|There was a time when swords-and-sorcery epics had a feeling of hope. Things might look bad for our little band of adventurers right now, but you just knew in the end that they’d beat the bad guy, discover piles of treasure and ride off into the sunset with the princess. |
Not so much any more. These days, victory comes at great cost. Witness the end of the first Diablo game, where our hero realizes the only way to contain the evil is to shove the crystal shard containing it through his forehead. That’s where the second game opens. A rat-faced prisoner tells his captor about the night a strange wanderer staggered into a seedy bar. It soon becomes apparent that said wanderer is the first game’s hero — and it also soon becomes apparent that the hero isn’t as able to contain Diablo’s evil as he’d thought. Within minutes, the bar is burning and the narrator is following the wanderer east.
What a great theme: Good is subverted (mostly due to one hero’s hubris) and must be re-evaluated before the evil can be destroyed. Sure, few players will stop to ponder that in the midst of all the hacking, but you can be sure Diablo 2’s writers did.
Did I mention the hacking? Because Diablo 2 is all about the combat. Yes, it’s technically both action and role-playing, but the RPG elements really just determine how good the player can be at killing monsters. And there are plenty of monsters in this game that need killin’.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the player must select a class. This time around, the choices are amazon, barbarian, necromancer, paladin and sorceress. Each class has its own highs and lows, and each has a unique set of skills. When most games say each class has a "unique set of skills," they mean they’ve simply renamed similar skills five times. Not here. These are truly class-specific, meaning players who want to replay the game as different classes will radically have to alter their strategies.
Unfortunately, that’s the last of the game’s class-specific elements (excluding some equipment that grants higher bonuses to certain classes). Quests, storylines, dialogue — all are the same from here on out. Which is understandable; the game is damn massive as it is.
Anyhoo, our new hero is on the trail of the Dark Wanderer — it’s never really explained why. He’s soon guided by Deckard Cain (from the first game) and the angel Tyrael, an ancient enemy of Diablo. The chase takes the player through four distinct lands, each with really nice graphics and effects. Killing monsters and completing quests grants experience; at each level-up, the player can raise our hero’s stats (strength, dexterity, vitality and magic ability) and add or enhance one of the class-specific skills.
Control is simple point and click, only getting unwieldy with the pop-up screens — it’s a bad idea to try and juggle inventory when monsters are around, because the play screen is reduced by half. Ditto with the skills and stats screens.
The story sometimes makes reference to other heroes trying to stop the DW who, it turns out, is heading east to free Diablo’s two fellow Prime Evils, Mephisto and Baal. Here’s the first of the game’s few problems: What exactly is the time element here? Our hero seems pretty close on DW’s tail — at one point the player can even run into him — but at other times plot points make it seem as though Diablo stopped to wreak havoc in each land. And the number of monsters (freed by Diablo’s passing influence) certainly indicates the big D has been in each area a while.
Also, the game’s odd respawn rule is problematic. Every time the player quits the game, all monsters are restored. Even boss monsters. That means no quick "I have an hour to spare" games, unless the player just wants to add a little experience to a character. Count on spending quite a few hours at a clip to make any sort of real progress. Unfortunately, even then it’s a feeling of two steps forward, one step back.
The differences between the Windows and Macintosh releases are… well… there are none. Where, in the past, the Mac releases of popular Windows games always have some additions, from easter eggs in Madden 2000 to colored mouse-icons in SimCity 3000, Blizzard made sure that no differences in visual enticements or actual gameplay appeared in this sequel. Wait, there is one difference. Mac gamers can play with their traditional one-button mouse, since the option of using the Command-key in place of the second button exists. This is a tedious combination at best. A simple word of advice: buy a two-button mouse.
Aside from minor flaws previously mentioned, Diablo 2 is a great mix of action and RPG. Definitely worth the wait.