Visit: A to Z
This is another article from the Category:Diabloii.net Archives. It was originally posted in December 1999, and the game info in it is obviously no longer current. Enjoy it for the historical value.
This was the largest report written after Diabloii.net's visit to Blizzard North. It ran 9 pages in the original HTML format. Many of the original images have been restored, but most of the links are not included, since they point to long-dead pages on the old website.
- 1 Diablo II Overview: From Acts to Zoom
- 2 Acts
- 3 Ambient Features
- 4 Arenas
- 5 Battle.net
- 6 Belt
- 7 Beta
- 8 Combat
- 9 The Character Window
- 10 Characters
- 11 Cheats and Bugs
- 12 Chests and Other Containers
- 13 Convert
- 14 Controls
- 15 Crashes
- 16 Corpses
- 17 Day-Night Cycle
- 18 Death
- 19 Delay
- 20 Difficulty Levels
- 21 Durability
- 22 DVD
- 23 Economics
- 24 Experience
- 25 Leveling Up
- 26 Expansion Pack or Other Added Features
- 27 Friendly Fire
- 28 Game Creation Options
- 29 Guild Halls
- 30 Hardcore
- 31 Interface
- 32 Inventory
- 33 Items
- 34 Kick
- 35 Ladders (Character Ranking System)
- 36 Mac Version
- 37 Mana Regeneration
- 38 Map
- 39 Monsters
- 40 Music
- 41 NPCs
- 42 Packaging
- 43 Party System
- 44 Physics
- 45 Quests
- 46 Random Level Generation
- 47 Realms
- 48 Resolution
- 49 Running
- 50 Secrets
- 51 Shards
- 52 Sounds
- 53 Squirrels
- 54 Stamina
- 55 Stash
- 56 Statistics
- 57 System Requirements
- 58 Throwing
- 59 Towns
- 60 Trade
- 61 Traps
- 62 Variants
- 63 Waypoints
- 64 Zoom
- 65 Final Thoughts
Diablo II Overview: From Acts to Zoom
Here is our extensive report on Diablo II, based on 3 days of nearly non-stop gaming at Blizzard North. The report is alphabetised, based mostly on the questions you guys submitted before our visit. Where there have been no changes to what has been released previously we link to the appropriate section which contains the most up to date information. The report spans nine pages covering a vast range of topics and includes a healthy crop of brand new pictures. This overview covers nearly every aspect of Diablo II, except for specific character skill info, and that will be covered in our Character Section as we update the existing pages in the days to come. There is much here, most of it new information, so grab a hot toddy, kick your slippers off and get stuck in.
The Acts of Diablo II are far, far too large and complicated to describe in detail in this format, but we can provide a quick general overview:
Act One serves as the introduction to the world of Diablo II. So many things have changed, including the interface, the speed of the game, the lack of blue and red potions to buy, the lack of a healing skill, and much more, that Act One has to be kept somewhat simple for people to get the hang of the game. So the difficulty here is lower than in the rest of the game, the quests are simplier and more straight-forward, and you are generally guided through the Act as it proceeds in a much more linear fashion than the rest of the game will.
Which is not to say that it's just a training mission, or extremely easy, there is still challenge and fun aplenty to be found. The landscape and monsters of Act One will all be somewhat familiar from Diablo. Not that many of the monsters are repeated, but none of them are really new or radical. They fit well with their environment. The Act is structured so that you can't wander off and suddenly find yourself facing monsters that are far too powerful for you to deal with; to get to the more difficult areas you must pass through very large intermediate areas, which build up your character and prepare you for the more difficult action that is yet to come. The NPC's give you a lot of introductory information about the quests and the plot of the game, and the monsters aren't too vicious. It is not a complete cakewalk though; there are still plenty of difficulties, you can die very quickly and very easily if you are careless, and Andariel and some of the other bosses you'll encounter on the level are not at all easy.
Act Two is a bit more wide open. You'll need to search out the appropriate NPC's to get more info on the quests, and you can wander the desert (literally) for quite a while and not find the right tombs to search for quest items. The setting is well-known from screenshots, but it's a desert: Rocks, sand, palm trees, lots of stone crypts, massive monoliths half-buried in sand, a level set under the city in the sewers, and some other, very interesting areas that have not been publicly revealed yet. The quests are noticeably more difficult. You have to talk to a lot of NPC's to see where to go next, unless you want to just go everywhere and eventually complete the quests by process of elimination. And this is not a speedy process; the act is enormous, far larger than Act One. The monsters are a lot nastier also, more of them have powerful magical attacks, they are able to hide or reproduce rapidly, and they are larger and tougher as well.
Act Three is sort of Act Two to a higher power. The jungle setting is less open than the highlands of Act One or the desert of Act Two, with lots of twisting pathways between impenetrable forest and swampy lagoons. Less is known about the quests of this act, but we expect them to be still grander in scale than the ones of Act Two, requiring intelligent and observant play to solve them. The monsters are much more fearsome as well: spell-casting monster mages, fast-moving packs of Fetish (with a variety of nasty attacks), powerful swamp monsters and heavily-armoured Thorned Hulks are among the demons that await you in this act.
Act Four, also known as the Finale, is still entirely unknown. Rumours about the setting range from icy wastelands to the fiery pits of hell, and everything in between. The monsters you'll face here, the types of quests and townsfolk you'll see, the items you will find, whether it will be set in a single or multiple locations, and everything else is still nothing more than rumour and guesswork, and looks likely to remain so until the game is actually released. The only hope for some earlier info is if Blizzard will leak a few tidbits, but they have remained totally silent about it thus far.
Part of the atmosphere of Diablo II are numerous ambient features. Such visual treats as chickens squawking around the Act One Rogue Encampment, bats and rats in cave and dungeon areas, scorpions and large scarab beetles in the Act Two desert, and small snakes in Act Three are great for the mood and theme of those areas. There are also ambient sounds: the soft background chirping of crickets, frogs croaking, the rustle of wind in the trees, and more. All non-essential, but there to add some more realism and character to the game. You will like.
A special "Arena" game mode, designed exclusively for PvP combat, was initially planned for Diablo II. But at this point, the Development Team has decided that it will not be included in the game at this point. There is talk from Blizzard North that they might include it at a later time, possibly in a patch or an expansion pack, if they do one for Diablo II.
Duelling is not a major part of Diablo II, and PK'ing is going to be very difficult to manage, with how the party system is set up. You have to go to "hostile" to even harm another character, and be in town to go "hostile," and everyone else in the game receives a warning message when you do, so they'll always see you coming, and have time to flee, unless they are right next to a town portal or waypoint that you are coming though.
The PK, even if he is successful, receives virtually no reward for his actions. A token, such as an ear drops, and half of the gold the victim was carrying falls to the ground (the other half vanishes), but no equipment is lost, and the PK can't even get any evil thrills by guarding the body, since the victim can just start a new game and the corpse will be right there in town when he starts up.
The point is that recreational PK'ing is almost eliminated in Diablo II. Thus, one of the main reasons to include the Arena - to give people who wanted to fight a place to do it and reduce PKing in games - is no longer as essential. If people want to fight, they have to agree to it, since it's so easy to avoid combat now. So the need for an Arena is mostly lost if people can and will be duelling in normal games.
The Arena would have taken much more time to create, to develop the tile sets and programme the mechanics of it, to set up the ladders, to balance for PvP play, etc. And we all agree that Diablo II has taken just about long enough already. There is still the possibility that Blizzard North will add it in later, in a future product.
See PK'ing and PVP for more on this subject.
Battle.net for Diablo II is much different than it was for Diablo. You can see the new chat channel interface here. We didn't get much new info about Battle.net in our time at Blizzard North, so if you want full info on it you should look over our Battle.net section since there haven't really been any big changes made lately. A few new things we did hear about mostly involve features that were considered but won't be in the final game. Friends will be able to message into and out of games, similar to how it is in Battle.net now. But plans to allow trading of items from right in the Battle.net chat had to be scrapped; you will have to chat with a person who wants to trade something, and then get into a game with them to trade it. Also, they will need to have their character stored on the same Realm as you to play or trade together.
There are a lot of outstanding issues that have not yet been resolved, at least not publicly. Things we don't yet know about but are looking into include: If there will be some sort of bulletin board for trading and/or bounty hunter issues, where exactly the new Diablo II European and world-wide servers will be located and when they'll be operational, what will happen with unique character names when/if they allow server-to-server transfers, and if 3rd party programmes like Topaz chat will be allowed and function in the new Diablo II Battle.net chat interface.
Many issues remain to be tested or resolved with Battle.net for Diablo II, and certainly those will be dealt with intensively once the beta test starts, and there are 1000+ warm bodies packing on to Battle.net and running into problems about which no one has yet thought.
At this point, Blizzard has stated there will be two stages to the beta test. You can read all about the test and what you need to know if you want to participate in it in our Beta Buzz Section. We didn't get a whole lot of new info from Blizzard North about the beta, mainly since they've not substantially changed their plans on it recently. As a result our Beta Buzz info is still largely correct.
What we do know about it is that the closed, private beta is currently targeted to begin after the Holidays, most likely in January 2000. This "closed" beta will be carried out by 1000 testers selected from the general public, and a few hundred others, including Blizzard employees, members of the media, others in the gaming industry, friends and family, etc. This closed beta will be most of Act One, all five characters, and at least half of the skills, and there will be intensive testing involving both server and Battle.net issues, as well as lots of bug-hunting and opportunities for feedback to Blizzard North about all sorts of game issues from difficulty to skill functioning to interface ease of use.
After as long as they feel the closed beta needs to run (hard to estimate, but say 4-6 weeks?), there will probably be an open beta. This would be almost like a Battle.net-only demo, where anyone who wanted it could download the beta client (or possibly get it from computer game magazine CD-ROMs) and participate. This would be much more a server stress test, just a way to get as many people as possible on Battle.net at once, to see if it could handle the strain before the actual game was released. The open beta would most likely be just one character and a limited amount of Act One, since character and monster animations, and background art, take up tons of size, and since the open beta will presumably be for downloading, size will be a major issue.
The open beta would not be compatible with the closed beta, since all of the art, four of the characters, skills, etc, on the closed beta CD would be incompatible with the demo-sized open beta players.
None of this is at all set in stone though, so expect changes still.
The combat engine for Diablo II has been completely rewritten. Any similarities between it and the way combat worked in Diablo are completely coincidental. And it is our feeling that most of the changes in Diablo II are definitely for the better. The whole game flows much more smoothly, but also more rapidly, and the way combat is handled is a large part of this new feeling.
Diablo was not turn-based, but the combat was much more orderly. Monsters would often walk up one at a time, mostly at a rather sedate pace. They had to get right next to you to hit you, and you had plenty of time to aim your spells or arrows, or swing and wait for them to get into range. Most monsters, once you got a haste weapon, were doomed, because they were unable to recover from your hit before you were hitting them again. Also, movement in Diablo was very stilted. If monsters were hitting your character, you often couldn't fight back or escape, since they would hit you and interrupt your movement animation.
All this is very different in Diablo II. The speed of everything - movement, swing speed, spell casting, etc. - is much increased. Even things that aren't actually faster just feel faster, since the floor isn't tile based, so you can always stop on a dime and cast a spell or swing, and you don't need to be right next to something to hit it. Different weapons have much different ranges. You can stand more than a step away from something and stick it with a spear or swing a pole arm at it, where you do need to get up close to hit with a short sword.
This makes the game feel much more realistic, and much smoother. Running makes a big difference also. Both monsters and characters can run, and being able to dart in and out of a tight spot is very nice.
The whole combat system is different, not just in swing speed and range, but in how blocking, hitting, hit recovery, and everything else works. Characters and monsters don't stop as though paralysed then they get hit while walking or running. Recovery time from being hit is much shorter also, for both monsters and characters and this makes it possible to run past something, get hit, and not come instantly to a stop. This contributes to the whole game having a much smoother flow, as we said a moment ago.
Other factors that add to this are the more reasonable swing speeds for characters (Mage chars aren't laughably slow with larger weapons now), the full 360 degree directional running, and better monster AI, so their movement doesn't occur in such fits and starts.
PvP combat is much like PvM. The same changes that so greatly improve the feel of battling the monsters come into play when battling other characters as well. PvP in Diablo II will not be just "two-hit kills," or one-shot Fireball deaths. Skills and stats will be better balanced, damage will be generally more reasonable, arrows and Chain Lightning won't strike you down from two or three screens away, and so forth.
The most anticipated addition for PvP play was going to be the Arena game, a type of game designed specifically and exclusively for head-to-head combat. This is unfortunately not going to be in Diablo II initially, but you can still fight in a regular game if you wish. The Arena might be implemented in the Diablo II Expansion pack if Blizzard North does such a project.
See also Arenas and PK'ing.
The Character Window
The Character window is much changed for Diablo II, and people have long been wondering what exactly all of the new numbers and terms mean. Well wonder no more, here is your full explanation. Click here for full details about all of the information boxes on the page.
The five characters in Diablo II all start off pretty weak, with only a few attributes. Characters only get around 75 total attribute points to start with, compared to 85 in Diablo. The Sorceress and Necromancer have but 10 or 15 strength at the beginning, so it's a long climb to get strong enough to equip even the most mediocre of weapons or armour. The actual figures for their starting attributes are subject to change, and could be raised if people in the beta test find them too weak, so don't attach too much importance to debating them at this point.
