Inexplicable endings. The law of sequels. Squelching demons. Again? Preview

Inexplicable endings. The law of sequels. Squelching demons. Again?

Alright, so you kill Diablo. You pig-stick the oversized pot roast and discover

that he is actually some little kid with a big, curved, sharp gem implanted

in his forehead. Being the brilliant, burly adventurer that you are, you rip

out the gem and dispose of it.

But how? Do you bury it? Burn it? Crack it up into a thousand, evil-charged

pieces? Nah. You take the friggin’ thing and smash it directly into your

forehead. Yep, you just played an entire game, supposedly to remove this bloody

thing from someone’s forehead, only to jam it right into yours.

Of course, this doesn’t kill you, displace any brain matter, or cause uncomfortable

itching. You believe your ordeal will give you the power to contain Diablo…as

if whacking 10,000 bleeding he-mutants and at least 5,000 half naked succubae

is somehow going to give you enough prowess to help you contain unlimited evil…in

your forehead.

Naturally, you fail. You turn into the next evening’s under-cooked pot roast

and set off on a path through the world, leaving evil things in your wake. Gosh.

I suppose someone else is going to have to whack those things and come after

you. Fun?

Folks, this isn’t speculation, celluloid, or a press release. This is the

Diablo II Beta… or rather, a preview of Diablo II based

on it.

Funny story. 138,000 people signed up for a drawing, the prize being one of

a few choice spots in the Diablo II Battle.net beta test. One day, a

copy showed up at the Game Revolution compound and it was awarded to my care.

I didn’t have to sign up for anything. I love this job. Suckers!

The first Diablo

was successful thanks to an extremely sleek, addictive blend of action and role-playing

that safely classified it in neither camp. It was seamless, low maintenance

fun that never taxed your brain or your twitch skills too much, but rather drew

you in with a terrific sense of brooding, gothic atmosphere.

That was back in 1996. Since then, Blizzard North has been hard at work on

a sequel. Diablo II, just now in beta, is a much larger game than its

predecessor. The beta, which only includes the first (and smallest) of the planned

four acts, is easily as large as the entire original. Given its extraordinary

length, Diablo II features a great deal more of everything than before.

For instance, the press materials claim that the beta lacks three acts, many

skills, and “hundreds of thousands of weapons.” While such a statement would

seem to be hyperbole, after a few days with the game, it seems that Blizzard

might have been conservative with that estimate.

There are also more character classes: the Paladin (knight), Sorceress (wizard),

Amazon (Rogue from Diablo), Necromancer (like the Conjurer from NOX),

and Barbarian (Arnold Schwartzenegger in CONAN). Each class is distinctive and

yet supremely balanced. A great deal of this comes from the new skill system,

which links magical abilities to levels rather than whether or not you happened

upon a book somewhere.

Gameplay is still viewed from the familiar isometric perspective and takes place not only in dungeons, but in vast landscapes as well. Typically, reaching a quest objective might involve crossing over a few marshes, fields, and such. Fortunately, there is an included waypoint/teleporter system that nicely avoids the problem of having to re-cross completed terrain.

A key deficiency in Diablo was the easily ‘hackable’ characters. This

led to widespread cheating across Battle.net. This time around, Battle.net play

(which is essentially a cooperative multi-player version of the single player

game, but without saved games) is secure thanks to all gameplay data (including

your avatar) being stored on Blizzard’s servers, much like Ultima

Online
or Everquest.

Graphically, Blizzard decided to play an interesting mix. Through the use

of 3D acceleration in a 2D game, Diablo II comes to life in semi-3D.

Paralaxing effects provide an illusion of objects changing visual relationships

to one another based upon angle of sight. Move ‘up’ and see what was under the

backside of that rock, or what was next to that fence. Advanced lighting and

bilinear filtering effects are also included. Art is consistently top-rate throughout,

with spell and death animations being especially impressive.

One potential caveat, however, is the extremely limited resolution (locked

at 640 x 480) which makes the game look more blocky than it should. Hopefully,

Blizzard will see it in their wisdom (they do have a proven track record) to

include the option of higher resolutions, even if that only means using the

same artwork and shrinking everything down. After all, it worked fine in NOX

It is difficult to tell exactly how good the final Diablo II will be

from the limited beta. But based on what we’ve seen thus far, this should be

yet another winner for Blizzard. The first act, which seems to be the least

exotic of the four, is engrossing and extremely entertaining. The gamplay is

still chock full of that old Diablo excitement and most of the new changes

to the gameplay dynamic balance things out. While the graphics might not demonstrate

it, this looks to be a very polished product and obsession material all over

again.

Barbarians rejoice! Diablo II is due out sometime before the next

Ice Age for the PC.



Click on the following screenshots to enlarge!