A watershed moment occurred this weekend past.

At a gathering to celebrate the recent acquisition of a tidy bungalow in Havelock North, of all places, my thirty-something friend admitted to me that Diablo III would compel him to participate in a clan, and even play extensively online. This is a rash and somewhat reckless comment from a man still smarting at the suspension of his WON ID for using coloured models in Counter-Strike eight years ago (he's colour-blind. It was preferable to getting banned for repeatedly shooting his own team mates.)

Still reeling from this revelation, I was unprepared for what followed. Every single member of the group gathered confirmed that they would all be purchasing Diablo III on launch day, and were looking forward to jumping online and battling hordes of demonic creatures. We haven't reached a consensus like this in years, and what's even more impressive is that a lot of these people are married. Some have even acquired offspring.

Thanks to Blizzard's annoying dedication to perfection coupled with a habit of releasing games when they're actually ready, it seems unlikely that we'll see Diablo III until 2011 at the earliest, and probably more like 2012. So what are we supposed to do until then?

Fear not, because while you've been slavishly anticipating a new Diablo release, a Belgian game modder who goes by the handle "Brother Laz" has been steadily reworking the original Diablo II: Lord of Destruction into what can only be described as a whole new game. I had previously considered the only beneficial contribution Belgium had ever made to the world was the ability to produce beer with the same alcohol content as wine; boy was I wrong. The mod is entitled "Median XL", and it might just bridge the gap until Blizzard give us the traditional sixty days advance notice of Diablo III's release.

Not to take anything away from what is truly an epic game, but even Lord of Destruction gets a bit tedious after a while. Once you've discovered the "players 8" command and rushed your character through to the upper 80's, maxed out your favourite attack and generally found 90% of all the cool weapons you're realistically ever going to find, your attention begins to wander a bit. Median XL follows on from Laz's earlier Median 2008 attempt (although it is a completely new mod) and introduces new skill trees with 30 brand new skills per class, improved monsters with higher aggression, thirty new "uberquests" featuring 22 "uberbosses" and 8 "uberlevels", new base items with six quality tiers, and additional new runes and gems.

But wait, that's not all. Download now and you'll also receive 475 new unique items and 28 new sets. 310 brand new runewords. An extended stash size and orbs that can be used to enchant weapons. All new spell animations and monster attacks, and even the drop rates have been tweaked so that higher-level items have a more realistic chance of actually appearing in the game. Boots, gloves and even belts will appear with sockets. Potions now regenerate health and mana rather than simply filling them. A monetary system that actually carries weight. In short, even though you'll recognise the base game, it feels more like someone has ripped the fun aspects of character growth and weapon customisation from World of Warcraft and injected them into the shell of Diablo II.

Blizzard don't often get it wrong, but unfortunately even when Diablo II: Lord of Destruction was released, the maximum screen resolution of 800x600 was already woefully inadequate. If this is one of the reasons you tend to avoid playing the game on your new 22" or 24" LCD screen, help is at hand in the form of a fully functional widescreen patch that will allow you to select your own custom resolution. Median XL supports this patch, meaning that not only can you play in any (windowed) resolution your monitor is capable of, your spell casting and attacks will actually span the entire width of the screen. Nice!

Median XL doesn't come with any native Battle.Net support, although rumour abounds of various underground internet hosts that support it. Instead, it's best played on a LAN with plenty of beer (Belgian or otherwise) and a variety of salted snacks. Various host-to-client software applications out there will allow you to connect with your friends over the internet and play it too, although that's all getting very technical and possibility litigious so you'll have to research that yourself.

If you've been looking for an excuse to dust off that copy of Diablo II, or you're still in denial and firmly believe that Diablo III will be released this year or next, grab the Median XL mod and the widescreen support patch from GP Downloads and give it a shot. Any excuse to kick Baal's ass in a new and exciting way is never a bad thing.


Have you tried Median XL? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.