Published in The National on August 25, 2000

Simply diabolic


By Daniel Lam
The endless stream of the Fallen threatened to overwhelm even the likes of Valianor. How many of the foul creatures have tasted the bitter sting of death under his trusty blade? Too many to count ... at any rate the knight was too tired, too worn out. His right arm - the sword arm - had swung his sword too many a time, the muscles too knotted, forcing him to use his left. Still he dealt death with ease, but that was easily half a day past. As he waited for them to come - he was too tired to advance - he wondered if the next blow, the next slash, would be his last....

Welcome to the world of Diablo II. When I first played Diablo in late 1996, it signalled an end to my hours of sleep, reducing it to a pitiful fraction of what I needed. But it was worth it, in a sense. At the conclusion of the game I felt great relief ... now I can live again!

Then they had to announce the sequel. Thankfully Diablo II was released only after a number of delays, or more of my precious youth would have been drained playing day in and day out. Now I'm not quite so young anymore....

What you need
While Diablo ran on simpler PCs (minimum requirements were a Pentium 60, 8MB RAM, a 2X CD-ROM drive and a decent video card that supports DirectX), Diablo II requires no less than a 233MHz processor (Pentium II 266MHz recommended), 850MB hard disk space and 32MB RAM. Diablo came on one CD ... Diablo II comes in three (the installation CD, the play CD and the cinematics CD). Like its predecessor, Diablo II can be played over the Internet or a network. I'll just focus on the single player portion.

What's in Diablo II
Players choose a character to play in Diablo II: a Paladin, a Sorceress, a Barbarian, an Amazon or a Necromancer (in Diablo there were only three choices: Warrior, Rogue and Sorcerer). Choosing the right character is important, because some characters would require pretty good mouse clicking skills. Diablo II, like its predecessor, is a game that requires minimal brainpower. Your character goes from point A to point B, fighting all the way. There are plenty of monsters to fight, that much is true.

The Storyline
In Diablo the player starts off in the town of Tristram, where he or she discovers that some evil force has taken residence in an old cathedral near town. The evil force is Diablo himself, who has corrupted no less than a priest and a prince. At the end of the game, after Diablo's supposed defeat, the demon possesses the hero/heroine. In Diablo II, the aforementioned demon is back, and has allied himself with other like-minded monstrosities to enslave the entire human race. The blurb says:

"Since the beginning of time the forces of Order and Chaos have been engaged in an eternal struggle to decide the fate of all Creation. That struggle has now come to the Mortal Realm...

And neither Man, Demon, nor Angel will be left unscathed...

After possessing the body of the hero who defeated him, Diablo resumes his nefarious scheme to shackle humanity into unholy slavery by joining forces with the other Prime Evils, Mephisto and Baal. Only you will be able to determine the outcome of this final encounter... "

Chilling stuff.

Gameplay
Diablo II, like its predecessor, is a hack-n-slash game. Gameplay remains simple: just point and click. Characters have four statistics: Strength, Dexterity, Vitality and Energy. These statistics determine just how well (more or less) your character is as he or she hacks (or blasts, in the case of some characters) a path through hordes of monsters. Diablo II also incorporates a skill tree system, unlike in Diablo. Each time the hero completes a quest or defeats a monster, he or she gains experience points. Gain enough of these and the experience level rises. As the level rises, the hero gets one skill point (and five stats points to boost the statistics) to either learn new skills or improve present ones.

Each hero has three groups of skills to learn up, enhancing Diablo II's replayability. Each skill can be raised to level 20 (considering you get one skill point per level, don't expect to be an expert in ALL skills any time soon).

The Diablo II storyline is played out in a series of Acts, which in turn are divided into about six quests (and a few sub-quests). Gameplay is very linear ... minimal puzzles here, hence the perfect game for those wanting some harmless fun without having to think too much - just fight your way through everything. Simple, no?

