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Diablo II – A 15th Anniversary Retrospective

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of Blizzard’s Diablo II (here in the Americas, Europeans got the game today), a game that can easily be called the best game of its generation, if not the best action RPG ever developed.

Sure, there have been hundreds of action RPGs since, but nearly every one of them used Diablo II as the foundation that they began building on. Whether it was its gem and socket crafting, the AI-controlled mercenary helpers or even the four act structure itself, Diablo II’s features have acted as the default standard for games within its genre for more than a decade.

The summer of 2000 saw a lot of great RPG releases, with the PC’s late 1990s heyday still proudly in effect. Not only did we have Diablo II, but Black Isle (Now Obsidian’s) first Icewind Dale game came out on the 29th of June as well. Even the great Deus Ex ran up against it, having been released a couple weeks prior. Throw in the September release of Baldur’s Gate II and you can see how crowded the genre was back then. Yet, Diablo II stuck out. Even with what I remember as a very rocky launch full of disappearing ground, severe lag spikes and constant disconnects, Blizzard’s magnum opus persevered.

More than just a blueprint for others to copy, Diablo II honed the online multiplayer formula Blizzard established with the first game in the series. The easy jump-in/jump-out multiplayer, the “open” version of their server that let you play your single player character, the ability to turn off the player-killing flag…Diablo II was a game that was so slick and user friendly that it became a gateway drug to gamers who were looking for an introduction to the RPG genre.

It’s been modded to heck and back, and even had private servers crop up for the game that are still alive today…which is impressive for a game from 15 years ago that was never meant to be tinkered with. It’s one of those games that folks still play, that feeling of nostalgia only part of the reason.

Matt Uelman’s soundtrack massages your ears when you first boot it up, his twangy gothic-sounding music remaining one of my favorite soundtracks to this very day. The drizzling of the rain in the first act’s campground and the hopeless, droning voices of the NPCs all set the stage for a suitably dark adventure that nowadays, probably wouldn’t exist. While I do love Diablo III, it was the second game in the series that captured my imagination.

I don’t want to make the article about me, but Diablo II was a game that took over my life for years after its release. Whether it was playing with real-life friends or meeting new ones in the trade channels, Blizzard was responsible for a lot of my lateness at work in the early 2000s. I’m sure the same can be said about many of our readers here. So what are your memories of Diablo II? Feel free to post them in the comments. It’ll please the dark lord.


About

Carl is both a JRPG fan and a CRPG'er who especially loves European PC games. Even with more than three decades of gaming under his belt, he feels the best of the hobby is yet to come.



20 comments
  1. Alex Barbu
    Alex Barbu
    June 30, 2015 at 11:11 am

    “even had private servers crop up for the game that are still alive today”… shh… we’re not supposed to talk about those

  2. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    June 30, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Diablo 2 was great but there are plenty of action RPGs that are FAR better, even if just for the mere fact that they have a story worth caring about. Diablo as a whole is pretty lacking in that respect

  3. Carl B.
    Carl B.
    June 30, 2015 at 11:25 am

    I’d have to disagree. Diablo 1-3 are still the only ARPGs where I actually listen to the NPCs, even after beating it several times. I never do that with any other ARPG. their stories all seem so flat and uninteresting. Diablo had a powerful history, lots of lore. Even had novels written for it.

  4. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    June 30, 2015 at 11:36 am

    Huh. Maybe I just missed out. I suppose when I played it I was the type to just play through the main content and ignore the NPCs. I should give it another go when I can. I mean i’m sure I wouldn’t think so highly of games like Dark Souls if i’d played them the way I played Diablo

  5. JackDandy
    JackDandy
    June 30, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Never really got into the Diablo genre.

    Japan makes better ARPGs.

  6. Siveon
    Siveon
    June 30, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    *Falcom

  7. JackDandy
    JackDandy
    June 30, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Even they have strayed off the path of righteousness lately… ;_;

    I really need to set myself up with those Ys-Touhou knockoffs. They seemed neat.

  8. Siveon
    Siveon
    June 30, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    I never really got into this brand Action RPG, besides from this, Diablo 1, and Torchligh 1 & 2. I don’t think Nox and Divine Divinity count, but I’ll add those two as well just in case.

    I personally prefer my Action RPGs to be a little more skill based than character-based.

  9. Siveon
    Siveon
    June 30, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Were any of ’em translated to a non-Moonrune language?

  10. LurkerJK
    LurkerJK
    June 30, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    I remember when the game came out, after years of hype and waiting i was disappointed, it just wasnt as good as Diablo (picking a Paladin, the most boring of all the classes did not help)

    Still it was Diablo and i played it, eventually the game grew on me and i now consider it one of the top games ive ever played and one ive gone back to many many times.

