Unless Diablo is your life, forget Hellfire!
Diablo is one of those hugely successful games that never quite buttered my bread. Not that I am blind to its appeal. In fact, Diablo currently holds the record at my house for the longest continuous gaming session: my roommate once played single-player Diablo for fourteen and a half hours while I dutifully scanned the Web for the latest info on the seemingly endless magic items, runes, weapons and monsters. As you can imagine, my fanatical friend was quite excited when he learned I was given the task of reviewing Hellfire, the first and only Blizzard-authorized expansion pack. OK. I'll admit it. I was pretty excited too.
Hellfire features one new character class, six new quests, seven new spells, eight new levels, nine new shrines, twenty-nine new monsters, and more items and weapons than I can count. I know these stats, because I searched and searched this game for something to justify the costly $34.95 pricetag. To my dismay, I didn't find it.
Let's do a little expansion pack 101 -- Gamer loves game. Gamer plays game to death. Gamer wants to play more, but he knows the game inside and out. No more fun. Gamer is anxious. Company sees profit. Company throws together add-on. How many times have we seen this story? It's certainly no different here.
The basic problem with Hellfire is that despite the deceptive number of new elements, it just doesn't add up to much. Instead of creating a new setting with the same characters and interface, Hellfire grafts its new features onto the village of Tristram found in the original Diablo. A new townsman, Lester the Farmer, hands out your first Hellfire quest, but only after you've attained character level fifteen or reached the ninth level of the original Diablo dungeon. You read that right: unless you start digging in DOS and copying your Diablo characters into Hellfire's directory, you'll be playing this game for days before you reach the new levels that Hellfire adds to Diablo. Ugh.
What's worse is that after all that build-up, the new dungeons are a let-down. Not only are the eight levels just variations on two basic models, but they also have weak points not found in the original Diablo. The first four "nest" levels, for example, are filled with monsters, pods, and walls straight out of Alien. I was expecting Sigourney Weaver to pop out of one of these egg-shaped pods, but instead I found the same old mana potions and swords. We may be living the postmodern, but can't our games and fantasies remain medieval? Put simply, pastiche doesn't work for Hellfire.
In all truth, the best part of this expansion pack is not the new dungeons or monsters or shrines or even the new character, the Monk. The best part is the new ability to "jog" while in town. Apparently I was not the only impatient adventurer in Tristram. One of Diablo's weaknesses was the length of time it took to walk around town and interact with all the characters. In Hellfire you can move quite quickly from Griswold to Adria, making supply-stops less painful. Another new feature is a difficulty setting which increases the challenge factor and makes trudging back into those old Diablo levels partially worth the effort. Diablo himself is harder to kill and even if you start the game with an advanced character, you'll find that the going can get rough. Other than that, I can't say there is much here. Sheesh, Hellfire can't even be played on battle.net!
The bottom line is that it probably took the cheesy voice actors longer to memorize their lines than it took the programmers and artists to create the whole of Hellfire. If you are tired of playing Diablo now, this expansion pack won't rekindle any lost fire. If you still like playing Diablo, you'll probably have more fun on battle.net than you will with Hellfire. My advice: put your $34.95 in the bank now and the interest you earn might just give you enough to buy a copy of Diablo II when it hits the shelves next Christmas.