"No doubt you've heard of the tragedy that befell the town of Tristram.
Some say Diablo, the Lord of Terror, walks the world again..."
: Blizzard North
: Havas Interactive
The rabidly awaited sequel to Blizzard's 1997 dungeon-crawling hit Diablo, Diablo II was released unto the world (after months of schedule delays) on June 9, 2000. It quickly became one of the fastest-selling PC games of all time, and a new gold standard for the now-burgeoning Action RPG genre.
The town of Tristram was once a quiet outpost in the Western Kingdoms of Sanctuary. However, buried deep beneath Tristram's ruined monastery was an ancient and powerful artifact: a Soulstone, a prison for the demon lord Diablo, one of the three Prime Evils. Only the town's Mage, a man named Deckard Cain, Last of the Horadrim, knew of its existence. Or so he had thought... corrupted and led by Diablo's power, the Archbishop Lazarus discovered the hidden stone, and shattered it. Soon, foul creatures began emerging from the ancient Crypts to terrorized Tristram. It was a dark time for the village, before a mysterious hero arrived, and single-handedly fought back the beasts and slayed the great Lord of Terror... (see the original Diablo node for more information)
When the warrior emerged victorious, a great celebration was held in his honor. However, as the weeks went by, the Hero became more and more withdrawn and mentally disturbed. For you see, Diablo's assault on the town of Tristram had merely been a ruse, meant to draw out the strongest champions from the surrounding lands. His plan worked perfectly. Feigning defeat, Diablo had actually taken possession of the hero that had sought to conquer him.
Now Diablo is travelling into the East, to join with his Elder brothers-- Baal, Lord of Destruction, who has been trapped for generations within the Tomb of Tal Rasha, and Mephisto, the Lord of Hatred, locked away beneath the temple-city Tranvical -- and gathering behind him as he goes are the united minions of Hell...
At least, that's the backstory. I'd be lying if I said that the development of the story is a major part of the game. Diablo II, like Diablo before it, is mostly just about kickin' ass and takin' names, not to mention racking up some ph4t l3wt along the way. Most of the storyline is presented in Cain's monologues, and in the cutscenes between the different Acts.
As in the original Diablo, you begin your game by choosing a character class. Unlike Diablo, however, the choice is a bit more interesting. Instead of the fairly uninspired option of Warrior, Mage or Rogue, Diablo II offers 5 different classes to choose from, each of course with their own strengths and weaknesses, and 3 sets of unique skills that they can choose to develop (or not develop) over the course of the game.
The Barbarian - A stalwart, dual-wielding warrior. The class of choice for the pure melee character (also, my personal favorite). Skill sets are: Combat Skills, including such things as a Tasmanian Devil-esque "Whirlwind Attack" and "Leap", which literally allows your character to jump around the map, providing a level of 3D movement almost unheard-of in isometric games; Combat Masteries, skills that give you permanent bonuses to certain very useful attributes; and Warcries, explosive shouts that have various effects on nearby enemies and friends.
The Amazon - A fierce ranged-combat specialist. Skill sets are: Passive & Magic, providing a variety of 'always-on' special abilities, like "Dodge" and "Critical Strike"; plus Javelin & Spear and Bow & Crossbow, which imbue your weapon of choice with magical properties.
The Paladin - A holy warrior of Zakarum, master of Sword, Scepter and Shield. Skill sets are: Defensive Auras and Offensive Auras, heavenly blessings that empower both the Paladin and his party; and Combat, special attacks like "Smite" (a shield bash) and "Conversion" (which can cause an enemy monster to become a temporary ally).
The Necromancer - One of the game's two spellcaster classes, specializing in black magic and the reanimation of the dead. Skill sets are: Summoning & Control, allowing the character to raise slain enemies and powerful Golems to serve and fight for him; Poison & Bone, various spells that cause direct damage to your foes, including the ever-popular "Corpse Explosion" (the bigger they are, the better they splatter); and Curses, that wreak havoc on the minds of those foolish enough to attack you.
The Sorceress - Another spellcaster type, this one specializing in elemental magic. Skill sets are: Cold, Fire and Lightning; each of these sets contains too many useful spells to mention here. Some players like to focus on just one elemental school, most try for a mix of all three. Either method has its rewards.
(The Lord of Destruction expansion pack also added two more classes to the mix, the Assassin and the Druid. See that node for more info.)
The game is divided into four Acts (plus a fifth and final chapter added in LoD).
In Act I, the player aids the Sisters of the Sightless Eye, helping them to reclaim their ancestral monastery from the demoness Andariel, and reopenning the passage to the East. Sidequests include a rescue mission in the devastated ruins of Tristram and a dungeon-crawl beneath The Forgotten Tower.
