While its graphics appear somewhat dated, Diablo II has incredible replay value, and most importantly, it offers a lot of addictive gameplay in either the single-player or the multiplayer mode.
After more than three years in the making, Diablo II has finally arrived. The belated sequel is easily one of the most anticipated computer games of all time, so it's not surprising that Blizzard North has managed to produce another highly entertaining and accessible game. But while its hack-and-slash gameplay will seem instantly familiar to those who played its predecessor, Diablo II is a more complex and much larger game, which helps explain its extended production. However, in exchange for the additional complexity and size, you'll have to tolerate low-resolution graphics and a few more gameplay problems than you might have come to expect from Blizzard games.
Although it was hugely successful both commercially and critically, the original Diablo was criticized for its relatively short single-player game and solitary dungeon setting. Diablo II is set in a much larger gaming world, and its action isn't isolated to a single locale. Divided into four distinct acts, each with its own setting, Diablo II now permits outdoor exploration in addition to a predictable series of dungeon crawls, although the outdoor areas aren't terribly interesting in and of themselves. The overall goal of Diablo II is exactly the same as it was in the first game, namely to hack through hordes of monsters to gain items and enhance your abilities so you can confront and speedily dispatch the resident Lord of Terror, Diablo. This time around there's a better story to serve as the framework for the slaughter, as each of the game's acts is linked together with impressively produced and lengthy cinematic cutscenes. The quests you receive are no longer random, as they were in the single-player version of the original game, and collectively the tasks in each act are loosely linked together to make the overall story more cohesive. Diablo II's primary focus is still on action-oriented gameplay, but the more sophisticated presentation of the cutscenes and the additional plot depth give the action context and more relevance than in the original game.
The actual gameplay still consists almost exclusively of killing monsters to gain treasure and experience points. Since your character constantly gains more and more formidable abilities and weaponry, that relatively simple style of play proves to be just as addictive as it was in the original Diablo and in other games that have since exploited the same formula. It's difficult to extract yourself from a game that always keeps you on the verge of being rewarded for another achievement.
Early in the game, that otherwise effective blueprint is overused, since swarms of weak creatures are hurled at you. The game is so easy until the end of act one that it gets tiresome wading through crowds of pathetic beasts, several of which are less fearsome versions of counterparts from the original game. The lack of resulting tension is noticeable, especially since the first Diablo increased its difficulty very quickly by requiring relatively inexperienced characters to battle behemoths such as the Butcher and the Skeleton King. There isn't a similarly difficult showdown in Diablo II until the very end of the first act, although there are plenty of challenging confrontations after that point in the game. Blizzard has always seemed intent on producing games that are extremely intuitive for new players; with Diablo II, the developers may have been concerned that neophytes would find all of the new character skill choices intimidating and accordingly structured the game so that the early stages would give you a less stressful opportunity to get accustomed to the new character development system. In addition, since the graphics for the creatures and areas at the beginning of game were also created quite early in the game's development, they are substantially worse than those that appear further into the game. The first act of the game is generally not representative of the quality and challenge of its remainder.
More experienced players may be bored early in the game because of the lack of difficulty, but they'll certainly appreciate the additional character development options. In addition to there now being five player-character classes instead of just three, the differences between the new classes are more significant than they were in the original game. In Diablo, while each of the classes had different strengths and inherently performed some actions better than the other classes, there were only a couple of unique class skills. In Diablo II the character development system has been overhauled, and almost all skills are unique to a particular class. In addition, you get to select which skills your character acquires or improves, so even characters of the same class can develop completely differently. Similarly, whereas the original game's mana attribute simply determined a character's spell points, it's been redefined into a more broadly useful attribute that all character classes need to keep track of. The increased differentiation between classes and the more expansive selection of skills appreciably enhance the game's replay value, especially since Blizzard did a good job of making each class interesting. While the additional complexity may make Diablo II a little less accessible to casual gamers, it's definitely the game's most significant improvement over Diablo.