Diablo 2: Ten Years Later

Some things sneak up on you. The ten year anniversary of the release of Diablo II, a game I bought near launch and have lost and repurchased at least three times, is one of those things. It’s baffling to think such an important, vital game was released so long ago.

Hell, Blizzard’s still supporting it. That goes to show how healthy the game still is.

When you look at it, Diablo 2 is a game like Chrono Trigger: it did so much stuff so far before its time, that it’s a positively amazing experience. And like Chrono Trigger, you can still play it today, and it will feel like it is a brand new, fantastic game that you have never played before in your life.

That’s one powerful game.

Diablo II was one of the important games of my teenage years, rivaling only Starcraft and Everquest by comparison (excluding single player games, of course). Diablo II was the hot shit. Diablo 2 was rock and roll in the early 1950’s, when Great Balls of Fire and Elvis were the hottest cuts in the world. Diablo 2 was rock and roll, chocolate, and pixie dust rolled up into one hellish package.

It’s also a game that has exerted a singular influence over game design of the past ten years. No game has been anywhere as important, and this is because of one reason: addiction based design.

Everquest (and Ultima Online, which I didn’t play a whole lot) created the MMO, but Diablo 2, a not quite massively multiplayer game, perfected it with a few simple design choices. The goals became not exploration and a level that would take ten hours to achieve and offer few benefits, but rather building an overpowered character and leveling up in two hours. Loot went from something you farmed to something you made a build for, with magic find items, and then went and killed everything, especially the most exciting boss enemies.

Everquest was a job, before Eve Online copyrighted MMO: It’s a Job as its slogan. Diablo 2 built a world where every five minutes you acquired another uber ability, or another overpowered item. You weren’t working on your character anymore, you were kicking all sorts of ass and taking a laundry list of names. You were kicking the almighty god ass, my friends.

That was, really, the only innovation Diablo 2 needed. It’s a multifaceted innovation, to be sure. It revolutionized the processes of looting, leveling up in a video game, and simple, accessible combat, as well as bringing a genre closer to the mainstream (the roguelike) and revolutionizing both the PC RPG and the action game. It’s hard to imagine a lot of games existing without these innovations. Ironically, what I feel like is one of its most interesting innovations, the system of skill synergies, wasn’t introduced until halfway into its life cycle. Some people playing Diablo 2 probably can’t remember a time when they didn’t exist. Others who played for years have never heard of them. It’s unreal that such a major, humongous edition was made so late in the game’s life cycle. It just goes to show the staying power this game, this brilliant game had.

On a personal note, I’ve beaten normal mode in Diablo 2 five times, all five (eventually) including Act V. Twice, I’ve gone on a major trek into Nightmare and Hell mode, once with my sorceress (back in the days when you didn’t have to specialize to get synergies) and once with an elemental druid who died a whole fucking lot. Every time I played through it, though, I had a heck of a lot of fun, and every time was different, and that’s the calling card of a well made MMO, even if it’s not an MMO. It was always a different experience, and it was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

Diablo 2 is still around, older but more relevant than ever, and I’d be playing it right now if I could find my damn discs. I really don’t want to buy it for the fourth time. I’d wait until Diablo 3 comes out, but I’m pretty sure Diablo 3 is some sort of horrible myth used to terrify children. Somewhere, some small child won’t get his or her allowance until Diablo 3 comes out, and they will live a childhood of abject poverty.