The usual monsters encountered aren't too smart ... the mini-bosses do take the time to avoid melee with the hero, preferring to use magic and other means of sending you far, far away. But the general monster strategy is seek and destroy. Sounds familiar. There are plenty of objects to be picked up, from treasure chests, slain monsters and even under stone boulders. A simple system of inventory allows you to keep track of everything, plus you get your own chest to store stuff.

Is it a looker?
Diablo II is an isometric 2D game rendered in 640 x 480 resolution, similar to the original. There are some optional 3D lighting effects that owners of 3DFX-based cards can take advantage of, but these effects are minimal to the overall look of the game. In fact, running the game without the benefit of hardware 3D acceleration is more than adequate (who has time to enjoy the scenery when you are surrounded by creatures intent on a quick meal?). In Diablo, most of the fighting takes place underground. In Diablo II, expect to fight underground, on a desert, on a plains, in a building, and so on.

Ooh, the movies...
The game cinematics are good. Not as good as those in SquareSoft's Final Fantasy VIII (an average game with an excellent storyline, by the way, which drained over 100 hours of my life), but easily among the best for a game to date. The cinematics (or movie clips, if you like) start at the beginning of each Act, and there is one after you defeat Diablo at the end of Act IV.

What's that I hear?
The musical score in Diablo II is superb. The tempo fits the game perfectly, supplementing the excitement you feel as you cleave (or blast) your way through the unwelcome opposition.

Verdict
Do you have the time to spare?

Diablo II
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Platform: PC/MAC

The Character Classes
The Amazon
This powerful woman warrior belongs to nomadic bands who roam the plains near the South Sea. The wandering of these groups often brings them into conflict with other peoples, so the Amazon is accustomed to fighting to defend her own. This lifestyle has made her fiercely independent and able to weather severe hardship and travel. While her skill with the bow rivals that of the Rogues, the Amazon is also adept in the use of spears and other throwing weapons, as well as in hand to hand combat. The Amazon is much sought after as a mercenary, in which type of service she will be loyal as long as her own ends are also served.

Barbarian
The Barbarian is a member of any of several tribes on the fringes of civilization, and he refuses the influence of those he sees as soft and weak. Ceaseless clan warfare and the constant struggle to survive in the hostile wilderness are reflected in the Barbarian's sturdy and powerful frame. Though perhaps lacking the sophistication of city folk, the Barbarian has an acute awareness of his surroundings. Because of his shamanistic belief in the animal powers with whom he identifies, the Barbarian is sometimes associated with stories of lycanthropy. In fact, he believes he can call upon the totemic animal spirits to infuse him with supernormal strengths and abilities, but these only work to improve his already superb battle-tactics.

Necromancer
From the steamy recesses of the southern swamps comes a figure cloaked in mystery. The Necromancer, as his name implies, is an unseemly form of sorcerer whose spells deal with the raising of the dead and the summoning and control of various creatures for his purposes. Though his goals are often aligned with those of the forces of Light, some do not think that these ends can justify his foul means. Long hours of study in dank mausolea have made his skin pale and corpselike, his figure, skeletal. Most people shun him for his peculiar looks and ways, but none doubt the power of the Necromancer, for it is the stuff of nightmares.

Paladin
The Knights of Westmarch who felled the armies of mighty Leoric are pure at heart and follow closely the teachings of Zakarum, the Religion of the Light. A battle-ready warrior for whom faith is a shield, he fights for what he believes to be right. Furthermore, his steadfastness gives him powers to bring blessings to his friends, and wreak cruel justice upon his foes. There are those who call the Paladin an overwrought zealot, but others recognise in him the strength and goodness of the Light.

Sorceress
One of the rebellious women who have wrested the secrets of magic use from the male dominated Mage-Clans of the East, the Sorceress is an expert in mystical creation ex nihilo. Though somewhat lacking in the skills of hand-to-hand combat, she compensates for this with fierce combative magicks for both offence and defence. Solitary and reclusive, the Sorceress acts based on motives and ethics inscrutable to most, sometimes seeming capricious and even spiteful. In reality, she understands the struggle between Order and Chaos all too clearly, as well as her role as a warrior in this battle.