I really debated posting the second installment of the Diablo franchise last. “Why?” you may ask, because I personally believe that it’s the best iteration of the franchise. With a hugely anticipated release, Blizzard had to match some very high expectations. With Blizzard being Blizzard, they blew these expectations out of the water. Taking a bold new step with Diablo, Blizzard replaced the dark, lore-enriched dungeon with a much more arcade-style fantasy game. Gone was the slow creeping through a pitch black dungeon or the eerie sense of safety in the gloomy town of Tristram. Instead, players blazed through hordes of monsters along vast monster-saturated maps that seemed to be endless.
It was clear early on, that Diablo 2 was going in the same direction as Warcraft and Starcraft in terms of palette. Ditching the dulled greys and blues that literally made up the world of Diablo, Blizzard brought in brighter colours to liven up the world. Diablo 2 still had the sinister dungeons and crypts that players came to expect, but even those were too bright to feel threatening. At first this sounds like a bad idea, that ruins the very essence that made the first game popular, but the designers shifted the entire game experience in a new direction. With hindsight of Diablo 2’s success, it’s hard to appreciate how much of a gamble this was for Blizzard to take.
This naturally leads to the game play. Instead of a slow and moody RPG, Diablo 2 went for a faster paced arcade-style of play. With the ability to run and cast huge area of effect spells, the player no longer felt vulnerable, but instead felt very powerful. This tapped into a strong mass appeal towards the game, attracting less RPG-focused players into the mix. This was key in the success of Diablo 2, because as fun and well designed the first game was, a game is much more likely to succeed if it’s approachable.
I feel very strongly that the success of Blizzard rests almost solely on their ability to balance their games. In the case of Diablo 2, progression was not only great, it was perfected. Progression was marked by leveling characters, gaining new spells, unlocking boosts in the talent tree, and finding new and more powerful gear. All of these are very bread and butter to most games (let alone RPGs) nowadays, but Blizzard balanced the progression so that you were always feeling the rush of getting stronger without overdoing it. For the first 20 or so levels, I never felt the game was going too fast or too slow, and I was always chasing the next achievement marker. Whether it was trying out the next spell or being able to wear that powerful helmet, I would annihilate hordes of monsters without ever feeling like I was grinding.
The last thing I will mention is probably one of the coolest differences between the first game and Diablo 2. The characters of Diablo 2 had so much more personality. In the original, players could choose from three of the most generic-looking classes that are recycled into any RPG game: A fighter, wizard, and rogue (bow user). All of the spells and skill upgrades were chosen by the player, and nothing tied your class to your play-style beyond starting stats. By the end of the game, most warriors knew just as many spells as the wizard character. In Diablo 2 however, new distinct classes were introduced, each with their own skills and personalities.
Diablo 2 was fantastic, and despite it being released over a decade and a half ago, there is still a community of fans playing it. Blizzard is still selling this game on their website even after the release of the sequel, which is an absolute insane achievement for a video game.