Title: Diablo II

Manufacturer: Blizzard Entertainment

Price: $59.95



Note: These images have been reduced in size to fit into this area. In their original form, the quality was greater.

Character selection; this guy's nuclear cologne attracts many an undead soldier.

Amazingly, it's dark in here even with transparent walls.

A touch of destruction; teach these Fallen never to play with matches.

When javelins are outlawed, only outlaws will have javelins.

It looks great, but the interface could be more accessible.

You'll never have to stop for directions or fold anything to fit in your glovebox again.

Help this undead Rogue run up her electric bill.

A nice family environment for the young cloning scientist over the summer.

Two years ago Macintosh users were treated to Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo, almost a year after the same title graced the screens of thousands of PCs everywhere. Thankfully the gaming environment today is different. With the best-selling iMac line and Apple in a long comeback stride, a mere three weeks after the same Windows PC title hit the shelves Diablo II is available for the Macintosh, one of the fastest game conversions for any platform. (This is no small feat considering all the time this title spent for development and revisions.) Like the PC version, Diablo II taps the power of hardware graphics acceleration and Mac users with capable video cards have their choice between RAVE, OpenGL, and 3Dfx enhanced variants of game graphics. For those without a graphics accelerator, Diablo II has a software rendering option, but beware: system requirements are high, the box label recommends a G3 CPU or better, running Mac OS 8.1 or newer with 64MB. (The slowest G3 to reach the market clocked at 233MHz.) Legacy Mac users have no fear, I tested the game on my own PowerMac 6500/225, sporting Sonnet's 400MHz G3 without problems. For enhanced graphical effects, standard graphics cards from vendors like ATI, 3Dfx, VillageTronic, and the late MicroConversions are supported, provided that your card has 8MB or more. Diablo II performs well without a graphics accelerator via software rendering, but you'll miss out on many of the new visual effects and the game will only display 256 colors, so if you haven't considered one before, you may wish to try a video upgrade. Finally, few computer games today are very good without connectivity, and Diablo II takes its hack-n-slash environment online as well so you can fight as a team or "every man for himself" as you quest through the fantasy medieval dungeons online. (Or if you're antisocial, you can always save your progress and play offline.)

Details: The Story
Diablo II begins with a beautiful cinematic display that brings to mind something akin to a Lucasfilm project--and it's even presented in letterboxed format. If the visuals don't draw you in, the sound surely will; Diablo II sports a very engaging symphonic soundtrack as well as a script delivered by a team of convincing voice actors. For those unfamiliar with the original game, its resolution saw the imprisonment of the Diablo inside the Soulstone, but the Diablo's defeat was to become the player's curse as the Soulstone bonded to his forehead. In the time between the first game and Diablo II, the Diablo has weakened the resolve of his captor, and an unassuming man named Marius follows him as he wanders the land. As the one known simply as the Wanderer makes his unholy pilgrimage across the earth, supernatural and disastrous events are unleashed; the dead rising from the grave, goblins terrorizing the countryside, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. Marius' tale recounts the demonic happenings along the Wanderer's path as you determine to track him before he besets the world with his minions, causing more death, destruction, and a bad fall TV season.

Diablo II will no doubt find many comparisons with the original, most of which are likely to encompass its criticisms, but you need not play the game for long before the sheer girth of its quest looms before you; Diablo II is at least four times the length of its predecessor, the game being divided into four acts, each of which has a new town to visit for information and equipment, and their surrounding demesne. One quirk I had always noticed regarding the first Diablo was the way most of the game seemed to be so very "the same," with each dungeon level closely resembling the last. Blizzard seems to have anticipated this by ensuring that each of the locales, from the towns to the forests to the dungeons, all have an intriguing and pleasing distinctness from one another. Variety is surely the order of the day; the first Diablo offered only three characters to choose from, whereas Diablo II serves up five: the Amazon (a similar yet improved Rogue), the Necromancer, the Barbarian (close cousin to the Warrior from Diablo), the Sorceress, and the Paladin. With more characters, some of whom overlap from the previous offerings, the strategy of character advancement becomes a real joy of the game. With each level that your character advances, you are allotted five attribute points, and one new skill which usually takes the form of some sort of magic or new attack. It is very possible to create a "balanced" character from your attributes, but the results of levelling up are usually best seen when characters specialize in certain areas. This creates a wonderful bonus to inherent replay value; the Necromancer for instance can easily amass offensive spells to become a worthy close combatant, but is also naturally suited to his summoning ability. A player who trains his summoning skill could sit back and break out the bubbly, sipping champagne while his golems fight his battles for him. Paladins likewise can gain offensive spells, but are particularly useful when casting auras for multiple-player parties to increase strength, healing, and so forth. The needs of a situation can call for different ability tactics and open up a wealth of new gameplay.