    I loved experimenting new characters, i loved the variety between them, i loved how you could make completely different builds of the same class, i could keep playing that game forever

    It did have several things i did not enjoy however, too much focus on multiplayer that i never cared about (i did play a lot of LAN, but internet play always ended in sorrow, groups broke every time an unique, gem or rune dropped, meh), too many shitty weapons dropping at high levels because the game refuses to retire the useless ones, randomized levels that would feel the same because you can only randomize an open area so much before you realize they all look the freaking same and a pretty shitty story that you can not avoid because of the quest system and has no variation for a game that you are meant to replay again and again (Diablo 1 at least let you skip the story easily and at least tried changing some quests between plays)

    Sigh, and then Diablo 3 came out… it was like they took my list of “things i did not enjoy” and doubled their presence, MORE multiplayer(with NO LAN and extra error 37), even worse weapon drops, MORE story (and even harder to skip), even worse area randomization (now even the dungeons feel the same) and if that wasnt enough they destroyed my favorite part of the game by nuking the skill system, what a load of BS

  11. Crizzyeyes
    Crizzyeyes
    June 30, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Paladin? Most boring? You must have never played Amazon

  12. Chino Gambino
    Chino Gambino
    June 30, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Pretty much, you didn’t even need to respec since the only difference between characters was gear; zero incentive to make any character of the same class since there were no builds. I don’t know if the expansion changed it but since there’s pretty much no way to make any mistakes or gimp your character it was pretty boring.

    That and the auction house, I resisted that thing as long as possible but by act 2 I was trading all the useless top tier gear I have(ie 100% of it) and finding ideal items for a song in minutes(they intentionally ruined the drop rate). Made the experience feel tacky, just shallow, tacky and with the real money system coming in shameless. I was done with it in a week.

  13. DeusEx
    DeusEx
    June 30, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    I mourn for the fallen and how D3 turned out to be a huge turd sandwich compared to its elder’s perfection.

    And how do you fuck that up? It had the ideal formula. All you needed was an improved engine with contemporary graphics, new areas, new enemies and zones with some more classes. Then they went and fucked it up with shitty itemization among a myriad of other things.

  14. bgrunge
    bgrunge
    June 30, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Laziness, mostly. Originally it was supposed to have a Diablo 2 style skill system with slottable gems (that could be found in all rarities) that would modulate how skills behaved. Then they abandoned the Diablo 2 skill point system for static skills, but still with the slottable gems of varying rarities to modify how skills behaved. THEN, when they realized that they would have to balance every permutation a skill gem could have against how it interacted with the skills, they abandoned the random droppable skill gem system and went with static skill gems too, and that’s what the consumer got.

    Meanwhile, Path of Exile’s dev team wasnt half as lazy and welcomed the idea of complicated balancing by allowing a skill to be modified by up to 5 support gems simultaneously. One of the many reasons I’ve sunk hundreds and hundreds of hours into PoE and exactly zero into Diablo 3.

  15. bgrunge
    bgrunge
    June 30, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Well, Diablo 2 was definitely weaker than 1 in terms of plot, setting, and atmosphere, but it couldn’t be QUITE as horrifically gothic due to its global span. Definitely a worthy attempt in that it tried to maintain some of the horror aspects of diablo 1.

    Diablo 3, however, was a family-friendly disgrace. Like no joke, Diablo 1 would probably get an AO rating if it came out today based on the level decorations alone- a lot of the cathedral looked like the end of a snuff film. Brutal, nightmarish stuff. Diablo 3, on the other hand feels like, I don’t know, dark disney?

    And the story in Diablo 3 fails because the setting does. Diablo 3 doesn’t even feel like it’s in the same universe as Diablo 1, so I personally find it hard to suspend my disbelief and buy into the story- the stakes just don’t feel as high, and the enemies don’t feel as evil.

  16. LurkerJK
    LurkerJK
    June 30, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    what are you talking about ? the Amazon is my favorite, the spearzon builds might have been a little boring, but the javazon was loads of fun

  17. Hone
    Hone
    June 30, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    Are those actually good? Touhou actually has some amazing turn-based JRPG (Genius of Sappheiros has got to be one of my favorite 2D JRPGs) but aren’t those Ys-lookalikes more action game than Ys? Though then again, some people do consider Zelda JRPG…

  18. TheCynicalReaper
    TheCynicalReaper
    June 30, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Really interesting read, mate. Nicely done

  19. Feniks
    Feniks
    July 1, 2015 at 4:00 am

    Golden age of PC gaming. They don’t make them like that anymore.

    Diablo 3 was all about multiplayer. The campaign was a travesty. D2 was dark and mysterious.

  20. Foamy Darkale
    Foamy Darkale
    October 9, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    loved this game and heck i still got a modded version of it on one of my older comps because it’s still fun. Can’t say the same about D3 so far as I’ve hit the cap and can’t do half of the interesting things they talk about because i haven’t gotten the expansion. thanks blizzard for half a game apparently. Also the ability to save your progress would have been nice, the single player without signing in each and everytime. now if I can’t afford internet I won’t be able to play at all. Lordy making WOW was a step down for them, they forgot to pay attention to those that like single player/lan non-mmo games.