For starting equipment, the Amazon gets a small stack of javelins, the Paladin gets a short sword and a buckler, and the Barbarian gets an axe. The Sorceress and Necromancer get more interesting items, since they aren't good enough at melee to turn them loose in that fashion. They don't get a skill point though (no one does), they instead get a newbie magical item. Worth nothing to sell, costing just one gold to repair, these items are nevertheless essential. The Sorceress gets a wand of +1 Firebolt, which gives her Slvl one firebolt as long as she has the wand equipped. The Necromancer get a wand of +1 Raise Skeleton, which works the same as the Sorceress' wand.
None of the characters get any armour or gold to start off with, and they all start at level zero, needing to get to Clvl one to earn their first precious skill point.
For more information on all of the characters, their skill trees, and lots of general information about them, check out our Character Section, and be ready in the next few days for gameplay reports based on our experiences playing all five characters at Blizzard North.
Cheats and Bugs
We didn't get much new information on how hacking or other programming cheats will be combated; Blizzard is keeping their actual preventative measures secret, for obvious reasons. However we did try cheating in the game, duping and other exploits, and couldn't get them to work. Likely there will be some small bugs or loopholes in the economy found at some point, but they have rewritten the game code entirely, and have assured that duping is impossible this time around.
We didn't test some of the other bugs from Diablo, such as dying while going through a town portal and losing items, or lag eating dropped items from time to time just because there isn't really any way to test that sort of thing. It just happens from time to time while playing, and after a while people begin to notice it. Possibly things like this will crop up in Diablo II, but Blizzard North is committed to keeping the game cheat-free, and surely that translates over to fixing minor bugs, as well as major hacking attempts.
People have been asking about other anti-cheating tactics, such as how the "sanity checks" for hacked items will work on Battle.net, and what sort of punishment there will be for people caught cheating, but we don't have any new information on these things at this time.
Chests and Other Containers
VisitChests are a very big part of the game in Diablo II. Lots of your treasure will come from them, since monsters don't seem to carry as much loot as they did in Diablo. There are locked and unlocked chests, but they look just the same (locked are identified in the hover, but the graphics are interchangeable) and we didn't notice any difference in loot from locked or normal chests. Locked chests require keys that you can buy in town, or get when monsters drop them; they are easy to come by.
One area in particular in Act Two had zero chests in it, and after doing the whole thing we noticed that we had almost no items in our inventory, and lots of keys. So it is noticeable when you don't get chests or locked chests, and when you do they sort of blend in with the monster-dropped items.
Other than chests, which come in all shapes and sizes, there are lots of urns and barrels and other things that you have to break to get into. The chests and other containers are nicely drawn to complement the environment, so clay pots in the desert, wooden chests in the cathedral, and so forth. There is some nice varied animation for opening them, where when you click on them, your character generally kicks open the barrels and urns, rather than hitting them with their weapon. The hit is more fluid also; they don't walk up and do it as mechanically as they did in Diablo, and they can usually hit five or six closely-gathered urns from the same spot, since they don't have to be in the floor tile next to them anymore.
Urns and barrels are less likely to drop items than chests are, but there are more of them, often ten or fifteen in a small area, and you just charge over and kick them all open in a hurry. The risk there is in traps. There are a lot of trapped chests and urns, and they hurt. One of us had a number of deaths from traps, though he might use as an excuse the fact his sorceress "had low hit points." In truth, he just could not seem to associate the subtle creaking noise that warns of a trap with the impending explosion. Two out of three of us suffered no trap deaths, so you figure it out. ;-p But it's true that you should be cautious opening chests and especially urns, since they have a variety of breaking noises, and these can easily cover up the sound of a trap creaking. When you hear that sound, run, because it could be anything from an annoying dart to a deadly nova about to cover the entire visible screen in the blink of an eye.
Locked Chests and Keys
Locked chests are scattered all over the place in Diablo II. They work just like they did in the classic game Gauntlet, where a key is a magical opening device, and expires after one use. In other words, you use up a key each time you open a locked chest, but at least the key is automatically accessed from your inventory. You don't have to stop and equip it or anything.
Keys are plentiful: NPCs sell them for a low price, and monsters frequently drop them as well. Keys can fit up to 10 in a stack, and that takes up just one inventory space, so they are a nice added feature, w/o being an inconvenience or nuisance to use.
Convert is gone from Diablo II at this time, and will likely not be returning. After the initial novelty wore off, the D2 Team came to regard it as a nuisance, and they had simplified it a couple of times, partially automating the process, until it became apparent that it was pointless. So there is no more Convert as a basic skill, and no monsters drop eyes, or hearts, or jaws, or any other such reagents. They do drop quite a few healing potions, and some mana potions, and occasionally other items such as explosive or poison throwing potions, that you would have gotten in the form of odd reagents previously, and which you would have had to convert in order to obtain a usable item. The Barbarian's skill Find Heart has now been changed to 'Find Health Potion' to reflect these changes.
Convert does still exist in the game in a much modified form, related to an Act Two quest item, and using that item you can convert potions and other things to new and more useful items. Only the basic conversions are listed, it will be up you to to experiment and find if there are other things to convert that might create very special and rare goodies.
The controls for Diablo II will be immediately familiar to everyone who has played Diablo. How you move or pick things up, open windows, target monsters, and more are all done in the same way as in Diablo. Some new additions include support for the Microsoft Explorer five-button mouse, fully customisable hot keys for all keyboard functions, the "mini panel" (small row of icons to open various windows that appears over your belt), running as a default (when Caps Lock is on you run always), the Alt key to pop up all the item tags, and numerous other conveniences.
During our play time at Blizzard North, we ran into a number of crash bugs, and even character corruption problems. These were all due to the pre-beta nature of the game, but when you lose a Clvl 19 Sorceress to a waypoint overflow bug, like Flux did, or a Clvl 18 Amazon to a corrupted character save file, as Gaile did, or several start-up Paladins due to a quirky computer system, as Elly did, it's still a bit painful.
In Diablo II over Battle.net, the characters are backed up almost perpetually, so if there is a crash on your end, you won't lose more than a few seconds. The game stays alive for a few minutes, even if there isn't anyone in it, so you can reconnect if your ISP boots you, and probably get back on in time to continue your same game. If you leave a game with your corpse still in it, the oldest remaining corpse (corpses without any items on them vanish almost instantly) will appear in town in your next new game.
For the final release, the problems will be more worrisome when they are on the server end. Such errors would of course boot everyone in a game at that time, and character save files would drop back to the last server backup, which would hopefully be just an hour or 30 minutes or so ago. Occasional technical difficulties are inevitable, this is the Internet after all, though that wouldn't be much consolation to a person who lost that great new item they found ten minutes ago, or who lost a Hardcore character to a crash or a disconnect.
Something that did not exist at all in Diablo, corpses are a major part of the game in Diablo II. There were of course dead bodies in Diablo, but they were intangible, just visual evidence of the battles. Once a monster died it was gone forever; you couldn't highlight or hover on the corpses, nor did you have any reason to want to do so. Also, the corpses were there forever, you could play all sixteen dungeon levels, and go back to level one six hours later, and all of the Fallen, Skeletons, Zombies, Corpse Eaters, ad other monsters would still be lying there, dead on the floor.
This is very different in Diablo II.
Corpses are now an essential part of the game. The Necromancer and Barbarian have numerous skills that require corpses to be used, including such nice ones as Corpse Explosion, Raise Skeletal Mage, Find Health Potion, and Grim Ward. Corpses now have a decay rate as well. It's not anything as simple as a time delay; where corpses would vanish 15 or 30 minutes after they hit the floor, for example. The way it works in Diablo II is that if you keep them onscreen they will last forever. But once off screen, and especially as you get farther away, they vanish after a little while. This is largely due to technical reasons: the game has to keep track of all the corpses and what sort of monster they were, and if it's tracking hundreds and hundreds of corpses off the screen, most of which will never interacted with again anyway, that's a big system drain.
So once you go offscreen and some distance away, if you retrace your steps a while later, the area will be as clean and pure as it was when you first entered. This is somewhat of a pain for a Necromancer, as he really needs those corpses, and it's also somewhat difficult when trying to navigate the levels, since you have to rely on the mini-map only, rather than being able to see where the bodies are and knowing that you've already been there. Of course the absence of monsters would tip that off to some extent, since there is no monster repopulation anymore.
To most of the characters, corpses are as they were in Diablo. Just eye candy on the floor. The Sorceress, Amazon, and Paladin don't have any skills that require or utilise corpses. So they can't even see a name tag on a corpse when they highlight them. The Necromancer and Barbarian can, but only if they have a corpse-using skill hot-keyed. If a Necromancer has Kick and Attack as his skills, he'll see just a bunch of bodies. However if he has Raise Skeleton up, for example, every corpse will display with a tag like, "Fallen Corpse", or "Greater Mummy Corpse". Corpses have stats, they are not all the same, since skills like Revive bring back that particular dead monster to fight for the Necromancer, and Corpse Explosion blows up a monster, dealing damage to others near it based on how many hit points the dead monster had while it was alive.
Another interesting thing about corpses is that monsters killed with a cold attack, or that were cold or frozen when they die, don't leave a corpse. They shatter into tiny blue chunks of ice, (much like Stone Cursed Monsters did in Diablo) which quickly melt into the floor and vanish. This is not a big favourite of the Necromancer, but it can be useful when dealing with monsters that like to resurrect their dead, since they can not do so if the body has dissolved into the floor.
Character corpses are important also, of course. When you die in Diablo II, your body drops to the ground, and you see it from above, with the text, "Hit Space to Continue" displayed. Monsters know when you are dead now, they don't continue attacking your corpse after you die, as they did in Diablo. With a click of the space bar you will appear in town, with full health and mana, but missing everything you had equipped at the time of your death. Full information on this subject can be found in the Death Section.
The Character corpse is seen on the map with a pink +, and you will of course want to clean out some of your inventory while in town, perhaps don some spare equipment from your stash, and head back to your body. The monsters that killed you will still be there, but it's easier to reclaim your equipment in Diablo II, since you can run and lead the monsters away, and also because your equipment doesn't scatter all over the ground when you die. It stays on your corpse, and can only be accessed by you, or any friendly players you have set to "Loot" in the Party System menu. And with just a click on your corpse, you will automatically equip everything you were wearing, providing that you don't have some other item in that space already. This isn't anything special, you automatically equip everything you pick up in Diablo II, if there is space for it and the item isn't an unidentified magical object, but with your corpse you are of course picking up more items at once than you will at any other time in the game.
No corpse skills, such as those used by the Necromancer or Barbarian, can be used on player or hireling or minion corpses. So you can't blow up a corpse of a player you have just defeated in battle. This was considered as a feature, but as it would only be of benefit or fun for two of the five characters, and would be an annoyance to the Paladin, Amazon, and Sorceress, it was not included.
There is a working daytime to night-time cycle in Diablo II, and you will notice and appreciate it while playing. It has long been said by Blizzard North that there would be somewhat different monsters around at night vs. in the day, and though we didn't play long enough to notice that, it would be a nice addition. Monsters are generated on the fly, just ahead of where your character is, rather than all of them being pre-set when the level is loaded, so changes in the monsters due to the time of day or the number of members in your party can be implemented by the game engine.
There have also been plans for including items that would have different properties at night vs. in the day. Sword of the sun or moon, for example, but we didn't see anything like this to test it, and don't know if this will still be in the game or not.
The biggest change is of course that it gets dark. Dark makes it harder to see monsters, especially on the edges of the screen, though they don't seem to have that problem with you. ;) But you spend a lot of your time in the game in subterranean dungeons anyway, so whether it is day or night while you are down there is unknown and essentially irrelevant. You will miss the sun when the dark comes though. There is an Act Two quest involving a prolonged eclipse, [Tainted Sun] and after wandering the desert in the darkness for a few hours, you'll start to definitely miss the daylight. More incentive to finish the quest there, perhaps.
How death is handled in Diablo II has changed a lot from the first game. There is no way to be resurrected now, so when you die you see the view in this thumbnail shot here, which is just an option to hit space to continue. When you do your character is back in town, fully healed and full of mana, but naked, as all of your equipment remains behind on your corpse.
There was talk of implementing penalties upon death, such as a loss of experience, but after some testing the Diablo II Team decided against that feature. It was not a real issue for good players, and it ended up over-penalising the poorer players, so it was taken out. The only real penalty upon death is that you drop all of the gold you were carrying. Half of it vanishes for good, and the other half drops to the ground, where anyone can pick it up, irrelevant of party settings.
Your equipment stays on your corpse, and can't be accessed by anyone but you, or a friendly party member whom you set to "loot". And when you return to your corpse, with just a click on it you will auto-equip all of the items you were wearing before, providing you haven't put on spare equipment in the meantime. This is a real time saver. Everything in Diablo II works like this, in fact: If you pick up an item and you are not already wearing one of that type - say you have no hat and you pick up a helm of some kind - you will automatically equip it (unless it is magical and unidentified.)
