The original Diablo released way back in 1997 to critical acclaim, and its legacy has been clear from the not-so-subtle clones to the inspiration it has had on all facets of gaming. Needless to say, its follow-up, Diablo II, had a lot to live up to.
Being that it’s a sequel, Diablo II’s story takes place after the original game. The warrior from Diablo defeated the titular Diablo only to be corrupted by his power, causing demons to enter the world and do demon-y things – like killing, killing, and more killing. You take the role of a new hero aiming to finally deal with and destroy the evil within him. The game is split into four main acts, one-upping the typical three-act structure. A following fifth act was later added with Diablo II’s expansion.
As the very brief explanation of story sets up, the world of Diablo is a dark fantasy taking inspiration from the likes of traditional Tabletop RPGs, classic Action RPGs and more. It’s often gritty and dark and nothing emphasises this more than its central world, Sanctuary. Its residents are hopeless and filled with dread and despair, the world is filled with awful demons and people, and there is no obvious escape. You are one of few hopeful characters and, given the events of the first Diablo, we know how that turned out.
This is where the gameplay starts. In the original Diablo, there were separate classes but most of them had big similarities, meaning your base build would often be quite similar. Diablo II is not this. It featured 5 classes: Amazon, Barbarian, Necromancer, Paladin, and Sorceress. These all felt distinct and had skills that really made them stand out. Amazon uses spears and bows which, combined with active skills, make her versatile and action-heavy. Barbarians use heavy but close quarter weaponry, opting for moves such as swings and bashes. The Necromancer is a rather passive class, opting to summon minions more than attacking himself. Paladins use prayer-based moves to buff and heal allies or smite enemies. And finally, the Sorceress works very much like a standard mage using fire, lightning, and cold spells. These five classes gave a great deal of choice to your playstyle, really making you connect to the character. For instance, playing as the Necromancer often makes you play from a distance and his voice lines help to build him as a character. Shouting “All who oppose me… beware” solidifies his unruly and cold tone whereas the Paladin’s “I will cleanse this wilderness” emphasises his faith-based personality.
Personality is a word that sums up Diablo II very well. As a way of messing with fans who believed there were cows present in the first Diablo for no real reason, a “screenshot of the week” was posted on April 1st 1999 showing cows. People wondered if there was a secret cow level present in Diablo II that they didn’t know about. It turns out, through a convoluted ritual, this was actually true. A portal was spawned at the Rogue Encampment that led to the cow level and the boss “Cow King”. This has since become one of gaming’s biggest Easter Eggs. The reason probably isn’t due to the cow level alone but the stark contrast in tone to the rest of the game. Dark fantasy is a genre that takes itself very seriously and Blizzard’s willingness to flip that on his head became downright shocking at the time. To so casually contrast a gritty game with a ludicrous level shows a clear personality.
This is something even felt within Diablo II’s gameplay. It has a focus on fun above all else. Whilst there are incredibly punishing difficulty levels, any class can become overpowered rather quickly with its unique loot system. The combat is a mix of hack and slash and RPG with a focus on special skills and strategically planning out your encounter. Each successful kill or chest looted awards a random piece of loot. That loot has a random quality determining its effectiveness, meaning you can kill one enemy and acquire a great piece of armour, or kill 100 and end up getting terrible pieces, if the luck – or lack thereof – is there. Like every other factor in Diablo, this makes it wildly addicting. Its quick TTK paired with the chance of winning great loot feeds into an instant feedback loop that powers you through to 3am chanting “One more kill, one more kill”.
The overall theming and consistency to every aspect of Diablo II made it both memorable and revolutionary in its field upon launch back in 2000. Its oppressive gothic atmosphere sucks you in whilst the lore, gameplay and customization keeps you playing. And that ensures that it makes a mark after the first hour or the 100th. Whilst Diablo 3 was solid a little while after launch and the original Diablo was pretty great, Diablo II remains the most liked and memorable of the three; every single pixel was made with a love and dedication that is just so impossibly hard to find. It might be a little outdated now and many games have taken aspects from it, but there’s nothing like playing the original.