Diablo 2 (D2) defined the action RPG genre nearly 20 years ago. It still has a rabid fanbase that may be powered by nostalgia to the casual onlooker but the game has merits to any veteran of the genre. Let’s forget the outdated graphics. No game ever survived the test of time on its graphics. It’s gameplay that counts. D2 plays with ease and fluidity, where a mouse, some keybinds, and any PC made in the last two decades can give you hours of dungeon exploring and demon killing fun. The single player campaign is well written and voice acted, giving an unending sense of the dark, gritty, heaven vs. hell motif that plays well to your favorite metal album. The replay value shines if you want to work towards that optimal character. You can do this by yourself or in multiplayer. In fact, many Diablo 3 players prefer the loot system and player based economy of D2. Blizzard still actively supports D2 and releases a new seasonal ladder every 6 months for thousands of players who race to level up. Given its age, D2 straddles between an old game (not that cool) and a vintage game (cool again) whose qualities ought to be judged independent of its release year.
Don't let the graphics distract you from one of the best action RPGs ever
Save the world from Diablo. And then do it a thousand more times as you quest for the perfect character.
The single player campaign throws you into the world of D2. Blizzard was at its writing best at the turn of the millennium. Dark, macabre, mysterious, and biblical can all be used to describe the single player experience for D2. The gist of the story centers around you, the hero, eliminating the five great evils that have beset the world whose fate rests solely in your hands, of course. You'll go through a handful of different realms, each with a unique look and feel, murdering hordes of demons as you loose the grip of hell. The voice acting is quite good for 2000 and while the story can't quite stand up to the Bioware titles of its day (D2 is after all focused on the action), the journey should still satisfy anyone who likes an old fashioned good vs. evil story. It's especially worthwhile to play through if you want to grasp its successor, Diablo 3.
Class variety comes in five flavors for the base game: Amazon, Barbarian, Necromancer, Paladin, and Sorceress. The Lord of Destruction expansion adds two more. Each class delivers a different playstyle on the continuum of melee vs. ranged, steady damage vs. burst damage, survivability vs. glass-cannon.
Your first play through will give you an idea of how the replay value works. Experimenting with different skill builds and items changes the game experience. Luckily, since it's an older game with an active community, you'll have no scarcity of community research and testing for the best combinations. This is key. D2 is all about the quest for the perfect character. Building the ideal Amazon or Barbarian by farming ever-increasing difficulty monsters for ever-increasing chances at that class-defining weapon; that concept embodies the one more turn mentality. You can do it solo or on the battlenet servers.
In its heyday, the D2 multiplayer experience consumed countless days and nights for its addicted fanbase. It still has thousands of players signing up for the ladder system where every 6 months, players compete to reach level 99 first with many special items along the way. It may not retain the same cache as it once did - as is the case with any 19 year old game - but the community still chugs along as a testament to how fun the game plays. Even if you're not intrigued by the ladder system, it's a multiplayer experience you can pick up and put down with relative ease. Join a server, slay demons, collect loot, try to improve your character, rinse and repeat.
Unfortunately, the base game can only be played in 640x480 resolution, and you'll need the Lord of Destruction expansion to up it to 800x600. It won't look great on modern machines, however, there are a few community-developed workarounds like using a glide wrapper program to play in windowed mode.
Where can you run this program?
Almost anywhere! It runs on Windows and Mac and should perform well on any PC made in the last decade or two.
Is there a better alternative?
The success of D2 spawned an entire genre of games. The most notable alternative to D2 would be the third installation of the series, Diablo 3. It plays in a similar vein and contains many quality of life improvements learned over the years, including much improved graphics, inventory management, and a more fluid skills system. Path of Exile is another contender that’s multiplayer only but has the same action RPG look and feel. It’s free, too. Anyone interested in D2 should also check out Torchlight and the Titan Quest series.
Nostalgia may rule the day for much of its current fanbase, thinking back to high school nights in the 2000s, but the core gameplay entertains enough for it to stay relevant. You can spend endless time researching and experimenting the best builds and item combinations for each class and then testing those by yourself or in the old battlenet servers. The Lord of Destruction expansion can also add hours of more gameplay and two new classes. Either way, Baseball was first played in the 1870s. Chess began in the 500s. As long as it's fun, which it is, then age is just a number.
Should you download it?
It's not free to play but is cheap enough and fun enough to deserve a look. It ranks on almost every publication's lists for one of the best PC games of all time for a reason.