Wednesday, August 24, 2011

PC: Returning to Diablo 2 - Was it fun?


As a part of our massive Diablo 3-hype, I sat down with two of my friends the other night and decided to boot up ol’ faithful Diablo 2. Originally with a certain amount of skepticism. I did actually try out Diablo 2 just a couple of years ago, and I frankly can’t say I was that impressed. The game didn’t really feel like it had aged well (who could argue, to be fair?) during its long time on the shelf. For the same reason, I quickly discarded it among the sad remnants of ruptured relived computer game-memories and moved on with my WoW-Life.
Actually, now when I look back at this, I wonder why.
When my friend asked if I wanted to join up on battlenet, I warned him about going there. ‘You might as well not do it,’ I said ‘Your old love has gotten fat, wrinkled and now has three whiny children. Play some Torchlight instead’. Not taking no for an answer, my friend talked me into installing Lord of Destruction once more, and set out on a diabolical adventure against the countless legions of Hell.
This blog is for those of you out there considering to do the same, but wondering: Is it really worth it?
Class is in session! – Necromancy lesson 1: How to use a shovel.My friends went for a druid and a barbarian, luckily leaving my one and only Diablo 2 favorite open.
The Necromancer.

I love absolutely everything about the design of this class. There is a wonderful synergy to about every skill, which all rests upon the solid foundation that without corpses at your disposal, you’re pretty much a pushover, especially early on in the game. I fondly remember what a bitch it was every time you went solo in Hell-mode, and had to rely on your merc and golem to slay something so you could get those skeletons rolling.
On a side-note, this is one huge issue which I am sad about not seeing in Diablo 3. I once heard Blizzard state that they did such an awesome job with the Necromancer that they wouldn’t include him in another game, since they would never be able to reach the same level of standard.
So I suppose I will have to forsake my joy of summoning minions, cursing the enemy and place walls in strategic places, and instead play the Witch Doctor. How will I ever manage?
There is another reason besides the pure aesthetical one that puts the Wi—Necromancer on the top of my list. He’s really gear-friendly. With the right build, you can pretty much manage your own all the way through nightmare, albeit you will get slammed from time to time. Well, even when you reach Hell-mode, you may have acquired enough gear to make do even there.
Once thoroughly geared up the Necromancer (just like most other class) becomes a juggernaut of destruction. Depending on your play style you’re free to throw in countless of minions to take the brunt of the beating, while crippling your enemies with sinister curses. As they fall, new recruits to your ever growing army build or you can simply use them in a macabre attack and detonate the bodies of the enemies’ fallen comrades. As you may figure, I fell in love with this class even before the game was released.
Necros also make excellent team players. They’re not paladins, but their curses bring a lot of utility to the table. Especially worth of mentioning is of course the ability to amplify physical damage for your own skeletons and in this case my barbarian friend. The cyclones of the druid are also benefitting from this. On the other hand, the curse that lowers enemies’ resistances to magic is an often invaluable tool.

My buildI’ve always had the most fun with Summon Necro’s. Some people don’t fancy them because of the rather uninvolved way of playing they present, but for me it’s always been quite a good build for soloing.
At this time of writing I am only level 79 so this is the completed setup (Much kudos to Sixen):

Summoning Spells
Poison and Bone Spells
Curses


It’s quite self-explanatory really.
The main way of playing is to summon as many skellies a possible, initially building up Raise Skeleton to 20, then focusing on Mastery, followed by Corpse Explosion. You can play around and build in alternate orders, really. That’s the great thing about necros.
Besides that, make sure to get amplify damage.
Spam it liberally in combat, it increases the skeleton-damage significantly.
What’s new in Diablo 2, patch 1.13?
In a simplified nutshell there quite some changes for those of you who’ve been away for a while. The biggest changes in my book are:
- Respec: Upon completing the Den of Evil-quest in Act 1, you’re now able to reset your stat- and skill-points. And option we’ve longed for several years. Better late than never, I suppose. Notice that you therefore have three of those at your disposal, so playing around is now a more or less viable thing to do.
- More runes: The dropchance for runes has increased SIGNIFICANTLY. I’ll let numbers speak for themselves here:


