From the Memory Banks: Blurring the lines with Diablo II’s Expansion Set

When I was young, I poured untold amounts of time into Diablo II. During the latter years of middle school and into high school, that was the game that took up ALL of my time. And what a time it was.

It was a dark time, back when breaking your play disc meant having to buy a whole other copy of the game to play (and boy did that happen a lot. My sister never really took care of game discs and just tossed them around so when she’d want to play The Sims she’d just chuck my DII disc somewhere across the desk and eventually it just quit working. Just like her Sims disc). I was also yet to discover the magic that was broadband internet, having to play over 56k dial-up.

I also didn’t have the best PC at the time. Well, we didn’t. I had an old Power Mac 8100 that would dream of running such a game, but the family PC was an old Slot-2 Pentium 3 machine running at a modest 400MHz with some potato of a GPU. Diablo II ran fine-ish, but certainly not well. I think we ran it in software rendering mode.

What a digression! I’m not here to wax nostalgic about my old gaming rig (maybe another time) but rather I’m here to talk about something really interesting that people did way back: Modifying the game, but even on Blizzard official servers. This has several layers we need to wade through, so bear with me: and Open

Before we jump into the game proper, you had two disjoint parts of (which is Blizzard’s name for its online services). Front and center, you had regular (or “closed”), which meant your Diablo II character and all of its respective data was stored on Blizzard’s servers unlike your single player characters being stored locally. This cut down on any cheating (as we’ll get into in a sec) because all your character data–again–was stored with Blizzard, not with you. So you couldn’t grab a save editor and mess with your files.
This also had additional benefits, but more of that in a sec.
Open was the wild west. You were allowed to bring your single-player/local character into an online multiplayer setting. As stated before, this was isolated from closed; the two couldn’t interact. Cheating was absolutely rampant of course because there’s nothing stopping you from loading up a save editor (of which there were a few back then if I recall, but the one I used was called Jamella) and absolutely turning everything up to 11. Blizzard didn’t enforce any kind of rules on Open 
It went further than that: Blizzard seemed to collect zero data on games and such (giving me suspicion that Open was P2P in some respects) so back when I played you could try and enter a game on the game browser and it’d kick you out because it was actually an expansion game.
Or it’d kick you out because the game was full. (Games had a player cap of 8.)
With that distinction explained, we go down another layer:

Expansion versus Non-expansion

Obviously, you don’t have much of a choice in this matter if you only have the base game. But some time after releasing the base game, Blizzard released Lord of Destruction, which added a 5th act, two new characters, and a BUNCH of stuff.

From a casual player perspective, Lord of Destruction was amazing. It added a lot of new stuff to play with. Runewords were stupid fun. However in interest of not locking out owners of LoD from playing with friends who hadn’t sprung for the expansion, Blizzard allowed you to still create non-expansion characters who were locked to the featureset of the base game. Was it slightly messy? Yes, but you could have a character for expansion play and a character for the base game. 

(You could even convert old characters into expansion characters, but this was a one-way process. And at the time, there was no means to respec a character, so it was considered a bad idea due to massive mechanics changes in LoD requiring a different stats/skills build.)

Building off of this, a LOT of PvP players at the time (and that’s what I generally diddled around with when I had finished the game, making PvP builds) actually preferred to stay in the base game (at the time, we just called it “nox” for “no expansion”) because when you start incorporating runewords and some of the more crazy character-specific items into builds, things get very complicated, very quick, and a lot of the sentiment at the time is that one can just make a complete and total bullshit build with no skill whatsoever. The base game’s PvP required a greater level of skill.

Past that, even if you played the base game with LoD installed, you still reaped some of the benefits of LoD, specifically a higher resolution option in the video settings (800×600 rather than 640×480) that came paired with a more space-efficient interface. Kind of.

Where the lines blurred

The way the two parts of the game were designed, a base game character was only supposed to have access to base game mechanics and items, whereas expansion characters would get access to both.

However…someone found a way to make it so someone in a base game character could actually travel to Act 5, provided that person was playing on a copy of Diablo II that had the expansion installed. How’d they do this? If I recall correctly, some form of DLL injection. It would trick the game into thinking that your character was allowed to go to Act 5, and it’d load Act 5 as normal with everything there. The only thing is that this did not suddenly allow base game characters to use expansion items and mechanics (with few exceptions). It just opened up Act 5. It also–surprisingly–worked on closed

You may ask: why is this important? Two reasons: 

1. The socketing quest. There’s a quest in Act 5 that–once completed–lets you socket any of your items. This can only be done once per difficulty, however. This was mostly used to put sockets in armor, which only could be done normally in the expansion. This carried back to the base game, so it wasn’t uncommon at the time to see people with socketed armor even in the base game on closed

2. Leveling. In the base game, the best way to level is Chaos Sanctuary (which is the final area) runs. This is usually done by way of having a Sorceress jump down to the River of Fire and teleport spamming to reach the entrance to the Chaos Sanctuary, throwing open a Town Portal and having everyone pile through. There was also river walks, which is exactly as it sounds: Everyone just goes down to the River of Fire and does the whole thing including the Sanctuary.

In the expansion…there’s the final boss (Baal) and the way the first stage of the fight goes is that it’s just a kind of boss rush with high-level monsters. This was shown to give out way, WAY more experience than the Sanctuary, so people would jump into Act 5 and run Baal for XP rather than running Sancurary and Diablo. 

At the time, too, the ladder generally topped out around Lv. 91-92, but after this, it started getting up to the level cap.

To this day, I’m not sure if anyone actually got banned for this, or how long the practice went on because life got in the way and I quit playing around the time people really, REALLY started doing this. But it was a fun little thing that happened, and it was really unusual (and still is, thinking about it), and hopefully you find it just as entertaining and fascinating as I did.