Diablo II

a game by Blizzard Entertainment
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 8/10, based on 3 reviews
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See also: Diablo

Prepare to face the Lord of Terror once again in the sequel to last year's smash action/RPG hit. This time around, you'll have five character classes to choose from, including the paladin, the necromancer, and the amazon, each with their own unique attacks, skills, and spells. Four towns, plus outdoor areas, will be yours to explore. Blizzard has even tweaked the battle.net support, adding player rankings and an online trading post so players can swap items. This one looks hot.

Game Reviews

Diablo's back-and he's not happy! The Lord of Darkness returns to enslave humanity in Blizzard's hot action/RPG sequel.

SECOND HELL-PING

Because the original Diablo--a graphically rich, extremely addictive hybrid of hack-and-slash action and fantasy RPG elements--was such a massive hit, Blizzard (the game's developers) won't be meddling with the formula too much for the sequel. Many of Diablo M's expected changes are refinements, tweaks, and expansions of previously good ideas. Watch for a tighter interface, "stackable" items (such as storing scrolls in books), buildings you can enter, items that look the same in hand as they do in your inventory, a banking system, and other new stuff.

The addition of 3Dfx graphics might seem foolhardy in a 2D game, but they offer cool global lighting effects, a wheel-mouse zoom function, and improved overall speed on low-end systems. Of course. the added graphical kick will also enhance the game's awesome spells, like ice storms, corpse explosions, poison novas, and blaze--a fire-wall that trails behind you.

AN ETERNAL WAIT

Gamers received their first sneak peek of Diablo II at E-3. Although this crop of images looks great, don't get too frothy--the game is slated for a very loose six-month release window.

The demo we saw contained four of the five characters as graphically complete, and some 200 monsters and characters were already implemented (Blizzard predicted it would have every last demon in place by the end of '98). Unfortunately, the voices had yet to be recorded and more than half the world was left to build. As long as Blizzard takes the time and makes Diablo II worth the wait, fans won't mind sticking around to play the final product.

PARTY PEOPLE

Diablo II contains five character classes, and each character can develop up to 30 specific skills and various spells, decreasing the chances of redundant characters in your bat-tle.net party. For instance, amazons can use both bows and javelins, though you'll probably want to concentrate on one or the other.

Players can travel through four towns, including deserts and rain forests, that are packed with new random dungeons. To round out Diablo II's features, characters can now run as well as walk, and multiplayer games will accommodate up to eight players.

Overview

Everyone thought it was over. The Hero had descended into the depth and faced Diablo. The demon was gone and the pall of evil that shrouded Tristram had lifted. But Diablo was only contained -- not defeated. The Hero has now become the reincarnation of Diablo himself and is bent on freeing his two lesser brothers, Baal and Mephisto. Tristram lies in ruins and evil now walks the countryside laying waste to all in its path.

New Heroes must arise to fight... and you’ve chosen to join the fray. In your quest to push back the darkness and vanquish the demons that threaten to destroy the world, you will walk across vast plains crawling with undead and travel through dank caves reeking with the stink of unseen monsters. And you don’t have to fight alone, you can choose to fight alongside true allies, complementing and enhancing each other's abilities in order to create a force that must work together to succeed.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

The gameplay in Diablo II is very similar to the original; fans of Diablo are going to feel at home almost immediately. Basic movement and attacks are virtually unchanged and while the graphics are greatly enhanced, they retain the flavor of the original game. Diablo II is split into four acts. The first act centers on an Amazon camp near Tristram (the town originally featured in Diablo). You even get to visit the now destroyed town on a mission to rescue one of the townsfolk. Other missions include recovering lost or stolen items from dungeons and crypts, finding arcane items and ingredients, and destroying the demonic minions that infest the land.

While the overall feel of the game is familiar there are several significant differences -- the two you‘ll notice first are the character classes and the way skill advancement works. There are five different character types in Diablo II: the Barbarian, Necromancer, Sorceress, Amazon, and Paladin. Each of the five classes has a skill tree of possible skills, no two of which are alike. The Paladins skills focus on Auras that either protect or enhance their abilities as well as their allies. Necromancers are masters of summoning, bringing fourth bands of undead warriors and golems to fight at their behest. The Sorceress uses the powers of magical fire, cold and electrical energies to unleash devastating spells. Barbarians and Amazons are master fighters, although they differ in their preferred choice of weaponry. Your character will gain new abilities each time he or she increases a level and also as a reward for some quests. Each skill point earned allows you to increase one area of expertise. The Sorceress’ skills are her spells -- no more hunting for a tome so you can learn a new spell, just spend the skill point and you’re there.