Tracking down your corpse can be interesting. You must find it first, and that can be quite difficult, given the enormous size of the levels in Diablo II. Players will learn to keep a more careful note of where they are at all times after a few long and frustrating searches for their own body, which of course has all of their equipment on it. The corpse does show up on the overlay map as a pink + sign, but you need to be pretty close to it, say within two or three screens, for it to appear on the map. Players set to friendly mode can also see the pink cross representing your corpse on their mini-maps so they can help guide you back to your corpse. If that sounds like a piece of cake to you, then you've probably not yet had a chance to wander the enormous and largely trackless surface levels of Diablo II.
But even if you can't find your body, or can't defeat the monsters that killed you and will still be waiting near your corpse, (or maybe you died since your internet connection crashed on you) all is not lost. You can start a new game and your oldest corpse (that still has equipment on it) will be there waiting for you in town. So if you died earlier in the game, got your loot back and kept playing, that corpse will vanish almost immediately once you remove the equipment from it. And then you might have died an hour later, and then died four more times trying to get back to your body. The oldest of your corpses will be in town the next game, so all of your original equipment will be there for you, but anything you were wearing in your later deaths will be lost.
It isn't all that difficult to get your equipment back, even if you're playing a melee type of character who lacks useful skills with which to kill monsters. You can just drop a town portal somewhat nearby, and run madly all around. Running enables you to get through spots that you could never even dream of surviving in Diablo, and since all you have to do is get to your body and click on it to automatically re-equip everything, the recovery time is much less than the old 'sort through the rings and armour' ordeal it was in Diablo.
One other issue with death is that when you are disconnected from Diablo II on Battle.net, you don't vanish from the game immediately. You linger there for 30 seconds or so (figure subject to change). So if you are in a fierce battle when the disconnect occurs, you will probably be killed. This is a feature, not an accident, since it keeps people from escaping death by other characters or monsters by just hitting Alt+F4, or unplugging their modem, or whatever. With the test server we were playing on at Blizzard North crashing from time to time, it was not uncommon to see a bunch of ghosts suddenly appear in the Battle.net chat, all dead when their game crashed on them. This is not a big problem unless you are a Hardcore character, of course. And yes, the Blizzard North employees had lost a number of high level HC chars to crashes and other bugs, so they are aware of that being a potential problem in Diablo II.
Diablo II has been delayed a number of times so far, as everyone is well aware. Blizzard North doesn't expect any more delays though, and are confident that they'll go to beta testing after the Holidays, when they return from a short vacation refreshed and ready to begin the final push. The plan is still for a relatively short beta, two months or less, and then the final release in March 2000.
There will be a number of difficulty levels in Diablo II, but we do not know how many or what they will be called. Blizzard North did give us a quote on that when pressed, "There will be more than one and less than thirty, and they may or may not have the same names they did in Diablo." So we learned a lot from that conversation, as you can see.
One thing we did hear is that they have programmed the game so that it's quite easy to add difficulty levels or change the settings for all of the monsters, items, etc in a game, in terms of what they have to go through to actually change the programming of it. So when they do get into testing out higher difficulty levels, they can do it quickly and easily. And they are aware that most experienced Diablo players thought hell/hell was too easy, so it seems likely we'll see a top level of difficulty that will be challenging enough for anyone's taste.
Durability exists in Diablo II much like it did in Diablo. You see it listed when you hover on the item, and all items have various listed durabilities, and the higher quality items tend to have higher durability. There is currently no way to raise the durability of an item, besides getting it repaired. No oils to do this, or shrines, though it was a feature a number of Blizzard North guys were talking about putting back in, in some form.
The biggest change is that when an item's durability is completely used up, it turns red and becomes unusable, but it doesn't vanish, like they did in Diablo. It's just unusable, until you get it repaired by an NPC. Repairs were rumored to be horribly expensive, and they are a bit more than they were in Diablo, but it's not that bad. Higher quality items cost more to repair, and very good stuff costs a LOT, so this would be a problem for a young character with a really good item, since gold is much scarcer than it was in Diablo.
Items seem to take damage a bit faster than they did in Diablo, but it's hard to tell all that accurately from our few days of play time, especially as our new characters were switching weapons and armor constantly, as we found new, better stuff. Two-handed weapons are said to take some damage when you are hit, not just when you hit with them, even if you aren't blocking with that item, but we didn't get to test this out. Bows and crossbows still have durability, even though you need arrows or bolts to use them.
Blizzard is aware that everyone who has a DVD would very much like them to sell Diablo II in that format, as well as CD-ROM. However, at this time they have no plans to produce a DVD, either at the initial release, or later on. It all depends on market realities. Right now, the market for games on DVD is not large enough to justify the additional effort it would take them to programme a DVD version of it. As DVD gets more affordable, and more people gain that technology and DVD games sell more and more copies, Blizzard will of course be watching that market, and when it makes economic sense, or possibly once they have the CD-ROM and Mac versions finished and can spare some programmers, they'll get to work on it.
Gold is very scarce early on. Most monsters drop piddling amounts, about 4 to 7, and items you find early on sell for very little, just like in Diablo. However, you don't need gold for anything other than repairs and buying scrolls and new equipment. There is no gold drain for blue or red potions, or expensive books, like in Diablo. Amazons have more expenses than the other players, since they have to obtain arrows or bolts or javelins. However monsters frequently drop arrows and bolts, and these are very affordable from the NPC's anyway. Javelins are a bit more expensive, and are not dropped very frequently, but they do more damage, so that's only fair.
Later on gold was not of much use, at least judging from the Blizzard guys. Most of them had their stashes full in Act Two (100k gold max) and were carrying around 20 or 40k, all of which they would drop and half of which would vanish when they died. It appeared that they weren't really bothering to test the Guild Halls much, since there is the Steeg Stone in a Guild Hall that is always available to deposit more gold into and grow ever-closer to the next level of quality in a Guild Hall. (See Guild Halls for more information.)
Item repairs were more expensive than in Diablo, but they weren't as painful as we'd heard in the past, so it would seem that the price has been lowered. Early reports from Diablo II Team testers spoke of throwing away worn-out items, since they couldn't afford to fix them, but that is no longer the case.
Most good items to purchase were not that expensive, but were out of our attribute range. Towards the end of Act Two, more desirable items were offered to purchase, but there are also the strength and dexterity requirements to take into account, as well. This is less of a problem with one of the melee characters, who have higher strength to start with and are adding more of their attribute points to strength and dex as they go along.
However, the whole game economy is far from polished and perfected, and it was actively skewed while we were playing it in this early test mode, with the spawning of magical items still turned up a bit, to let them do more testing on items and item sets and such. So we were finding better/more expensive stuff to sell than gamers will in the final game.
The whole experience system has been rather overhauled in Diablo II, and is much more reasonable, and harder to exploit. A major addition is that you don't get experience now for killing monsters too far below your level, OR too far above it. Only the "slumming" was prevented in Diablo, where you couldn't go to the easy levels and just rip through them and gain exp for it. Now they don't allow you to kill monsters far too high for your Character level either. Why not? This prevents the exploit of a lower level character playing with a bunch of higher level friends, and tagging along down to the deeper levels and just racking up obscene experience through the shared experience in the party system. In addition, it prevents someone from using high level "hand-me-down" equipment that enables him to succeed, much less even survive, at a higher level than he would normally be able to play.
Exactly how far below or above your level a monster can be and still award experience is still being worked on, and of course it's a sliding scale or a bell curve sort of distribution. It doesn't go from full exp to nothing, it gradually declines as you face monsters that are more and more out of your range, either higher or lower.
The formula for sharing experience in a friendly party is complicated, but also very ingenious. The actual quote Matt Householder, Diablo II Producer, gave to us reads as follows:
- "The total Experience for killing a monster is divided among the members of a party. Each member's share of the total is an amount proportional to the member's character level divided by the sum of all the character levels in the party. The member delivering the killing blow also gets a small percentage of additional Experience as a bonus to his/her share.
- For each party member the Experience earned (added to stats) for killing a monster is computed based on the difference between your character's level and the monster's level. If the level difference is small (the defn of "small" is adjustable), the full Experience share is added to stats. If the difference is large (again adjustable), a minimum amount of Experience is added to stats. In between these two extremes a proportional amount is added."
Simple, eh? ;)
What this means is that in a party, the experience for killing a monster is divided up so that the higher Clvl characters get more, based on how high their character level is, and also whoever deals the killing strike gets a small bonus. And this is all dependant upon the monster being in your range to get experience from in the first place, but that comes into play if you are playing solo or in a group. So basically you should try and group up with characters at about your own level, and you should all get together and play areas that are appropriate for your level, if you wish to gain the maximum experience from your playing.
As was said before, there is no max character level hard cap in Diablo II. It was capped at Clvl 50 in Diablo; this is not the case in the sequel. However, Blizzard North has told us that it will be extremely difficult to get a character to Clvl 50. This likely means that you will need tremendous amounts of experience to advance in levels at that point, and that the only monsters that will still be awarding you experience are the most powerful and deadly in the game, no doubt deep in Act Four on the highest difficulty level. So players will eventually get characters to Clvl 51 and beyond, but it will be a very long climb to those levels.
When you level it up you gain five attribute points and one skill point. There are no hard caps on how many attribute points each character may have in each attribute, so you could have a sorceress with 200 strength if you wanted to, though it wouldn't exactly be the best way to play her. There are no elixirs in the game, so characters will have generally far fewer attributes than a character of the same Clvl would have in Diablo. To somewhat compensate for this, the characters gain more from each attribute point. All characters that we tested gained two mana per point in Energy, and two hit points per point in Vitality. Your Offensive Rating (to/hit) goes up quickly as well; with each level point applied to dexterity, the Amazon's dexterity total rose 4 points, and presumably the other characters have some specific, appropriate bonuses to their stats as well (such as Barbarian gaining damage more quickly, Paladin gaining more Defensive Rating, etc?) that will be revealed with more testing.
Also, as with Diablo, when your character goes up a level, they gain to their base damage, mana, and hit points, though we didn't get to experiment enough to determine exactly how much and how often. It likely varies with the character level and character type anyway.
Expansion Pack or Other Added Features
We didn't get any new information on whether Blizzard North is planning an expansion pack for Diablo II or not. While we're just guessing, it seems likely, since expansion packs are something of a tradition for Blizzard, having released them for WarCraft II, Diablo [Hellfire, developed by Sierra], and StarCraft. If Diablo II sells well and is popular, then there would seem to be every reason for Blizzard North to expand the world. They have said that Arena Games might be an added feature in a later product, so that would be something to add in an expansion-pack, and there would be other things, as there were in Hellfire. A new character or two, new levels, new spells, new items, etc. It would be interesting to see how they reworked the skill trees, if they replaced skills, or just added a fourth tree for each existing character, or what. But we'll have a long wait to find out that sort of thing, with Diablo II not released yet.
Friendly fire is completely out of the game at this point, and the D2 Team seemed pretty sure it would stay that way. They have experimented with it endlessly, trying every possible permutation, including much lower damage, area effect spells only, FF in neutral party mode, etc. But they were just not happy with how any of those worked. Diablo II is designed, by popular demand, to encourage a co-op style of play in multi-player mode. Whether we like it or not, they are sacrificing "realism" for playability.
Some of the reasons that FF doesn't work well are:
- Lack of ability to buy healing potions.
- So many area-of-effect spells would be unusable in multi-player mode.
- The game is so much faster-paced than Diablo that just being careful and not shooting others is nearly impossible.
- No resurrection scrolls make dying more inconvenient (although this is largely cancelled out by the lack of looting and the ease of re-equipping your items).
- It is more fun to not have to worry about or deal with it.
- It discriminates among characters, with the Sorceress becoming nearly impossible to play in a friendly MP game, and the Necromancer not being real well-suited for it either.
None of these reasons will convince some people, but what it really seems to come down to is "The Fun Factor." The game is much more fun if you can just play and not worry constantly about killing others, and with the mass-destruction spells the Sorceress and Necromancer can wield, they would simply be unable to play effectively in a friendly party game.
The lack of friendly fire comes into play with melee weapons also, since you cannot hit your party members. Since some weapons have a greater range, it is a nice strategy to stand behind the "tank" character and shoot arrows or spells through him at the monsters, or even use a weapon with more range, like a spear, long sword, polearm, or bow and arrow. Safe behind your friend, you can hit the monsters just as well as if you had a direct shot. This seems a possible exploit, one that Blizzard have worked hard to counteract with the distribution of not allowing the sharing of Experience points between characters of vastly different Clvls. If a lower level character is able to hide behind a higher level character whilst fighting monsters, safe in the assurance that the higher character will act as a 'human shield', protecting him against the monsters attacks, he could rake up a bucket-load of Experience points very quickly with very little risk to his own safety.
Before sounding the death knell of Friendly Fire, remember that it has been in and out of the game numerous times, and it's not guaranteed to never make a comeback. This is too hotly-contested a feature to die quietly. The Battle.net Game Creation Screen
Game Creation Options
Game Creation is somewhat enhanced from how it was in Diablo, and sports a few added options. You can see what the game creation screen looks like here, or click the thumbnail to the right. In addition to the standard options for game name, and password, there are added options to enter a game description (don't have to try and do this with the game name anymore), maximum number of players, and the character level restriction. This is a useful addition if you don't want some big character jumping in and and trying to PK everyone in sight, but also with how the party system works now, playing with characters far above or below your level will have a big effect on the experience you gain from killing monsters.
