Flux’s Decahedron #5: The Ten Best Areas in D2X - Diabloii.Net

Flux’s Decahedron #5: The Ten Best Areas in D2X


The Ten Best Areas in D2X

After last week’s list of the Worst Areas in D2X, here follows my list of the Ten Best Areas, as of v1.09, January 2003.

The rankings take into account level layout, architecture, monsters found there, originality, and general player tendencies in those areas, and are frequently leavened with an unfortunate tendency towards retention of my first impression of an area.  Hence all of the Beta references. My mother used to say “First impressions are lasting.” but I thought she was lying, like she did about Santa and buying me from the gypsies.

As with the worst areas, I’m commenting from a Bnet perspective, with some consideration of single player.  How much easier various cheats (such as maphack) make a given area isn’t a strong consideration in my rankings, and is less relevant in this list than the one last week anyway.

#10: The Canyon of the Magi

This level has always been more popular than I thought it deserved to be.  It’s sort of a low-rent, desert-based, non-Secret Cow Level, or at least that was the purpose it served in D2C.  Early Javazons used to level up here, practicing a type of proto-herding (difficult with Sand Maggots) and enjoying the wide open area, as they attempted to get enough targets in sight to throw one Lightning Fury and bring every computer in a two-state radius to a complete 1 FPS stand still.  The greatest improvement to LF in D2X was not in terms of damage or function, it was cutting the graphics enough that you could play a Javazon on less than Deep Blue.

One of the other fun aspects of the Canyon of the Magi is the high likelihood of spear-throwing Kitty Legionnaires.  These cats in hats (‘n boots) were one of the most-anticipated monsters in D2C, based on early screenshots.  Somehow in the actual game they are utterly forgettable, but the javelin-chuckers in the Canyon can momentarily rise above their usual level of mediocrity when they get a small blizzard of sticks flying.  Slow Missile can make for some fun here.

#9: Tristram

While Blizzard’s idea of a return to Tristram was very clever, the actual execution of it was pretty shoddy.  The first thing all D1 players noticed when entering the D2 version of Tristram was that someone appeared to have moved the buildings around.  Also there must have been some sort of tremendous flood, because the little trickling streams are now ruler-straight rivers, and each of them have washed away miles of countryside as well as Wirt’s and Adria’s islands.  Perhaps D1 was set in the summer, and in D2 it’s now spring, and the mountain snows are melting?  The lack of a dungeon level is a real missed opportunity, as is the entire cathedral and cemetery just being gone.

On the other hand, the whole “return to” concept is brilliant, and we’re all ungrateful Philistines for not appreciating it more.  There are some nice touches, with the well much the same, Wirt’s corpse (if you didn’t play D1, you can’t begin to understand the hatred most players felt for that little bastard) and the wooden peg leg, and of course the zombie Griswold.

Which is why this entry is on this list, rather than last week’s.

#8: The Zombie Garden

This area is technically called “Nihlathak’s Temple”, and it’s reached directly through the red portal by Anya in Act Five.  You may know it better as “That place with the dead zombies that I run through on the way to Pindleskin.”  I’ve always called it “The Zombie Garden”, since after all, Zombies grow there.  When you make your own list, you can call it Bobo’s Happy Funland, for all I care.

The layout of this area is cool, and the first time you get there and see all of the zombies suddenly rise up and start shambling towards you there is a definite thrill.  Of course those zombies are always pathetically easy to kill; slow and weak, and the way they keep getting back up can be very annoying if you aren’t just playing for experience, but let’s not get into that.  Whether or not Pindleskin waiting inside the temple is good or bad is open to debate.  He’s not an especially interesting monster, though he does at least keep the Zombie Garden uniformity of monster theme going.  The fact that he’s able to drop any item in the game, is an easy kill, and can be reached from town in about 5 seconds is not exactly the brightest bit of level arrangement Blizzard North has ever come up with, unless of course they wanted us to all end up playing the same few areas over and over and over again.

#7: The Cathedral

This Act One area is found between the Jail and the Catacombs, and is one of the best looking set areas in the entire game.  This area had a lot of effort put into it. The desecrated altar, the toppled pews, the great artwork in the form of murals on the walls in the side rooms, the stained glass and nicely-detailed columns, and more.  True, it could have been better, and there really should be some sort of evil priest superunique here, rather than a SuperUnique skeleton.  It’s not that BoneAsh is a bad monster, it’s just that he could appear anywhere.