Act II follows the path of the Dark Wanderer to the desert city Lut Gholein. Struggling through desert wastelands and dusty crypts, the hero's journey leads him to powerful artifacts, like the Horadric Cube, and strange locations, like the plane-shifted Arcane Sanctuary, eventually ending in a battle in the Tomb of Tal Rasha with Duriel, the Prince of Pain.
Arriving in the tomb too late to stop Diablo, in Act III our hero shadows the Lord of Terror and the now-released Lord of Destruction, Baal, across the ocean into the Eastern Lands. Here, the player must trudge through the jungles and swamps of Kurast to the temple in Tranvical, which Mephisto has corrupted into his own Durance of Hate in preparation of his brothers' arrival. As the player smashes into this blackened temple, Mephisto stays behind to guard the way while Diablo and Baal make their escape... Diablo returning to the Burning Hells, and Baal departing for parts unknown.
With Mephisto slain and his Soulstone in the hands of Light, the adventure now leads to the Gates of Hell itself. Beyond lies Act IV, where the player must destroy the Soulstone of Mephisto and stop Diablo once and for all...
Okay. Much has been said in this node and elsewhere about the addictiveness of the game. I'm not going to argue. Diablo II will consume your life, if you let it.
However, I think it's unfair to say that Diablo's "crack-factor" is the only reason that it was so successful. Though the action is sometimes shallow and repetitive, overall it can be a very enjoyable experience.
Interface - I refuse to qualify the following statement: Diablo II has the best interface of any computer game ever designed. Absolutely anything you want your character to do, from raising a Golem to repairing your equipment, can be accomplished with at the very most three clicks of the mouse. The action in Diablo is real-time, and pretty intense at the higher levels, but even an abject gaming novice should have little trouble trying to control their character. Your little sister could play it, and probably kick your ass in the process. Many games have mass market appeal, but only a few are designed in a way that the mass market can actually play them.
Infinite Replayability - Taking their cue from classic games like Nethack and Rogue, the developers went to great lengths to make sure that no two games are exactly alike. Anything in the game that could possibly be randomized, is. The lay of the land, the placement of the enemies, the distribution of the treasure, the attributes on the items you find, everything. Any foe you down could be carrying useless junk, or priceless treasure. Add to that the fact that there are five (or seven) character classes, and that each has 3 different skill sets that can be developed in many different ways...
Sense of Accomplishment - This, I think, is the real secret to Diablo II's tremendous addictiveness and popularity. Somehow, the game takes an inherantly meaningless activity -- i.e. clicking a mouse on randomly generated monsters that exist only as little bits of data inside your computer-- an activity that has absolutely no significance outside of the context of the game, and somehow imbues that activity with a strong sense of purpose and accomplishment. Each Act is divided into six different quests, and each quest can be segmented into numerous smaller goals and subquests, each with a small or large reward waiting at the end. The overall effect of this is an experience that can seem empowering in a very real way, especially for the game's core audience, geeky adolescent males, kids that have very little control and direction in their own individual lives. Of course, that also shows why playing the game too much can become a really unhealthy obsession for some.
- Cutscenes - Really freaking amazing cutscenes. Blizzard has a reputation for some the slickest CG on the planet, and these occassional breaks in the action do not disappoint.
- Graphics - Speaking of slick visuals, Diablo and Diablo II were major leaps forward in terms of the stuff you could see on screen. Previous games used static 2D models to represent the characters, meaning every character had to be drawn from every angle, in every armor, holding every weapon, etc. In other words, there was a pretty good chance that your character would look just like 5 others on the screen. In Diablo II, the playing fields are still 2D, but the characters are all 3D models, allowing for much more variety. Pick up a weapon, and it actually looks like you're holding that weapon. Long Swords look different from Great Swords which look different from Flamberges, Pikes look different from Glaives which look different from Tridents and so on.
The System Requirements (Thanks Devon_Hart)
Single Player, Windows:
Single Player, Mac:
The Final Analysis
Sure, Diablo is not the be-all-and-end-all of gaming perfection. I haven't really gone in to all the faults of the game, mostly because they've already been covered in another node, appropriately titled: Why Diablo II sucks.
In the final analysis, though, it'd be far too simplistic to say that this game became such a phenomenon just because it can be mindless and addictive, as many critics have tried to suggest. CRPGs are not cigarettes, you only buy them once. "Mindlessly addictive" does not sell 4 million copies in the first year alone. No, Diablo II was successful for a reason: it's a pretty good game.
Granted, it will seem completely juvenille when compared to "real" CRPGs like Fallout and Planescape Torment. But when you get home late from a long day, and feel like taking out your frustrations on a few dozen hordes of demonic scum, well...... accept no substitutes.
"Why did I follow him... I don't know. Why do things happen the way they do in dreams? All I know is that when he beckoned, I had to follow him... From that moment, we traveled together into the East.... Always... into the East...."