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Diablo 2 Retrospective

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Here's the 20-year retrospective for Diablo 2, featuring a lot of Blizzard staff sharing their thoughts and memories of the game, including both franchise head Rod Ferguson and Diablo 4 lead Jesse McCree (but unfortunately not featuring some of the original developers, who recently shared their thoughts on a D2 remaster), as well as arguments on why the game has held up for so long and some fun things the community does to make the game more interesting.

Blizzard LogoRetrospective (source)

"Oh, I'd fought sleep for days at a time... For when I dreamt, the memories would return. Memories of the Monastery, and the Evil which had claimed it! Dreams, memories... I couldn't tell the difference anymore." - Marius

 

Crafting a classic

When we set out to create Diablo® II over twenty years ago, the goals were seemingly simple: fix the biggest issues in Diablo® and expand upon the original game’s formula. And while its developers didn’t set out specifically to turn the action RPG genre on its head or influence game design for an entire generation after it, Diablo II ended up doing just that anyway.

The development team wanted Diablo II to be bigger, better, faster, and stronger than its predecessor. A story divided in distinct acts with massive, explorable outdoor zones replaced the claustrophobic Tristram cathedral. Five new character classes like the whirling Barbarian and pious Paladin (with two more added in the Lord of Destruction® expansion, the Assassin and the Druid) expanded far beyond the basic Warrior, Rogue and Sorcerer archetypes from the first game. These new classes, in addition to featuring greater gender and ethnical diversity, each feature 30 unique skills to choose from instead of the single shared spellbook from Diablo. Certain abilities like the spin-to-win Whirlwind, the Paladin’s beneficial auras, and the Necromancer’s summoned minions would become staples in many of our games after. Finally, more powerful items, with bigger stat variety than ever, allowed everyone to truly express themselves through their choices in character class, gear, stats, and skills.

Many of us here at Blizzard have fond memories of playing Diablo II. To us it represents childhood memories, friendships created, endless entertainment, and it inspired many of us to join the video game industry as we grew up. Read some of our favorite tales from the office.

Rod Fergusson – Head of Franchise, Diablo

What Diablo II means to me is the connection I have with my brother.  He’s nine years older, so growing up I often felt like an only child, especially after he left home for university when I was eight. Over the years since, one of the ways that he and I have stayed connected was through video games.  After all, he was the first person to introduce them to me.

Flash forward to 2001 and we’re living 1400 miles apart – he’s in Winnipeg, Manitoba and I’m in Seattle, Washington. To stay connected, we’ve decided that every year I’m going to take a long weekend and fly to his place and play video games all day, every day for four days.  That year, the plan was Diablo II.

The day that I arrive, June 21, 2001 is the day that the Lord of Destruction expansion was released and so we stopped at the store on the way home from the airport to pick up two copies.  For the next four days straight, we did nothing but play Diablo II co-op.  After many hours, much caffeine and very little sleep, we actually finished the main game AND the expansion!

That bonding experience was so meaningful to my brother and I that we still talk about it to this day.  In fact, when I told him about my taking the job as the Head of the Diablo franchise at Blizzard, he texted me the following – “The Diablo II expansion Lord of Destruction came out on June 21, 2001. On some level that feels like a long time ago but also feels like we just did it. One of my better brother memories.”


Lance Kimberlin – Product Manager, Battle.net & Online Products

After the first time I heard (and jumped from) "Ah...Fresh meat!" I was in love with Diablo. I put Diablo II on hold at Babbage’s in 1999 and waited for what seemed like forever to finally receive my copy—Collector’s Edition #23097 of 70000. I still have the box, the disks, and the epic Diablo action figure. How many hours I spent in game? Uh . . . we’d rather not talk about it.


Jesse McCree - Lead Game Designer, Diablo IV

I love Diablo II because it's super fun! It came out early in my career and was one of the games that helped me grow as a game designer by leading me to understand the importance of simple but well executed game loops and controls. More than anything, I love the tone and world of Diablo II. It's still an inspiration as a Lead Game Designer for Diablo IV!


