Diablo 1 is a well known action RPG that stablished the dungeon crawler hack&slash as it’s today, but it’s an old game, gameplay was a bit clunky. Diablo expanded it to a new level while keeping the essence.
- It’s a fast paced action RPG hack&slash. That means almost no quest reading, just freely kill hordes of trash mobs, pure action but with RPG progression.
- Good game design.
- It’s focused on hunting for items, as usual on RPG hack&slash but, luckily, the game is heavy reliant on skill tree. Items are secondary, mostly used for raw defense and magic resistance, so you don’t need them to make most of builds. Even weapons are meant to deal secondary free damage (and it’s negligible for casters). Just itemize for resilience to step to the next difficulty setting and to complete/match your skill build.
- There is middlegame (develop your character) and endgame (reach max level with rarest items) and it takes long time.
- You don’t need to clear Hell difficulty to find/make endgame items.
- Items aren’t bound on account/character, neither on pickup nor equip. You can freely trade everything.
- Skill tree is varied but simple in synergies. Because items are not usually important for build making and skill synergies are limited, most builds are more or less viable and competitive, only issue is overcoming damage resistances on Hell.
- Damage type is depending on the skill used and items, but mostly skills. You can’t cheese on item swap for versality.
- It’s a bit hard on early game and dying punishes the player. But on end-game, when farming for rare stuff, the game is easy.
- Game is complex and deep but the player is on it’s own to find out everything.
- There are a bunch of useful mods for playing on single player.
I’m going to discuss the unmodded but fully patched game (expansion included) as it’s the canonical version:
- Inventory management:
- Inventory is too small. This means the player needs to rely on mule characters, trading on multiplayer games, to store the stuff may need later. Inventory management evolves to character management and it’s a bit insane.
- Lack of shared stash. Most of items are not useful for the character that find them, but may for others. The game doesn’t provide a mechanism to directly share them on single player, so the player must rely again on multiplayer private games to transfer items by trading or dropping&pick up.
- Teleport is a Sorceress skill and it’s the only fast movement skill and it’s almost a must-have. This makes items like runeword Enigma or amulets with Teleport charges too important for efficiency for the rest to classes.
- Battle-net only stuff, you have to play in official multi-player battle net to get access to all content:
- Some cool/fun items are ladder-only, like many runewords and craftables.
- Uber bosses.
- Immunities on hell difficulty: some builds are ineffective on hell because they focus on only one damage type and enemy groups can be immune to it.
- The player must pick up manually all trash, including gold. It would be great if, at least, gold was picked up automatically like in D3. I only bother with gold when playing with the Skellymancer build.
- Rules for making runewords with 1h (one handed) blunt weapons are confusing. The real ‘mace’ type is composed by true maces, morning stars and flails only. Other 1h weapon types like scepters, clubs or warhammers aren’t maces but the game defines their type as ‘mace’ (instead of blunt). And 2h blunt weapons aren’t maces either.
- There are too narrow corridors in some dungeons. The Maggot Lair and Arcane Sanctuary particularly penalize the summoner necromancer, which needs to rely on swarming with skellies but, in such narrow places, it’s just impossible to do it right. It takes time to get the first kill (unless you use other skill than summons) and you must rely on corpe explosion for the next kills if you expect to go quickly.
- Items get reordered on trade fulfillment. The reorder isn’t optimal and the trade may be rejected because of lack of space, when there is enough if items are placed right.
- This is normal on the genre, but anyways, it’s a grindy game, specially if you want to play it efficiently, which you’d want when you reach end-game and you need to do lots of runs to find rare stuff.
And, just to point something: Some drop rates are absurd. Of course that’s good because it means you’re going to farm a long time to get all that end game items and runewords you wish, but bad for the same reason.
Diablo 2 VS Diablo 1
Diablo 2 did a good job improving the previous title good qualities. This is what Diablo 2 (LoD patched) improved over Diablo 1:
- New maps:
- There are many smaller dungeons instead of just a big one.
- Dungeon entrances are scattered across wilderness open areas, it’s a nice change of pace.
- New mechanics:
- Set items. Set items are there for fun (it’s fun to collect them and make a character to use a set), more for the looks than for power.
- Sockets for gems/runes/jewels and runeword making.
- Transmutation and crafting in the Horadric Cube.
- Respecs: 3 quest awarded respecs and crafted respec.
- Better story: it’s linked with Diablo 1 and Tristram in many ways but it’s far more interesting.
Diablo 2 VS Diablo 3
This is what Diablo 3 improved over Diablo 2 LoD (other than graphics/resolution):
- It’s easier and nicer for casual players. Character development is quick.
- Better UI and automatically pick up gold make it more pleasant to play.
- Removed all potions and stamina bar, added health orbs. Player needs to rely more on passives to regain health&mana.
This is what Diablo 3 somewhat improved (but it’s discussable):
- Mistakes on build can be solved quickly with no cost and no penalty.
- Bigger inventory with tabs and shared stash helps a lot… but it should be infinite.
- Adventure mode is an interesting idea to improve end game content. Sadly, the rifts are the only thing to do on release. Beating higher difficulty rifts is great at first, it gives some accomplishment, but it doesn’t last too long because there aren’t new objectives other than to beat same mobs with more health and damage, endlessly. They later improved this by adding later Callenge Rifts and Set Dungeons.