The Cathedral and the brief moment of sunlight in the Inner Cloister provide the only break between the dark slogging monotony of the endless Jail/Catacomb levels that make up the last 1/3 of Act One.

#6: Baal’s Throne Room

This whole level isn’t real impressive, and like all of Act Five there is no variety in monsters.  You will get Witches, you will get Blood Lords, you will get no variety or bosses or champions.  The nifty part is at the end of the level, when you get into Baal’s room, and have to deal with his minions.

I’ll admit that my first time through this area was a disappointment.  It felt like every crappy side-scrolling arcade fighter I’d ever played, with the big boss laughing and summoning up new enemies for you to fight before you eventually got to take him on personally. Remember Double Dragon or Zero Team?  Plus Baal looks ridiculous, the whole “baby head on a cockroach carapace” thing was cool for the evil neighbor kid’s creations in Toy Story, but once was plenty. Most people seemed to share my hope that he’d look different than that squatting bug thing when they found him in the final dungeon, and therefore spent most of the final battle wondering what Bliz North was smoking.

While the “spawn progressively-harder bosses in order of act) thing isn’t original, it is a nice concentrated battle, and can often be very difficult, depending on what mods Baal’s Minions spawn with.  The fact that his final team of minions are actually called “Baal’s Minions” makes it sound like a placeholder name was forgotten into the final cut.  What if in the Chaos Sanctuary the Seal Bosses were all actually called, “Seal Bosses”?  It would be dumb, therefore so is this.  It’s also sort of silly that Baal doesn’t fight himself, and calls them out one at a time, making sure every last one from the previous batch is dead/parked before he summons more.  I mean it’s not as if he wants to win the battle or anything.

#5: Travincal

While the monotonous temple after temple after temple architecture of late Act Three can get tiring, the heights of design reached in Travincal deserve special notice. This level sort of begins with the Causeway leading up to it, where you encounter totally paved ground for one of the first times in the game.  The lack of greenery in the previously-lush Act Three is a visual treat, and once you get into the middle of Travincal, with the steps in all directions, cute little platforms and walkways, and huge buildings, all of which you can run inside of, it’s like a McDonaldsland playground, and you’re like a seven year old all full of Coke and oversalted, undercooked French fries.  Though hopefully you’re less likely to spew it all from the top of Mayor McCheese.

Travincal also holds the greatest Horking ground in all of D2X, and at the feet of the motley crew that is the high council and their assorted boot-licking lackeys, all proper Hork barbs must worship.  As the screenshot attests.

#4: The Secret Cow Level

Yes, it was also #10 on the Worst Levels list, but it’s got good and bad points, much like that neighbor’s dog that might try to bite you, but at least doesn’t crap in your yard.  The level layout is boring, aside from the little cow king fortress (why the hell bipedal cows have a wooden log fort like something out of a Davey Crockett movie is open to debate).

Okay, so Blizzard was lazy and reused graphics they’d already done for the Rogue Encampment.  There, I admitted it.

Of course it’s the cows that make the level, with their comical sound effects and amusing appearance.  It would be nice if they had a variety of colors, some variety in their foot speed and or resistances, and especially if the king looked different, in any way whatsoever.  Would a crown be too much to ask for?  Bonus point for him dropping a bunch of Stamina potions when he dies for the quest credit, ALA milk bottles.  And of course bonus points just for doing a secret level of any kind, thus getting our hopes up for one with D2X.  Thus setting us up for another crushing disappointment.

#3: The Arcane Sanctuary

An acquired taste, but this area is one of the best in the game, in terms of design.  It looks like nothing else, and is a very clever homage to the physically impossible artwork of M.C. Escher.  Most players zoom right through it without noticing, but next time you are there compare the wing of the Arcane that has those annoying merc-trapping cut backs to the way the way the supports and higher/lower levels are in an Escher image such as Waterfall.

