Posted May 18th 2012 by Frankie Aguilar.
One does not simply play the Diablo series. It's more like being in a relationship—a one-sided relationship where one person is flighty and non-committal and the other is always forgiving and welcoming. Think of it like old girlfriend you "hate" that immediately calls you every time a guy breaks up with her. The key here is, in this relationship, you are the evil ex and Diablo will always be there to pick up the phone. Staying power and almost infinite replayability are factors that make Diablo II one of the best games of all time, computer-based or otherwise. And with Diablo III finally releasing fans from over a decade's worth of digital vasocongestion, there's no better time to look back and reflect upon how amazing a game Diablo II was and still is to me.
"Masterwork" is probably the best way to describe Diablo II. The devotion displayed by its legions of fans for the better part of a decade is a testament to the excellence it achieved. In fact it'd be safe to say that the only thing that could stop people playing Diablo II would be the release of Diablo III. Fans of this game are fanatical and cult-like and they spread their fandom like a viral pyramid scheme. I was definitely infected by that glorious strain and contracted more than just carpal tunnel and a paler complexion; I was instantly connected to a part of the gaming universe that I hadn't even known existed. It was a community-driven revelation that welcomed me in with open arms and fueled my new addiction with its fantastic gameplay.
The game hit with me from the get-go. I've always been a fan of high fantasy as a genre. Every little kid loves the idea of being magical in some way, but their imaginative focus is generally varied. I wasn't as swayed by dinosaurs or space adventures as your normal kid (save for Star Wars), but something about worlds filled with wizards and elves stuck with me. When I picked up The Hobbit in 5th grade it was more for the Accelerated Reader points than the content, but I loved that book, and everything else written by Tolkien. From then on, anything that even had a hint of that style of fantasy was in my wheelhouse.
I've been playing Diablo II off and on since I was 13 years old, but PC gaming was a non-entity to me up until that point. The only thing I was even vaguely familiar with was first-person shooters like Wolfenstein and Counter Strike. One weekend I was invited over to a friend's house with the intention of building some kind of fort or some other pipe dreams two 13 year-olds can come up with. When I got to his house though, his older brother was at his computer shouting obscenities, so I ditched my friend to check out what the shit was happening. He was playing as some armored behemoth, running around the desert and being bombarded by spears thrown by what looked like kangaroos. I didn't understand any of what was going on but I knew I wanted—needed—to play it. So I asked him the name of the game and the only thing I remember after that is waking up in a ditch outside my house with a full Grizzly Adams beard, a roller ball mouse for a hand and a soulstone tattooed in the middle of my chest.
There's never been a game that so completely held my attention, on every single play through, like Diablo II. It was just so damn cool. Everything I was doing was badass. Regardless of what class I was playing as, what act I was in, or how I was choosing to combat the hordes of Hell, I still sat there, slack-jawed and enthralled with the game. I would sit and click a mouse for hours on end and not actually recognize the time passing by, so much so that at the end of a day I was pissed that I was out of playtime hours instead of being angry I'd accomplished nothing material like a normal human being.
If "masterwork" is the best way to describe Diablo II, the second best term is "time machine." I can't imagine, even roughly, the amount of hours I've blown playing it, but for the sake of stupid words I'd guess a million-billion. For me, it's the ultimate "just a few minutes more" game; I got into negotiations with myself constantly about how much longer I would play. And if I missed the hour cap I set for myself, it was okay, because there's always another hour coming up. And it has everything to do with the amazingly deep gameplay governed by the most simplistic method of input: point-and-click.
There are just so many great gameplay mechanics in this game, it's really difficult to know where to begin. Taking away the need to navigate with the standard WASD movement pattern and leaving the left hand free to navigate through hotkeys for spells creates total concentration on attacking. Sure, defensively-minded players are making sure they're not getting flanked, or they're setting up defensive buffs, but the core of Diablo II is all about creating as ultimate a destructive force as you can. And you have so many different ways of destroying your enemies. Whether you're bashing your way to glory as a rage-driven Barbarian, or raining down arrows on the unprepared as a DPS-dependent Amazon, you're kickin' ass. More into magic? Then maybe a Necromancer summoning undead allies or a Sorceress and her elemental AOE attacks might be more to your ass-kicking pleasure. And the Paladin...let's just say dump a ton of skill points into Blessed Hammer and hope your friends don't laugh at you too much.
I spent a lot of time recruiting my friends into my addiction, not that it was hard after I got them started. Typing that out makes me feel like a drug dealer, but at least I was keeping them off the streets. I figured, I love this game, it has online play, so why not? I remember letting one of my friends borrow the discs on a Thursday night after soccer practice. He didn't show up to school the next day and I didn't hear from him the entire weekend. I figured he'd been kidnapped and no one was saying anything yet because they were waiting the 72 hours required before you can consider someone missing. Then he showed up to school the following Monday and told me he'd done nothing but play the game after installing it. This kid was never a real gamer before Diablo II, but it turned him hardcore within the span of a weekend.
I don't know how anyone wrote reviews for Diablo II when it initially came out. It's just so good on so many levels that it must've been an editor's nightmare for gaming magazines back then. The single player experience alone would netted the game at least five playthroughs. Personally, I wanted to see what each individual class played like, and once I found out that there were skill trees allowing for almost completely unique and individualized experiences, my mind was blown. Add to that the randomized gear drops, the ability to rerun boss battles and dungeons in order to try for better drops, randomized boss monsters and mobs, and it's the only game an RPG gamer could every need. And the online play? Beyond awesome.
The fact that I'd been introduced to Diablo II by a friend brought about a whole new aspect of gaming culture to me; the sense of community. Up until then, my gaming career had been strictly solo. While this may have been a symptom of having a younger brother I didn't want to share my games with, the facts remains that I'd been devoid of any kind of multiplayer experience thus far. And now I had this game, one that was stellar offline, but was so obviously meant to be experienced in an online format. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't intimidating. But for all the griefers and OGs ready to call anyone that wasn't level-capped a noob, there was more people willing to help. So many players were amped to speed-run you all the way through to Diablo himself, or just run around and power level you just because they wished someone had done that for them. And once my friends got involved it only got better. Doing MF runs with each other, speed-leveling our friends that had just started playing, and sometimes just hanging out in a town chatting. Nowadays, competitive multiplayer and voice chatting are facets of almost every single game, but it all seems contrived and empty compared to that simple yellow in the bottom left-hand corner of my screen.
I could gush on and on about every little aspect of Diablo II that makes it so great but what it meant, and still means to me personally, is something so much bigger. Having already decided that my goal in life was to be involved in the gaming industry in some way before even hearing about Diablo, I still lacked a lot of positive influence in that aspect. Having only a few years prior moved up from licensed cartoon character games and enjoyable, if not repetitive, platformers, I was still waiting for something more. Metal Gear Solid had shown me that a great story can mesh seamlessly with a great game, but Diablo II showed me that simple gameplay executed intelligently could gain not only critical and commercial success, but also foster a following of almost religious proportions. It showed me that great games can be powerful, even if that game is played completely differently by everyone who plays it. It made me want to be part of that religious following.
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