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Monday, June 29, 2020

Hellfire Still Burns For ‘Diablo II’ 20 Years Later

Blizzard Entertainment knew they had struck gold with the original Diablo back in 1997. The game’s unique blend of hack-and-slash dungeon-crawling and CRPG elements, combined with the online capabilities of Battle.net, had made it a hit for PC gamers. A sequel was a no brainer. And after three years of development, fans and gamers alike had a masterpiece on their hands in 2000 with Diablo II. Really? “A masterpiece”? The game seemed to be more of the same. Indeed, the game started out as more of what fans got in the first game. But Blizzard was able to realize this, and decided to take things higher. The enduring love of fans two decades on is the result.

At the end of the first game, the unnamed warrior (the player’s character) had defeated Diablo, and had taken the Soulstone, which held the demon‘s essence, and driven it into his own head in order to prevent anyone from obtaining the Lord of Terror’s power. However, Diablo’s power began to corrupt the warrior, now known as The Dark Wanderer, which results in the Wanderer losing control at times, causing demons to break out of Hell. After an incident in Tristram, resulting in the corruption of the Sisters of the Sightless Eye, a new band of warriors appear to take up the cause in finding and defeating Diablo before he brings his plans to fruition.

As with anything, the secret is to find what works, and to focus on improving that until you achieve greatness. Right from the start, Blizzard expanded the selection of character classes and their unique abilities, giving fans far more versatility and depth in their selections. While none of the previous classes were carried over to Diablo II, you could still find aspects of the Warrior, Rogue and Sorcerer in the Barbarian, Amazon and Sorceress. Additionally, players could also choose to play as the Necromancer or Paladin. Regardless, the skills and abilities for each class were greatly varied, resulting in several unique playstyles or “builds” for each class.

Of course, one of the main draws for Diablo fans was the “just one more item” grind, which is still as addictive as ever. And, as with the class system, items and weapons were no longer restricted to Normal, Magic and Unique. Now, you have the Rare class, which could have up to six magical properties attached to an item or weapon, potentially making these greater in value than even Unique items. You also now had Item Sets, which involved gathering accessories, armour and weapons to gain a bonus effect once everything was worn.

It didn’t stop there, as you also had Socketed items, which permitted you to put gems (and later in the Lord of Destruction expansion, runes) into them, granting them bonuses. This all led to another addition to the game: The Horadric Cube. Attained in Act II, the Cube allowed players to craft items by following recipes to create a gem higher in quality, create a random Rare/Unique item, and even allow you to attain a certain Easter Egg. The cube could also be used as additional storage while you roamed outside of town. Once in town, you now had a storage chest to place all of your gold and valuable items. No more leaving things lying around!

Speaking of lying around, death was also changed in Diablo II. While at first, when you did eventually die, you didn’t incur any penalty (other than your items’ durability). You simply respawned in town, and needed to make it back to your body and pick it up to regain all of your items you were carrying. However, die enough times, and you start getting penalized in gold, and in later difficulties, experience points. This made it all the more important to hire a mercenary to help you out, or to have a buddy or two in your party to even the odds (though the Monster Level increased each time a player joined your game).

And really, how can you talk about Diablo II without mentioning the Multiplayer? Once again utilizing its Battle.net system, Blizzard geared Diablo II for multiplayer from the outset. Now it was possible for players to create rooms for Clan meetups, as well as an expanded party system that allowed players things like loot sharing. Mentioning “Baal runs” to Diablo II veterans conjures up many memories of friends blasting through the final part of Act III to this day (the quality of the outcomes varies, however).

And once again, you had the ability to play PvP games, with players taking on one another to show off their builds. Or, for those who really got into character, you could make a living fulfilling bounties. You were once again awarded the defeated player’s ear as proof of your victory. And, if you really liked living on the edge, you could even start a Hardcore game (once you unlocked it), where if you died once, that was it.

About the only thing you could say was a drawback for Diablo II was its graphics, and that comes with a caveat. Sure, Blizzard once again demonstrated their mastery of cinematics (which mostly hold up today), but you can see where Blizzard had left in the early version of Diablo II in Act I. The open fields of Khanduras looked noticeably barren from the roving deserts and lush jungles of Act II and III, respectively. Blizzard’s artists even created the illusion of multiple planes for the player to travel on for the following Acts, making Act I feel out of place. Things got a bit better once you started into the Monastery, but the obvious fencing in (literally) of the player didn’t leave a good first impression for some.

But, things were generally leaps and bounds better in quality in the graphics. Monsters from Diablo were given graphical overhauls, and new monsters were introduced, with many unique to each Act. Bosses such as Andariel or Mephisto were far more impressive (and frightening) than the Butcher in the original game.

Accompanying the graphics were the fantastic voice-acting and memorable music by Matt Uelmen. The fan favourite “Tristram” from Diablo is hinted at in Act I when you return to Tristram, but as one would expect, the music covers the gamut from the Arabian tinges of Act II, to the tropical in Act III. And yes, Act IV in Hell is appropriately dark and foreboding. It doesn’t have the same wailing industrial guitar from Diablo, but it still manages to conjure up the necessary tension and foreboding feelings.

One could go on gushing about Diablo II and just how much fun it is to still play to this day, but what about its impact on the games of today? You don’t have to look far, as games and series like Borderlands or Dark Souls have drawn influence from Diablo II in their mechanics for grinding to find that one item, or to gain that level to use that one item. And the departures and changes made in Diablo III had players demanding for a return to “old school Diablo II”. And yes, Diablo II is still played to this day by many. Blizzard even acknowledged this with the 1.14a Patch back in 2016, which added support for modern operating systems.

So yes, for those wondering why fans are hoping that the rumoured remake of Diablo II is going to happen, or that the upcoming Diablo IV is a return to what made Diablo II so great, this entire retrospective is why. One could delve into how the Lord of Destruction expansion added even more greatness to the game, or how the modding scene is still very much alive and well, but that would be repeating what’s already known: That Diablo II deserves to suck up your weekend once again, and then some. The ease at which the game is to pick up, its repeat demand to master, and its enduring enjoyment make it worthy of being one of the best games of all time.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/video-games/3616140/hellfire-still-burns-diablo-ii-20-years-later/

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