Diablo II

PC gamers who've never played Diablo are harder to find than a cheap apartment in Tokyo. Blizzard wowed gamers years ago with a game that made action fans take a look at RPGs, and vice versa. By taking away the cumbersome mechanics and introducing a basic point-and-click combat interface and a system of constant reward, Blizzard did for RPGs what they did for real-time strategy with Warcraft: they made it easy, intuitive, and impossible to put down. As soon as gamers got their hands on the original, they began clamouring for a sequel.

Now Diablo is back, and it's obvious that the years in development have been kind. Blizzard's trademark is perfect play balancing, and they've struck that pose again with Diablo II. Five character classes, each with multiple skill trees and power paths, join together to fight the Prince of Terror as he returns to plague the land. Whether you play as Barbarian, Amazon, Paladin, Sorceress or Necromancer, you'll find that no particular class is more powerful than the others. No matter how you choose to set your skills, with the right tactics your character will be a force to be reckoned with in the world of Diablo II.

This title's been years in the making, and though that shows in its dated graphics and layout, it's what's inside the game that counts. Control is as easy as pointing and clicking, and spells and potions are just a hotkey away. Great voice samples, atmospheric music and the gruesome sounds of combat all contribute to Diablo II's overall sonic perfection. The multi-player game and single-player mode are, for all intents and purposes, the same, and those worried about cheaters can play their games on Blizzard's free online service Battle.net, which stores characters on Blizzard's servers, away from the prying fingers of cheaters. Diablo II's graphics - 2D, and rather outdated - are all that keep the game from being all-out perfect, but even the visuals sport impressive lighting and spell effects.

When you buy Diablo II, be ready for some serious patch and driver downloading, as a huge portion of early adopters had all sorts of graphics and sound card problems. You'll also want to connect to Battle.net immediately upon starting up, because there's already a huge patch that fixes some rather daunting gameplay bugs, and there ought to be another on the way, because gamers are finding new bugs all the time. Liberal application of Blizzard's technical support system should have you up and running in no time, and, for once, the game is worth the trouble.

With its philosophy of constant reward (you're always finding better equipment, learning new skills, or just levelling up) and its all-too-easy interface, Diablo II takes what the original Diablo did well and expands on it. You'll get caught up in the quest to have the meanest Barbarian, the nastiest Necromancer or the holiest Paladin, and you'll forget the real world exists. The real evil in this game isn't Diablo himself - it's that once you start, you won't be able to stop.

Product: Diablo II

Developer: Blizzard

URL: www.blizzard.com/diablo2/

Tips

How you buy your skills will have a huge impact on how you play the game. For example, a Necromancer with a lot of curses and no summonings will play it a lot safer than one with a veritable army of undead at his whim.

The game scales itself in difficulty based on the number of players involved. If you're in a multi-player game, make sure to join with the others and stay together, or the proportionately stronger monsters will hand you your heart.

Paladins' auras often affect the entire party, making that class the king of multi-player cooperative adventures. They're also the only class with healing skills, making them that much more valuable.

There are a lot of monsters that can resurrect others. When you see them, kill them as soon as you can. If you have ice attacks or a Necromancer who can raise skeletons, use those abilities on the other monsters, as creatures shattered while frozen or raised as undead can't be resurrected afterward.

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