Guild Halls are much changed since last check. They are now free to found, but will require the founding character to have played through the entire game before he can create one. It is not decided if all members must have finished the game as well, or if they can join in before then, if invited. Once you are eligible to create a guild hall, you select "Guild" and then "Found Guild" from the Battle.net interface, enter your name and abbreviation, and that's that, you have a guild. At that time you set the name of the Guild Hall, your three letter abbreviation to appear after your name on Battle.net, and also your guild hall colours and insignia.
You can then select "Guild" from the "Join Game" window in Battle.net, and you type in the name of your Guild Hall, and the password, and if you are on the list of allowed members, you are in. The Guild Hall screen starts off with your character standing in a grassy area with cliffs on each side. It's an Act One setting, and looks a lot like the ground and cliff in this screenshot, though obviously without the monsters. You move the only direction you can, which is to your right, and the narrow cul-de-sac opens up into a larger grassy area with some trees, where your guild hall stands in a clearing. Theoretically, every player who finishes the game could create a guild hall and it's possible there could be some issues here with solo-guild halls [those created purely for the extra storage space for that player], being abandoned when they stop playing or move onto a new character and a new hall. Probably housekeeping will be performed much like it is with accounts on Battle.net, whereby after a certain period of inactivity the account is assumed not required and deleted.
The beginning guild is a small wooden Act One building, a single room that doesn't even have a chest in it. The only existing screenshot of a Guild Hall is here, and this is at least the first upgraded model, since it has two rooms and a chest, though we don't know if the chest shown here is public or private.
Inside your Guild Hall is the Steeg Stone (named for game designer Steig Hedlund), the pillar with the smoke around it in this image. This is an attractive way to symbolise the guild treasury. You click on the Steeg Stone and an option screen pops up telling you how much gold you have (both on you and in your stash) and asking how much you would like to deposit. It also displays (at least to the Guild Master, we didn't test it with just a regular guild member) how much gold there is in the guild now, and how much more is needed to get to the next Guild Hall upgrade. The first one is at 35,000, but unfortunately we didn't get that much gold to see what it would have added. Probably just a chest, since 35,000 gold isn't really that much, we had that much between the three of us by mid-Act Two, we just didn't get together and deposit it. And in the current pre-beta test mode, you only need to finish Act One to qualify for a Guild Hall, rather than the entire game, after which you'd certainly have enough gold to afford at least the first level of a Guild Hall upgrade.
Further upgrades to a Guild Hall will add more features. Blizzard didn't disclose them all to us, but we got the impression that as you added in more money, more features would come into play, and the look and size of the Guild Hall would change. Rather than having an option to spend, say, 500,000 to add a larger storage chest, you would know that you needed to deposit up to 350,000 gold, and at that point your Guild Hall would automatically add another room and expand the storage chest from 4x6 to 4x8. We don't know the features, just speculating here.
Also the appearance of the Guild Hall will change, not just the size. Probably higher levels of it will be in different architectural styles, maybe Act Two, and then at a higher level a stone temple sort of design from Act Three, and then at the highest level, perhaps some sort of structure that you'd see in Act Four? It is unknown how much choice or control you'll have over these changes, and Guild Halls are still a new innovation to the game, so much change is still possible. Suggestions are always welcome.
How many characters can belong to the same Guild Hall? The Diablo II Development Team weren't decided on that yet, but it will be a lot. Possibly the number will be limited only by the RAM on your computer, but they said maybe 128 members would require around 128MB RAM to play at a reasonable frame rate. So guild halls are not at all the province of only the very rich, as they were originally planned to be. The bonus for the rich is to have special-looking guild Halls with tons of storage space, and maybe even direct access from within a game, as one of the very highest bonus features.
There won't be any way to have PvP combat or even sparring in the Guild Hall, for technical reasons. With so many characters allowed in a small area, if there were spell animations and other effects to show, and hit points and spell damage and other information coming from that many computers, the frame rate would drop to a crawl, and it would put a lot of stress on the server. So stand around and chat, hold meetings, trade items, but don't expect to be able to duel.
To add members to the Guild Hall is simple. If you are the Guild Master, you can just select the names in Battle.net chat, and with a right click you'll have options, one of them being to add them to your guild hall. They are given the option to accept, and upon doing that, you would tell them the password and rules of the Guild Hall; the process is easy. The method for booting members, collecting rent, possibly voting out a bad Guild Master, and other various issues are not finalised yet. Guild Halls will be tested out extensively during the beta test, and since they are a feature that was added by popular demand, it seems likely that Blizzard will be willing to listen and make changes if the majority wish them.
It was said by Bill Roper in a recent Fansite Interview that open characters would not be eligible to have Guild Halls. This is only logical, since in offline and open character play there will no doubt be gold and character hacks, so qualifying for a guild hall could be cheated, and then adding enough gold to get a nicer one could be cheated as well. Also, Guild Halls are mainly meant to be something for Battle.net play with friends, and the prestige of a guild tag on your character would be meaningless when playing off of Battle.net.
The rumours were not true, Hardcore is still in the game. Hardcore characters will have their own ladders, their own system of titles (awarded for beating certain bosses, possibly just the End of Act Bosses such as Andariel) and their own economy. Guild Halls will exist for Hardcore characters, possibly at some sort of reduced requirement or cost, but possibly the same. Since Guild Halls are free, just requiring you to beat the game once to get one, one HC char will do it and then probably have 80 people wanting to be in their guild and donate to the Steeg Stone.
Once dead as a Hardcore character, your body is gone and untouchable. This may change, to allow friendly looting, but that is not decided yet. You may log on to Battle.net after you die, but you appear as a ghost, a character in the chat interface with a brown hooded robe, your name in red like all HC chars are. Seeing ghosts on Battle.net at Blizzard North was not uncommon, since if the server crashed, lots of characters in games would die each time. After a server crash often there would appear 10 or 12 ghost characters in the chat, most of them non-Hardcore, but sometimes a few unfortunate souls.
The Blizzard North guys are quite heartless about Hardcore death, while we were playing often someone would come running into the room with news that "So-and-so just lost his Clvl 21 Hardcore Paladin!" and all the other Blizzard North guys would laugh and clap. It was a camaraderie, of sorts, since they all knew the pain of losing one. But I think we can look forward to some nicely miserable chatting on Battle.net when a guy logs on with a Clvl 28 or 30 Hardcore ghost, and everyone wants to hear his hard luck story.
The interface for Diablo II is great. Much improved in many ways, easier to use, showing off more information, and better looking. You really have to play it to appreciate all of the changes, both subtle and overt, but here are a few in a quick run down:
One great one is that to leave any shopping or conversation pop up screen, you can just left click anywhere on the screen outside of the window. No need to hit the Esc key several times any more. However, the Esc key still works, and you can also use the space bar. A typical weapon info display
A larger addition is the sheer amount of information displayed when you hover the cursor over any item in the game. You can see an item display here, and a skill display here. Much info, and it's a bit overwhelming when you are trying to take it all in at a glance while playing. Also, rather than the information fitting into the little text box at the bottom of the interface, as it did in Diablo, the info now pops up right where you are hovering, and at first you sort of recoil in alarm. Of course there isn't any box on the belt for text now, since the belt is redesigned and much smaller in Diablo II. This frees up more space for the action to take place in, which is a good thing. It's just a new look, and you will probably need a couple of games to get used to it.
Pretty much everything in the game has a hover tag on it: All items, even on the ground, other characters, monsters, and even town portals, which now say where they will take you, rather than just the name of whoever cast them.
Belt levels are improved. Only blue and red potions are auto-placed in the belt (you can stick in stamina or other drinkable potions if you wish), they auto-stack in the proper column, and they drop down as you drink them.
Belts this large (16 slots) are something you wouldn't find before maybe Clvl 20 or so, and you'd probably not have enough strength to wear one at that point anyway, unless you were a warrior-type character. In this quick chart, red or blue are normal potions, and RED and BLUE are full recharge potions, which are much rarer, at least early in the game. The way the belt now works is very clever. The visible level is what you see in your belt when you are not hovering over it. These slots are numbered 1-4, and correspond to the number keys, just like the belt did in Diablo. The clever part is that things drop down as you drink them.
So if you hit "1" in this belt set up, the "red" on the Second Row in Column One would drop down to the visible level, and be ready if you hit "1" again. And things auto-stack (when you pick up potions without your inventory open) from left to right. So if you picked up a full RED, it would go to the top of Column Three, and if you picked up two "reds", they would both go into Column One. This works the same for all belts with two or more rows, and is very convenient in keeping things in their proper rows.
You can always move things around, and a new trick is that if you hover on the belt and get all the rows to display, you can hit the tilde "~" key (top left corner of the keyboard) and keep the belt displaying all the rows even when you are not hovering. This is useful for stocking it more quickly, though it's easy to hit that key by accident since you are using Tab and 1 all the time, and it's a bit of a surprise if you first get it in the heat of combat.
All of the keyboard keys are fully customisable in Diablo II. The way this worked when we were testing it was that you just hit "Esc" and got several text options, pretty much like they were in Diablo. You could adjust the sound, music, gamma and more from that, save (in single-player), exit the game, etc. And another one of the options was "Controls", and you clicked it and got a long text list in very small type of what every key was currently doing. It was a simple matter to click on the one you wanted to change, and then just hit whatever key you wanted to perform that function. The game then remembered them next time, saved to that character, which was convenient.
We did try them out, and liked them a lot. Flux was using a Sorceress, and by around Clvl 18 had eight skills in regular use, so was using all eight skill hot keys, (default for these was F1-F8) and since his machine had a ergonomic keyboard, F7 and F8 were far out of easy reach. He set them to "5" and "6", since those keys were in reach, and only 1-4 drink from the belt in Diablo II, and it was quite nice to have all eight hotkeys accessible without even moving one's hand. Gaile, with her Bow Amazon, was fairly unconcerned about re-keying the spells. Because she had chosen to concentrate her spell selection somewhat, and since she was comfortable with the Diablo set-up (from excessive use ;-p), she simply kept her most-used skills as F-5 through F-8, where instinct took her.
We are looking forward to actually playing the game, and setting everything to custom. For now most hotkeys are somewhat logical: "T" for Skill Trees, "C" for Character window, "I" for Inventory, etc. But it seems likely that once players get used to the game and the interface, people will be setting everything to the left side of the keyboard [unless they are left-handed], for quicker access, and just memorising where all the keys are. Most of the windows can be opened with one click on the "Mini Panel", (see it here) the small strip of icons just above your belt, so if you are uncomfortable with hot keys you can use that instead.
A requested inventory feature that will unfortunately not be in the game is some sort of weapon switch hot key. That would make it possible to switch instantly from bow and arrows to sword and shield, for instance. Blizzard North tested this out during the development cycle, but the issues of the different items taking up different amounts of space in inventory, and being dropped accidentally when switching were too much of a pain to put into the final game.
One thing that has long been a popular request is a yes/no prompt on quitting a game. Anyone who has ever accidentally hit "Esc" and then clicked on "New Game" in Diablo knows this problem. This feature is not implemented into Diablo II (yet) but it's less of an issue this time, since you don't have to use the Esc key to get out of all conversations and trade interactions with NPC's. You can just click elsewhere on the screen, or hit the space bar. So less chance of accidentally, leaving a game, but at the same time, adding a yes/no prompt would be such an easy thing to do, and it has no downside, so let's all feel free to continue asking about it.
Your character's inventory is the same size as it was in Diablo, 4x10 spaces. There is no bonus in size for a stronger character in terms of inventory space. The only bonus added strength allows is meeting the requirements to wear a belt with more slots in it for potions, which is definitely a plus. The basic belt is a default item, with four spaces for potions. There are a couple of types of belts that you can wear, such as certain types of "sashes," that add armour or other bonuses, but still have only four potion shots. Other belts or sashes allow 8, 12, or 16 slots, and the strength requirements increase as you go up. These items aren't all that rare though; we saw numerous 12-slot belts just in Act One and early Act Two.
There was talk that there might be some sort of packs or bags of holding that you could put into your inventory to hold more stuff at once, or perhaps some sort of quest item later in the game that would expand your inventory somewhat, but this issue is still under debate.
For related topics, see Belt and Stash.
Completely covering all information about items in Diablo II would be a website in itself. There are probably five or ten times as many items as there were in Diablo. More types of weapons and armour, new things like gems, lots of new types of potions, dozens of new prefixes and suffixes, etc. So rather than try to cover them all here, we will instead give a short run down on a few of the new items, and save the more thorough descriptions for our upcoming Items Section.
Books and Scrolls
Books exist in Diablo II, but in much different form than they were in Diablo. Books are now just scroll-holders, basically. There are two types of books, Town Portal books, which are blue, and Identify books, which are red. These are both 1x2 items in the inventory, and what they do is hold scrolls. Any ID or TP scrolls you pick up will auto-stack in it when you have a book of that type. Books hold up to twenty scrolls/charges of a spell, and each time you cast that spell the number of charges declines by one.
Scrolls are for sale in very large quantities, and are cheap (80 gold for Town Portal, 100 for Identify). Also, monsters frequently drop scrolls, or even books with 2-5 charges, which also stack into your existing book, if there is room. Once you rescue Cain from the Rogue Encampment, and get him identifying items for free, you'll most likely never run short on scrolls again, at least up through Act Three.
