What was it about Diablo II that captivated an entire generation of pc gamers? Even as of the time of this writing (2019), logging into the U.S. East servers reveal a few thousand active players at any given time, with hundreds of public games to join. Now a legend, Diablo II has become the defining video game to showcase how an action RPG hack ‘n slash is supposed to be done.
Blizzard North was originally a third party development team (Condor) and were not originally a “part of the [Blizzard] family” according to Diablo II senior producer Bill Roper. The company was headed by president at the time David Brevik, and vice presidents and brothers Erich Schaefer and Max Schaefer. However, the company was eventually acquired by Blizzard and became known as Blizzard North (as their office resided in northern California). Brevik ran the company from 1993 to 2003, during which time Blizzard North was virtually sovereign from their parent company, Blizzard.
Low Level of Entry
CLICK! CLICK! The average computer user can install Diablo II and start slaying demons. Every action in the game can be accomplished solely with a mouse. The pc hack ‘n slash genre was born with Diablo I, but perfected with Diablo II’s mindless clicking to vanquish demons. According to Roper this was by design to make the Diablo trilogy as accessible as possible to players.
Diablo I was released at the end of 1996 and showcased for the first time Battle.net. D1’s interface was clunky compared to its new interface in Diablo II. But at the time of Diablo’s first debut, Battle.net was a hit. Gamers played cooperatively (pve), deathmatch/team deathmatch (pvp), and chat in-game over a standard TCP/IP protocol Blizzard North developed and unleashed Battle.net to the world at the very end of 1996.
Once Battle.net was upgraded with Diablo II, all hell broke loose. A clean way to find, create, and search for public and private games made the online community surge.
According to Roper, the idea for Battle.Net came about in E3 of 1996 and a ton of work went into perfecting Battle.net both from its inception, and its later update with Diablo II.
Gameplay & Story
Diablo has always put an emphasis on developing its story through gameplay. Diablo II’s gameplay and story has been enhanced by its state of the art (at least for the time) integrated cinematics. Showing the wandering traveler on his journey against the Prime Evils.
Diablo put the emphasis on the player to develop their hero character in every respect. Taking a metric ton of elements from Dungeons & Dragons, the player had a few options when it came to developing their character. As one would advance in the game, their character would level up. As their character would level up, stat points and skill points were allotted to the player to spend for reaching their new rank. This allowed the player to “build” their character.
Rather than get lost in details, I recommend just picking up a copy of Diablo II with the expansion (Lord of Destruction) and playing the game. Diablo II came with 5 playable character classes (Paladin, Barbarian, Necromancer, Sorceress, and Amazon), and two additional character classes in the Lord of Destruction expansion (Assassin and Druid).
As time went on, various “builds” started to become popular. The amount of builds on the internet were in the hundreds and possibly thousands, some cookie cutter, while other builds where experimental in nature. Diablo II perfected giving the player enough choice so that decisions actually mattered, but enough limitation so that the player could always see direction with their build.
Players would grind for hours to level their character. But with the grind came loot. Diablo II’s loot system was implemented with granularity in respect to how often certain items and types of items would drop, which enemy types could drop certain types of items, which locations could drop which items as well as other factors such as the players current “magic find” attribute value. The higher a player’s “magic find”(mf for short) the higher chance they had at finding better items.
In Diablo II, players who joined public games via the Battle.net service, would find that fast clicking paid off when it came to snatching loot. Unlike many arpg’s and mmo’s today, when loot “dropped” it was first come first serve. In other words, if an item dropped on the ground, whoever picked the item up first got the item and the other players were out of luck.
This type of loot system arched Diablo II’s player community to be somewhat stingy. People would steal items, and generally it was a good idea to not trust anyone on battlenet unless you actually knew them in real life, or had played with them for an extended period of time (months to years).
With the expansion Lord of Destruction came runewords. Items which were socketed could have runes injected into them. If runes of specific types were put into socketable items, in specific orders, runewords would be created.
Recipes were a source of mystery, but to the general public’s knowledge, all runewords have been discovered and cataloged by the writing of this post.
The Secret Cow Level
The legend of the Secret Cow Level is all to familiar to avid fans of Diablo. Just get yourself a Town Portal Tome and Wart’s Leg, and combine the two itemswith the Horadric Cube in Act 1 Rogue Encampment… and slay some cows.
This article could be quadruple its size and still not cover everything. Many details have been missed in terms of what makes Diablo II such a great video game. However, the intent of this article was to remain as objective as possible. What made Diablo II such a success? Blizzard North, low level of entry, Battle.Net (revamp), the new and refined classes, the new loot, runewords, and the Secret Cow Level (don’t kill the king!).