Lily Gardner – Associate Game Producer, Diablo IV

Putting what Diablo II means to me in concise words that don't amount to a novel may be somewhat difficult, but considering the impact it's had on both my love of games and my career within the games industry (especially here at Blizzard), it would be a shame not to try!

In my younger years, I certainly was no stranger to games. I grew up watching my dad play games and code on his PC, and eventually transitioned into playing games of my own—from a Sailor Moon puzzle game to The Sims, and more. However, my first introduction to Blizzard was through Diablo II and Lord of Destruction.

When I look back on the summer before I turned 12, I think of all the memories I made playing as an Assassin—this fierce, female whirlwind of strength and prowess—and exploring spider caverns, marveling at the level of blood and gore, and cursing my lack of foresight and forgetting to stock up on Town Portal scrolls. I also remember cackling endlessly about a certain secret level. . . .

Much of that fondness for all things dark and demonic, as well as engrossing myself in a game for weeks on end, hasn't faded, and I attribute much of that to Diablo II. Without my experiences in Sanctuary, I may not have ever had the desire to work at Blizzard, or in games, or my somewhat gothic sense of taste may not have ever developed.

So, thank you to Diablo II and all of the talented, incredible people who made it a reality!

 

Diabolical influence

Over the years, elements of Diablo II’s design would find their way into several other Blizzard games, whether because they solved a specific need for that game, or simply because they were just fun to bring over. Warcraft® III included random item drops selected from specific loot tables, and hero units who had experience levels and skill points to be distributed, allowing those heroes to be built to suit the player’s strategy.

Later in World of Warcraft®, Diablo II’s iconic skill tree system would influence the talent system from the original release all the way through the Cataclysm™ expansion. Diablo II’s influence is palpable in everything from the three different skill trees per character class to the point distribution system, which allowed players to customize their characters and rewarded them for investing points in certain skills by unlocking more powerful abilities.

Some of Diablo II’s most powerful enemies—Champions and Elites—terrorize the battlefield by challenging the heroes with an unpredictable array of randomized powers. The notion of adding random enemy power increases as a way to further challenge and reward players lives on today in World of Warcraft’s Mythic Keystone Dungeon affixes, Starcraft® II Co-op Commanders, and of course in Diablo® III.
 

The secret to immortality

Today, Diablo II remains popular, and the very dedicated players enjoying it in 2020 continue to find new ways to make it their own. While some prefer the dramatic changes that only the modding scene can provide, others simply choose to creatively engage in Diablo II with self-imposed restrictions. Some variants include:

 

Naked Fury:

No gear is allowed in a naked run. No one can pick up any items other than potions. Players agree to rely only on their class skills and teamwork to prevail. Each class brings unique utility that helps the group succeed where a single player would fail. Naked runs usually go up to the completion of the Pandemonium event and the conquering of the “Uber” bosses—all while wearing no items at all!

Ironman tournament:

Ironman is simple in concept. Eight players start new Hardcore characters. Everyone plays together until level 9 while only using items they find—no previously found gear allowed. At that point, the team goes back to town, goes hostile on each other, and then duels to the death. Last one standing is the winner.

Speedruns:

Different classes and modes (Hardcore or not) in addition to the randomly generated maps and items make Diablo II very exciting to speedrun. World records for fastest completions are broken frequently, as emergent strategies (and a little luck) keep firm records from going unchallenged for long.

The Holy Grail:

The goal of the Holy Grail quest is to single-handedly collect every set and unique item in the game (meaning you must see the item drop, no trading allowed!). Since this is mostly a single-player challenge, some players like to use spreadsheets or apps to keep track of already dropped items, while others use mods that add infinite stash capabilities to the game in order to keep every item in their impressive collections.

 

Evil lives on

As we look back on twenty years of Diablo II, we see how the lessons we learned from the game have shaped the last two decades at Blizzard, and we expect it to continue to shape how we make new games (especially Diablo games) in the future.

No matter where you were when it all started, or when you decided it was time to play Diablo II—we’re glad to be able to share these memories with you. Here’s to twenty more years in Sanctuary, where brave souls continue to fight to rid the world of Terror, Hatred, and Destruction—while traversing eerie, dark places, and collecting the shiniest loot. Cheers!

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