Town Portal and Identify are the only scrolls in the game. Blizzard North has given some consideration to putting Resurrect back in, perhaps as a very rare or high-level scroll, but it was not in the game at the time of our testing.
Gems are used with the three types of socketable items: weapons, helms, and shields. There are at least four types of gems, fire, lightning, poison, and cold, and five levels of gem quality. The names are subject to change, but in best to worst, they are:
- Normal (Just called by the gem type: "sapphire" or "diamond" for example.)
The only gems we saw for sale from NPCs were Chipped or Flawed. Lower quality ones. Possibly later in the game you can get the better quality gems for sale, or find them from monsters. Higher quality gems imbue the item they are socketed into with better bonuses, so it is worth it to use better gems. Besides hoping to find them, you can carry around a gem, and hope to encounter a Gem Shrine. These shrines have a very cool function. If you have no gems in your inventory when you find one, they will spit out one random gem of low quality. But if you have a loose gem in your inventory, the Gem Shrine will upgrade it one level in quality. So over time, you can assemble some perfect gems, which are extremely useful in socketed items.
Keys are used to open locked chests, which you can read more about here. Keys can stack up to ten high in one inventory space, though at the time of our testing there was but one graphic for them, so you had to hover over them to see how many you had. Each time you click on a locked chest one key is automatically expended to open it. Keys are dropped occasionally by monsters, and also can be purchased in town for a very low price. There has been discussion at Blizzard North of including locked doors as well as chests, but the consensus is that it would be a nuisance if you got stuck at a door and didn't have a key, and had to go back to town to get some more. So we probably won't see locked doors in Diablo II.
Weapons, Armour, Potions and Other Items
We have extensive information on weapons, armour, potions, and other items, but these sections will be very large and detailed, with many images for illustrative purposes, and as such don't fit into this report. They will be premiering in our Items Section, which is currently under construction.
Kick is still in the game, and it works just as it did when we first tested it out. You select kick with whichever mouse button you wish, and when you click it your character kicks out, with very good accuracy. Any monsters you strike will be knocked sliding backwards a few steps, which gives you some nice spacing to use a skill or run. The kick either does very low or zero damage, so it's not really an offensive weapon, but a way to give yourself space. But it proved useful enough for pushing back a couple of monsters and then hotkeying back to another skill to deal with the rest left surrounding you. And of course it costs no mana to use.
The original idea of kick was that bows and some other ranged weapons were going to be less or not at all effective at point blank range, so you would have need to kick things back to hit them properly. However that concept was scrapped for various reasons, but kick remains, not of great use, but not actively annoying enough to be removed completely, like Convert.
Ladders (Character Ranking System)
One of the most anticipated features of Diablo II for the competitive player is the ladder system, a promised world-wide character ranking system, whose placement would be based on a large number of factors. Just the idea of it gave players hope for a more meaningful appraisal of another character than merely class and Clvl.
The Ladder system will be in the game, but just what it will measure is still being determined, and Blizzard North wouldn't give us any new news about it. What we do know is that the ladders will apparently measure a combination of PvP and PvM play, for each character. There were going to be strictly PvP ladders, tied in with the Arena, but since the Arena has been scrapped, or at least postponed, the PvP ladders are out. A solely-PvP ladder based on regular game play is an impossibility, there are just too many variables and ways to exploit it.
So the ranking will be largely based on PvM play, and a large component of the ranking will be actual Clvl, or experience of a character. But at the same time, Blizzard North recognises that Clvl alone is not a true measure of playing skill, or else the ladders would be just a listing of the characters with the most experience. For example, a person who was sloppy, died a lot, and wasn't very good at Diablo II, but who played for eight hours a day with one character, would get a very high level character, just through persistence. Would this player deserve a higher ranking than another player who might not have that much time to play, but who dies much less, moves faster, and is generally far more skillful?
The ladder is a fun way to compete adn measure your character against other players from around the world. But it's also a way to help you select playing partners, and therefore the players with higher rankings should be better players, ones who die less and won't drag down the rest of the party. Hopefully these variables will be factored in, and some nearly magical system will emerge that works perfectly and that everyone is happy with. Or at least is better than nothing. ;)
The port from PC to Mac is still a definite priority for Blizzard North. They are working on it while still working on Diablo II, and fully expect to have the Mac version out just a few months after the PC version. There will not be a public beta test of the Mac version, since it's the same game, they just need to get out all the bugs that might appear as a result of converting it from PC to Mac programming. A few month wait is no fun, but it's still a much faster PC to Mac turn around time than most computer games manage, and less of a wait than there was for past Blizzard games.
All characters in Diablo II regenerate mana at a pretty good rate. About one point per second, and if you keep alternating magical attacks with weapon attacks, or just pace yourself, you will hardly ever come up dry. Only when there is a sizeable pack of monsters, or an emergency situation, will you find the blue bulb drained. Monsters drop blue potions less frequently than they drop red, but since you don't need to drink blue at all, (it's just a convenience) you generally have a few on hand for emergencies.
Mana is needed more by the Sorceress and Necromancer than the other characters, and especially the Sorceress, since she doesn't have minions fighting it out for her, and she will generally have weaker melee fighting ability than the Necromancer. Of course that's fully customisable, there is nothing to stop a player from loading up their Sorceress with strength and dexterity and good equipment.
But generally speaking, the Sorceress will have more mana than anyone else, and go through it faster than anyone else. Her great skill is Warmth, which ups her mana regeneration rate 25% at level one, and 35% at level two. In our testing this made a big difference. Yes, it's mostly just a convenience, since you could just be more patient, but it is a lot more fun to play and shoot off spells, rather than stand around and wait for your mana to recharge.
For instant mana refills, there are "wells" scattered around the maps, and these offer a full mana and health refill with one click. They do recharge themselves, but it takes a few minutes, so you can't just run back to one every time you get beaten on. Also, there is an NPC in town in each of the first three Acts (possibly in Act Four also, but we don't know) that will provide you with an automatic full heal and full mana recharge. Akara, the Rogue Priestess, provides this service in Act One.
The overlay map is quite similar in function to the one in Diablo: you see a miniature version of the level around you superimposed over the screen. But the one in Diablo II is much improved in detail. The map is now generated by actually condensing the full game world each new game, and then displaying the key features in miniature, and partially transparent. Not at all just the gold line blueprint of the dungeons you saw in the first game, you now see houses, wagons, cliffs, walls, doorways, and more in great detail. Adding to the display, key features have little icons. Doorways are sort of a pinkish red on most maps, though the colour scheme changes from level to level. Characters show as differently coloured "+" signs: Your character's sign is blue, friendly characters are green, NPC's are white, your corpses are pink, and hirelings or minions are teal.
Other displayed features include ankhs for shrines; stairways, cave openings, wells, buildings, and other such important features are clearly visible from a distance, with various accurate representations in miniature on the map.
How far various things can be off of your screen and still show up on the map varies. Hard features such as houses, walls, tents, etc. show up forever, even if you are far far away and have to scroll the overlay map back to see them. (And you can scroll the map a long way. You will not believe how far, with the massive size of the levels in Diablo II.) Monsters don't show up at all on the map, or it would be just dotted with them, obscuring everything else. Shrines and wells show up for a long distance, but not forever, you have to be within a few screens of them to find them. Friendly players and your minions show up just about as far as shrines. Only important NPC's show up on the overlay map, and they have a smaller range than friendly players. You have to be within a couple of screens of them, and from one end of the Rogue Encampment you can't see the NPC's at the other end. In this map Akara is just to the right of the two NPCs (Warriv and Kashya) in the middle near the red camp fire, but her + doesn't show up at this point. Your own corpse has about the same range as an NPC, and town portals, which show up as golden +'s, are only visible at close range as well.
Mini Belt Map
A totally new addition to the interface of Diablo II is the mini belt map. It appears on your belt where the Stamina and Level Up gauges usually are, pushing them to the right and shrinking them. You can see it here, or in the thumbnail to the right. This is a brand new feature, added into the game just before our trip to Blizzard North. It was still a work in progress, not at all finalised in function or appearance, and is being seen here for the first time.
Some of us liked it very much; one left it up and used it constantly the entire period of gameplay. Another never looked at it. So it may well not be for everyone, but if you want a thumbnail navigation system, and don't want the overlay map always covering up the screen, then this is the new goodie for you. Since it's such a new feature, expect there to be some changes, and it might be removed from the game entirely, if it doesn't seem useful to the Diablo II Team as they play test it. Such is the life of new features in Diablo II.
A full report on the monsters of Diablo II will require much more space than we have to spare here. A few quick comments and changes for monsters in the game: Monster health display
The new health bar that displays behind the name of the monster is very useful. The name, like "Burning Dead Archer" appears, with a red background. And then as the monster takes damage, the red bar declines, from right to left. This thumbnail shows a Slime Prince, an Act Three monster (that spits firebolts) with full hit points. One good hit and the red behind the name would probably be down around the "P" in "Prince", indicating that the monster had half its hit points remaining.
Monster stats do not display in Diablo II. You don't get a kill counter, or a listing of their resistance and hit points, no matter how many of them you kill. The only information you learn is by observation of how difficult they are to kill, and how much damage they seem to take from various types of magical attack. There is some more info on some monsters, like the "Spits Firebolts" displayed in the thumbnail here, but that's only shown for monsters with special attacks, such as "Fire Damage Hits," "Defends with Sparks," or "Magic Resistant." All boss monsters have this sort of info displayed, though it's far from complete. A boss that has extra hit points, extra speed, a fire attack, and blows up with a nova when killed might just say, "Extra Strong, Extra Fast." It will be up to you, the player, to observe what the monsters do when they die and how they fight in Diablo II, and experience with a given type of monster will be very useful when facing them again.
There is no respawning of monsters in previously-cleared areas. The Diablo II Team had planned on this all along, but it was having some technical difficulties, in terms of giving the computer too much to keep track of, and it was sort of wasted, since characters weren't revisiting already-cleared areas that much anyway. So this feature has been removed.
Monster Generators are still in the game, and we saw several types in Act One and Two. They are weird, semi-organic things, that have substantial hit points, and can move around, and spit out new monsters pretty rapidly, in a very "giving birth" sort of fashion. It's not a mechanical thing, where more monsters just appear around the generator, they are pushed out of the mother. Monster Generators aren't fast though, and they can't fight back, and they only have a limited output, after around eight or ten monsters they collapse on themselves and become inert and untargetable.
Death animations are frequently spectacular in Diablo II. Quest and level bosses especially, they die and fireworks commence. Swirls of lightning and fire, vast poison clouds, explosions, and often great rewards, such as rains of gold or other treasures, appear upon their deaths. Blood Raven, the Countess in the Forgotten Tower Quest, Andariel, and some others in Act One have spectacular visual displays upon their deaths.
In addition to these quick tidbits, we have tons more information on Monsters collected, and it will be appearing in updates on our hosted monster speciality site, Darkness. Check it all out there in the days to come, and there will be a new, fully-updated monster section appearing on DiabloII.net in a few weeks.
The music of Diablo II is even more pleasing than that of Diablo. While the score carries many Diablo-like driving, or suspenseful, or haunting themes, by sheer quantity of musical images, the variety prevents monotony, even when you are in the same area for some time. The loops are more varied, more complex, and more frequently changing as well, and in each new area you visit, you are treated to completely new tunes, written with attention to the terrain or the setting. It is a wonderful score. At times you are tempted to linger a bit in a certain area, since you are so enjoying the music that plays whilst you are there.
The NPCs in Diablo II behave and move around in much more interesting fashion than the "stand still and gesture" ones in Diablo. The important shopkeeper ones move around some, but they do have confined ranges. You won't have to go out and search for them, they'll be near their shops, just not in the exact same spot every time. For example Charsi, the Blacksmith in Act One, walks around her forge area, and occasionally bangs on the anvil or sharpens a sword. The others pace around their area as well, in rather realistic fashion. You almost feel like you are interrupting them at times.
Besides the important NPC's there are many others just walking around the towns. You can't interact with them, and they don't show up on the map or have a name tag when you hang the cursor over them. They are just decoration, but they work well for that purpose.
When an NPC has something important to tell you, usually wanting to give you a quest, or crucial information for a quest you are already on, they appear with an exclamation point over their heads, a few will give a verbal clue, such as Akara's "I have news for you," and some will walk right up to you and start talking, not even waiting to be clicked on.
Also, the NPC's often have different speeches for each character, customised to your class, if not to the extremes of liking or disliking, they at least say your class and a bit of background info, rather than just, "Welcome my friend, it is good you have returned."We didn't notice them charging different prices or anything, but Charsi has a fascination with Barbarians, Gheed dislikes Necromancers, and there are a few other such personality-enhancing quirks you will see in the game.
The voice acting of the NPC characters is quite well done. Each has a distinctive style of speech, from Charsi's outgoing friendliness to Warriv's soothing tones to Akara's stately vocals. Some of the voicing was not yet in place, and we are eager to hear Andariel's voice at the end of Act One, and any of the NPC's after Act One, since Acts Two and Three had no vocal tracks yet working in the game.
