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Caprice Bourret


Diablo II

There are certain events that mark a year, a decade, a century; it is these happenings that help to define the period within our own minds and within the pages of history. So momentous are they that most people can remember every relevant detail, every thought or emotion associated with the matter in question. So powerful are they that they will forever reside within our hearts and minds, in some form or another. This was the fate of such cultural phenomena as the O.J. Simpson verdict, C.N.N's coverage of the Gulf War, the tragic death of Princess Diana...and, of course, Diablo. Storming violently and purposefully across the gaming landscape back in 1997, this title forever redefined the concept of addiction as it claimed the ceaseless attention of millions of fans across the globe with its simple-as-Hell hack'n'slash antics. Part action, part RPG, Diablo went on to become one of the top-selling games of all time, with one of the most avid and dedicated fan bases ever seen. With the added promise of eternally free online play, would-be demon-slayers and player-killers alike have kept Diablo's spirit alive to this day, and potentially beyond. With this in mind, it's not difficult to understand how the long-awaited Diablo II has generated legendary amounts of hype, lending itself as one of the most anticipated sequels of all time. The question remains, however: Can a colossal beast such as this live up to its own legacy?

In order to properly address this particularly potent question, one must first consider Diablo II's various facets, the least of which being its storyline. Fans of the initial outing will remember its story well, as they look fondly upon the time spent and the horrors witnessed deep below the surface of the small town of Tristram. Though barely a speck on the world of Sanctuary, this once-quiet populace played a key role in the saga of the Western Kingdom. As the tale is told, the cataclysmic war between Good and Evil that has raged for all time, temporarily took pause when humankind first graced the land. Looking to seize control for themselves, Hell's four Lesser Evils successfully ejected the three Prime Evils from their fiery abode. This left Baal, the Lord of Destruction, Mephisto, the Lord of Hatred, and Diablo, the Lord of Terror to ravage the lands with unholy impunity. It was not long before a dedicated group known as the Horadric Order took it upon themselves to put a stop to the endless carnage, devising three Soulstones in which the Demonic Three were then imprisoned. Although these shards were then buried beneath the lands of Tristram, the sands of Aranoch and the jungles of Kehjistan, it was not long before Diablo found a way to escape his prison, infecting the soul of the nearby town. A mysterious stranger, embodied by the player, eventually drove Diablo back into the Soulstone, and then rammed it into his own forehead in order to ensure that the Lord of Terror would never again be free.

Unfortunately, evil is not easily contained, and the stranger emerged into Tristram a tortured soul, never informing anyone as to his actions. As he recuperated amongst the jubilant townsfolk, a noticeable change fell over him, his manner becoming dark, foreboding and aloof. Often waking in the middle of the night, screaming or babbling in tongues, the stranger began to draw a few curious glances from those who had considered him their savior. It was not long before he announced in a voice not his own that he was heading East, to find his brothers...even though it was believed that the stranger had no family. Shortly after his departure, Tristram and its surrounding lands were suddenly and inexplicably assaulted by the forces of Evil; the local populace was helpless to stop it, either dying terrible deaths or becoming corrupt and joining the ranks of Hell's minions. Similar destruction followed the Dark Wanderer wherever he went, brutal violence marking his somber path across the land. Horrific beasts slaughter the innocent with wild abandon as chaos reigns supreme; Diablo has returned.

With the country's defenders either dead or corrupted, the former Hero possessed, and with Deckard Cain -- the last of the Horadrim -- missing, the land is in desperate need for someone to reclaim it from the horrific clutches of evil. This is where you come in, once again set as a lone, inexperienced would-be hero with an axe or staff, as the case may be, to grind. However, instead of simply setting you loose in and underneath a single city, your quest to bring down the Ultimate Evil will see you travelling across the entire country in a playing field that is three to four times larger than that of the original.

