Where [I]The Hell[/I] brought us to the deepest levels of Diablo I, and [I]Back to Hellfire[/I] strove to find Diablo II's roots in Diablo I, [I]Median XL[/I], an acclaimed mod for Diablo II, is something altogether different. Today, Laz tells us important goals and features he set in to [I]Median XL[/I], why it is so successful, and his thoughts on modding for upcoming Diablo III.
[I]Median XL[/I] adds a tremendous amount of new effects, skills, items, and content, making the game we've all played for a near decade take new livelihood that lost its luster over the years. Beyond the basic skill trees, which have seen their fair share of renovation, many skills can only be used by equipping select items. Playable characters have new lore, and special events allow for more button-mashing goodness, making Horadric Cube transmutation more feasible and fun. Laz admits to the challenges he faced making the mod, discovering what he believes to really drive [I]Median XL[/I]'s playerbase:
Quote from Laz »
There are modmakers who strive to improve the balance in the game and create 'the perfect Diablo' while the rest of the world passes them by. No game should be taken that seriously. I admit to making the same mistake in the past, only to discover that the players don't actually want a challenge.
Therefore the main way [I]Median [/I]strives to improve upon d2 is through spectacle. Most skills, items, monsters and levels in d2 are boring. [I]Median [/I]throws in crazy uberquests and fireworks and nuclear bombs and you get to kill angels in heaven and robots in a dystopic city.
Originally my concerns were to make skills situational, so you could (and had to) switch between skills depending on the situation. This was in the fairytale times when I thought d2 could be tactical and difficult - and nobody played [I]Median [/I]because it was too tactical and difficult.
Nowadays my concerns are simply 'is this skill overpowered enough?'. After years of requests to buff just about anything that isn't already the obvious best choice and some stuff that is (and the corresponding increase in playerbase) it has become clear that many players do not actually want much of a challenge and many others believe that challenge in d2 means that you need to figure out the very best build to farm efficiently.
[I]Median XL[/I] also focused on making the single-player experience more rewarding, promising, and accessible, which Laz noted as [I]single-player-friendliness[/I]: "[...] you can actually find decent stuff in single player, instead of becoming useless in mid-Nightmare without the 1-in-10000 unique drop)."
The mod is as true as his word. Nearly any screenshot taken during battle or a skill's use will admit seizure-inducing colors, flashes, and spectacular effects, giving player's the adrenaline rush of god on steroids. Players will battle fiersome beings not formerly seen in Sanctuary, including Baalspawn, terrible new renditions of uber quests, and even the returns of some of the classics.
Laz drew [I]Median XL[/I]'s repertoire of monsters and enemies from, as he stated, an "eclectic mix" of games, some from genres you might not have been anticipating:
Quote from Laz »
I just looked around and threw in stuff that looked like it would work well. The old d1 content was of course easy to find and adapt, but there are influences ranging from Left4Dead to Twisted Metal. When I see a good idea, I use it.
The difference with most other mods is that everything in [I]Median [/I]was adapted to the Diablo lore. When a unique item bears someone's name, this person does exist in the Diablo world. Likewise, imported concepts from other games were modified to fit the Diablo lore. Etc.
However, fantastical skills and flashy effects do not keep players enthralled forever. Laz continued to acknowledge the inevitability of character development in gaming, which we even see in vanilla Diablo II's handful of cookie-cutter builds:
Quote from Laz »
I'm still committed to making all skills viable, as in you can complete most uberquests with them. Unfortunately viable does not mean useful - most players simply go for the 2-3 best builds per class and ignore everything else. This is either because this yields the most l00t per second or else because they made a different build but a few minutes of reading the official forum left them with a dark cloud of impending doom and futility hanging over their head so they respecced.
And there are a few skills that exist mostly to appeal to the rule of cool. Carpet of Spiders? Yes, please.
The special uber quests, which vary in difficulty and actually function a bit more like quests, lay in wait for players that want even more from [I]Median XL[/I]: "They were intended to be a tactical challenge to complete, what with the shield auras that make the boss immune until you take out other monsters."
In addition to many new baddies, supernova skills, fresh lore, and cool new features, [I]Median XL[/I] has been teetering on the fine line between challenge and godmode for years, especially with the latest renditions. Work on the mod has been a fight for balance between the old-timers and the newer crowd: "[I][...][/I] veterans lament the fact that the game has 'become easier and easier' while newer players reply that the game is actually hard if you don't obsessively twink. I have no idea what the real difficulty is, but I know that people seem to stick around so I suppose it is generally okay."
Quote from "Laz »
[I]Median XL[/I] was also intended to remove all the old cheese from [I]Median 2008[/I'] and add new harder regular monsters and elites - at least, that was the plan. During the lengthy beta, people wept bitter tears over the increased difficulty. It seemed that every new elite caused someone to quit the game. Some players even said literally that they just wanted to run through the game as fast as possible and do ubers instead of wasting time getting killed by hellcats.
Ready for something new? Give [I]Median XL[/I] a try! Download it from the official site and try it out for yourself!