Another major difference is in the variety of items available and the all-new socketed items. Socketed items act like regular weapons, helms, and shields, but have one additional feature. During your adventures you will find gems of different quality levels that can be put into the sockets, granting the items new abilities. These gems can also change the look of the item when it’s equipped, making your character’s appearance in the game much more customizable than in the original Diablo. The game also includes new "set" items. Each piece of a set has enhancements and special powers, but when combined the entire set grants one or more additional bonuses.

Multiplayer

While the single player game is a lot of fun, Diablo II really shines in multiplayer. When players team together to fight, their powers augment each other. For example, the auras generated by Paladins apply to all members of the party, as well as any allies they’ve conjured or hired. Players aren’t automatically allied when they join the same game -- they must elect to team up. Since the maximum number of players that can join a game has been increased, it’s possible to have two or more parties in the same game. Blizzard has added other features to enhance multiplayer gaming, including a secure trading system that allows players to swap items and cash without risk.

There are two types of characters in the game: Open and [[Realm]]. Open characters are used in single player games, as well as LAN games, games hosted on private TCP/IP servers, and games hosted in the open section of Battle.net. These characters live on the player’s machine and are potentially open to being hacked or modified (in fact cheating is already becoming common in open Battle.net games).

Realm characters live on Battle.net and can’t be used in any games other than on the secured realm servers. Since they are stored on the servers they’re available from any machine (unlike the open characters) and they’re considered more secure. For most players realm games have quickly become the standard -- the extra security allows players to trust people they meet.

While the idea of the realm games is great, Blizzard has some serious problems when it comes to implementation. Battle.net’s realm servers have been consistently overloaded since the game’s release and in many cases have been completely down for hours or even days at a time. Blizzard is promising improvements and they can’t come fast enough to satisfy players who are becoming frustrated with not being able to play. The requirement that new accounts and characters spend at least two hours playing during the 48 hours after they have been created (or be automatically deleted) makes the inability to connect even more frustrating.

Graphics

The graphics engine in Diablo II is a significantly upgraded version of what was used in Diablo. Overall, the graphics are more detailed and the animations are smoother and more realistic. The nicest new features is the support for 3D accelerators for enhanced lighting and magic effects -- it’s really something to watch the shadows of barrels move as you maneuver around them in a dark dungeon. The 3D acceleration also adds extra perspective and depth to the graphics -- don’t get me wrong, the non-3D mode looks great, but the 3D mode looks amazing.

Be warned that there are some problems with the 3D modes though -- the initial release had problems supporting some cards and, while most of these have been fixed for Win 9x users, Windows 2000 users will still find many issues getting 3D acceleration working.

Audio

The soundtrack is wonderful and will even give you the chills at times. Each area of the game has its own background theme, which gets creepier and more foreboding as the game progresses. You can get a sample at Blizzards website -- they’ll be releasing MP3 versions of the soundtrack over the next few weeks. Topping off the soundtrack is a rich collection of effects and environmental sounds. There is little in gaming life more satisfying that listening to an enemy explode wetly after you’ve come very close to death yourself.

System Requirements

If you want to play multiplayer (and you do) the requirements are: Pentium 233 or faster (Pentium II recommended), 4X CD-ROM, 64MB RAM, 950 MB hard drive space available, and a 28.8k or faster modem.

Bottom Line

If you liked Diablo, you’ll like Diablo II. It’s proven very addicting and time consuming (just ask our wives), so if you don’t have much time, you may not be able to really enjoy it. We said this about Diablo but it’s just as true about the sequel: Diablo II really rocks. The gameplay has maintained all the features that made the original enjoyable and the enhancements to character growth, story depth, graphics, and multiplayer support are welcome improvements. While it is a great game, it doesn’t rate top honors due to the many issues with Battle.net and flaky support for Windows 2000.

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