Review by grasu

"You've seen it all before, but at least LOD offers new items and a surreal multiplayer experience."

Hellfire, the expansion pack for the original Diablo, was an inadequate mix of items that were so hard to find no sane player ever found them, levels that suffered from the "been there, done that"-syndrome and a complete lack of multiplayer. Players blamed Sierra, the producers of Hellfire for this travesty, so when time came to expand Diablo 2 Blizzard took the matter into their own hands. Thankfully, they were far better at it then Sierra, but unfortunately, most of the problems that plagued Hellfire also affect Lord of Destruction.

The Diablo universe is know for having a rich mythos and copious amounts of story, especially for an ARPG. As LOD starts up, a slick CG intro introduces players to the new villain in town: Baal, brother of Diablo. He, or it, wants to unleash a powerful spell form a stone of some sorts to revive his long lost brothers and reform the triumvirate of evil. Players are put in charge of "dealing" with the problem by single handedly killing enough critters to populate a small country. The story is wholly inadequate, especially when comparing it to the original Diablo 2's story which was more than befitting of an ARPG. The characters are also lacking in the "coolness" department: How many more times must I see an obese, bald looking thing with 4 legs dish out massive evil before developers realize that I've gotten the message? The friendly NPCs, which made the Diablo series so involving in the first place are also heavily lacking this time around: Their only purpose seems to give you fetch quests or rant endlessly about stuff that no one cares about.

LOD takes place in the land of the barbarians, somewhere in the north of the continent. In this land it's always snowing, and, safe for some ass cracks of hell (read: optional levels), the tile sets remain pretty much unchanged: Snow and maroon looking tundra abound throughout LOD. The bigger problem here is that the levels completely lack any sort of innovation. Hell, in fact two of the levels even repeat themselves. And, in the fortunate case when the levels do not repeat themselves, the same pattern of maze-like dungeons followed by open lands like in Diablo 2 is prevalent in the expansion pack. It all feels a little bit blase and sloppy but it doesn't really damage the game too much. Thankfully the quests, in this land, are far more rewarding. No longer will NPCs send you into the wasteland to perform impossible tasks only to grant you a crappy ring that couldn't pass as 2nd hand jewelry. Most of the quests involve item rewards of some sort, such as the ability to have the blacksmith put sockets into your armor and weapons or receiving a permanent boost in magic resistance from the priestess.

The monsters are another story. Diablo 2 featured more monsters than you could shake a stick at and while LOD doesn't fail to deliver in the "more" category, perhaps the developers should've tried to also do something with the "original" category. Besides the fact that some monsters (like the Yetis) are just old monsters with new skins many of the newer monsters in the game are terribly imbalanced. The idiotic Imp Magicians are a fighter's nightmare as they teleport from place to place while pummeling players with firebolts and other spells and the new Beasts, which are 3 times your size, will go down with the mere swing of the blade for no apparent reason what so ever. The experience yields are also a haphazard: Going farther ahead into the act doesn't actually increase the experience you get from monsters all that much and the enemies don't become particularly stronger either. One of the cooler touches about the monsters is a new battle against 3 super-powered bosses named the Ancients which is an adrenaline pumping battle to the death. Thankfully LOD at least has a good variety of new monsters ranging from the aforementioned Imps to new beasts such as Overseers, huge whip-handling beasts or the Blood Lords, equally as big minotaurs wielding dual axes.

The real rewards in the game rest with the items and the new characters. The number of items that LOD introduces is gigantic: A whole new category of "elite" unique items has been introduced along with a bunch of new sets. Weapons and armor can now be enhanced by using runes which have effects raining from more life, to life leech or more magic find. As far as items are concerned the expansion doesn't fail to live up to Diablo's general itemization which is the best and most rewarding in the genre. The two new classes are also fairly unique on their own. The druid is a nature abusing warrior/mage who can summon creatures to aid him or he can transform into different forms such as werewolves or werebears. The assassin is a similar hybrid of warrior/magician who can either chose to emphasize on traps, which act like normal spells except they fire multiple times and enemies need to be within range, or on the assassin's special claws - quick and brutally strong weapons with a high degree of accuracy. And before I forget, one new category of items introduced in LOD are the class specific items. These items range the gamut from the sorceress's orbs to the druid's helmets or the paladin's shields, replacing what each of the characters could've called their "defining" item in the original.

Like I mentioned earlier however, LOD repeats the 2 glaring flaws found in Hellfire: One was mentioned, with the repetitiveness of the levels, but the other one are the item drops. Item drops for LOD's new items, such as the elite helmet Harlequin's Crest, are so rare that by playing single player no gamer could ever DREAM of achieving one of these items unless they repeatedly play through the same sections of the game for hours at an end in the hope of actually finding them. Second, the class-specific items also drop when fighting with classes that get NO benefits from using them. In other words, after a long boss battle you might find yourself receiving a rare orb, which can only be used by the sorceress... while playing as a warrior. The saving grace of LOD however, is the fact that it doesn't tamper with the multiplayer.

LOD is, hands down, the best online RPG to date. Everything in this expansion pack is seemingly geared towards making online play better and in that aspect it doesn't disappoint. Online players can still use trade windows to trade their items, the dispersal of rare items is much greater as thousands of players are online constantly, and monsters as well as levels become far less boring when the sole purpose of playing is to level up your characters and acquire more items. And make no mistake; the SOLE purpose you'll find yourself playing online for is to become a stronger and richer member of the community. The addictive nature of this grinding and finding process drives LOD to whole new levels of accessibility and enjoyment. It doesn't much hurt that is a rock solid online service and that all devices needed to enjoy the game, such as party screens or hostility toggles, are available and balanced to perfection.

As far as graphics and sound are concerned LOD does a little bit more for both categories than most expansion packs. The same level of monster detail, and the same accurate and gruesome death animations spice up the visual experience in the expansion, however LOD also brings a better resolution to the table. The new 800x600 resolution, while pathetically bad even for a game released in 2002, looks MUCH better than what Diablo 2 had to offer. Equally, the sound component offers the expected improvements, such as new voices for the new characters and new growls and war cries for the monsters in the game, but in addition it also boosts up quality and offers a more refined 3D sound device.

If LOD would've tampered with the multiplayer it would've fallen in the same boring and uninteresting category as its predecessor. Luckily for Diablo fanatics everywhere, LOD doesn't do anything with the multiplayer portion of the game, which ends up saving what would've otherwise been a mediocre expansion pack.

Gameplay: 7/10
Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 6/10
Overall: 8/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/06/06

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