Description: Reviewed by Maxx Power for the Phrozen Keep.
Categories: Mod Reviews
Blimey, twice in one sitting. This is starting to turn into a habit again. Of course usually I wouldn't do this, but since I've been playing Back to Hellfire (BTH) in it's various guises since it was conceived by Onyx and watched it develop, I think it's fair to say I have at least some basic knowledge on the mod. I won't pull any punches though, but thankfully for Onyx, I really like BTH. So I'll only be slightly less mean and picky than I usually am.
As the name suggests, BTH is a blast to the past. The Diablo past and it's expansion Hellfire (obviously) to be precise. The whole mod is designed to recreate the same feeling that was seen in those two games, that feeling of claustrophobia as you went up against monsters that could probably all tear you apart on their own, let alone in large packs. This the mod achieves to near perfection. The very nature of the Diablo II engine (i.e. the lack of a defined grid, sharper graphics and so forth) means that the experience isn't exact, but for all intents and purposes it's almost spot on. You'll find yourself creeping down pitch black corridors, edging along to try and activate the next set of enemies that will inevitably leap out of the darkness at you. Plus a defined dungeon crawl is set out for the player, with the Acts set out in successive floor after floor of dungeons to explore. It's all nerve wracking stuff, and it's bloody fantastic. It's something that both seasoned Diablo vets such as myself and those who've never spent hours looking for a Godly Full Plate of the Whale can enjoy.
Of course this all ties in with the graphics of the mod. The majority of monsters you'll see down in the dungeons are those found in Diablo and Hellfire, and there's no faulting them for the most part. Apart from the odd graphical glitch (and their comparatively small size to their old school counterparts), the monsters are exact replicas in all aspects, with animation and even attack patterns and sounds. It's wholly feasible for someone to jump from Diablo to BTH and use the exact same tactics as they did before.
Which brings me neatly to my next point, which is something that either you'll agree with or disagree with, depending on your point of view. In a nutshell, BTH is hard. Extremely hard. Kind of like granite chewed up by a Golem, spat out and then encased in diamond hard. It's not impossible, but it's not a walk in the park either. Of course those who have played Diablo and Hellfire will expect this, but those of you who's only experience has been the various overpowering capabilities of LOD characters, then you may find yourself up a certain proverbial creek with a certain paddle. The difficulty curve is practically a cliff face, and it's not something you can sit down and play for a few minutes and make progress with. Waypoints are few and far between, so if you hope to reach the next one then it's best to put a few hours aside in order to reach it. Either that or try to run past everything to get down there. I wouldn't recommend the latter.
[b][u]WHAT DOESN'T WORK:[/u][/b]
Since I just finished talking about the difficulty of the mod, I may as well counter-balance that arguement for those of you out there who feel as though Baal can be hard unless you're loaded with unique items. BTH is very hard as I have mentioned, and while for the most part this can be a joyous example of extreme tactics, unnerving gameplay and a genuine feeling of achievement when you finally take out that Claw Viper boss pack, it can become tedious at times. There are moments where things seem especially impossible, like after dying for the ninteenth time in a row and having to run down five floors in order to reach your corpse(s) because your town portal is currently mobbed. While most of the time the high difficulty level means that such situations are few and far between for those of us who know how to actually play this game, for a large majority of people getting past the third or forth floor will be a task equalled to attempting to throw a rope around the moon and pull it down from orbit.
Also it's worth noting the general uselessness of mercenaries. This is mainly a bad AI script situation, but it's likely that any mercenary you hire will charge to their deaths at the first opportunity. When a single monster can take down huge chunks of your life with a single blow, the gung-ho tactics of the merc's AI mean that they serve little purpose apart from a two-second decoy.
The nature of equipment as well may not be up to everyone's tastes. You are very limited in what you can buy in each act, usually only two types of a certain weapon at a time, meaning that beyond the second waypoint chances are your equipment won't improve at all until you reach the next act, which is a long way away. While this is an intentional design element it can be disheartening when your equipment isn't coming up to scratch and the vendors offer nothing more than further rubbish weapons of uselessness.
Then there's the skill system, or as I like to call it the 'Hyperactive Random System'. Much like Diablo and Hellfire, every skill is learned through skill books. A very good idea in theory, but in practise isn't executed too well. For starters you can't buy any books as in Diablo and Hellfire, which means you're a slave to treasure classes. Also because the classes have unique skills rather than the shared spells of Diablo and Hellfire, there's a good possibility than when a skill book finally does drop and your heart goes fluttering, you'll find it heading straight back down with a thud as the words [Not your class Only] appear on the item description (not the actual text for the record). This of course means that any planning goes out of the window beyond your statistic points, and staring at that one skill you really want but can't find the book for.
BTH is one of the best mods out there, due to it's intense atmospheric, near-perfect conversion from Diablo and Hellfire with enough of a unique twist to make sure you aren't simply repeating the experience from so many years ago. It's rock hard difficulty will also have you coming back for more, as you try to climb the metaphorical cliff with your bere hands. This can, however, be the most self-destructive part of the mod at times, when the difficulty suddenly jumps from hard-but-enjoyable to near-impossible-and-frustrating. It's a hard balance to pull off, and provided you know what you're doing then the good times out-balance the bad. If you don't then it's all bad news. Add this in with the restricted method of distributing equipment and skills and BTH is probably not best suited to the large majority of Diablo players, which is a crying shame when you consider that the mod is a prime example of the true inovation that can be achieved within modding.
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[url=https://www.d2mods.info/forum/kb/viewarticle?a=326&sid=4301e9fefd6cc18e34ef4facec5e9866]Knowledge Base - [LOD v.1.10] Back to Hellfire Beta 2[/url]