Another new feature with NPCs in Diablo II is the ability to hire mercenaries to accompany you on your adventures. Their AI isn't the best, but they will run to keep up with you, and they can take some punishment. There are a variety of randomly-generated NPC's with varying stats and skills and prices, and lots of weird names. (One Act Three mage NPC was named "Jarulf".)
None of the mercenaries last all that long, since you can't heal them (unless you are a Paladin using Prayer), or get them to drink potions. They do heal on their own, but slowly, and you won't usually want to wait on them.
Act One mercs are rogues. They all wield bows, and are very good shots, though their firing rate isn't that great, nor is their damage. They last a little while, since they are ranged attackers, and if you stay in front they won't get attacked by many monsters. Ice Arrow ones are the most useful, since they can slow down the monsters with their shots.
Act Two mercs are Town Guards. Big fellows with polearms, you can see one here. They are pretty tough, and have decent armour, but they run right into the thick of the battle, and without healing potions they don't last very long.
Act Three mercs are the first ones that are really worth the money. (Though the Act One and Two mercs might be improved to make them a worthwhile feature.) You can see one here, in the red. They are NPC sorcerers, just like the character from Diablo, though they don't have quite the same spells. They have better ones in some cases, and can cast some of the higher level spells in Diablo II, but only one per mage. Cold spells are again the most useful here.
Nothing is known about Act Four yet, in terms of hirable NPC's. What they might look like, how much they would cost, what their abilities would be, or if there will even be any at all, for that matter.
How the game will be packaged for sale is something we've been wondering about for some time. Unfortunately we don't have too many new answers. Blizzard North have either not yet finalised all of the packaging, or else didn't want to talk about it at this point. We did hear that the manual would be quite large, and be patterned somewhat after the Diablo manual, with illustrations, lovely design, lots of mythology and stories, and of course full game instructions, technical information, etc. Everything you'd want from a game manual, and more. We do not know how the CD's will be stored, whether in individual jewel cases, or in some sort of cardboard folder, but given the high quality of everything else Blizzard does, it's probably safe to assume that the Diablo II packaging will be top notch as well.
The Party System is a very important system that controls all interaction with other characters. You access the Party System menu by hitting the "P" key (default, can be set to whatever you like as a custom key), and there you see a list of all the other characters in the game, their Clvls, and their status to you. You need to "Invite" them to join your party, and if anyone in the party does so they are in, with the others in the party automatically accepting them as well. So everyone doesn't need to click "Yes" or "Invite" when someone new wants to join the party.
On the player interface screen you have a few other options, including "mute from," "mute to," and the important "loot/no loot" switch. Given how much space all of a character's equipment takes up when placed into inventory, you would need to have virtually nothing in your own inventory to pick up everything from another character's corpse, even if they did have you set to "loot," and we never saw anyone set that option anyway. You need to be in a friendly party to set "loot," it's just not possible to set it if you are neutral or hostile.
- Friendly: In this mode you share experience and gold, and there is no Friendly Fire at all.
- Neutral: The default when joining a new game, no Friendly Fire, but you don't share experience or gold.
- Hostile: You can only set other players to "hostile" while you are in town, and they and all of their friends receive a warning message when this happens. Everything will hit and deal damage to other players in this mode. Swings, shots, spells, minions or hired NPC's, etc. There is of course no sharing of gold or experience in hostile.
Experience sharing is pretty simple on the surface: you have to be in a friendly party, all near the same Clvl, fighting monsters that are appropriate for your level, and in reasonably close proximity to the character who gets the monster kill. But of course it's more complicated than that, and there is even a really cool formula that governs this whole interaction, in a very ingenuous and non-exploitable fashion. Full info on this topic can be seen in the Shared Experience section of this document.
The physics engine in Diablo II has been completely overhauled, and just about nothing works the same way it did in Diablo. None of the programming code is the same, they totally redid that, though obviously walking up to a monster and hitting it with a sword is pretty much the same in appearance in every game of this type that has ever been made. But the mechanics behind delivering that blow are all new.
A full discussion of this topic would be enormous, since really everything in the game has been changed, so we'll just touch on a few interesting aspects of the new physics engine.
Everything spell or projectile has a maximum range now, rather than just travelling until it hits a wall, as in Diablo. Spells travel outwards for a set distance, from the Barbarian's Warcries that are generally extend about half a screen, to the Sorceress' Nova and Frost Nova, which both go for the full visible screen, to arrows and bolts and other projectile skills like Lightning that go slightly further than the visible edge of the screen, then vanish. Much shorter in range are the melee weapons, but they all have varied ranges also. Daggers and wands can only hit things that are right next to you, while swords or staves have more range, and long stabbing weapons like spears can strike monsters in the second row.
Line of Sight
You need to be able to see directly to something to hit it now, or to throw something there, or cast a spell there. You can't teleport or jump over walls anymore, or cast a Town Portal over a wall (you can't actually cast them anywhere, they appear right on top of you by default) or even see over a wall. Unless you've already been there, it's just blackness on the other side of the wall. This applies to elevation also, since there are cliffs and balconies and upper levels in various areas. You can sometimes cast fire spells or shoot arrows up or down them, but you can't teleport up or down, or get the Barbarian to Jump up or down. At least you are not supposed to be able to.
Yes, there are flying monsters, and they can actually fly over streams and holes and cliffs that you can't walk over. A great realism improvement compared to how it worked in Diablo, where Blinks and Gargoyles would get stuck with nothing but a lava flow on the ground beneath them. Foul Crows in Act One will fly right over walls or water, and the best improvement are the Carrion Birds in Act Two. These buzzard-like creatures flap around overhead, out of reach of any attack, until they spot a nice opening, and they'll do a quick dive bomb, and then attack on the ground. They can travel right over trees or rocks, or over cliffs. Sure that's nothing more than a semi-realistic flight model, but compared to Diablo it's a huge improvement.
Fighting is a very different experience in Diablo II. The first game had everything forced to stand on squares, and you could only swing and hit something on the square adjacent or diagonal to you. So if you backed into a corner, then no more than three monsters could attack you at once, and all the others would pile up behind them. Another easy trick was to stand in a doorway and take them on one at a time, or just swing in a given direction, and any monster trying to approach would get hit by your swing and often be unable to get into the square next to you, where they needed to stand in order to attack you. That is completely gone in Diablo II, to the opposite extreme. You can point exactly in the direction from which a monster is coming, and swing all you like, but you will generally not hit it even once unless you are actually highlighting that monster individually. This also makes it difficult to stand in a doorway and take them on, since you can't see yourself that well there, and you can't just point in the correct direction and swing, you must target the monsters individually. Plus two or three monsters can crowd into the doorway together, forcing you to retreat.
All the more subtle combat mechanics are reworked as well. How such things as stun lock, to/hit, damage, swing speed, blocking speed, knock back, and everything else are all tweaked and modified and reworked, and the improvements and patterns of the game, will not become evident until people have been playing it for months. It seems to be much less exploitable and have fewer simple patterns though, judging by our weekend of play time.
Running and Floor Spacing
Running is of course a major change in how the game works, making everything move much faster. Both monsters and characters run, and especially for your character, running really changes the game. It is possible to use your greater foot speed to dart through small openings between monsters, and added to this is the lack of a floor space system, so that you can now move in any direction (rather than just eight as in Diablo), and swerve and stop on the spot. Being stunned when hit seems to be less of an issue now also, since you recover faster, and also you aren't knocked back into the square you were standing in when you started to move.
A feature that did not exist in Diablo, but was added in an elementary form in Hellfire, is the ability to hit more than one monster with the same weapon attack. In Hellfire it worked for the Monk, Barbarian, and Bard, but only if they had the proper weapon equipped, and they just had the ability to hit the monster they were aiming for, and maybe one on each side of it, all with the same swing. None of the characters in Diablo II can manage that trick, but there are numerous skills that will hit more than one monster at a time. Generally these pick targets in rapid succession, such as Double Swing, Zeal, or Fend, all of which hit two or more monsters bang bang bang. The Barbarian's Whirlwind is probably the ultimate example of this, as it can hit every monster on the screen if they are lined up properly, but even such skills as Amazon's Strafing Arrow claims to hit 5-8 monsters at just Slvl one.
And of course spells are very good at this, just as they were in Diablo. Nova or Bone Spear can hit just about everything on the screen, as can many other spell attacks.
Resisting spells has much more variety as well. Instead of the Diablo 0%, 75% or immune, monsters and characters can have a full variety of resistances now. It is not known what the top of the line resistance is now, if it's still 75% for characters or not, but monsters can definitely have more variety. The Necromancer skill Lower Resist takes off 5% at Slvl one, something that was simply impossible in the Diablo engine. It is also not known if any monsters will have immunities to various types of magic. All boss monsters have an immunity to being frozen; they can only be turned blue and slowed down, not stopped. Speculation is that there won't be as many immune monsters in Diablo II as there were in Diablo, since there is very little the Sorceress can do to a monster if it is immune to her purely-elemental attacks.
There are many other major changes to the game physics in Diablo II, and mentions of them are scattered all through this report, so read on and absorb.
PK'ing and PvP
PK'ing, as a predatory and sneaky practice, is pretty well done away with in Diablo II. Like it or hate it, the general consensus of players was that PK'ing was annoying and unwanted. And Blizzard has followed that lead, and almost completely removed it from the game. With the way the Party System is now set up, almost all PvP combat will have to be agreed upon by both parties. Diablo II is designed to be played in friendly parties, co-op against the monsters, and without any sort of Friendly Fire, and no way to instantly turn on some other character and attack them by surprise, PK'ing will be pretty much an exercise in frustration, as the prey will nearly always see the hunter coming, and hop back to town in time to escape if they so wish.
And even if the PK should happen to find the other character in the vast game world, and kill him, there reward is tiny. An ear (or other body part?), and half of the gold the other character was carrying at the time of their death. And that's it. No chance to get any equipment, no experience, and not even the satisfaction of inconveniencing the other player, who can just start up a new game, password protected this time, and find their body lying in town with all of their equipment on it.
See the Party System for more information on the friend/neutral/hostile settings, and why they'll make it so hard to sneak attack anyone.
But PvP is much more than PK'ing. Many people were looking forward to duelling with their new characters in Diablo II. That is still possible, but the Arenas are out, for now. Read the Arenas section for more information on this issue.
One thing that many people have asked about is how well will the characters be balanced for head to head duelling. The balance was not good in Diablo, the mage, with his hugely-damaging spells and tons of mana with mana shield, was by far the most powerful character both for duelling and for killing the monsters.
Blizzard North hasn't stated total character parity as a chief goal of Diablo II, but they are certainly working to make all of the characters more even, while at the same time upping their individuality a great deal. A difficult project, and we don't know how well it will turn out yet. One thing that gives hope for more interesting duels is the skill system, and the far far greater diversity it will create in character skills and approaches. In Diablo every high level character had essentially identical spells, and usually quite similar equipment. This will never be the case in Diablo II, there are too many branches to the skill trees, and not enough skill points to fill them all in.
Poison is another new feature of Diablo II. One of the four base types of magical attack, poison deals damage, as well as poisoning the victim. A poisoned monster or player turns green and suffers a steady health drain. More potent poisons drain hit points faster, and can also drain stamina. If you are poisoned, your health bulb turns green, and more noticeably in a dungeon or at night, your light radius drops considerably, and turns greenish. This is a real problem, since monsters to the edges of the screen basically vanish.
Salvation is provided in the form of poison antidote potions. These are sold in town, and are also dropped by the monsters pretty regularly. However we seldom actually used them. At least in Act One and Act Two where we were playing, the poison was wearing off quickly enough to more or less ignore it. No one was carrying an antidote in their belt, only in the inventory, and at the time you were poisoned you generally just wanted to kill the monster that had done it to you. So by the time you killed it, got a bit of clear space, opened up your inventory and drank an antidote, it had usually worn off anyway.
Later in the game poison will be a larger threat though, and the hit point drain will be fast enough to really cause you some problems. At higher potencies poison can also drain stamina, which would be bad if you needed to run from the monster that had poisoned you.
The Necromancer and Amazon have a number of poison skills themselves, and we got to test out Poison Javelin some with the Amazon and found it very useful against the lower level monsters. Creatures like Fallen, Corrupted Rogues, Thorn Beasts, Zombies, and others that didn't have very many hit points could be poisoned, and then dodged for a few seconds, by which time they would usually drop dead from the hit point drain. Fun, and efficient. Of course higher level monsters have many more hit points, and more poison resistance, but higher level poison skills do more damage, so it will be interesting to test and see how they interact later in the game.
One thing that is not yet known about the physics of poison is how resistance affects it. Does a higher poison resistance make the initial poison attack do less damage? Does it lower the chance that you'll be poisoned and turn green from the attack? Does it lessen the time that you will spend green/poisoned? Unknown. There are items that lessen the duration of poison, but don't do anything about lessening the actual damage from the poison attack in the first place. It is a complicated issue.
In Diablo II there are six quests per Act, the same six every game, as far as we know. You do not need to complete all of the quests each new game, once you finish them they are saved to your character. So though you can do a lot of the quests every game, you don't get the special reward each time. It is not yet known if they are saved to your character or reset when you begin the game again on a higher difficulty level.
