Action role-playing fans are eagerly awaiting Diablo 4, which Blizzard announced at Blizzcon 2019. From the point of view that the upcoming part of the series will only be the fourth game, one could almost forget that Diablo is already a really time-honored brand. Today, June 29, 2020, Diablo 2 is already celebrating its twentieth birthday. That says a lot about the long time it takes Blizzard to develop a new version of the popular monster hunt. But it is also an impressive sign that the series has retained a lasting fascination and loyal fan base despite the rare new releases. Of course, today's birthday boy Diablo 2 made a major contribution to this. Reason enough to look back at the extraordinary game in the retro special.

Unplanned development

The genre of action role-playing games or hack & slays is versatile and always produces very good titles. More in-depth considerations of the genre, the games and their creators often lead back to Blizzard North and its legendary Diablo 2. For many fans, the title is still the model example of the genre to this day and quite a few developers draw their inspiration from the demon hunt from 2000 . The

Retro-style Diablo 2 (2)

Retro-style Diablo 2 (2)

Source: PC games

It is no coincidence that names of former developers from Blizzard North keep popping up around developers of similar games. The most prominent of course are the brothers Erich and Max Schaefer and Matt Uelmen, who have been working together on the Torchlight series for years.

Diablo 2 has been announced (buy now) already in 1997 only a short time after the publication of the predecessor. At that time, it was also planned that the second part would appear early in the following year. An incredibly short development cycle that you would not even believe in today's blizzard. But that Blizzard's times are not to be trusted, it should already be clear at that time.

The fact that the development ultimately took significantly more time was probably also due to the insufficient organization of the project. Erich Schaefer wrote in an article about the development of the game a few months after its release that Diablo 2 never had a complete design document. Instead, the team just started developing and adding new things over and over again.

Record success

On June 29, 2000, the game finally appeared in North America and a day later in Europe – two years after the originally planned release. Today we know that a development period of three years is still manageable for Blizzard standards. Fans should then wait a full twelve years for the next part of the series.
However, the postponements did not detract from success, on the contrary. Diablo 2 hit like a bomb. After just two weeks, Blizzard reported one million units sold, the two million mark

Retro-style Diablo 2 (3)

Retro-style Diablo 2 (3)

Source: PC games

was cracked after a month and a half. A sensational result at the time. Especially against the background that pirated copies were a much bigger problem than they are today.

With its fantastic sales figures, Diablo 2 even made an entry in the Guinness Book of Records of 2000 as the fastest-selling computer game ever. The game held this record for two years until Blizzard set a new record with Warcraft 3. In Germany, too, the game went over the counter like hot cakes. After just one month, the title was already awarded the Platinaward for more than 200,000 units sold.

The action role-playing game was not just a short-term best seller, it also ensured Blizzard's long-term success. Even in 2010, the title appeared in the annual sales lists of the American market research institute NPD. In the same year, the number of users of Blizzard's multiplayer platform was estimated at around eleven million who were still playing Diablo 2 and Starcraft, which was two years older.

Hero builds and loot

Diablo 2 wasn't even that different from its predecessor. However, the developers knew how to build on the good basic structure in an outstanding way and make everything even bigger, nicer and better. It started with character creation when the game started, where there were now five instead of three classes to choose from. Amazons, barbarians, necromancers, paladins and sorceress also offered playfully more exciting approaches than the classic fantasy triumvirate of fighters, villains and magicians offered in the predecessor.

Retro-style Diablo 2 (7)

Retro-style Diablo 2 (7)

Source: PC games

But the differences between the five classes were not enough. Each class had three unique and versatile talent trees. This leads to one of the great strengths of the game: an incredible variety of character builds with different orientations. This also created rather unusual heroes such as melee wizards and werewolf barbarians, who were still playable and also found their followers. Many players have had a lot of fun playing and experimenting with new builds alone.

This was also because the game managed to create a very long lasting sense of satisfactory progress. With each step up the own hero became stronger and with collected booty there was always the chance to slightly improve his equipment again. At no time did you feel like you were really overpowering because the game throws good items after you. But it didn't get frustrating either because you rarely found anything useful. A balance that is not so easy to achieve, as Blizzard himself would later find out with the successor.

Dark sanctuary

Another strong innovation was the game world, which no longer consisted of labyrinth levels under Tristram. Instead, the developers created different places in the world of Sanctuary, where there was a lot to discover on the surface and lots of monsters to fight. From the mountains of Khanduras, through the desert around the city of Lut Gholein and the swamps from Kurast to hell itself, the pursuit of Diablo, disguised as a dark hiker, for the first time paints a picture of a diverse world filled with a rich lore. All areas had the same gloomy mood, which did not save on dirty and bloody details, to show the influence of the incoming hordes of demons.

Retro-style Diablo 2 (4)

Retro-style Diablo 2 (4)

Source: PC games

If the release version of Diablo 2 was criticized, it was mostly because it was technically out of date for the conditions at that time. The game initially only provided a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels. But at least the testers at PC Games at the time attested that never before had such beautiful graphics been conjured up in this resolution. In general, the overall package was right for Diablo 2, which triggered a fascinating suction effect. This even let our testers openly report about dark circles, boozy nights and broken social contacts and warn them at the same time.

One year after the release, the developers are going a step further on the already fantastic basic framework with the expansion Lord of Destruction. The story was extended by a fifth act around the barbarian festival Harrogath at the foot of the Arreat Mountain. The mountain becomes the scene of the confrontation with Baal, one of the three great evils and brother of Diablo. In addition, two new classes, the Assassin and the Druid, have been introduced, which again allow versatile play styles. In addition there were various comfort innovations such as an enlarged storage space, two exchangeable weapon setups and equipment for the mercenary companions. On the technical side, the resolution of 800 by 600 pixels was finally introduced.

Immediately after its release, Blizzard North's developers started working on Diablo 3 in 2001, but the public didn't hear about it for a long time. The successor was not announced until 2008, when Blizzard North no longer existed. It should take another four years until the release. Despite or precisely because of this long development period with several complete revisions of the game concept, the successor could not fully build on the quality of the predecessor. Most of all, players criticized the lack of depth in the heroes and the unsatisfactory loot system.

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