|Title: Diablo II
Manufacturer: Blizzard Entertainment
Character selection; this guy's nuclear cologne attracts many an undead soldier.
Two years ago Macintosh users were treated to Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo, almost a year after the same title graced the screens of thousands of PCs everywhere. Thankfully the gaming environment today is different. With the best-selling iMac line and Apple in a long comeback stride, a mere three weeks after the same Windows PC title hit the shelves Diablo II is available for the Macintosh, one of the fastest game conversions for any platform. (This is no small feat considering all the time this title spent for development and revisions.) Like the PC version, Diablo II taps the power of hardware graphics acceleration and Mac users with capable video cards have their choice between RAVE, OpenGL, and 3Dfx enhanced variants of game graphics. For those without a graphics accelerator, Diablo II has a software rendering option, but beware: system requirements are high, the box label recommends a G3 CPU or better, running Mac OS 8.1 or newer with 64MB. (The slowest G3 to reach the market clocked at 233MHz.) Legacy Mac users have no fear, I tested the game on my own PowerMac 6500/225, sporting Sonnet's 400MHz G3 without problems. For enhanced graphical effects, standard graphics cards from vendors like ATI, 3Dfx, VillageTronic, and the late MicroConversions are supported, provided that your card has 8MB or more. Diablo II performs well without a graphics accelerator via software rendering, but you'll miss out on many of the new visual effects and the game will only display 256 colors, so if you haven't considered one before, you may wish to try a video upgrade. Finally, few computer games today are very good without connectivity, and Diablo II takes its hack-n-slash environment online as well so you can fight as a team or "every man for himself" as you quest through the fantasy medieval dungeons online. (Or if you're antisocial, you can always save your progress and play offline.)
Details: The Story
Diablo II will no doubt find many comparisons with the original, most of which are likely to encompass its criticisms, but you need not play the game for long before the sheer girth of its quest looms before you; Diablo II is at least four times the length of its predecessor, the game being divided into four acts, each of which has a new town to visit for information and equipment, and their surrounding demesne. One quirk I had always noticed regarding the first Diablo was the way most of the game seemed to be so very "the same," with each dungeon level closely resembling the last. Blizzard seems to have anticipated this by ensuring that each of the locales, from the towns to the forests to the dungeons, all have an intriguing and pleasing distinctness from one another. Variety is surely the order of the day; the first Diablo offered only three characters to choose from, whereas Diablo II serves up five: the Amazon (a similar yet improved Rogue), the Necromancer, the Barbarian (close cousin to the Warrior from Diablo), the Sorceress, and the Paladin. With more characters, some of whom overlap from the previous offerings, the strategy of character advancement becomes a real joy of the game. With each level that your character advances, you are allotted five attribute points, and one new skill which usually takes the form of some sort of magic or new attack. It is very possible to create a "balanced" character from your attributes, but the results of levelling up are usually best seen when characters specialize in certain areas. This creates a wonderful bonus to inherent replay value; the Necromancer for instance can easily amass offensive spells to become a worthy close combatant, but is also naturally suited to his summoning ability. A player who trains his summoning skill could sit back and break out the bubbly, sipping champagne while his golems fight his battles for him. Paladins likewise can gain offensive spells, but are particularly useful when casting auras for multiple-player parties to increase strength, healing, and so forth. The needs of a situation can call for different ability tactics and open up a wealth of new gameplay.
Details: The Graphics
A small tip for improved performance: after installing the game, if you have a slower CD-ROM (8x or less) you might want to find the Music file on the play CD, and copy it to your hard disk. This eliminates any possible jerky stuttering from the CD loading during play.
Details: The MUD experience--good and bad
And speaking of "the world over," Diablo II's release as of this writing has been just that: worldwide. This has made for some very interesting internet play, because there is no language standardization throughout the different language versions. Don't be too surprised if the Spanish, French, German, etc. players happen to refer to completely bizarre locales or bandy about arcane and unknown item names. Surely, native-language game translations are a good thing (and possibly one more reason the game saw as many delays as it did?), but how difficult could it have been to keep the p's and q's straight across borders? Just make sure your German buddy knows the exact location of the dungeon you're going to, so you don't get into a jam without a multilingual compass when you need help.
Battle.net, like Diablo II, had some growing pains coming out of the gate. After a software revision and some server tweaking, many of the connection errors players experienced within the first couple of weeks of Diablo II's release have been resolved, but the server is clearly overloaded quite frequently, as the game's success seems to have been battle.net's burden. Expect a stutter or two, and maybe more, if a player on your game has a slow connection. So, you may ask, is Diablo II that worth it to play, online, if the internet quirks remain? I would have to answer that by saying, certainly yes, and mostly this is due to the game's design. Following the same paradigm that made Diablo successful, Diablo II is a multiplayer's dream come true. It would seem that the first game suited multiplayer so well that Blizzard went a mile farther and crafted Diablo II in such a way that it caters to this gathering of gamers. If you only ever play Diablo II alone, you will likely be disappointed, and if you aren't disappointed this will only be because you haven't had the joy of exposure to Diablo II's flavor. Additionally, when you "complete" a level, even if you have killed all of the creatures in any one area, if you save your game and return again later, all of these monsters will have returned as if you had never exterminated them. To the goal-oriented single player this can pose some continuity problems, especially if you find that you must move through an area with a level "boss" to get to the next after having saved your progress; to the online MUD community at battle.net, however, this is just Blizzard's way of providing fresh meat at every server for all players, so at least be prepared to give the multiplayer thing a try. You miss out on at least half of the Diablo II experience by playing alone.
This review was written by Michael Alexander Owens.
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Diablo II for Mac from MacZone
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