With over 20 years of PC gaming under my belt, Diablo 2 is still most probably my favorite game of all time. I have played thousands of hours of Diablo 2 and the game is still as engrossing and fun to play as it was over twenty years ago. In this article we will explore reasons why Diablo 2 is such a good game and what fans love about Diablo 2 for anyone deciding whether they should play Diablo 2 for the first time, or for old fans looking for an excuse to return to the dark world of Sanctuary.
Should you play Diablo 2 today? Here are five reasons why Diablo 2 is one of the best games ever made. Since Diablo 2’s original release, hundreds of imitators have taken the games formulae and rehashed it in various shapes and sizes to varying degrees of success. You will see elements of Diablo 2 in virtually every single modern RPG you play today. But one thing is for sure – there can be only one king of the ARPG and this is the game that practically defined the genre.
1. Incredible sound design and music soundtrack
Although often overlooked by many gamers and gaming reviewers alike, sound design in games is a long lost art that can truly make or break a games immersion. Diablo 2 features some of the greatest sound design in a game ever made in this authors humble opinion.
Lead by Scott Peterson and Matt Uelman, the Diablo 2 sound design team created virtually all of the games sounds from scratch using what is referred to as “foley”, a term popularized by the film industry for creating sound effects from scratching using in a studio. Undoubtedly this involved hacking apart various day to day items including apart anything from a turkey carcass to a watermelon.
To get an idea for the level of detail the team went to, every single item type in the game has it’s own unique sound when dropping from a monster. In a game so heavily driven by loot and items, it’s no wonder finding items is so satisfying when you look at the extent the sound design team went too. This isn’t even taking into account the careful planning for how these sounds are implemented to create an immersive audio environment, a task spearheaded by developer Jon Stone.
Composer Matt Uelman, who was also part of the sound design team above and was the composer for the original Diablo 1 soundtrack, should need no introduction to anyone familiar with the world of video game soundtracks. His iconic soundtracks for Diablo 2 and Diablo 2 Lord of Destruction were nothing short of a work of genius.
His style of music includes some incredibly original and unique tools including the use of 12 string guitars which was made legendary by “Tristram”, the theme tune from the original Diablo 1 which was redone for Diablo 2 in a way that will send shivers down the spine of any true Diablo 2 fan to this day. His influences included legendary rock bands such as Led Zeppelin all the way through to Latin American music.
As an avid Diablo 2 fan I can attest to listening to the Diablo 2 soundtrack regularly and, over twenty year later, it is still brilliant enough to take me right back to the world of Sanctuary in a heartbeat.
It would be impossible to leave this section be without pointing out the incredible voice acting throughout Diablo 2. In a world often dominated by sub-par voice acting, Diablo 2 had a level of polish in it’s voice acting team that is still hard (if not impossible) to find even in todays world of multi-billion dollar gaming empires.
Considering the small size of the studio at the time, it is a wonder that this was possible – how did a small team of 20-somethings recruit the kind of talent that many triple AAA game titles today lack so sorely?
2. Immersive graphics engine and art style
Artistic Style and User Interface
One of the first things that jumps out at you when you play Diablo 2 is the artistic style which is consistent from the cinematic videos, game menus and all the way through to the in-game user interface and graphical art style.
There is no point in the game that for even one second the graphics give you any inkling of an idea that there is even a world that exists outside of the game itself. This is something that seems to have fallen to the wayside in today’s era of hyper-modern and flashy game menus and in-game overlays.
The progression between menu’s and in-game is virtually seemless, and the in-game UI is crafted in such a way that simply looks like an extension of the world itself and doesn’t detract from the atmosphere of the game.
Graphics Engine and Artistic Flare
This consistency translates 100% when looking at the in-game graphics, which appear to be a blend of 3D graphics and a digital paintbrush. This is partly the reason why, even 20 years later, the game is still so immersive despite the insane leaps in graphics since.
Instead of seeming crass and blocky, the pixelated art style, even through today’s lens, appears to resonate with the in-game world so well that it never ceases to detract from the immersion.
It wouldn’t be fair to talk about the Diablo 2 graphics engine and art style without mentioning probably the most pervasive element of all – a feeling of darkness, gloom and decay permeated by spots of brightness (usually in the form of your own hero).
