Hands-on with Diablo II's Paladin

We play the paladin and offer our first hand impressions

As soon as copies of the Diablo II beta arrived in the office this morning, the editors at GameSpot dove into the game to try out the highly-anticipated RPG and return with their impressions. We tested out each the five character classes and adventured through perhaps a third of Act I. Here are the impressions of playing as the paladin class.

Upon entering the game world, you arrive in the town square in the rogue encampment. There, an NPC named Warriv is waiting to greet you. Warriv is fond of paladins, and his dialogue reflects his excitement at meeting one such noble warrior. The town is in disarray, and spirits are down, as the surrounding area has been infested with Andariel's evil influence. Although the town is distrustful of strangers, Akara, the town elder, gives you a quest. If you complete it, then you will have earned the town's favor, and grudging acceptance from the rest of the townsfolk, including Kashya, the military commander of the remaining rogues.

The first quest is the Den of Evil. It is crawling with monsters, including fallen, zombies, and gargantuan beasts. If you can clear the den of its evil, then you can return to Akara for a reward.

As a paladin, the way is relatively easy, as this character class is the strongest class that still has magic abilities. The barbarian, although physically superior, has no magic spells to call upon. The paladin can outfit himself with sword, shield, and armor, and is able to use nearly all weapons. In addition, he has several beginning abilities that make his journey through the Blood Moors surrounding the encampment easier. Each character has three sets of skills to learn. The paladin has combat abilities, offensive auras, and defensive auras. The first two skills available to a paladin at low levels in the combat set are sacrifice and bash. Sacrifice is a powerful skill that siphons off a little bit of your health but deals more than double damage in a single strike to a foe. Even at second level, one sacrifice attack is enough to fell a gargantuan beast. Bash, in contrast, is a more mundane shield attack that momentarily stuns the victim.

The defensive auras are protective mantles that drain mana slowly and operate as long as you have mana available. The first two defensive auras in your skill tree are prayer, which regenerates hit points for yourself and surrounding party members, and fire resistance. The one offensive aura available is might, which increases the damage you and every surrounding party member deal with each strike. The later skills all have level requirements, as Diablo II has a tiered skill tree system that opens up new skills after every five or so levels.

The paladin thus far appears to be a well-balanced character with good combat abilities and several magical skills that make him the equal of the barbarian in terms of melee strength. The magic wielded by the paladin isn't as far-reaching and spectacular as that wielded by the necromancer or sorceress. Instead, his magic is much more supportive and complementary, adding to the paladin's general abilities and enhancing his effectiveness in battle. However, this impression is based on only the first six levels of play. Perhaps at higher levels, he will gain greater magical capabilities.

In general the experience has been as engrossing as the original. Apart from an initial disappointment with the graphics and the lag of the battle.net servers, the game is thoroughly enjoyable and appears to be incredibly deep, thanks to a huge variety of weapons and items, and the three extensive skill sets.

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