The one thing that lacks in the layout is the starry background.  It’s supposed to be an Astral Plane, not a space station.  When we got out preview of the game at Blizzard North in December 1999, we were told that this level was still undergoing debate, and that it would probably have an opaque cloudy background added before the final game, since the stars looked cheesy.  Alas.

Aside from the lovely layout, the monsters in the Arcane are fun.  Well, fun if you like goats a bit more than you should. *cough*  Yes the weak non-Meteor firing Vampires are pointless if you have any fire resistance at all, and Wraiths are very annoying to physical damage characters, plus they live to die over the edge of the walkway and therefore drop nothing.  But come on, there are goats there.  Goats galore! It’s like an MC Escher petting zoo.

#2: The Chaos Sanctuary

A few people suggested this be added to last week’s Worst Areas list, but they’re just letting the high probability of instant death from an Iron Maiden curse by an Ob Knight you never even see prejudice them.

I love this area, at least when I’m playing a Bowazon or other character who can handle it.  You don’t see Ob Knights of this Cursed variety anywhere else in the game, and there’s a nice variety of other monsters, all of which seem appropriate for the area.  No silly spawning weasels, or crawling ankle biters, or mutated vultures.  No, all the monsters here are big and hellacious beasties, and they will gladly kick your lily white ***.

The architecture is very cool, with all of the stained glass and pits of fire, Diablo’s huge pentagram is the most Satanic thing in the entire game, and even the seals look cool.  Plus their function is great, like evil urns with more style.  They were even more fun back in D2C when the monsters from them could appear just about anywhere, rather than in the set locations they know now.  You didn’t know fun until you had to click the damn De Seis seal 17x before it would work, worrying with every click that you’d get an MSLE De Seis appearing directly top of you.

#1: The Arreat Summit

I seem to like the smaller, non-random levels, and this is the coolest of them all. It’s got a great look with the small pillars all over the place, and the cool Barbarian god statues.  Even the entrance and exit level opens are nice, with the way the bars close over them to trap you once you are in the level. Of course the best part is the huge panoramic view off the back of the level, showing miles of open land below you.  During the beta we’d all gather in this level and just stare off the edge, debating whether or not it actually represented any areas of Act Five, and squinting to see if we could spot Imp corpses.  Ahh, to be young and naive again.

This level was stocked with monsters in early play testing, since there are a number of screenshots of characters battling Succubi and other such creatures here.  I think it’s better with just the Ancients, and not a bunch of lesser monsters hanging around and peeing on their statues.  Speaking of peeing on the statues, how do you suppose pigeons fair in this area?

The final version of the level is awesome, with the area totally deserted, save for the scary statues, just waiting for your click, while you enjoy the view. This area was unbelievable in the Beta, before Blizzard limited monsters to just one or two immunities each on Hell.  You would regularly get every one of the Ancients with at least three immunities, at least two of them Immune to Physical, and trying to get organized to kill them in a big party game without some silly goose hitting a town portal with the last Ancient down to about 10% hps was enough to drive you insane. But when you finally get the kill, there’s always that “Whang!” as you gain about 5 levels at once, which makes it all worth while.

Feedback

There weren’t as many mails about this column, probably since there’s nothing controversial in it, and no wacky feedback from last week to comment on either.  I suspect there will be quite a few more people making comments about the next column, however.  If you want controversy, just wait for the “Top Ten Most Annoying Types of People on Battle.net” one.  Someday.

Lots of people had their own suggestions for which level should be higher ranked than it was, but most of them named levels I had on the list already.  A few people wanted levels that weren’t listed though.  Bowman, for one.

Greetings Flux!

I think your column is fun to read. Overall your picks are good and/or well explained.  The only little problem I have is that you left the act 2 palace out. In my humble opinion Blizzard equipped this set with the best-looking graphics and nicest music in the game.

Oddly, there were several mails last week saying they wanted these levels on the worst levels list.  I considered them for the best, but they were probably around #15.  I used to like them somewhat to level up in, back in D2C they were good for early Nightmare, if you couldn’t tank the Arcane yet.  They’re now mostly remarkable for how fast you can run through them on your way to the Arcane, if you are in a hurry.  But the artwork is pretty.  Funny how Bliz spends so much graphical effort on some small areas that you only visit once, compared to some areas like the Act 1 Caves or Act 5 Ice Caverns that are much simpler in look and seem to go on forever.

