Diablo 2 at 20 Years

Gaming article by Nicolas Brown on Monday, June 29, 2020 - 12:00
Feature
Topic(s): Anniversary
Developer
Blizzard North
Release Date
June 29, 2000
Series
Diablo
Multiplayer modes
Co Op, Online
Platforms
Windows, Mac
Monetization
Expansion DLC

A Legend Among RPGs

Diablo 4 is coming. We don't know exactly when to expect it, and many of its details remain mysterious. However, we've seen a few elements, from skill trees to runes to the return of the druid and sorceress classes, that make one thing clear: They're looking at Diablo 2 for inspiration. While the original Diablo is often celebrated as one of the best dungeon crawlers of the '90s, Diablo 2 built upon that success tremendously. It's remembered today as one of the greatest action RPGs of all time, and today marks it's 20th anniversary. To celebrate, let's take a look at Diablo 2 and its substantial legacy.

Creating a Masterpiece

A stairway leads the player down to the fires of Hell.
A druid descends the stairway into Hell, using the terrain to his advantage. 

Like its predecessorDiablo 2 was developed by Blizzard North, with many of the original team members carrying over—most notably David Brevik, Erich Schaefer, and Max Schaefer, who served as the sequel's directors. Production began just a few months after the release of the first game. Erich Schaefer shared the inaugural steps in a postmortem of the game's development:

"We dusted off the reams of wish-list items we had remaining from the original, compiled criticisms from reviews and customers, and began brainstorming how we could make Diablo II bigger and better in every way...Because we had the gameplay basics already polished, we figured we would hire some new employees, create some good tools, and essentially make four times the original game doing only two times the work. We estimated a two-year development schedule." 

The size of the development team doubled from the start of Diablo to the start of Diablo 2, with even more members added during production. Despite this, it took an entire extra year before the game was completed. It finally hit the shelves June 29, 2000. One year later came the release of an expansion, Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction, which added many new items, two new character classes, and an additional act to the campaign. 

Terror Flows Through the Lands of Sanctuary

An amazon combats the forces of Hell in the depths of the cathedral.
Despite branching out into the wider world, Diablo 2 still features its fair share of classic dungeon crawling.

Diablo 2 moves the pure dungeon-crawling experience of its predecessor into broader environments, trading the original’s grim descent for a much more varied experience. In many ways, the improvements are quantifiable. It's the core hack-and-slash, treasure-seeking experience of the original game, but with more. There are more enemies, more items, more classes, more locations, and more skills, all with technical improvements and more robust systems (including more random generation). These elements result in a much deeper, richer, experience.

The game's multiplayer played a large role in its success. Blizzard's Battle.net service provided a strong online experience, with players able to engage in both competitive and cooperative play with easy, drop-in-and-drop-out gameplay that added immense longevity to the game experience of many players. 

A sorceress fends off enemies in the jungles of Kurast.
A sorceress uses area of effect abilities to keep enemies at bay in the jungles of Kurast.

And yet, for all of these quantifiable improvements, there's a certain magic to the atmosphere of Diablo 2. Amidst all of the bleak desolation, there remains hope in the hearts of Sanctuary's survivors. For every corpse-filled dungeon, there's a field, jungle, or desert that has yet to lose all of its color. Somehow, even the bowels of Hell don't seem completely devoid of life, even as evil continues to tighten its grip on the mortal realm. There may never be quite as much darkness as is found in the depths of the original, but Diablo 2's light accentuates its darkness across all of its settings.  

A Fierce Impact and a Strong Legacy

An amazon braves the fiery pits of Hell.
This hero has taken the fight to the enemy, braving the fiery pits of Hell itself. 

Diablo 2 was released to critical acclaim and extreme commercial success, receiving numerous Game of the Year awards and selling over two million copies in less than two months. It was, for a time, the fastest selling video game of all time (a title that was eventually held by Diablo 3, as well). It has since reached over four million copies sold.

Even more significantly, it left an enormous impact on the world of action RPGs, bringing about the term "Diablo clone," while influencing countless games within the subgenre, including WolcenPath of ExileTorchlightGrim Dawn, and many others. But that's not to say that Diablo 2 itself isn't still alive and kicking. There's an extensive modding community with a wide variety of content, from small adjustments to original campaigns, and the base game itself still has an active community to this day. Considering all of the praise it's received throughout its existence, it's no wonder why, after all these years, it's being brought in as an influence in the design of Diablo 4. If we're lucky, we may just end up with a game that recaptures some of the magic that made Diablo 2 so extraordinary. 


What are your fondest Diablo 2 memories, and what would you like to see in Diablo 4? Share below.

About the Author

Nicolas Brown

Nicolas Brown

Staff Writer

Nicolas is a writer and narrative designer living in Rochester, New York. When he’s not making games or writing about them, you can probably find him practicing martial arts. His main areas of interest are horror, experimental narrative, mixed media, collaborative storytelling, and anything else that’s a little bit different.