Make no mistake, though. Runes are still a bitch to gather. High-runes aren’t scattered around unattended, you will be very happy once they do drop. But compared to early versions of Diablo 2, you now actually have a valid chance to ever see it happen. Or even better, actually get your hands on a pretty good runeword.
Widescreen support – It now looks respectable on widescreens.
Setting out:  Normal mode. All who oppose me…beware.
Needless to say we played online ladder.
There is so little to say about normal mode except that what really makes it hard is the fact that you suck so much. You have little to no access to any of your decent skills, you’re so excited about rings of craftmanship and unless you know someone highly powered (unlike us) you’ll have to play puritan (like us).
Act 1 has always been a bit strange to me. Not because it’s bad or anything, but on the graphical side it has always been the odd man out. I mean, admit it. Compare it to, say, the third act, and you really can’t argue that things don’t look a lot better.  On the plus side we breezed through this part very quickly.
From a necro-solo perspective few enemies will cause much trouble. Andy can be a bit of a pain since her poison will hurt your skeletons, which can force you to gather some reinforcements from her minions. Nothing bad, though.
Act 2 … well, I love act 2. It’s my favorite of them all. The setting, the atmosphere, the town. Especially the town is so awesomely done. Even better, Act 2 features a lot of open plains with plenty of maneuverability in the open desert. The few downsides are pure factors of frustration, such as getting the wrong path in the Arcane Sanctuary thrice and so on.
My buddies raced onwards when I was offline for some days, meaning I had to tackle the last part by myself. In this regard it is proper to mention Duriel who’s always been a coldhearted ass on normal. He hits like a truck on your still fragile skellies, so I had to tp out for some fresh recruits during the fight.
Act 3 I hate this act. It’s one huge, frigging maze for the majority of the chapter. The jungles, the dungeons, sewers, durance. Except for Kurast and Travincal you’re running around aimlessly a lot of the time.
The enemies are cool, though.  Flavor-wise I always loved the pygmies and the whole spider-dungeon is pretty nice. I love killing spiders.
Mephy is not too bad when grouped but solo necros will likely need to resupply their troops. He still hits quite hard when you’re not highly leveled or geared.
Act 4 We breezed through this. Not much to say. It’s dark, emo and boring and still feels severely unfinished to me. Diablo is lethal and will break your skellies like matches. Being able to decrep-curse him helps immensely, but I did go back for extra skeletons several times.
Act 5 Great chapter as always. Took us some time since we got a bit lost in the tunnels (we’re such noobs). I’ve always loved the battle with the ancients and the Worldstone Keep. Bhaal we managed quite well. On a strange side note, he actually seemed easier than Diablo when I soloed him later.
The going gets tough: Nightmare. What a waste of undead flesh…
We were eager to start nightmare since we were assured phat drops awaited. Sadly, nightmare has always (in my book) been a very slight upgrade from normal and in no way as harder as I’d imagined.
Act 1: Andy hits a bit harder, but at this time, so should you. We spent some time farming her for Stones of Jordan, but I gave up quite quickly. Mostly due to the fact that I never tend to get ANY good drops when soloing in Diablo 2. This is not just a cognitive distortion. My friends had already been hauling in unique items, whereas Sigon’s and Isenhart were the mighty presentations I had to show.
I’m not really sure why, but I imagine that an evil fairy wasn’t invited for my baptism after party. When she heard, she showed up and said “Listen, Mortals, and hear me well: This child shall always be cursed. Never shall he taste the sweet drops, never shall he obtain what is known as “H@W7 1007!!” and never shall he Jah Ist Ber!”
Then she left. And the curse kind of stuck around.
I claim solid verification due to the fact that Andy kept dropping utter crap. So I decided to move on and think Mephy would be a more generous host. After all, he had my Arm of King Leoric.
Act 2: Sadly act 2 is just a speed bump. We rushed through it. Duriel is ironically much easier here, since your power level is getting closer to over 9000. What makes this chapter noticeable is the fact that you get your best merc (Might-aura) here.
Necros take skill nub!
Act 3: Ah, I forgot how much I hate Stygian Dolls. You remember? Those little undead brats that hang around in Durance of Hate, able to pretty much insta-kill you when a swarm of them gets to you. In addition they’re frigging fast so mostly I never saw them coming before I got splattered.
Soloing this act as summon necro is viable, but it can be slow initially. I suggest taking your time, especially in the durance, and utilize skellies as anvils and corpse explosion as hammer. Some of the enemies are capable of really hurting you, especially if your resistances are below par. Take care with the councilmembers and dark lords especially.
Mephy did provide us with some good drops. My druid-friend and I ran him for some time, but no necro-loot, sadly. Soloing him with necro is doable but initially slow. He can take some betating, but it helps a lot to decrep him and keep your golem up all the time. He seems to prefer hitting it instead of your skellies.
Act 4: It’s still dark, emo and boring, feeling severely unfinished.
Act 5: We stormed through this with nothing but a few problems. The annoying burning souls with the devastating lightning attacks did greet us in the Keep, but luckily our resistances were decent. Bhaal wasn’t that much harder than before.
I’ve seen the other side: Hell. “Bleeergh….”
I won’t break this mode down into chapters, since we’re still not through it, but stuck in the Arcane Sanctuary. Instead, a few observations and thoughts regarding our initial experiences.
I’ve always found Hell to be the most fun to play, and I do have an idea that summon necros have it a little bit easier in this regard. Your minions should be able to sustain some beating by now and your curses are able to overrule the common immunities you’ll encounter very early on. By now you should have access to both amplify damage and lower resistance.  As long as you’re able to toss your summons in the right direction and avoid personal contact with the enemies you should be fine, at least for the majority of the first act.
Despite Bogg's persistance his stones wouldn't drop.
For the very same reason, what usually kills me is whenever I get swamped by enemies and am unable to run away. This often happens when encountering monsters that raise others behind my ranks, so liberal use of corpse explosion is certainly viable.
Other prominent assassins are the cold-enchanted monsters, exploding when you’re too close. With two of these guys at around the same time it really hurts a lot.
Being three players things really spice up. Our druids is holding his own pretty much with his Wind-build which works well in tandem with the skeletons and amp. damage.  Our Barbarian, however, had to throw in the towel at the end of Arcane Sanctuary, simply unable to kill anything. The monsters have a lot of health in Hell and often need to be taken down quickly. Until we somehow manage to get something proper for his whirlwind build, we’ve more or less accepted to grind gear from where we are.
A lot of time is spent doing runs to The Pit (which is good, google it to find out more) for treasure, or Tower for the Runes. A lot of Diablo 2 is also about leveling up, and we’ve become quite adept at running most of chapter 2 and pretty much all of 1 on Hell mode.
Believe it or not, luck did in fact smile upon me, as recently I’ve been blessed with a Harlequin Crest as well as Gheed’s Fortune. I hope this improved MF will provide us with additional treasure to bolster our power, so that we’ll finally face some Hell Bhaal.
Are you having fun yet?
I am!
I really am!

