Ok, after a long, long hiatus from epinioneering, I'm back in the saddle, with loads of new toys to review. I picked up the origional Diablo 2 a few months back, and ate it up with a spoon. The Diablo series really raised the bar with it's innovative mix of RPG and Hack 'n Slash gameplay, plus it's perfectly balanced reward system for killing monsters. Apparently, Blizzard had a few more cool ideas that they wanted to slip into the Diablo 2 universe, so they came out with Lord of Destruction. The expansion pack is quite good, though a bit pricey for what it has to offer. 2 new character classes, a new act, and new items/features are slim justification for it's $30 price tag, for casual gamers, but for you hardened Diablo 2 grognards, it's well worth it. Anyway, without further ado, here's the triumphant return of the Patented Action Snark Rundown on Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction.
Recommend this product?
The Story: The story is decently told. LOD picks up right after the origional Diablo 2, with a fifth act dedicated to your search for Diablo's big brother, Baal. After disposing of Mephisto and Diablo in the origional game, you are greeted with the bad news. Apparently, Baal has raised a huge army of the undead, and is getting rowdy and doing bad things, like murdering people, razing cities, and kicking puppies. Of course, you don't stand for that at all, so you set off on another quest to vanquish Baal once and for all. Story gets a 7 out of 10 for being a rather formulaic addition to a well told story.
The Graphics: Blizzard has answered the prayers of all those who have high-end systems with LOD. The same Diablo 2 graphics we all know and love are back, but with some additions. With LOD, resolution can now be bumped from the default 640x480 up to a far more tasty 800x600. While the graphics are still a tad pixelated in places, they are a great improvement over Diablo 2's graphics. The new act also features some nifty new tile sets and monsters, but the real boon in LOD is the higher resolution.
Graphics score an 8 out of 10 for delivering a great addition to already well done graphics, provided you have the horsepower of course.
Gameplay: The classic Diablo 2 carpal-tunnel inducing gameplay returns in LOD, but with a few minor tweaks. Controls are still crisp, and responsive, and you once again wear out your mouse buttons as you franticly click on everything in sight to kill it or pick it up. However, LOD introduces several new aspects in each area of the game, and these bear closer inspection:
Characters: Two new character classes have been added in LOD. The Assassin is a lithe female, who is a member of a sacred order who eschews both magic and pants. (Take one look at an assassin sprite, and you'll see what I mean.) Assassins play like a mix between barbarians and necromancers. They have excellent combat skills, but also rely heavily on magical traps, and can summon 'shadows' of themselves. A shadow acts as a sort of minion, which gives you an extra sword on your side when you go into battle. Blizzard has also implemented a rudimentary 'combo' system with assassins. Certain attacks 'charge up' when you hit enemies with them. These charges can then be combined with a powerful 'finishing move' attack which will dish out massive damage, and other nasty effects upon your enemies. The assassin is an exceedingly fun class to play, but they are too powerful in my opinion. The first four acts are a breeze with an assassin at your command.
The Druid is the other class Blizzard has added. Again, instead of adding anything really innovative, Blizzard has combined the best of existing classes in the Druid. Playing like another barbarian/necromancer mix, with a soupcon of sorceress thrown in, Druids can be powerful fighters. Not only can druids summon animal minions and cast powerful spells, but they can also morph into various were-animals. When in werebear/werewolf form, a druid's combat skills increase dramatically, allowing him to whomp all over pretty much anything in his path. Druids are also overly powerful in my opinion, but not as unbalanced as an assassin is.
New Items and Other stuff: Blizzard has also tossed a load of new unique, rare, and set items into the mix with LOD. Several powerful new unique and set items have been included, which really breathes new life into both new characters, and existing classes. Also, new socketable items called 'runes' have been introduced. Runes act like gems, as they can be dropped into a socket in a weapon/helm/shield/etc. and provide a hefty bonus. I'm glad to see that blizzard found a way to add a bit more depth with runes, as they make building the power of your items more interesting. Also, new transmutation recipes have been added for the Horadric cube, which allows you to transform even more goodies to your heart's content. Oh, did I mention the fact that the size of your 'stash inventory' has been doubled? Or the fact that your character can now weild two weapon sets and skill sets, which can be swapped instantly with a hotkey? Oh, I just did mention those new features. Silly me. Anyway, gameplay in LOD rates a rootin tootin 10 out of 10 for adding new angles to an already great game. The new classes are a bit unbalanced, but they still are a hoot to play.
Multiplayer: Good old TCP/IP games are avalible, but the real meat n' taters of the Diablo series is online play over battle.net. The problem with this is that battle.net is invariably crowded, and lag abounds. The online experience should not be missed though. With other players in your party, your enjoyment of the game, and rewards for playing increase exponentially. My biggest problem with multiplayer LOD is twofold: First, only LOD created characters may join/create LOD games. No Diablo 2 classic characters are allowed. Now, you can convert your Diablo 2 character to an expansion character easily and painlessly, but it's a one way street. Once you convert to an expansion character, that character is an expansion character now and forever. Even with these niggles and drawbacks, battle.net play is more fun than a barrel of drunken chimps with power tools, and rates a solid 8 out of 10 for it's quality.
Sound and Music: Well, standard Diablo 2 fare here. Lots of spooky tribal music, and an array of grunts, shouts, and groans to accompany clashing steel in combat. Sound and music are decent, rating a 7 out of 10. Nothing is wrong with them per se, but they get a bit repetitive, and I find myself muting the game in favor of whatever I happen to be spinning in my CD player at the time. For Snark's Alternative Listening Suggestion I'm going to recommend John Digweed's Northern Exposure series of Progressive Trance mixes. They are nice and energetic, and provide a smooth audio companion to you while you make the land of Diablo 2 safe for god, country, and mom's apple pie.
Overall: Overall, I'd have to say this is one of the downright best places to spend your gaming dollar. Diablo 2 was great, with it's innovative approach and perfect gameplay balance. Lord of Destruction takes this a step further, with enhancements to just the right elements of the game, and some really nice new features. The $30 price tag is a bit steep, but is not really an issue for one of two reasons: 1. If you already have Diablo 2, you are most likely in love with it, and you'd trade your firstborn for more skull crushing goodness, therefore $30 is cheap. 2. If you don't have Diablo 2 yet, you should run right out and buy the Diablo 2 Battle Chest. This will provide you with both Diablo games, the expansion pack, and a strategy guide, all for a low low price of about $40 to $50. With all the chips on the table, I'm going to give Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction a 9 out of 10 for some really really top notch gaming goodness.
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