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Diablo II - Retroview

180°

By: Red Raven


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 10
   Interface 9
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 8
   Plot 9
   Localization NA
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Challenging
   Time to Complete

50-80 Hours

 
Overall
9
Criteria

Diablo II
 

   So, opening the package to the sequel of the most overrated game of all time, my expectations for Diablo 2 were muted at best. I mean, after hearing about how great Diablo was for over five years only to find a barely passable hack-and-slash "adventure" instead, what could I have expected? Well, if you somehow missed the big numbers to the right, Diablo 2 is good. How good?

   Very good.

   Let's just start with the surface changes, such as the graphics: they've improved greatly. Not only do both the main character and enemies feature impressive numbers of animations, they also look a lot more menacing and believable. Equipping items on your character actually changes his or her appearance, and while it did this to a lesser extent in the original Diablo, they never looked so good. Really, I cannot stress enough how much better everything looks when directly compared to the previous game, which I had just completed before playing this. Wow. The variety of enemies has increased substantially as well; now you'll also face off against enemies of varying heights and differing abilities between enemies of the same type as well. Diablo 2 also features a "3D mode" that shifts the 3/4 perspective down a bit to give the illusion of depth to field map as well. While I personally opted to stay in the standard view mode to increase game performance, I do have to admit the new visual mode was a welcome addition and looked great for the short duration I tried it.

   Combat was another area that received a lot of revising. First, and perhaps the most welcome change, was the ability to attack the same enemy multiple times by just holding the mouse button down instead of having to constantly left-click. This accelerates the pace of combat considerably by letting you manage other aspects of combat--such as using skills or items--instead of focusing your attention on solely clicking the mouse. Second, the number, function, and general usefulness of skills have been increased incredibly. The first Diablo's skill interface was confusing and more or less a useless waste of time; Diablo 2 has remedied this aspect of combat by simplifying how you select skills and how you use them. At each level up, you are given one "skill point" in which to invest in a given skill; each class has three main areas of skills to choose from, and each skill can be "upgraded" multiple times for greater effects. This leads to an impressive level of character customization, to the point that playing the same class more than once leads to you ending up with two or more completely different characters by the end of the game. For example, the class of Amazon can choose skills from three general areas, such as Bows, Spears, and Magic. Thus, a level 30 Amazon could possibly be extremely adept as an Archer, Fighter, Mage, or some combination of the three depending on how the skill points are allocated. With five very different classes to choose from (and an additional 2 from the expansion pack), Diablo 2 is very much a different experience each time you go through it.


Just look at all the background details.
Just look at all the background details.  

   With such a great combat system in place, I was almost sure that the story was going to be a disappointment. I couldn't have been any more wrong. The plot of Diablo 2 is epic, sweeping, and most importantly, casts your character as an important part of the story. The plot is spread over the course of four Acts with six major quests featured in each Act (the expansion features an addition Act of six quests). These major quests typically are rather involved, with some that are almost bigger than the entire first game by themselves. These quests contribute directly to the unveiling of the plot of the game, and are thus more interesting than the meaningless quests from the first Diablo. Between the various Acts there are some very nice cut-scenes that advance the plot further. While the fact that Diablo 2 is a American game prevents me from assigning a Localization score, I still must mention how utterly superb the script and voice talent is for this game. Overall, the plot was dramatic, dynamic, and damn fun to play through, which is why, along with the great battle system and level of character customization; I consider the replay value to be so very high. My only wish in the plot department was for the inclusion of even more quests; despite there being quite a few optional dungeons for intrepid spirits to explore, I had an insatiable craving for more than the given 30 quests (with the expansion loaded).

   Part of the desire for more quests stemmed from the fact that I absolutely loved the huge and varied locales featured in this game. Gone forever is the cramped and uninspired Labyrinth in the sheltered village of Tristram; behold the Cold Plains, the mountains of Arreat Plateau, the crumbling ruins of Travincal, and the tortured fields of the burning Hells. I've found every location to be beautifully detailed and superbly laid out, despite being randomly generated. The music that accompanies you on your journey to battle the three Prime Evils also has such a depth of feeling that its true beauty can only be fully appreciated through headphones or a state-of-the-art sound system. The way the dynamic and sweeping scores change in real-time to match the action on screen is simply amazing to hear. Indeed, the orchestrated music from Act V (of the expansion) is a definite contender for the greatest music I've heard in a videogame, ever. If you enjoyed the music featured in epic movies such as Gladiator, then you'll feel right at home with Act V.


I don't thinking missing is going to be much of a problem...
I don't thinking missing is going to be much of a problem...  

   Having heaped all this praise upon Diablo 2 though, I must in good conscience point out some of the faults, flaws, and other mistakes that could have otherwise made this great game even better. The first thing I should mention is the nature of the game itself: it's an action RPG, pure and simple. The Diablo series is not the same, nor does it pretend to be anywhere near the same level that "deeper" CRPGs such as Baldur's Gate, et al, are at. There are no choices in dialogue, quests, alignment or any of those other "traditional" role-playing features. Furthermore, the majority of battles require very little strategic thought beyond simple resource management in the form of how much HPs you and your mercenaries/undead army have left. Indeed, around Act III the game starts throwing massive quantities of generally weak enemies at you in an effort to test your endurance rather than your intellect. Depending on what kind of gamer you are and how long your attention span is, this constant level of mindless action can be viewed as a fault or not.

Speaking of endurance, the game definitely tests your mettle when it comes to how long you can play computer games in one setting. In an effort to increase the difficulty/realism from the previous installment, Diablo 2 only allows you to save when you exit the game. Diablo 2 does auto-save every once in a while, but it only does this when entering a new area, meaning that if your computer crashes while exploring a deep jungle then all your progress will be lost. What further tests your endurance is now enemies respawn; while the respawning isn't a problem in of itself, it becomes annoying when you happen to save and quit. Saving and quitting dispels all your Town Portals and restarts you back in the center of town when you start the game back up. This means you have to find and activate a number of Waypoints, which act as sort of permanent Town Portals. With randomly generated dungeons, these vital Waypoints are, needless to say, very hard to find; they often require you to scour every square inch of each area in order to find them or, once again, risk losing all progress up to that point (by having to go through dungeons and across fields filled back up with respawned enemies). Finally, having enemies respawn and only being able to progress with the help of Waypoints means that you cannot just play Diablo 2 for 15-20 minutes in a sitting, unless you merely wish to level-up a bit. In this final sense Diablo 2--while a very long PC game--demands big investments in time to finish; securing 1-2 hour blocks of playing time is essential if you wish to finish the game, especially in the tougher final Acts.


Now would be a good time to panic.
Now would be a good time to panic.  

   All things considered, those are some pretty shallow and ultimately trivial flaws in an otherwise superb game. The music, plot, and gameplay are all top-notch and very, very polished. Indeed, the only thing that could have made the game better has already been released: the expansion pack, Lord of Destruction. If at all possible, I'd suggest you pick up the expansion and install before starting Diablo 2. The expansion offers many additional features: two more classes (the powerful Assassin and shape-shifting Druid), more weapon types, more item types in general, balanced/more powerful skills, an increase in the Stash size, and an entire new act (Act V) which features new enemies and a huge shift in the quality of music (from extremely good to even better). There's not much more you can ask for when buying the Diablo Boxed Set for a mere $40. So if you haven't checked out the Diablo series yet, there will never be a better time than now.

Enjoy.




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