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Review by: Nick Stewart
Published: July 14, 2000
There are certain events that mark a year, a decade, a century; it is these happenings that help to define the period within our own minds and within the pages of history. So momentous are they that most people can remember every relevant detail, every thought or emotion associated with the matter in question. So powerful are they that they will forever reside within our hearts and minds, in some form or another. This was the fate of such cultural phenomena as the O.J. Simpson verdict, C.N.N’s coverage of the Gulf War, the tragic death of Princess Diana…and, of course, Diablo. Storming violently and purposefully across the gaming landscape back in 1997, this title forever redefined the concept of addiction as it claimed the ceaseless attention of millions of fans across the globe with its simple-as-Hell hack’n'slash antics.
Part action, part RPG, Diablo went on to become one of the top-selling games of all time, with one of the most avid and dedicated fan bases ever seen. With the added promise of eternally free online play, would-be demon-slayers and player-killers alike have kept Diablo‘s spirit alive to this day, and potentially beyond. With this in mind, it’s not difficult to understand how the long-awaited Diablo II has generated legendary amounts of hype, lending itself as one of the most anticipated sequels of all time. The question remains, however: Can a colossal beast such as this live up to its own legacy?
In order to properly address this particularly potent question, one must first consider Diablo II‘s various facets, the least of which being its storyline. Fans of the initial outing will remember its story well, as they look fondly upon the time spent and the horrors witnessed deep below the surface of the small town of Tristram. Though barely a speck on the world of Sanctuary, this once-quiet populace played a key role in the saga of the Western Kingdom. As the tale is told, the cataclysmic war between Good and Evil that has raged for all time, temporarily took pause when humankind first graced the land. Looking to seize control for themselves, Hell’s four Lesser Evils successfully ejected the three Prime Evils from their fiery abode. This left Baal, the Lord of Destruction, Mephisto, the Lord of Hatred, and Diablo, the Lord of Terror to ravage the lands with unholy impunity. It was not long before a dedicated group known as the Horadric Order took it upon themselves to put a stop to the endless carnage, devising three Soulstones in which the Demonic Three were then imprisoned. Although these shards were then buried beneath the lands of Tristram, the sands of Aranoch and the jungles of Kehjistan, it was not long before Diablo found a way to escape his prison, infecting the soul of the nearby town. A mysterious stranger, embodied by the player, eventually drove Diablo back into the Soulstone, and then rammed it into his own forehead in order to ensure that the Lord of Terror would never again be free.
Unfortunately, evil is not easily contained, and the stranger emerged into Tristram a tortured soul, never informing anyone as to his actions. As he recuperated amongst the jubilant townsfolk, a noticeable change fell over him, his manner becoming dark, foreboding and aloof. Often waking in the middle of the night, screaming or babbling in tongues, the stranger began to draw a few curious glances from those who had considered him their savior. It was not long before he announced in a voice not his own that he was heading East, to find his brothers…even though it was believed that the stranger had no family. Shortly after his departure, Tristram and its surrounding lands were suddenly and inexplicably assaulted by the forces of Evil; the local populace was helpless to stop it, either dying terrible deaths or becoming corrupt and joining the ranks of Hell’s minions. Similar destruction followed the Dark Wanderer wherever he went, brutal violence marking his somber path across the land. Horrific beasts slaughter the innocent with wild abandon as chaos reigns supreme; Diablo has returned.
With the country’s defenders either dead or corrupted, the former Hero possessed, and with Deckard Cain — the last of the Horadrim — missing, the land is in desperate need for someone to reclaim it from the horrific clutches of evil. This is where you come in, once again set as a lone, inexperienced would-be hero with an axe or staff, as the case may be, to grind. However, instead of simply setting you loose in and underneath a single city, your quest to bring down the Ultimate Evil will see you travelling across the entire country in a playing field that is three to four times larger than that of the original.
To ease the transition and to make the journey a little easier to handle, the action is split into chapters, or Acts, with each one possessing their own environment, characters, monsters, items and so on. For instance, the first Act, created to slowly introduce fans to the new title, begins in a rogue encampment not far from Tristram, near a mountain pass that leads to the East. As such, you will initially be exposed to randomly generated, sparsely forested grasslands, with dungeons littered about in the appropriate places. Throwbacks like skeletons, zombies and Fallen Ones will assault you at nearly every turn, with a few variations thrown in for good measure. When you defeat the Lesser Evil that has taken residence in the darkest pits of the first area, you will be offered a cutscene to drive the story forward, and will then be carried into the arid deserts of Lut Gholein. In turn, this new location offers many new creatures to fear and destroy, like the venom-spitting Sand Maggots, or undead-resurrecting Mummies. The third and fourth acts work similarly, transporting you to the thick, impenetrable jungles of Kurast, and finally to the darkest, most vile pits of Hell. Regardless of where you go, however, you’ll be mercilessly slaughtering the vast armies of Hell in order to complete NPC-assigned quests that are no longer randomized, instead having a static order that facilitates its ongoing storyline. Although it is not absolutely necessary to complete all the quests, doing so will provide you with gold and other helpful items, the least of which being the experience that you’ll need to advance your character.
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