To ease the transition and to make the journey a little easier to handle, the action is split into chapters, or Acts, with each one possessing their own environment, characters, monsters, items and so on. For instance, the first Act, created to slowly introduce fans to the new title, begins in a rogue encampment not far from Tristram, near a mountain pass that leads to the East. As such, you will initially be exposed to randomly generated, sparsely forested grasslands, with dungeons littered about in the appropriate places. Throwbacks like skeletons, zombies and Fallen Ones will assault you at nearly every turn, with a few variations thrown in for good measure. When you defeat the Lesser Evil that has taken residence in the darkest pits of the first area, you will be offered a cutscene to drive the story forward, and will then be carried into the arid deserts of Lut Gholein. In turn, this new location offers many new creatures to fear and destroy, like the venom-spitting Sand Maggots, or undead-resurrecting Mummies. The third and fourth acts work similarly, transporting you to the thick, impenetrable jungles of Kurast, and finally to the darkest, most vile pits of Hell. Regardless of where you go, however, you'll be mercilessly slaughtering the vast armies of Hell in order to complete NPC-assigned quests that are no longer randomized, instead having a static order that facilitates its ongoing storyline. Although it is not absolutely necessary to complete all the quests, doing so will provide you with gold and other helpful items, the least of which being the experience that you'll need to advance your character.

Along with the newfound variety in territory and quest availability comes new possibilities in character selection. Instead of the standard three characters -- four, if you purchased Hellfire -- from the original, you are now able to choose from a whopping five different types to do your bidding in the war-torn world of Sanctuary. Returning in somewhat modified form is the Rogue, known this time around as the Amazon. Though she is equally adept with the bow as her counterpart, the Amazon has the added ability to manipulate spears and throwing weapons with considerable skill and accuracy. The Warrior also returns in a somewhat distorted fashion, as the battle-hungry Barbarian emerges onto the scene. Far more primal and physical than their comrades-in-arms, Barbarians can call upon the very essence of nature to enhance their strength-driven abilities. As you would expect, the traditional magic user returns once more, but instead as an Elementally-charged female Sorceress rather than the previously male character. This isn't to say that the magical realm is devoid of male personalities, as the Necromancer makes his debut. Specializing in death magic, as you would expect, this individual dedicates much of his time to cursing his foes while recruiting the undead to do his bidding. This is a stark contrast with the final character type, the law-abiding Paladin, whose holy nature allows him to draw upon highly beneficial Auras and other such virtuous magic to implement his will. As each of these characters possess a different set of skills and abilities, the strategies needed to safeguard them from Evil will vary, lending a considerably different feel to each.

Perhaps the most significant addition to the mix is that of the skill system. Instead of possessing pre-determined innate abilities or purchasing spell books, as was the case in the original Diablo, each individual has access to three character-specific skill trees, which grow and expand according to your decisions and existing abilities. The Paladin, for instance, may invest in Combat Skills, as well as Offensive and Defensive Auras. If he wishes to use the Meditation skill of the Defensive Aura tree, he must already be able to use Prayer, Cleansing, and be of a certain level. Along the same lines, the Necromancer may choose from Curses, Poison and Bone Spells, and Summoning Spells; can only call upon the Iron Golem if he's attained Level 24 and has already researched the Clay and Blood Golems. Constantly casting spells could prove to be a severe drain on one's mana stores if it were the only way to activate skills, but fortunately there are several modes that each possess their own benefits and drawbacks. For example, active skills such as the Sorceress' Fire Bolt must be cast in order to use, thereby using up a certain amount of mana. Passive skills, such as the Amazon's Critical Strike, are constantly active without needing to be cast nor requiring any mana. The Paladin's unique Auras function much in the same manner, imbuing himself and all who travel with him with the appropriate elemental resistance or radiant ability when activated. Necromantic Curses also function in this manner, affecting surrounding foes with negative effects, rather than benefiting grouped allies. Despite the immeasurable value that the skill trees add to each character, it's extremely important to consider your investments, as only one skill point is attributed per level, either leaving you to upgrade an existing skill or to branch off and select a new one. Such decisions can completely alter the course of your adventuring, and thus require careful thought before putting them into action.

