Since I didn't pay much attention to the PC realm of gaming until I got a bit older, Diablo II was a complete mystery to me until quite some time after its release. I saw a friend playing it at the first LAN party I ever attended and was once again in awe of Blizzard's work.
The story picked up right where Diablo left off (SPOILER ALERT) where your hero from the game essentially took Diablo into himself to prevent him from returning and spreading evil, only to incidentally become corrupted by the Diablo's essence in the process. It is at that point that the adventurer just sort of gets high and wanders off. The new adventure is centered around a new character following the journey of this "Dark Wanderer" and trying to find the origin of the death and destruction he is leaving in his wake. Maybe you'll pop in to visit the Prime Evils along the way. Who knows!
The second entry in the series took everything that made the first title great and expanded upon it to unreal ends. There were now five playable characters. Every act had huge worlds with plentiful dungeons and side areas to explore and conquer. Your character moved much quicker. Combat was far smoother and more fierce. Graphically, it was also superior with more depth and animation.
Many features in II were added to further differentiate the play experience from the first title. I think it's safe to say that the first thing one would notice would be the addition of a "Fatigue" stat. This allowed your character to run, rather than walk, for a period of time. At a glance, it would seem like a pain to have one more thing to pay attention to during the coming onslaught of enemies, but the fatigue was actually done quite well in terms of how long it lasted and how quickly it recharged. There was also an awesome amount of item customization in the addition of "socketed" items, which allowed the player to add gems with specific properties to the items. This would modify the item to give specific benefits to the player, whether it was a boost for a certain stat, an elemental attack bonus, or giving the player a little more luck at finding magical items.
Hoards of enemies make a relentless return as well, some of them downright terrifying. Similar to The Butcher in my first entry, we have another contender in the early-in-the-game-and-outstandingly-difficult competition. On your quest to vanquish the Prime Evils, you come across Duriel, a gigantic grub beast who is insanely fast and powerful. Duriel is not a Prime Evil, but a Lesser Evil donning the mantle "Lord of Pain," and boy, does he live up to it. He announces his hellish presence by charging at you and growling under your skin "LOOKING FOR BAAL!?" who you were actually hoping to find. Damn shame, this mix-up.
As if there wasn't enough content already, the expansion offered up two more playable characters, many more items, and an additional act that provided a new area to explore and another boss to defeat. This presented more challenges for veterans and more to be accomplished by people who would play through the game as a band of heroes. It serves as a fantastic example of what expansions and downloadable content should aspire to.
I could go on, but there is so much to say and I haven't even begun to scratch the surface with this synopsis. Diablo II is available for very reasonable prices. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy, especially if you are a fan of dungeon crawlers and have never given this one a go.
Once again, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the next entry: "Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Diab'd."
Preview and header images courtesy of Diablo Wiki.