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Diablo II By John "Award" Del Percio, August 17, 2000
Developer :Blizzard
Publisher :Blizzard
Release Date :End of June 2000
Demo Available : No
Table of Contents

· Introduction
· Closer Look
· Facts
· Final

You Mean it Froze Over Already? What's Next, Flying Pigs?

One of the first things that had me worried about DiabloII was the character selection. Gone was my favorite, the sorcerer, and was replaced by the five new classes: Amazon (basically, the Rogue), Necromancer (sorcerer that raises undead armies), Barbarian (bash and chop...does it need an explanation?), Paladin (holy warrior with skills in swordsmanship, and protective magics called auras), and lastly, the sorceress. Sorceress?? What happened to my Sorcerer? Ok, fine, I can make it past the gender gap just this once...not that I'll be wearing a dress as I play it, it's only a character. And I was just fine with it. Until I realized as I read on, that on the Realm servers (to be discussed later) will "rank" you after each time you beat the game on a certain skill setting. They give you a nice medieval title too. Only problem, is something just strikes me really wrong being known as "Lady Award" on the servers. The character model, I could live with. That, I most certainly can not. It is unfortunate that they did not pick a model more like that of the Black Isle AD&D games, where you can select gender, skin color and everything to suit your needs, so everybody is covered. So, as much as I loved my old spells, I decided to go and try something new.

As I began my game as a Necromancer, I was greeted by something that looked very familiar, and something very unfamiliar. The first Act of the game (it is divided into four acts), was intentionally designed to look and sound like Diablo1. Only problem is, it did so all too well. It was, of course, not entirely by design that it looked that identical, but the fact that they started work on that act first, and it was much closer to the time of the original Diablo, than were the later acts. What caught me more off guard was the interface. As I launched it, I found myself staring at a screen that once contained a very meaningful interface, and realized I had no clue what I was doing. In short order I had everything all figured out, and was more than impressed with the changes. First of all, there is a mini-bar in the bottom center of your screen. It includes a meter showing your percentage until level-up, and your stamina below it. What's stamina? Well, now you can actually run in the game (remember the long slow walks to Witch Adrian?), but you are limited by your stamina which is determined by vitality. The next nice thing was the toolbar that pops up from the center of the bottom. It contains quick access to everything you need. The inventory screen was the same small old inventory, and, though packed with more info, the character screen is fairly similar as well. The first improvement here, though, was that there is no longer a spell book. Instead, every character has a three-tabbed skill tree, where you get a skill point every level and must build up. For a character such as a barbarian, it is no longer just simple hack and slash (well, no, not as much hack and slash), but you'll have to add to skills such as strengthening your attack, or learning battle cries which work like crude spells. For a sorceress, paladin, or necromancer, there is more actual spells then skills, but it still acts in the same manner.

The citadel's front gate
The games only outdoor/indoor environment
Mauled by the fallen!
Textures look familiar?

Character development has also been vastly improved. No longer do you build up your one stat. Nearly every statistic is just as important. Even magic. Strength boosts your attack, and allows you to wear better armor and wield better weapons. Dexterity boosts attack rating (sort of like a chance to hit), your defense, and allows you to use better swords. Vitality goes without saying, and magic you'll need for your non-passive skills. You will be torn deciding how to upgrade your character which adds quite a new element to the game.

Storage has also been slightly improved. While you're still limited to a small inventory, you have a permanent stash in every town that allows you to store gold and items outside of your character inventory. It also has a quest item later in the game that allows you to store more stuff.

On the down side of the game is the graphics. Overall, if you compare them to Diablo, they are worlds apart. If you're using hardware acceleration, it supports colored lighting, and a new "perspective mode", where the buildings and objects actually scroll separately from the ground, and warp a bit to give a true perspective view. On the down side, is the fact that it is still only 2D, uses 8bit paletted textures, doesn't anti-alias the textures, and the sprites still show a lot of "snapping" into position, (see also Starcraft, and Warcraft). They did greatly increase the number of frames of animation for the characters, but not as much as could have been. Monsters have terrible animation still. You would think that this was for the sake of speed, but Diablo II is still one of the largest memory hogs I have seen of the largest I have seen ever. I also only pulled about 10-16 fps on my system. Granted it's not the world's hottest system, but I should have definitely seen more frames than that, considering games with much higher color depth and resolution pull more frames for me. It is certainly more cumbersome than it could have been.

Nothing says loving like bodies and blood pools
Thou shalt not disturb
Welcome to Lut Golhein
Sprang a treasure trap!

While the mini-map is an improvement (which is good, because you'll still always need it. You'll actually be utilizing it quite a bit more now since there are larger outdoor areas), and looks a bit more descriptive, the same can not be said for all of the in-game graphics. Much of the game, does look fairly nice, terrain-wise, but ActI is simply sad. It's dated graphics are rather reminiscent of Diablo, though as much as I loved Diablo, I didn't want to re-live it's graphics. The ActI graphics consist of green grass, and some rocks. The town is a Rogue encampment with some rather flat looking structures, and the dungeons look like textures re-used from the monastery of Diablo (and probably are). While the graphics don't pick up until ActII (and believe me, they really do get nice), the story seems to cut off in ActIV. It builds up for the whole game, and by the time you get to ActIV, there is little character interaction, and the whole mission just becomes "Kill Diablo".

Finally the last bone to pick with the game is (kindly endeared by many, Battle.lag.) One of the strongest points of the game is its multiplayer support. While cheating ran rampant, and player killers were like a plague to all honest players for Diablo, that dilemma was solved for DiabloII. The Realms store the character on Blizzards servers, not on your computer where you can edit them. Now you must declare hostilities in town before you can kill. But, the servers have one little problem. They're over-crowded. It is difficult at times to get a stable game running, and when you finally do, you find yourself lagged. You can tell you're lagged when you and your party are teleporting, and none of you are sorceresses, or when you keep swiping at an enemy and never hitting them, only for them to kill themselves on one of the spells you're using. This has been a nightmare for even the veteran players on the ladders. Though now that I've been a bit too hard on the game, it's time to get back to the good parts.

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