I’m in fact surprised at how much I took Diablo 2 back into my heart, because it’s just such a great game in so many ways. Getting loot is as rewarding as ever, playing with your friends and massacrate Hell’s legions is pure bliss and the friendly atmosphere and joy when finding a piece of loot for some of your friends is very  enjoyable. I really suggest gathering up with some people if you’re considering returning to Diablo 2.
The graphics are as graphics are in a game as old as this one. However, the music, the sounds and not to mention the massively epic cinematics are better than a lot of crap you see in modern games. This is a true trademark of a game that is build to last. A game we will likely never forget.
At some times I stop and wonder why I am really doing it. Making another run to the Pits when I know the chance to ever see my beloved Arm of King Leoric is so abysmally small. And even when I get it, will things not just get boring?
Well, yes. That’s when it’s time to make an alt, of course.
This is Diablo for you. It’s puzzlingly strange why we keep doing this. Why do we love this simple formula so much?
It’s such an open question. But Blizzard made it work. I really hope they will achieve at least just some of it in Diablo 3. There are a lot of great things that work in Diablo 2 and only a very few that don’t.
There is a significant gap, I think, between the casual gear and that afforded by the more sophisticated gamer. Runewords are not entirely rare anymore but you’re still quite unlikely to ever get your hands on an Enigma, unless you have friends. Besides, Runewords are really, really powerful, often to the degree in which you wouldn’t consider anything else. There will always be an end-all-be-all aspect in these games, but the choice is pretty much made for you right from the start. Additionally, I’ve always found the possibility of receiving special skills prohibited to other classes a bit strange. Again, I’m looking at you Enigma. It never seemed that logical to me, especially because all classes should in a way be unique.
That being said the game gets really easy once you’ve achieved these treasures. No surprise, I hear some of you say, but to me it always seemed like a question of classification rather than continuum. You either sucked or you annihilated everything on the screen with just a single click.
These are minor concerns, but it could be nice to see how they’re going to change this for Diablo 3. I once heard that they would attempt to make all areas viable for treasure finding. That’s great!
As it is now, I might wish to go to Act 2 and do some slaying, but there is a lot of loot that won’t drop. Instead I am encouraged to run The Pit over and over, till my eyes fall out. And that is not what I want to do.
I pray that Blizzard will follow up on this.
To make a long story short, I had a great time replaying Diablo 2. If this is something you consider, try it out. It’s still free, after all.  And if you ask me, if you wish to spend time while waiting for D3, this is a lot more fun than playing Torchlight.

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