Diablo II Review
The original Diablo was not a particularly impressive title. It was a simple dungeon crawl featuring only one town, one dungeon, three nearly identical classes, and used a modified real time strategy engine. While some people loved it, largely due to its multiplayer aspect, it was a mediocre title overall. Diablo II keeps the great multiplayer aspects, and adds enough new features to create a spectacular game.
While story is hardly the driving force behind the game, Diablo II has a fairly decent plot. After possessing the hero from the original, Diablo is off on a journey to find his two equally demonic brothers, and generally terrorize the world. The player naturally gives chase, attempting to solve the problems of the demon-plagued towns along the way. While this is not the most original setup, it is well executed, and gives the game a unique feel which makes the constant combat seem like more than mindless violence.
At its heart, Diablo II plays much like the first. The basic controls are completely mouse based. Click to move, click to attack, right-click to cast spells or use special abilities. This seems to be a very odd setup for a game with only one character, and clearly betrays the developers’ RTS roots, but along with some well chosen hot keys, one can easily adapt to the interface, and even discover the advantages it grants when targeting spells and long ranged attacks.
Using these simple mouse based controls, the entire game proceeds with a simple formula. After speaking with the people of a town, the player journeys out into the surrounding wilderness on simple quests, looking for magic items, hunting down bosses and the like. After completing these, the player proceeds to the next town to repeat the process. While only four towns exist in the game, the outlying wilderness is sufficiently vast and varied that it makes the world seem quite large.
While the original Diablo offered only a single drab town and a seemingly endless dungeon, it’s sequel offers a variety of beautifully rendered locations. From the gloomy plains, teeming with undead, to the arid dessert, teeming with undead, to the dark wet jungle… teeming with undead, graphical detail is staggering. Backgrounds, characters, and monsters are all prerendered, yet spells and flames give such spectacular lighting effects they may as well be drawn on the fly. It should also be noted that although skeletons and zombies are ever-present, each region of the world has it’s own style of horror. While the plains feature standard monsters, such as minotaurs, ghosts and impish demons, the dessert is filled with swarms of insects, buzzards and reptiles, all in keeping with the bleached bones scattered about. Yet another note of realism to the graphics is the presence of environmental effects. The sun rises and sets, sudden rain storms pick up and later dissipate, not only increasing the realism, but occasionally reducing the characters’ ranges of vision.
Sound effects receive nearly as much attention. Each creature has its own unique sounds, the volume of which increases with proximity. All dialog in the game is voice acted exquisitely. Even spells and attacks have nice sounds to them. While there is nearly no music to accompany these effects, what little there is is quite good.
While an expanded, richly detailed world is one way in which Diablo II outshines its predecessor, far more important is the added variety to the characters. Diablo II features five radically different classes. Playing characters of different classes makes for very different experiences. Barbarians leap about and hack apart their enemies at close range, while necromancers hang back and raise armies of the dead to do their bidding. Even within a single class, there is an immense degree of variation. Each class has thirty skills/spells, one of which may be improved whenever a character goes up a level. With twenty levels of growth per skill, and the average character finishing below level thirty, the amount customization is staggering.
This freedom is not without its price however. With so many skills, the average player would want to try them all. However, Diablo II does not have a save feature in the traditional sense. Everything the player does is saved automatically. If a skill selection is wasted on experimentation, it is gone forever. If a character dies, they come back in town, with their possessions remaining where they fell. They must then be retrieved at great personal risk, lending an extra element of danger to the game.
One final aspect of Diablo II that deserves mention is the random nature of the game. While the plot is constant, and the locations are connected in a set fashion, the specific details of the land are randomly generated whenever a new game begins, or when starting a multiplayer game. Treasures and monsters are randomly changed not only when starting a new game, but when continuing a saved game. This gives the game added replay value which compliments the various classes and levels of difficulty, and, unlike most systems of random generation, still gives the impression that everything in the game was deliberately placed where it is. It also means however that one cannot fully explore the world or find everything, which may not appeal to some gamers.
Simply put, Diablo II is one of the best PC games out there. Also, thanks to an uncharacteristically fast port, it is also one of the best Mac games out there. Both versions hit the shelves within a week of each other, and the Mac version has just as much care put into it. Even if you don’t care for PC games in general, Diablo II is a nice game, and with its multiplayer aspect and randomly generated world, you may find yourself playing for a very long time indeed.