On Diablo

There is no game I enjoyed replaying over, and over, and over again than Diablo, an action role-playing hack and slash video game developed by Blizzard North and released by Blizzard Entertainment on December 31, 1996, on PC. It was simply a fantastic game with a driven story (specific quests necessary, or unnecessary, to complete in order to move forward in the game), specific areas to explore (Tristram, Cathedral, Catacombs, Caves, and Hell), and three character classes to chose from (Warrior, Rogue, and Sorcerer). It was a really fantastic game!

According to the GameSpot review:

Every now and then a game comes along that is so simple and addictive that it affects the way that video games are made forever. Games like SimCity, Populous, Dune II, and Doom all changed the face of computer gaming for years to come. Now Blizzard, the company that refined the real-time strategy game to near perfection, has unleashed Diablo, a title that combines the elegant simplicity of an action game and the addictive storyline of an adventure game with the personalization and exploratoration of an old-school RPG.

As with the golden RPG titles of yesteryear, Diablo’s premise is very simple: Find evil things and smite them repeatedly. The tricky bit comes in deciding just how to smite them, and how to do it without getting seriously killed. Each of the game’s three character classes – the warrior, the rogue, and the sorcerer – has a different approach to combat, and different specialties that make life easier overall. Super-strong and resilient, the warrior is able to use a great many weapons that his colleagues can’t heft and can wade into battles without fear of being struck down in the first few seconds of the fight. Rogues are masters of the bow; their superior dexterity enables them to strike from afar with unerring accuracy. Sorcerers depend on a variety of powerful spells to destroy large numbers of enemies from a distance, keeping their frail frames far away from possible harm. Each different class of character suits a particular style of play: Action fans will most likely want to scrap up close with a warrior, while strategy fans will find the strike-and-move tactics of the sorcerer and rogue more to their liking. It doesn’t really matter – it’s all very, very cool.

Cooler still are the amazing variety of items, magic, and monsters encountered while tackling the game’s many quests. Like Sword of Fargoal and The Wizard’s Crown (old, old, OLD, RPGs), Diablo features magic items and weapons with random powers and properties. Names like the Jade Bow of the Moon denote more than just a valuable find; jade indicates an item that helps the player resist all forces (fire, electricity, etc.), and “of the moon” shows that the arm will increase all of a character’s attributes. Since all of this is random, players are constantly given the promise of discovering the “ultimate” weapon or armor with each open chest or slain enemy. Similarly, although a set number of monsters is included, only a few will be seen during each full game. This means that players going back for their second or third shot at the game will very likely fight opponents they haven’t seen before. Talk about replay value.

Those who do get tired of Diablo will find a whole new realm of excitement in network and Battle.net play. In both modes (all it takes to play Battle.net is an open Internet connection and a copy of the game) players can work with (or against) three other players while solving quests and fighting evil. Although facing off against large numbers of enemies can get pretty tricky – as a sorcerer I had a horrible problem with shooting my warrior companions in the back with some particularly nasty spells – this group play adds hours of play life to the title. On Battle.net be prepared to run across the dregs of virtual society, from player killers who slay others for their gold, to more clever sham artists who lure players into dangerous areas and then collect their items after they’re killed by the local beasties. Watch your back.

There’s plenty more that’s great about Diablo – it features a fantastic soundtrack reminiscent of early Bauhaus albums as well as randomly determined quests and subquests – but there’s no reason to write about it here. Diablo is the best game to come out in the past year, and you should own a copy. Period. If you like PC games, you should go out right now and experience what is likely to be the clone maker for the next two years.

Is it then, any real surprise, that GameSpot inducted it one of the “greatest games of all-time“? Hardly.

Like many other groups of college-aged PC gaming geeks, my friends and I got completely hooked on multiplayer Diablo when it came out. We did notice one curious thing, though–the incessant clicking that the game requires began to wear out our gaming mice. When we’d play other games like Warcraft II or Quake, we found that suddenly our commands and firing weren’t nearly as responsive or precise with busted left mouse buttons. Most people would say, “So what? Just get another mouse.” The problem was that as hardcore gamers, our mice were generally more expensive ones designed for gamers and other power users. These cost us $30 to $60 a pop, so wearing one out every few weeks just wasn’t in our poor-student budgets.

The solution? We bought cheap, two-button mice in bulk. We actually tracked down some OEM computer parts distributors in the Bay Area and found one that would sell us these Logitech two-button serial mice for somewhere around $5. We were much more comfortable with the idea of breaking $5 mice. So after making the bulk purchase, we’d use the cheap mice just to play Diablo. Yes, whenever we switched from doing work or playing Quake and Warcraft II to playing Diablo, we’d literally crawl under our desks to unplug our expensive mice and plug in our “Diablo mice.” And whenever they’d break, weeks or a month later, they’d go into the trash can and we’d whip out the next workhorse mouse. It’s amazing none of us developed any chronic joint pain in our index fingers with all that clicking… But that’s how we coped with a gaming habit that was murder on computer mice.

