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RELEASE DATE (NA): June 29, 2000 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by SoyBomb

A devilish experience, to say the least.

About a year ago, I started playing the original Diablo. It had been sitting on my shelf for quite some time — likely well over a decade — and I figured it was time to blow the dust off and give it a shot. It had already spawned two quite successful sequels, so they must have done something right. So I began playing, and within a few hours of play, the ennui set in. The game quickly became dull. Money was an absolute scarcity, so my armaments were those of absolute economy. Enemies didn't respawn, so I couldn't get much leveling up done, thus forcing me to incredibly fail against one of the early bosses. I had to trudge up several floors to get back to town, wasting valuable time that could have been spent actually enjoying life. In short, I walked away from Diablo, and I have no plans to ever restart that mess. Maybe I was playing it wrong; who knows?

Later on, I was strongly advised to try out Diablo II. I was gun shy, to say the least. I certainly wasn't interested in suffering a second time from excessive bouts of walking back and forth or feeling underpowered. Skepticism overwhelmed me initially. So I started playing, opting to be a mighty paladin. Everyone loves paladins. And, for whatever reason, it seemed as though all of the weariness invoked by the original Diablo had somehow been whisked away, only to be replaced with, dare I say it, enjoyment?! Could it really be true?

It can be true. But only if the price is right!

Seems like the price is right indeed.

Diablo II, to the unbeknowing, was the epitome of action-RPG adventuring at the turn of the century. You play as one of five (or seven, if you picked up and installed the expansion pack, "Lord of Destruction", as I did) possible classes, and your ultimate goal is to defeat the three Prime Evils, Mephisto, Diablo, and Baal, who have been resurrected because of the acts of the Dark Wanderer (actually the hero of the first Diablo game, corrupted by the soul of Diablo himself). The Prime Evils wish the destruction of the world, and that doesn't seem to sit too steadily with, well, anyone else on the planet. So, for reasons inexplicable to anyone, you are the only one capable of venturing out of a lowly rogue encampment to embark on such a grueling task. Gruel.

Diablo II (2? Two? Deux? [√2]2?) is, as I just mentioned moments ago, an action-RPG. More accurately, though, it's a hack-and-slash. And boy, do you spend a lot of time hacking and/or slashing. Oh, the countless hours that were spent clicking incessantly on various goblins, hobgoblins, skeletons, and conjurers of fire spells, wishing their deaths with all my heart and soul. It would have been nice if I could have held down the mouse button so my character could repeatedly attack.

You are sent on quests, typically by the townsfolk, to either obtain a long-lost item or to defeat a demon. Either way, you're going to have to slay a stronger-than-all-the-others beast because they tend to be holding the item hostage. Along the way, more beastly creatures than you could ever imagine will swarm you and try to steal your life in the name of the great Diablo and friends. It's oftentimes beyond ridiculous just how many hellspawn appear in a single area. Someone overdid it on the demon beckoning spell that day. Thank goodness you can hire someone to back you up, although they sometimes have a strong tendency to follow their own hearts and desires. They can be of extreme help sometimes (the archers, in particular, as they can attack from afar), and other times they end up wandering off or simply serving more like cannon fodder whether you like it or not!

Along the way, those creatures of the night (or, in many cases, the day time) will drop all sorts of goodies, be they gold, weapons, armor, or even special jewels (which I'll discuss a bit later). The stuff they drop can either be equipped or sold for bonus cash. And here's where Diablo II takes a strong nosedive. Unfortunately, the action is spasmodically interrupted by the need to return to town. Typically, the reason is because your extremely limited inventory is full, and you have to sell off all the uninteresting stuff that the monsters dropped. Funny how they so often carry weapons and armor that you can easily equip, but they often fail to make much use of it themselves. The only way to get back to town, aside from spending half of your Saturday wandering back on foot, is to use a Scroll of Town Portal. There goes some hard-earned gold.

Worse yet, many of the items you pick up are "unidentified" and thus you can't really use them (plus they will be sold for a cheaper rate in shops). You can "identify" them with a special scroll, or you can take them to Deckard Cain, a really old man who will follow you like a bad case of potato chip poofs, no matter which town you move to. He'll do it for free (eventually) because you're so helpful and... such. Yeah.

So the quest is incredibly jarring because of your limited inventory. You'll get charms that improve your stats somewhat, but the downside is the space they take up. Luckily, you can stash a few things in your... uh... stash! Back in town, there will be a treasure chest where you can stuff things you want away. It's a good place to store small items, but again, it fills up faster than I fill up after drinking a Dr Pepper too quickly. Add to all of this the inevitable discovery of a Horadric Cube, an item capable of combining multiple lower-end items into a better one. That goes in your stash, which takes up even MORE space. Those familiar with the seemingly bottomless backpacks of console RPGs will be sorely disappointed.

Did I mention you can imbue some weapons and armor with special jewels to further improve their protective abilities? Well, I just did. There you go.

Truly the pinnacle of strange tree rendering.

Now let's talk about death. Death stinks, and it happens. You may be overwhelmed with the blades and claws of your enemies. But it happens nevertheless. When you die, you're sent back to town (alive and well by some miracle). Well, most of you at least. Your body and soul are intact, as well as anything you were carrying in your inventory. You lost the gold you had on hand (and it's gone for good). Worse yet, all of your armor and weaponry are gone. Where did that go? It's right where you left it: attached to your corpse in the exact spot where you met your maker. Yep, you have to wander all the way back to your own corpse to get your stuff back. And when it's surrounded by swarms of nasty beasts of the underworld, you're going to have a tough time getting to it. So many times I had to spend what seemed like an eternity hiking my way back to my own body. It becomes tedious the more you do it. How many games let you do that, though?

You wander the world over, and the world is... well, crusty, to say the least. The environments have certainly improved over the first Diablo. (I specifically recall the lighting on the entrance to the first dungeon in that game resembling salmon-based vomit and internally questioning the art director's vision.) Every area is unique, although there aren't many particularly notable landmarks in the fields. You'll be too busy slicing through monsters to spend time sight-seeing anyhow. And they are indeed gruesome beasts. Extra attention was paid to the death animations of higher-end demons: blood splashes like water after a cannonballer's plunge. That's always fun to look at, isn't it? Your ears don't get much of a workout, however; there isn't much of a soundtrack, aside from ambience. The townsfolk sure are long-winded, though. Anticipate listening to many a boring speech in your travels.

Diablo II can be an exhilarating game at times, but the battling can become awfully repetitive and can lead to a bad case of click-finger from having to click the mouse over and over. The game is fair enough in the lower difficulty levels, but by the time you get to the "Nightmare" level, you may be tempted to remove hair via clenched fists. But the worst offense is the need to constantly revisit the town over and over again; sometimes you'll have to take another trip back after less than a minute of fighting. This leads to a jarring experience, one that could have been streamlined better. I enjoyed the game overall (it's still above and beyond Diablo by a huge margin), but there is still work to be done before a Diablo game can achieve true greatness.

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