A couple of people mailed with their suggestions as to why the Cows had a wooden fort. I was asking rhetorically, by the way. David says:

You wondered why the cows had a wooden log fort. The most sensible answer is that it was built by a bunch of Rogues who somehow found themselves in the SCL, but were killed by the cows before they could complete it.

So the secret rogue retreat level was overrun by evil mutated cows?  I guess that’s as plausible as the rest of the game plot.

Chris with a question two other people asked.

OK one question. Whats horking. In my kneck of the woods its when you have a cold and you hork up all the phlem and spit it out.

I figured the term was well enough known by now, and people reading this would have seen it in my column #3, if no where else, but not everyone knows the proper slang term for “Find Item” yet.

A lot of people commented on Tristram and the weird ways it was different from D1.  That was a hot topic back when D2C was first out, and most players were confused by Blizzard changing things around, for no apparent reason.  My impression from talking to Blizzard people is that they never really gave it a thought. They hadn’t played D1 in years and didn’t consider making the D2 Tristram match up exactly since they figured players wouldn’t really remember or care.  Much less write *****y columns about it 2.5 years later. *cough*

AJM agrees.

I really enjoyed this one. i agree that tristram deserved to be on there but the town did kinda “melt” together. but i did enjoy seeing the lil money grubbing bastard and stealing his leg! the cathedral would be sweet to see a weird demented priest shooting fire everywhere killing ur rogue. lol to be young and naive again. ahh memories thanks needed a laugh :o)

A comment on it from Marc.

I agree with your choice of Tristram but I just don’t see how you can mention the little homages to D1 like Griswold and wirt, but not mention the music. The Tristram theme was my favorite of D1 and is one of the main perks I get to revisiting it in D2.

This probably has something to do with me turning the sound off in D1 about a month after I got it, and having it turned down to nearly inaudible in D2 for the past 2 years.  There are no plans for a Top Ten Musical selections in D2 column either, I must admit.  Perhaps I’ll get Gaile to write that one when I need a week’s vacation.

There is no accounting for taste.  I got a mail that said this was the worst column yet, and then the next one was from Josh.

This column was definitely my favorite so far and had me laughing out loud more than any other. I’m far to lazy to think about how I would rank them, but I agree with basically all the areas you included. It’s nice knowing there are others that appreciate the funny noises of Diablo 2… the moo-ing cows, the Barbarian ‘horks’ (which hold a special place in my heart since a barbarian was my first character), and especially the goats. I’m laughing just thinking about the Escher zoo. Maybe they’ll ad a ferocious ‘Meow’ to the Spear & Poison Kitty Legionnaires in 1.10. We can only hope.


There was general agreement with my pick for the best level in the game though. TSYoung says this.

Although any “top ten” list is pretty arbitrary, and the first nine are exactly that, but I think you hit #1 dead on in this column. It’s not #1 for being an abused experience run like Arcane or bloody hill”z”. It’s not #1 for being an abused MF run like Meph or Pindle. It’s not #1 for fast play, great drops, or any popular reasons. It’s #1 because the programmers and team on this piece really “got it”. Some great overall art, brutally tough bosses, well conceived level concept and implementation, and a great bonus. This one little area packs more “wow!” than other entire Acts. I almost feel more achievement taking on Arreat Summit than taking out Big D or Baal.

More agreement, from PureHatred.

Ah, the “whang!” of 5 levels for a job well done… there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING better than that. First week I had the Expansion pack, I killed the ancients and got 4 levels. I thought it was a glitch and I killed them over and over and over, but alas, 4 levels was all I got. An area better than the Arreat Summit? I think not. Great call.

One error with the Arreat Summit that I didn’t mention was pointed out by Uli, who noted that Leaping Barbs can see their shadow off the cliff, on the ground and walls that are supposedly miles below.  Silly Bliz for not figuring a way to disable the shadow in that one area.

A comment from Sean.

