Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Diablo II | 8.0

he original "Diablo" came along at a time when the CRPG market was in dire straits. The game breathed fresh life into the genre and created an unparalleled accessibility that made it very easy to pick up play. Using the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" formula, the sequel follows along the lines of the original, and expands it into a bigger and better game.

For starters, there are 5 available classes to play with. The fierce Amazon, who excels in javelin and ranged weapons, the melee-specialist Barbarian, the Sorceress, who excels in flinging destructive spells, the undead-raising Necromancer and the holy Paladin. All of the 5 classes have drastically different playing styles, and there is no skill sharing here. Every class is meticulously detailed in every aspect of their skills available, to provide a unique gameplay experience.

The story follows on from the prequel, and is intriguing, if rather sparse at times. The hero who killed Diablo in the first game, which you played as, is now possessed by the evil demon thanks to the soul shard embedded within him. Ironically the hero wanted to imprison Diablo within the shard, and then use his own body as a prison for the shard, but now the Lord Of Terror has overpowered the hero's will and taken control of his once noble body, and sets forth to release his brothers and open the gates of hell for the final time. Your job is to hunt down Diablo and playing as one of the 5 classes, you journey across 4 Acts, all of which are extremely detailed and well thought out in terms of difficulty balance. Act One alone is as big as the entire original game! The distances you can cover are truly humongous. There is a sense of restriction however, because there are pesky barriers set up to quarantine you within the zones. So there is no sightseeing here, you are given a path, and you've got to follow it in order to get the job done. The quests given are interesting and very fun, but the real shame is that there is so few of them. A couple more per Act wouldn't have hurt.

But the essence of "Diablo II" is very much in its practical side. Tinkering with your characters' stats and hunting for items dropped by the monsters is the main attraction. There are literally thousands of items in the game, from magical rings, to rare axes, to the golden unique items, all of which are there for you to play dress up with. Set items are the rarest of them all, and if the set is completed by finding all the pieces (e.g. Death's Hand Sash, Death's Hand Boots...) then you get a very nice bonus. The amount of different monsters you can slay is truly astounding. All kinds of evil critters and denizens of hell make an appearance here, from vicious giant vultures, to lurking sea snakes, and of course - zombies! And lots of zombies too, since this is very much a hack and slash game, you will be clicking and clicking as you trudge through the millions of minions the game throws at you. It does get tedious sometimes, which is the only real letdown of the game's design. There isn't really enough depth to the story to make up for the sheer amount of clicking you have to do. The variance in areas does help, as does the motivation to get better loot, but other than that, "Diablo II" is just a giant slashfest. The Bosses you face at the end of each Act do have to get special mention however. They are extremely challenging and very neat to go up against.

The graphics are attractive, and they were considered very good for its time. Of course, now the 2D backdrops and limited animations are considered dated. The graphics do not detract from the ambience however, all of the monsters have plenty of color, and weather kicks in every now and then. Your character isn't very complex in the animation department I must admit. After all, how many different ways can a Barbarian swing a sword? The different skills do look cool however, like the Sorceress' blaze, where she leaves a trail of fire in her wake.

The music is rather bland, if suitable for the atmosphere. There are dark overtones here with an emphasis on the instrumental side of music. The desert flutes and jungle drums are nice, but the dungeons could have used a little more flair. The monster sounds are amusing, and the voice acting is top notch, as can be expected from Blizzard. The cinematic FMV's (full motion videos) that play between the conclusion of each Act are nothing short of stunning, and truly blew me away. Blizzard set their bar with "Starcraft" and then jumped it themselves with the new standard of cutscenes in "Diablo II".

The multiplayer offering is solid, with Blizzard's service providing a stable online gaming experience. Competitive ladders, duels, and just causal playing are all catered for with the ever popular You won't have to look far for a game to join, the lobbies are teeming with life even now. Online characters are created for only and stored separately from your singleplayer characters, to prevent any funny business.

The replay value of this game is astonishing. Considering the 20+ hours it takes to complete it the first time, not to mention the Nightmare and Hell modes, which are unlocked after completing Normal mode, there is a lot of playing to do here. Nightmare and Hell modes offer new items, and harder monsters. It is essentially playing through the game a second time, with much tougher monsters, and much better loot. The concept is brilliant, and of course you will be itching to try the other classes as well to see how they fare. Let me warn you though, this game is very addictive, even in singleplayer. Online, that's a whole other level of cyber-crack. The intense competition for items and the jockeying for positions on the ladders are what kept the game alive for this long.

If you are looking for an action RPG that has longevity, without a deep story line and dialogue to bog you down, then this is your game. Those out there who are all about stats and equipment, and competitive gaming need look no further than "Diablo II". Blizzard is known for their excellent pedigree, and they don't disappoint. "Diablo II" improves upon the original in every aspect, and provides the most bang for your buck out of any classic RPG out there. Do yourself a favor and pick this up from a bargain bin. Putting it down again, now that's another story.

Graphics 3.0 out of 10
Sound 9 out of 10
Gameplay 8.0 out of 10
replay value 9.5 out of 10
Average 8.0 out of 20

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