We completed all of the quests in Act One a number of times, and got to see a few of the Act Two Quests, as well. The Act One quests are pretty comparable to the quests from single-player Diablo. You must kill a monster, or clear an area, or retrieve an item. The rewards are a bit more imaginative though, from an item upgrade to the ability to hire rogue NPCs to a skill point. In Act Two the quests get a lot more interesting, with multi-part quests, much less instruction about how to complete them, and more difficult monsters to kill on your way. Full information about the quests in Diablo II can be seen on our Quests page.
Random Level Generation
The random level generation is much improved in Diablo II, with larger features mixing in with the walls and trees and torches and other small things to create a cohesive whole. We played several different games in Act One, and explored most of the surface wilderness each time, and the randomisation worked very well. Very large areas are truly random, you don't run into the same clump of trees every five screens, for example. In fact the levels are almost too random, it's very easy to get quite lost in the wilderness, even with the overlay map visible. Dungeons are of course nicely random as well, much like they were in Diablo, except they are far larger, and different dungeons have far more variety in layout than the ones in the first game did.
The town are randomised as well, but less so than the dungeons or wilderness, which are completely different each game. We were able to take careful note of how the Act One Rogue Encampment worked, since we saw it in a lot of different games. The important NPC's didn't move. If you look at it like a clock face, with the central campfire right in the middle of the clock, Kashya and Warriv were always around the campfire, Gheed was always with his wagon at about 9 o'clock, Charsi was always between 12 and 1 o'clock, and Akara was around 4 o'clock. The waypoint and where the town portals appear was unchanging as well. And always, to the right of town, ran a river from Noon to 6 o'clock.
The rest of the camp was totally random: tents, rogue NPC's, chickens, cows, etc. Those elements could appear anywhere in each game, and of course they were varied each time. Some games have many tents, others have more wagons and cows. The most interesting part was that the exit out of camp moved each game, and that sometimes the rectangular town was longer than it was wide, at others, wider than it was long. In one game, you might exit the Encampment directly via this bridge; in another, you might exit through a gateway in the wooden fence surrounding the settlement and then find the bridge to cross nearby. However as said a moment ago, the key NPC's never moved. So some games the exit was right behind Akara's area, others near Gheed, and still others it was off to the lower right, far from any of the key NPC's.
Act Two was just the same, the key NPC's and buildings in the same place each game, with all of the smaller unused buildings moved around. However the docks and the entrance to the Sewers was always down to the right, towards five o'clock, basically, so the exit from town to the desert could only be left, right, or up.
One nice feature is that each time you start a new Act in town, the whole place is already mapped out for you. So no need to run all around town to locate things and fill up the overlay map with buildings and NPC's.
Realms are of course the new name (replacing "Shards") for the special Battle.net servers that Diablo II will run on. We didn't get a whole lot of new news about these on our trip, probably because there isn't any new news to get. Nothing has changed in their plans for them recently, aside from the name. For full info on how these will work, you can look at our FAQ about Realms right here.
Diablo II gameplay is only available in 640x480. Most people have their computers in at least 800x600 all the time, so this seems small, but having seen the game we can assure everyone that it looks great at 640x480; never pixelated or blurry or low-quality. And we were playing on very high quality 21" monitors at Blizzard North, so we would have noticed any visual imperfections.
Blizzard North is aware that most people are running their computers in 800x600 or larger, and it is likely that future products from Blizzard will probably go up to that size, or larger. However they are committed to keeping their products playable on low and mid-range systems, and running a game in a larger resolution requires much more cpu power. Blizzard likes their games to have reasonable processor requirements, not require 3D cards, and not require enormous hard drive space. They have done the Battle.net chat interface for Diablo II in 800x600, since any system can keep up with the frame rate and other issues just running the chat and join game screens. However the frame rate and other game performance issues are much more of an issue when playing the actual game, and if they required 800x600, that would be a problem for a lot of people with lower-end systems. Objects would be too small to see easily on smaller monitors, frame rates would drop for slower processors, and more.
So why not do the game with support for a variety of screen resolutions? This is not an option for a couple of reasons:
Since Diablo II is not running on a 3D engine, they can't just let you see it at whatever level of detail you want. It doesn't work that way. If they just directly scaled the game up, at a larger resolution you would see more of the screen around your character, which would give you a competitive advantage.
The alternative to that would be for them to do every graphic in the game from the original render in a larger or smaller size, to fit every resolution they were aiming to support. This would be impossible, just in terms of the amount of work they'd have to do to create it for a 2d game, where the game engine can't just scale everything to whatever screen resolution you desire. Having to create two or more versions of all art in the game would add months more to the time the game took to finish.
See Stamina for full info on this subject.
There are promised to be a lot of secrets in Diablo II. "Easter Eggs," as they are called, hidden features that only appear when certain events occur. Obviously we don't know what these will be in Diablo II, since they are secret. ;) However, the Diablo II Dev Team has said in the past that skills will be a likely place to encounter some of the Easter eggs. Such things as higher levels of a skill suddenly adding a new and useful effect, or a new animation, or some unknown combination of skills working together better than the sum of the parts.
One less secretive bonus is Item Sets. You can see more information about these in Items, but in short they are sets of items, such as a belt, shield, ring, and sword, that all have nice attributes, but that when worn together will add even more to the wearer. More than the sum of their parts, in other words, just like the possible skill Easter Eggs.
Another sort of Easter Egg item are ultra rare items. These aren't anything secret, but they will be very seldom found by anyone, and therefore are special, and will certainly be a fun thing to find, and will look different when equipped on your character in the Battle.net chat rooms, and get you lots of new "friends".
Secret rooms have long been a popular suggestion in our Player Suggestion Forum, and you'll all be happy to know that Blizzard North has added secret rooms into Diablo II. We never would have known about it or seen them, but we had an extra machine in our room, and there was often a Blizzard North guy playing on it. One of them showed us a secret room he found in the Act One Cathedral area. It was a box (on the overlay map) about the size of the Butcher's room in Diablo, but without any doors. Easily overlooked while playing, and we wouldn't have known anything about it except that he pointed it out, and then ran along the lower wall of it, clicking on the wall the whole way. A small section of it suddenly vanished, and he was inside the small room, which had a few chests in it. A nice reward, and an even nicer added feature. We assume that these will be in other levels of the game, and other acts, so keep an eye on that overlay map, and no doubt there are other secret rooms, not so easily detected.
The sounds of the game are great and so varied. All different sorts of items have a different sound when they are dropped or placed in your inventory, and there is more variety; not all swords or helms sound the same now, for instance. Monsters make more noise also, slithering or scraping sounds or footsteps as they move, and more noises when they attack. A great addition is that they sometime talk in their monster languages. Fallen are the best, they babble constantly in an endearing fashion. We found ourselves muttering along with them, especially talking back to Ratetsu's Pack, an act one unique Fallen. "Grr-a-rat-a-ko-sah!" "Rahh-teet-su!".
Rings and amulets have a slightly different "ding" now when placed or dropped, but your ears will still perk up when you hear it. While playing we'd all stop and look around when someone on another machine, often in another game, found or placed some jewellery. The new items all have individual sounds, and they are all appropriate. There was one sort of skull cap that made rather a nasty slapping sound when placed, but other than that every sound seemed perfectly-suited to the item it went with.
Ambient sounds are another great addition in Diablo II. Though sometimes hard to hear, there are crickets chirping, sounds of trees with the wind blowing through them, frogs croaking in Act Three, and other low background noises that add ambience and mood.
See the Music Section for full info on this topic, and some samples of the music in Diablo II.
There are not any squirrels in Diablo II, at least not that we saw, but at our hotel there were fat and nearly tame squirrels that would run right up to you and stand up, begging for food. We gave one some trail mix, and he was soon busily burying nuts and fruits like... well, like a squirrel. He even ran into Flux's room, and had to be shooed out, which wasn't all that easy as Elly and Gaile were too busy standing outside laughing, and the squirrel wanted to play ring-a-round the sofa. They wouldn't let you touch them though, Flux tried to pet one and it did an acrobatic little leap and swatted at him and took a nip at his fingers, though he pulled back in time to avoid spending the remainder of the weekend in San Francisco enjoying a round of rabies vaccinations.
Stamina is a new stat in Diablo II that is based on your strength, vitality, and dexterity, in a formula that has not been exactly detailed as of yet. Stamina is displayed as the yellow-orange (when full, it turns reddish as it gets lower) bar on your belt interface below the level up bar. Stamina declines from running, or much more rarely, when you have been hit with a very strong poison. When it declines, it goes down more rapidly when you have on heavier armour, but "heavier" is a very relative term, based on how much strength you have, your character class, and of course if you have 300 stamina vs. another character who has just 80 stamina, any decrease in their Stamina will be much more quickly noticed.
There were Stamina potions (whiteish-blue test tube-shaped vials) that we found pretty frequently, and almost never used. These would be of the most use when you were being chased by some boss monster and his pack, when you'd be in too big of a hurry running to stop and open your inventory and drink one. The only other real use for them was when covering long distances, like if you died and didn't have a waypoint nearby, or had finished a dungeon area and missed a stairway back at the other end, and you could run until your stamina was dry, and then drink one to get an instant refill. There were also Stamina Shrines that turned your stamina blue, and allowed you to run without any stamina loss for the several minutes that the shine effect lasted.
Stamina refills quite rapidly, and just a moment of not running will get it back to full in most cases. It refills just as fast if you are walking, fighting, casting spells, or anything besides running. The one catch is that if you completely exhaust your Stamina, you must stand still for a few seconds, until it begins to fill back up again. Once there is even a tiny sliver of stamina bar showing again, you can walk and it will continue to fill.
The ability to run, for both characters and monsters, is perhaps the single most enjoyable addition to the basic interface of Diablo II. It adds tremendously to the gameplay, is fun, comes into strategic effect in nearly every situation in which you find yourself, gives the monsters a variety of attacks and speeds, adds a stamina bar to give you more to play with, and is just generally very cool.
Once you try running you will like it. The acceleration and deceleration is typically unrealistic, for a computer game. You are at full speed in less than a step, and can stop instantly as well, and top speed is identical for all characters, regardless of how heavily-burdened they are.
A newly-added interface convenience is the Caps Lock key, which now turns your running on or off. You can still use Control to run (or walk, if you have Caps Lock activated) but once you get used to the greater speed of pretty much everything in Diablo II, you'll probably want to run all the time as well, though you have to watch your stamina, of course.
A new type of item are boots that add to foot speed. These are not the same as the formerly planned "of the horse" suffix, which would have added to your stamina. Those types of prefixes and suffixes have been completely removed from the game. The "fast walk" boots do not add to your stamina, but they do make you move more quickly, whether running or walking. The bonus is small though, we didn't really notice a big change ourselves, but we didn't test it all that closely either.
Another penalty from running is that it greatly lowers your Defensive Rating. If you go running by, pretty much anything that swings at you will hit you, if it is in range. However once you are running you can get out of range much more quickly, and they'll probably hit you if you are walking anyway.
The Stash is a chest with a 5x4 storage space. Taller than your inventory, but only 40% as wide, the stash is accessed from a chest located right in the middle of the town in Act One, Two, and Three. (Possibly in Act Four/Finale also, but we don't know for sure yet.) All of the characters in the game access their stash from the same chest, but each has their own private space inside of it. The stash is perpetual between acts, and also between games. You can leave an item in it in one game, and it will still be in there next game, just as items in your character's inventory carry over from game to game.
The stash holds gold without taking up any inventory space, but not unlimited amounts. 50k in Act One, and 100k in Act Two. Act Three and the Finale are not known yet, nor do we know how the greater gold storage works if you start a new game in an earlier Act, or if the limit is upped on higher difficulty levels.
The ability to store the same items in your stash and access them from different acts seems like a bit of an exploit, but it is actually there to prevent an exploit. It is possible to take a waypoint from anywhere in Act One, Two or Three, to any other Waypoint in those acts. So you can jump from Lut Gholein in Act Two, to the Rogue encampment in Act One in just a few seconds. Therefore, if there was a different stash in each Act, that would be the same as giving you three stashes, with just a bit of travel time in between them.
The statistics displayed for a given item, spell, or skill are very extensive, and there are of course many more numerical stats that are not displayed. Tons of stats, governing the resistances of monsters, their swing speed, damage, to/hit, the quality of items they can drop, your character's swing speed, experience awarded and shared, gold dropped, and everything else you can think of, and lots of things that you can't. There are precise mathematical formulas for everything in the game, most of them operating invisibly behind the scenes, and not disclosed to the public in order to keep them from being exploited.
You can find much more information about how the items and skills display their stats in the Interface Section or the Items Section.
Despite all of these added stats, and added complexities of stats, there are some things that are not displayed in Diablo II. Monsters, for one, have far fewer stats displayed now. You never see their resistances, immunities, or hit points, no matter how many of them you kill. And you won't know how many anyway, since there isn't a kill counter for a particular type of monster. We missed that one a lot, it was always fun in Diablo to see that you had mowed down 57 Soul Burners, for instance. The non-display of stats is a feature, not a bug or something they've not included yet. The stats and resistances of monsters must be learned through play and observation. The only monster attributes information you get to see now is basic info, such as "attacks with fire" or "defends with sparks" or "cursed", and you would have figured those out as soon as you started fighting them anyway.