And Diablo 2 was IMO better on everything else:
- Harder difficulty and it may punish the player on wrong choices. But it rewards to learn about the game and learn to play it.
- The player characters are built on the long term, slowly. In D3 they develop quick and may be tweaked on the short term.
- The D2 story is just better. It’s a horror story with the dark tone it had Diablo 1. D3 is less horror, more good VS evil epic.
- D2 art is also better suited to the story: Darker, pale, scenarios and scary music clearly wins against the colourful D3 graphics and its epic music.
- D2 relies on skills to do damage, weapons are secondary. D3 skill damage is based on weapon damage, so getting the right OP weapon is a must.
- D2 is complex in a good way. Lots of runes/jewels/gems to customize your items and lots of good builds for end-game. In D3 there are only few viable builds depending on the item meta synergies, specially on vanilla and first RoG patches.
- D2 itemization is just better. In D3 the player gets tons of legendaries and set items that are worthless, you need the right set and ancient item that is meta and maybe the right suffixes to boost even more the build.
- In D2 it takes time (and suffering) to reach end-game and it takes even more time to find what you want. In D3 there is early game, the story campaign, but it ends quickly and then you’re already in end-game endless rifts and challenges.
Why to play?
If you like Diablo 3, PoE or any other hack&slash, you should try D2. It has a fan-base even today. If you played it before, maybe you should prepare to come back.
How to acquire
You can buy this game digitally in Blizzard’s battle.net store. You may find old physical copies too but it’s unlikely.
Sadly, this game is not in gog.com and it’s very unlikely this game is going to be ever released on that store (or any other), as it’s not so dated as Diablo 1 Hellfire. At least Blizzard removed the CD-check DRM in a previous patch.
Version / Platform
I’m reviewing Diablo 2 with its expansion Lord of Destruction (no reason to play vanilla), fully patched to the patch 1.14d (the latest patch up to 2019). I play the game single player but I’m confident there still are battle net players even if most of community moved to PoE.
Patch 1.14d is the more up-to-date and solid game version, but it isn’t mod friendly.
If you want to play Diablo 2 modded, I encourage you play the game using a patch manager called Cactus (old name was Bliss Version Switcher) which helps a lot with game version and mod switching. You can install over 1.14d and roll back your game with a click.
Keep in mind mods can only be used on single player and local network play.
Cactus is a standalone game launcher tool that may be used to easily change game patches and mods with just a click. It’s amazing to rollback and just keep a D2 installation. The launcher also allows to launch multiple game instances (multi-client) to play on local network with your characters and trade.
As a bonus, it includes an infinite-inventory (stash) mod called Alpaca, which is very similar to the stash added by the metamod PlugY but just infinite inventory. I would stick to using Alpaca instead of PlugY if you only need the inventory.
PlugY is probably the most famous Diablo 2 mod. It’s working for 1.13d and it was maintained up to 2017, so we could consider it up to date. PlugY improves the game experience by allowing the player to reopen cow level, access uber bosses, ladder only items, multi-client, players command on new game, shared stash and of course infinite stash. I consider it a more endgame oriented plugin that it isn’t really needed for starting playing the game, so I’d recommend you stick with Alpaca instead.
It seems unlikely Blizzard is going to remaster Diablo 2. Supposedly they lost the original assets, so the effort to remake it would be the same (or more) than just create a new Diablo title, so they took that way instead.
At least, Diablo 4 is announced and is going to be released soon, probably on 2020. Of course, it’s not going to be Diablo 2. Our only hope is that they do things right: don’t focus on Diablo 1&2 aesthetics but focus on bringing back Diablo 2 gameplay.
Games like Diablo 2
Diablo-like hack&slash ARPGs:
- Diablo 1. Diablo 1 is worth visiting to know the original plot and it can be bought on gog. The game has the same feelings but with a dated, slower and clunky gameplay.
- Torchlight 2. Cartoonish graphics like Diablo 3 but it’s a solid old school ARPG like Diablo 2.
- Path of Exile. If you know Diablo 2, it’s likely you already know PoE. It’s free to play but be warned that the game is a bit bland on the first acts, if you want to seriously try it you must force yourself and advance more.
- Diablo 3. Diablo 3 may be a good choice for casual play and to play on cooperative. It’s not a bad game, it’s just far from D1 and D2 on game design.
- Last Epoch. This game is in early access so I encourage you to DON’T BUY it until properly finished or you may be ripped off with just promises. Let’s see how it evolves on 2020. Anyways, I mention it because it really looks promising and it may be a great title.
Other action RPGs:
- The Legend of Zelda. Well, the classic Zelda game was more and adventure game than a proper action RPG and there isn’t a item grindfest like in Diablo-like games, but it’s a good classic title.
- Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. This action RPG is also less grindy and oriented to cooperative gameplay in PS2/XBOX/GC, like the classic Gauntlet.
And there are many newer MMO ARPGs like Lost Ark, Frontiers, …
Diablo 2 is a classic hack&slash that finally set the base for following games on the genre. It’s a game with a long goal.