions of times, and holding the mouse down while attacking will keep up the attack as long as you hold the button. Relief for carpal tunnel syndrome is at hand! Another big improvement is that the ALT key makes it easy to find and pick up loot that may be hard to spot among the many corpses you leave in your wake.

Multiplayer Mode

Multiplayer mode is almost expected in RPG games today. Blizzard offers two types, one hosted by the game players themselves, and one hosted on Battle.net. Unfortunately for Blizzard and the players, the initial days of trying to play on Battle.net were more like playing on Battle.not. Frequent crashes and glitches were blamed on a massive overload of the host systems, caused by an unexpectedly large number of players trying to get on at once. The situation is much better now, but there are still occasional problems.

Multiplayer mode is very good for getting rare bits of equipment you need through trading with others, or for advancing the career of a new character. It is also a good way to see how others have developed their characters and to get some ideas that you might use on your own. You do have to be careful out there, though, as some players will cheat you to get items that you have. These items can actually be sold for real money in places such as eBay, so the loss is not just theoretical.

When you play in any multiplayer game, some of the spells that were useful in single player mode really shine. For example, the Necromancer's Iron Maiden or Decrepify will help all the group's defense by damaging attacking beasts. Paladin spells are also especially useful in groups, so be careful to balance your party's composition.

Graphics and Sound

Some people have complained about the graphics in Diablo II being only 640x480 and not being "true 3D". I found the graphics to be excellent and the artwork superb. The second chapter is especially beautiful, although there are plenty of nice hand-drawn graphics to enjoy on each level. The effects for the spells and curses have been improved by bringing some 3D technology to bear on the problem.

There is a beautifully done video to advance the story as you go from chapter to chapter. Another bonus for those with a large hard disk drive, Blizzard supports a full load of the game so that there is no more CD swapping needed to play. I really like this feature, as my computer area is always a mess.

There are very nicely done animations for moving, attacking, and dying for a seemingly limitless number of monster types. The creatures are bigger than in the original, and more varied. It is worth pausing often to admire the artistry that went into all these beasties.

The background music and the special effects sounds are both top-notch. You can even download an MP3 version of the music to play on your computer while you are doing other things. Give them a listen if you like.

What's Next?

As you might expect there is also an expansion pack out for Diablo II. What will it be like? According to Blizzard... "Two new character classes each with 30 unique skills/spells, the ability to play the new character classes through the original four acts of Diablo II, new monster types (including Bosses, Uniques and subordinates), interactive environments (such as Siege Towers, Town Walls and Fortified Battlements), thousands of new weapons, armor and magical items (including class-specific Quest items), new recipes for the Horadric Cube, and increased storage space in your Stash." Look for it in the first half of 2001.

-- Robert Norton