Diablo II: Lord of Destruction

Developed by Blizzard Entertainment, the original Diablo, upon its release back in 1996, enjoyed solid critical reception, with many crediting it to creating a subgenre of point-and-click RPGs. Given its success, it was hardly unsurprising that Blizzard announced a sequel, which saw its release at the turn of the century, enjoying similar reception. A year later saw the release of an expansion to the sequel, Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, with many changes enhancing the original and additional content. Both the sequel and its expansion prove to be solid titles, in spite of their flaws.

Upon starting a new game, the player can choose from seven different character classes, each with their own unique abilities. Furthermore, the sequel ditches its predecessor's roguelike setup in favor of vast fields connected to a hub town that have occasional dungeons, with said fields and dungeons being random, though luckily they don't regenerate whenever the player reenters them, unless the player plays in multiplayer mode. The premise of the sequel is similar to its predecessor, where enemies will charge the player's character and attack him or her, although the player can naturally fight back by pointing on an enemy with the mouse and clicking it to execute a normal attack.

Upon gaining enough experience, the player's character will level, providing five points the player can invest into the character's four main stats, and one point they can invest into one of three of the selected class's skill trees, which is when the fun really begins. The player can assign different commands to the left and right mouse buttons, including skills that consume Mana. Mana gradually regenerates as time elapses, so the player can typically make liberal use of skills, with Mana Potions refilling Mana much faster. As in the first game, moreover, the player has a Health meter in addition to a Mana gauge, with Health Potions recovering health, albeit at a slower rate than Mana, so when Health is low, it's typically a good idea to run out of the enemies' attack range until it recovers.

As in the original Diablo, enemies drop plenty loot and money, with the player's inventory space, as with before, having a limit, so frequent trips back to town will occur via teleportation scrolls that the player can buy from shops. The limited inventory space can be annoying, although the frequent item drops will typically provide the player enough money to buy equipment upgrades and items, with shop inventories randomly generating whenever the player exits and ultimately reenters the hub town in one of the game's five acts. Weapons and armor have a durability stat that gradually goes down as the player attacks and takes damage, though the player can luckily repair equipment for a price.

Pieces of equipment can have sockets into which the player can place gems, and, new in the expansion, runes, with an item acquired in the second act, the Horadric Cube (which can somewhat increase inventory space if kept in the player's main inventory), allowing the player to synthesize more powerful gems out of weaker incarnations. Also new in the expansion are charms that provide passive stat increases and abilities simply by keeping them in the main inventory, thus forcing the player to choose between constantly picking up loot and enjoying the benefits of said charms. Yet another feature new in the expansion is class-specific equipment, such as claws for the Assassin class, special shields for the Paladin, and so forth.

Diablo II and its expansion handle character death in an interesting fashion. Should the player's character die, they return to town with no equipment, and in order to recover their gear, the player must venture to the place where they died and loot their character's own corpse. Fortunately, should the player die again during this process, the prior corpse left behind by the player's prior death will remain where they died. Ultimately, the sheer variety of gameplay in Diablo II and its expansion is reason enough to play the game, although there are definitely some flaws such as the sluggish recovery rate of Health Potions, and difficulty of healing hired AI-controlled mercenaries in the heat of combat, although the gameplay definitely helps the game more than hurts.

The controls in the sequel and its expansion are superficially decent, with nice use of the keyboard and mouse, although there are some flaws, such as the save system being a step down from the original game's. Whereas the original Diablo allowed the player to save and continue their game anywhere, saving in Diablo II forces the player to quit the game, forcing repetition of traversal of fields and dungeons, though luckily, special portals provide rapid conveyance among visited fields, and the game runs free of crashes. The limited inventory is another annoyance, and even the player's stash in each act's hub town has a limit on how much it can hold. Ultimately, control could have been better.

The story could have been, as well, although the FMVs between acts are decent, involving a dark wanderer and his servant, with the quests throughout each act of the game occasionally providing decent backstory, as well, although the player's character is devoid of any development, with only minor different in occasional NPC dialogue depending on the chosen class. Ultimately, the plot isn't as much of a reason to play the game as, say, the gameplay.

The musical score could have been better, too, given its generally unmemorable and typically ambivalent nature, except in the extra act available in Lord of Destruction, which features a gorgeous neoclassical style. The sound effects are excellent, however, and the voice acting is definitely superb for a game released at the turn of the century. Ultimately, the aurals are slight above average, although the music doesn't help the game as much as it could have.

The graphics, though, are a high point, with superb blood and gore effects and a photorealistic style in the scenery, not to mention solid FMVs. However, the lighting, whether light or dark, can be a problem at times, sometimes obscuring the play screen, but otherwise, the game looks great.

Finally, completing Diablo II and its expansion takes around forty hours, with few sidequests aside from completely mapping each area, although a New Game+ mode can allow the player to experience the game again, and the variety of classes definitely enhances replayability, though the slightly hard difficulty could be a mild turnoff to going through the game again. Ultimately, Diablo II: Lord of Destruction is a decent expansion that expands well upon an already-decent game. Granted, it does have its flaws such as limited inventory and the average plot and soundtrack, although it's definitely worth experiencing by any RPG fan.

The Good:
+Solid battle system with tons of variety and classes.
+Great graphics.
+Superb voice acting.
+Infinite replayability.

The Bad:
-Frequent trips back to town due to limited inventory.
-Average story and soundtrack.

The Bottom Line:
A decent sequel despite its flaws.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Difficulty: Varies Among Characters
Playing Time: About 40 Hours

Overall: 7/10

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