Diablo 2 Lives Up to the Hype
For the past four years, we have waited. And waited. And hemmed. And hawed. And wondered. And speculated. And screamed out loud with anticipation. And paced on pins and needles, dreaming about the release of the sequel to the now-legendary 1996 Game of the Year -- an action-adventure sleeper hit named Diablo. It was a PC game that turned the industry upside down and the genre on its ear. A game that dripped graphics-laden dungeons, and fantasy galore. A game that burst onto the late Nineties scene like a fire-belching dragon. A game that thrust then-unknown game developer Blizzard Entertainment into a snowstorm of revenues that continues to avalanche upon them. In its heyday, the multiplayer version of Diablo hosted some 1.6 million games upon its online fighting zone, known as Battle Net, where battle-hearty warriors nuked and duked it out for ownership of untold riches and self-imposed honor. Now, four slow years later, fully retrofitted with five all-new character classes, a towering stack of 3-D f/x-enhanced spell books, and hundreds of freshly forged weapons and armor, one of the most highly anticipated games, Diablo 2 is finally, at long last, upon us. And with last month's Internet raffle of 1,000 copies of a pre-release beta of the game (which were distributed among an unsolicited sign-up pool of 138,495 wannabe game testers), anticipation and expectations continue to climb as steadily as the armor class rating of a hacked-out Demonspike Coat.
What the beta demonstrates with all the clarity of a solar flare is that Diablo 2 sits poised to exceed the expectations of even its most die-hard fans. Not only does the beta version look better in terms of level of detail, improved lighting effects, and user interface, but advances in monster artificial intelligence, landscape size, and story depth make this follow-up game a can't-lose contender for the 2000 Game of the Year prize. Lovingly created and meticulously detailed, Diablo 2 features a whole new level of artistry, overstuffed with such nuanced touches as brooding rainstorms, monster-filled trees, lost towers, and exhilarating quests that weave together old friends and landscapes from the original game. And in keeping with the first title, unique items and special weapons abound. Added to the mix this time around, D2 features what has been dubbed by beta testers as "set armor," a unique special collection of armor pieces that, when borne as a full collection, gives the wearer untold power and properties. Treasure hunters will no doubt drive themselves mad in search of these truly rare and unique trophies. Of course, if you wear down your exploding long bow too quickly, the first act of D2 features a full town where you may rest up your courage and trade with three different merchants to whom you may sell your dungeon bounty, mete out repairs, and even gamble a high stack of gold for a chance to win a precious amulet or coveted helmet.
As for the new character classes -- which include barbarian, amazon, sorceress, and paladin -- the pale white necromancer is by far the most interesting to behold. Instead of employing a range weapon like the new amazon might, or a barbarian's axe, this master of the spirit world commands armies of undead soldiers that he literally raises out of the ground. With atmospheric effects that rival the best of Hollywood's sound forges, every spell cast, monster death, door slam, and gold drop echoes with the precision of an atomic clock. And while the light is clearly shining at the end of this four-year development tunnel, mum's still the word as to a final summer release date for D2. But, based upon the wholly unanimous rave reviews flowing out of the closed beta test, devout disciples of the original can rest assured -- it will be truly worth the wait.