Instead of feeling depressing, this dark gothic art style is gleefully evil in a way that celebrates the darkness of the world around you. A lack of this art style was one of the major criticisms of Diablo 3 and something that Blizzard has promised to fix in the upcoming Diablo 4 with limited results so far.
3. Randomized maps and scaling difficulty levels allow for almost infinite replayability
Randomized “procedurally generated” content
One of the biggest reasons why Diablo 2 is still so popular today is the way the game make incredible usage of procedurally generated content. In a nutshell, what this means that the games maps, enemies and items and randomized in such a way that you can play through the game any number of times and each time will be extremely different.
Although the framework for how each map looks and the basic quests and story are the same, within this framework is an insane amount of randomization which allows for thousands of replays of the same areas while still keeping the game interesting for players. The games dense maps are interesting, full of small details and hoards of monsters and enemies of all shapes and sizes.
Scaling difficulty levels
This is coupled with a brilliant difficulty system which has three tiers, each within the same world and using the same quests but with huge differences in the type, strength and behavior of enemies, creating an extremely challenging games which only gets harder and more interesting the more you play it.
Most of the games best content happens at higher difficulty levels, where both character progression and fights with enemies become increasingly difficult and require an intense amount of strategy in order to overcome.
4. Complex and extremely satisfying loot and item economy
Item randomization and customization
Any fan of Diablo will tell you one of the most satisfying and addictive elements to the game is the incredibly well designed loot system and item economy. Finding new gear to enhance your character and be able to take on stronger and stronger enemies is a huge part of what makes Diablo so alluring to players. Despite the success of dozens and dozens of modern RPG’s which have tried their best to take it’s place, Diablo 2 defined a new era of itemization in the RPG genre and, by many accounts, still does it better than any other game today.
You’ll need your PHD in Diablo 2 itemization to decipher this one
Items that are spawned in Diablo 2 can have any number of item types, item qualities, item rarities and randomized item attributes that make almost every single item different from the next. Even high-level “Unique” items which have legendary titles that remain static throughout the game have certain properties that our completely randomized so that in practice almost no two items are exactly the same. Beautiful artwork and well written lore are just the cherry on the cake in this incredible system.
The game also utilized an intricate in-game gold economy with vendors which includes balancing costs and expenditure on various tasks necessary to your continued adventuring, including repairing equipment, buying potions and hiring mercenaries to aid you in your battles.
At much higher difficulty levels, the item economy takes over the gold economy in the quest for the ultimate gear to allow your character to be able to survive and defeat the increasingly powerful enemies found at higher difficulty levels. In online multiplayer on Blizzards official Battle.net servers, this creates a separate item-based economy where players often items between each other in order to help find the gear they need for their chosen heroes.
Sidenote: Not to drag Blizzard through the mud, but the Diablo 3 loot system is infantile in comparison , with extremely limited builds and very limited item customization in the same way that there was in Diablo 2. Can we get this write in Diablo 4 as well while we’re at it, pretty please?
5. Extreme character customizability
Last but not least, another element of Diablo 2 success is it’s extremely interesting character customization using a relatively simple system that can produce incredibly complex and interesting builds and thousands of completely different ways to play the same heroes.
Add to this the complexity of item builds, which themselves have thousands and thousands of different configurations, and you have a system where creating a new character requires an extensive amount of research and planning in order to be able to achieve the desired results at higher difficulty levels. By the same token, the system is intuitive and easy to understand for newer players playing lower difficulty levels.
This system of masterful game balance between different characters, skills and item builds is what has kept Diablo 2 alive over twenty years after it’s creation. There are so many possibilities and so many ways original ways to play the game that the replayability options insane, and the amount of brain stretching and strategizing required to truly create a character you are happy with for later difficult levels is a mammoth task.
A Final Call for Aid
Thanks for getting to the end of our open heart surgery on the legendary Diablo 2 on what made it one of the most popular video games of its time and why it remains such a popular game even today over 20 years since launch. Before you go, we ask one favor in the name of RPG gaming and the glory of the Blizzard we once knew.
Please share this article with Blizzard and your friends in the hopes that Diablo 4 will return to its roots and that Blizzard will consider a legendary Diablo 2 remaster to show the world the true genius of the Diablo franchise and bring us back the Blizzard that created some of the most celebrated video games of all time.
You can contact Blizzard here.