Diablo 2 Retrospective

As we count down the minutes to Diablo 3‘s release, we figured now would be a good time to look back on the previous installment in the series in an informal review to see what made this franchise so popular and where there was room for improvement. If you’ve somehow not played Diablo 2, then you’ll be able to glean whether this type of game is for you.

(Note: We’ll be discussing Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction, as that was D2 in its final form)

Players expecting Diablo 2 to be a traditional RPG like Baldur’s Gate will be disappointed — D2 is an action-RPG, heavy on the fast-paced action and light on the RPG elements. Your character gains experience and levels up, allocates stat- and skill-points, and embarks on quests, but spends little time interacting with NPCs in any meaningful way.

While D2 does have a story, your character is not integrally tied to it, and the story itself is only tenuously integrated with the gameplay. Instead, compelling cinematics serve as the narrative medium, and Blizzard’s standard-setting work is at play here.

Each of the game’s seven classes is distinct both in flavor and gameplay style: the Amazon, skilled with bow, javelin and spear; the Assassin, martial artist and trap-setter skilled with claw weapons and punching daggers; the Necromancer, who raises undead armies while cursing and poisoning his foes; the Barbarian, a brutish melee warrior that can use any weapon to deadly effect; the Sorceress, master of cold, lightning, and fire spells; the Paladin, a holy warrior in shining armor; and the Druid, a shapeshifter that summons animals and harnesses the forces of nature.

Different build options are available to each class, but viable builds are difficult to come by, and mistakes you make in allocating skill points early on can handicap your character and limit your survivability at high levels. You’ll ultimately want to follow one of the tried and tested builds you can find on the internet, or be a trailblazer and, through trial, error, and theory-crafting, come up with your own.

D2 is a game that is at once simple and complex, superficially shallow in concept but actually harboring great depth. Even a child can quickly master D2′s basics — click the hell out of everything you see — but beneath the surface is a number of game systems that allow for customization, variety, and complexity: hirable mercenary companions, swappable weapon sets, crafting, gambling, items that can be infused with stat-bolstering gems, jewels, and runes, different combinations of runes that confer various bonuses, and a whole crafting system revolving around a magic cube that allows you to combine different items in different ways to see what comes out the other end.

Another layer of complexity comes in the form of magic charms that you keep in your inventory, which bestow various bonuses. However, they lead to tiresome Tetris-style inventory management, and the limit to how many charms you hold onto is how much free space you’d like to reserve for item drops. The player must then struggle to decide how much inventory space to free up at the cost of character optimization, which simply isn’t a fun decision to make.

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1 Comment on Diablo 2 Retrospective

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On May 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm

“Ultimately, the recipe for Diablo 2′s tremendous success and longevity is …”

Blizzard North.

I miss them … :( .