Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you must be aware of Diablo. Or, at the very least, that there’s some game, somewhere, called Diablo. You might even know that the first Diablo (1996) revived role-playing by stripping it down to its bare essentials and giving the combat better focus. With even better itemization and a broader character building system, not to mention a truckload of more monsters to kill, Diablo 2 might just be the best Action RPG ever. Here are a few more tidbits you might not have known:
Skill is Everything
Want spells? We got ’em. Except they’re not literally called spells, but rather ‘skills’. Herein lies one of the game’s greatest achievements – the Skill Tree, a system that works in stark contrast to Diablo’s more simplified spellcasting structure. Instead of limiting magic to one or two classes, Diablo 2 grants all of its five characters the ability to specialize in their own set of talents, whether it be magical spells or otherwise. While the Sorceress has a slew of traditional spells at her disposal, the Barbarian can bash his shield, the Necromancer can summon the undead and the Paladin can employ passive auras that benefit him and his entire party.
The Skill Tree grants thirty unique skills to each character which are gradually unlocked as you level up. Deciding which skills to upgrade will have a direct consequence on your playing style. This system allows for a deeper emphasis on character development while granting near limitless replay value, but also ensures that all characters will have some use for their Mana pool.
Dead men tell tales
… but only at the cost of 20% of their loot. When you died in Diablo, it was game over. Dying in Diablo 2 takes on a completely different toll, though not nearly as grave. When you get killed, you can respawn in town but will also suffer a ‘death penalty’, whereby you lose your gold and gear at the spot of your death At this point, you have either one of two choices – return to where you met your demise and reclaim your lost stuff or simply quit and restart in town. Doing the latter will spawn your lost gear in town, but not your gold. Quitting the game also has the nasty effect of respawning everything, yes – every monster – that you’ve painstakingly clobbered in your previous gaming session.
Diablo 2’s saving and loading scheme is one that I never fully enjoyed, if anything because it adds to an already enormous army of things to kill. The game counters this by adding checkpoints that let you teleport around the world, thereby skipping the armies of monsters behind you. Depending on what type of player you are, you might find Diablo 2’s obsessive-compulsive dungeon romps repetitive or even annoying. Others would argue that in that repetition lies infinite variety, which is a good point I suppose.
Need to restock?
Picture playing Diablo and finding yourself somewhere underneath the Cathedral. You’re low on health and Mana, your weapon just broke and a hoard of monsters are closing in fast. Better activate that Town Portal scroll before… oh wait…you’re fresh out! Town Portal, both as a scroll and spellbook, was so oddly rare in Diablo that it regularly forced the player to walk back to town, a painful chore that took several minutes on end. No longer a problem in Diablo 2, where Town Portal scrolls are so ubiquitous that you find them around every corner and in every hollow tree stump. Doing an emergency retreat is painless.
Are you a compulsive hoarder?
Great! Diablo 2 has so much stuff everywhere, about a gazillion times more than in the previous game, that you can let your hoarding impulses go rampant. What’s more, every player gets a stash of his own in town so they can store some of their stuff for later use. As always, items are randomized and the pool of generated stuff is vast indeed. Granted, about 95% of what you find in Diablo 2 is clutter. Among that clutter are some useful little consumables, like potions or arrows, but the vast majority is either substandard equipment or simple junk. It’s that remaining 5% you’re after – comprised of super rare unique items that will win the day. Too bad it takes thousands of kills and innumerable mouse clicks to find ’em.
Another cool addition includes socketed items – namely weapons and armor – which have limited customization abilities when you combine them with rare magical gems. There are several types of gemstones that grant different properties according to what type of socketed weapon or piece of armor you include them in. Set items are just that – a set of magical items that, once combined, grant the wearer some cool bonuses. These are more useful in multiplayer matches, where you’re more likely to find a player that’s closer to collecting an entire set. Many players have gone to the length of spending their hard earned cash buying better virtual gear for their character.
Still Kicking Axe Online
Diablo 2 allows you to play both single and multiplayer games, and permits players to switch between the two. You can level up in SP then jump in an MP match with other players at any time, both using Blizzard’s battlenet or unofficial online platforms like Gameranger. Diablo has a much more clever party system that lets players band up and earn experience points collectively. It’s a fairly good system, but playing online is not without its risks. If you’re hosting a free-for-all match, there’s no guarantee that some high level douche won’t pop in and start killing your party just because he can. Still better than Diablo, where friendly fire was an unavoidable danger.
One issue with Diablo 2’s character building model is that it doesn’t allow for much backtracking if you screw up your character. If you find that you don’t like where your character is going, you have the option of resetting your entire pool of skill points -once- and re-allocating them from scratch. Most will be dumbfounded to find that their skills and tactics, effective against scores of monster, are rendered utterly useless when facing Diablo or any of his lesser kin found at the end of each Act. And in Diablo’s case, you can only find out after completing 99.9% of the game.
In any case, this is just something I’ve experienced while playing in SP several times – bosses are a major pain, with or without hired swords, and you die often. In every other respect, this is a fantastic game. The gameplay is there, the interface is perfect, the character classes are balanced, the story is good, the sound and music are phenomenal. For every right reason, Diablo 2 is a classic game.
System Requirements: Pentium 233 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, Windows 95/98
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