I guess I don’t play enough, you made me think of things in the levels that I wouldn’t have bothered thinking about, and then just towards the end made me remember things that I’d enjoyed too. I was too oblivious to notice that Tristram was missing pieces except the cathedral. I did notice the view off the edge of the Arreat Summit, it’s one of my favorite scenes in the game, but I couldn’t imagine taking the Ancients if they were immune to more than one thing, they’re hard enough by themselves. At least this is one area where the reward is worth the effort/risk, I find that I lose more mercenaries here than anywhere. The only thing I think was missing from the list was the Pandemonium Fortress, but maybe that’s too obvious.

I didn’t consider towns in my ranking, though I guess they are fair game.  If I had I wouldn’t have picked the Act 4 town first though.  It’s got nice artwork and that color-changing roof, but it’s so small.  It does have the best town exit though, with that incredibly long staircase down.  I’d probably pick Lut Gholein #1 town, for the size, the variety of buildings and NPCs, and the Palace is one of the best single pieces of art in the game. But as there are only five towns, (6 if you count Tristram?) it’s not quite enough for a column.

A lot of column suggestions are coming in, though so far no one has suggested one I liked that I wasn’t already planning on doing.  Here’s one I hadn’t considered, at least.  From O_Snipero.

The top five worst/best 32MEG RAM friendly level (Thats actually half the game requirements, so it makes my game half-playable add a Pentium 233, which was a 166 before it’s chirurgical operation)

The best would be bloodmoor (open area, not much tiles, not much lighting effects, not much different monsters) and from what I have seen (havent cleared A5 on normal yet) RoF or Chaos sanctuary would be the worst cant even kill diablo myself because my comp loads and loads and loads and im dead with D dancing on my corpse

Arg?lar makes a good point..

I don’t usually write comments on what I read on the internet. (In part because my english is not really good but mainly bcause I’m lazy…) But when I read your last column I thought you deserved that I took a few minutes of my not-so-precious time to congratulate you on your incredible work, both on the site and your weekly columns. In my opinion, your “top worst” columns are much better than your “top best” columns; there is much more place for your dark humor and sarcasm when you laugh at a character or an area than when you praise one.

A few others said the same thing about enjoying the “worst” more than the “best” list.  I would probably agree with them if I were reading these; I always enjoy reading bad movie reviews more than good ones.

The one area of criticism on this list was that I seemed to think I was writing another Worst Areas list. Here’s Wreckedum, who mailed these paragraphs in separate emails, ten minutes apart.

If you are writing about the ten BEST areas in Diablo, you really shouldn’t start every section with a blurb about how the area sucks. Just plain bad writing. Not to say that the whole column was bad, but I mean c’mon… You are smarter than that. When you spend 3 times as long complaining about the level than you do praising it (I am serious, reread what you wrote), It defeats the whole point of writing the column in the first place. On a side note, you have also made it painfully obvious that you play and Amazon; this may have some effect in alienating all of the readers that cannot identify with your Bowazon/Slow Missile musings. Try to keep it impartial.

How come you talk more smack about the 10 best areas than you did about the 10 Worst? You should have just written a “20 Worst levels” and called it at that. Without the title I would have had no idea that you actually liked these levels. Perhaps you should just title the rest of your articles “completely random musings”, that way you wouldn’t get so much e-mail from people wondering what the hell your point was in the first place.

Actually, no one else wondered that.  He does have a point though, since 6 or 7 of the top 10 list at least as many problems as praise for an area. I didn’t really plan it that way, but I was giving them a semi-impartial assessment, mentioning the bad with the good, or saying that despite their faults, I still liked them.  Anyway, since most people seem to agree that worst are more fun to read than best, this is probably a good habit for me to be in, whether it’s popular with Wreckedum or not.

A nice closing note from Andrew.

Damn,

You sure know how to catch people’s attention. After reading a few of your articles, I had to reinstall D2X to relive some good ol’ memories. Thanks.

I’m like a not-for-profit drug dealer with these. Dedicated to extending or renewing your addiction. Just when you thought you were out, I pull you back in!


Flux?s Decahedron was written by Flux during 2002-2004, and hosted by Diabloii.net. These irreverent, often rude “Top 10” columns tweaked every aspect of the game and community, pioneered the humorous “Top 10” listing of game features during the eternal v1.09 patch era, were excessively long, and incorporated extensive reader feedback. They may or may not return for Diablo III.

The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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