My Armies Will Destroy You!
I really can't figure out why the game is named Diablo II. Unlike the first game, the storyline does not focus on Diablo, but rather, Baal. The new Act 5 is somewhat mis-placed, though it fits into the storyline just fine, because it follows the forgotten act, Act IV. A game named Diablo really should end with a character named Diablo, in my opinion. On the other hand, I quite like the new act, it is the most quality act in the game, and has a truly different feel. Its nice and long (unlike the previous final act), it has several great quests, it has tons of experience available, usually leading to eight or more level-ups to about level 33 or so before beating the game . The snow drift and ice-glacial environment, along with the epic orchestral music in it made me think I was playing Icewind Dale instead of Diablo II, which, honestly, in terms of atmosphere, is a welcome feeling. The new act consists of three major section types. The above-ground which acts like a continuing battle with imps, slayers and crush beasts is the first area you go do. Barbarians are also running about and fighting as well. There are catapults around which hurl large balls of magical damage across the map at you, there are siege towers that an imp can hop into and cast Inferno at you. They also do the same by hopping into the basket carried by crush beasts. There are fortified walls lining the area and you can break down doors and barricades in the walls to advance. It's a very different feeling from the rest of the game. The glacial areas are bluish ice worlds where succubi (remember them from Diablo 1? Actually quite a few D1 things made their way back to the game including items with charges of spells.) and other ice monsters roam. The temples feature putrid defilers (which seem to have borrowed a sound effect or two from the Zerg Overlord in Starcraft) and various skeletons. The quests in the new act are also a bit more dynamic and interesting, though one of them, it's unfortunately possible to lose it, causing you to start a new game for a second attempt (which takes some time). If you lose it you can hire no Act V hirelings, the barbarians. and you miss out on three runes. Finally, in the new act, there are some Evil Urns throughout. These are basically like monster shrines, except they summon champions many times, but they're great for experience and item collecting.
But the new act is only a small portion of what the expansion provides. Perhaps one of the greatest additions of all is the new system for hirelings. You can now equip them with good armor, a weapon or weapon and shield, and a helm. They have their own magic resistances and stat points as well. They can level up with experience, though they allocate their own points. They can now be resurrected when they die, making them rather useful if you keep them with you the entire game and continue leveling them up. They really can do damage, too, at times even more than a sorceress in the making.
In addition to hordes of new items, item sets, etc, is the class-specific item list. Similar to the staves the sorceress always had, and the scepters for paladins, and wands for necros, all classes now have truly class specific items. The druid has animal furs to wear as helms for skill boosts, the necro has heads which are used as shields for skill boosts, the paladin gets special shields, the sorceress gets orbs (finally the boosts of a staff, but the ability to carry a shield), the barbarian has barbarian helms, the amazon gets bows, pikes and javelins that give +1 or more to all skills in the relevant skill tab. The assassin is an unusual character, and while she has her own class-specific item, it's different than these. There are also new generic and class-specific item sets to find as well.
Jewels don't really improve on gems too much, in fact, many of them are just plain useless, though occasionally you find a rare jewel with a host of enchantments. Runes don't do much on their own, but using runewords to make an ordinary item into a unique item with the base properties of the original item makes all the difference of the game. Item crafting also is a great asset. Using a set combination of an item, a jewel, a specific gem, and a specific rune, you can sort of "gamble for rares". You're guaranteed a rare for your gamble in the cube, but it may or may not be a good one, the only sure bet is it will have the recipe's specific enchantments (such as life leech and enhanced damage for the blood recipes). Charms also make a great addition to the game. Charms are jewelry that you hold in your inventory to get bonuses rather than wear. Unfortunately, they can really consume inventory space, but they are certainly worth it if you find some good ones.
Finally, the two new character classes deserve a bit of an explanation. The assassin is the one that has been getting all the attention, though I really have no idea why. Both new classes incorporate hybrid ideas from the other classes, though the assassin is more unique than the druid. The assassin has martial arts abilities in which she "charges up" a skill by repeatedly striking monsters with it, and then using a "finishing move" (normal attack, or one of special attacks including teleport-kicking) to discharge the skill. Her strong point, though, is her traps and her shadow mastery. She can make a shadow, or "clone" of herself that is a completely AI controlled version of the player, but with access to all skills even ones the player doesn't have, and causes less melee damage and has less life. Traps are highly useful, both from yourself and your shadow. Basically they are remotely discharged versions of sorceress spells (and one has corpse explosion) that can be cast into a rooms to toast it before the player ever enters. In normal my assassin was able to clear the entire game in two days. She's fast. Unfortunately, the moment she hits nightmare, she's doomed. Her skills are incredibly highly-powered for normal skill, but after that they barely scale up, usually by only a few points additional benefit from the previous level. She barely hopes to survive in nightmare and beyond.
The druid on the other hand is a far more balanced character. He's really a cross between a barbarian, paladin, sorceress, and necromancer. In the beginning he relies mostly on morphing into an animal and attacking with extra strong attacks (barbarian), as time goes on, he begins to gain some minions such as the vines that can fuel his health or mana by eating corpses, and the wolves and bears that follow him around and attack like a golem (necro). He then begins to summon spirit minions that cast auras, leading up to a "thorns" aura (paladin). In the end though, all of that is useless after he discovers hurricane and armageddon. Hurricane is pretty much a cross between bone-shield and firewall. It is a lage-radius shield that orbits the player but instead of protecting, it gives high amounts of cold damage to anyone who enters it. Similar to hurricane is armageddon. Also following the caster, armageddon is like an overly powered cross between meteor and blizzard. The druid is now the perfect sorceress in high level. And the great part is that his level 30 skills scale extremely well, making him, perhaps, one of the most powerful classes in the game, despite his incredible weakness before level 30. He's really what the necromancer should have been.
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