The hunt for bigger, better and more potent items was part of the original Diablo's appeal, a fact not lost on Blizzard. Consequently, a great many more items and item types have been integrated into the sequel for discovery by curious and ambitious adventurers. As expected, there are the "standard" Magic Items, which are considered to be the most common of the bunch, and consequently offer a moderate to good benefit, such as an added bonus to attack, defense, or statistics. There are also the intermediate Rare Items, which are much more obscure and powerful than the Magic Items, as each contains a minimum of three added benefits. Additionally, for the divinely fortunate, there are the Unique Items, creations of immeasurable power that are the envy of all those who behold them. Such items possess several separate benefits of considerable importance, and can be sold to vendors for an incredibly large sum.

New to the series are the surpassingly hard to find Sets, which contain three or more themed items which complement one another. For example, the Vidala's Rig set consists of an amulet, leather armor, light plated boots and a long battle bow, respectively titled Vidala's Snare, Vidala's Ambush, Vidala's Fetlock and Vidala's Barb. Although Vidala's Fetlock, which provides you with a quicker running ability as well as a 150-point bonus to your stamina, is impressive in itself, it works considerably better when combined with Vidala's Ambush, which increases your defense by 50 points and your dexterity by 11. Altogether, the set would be well-suited for a fleet-footed, high-damage Amazon, and as such provides a very unique and distinct goal to strive for.

If Sets prove too elusive, however, there are more attainable goals to pursue within the realm of Socketed Items. Another newcomer, such items are no-frills, non-magical objects such as helms, shields or weapons that possess open holes or "sockets," in which gems may be inserted for additional benefit. Although Socketed Items aren't difficult to find, the gems that are required to enhance them certainly are, and range in quality from chipped, flawed, normal, and flawless, to perfect. The item which they are inserted into is also a relevant factor, as a normal diamond slipped into a weapon will imbue said weapon with a 136- to 145 percent damage bonus, whereas it will give a 20-point attack bonus when inserted into a helm, and a 9- to 11-point bonus to all elemental resistances when slotted into a shield. Although initially unimpressive, these benefits can grow to levels of considerable power as one progresses and discovers gems of increasing quality. However, the question still has not been answered: Is Diablo II entertaining enough to be worth all the trouble?

What does a sequel have to present to fans in order to be considered a worthy successor? Arguably, it should contain the same general, entertaining gameplay as the original, while presenting sufficient innovation and refinement to distinguish itself as a separate title. Considering Diablo's simplistic, repetitious, click-fest nature, it seems safe enough to say that Diablo II is, for the most part, a success. Like its predecessor, it includes hours of pointing and clicking as you bash dozens of variations of the dozens of monster types, exploring randomized terrain and collecting hard-to-find items. This is what we have come to expect from the original, and it is what we expected from the sequel, which it delivers. We also expected enough changes and additions to push the limits of what we already knew, which it also delivers. The skill tree greatly expands upon the character development, just as the colossal terrain allows for far more exploration than was previously possible in the series. Along with mercenaries, storage areas and much, much more, Diablo II offers a great deal in the way of originality, with general success.

This isn't to say that Diablo II is without its faults: the frustrating and occasionally abrupt learning curve, the somewhat moronic mercenary AI, and severe instability of servers all erode at your patience, each providing their own unique set of problems. Still, when all is said and done, it's not these elements that will see you walk away from the game for good. It's the fact that, even with the shiniest bells and the loudest whistles, Diablo II is still about one thing, and one thing only: point, click, and hack 'n' slash. No matter what you add to it, this is the basic variable that you'll follow over and over and over, from the title's hideous beginning to its awe-inspiring end. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide whether or not you had your fill of the "one track mind" variable within the first Diablo, or whether you're aching to give it another go. If you're looking to delve into its repetitive world once more, Diablo II is actually a fun, and yes, addictive offering. Is it the game of the year that we were all expecting? I would say no. Still, the much-needed additions help to drive the longevity past the now-defunct novelty. Generally speaking, it is a great experience, and offers a lot of fun to anyone who's willing to set their expectations aside for a highly entertaining, action-filled romp. In the realm of the click-fest, Diablo II still reigns supreme.


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