But why all the fuss? The original Diablo was an okay-ish RPG that offered a few good times but could hardly be called a classic, although it went on to sell zillions of copies. And whaddaya know, exactly the same description can be applied to its sequel.
Let’s get this straight from the start: describing Diablo II as an RPG is like saying Last of the Summer Wine is a comedy because it has a laugh track. Sure, all the trappings are there – your character develops skills gradually throughout the game, you can trade, repair and discover items, there are spells-a-plenty – but the actual gameplay is more like a shoot-em-up than, say, Planescape Torment.
First good point: the five character classes are genuinely different. Which is handy, because you don’t get to create or customise your starting character at all. The Necromancer, for instance, has a ton of spells for raising dead creatures, while the Barbarian is a full-on fighting machine who can swing two axes without breaking a sweat. In keeping with the rest of the game, character development in Diablo II is seriously simplified. Essentially, the more monsters you kill, the more experience you get, and when you level up, you get to choose a new skill from a predefined tree – or improve an existing one, if you like.
Skills can be physical attacks or more esoteric magical effects, though at the end of the day they’re involved in inflicting death one way or t’other. Handily, you can assign one skill to the left button and a secondary attack to the right, and switch between them whenever you like, though it’s not often easy in the heat of a battle.
You also have the prerequisite stats such as Dexterity, Strength and so on. Again, levelling up gives you a few points to spend on whichever area you choose. It’s hardly rocket science.
You’ll be doing a lot of killing in this game – nothing but, in fact. Diablo II is about the most arcadey RPG you’ll ever set eyes on, as 95% of the time you’re simply hacking, slashing, magicking and swooshing away at the legion upon legion of creatures who surround you at a rate of knots.
Although the game is split into four enormous acts, the levels themselves are – get this – randomly generated (though the quests aren’t). How odd is that? What’s more, when you die, you’re transported to the nearest town you began in sans all equipment, meaning you have to fight your way back to your corpse all over again through hordes of re-spawned monsters. There’s a system of ‘waypoints’ at certain places which helps, but all in all the approach is depressingly reminiscent of a console game.
Multiplayer mode, played on Blizzard’s rather troubled Battle.net, involves the same single-player quests, except in co-operative mode. You can ‘go hostile’ and attack other players too, but only if they consent first, which is a nice touch.
Graphically, Diablo II is a bit of a dud. After the absolutely stunning rendered intro you’ll be wondering whether Blizzard are still stuck in 1996. The isometric 3D view is a fixed res of 640 x 480, composed of pre-rendered elements – polygons? Texture mapping? Never heard of it. Still, some of the lighting effects are good, and the spells look, er, pretty…
There are a few other elements, such as buying and repairing items, talking (with a purely pre-determined script) to NPCs and so on, but all in all Diablo II is a surprisingly repetitive bash-em-up which consists largely of clicking on monsters. As an arcade game it’s decent enough, though like all such games the endless destruction is fun in short bursts only.
If it wasn’t a Blizzard title, Diablo II would be dismissed as the bimboesque bit of frippery it actually is, and gain no more than a passing interest from most folk. Be warned.