Details: The Graphics
This is the part most of you were waiting for. How does the game compare to the other electronic entertainment competing for your valuable time-wasting attention? For a brand new game, it's actually very easy to overlook the fact that much of the game has a blocky, antiquated appearance, simply due to all of the detail at every corner of the screen. Whereas the first Diablo used bitmapped graphics, the isometric 3/4 overhead perspective in Diablo II is all polygonal, which makes the attention to detail all the more astonishing. The texturing on the game characters as well as the scenery is very vivid, even when using Glide's 16-bit color on the 3Dfx Voodoo2 card. I also have an ATI Rage128 Orion, with the latest Multimedia 1.0 Update software installed; after downloading the game's version 1.03 update and several attempts to make Diablo II work with it, I simply gave up. I could not get RAVE video to work in the game. Yosemite, Yikes, and Sawtooth owners need not worry however, the OEM versions of the Rage128 cards have had no problems, only the aftermarket PCI card owners have had trouble. Some ATI upgraders have solved these RAVE problems, but I seem to be one of the unlucky ones. The hardware acceleration modes, whichever you choose, offer more than just detailed textures. You'll get random flashes of lightning during thunderstorms, variable lighting that follows your character like a realistic "torchlight" through caves and mausoleums, flickering flames that animate with life and energy, as well as casting shadows that snake along the ground and against walls. The effect is so subtle that it's easy to forget the amount of work involved to craft a visual environment with such depth. As a coup-de-grace, you'll spot loads of character animation in places you least expect. The air above a dead body will reek with flies while maggots squirm at its sides. Mice will feast on the corpses of your fallen foes, bats will flutter from corner to corner in caves, and chickens in town will lose feathers as they speed away from your approach. It's all very elegant and robust, and although the still screen captures may appear pixelated, the quality of animation really transforms the visual impact when the game is witnessed in motion. And although I've already mentioned this once, I have to say that the effect of the game's soundtrack is equally transformative and provides at least as much reward for playing as the eye-candy from your high-tech graphics card.

A small tip for improved performance: after installing the game, if you have a slower CD-ROM (8x or less) you might want to find the Music file on the play CD, and copy it to your hard disk. This eliminates any possible jerky stuttering from the CD loading during play.

Details: The MUD experience--good and bad
The icing on this medieval cake (thankfully not a musty one) is the online play, which is termed a "MultiUser Dungeon." Diablo II offers you the opportunity to combine your daring fantasy with teamwork and interaction by playing on the battle.net servers. As many veteran Diablo players know, however, it usually isn't that simple--P.K.s abound across the Diablo world. A "player killer" was the term given to those unscrupulous players who would meet strangers in battle.net chatrooms, telling them how they found a great server in the network with lots of treasure and items, conning them into joining them in a game there, and then turning on them in order to take all of their own items after assassinating them. As bizarre as it may sound (it is, after all, a game), the problem was very widespread in battle.net. Blizzard took notice of this and designed Diablo II in ways to discourage this practice of ruining the other guy's fun. The original game stored all multiplayer profile information on the client-side computer, but this isn't the case this time around. For Diablo II, multiplayer profiles are held in battle.net, and with a new system for deaths through which a dead player's body can be returned to the town of the area when the player restarts the game, the goods aren't as easily stolen even if you happen to get backstabbed. This sounds great, but there were also plenty of hackers the world over when the original Diablo was all the rage, and this is unlikely to change simply due to a few more precautions against these peculiar character pirates.

And speaking of "the world over," Diablo II's release as of this writing has been just that: worldwide. This has made for some very interesting internet play, because there is no language standardization throughout the different language versions. Don't be too surprised if the Spanish, French, German, etc. players happen to refer to completely bizarre locales or bandy about arcane and unknown item names. Surely, native-language game translations are a good thing (and possibly one more reason the game saw as many delays as it did?), but how difficult could it have been to keep the p's and q's straight across borders? Just make sure your German buddy knows the exact location of the dungeon you're going to, so you don't get into a jam without a multilingual compass when you need help.

Battle.net, like Diablo II, had some growing pains coming out of the gate. After a software revision and some server tweaking, many of the connection errors players experienced within the first couple of weeks of Diablo II's release have been resolved, but the server is clearly overloaded quite frequently, as the game's success seems to have been battle.net's burden. Expect a stutter or two, and maybe more, if a player on your game has a slow connection. So, you may ask, is Diablo II that worth it to play, online, if the internet quirks remain? I would have to answer that by saying, certainly yes, and mostly this is due to the game's design. Following the same paradigm that made Diablo successful, Diablo II is a multiplayer's dream come true. It would seem that the first game suited multiplayer so well that Blizzard went a mile farther and crafted Diablo II in such a way that it caters to this gathering of gamers. If you only ever play Diablo II alone, you will likely be disappointed, and if you aren't disappointed this will only be because you haven't had the joy of exposure to Diablo II's flavor. Additionally, when you "complete" a level, even if you have killed all of the creatures in any one area, if you save your game and return again later, all of these monsters will have returned as if you had never exterminated them. To the goal-oriented single player this can pose some continuity problems, especially if you find that you must move through an area with a level "boss" to get to the next after having saved your progress; to the online MUD community at battle.net, however, this is just Blizzard's way of providing fresh meat at every server for all players, so at least be prepared to give the multiplayer thing a try. You miss out on at least half of the Diablo II experience by playing alone.

There's good and there's bad in Diablo II. (Not to mention, downright evil.) What's good is very good--what's bad is really not so bad at all. The good points are that Diablo II is just as good as its predecessor, without much new; it's hack-n-slash fun without the frills that many computer games come with like so much unnecessary luggage. It keeps the experience simple with an arcade feel that will make you yearn for your youth blowing quarters or wasting allowance on Super Nintendo games, and just enough modern touches to make it obvious that this is a game your old Super Nintendo couldn't do. The bad points are the same as the good--it's simplistic hack-n-slash cut and dried, and while there are strategic elements to character management, it won't change the immediacy of your play in battle, which is what the game is all about. And of course the whole look of the game is very graphically retro--but just so darn good at being retro.

Nostalgic loincloth entertainment doesn't get any better than this.

10/10 10/10

This review was written by Michael Alexander Owens.

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Diablo II for Mac
Diablo II for Mac from MacZone


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