One hand on my potion keys, one hand on my mouse
Despite the last expansion being released in 2001, Diablo II continues to be one of the most popular games played online. Blizzard has kept the game regularly updated since then, but there has been no major content edition since that expansion. How can it explain how players who have been pegging away at the game - likely since close to its release - still remain with it for so long? It’s considered a masterpiece of addictive design, as with Diablo I, which it took a lot of lessons from.
The advancement system of Diablo 2 is carefully designed to give many regular rewards early on in the gameplay experience, giving your character vast new capabilities in a relatively short period of time as you advance from Acts 1-5 on normal difficulty. The pace of leveling slows down gradually - from minutes to hours to days. This helps to condition the player to get accustomed to longer gaps between rewards. The fact that you can level to 100 in the game allows them to pace things out, and the randomly generated loot keeps players focused on what they’re doing - at any moment, they could receive something amazing that will greatly improve their character or that of one of their friends.
The maps are also randomized, with the layouts, chests, monster placements and types changing every time that you load up a game. This ensures that while the environments are familiar to experienced players, they aren’t predictable enough to make the entire game an exercise in trivial memorization. The challenge also remains high enough so that players need to pay attention to the game at higher difficulties, but not so difficult as to make it inaccessible to a broad base of players. The environments also change regularly every several minutes to keep things at least marginally fresh, even for players that have been going at the game for nearly a decade.
The multiple classes and ability to customize your character also helps make Diablo II highly addictive. The variation in gameplay between characters and specializations ensures that you can have a mostly different experience if you change your class, helping to keep the game exciting for players who have been going at it for a while. All of these elements come together to encourage a player so inclined to keep playing Diablo II and still be entertained by it for many years. The fact that its success has not been replicated shows that the process of creating an absorbing grind is not as simple as it’s often made out to be.