There had been talk that lots of your character's stats would be stored and available for display on Battle.net. Like if you wanted to play with someone new, you could access their character's stats, if they chose to make them visible, and see if they were generally playing Act Three or Act Four, on what difficulty, which portion of the act they preferred by seeing which monsters they had most frequently killed, and much more. However this has been scrapped, though the other useful character stat counter, some sort of PK meter, might be included. With this you could see how many attacks on other characters, and how many kills, they had, which would certainly be useful in picking a playing partner on Bnet, if you were looking to play some co-op. Or were looking to duel, for that matter.
We don't have any new information on the minimum system requirements for Diablo II, nor the recommended machine. Blizzard has announced the system requirements for the Beta Test, and you can see them here, or in our Beta FAQ, but these are just for the beta test, and won't be the same as for the final game.
Official System Requirements for the Diablo II Beta:
- Pentium-compatible 200 mhz or higher
- 32 MB of RAM
- DirectX compatible SVGA card
- 600 MB of available HD space
- 28.8k modem or above
- Quad-speed CD-ROM
- Internet Connection"
Our machines at Blizzard North don't shed any light on this, since they were top of the line. Pentium III 667, 128MB RAM, Voodoo 3, 21" monitors. They ran very fast and the game looked great, of course. But we have no reason to believe the minimum or recommended specs have changed lately, we were simply using extra machines from Blizzard North, and they have very good computers.
The Daily Radar contest winners were on nice machines as well, but since Blizzard moved them from a hotel suite to their offices at the last minute, there weren't enough spare computers to set them all up. Plus the rentals were already arranged for, so they got those computers, which were still high quality, around Pentium III 500s, with 3d cards etc.
Throw is a basic skill with which your character starts off, and will always be an icon you can select. The way you throw something is to equip a stack of throwable items, such as javelins or poison potions, select the throw skill, and then click it to throw. You may have another weapon or shield in non-throwing hand, which is an improvement over testing it at E3, where you had to have both hands empty. All items throw differently.
Javelins are the special throwing item, in that an Amazon can hurl them and add a variety of her Spear and Javelin Skill Tab skills to them. They travel in a line drive, much like an arrow, and there are monsters that throw javelins as well, though none with any enchantments, at least none that we saw.
Exploding and Poison potions may be purchased from NPC's, and are also dropped by some monsters. You throw them just the same as javelins: equip and click on the Throw skill icon. But they have a very different trajectory, as they are thrown with a high arc, much like a grenade in an old war movie. This makes them take longer to reach the target, and they aren't as deadly to things in front of or behind the target if they miss, but the bonus is that they can be lofted over other monsters, and hit one in the back row, which would be useful against archers, or perhaps some sort of Shaman. We saw a number of monsters in Act Two hurling explosive potions, frequently from completely off the screen, though the second or two it takes these projectiles to reach the target allows a normally running character to dodge them pretty easily, and the monsters don't have a tremendously fast throwing rate.
There are also throwing knives and axes, though we didn't get to test them out very much, nor see any monsters throwing them.
One thing that would be very useful for throwing would be some sort of equipment switch hotkey, but this will not be in the game, though it was discussed in the past. The issues of keeping clear inventory space for the items of potentially different size to be exchanged were too much trouble to get sorted out, and this feature had to be left out.
We were able to explore the Rogue Encampment and Lut Gholein pretty extensively, in a number of different games, and did notice some things about them. We only got to Act Three and looked around Kurast briefly, so don't have too much new info about it.
The towns in Diablo II are somewhat randomly generated, where the exit to the wilderness moves around a bit each game. However the location of the actual NPCs and main buildings inside of town are fixed. So some games the exit will be north, next game south or west. However since the whole town is already mapped out when you first start playing it, you can see where the exit is immediately. You won't be exiting the town through the gate to the wilderness very often anyway, since there is a waypoint in town, and you'll usually be using that, or your town portal back to wherever you just came from. Town portals show up on the overlay map as yellow "+" signs, and are always in roughly the same place, lined up side by side like they were in Diablo II. More information on this can be found in the Random Level Generation Section.
One of the common complaints about Diablo was that the merchant NPC's were too far apart. This has been addressed in Diablo II, so they are much closer together in the first couple of acts, and there are multiple ways to get to them, not just one narrow bridge that can cause bottlenecks, like the one on the way to Wirt and Adria. Also you can run in town, and run all you want, for that matter, your stamina is unlimited while there, which makes the travel time much shorter.
The NPC's in Act One and Two are nicely-clustered in the Rogue Encampment, your Town Portal takes you back there every time, and there is a Waypoint right there as well. One-stop shopping. Act Two is much the same, though the non-merchant and quest-giving NPC's are spread out a bit more. In Act Three the town of Kurast is spread out across piers and narrow walkways, and various shops are on different bits of land or islands, so there is more running around required to get what you need. Nothing is yet known about the town, if there even is one, in The Finale.
The trading interface in Diablo II has been shown in a number of screenshots (old, newer, newest) and is definitely more convenient than the multiple menus of text that you got in Diablo. You now approach the NPC merchant and click him or her, select "trade,' and up pops a window on the left with the items for sale, and one on the right with your inventory. Selling and buying is accomplished with a simple click and drag method, with a yes/no confirmation. Or you can just right click on the item you want from the merchant and it will be purchased automatically.
Prices still work the same way in Diablo II, where you get 1/4 the price of a new item when you sell it to an NPC. Yes, quite a racket they have going there.
Most merchants have multiple windows to select from, with Weapons, Armour, Magical, and Miscellaneous items displayed. As in Diablo it's more or less random what the items they offer you are, somewhat based on your Character Level. The biggest differences now are that there are no healing or mana potions to buy, item repairs are considerably more expensive, and you actually have a reason to look at the non-magical items, since socketable weapons, shields, and helms can be purchased now, and they can be as good or better than the magical items you hope to find.
There is also a new trade window available in which to sell, trade, and barter with other players, but we did not see it, and understand it is undergoing some changes at the current time.
Traps are much more interesting and varied in Diablo II. There are some on doors, that launch javelins or flaming arrows, much like there were in Diablo. But mostly they are on chests and urns/barrels, and they are downright deadly. There is a short creaking sound, like someone opening a rusty hinge, and you have about one second after you open the trapped object and hear the sound to run. And run you will, these are not like the little 10-hit-point arrows or exploding barrels of Diablo, that were only a threat to newbie characters. The traps in Diablo II will put down even a big character, especially since you don't generally have full hit points (since you can't buy unlimited red potions, or heal yourself easily) so you have less margin for error than a typical full hit point or mana shield-protected character in Diablo.
Types of traps in Diablo II range from small explosions to novas, small firewalls that burn forever, darts from walls, and much more. Plus trapped chests often have some items in them, so you get distracted by the sound or sight of the dropped items, and don't notice the creaking warning sound until it's too late. We did not see many trapped doors, so they seem to be less common than they were in the upper levels of the dungeon in Diablo.
Many people have asked if variant styles of play will be accommodated or even encouraged in Diablo II. Variants are of course ways of playing that are generally meant to make Diablo more difficult. Variants include such things as Naked Mages, who use no equipment; Beyond Naked Mages, who can only wear cursed items; Barbarians, warriors who don't use any magic, Live off the Land characters, who only use items they find in the dungeons, and more.
While there isn't any specific support for these types of play, specialisation will be much easier to get into in Diablo II. In fact it's somewhat encouraged, since you don't have enough skill points to put them into everything, so you have to pick and choose areas in which to specialise. We can easily imagine variants for Diablo II, such as Necromancers who only use summoning skills, or only use direct attack skills, Amazons who use only crossbows, Offensive Aura-only Paladins, etc. No doubt much more inventive ones than these will be created.
The Live off the Land type is going to be happiest in Diablo II. You are almost forced to play that way, since you can't buy mana or health potions anyway. Therefore the only real reason to go to town is to talk to NPC's about the quests and get new quests from them, or else to buy/sell/repair equipment. One thing that will disappoint a LOTL purist is that the NPC's that heal you do so automatically, and these NPCs also need to be talked to for some quests, so it's impossible to avoid getting a free heal a few times, though I suppose one could always be sure to be fully-healed before talking to Akara in Act One.
Ideally Diablo II will be challenging enough that you will need to use all of your equipment and gold to get new equipment, and every other advantage you can come by, to survive. However it's likely that after a few weeks or months, as people gain skill at the game, parts of it will become easy enough that inventing and playing variants will be a great way to keep the game fun and challenging.
Waypoints are a great addition to the game, and are absolutely essential in Diablo II, given the vast size of the world. They are saved to your character, once discovered, and that's very useful, since the acts are so large you'll not likely be doing any of them in one gaming session. With them saved you can just play as long as you like, making sure to locate the waypoint in each level of each act, and then when you quit, the next time you start up again you can just go through your most recent waypoint and pick up near where you left off. The monsters will have all respawned of course, since it's a new game, but at least you don't have to play for hours just to get back to where you were.
Waypoints are stored for each difficulty setting, you will have to explore each act all over again with your character when you start a new game on a higher difficulty level.
Waypoints for the first three acts are all interconnected as well, or at least they were in the build we played. You could take any waypoint in Act Two back to anywhere you wanted to go in Act One. This was mostly useful if you were in town and needed to buy more javelins or arrows or whatever than the NPC had in Act Two, and you could just pop back to Act One and get some more there. You only had to wait for the level to load, but we were playing on very fast machines with the game fully-installed, so it was a short wait. If you had it on your own system and not fully installed, you would have to change CD's to go from one act to the other.
The final waypoint in each act is not right next to the end boss, but it's not too far away. Probably the comparison of the stairs from town down to level 13 in Hell in Diablo is a reasonable comparison, though the scale of such things is so much more vast in Diablo II.
The option to smoothly zoom in using the mouse wheel is not in the game any longer, due to the parallax effect in 3D. It is a technical issue, where it was literally impossible to do it in 3D mode. They are not going to include it in software mode either, since they didn't think it was worth the time to spend programming in an effect that would not be used that much, and only by the people who didn't have a 3D card, but did have a mouse with a wheel on it.
Sunday evening, after our three days of pre-beta testing at Blizzard North, we had a conference with several Blizzard North employees, including Matt Householder and Mike Huang. They asked us to provide honest feedback on the game: comments, complaints, compliments, and concerns. They, in turn, took extensive notes and asked for more details, and discussed the particular issues of note with us. Since we had just played the most Diablo II of anyone outside of Blizzard during the whole development cycle, and because the game is nearing completion now, this provided them with new opinions, and gave them an opportunity to address any problems that remain in the game.
We didn't have many major issues, just various balance and other smaller things that we thought could be improved upon. Foremost in our thoughts was that, in the builds we played, at least, the game was too easy. None of us had much trouble with Act One, especially not with melee characters. This contrasts dramatically with the first time we played Diablo, where there was a far greater adrenaline rush. In Diablo II, we did not feel we were inches from dying (or dead) as often. However, that is partially due to the fact that we know how to play Diablo, and Diablo II is similar, and we also know far more about Diablo II, how the skill trees and attributes and equipment and everything else works. Blizzard North needs to keep the first act accessible to total newbies, while still having it be fun for more experienced players, and that isn't an easy task.
The other big issue was that some of the quests, mainly in Act Two, were very confusing. Not difficult to complete, but there wasn't enough information given for you to know where you needed to go next. This lead to a lot of "40 days in the desert" sort of wandering around, looking, again at the tomb we had neglected to fully plumb, and hoping that the quest item would be found in it after all. And Blizzard North agreed on that assessment, and they were definitely looking to include a few more clues, or have more NPC's giving you info on the quests. When we had the luxury of playing with a Blizzard staff member, it was a cakewalk: Let them lead the way, since they knew the quests so well. But when playing without such help, it was quite easy to get lost or to find yourself exploring every possible place you could get, until you eventually found the correct objective. And Act Two is a very large place. Hours of wandering the deserts and tombs is fun if you know where to go, and are doing everything just to rack up more experience. It's less fun when you are trying to stay on track and finish the quest to see more of the game, and have a limited time to play, and are only taking the grand tour because you are lost.
Other issues we had were mostly on minor matters: interface things being a bit off, the hover text being too dark to read in some places, the overlay map blending too much into the background on some levels, town portals overlapping too closely to easily hover and see which one went where, wanting a slightly larger stash so that you could store a full set of equipment in cases where you had to retrieve items from your corpse. Being able to chat whilst trading, discuss particular items and barter would be a welcome addition.
And small concerns, such as a query about why the spell effects for gems were shown in such a set order, have already been addressed, and changes have been made.
A few larger issues won't be as easily addressed, if Blizzard feels it necessary, such as narrow corridors that caused team play to be difficult and monster queuing. To redo this would take a tremendous amount of work, so if the worry over this issue was deemed valid, it's possible that other adjustments will be made to accommodate that concern rather than lots and lots of recoding to "redraw" the locales.
Another concern was the minimal "death penalty." With the stash system, you can tuck your gold away every time you visit town. All you lost upon death was half the gold in your current inventory, and you could restart the game and find your equipped corpse in town if you were unable to retrieve items from your monster-guarded corpse. There were those team members who felt this impacted the "edge" that the game presents, and wanted it to be truly a "pounding heart" experience when death, and its aftereffects, occur.