Years later, it’s easy for a cynic to dismiss Diablo as nothing but a mindless clickfest. Click to move, click to attack, and click to open chests. Click, click, click, click, click. If you walked into any PC owner’s room in the mid to late 1990s and heard the rapid-fire staccato of a mouse button, you could reasonably bet that the occupant was playing Diablo. Despite the naysayers, what can’t be denied is Diablo’s wide-ranging impact on the gaming industry. The game birthed the action-RPG genre as we know it, spawning dozens of copycats on the PC in the years following its release. Consoles even began to get into the act with Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, which was very heavily influenced by Diablo. To this day, Diablo is used as a point of comparison for any game that involves simple point-and-click combat, character development, hordes of monsters, massive levels, and collectible loot and equipment.

The premise of the game was simple: You played the role of an adventurer happening on the town of Tristram. A powerful evil brewed underneath the desecrated site of the town cathedral, which served as the entrance to a massive, multilevel dungeon. You could pick from three classes–warrior, rogue, and sorcerer–each of which had different strengths and weaknesses. From there, you’d make your way into the depths of the dungeon, slashing, shooting (with a bow), and firing spells at hordes of monsters, ranging from demons, undead, and other types of beasts. Monsters would drop gold and or loot, such as armor, weapons, and potions. There were also many chests and barrels to break open for loot. Indeed, Diablo probably contributed as much as any game did to the box- and barrel-breaking cliché associated with many games. Nonetheless, the everlasting quest for better loot was a major motivating force to replay the game over and over again. Thankfully the randomly generated levels kept the experience fresh.

Named bosses also roamed the dungeons, and they would often drop magical items. The ultimate end boss was, of course, Diablo, who waited on the 16th level of the dungeon, deep in the heart of hell. As you’d expect from a foe named “Diablo,” the end-game fight was devilishly fun and challenging, whether you played the game solo, or you joined forces with three friends over LAN. You could also play multiplayer Diablo on the Internet through Blizzard’s free online matchmaking service, Battle.net, which debuted with the game. Of course, playing in a multiplayer dungeon didn’t just restrict you to cooperative play. One of Diablo’s (in)famous legacies was the treacherous player-killing and ganking, whereby fellow adventurers could turn on you at any time and kill you for your equipment, which you’d automatically drop upon death.

The town of Tristram also played a great role in the game, particularly the townspeople, who would offer you goods and services. While it seemed irritating that they’d charge you through the nose for weapons, potions, and repairs (you were trying to save their town, after all), you could converse with them for lore and then embark on quests to kill named monsters deep inside the dungeon. The characters were quite memorable, particularly Wirt, the peg-legged rascal who’d fleece you while selling his cache of magical wares.

Beyond the atmospheric, brooding soundtrack of the game, the occasional grunt of the characters, and the chilling sound effects of battle and monsters, the game’s 2D, isometric graphics were quite good for its time. The art design for characters and monsters evoked an appropriate sense of dread and despair, and many of the game bosses were large and imposing in size. The first encounters with the Butcher and King Leoric were memorable ones that caused many a player to jump in his or her seat. Then there were the cinematics in Diablo, which were definitely the crown jewel of the game’s presentation. They may not look like much today, but at the time, the CG movies in Diablo were arguably the best in games right up until (and maybe including) those seen in Final Fantasy VII.

All in all, when you consider the popularity and huge impact that Diablo had and continues to have on the gaming industry today, it’s no wonder that the game remains GameSpot’s highest-scoring PC game ever. And it also makes it very easy for us to name it one of the Greatest Games of All Time.

For personal game-play, I much preferred the Rogue character class, who is neither the physically strongest nor the physically weakest of all the character classes. Primarily, she dealt with ranged weapons and could disarm traps. My favorite quests included The Curse of King Leoric, Ogden’s Sign, The Magic Rock, Valor, The Chamber of Bone, Halls of the Blind, Warlord of Blood, and Lachdanan. Finally, my favorite levels to explore were the Cathedral, Catacombs, and Hell.

Much of the lore featured in later games are derived from the Tomes found throughout the levels you explore:

Of course, I can’t totally talk about Diablo without also talking about it’s expansion pack, Hellfire. This pack adds enhancements to the original game, including new settings liek The Festering Nests, and the Demon Crypts, new items like weapons, oils,  runes, spellbooks, as well as adds one character class, the Monk, and two hidden character classes, the Barbarian (using the Warrior graphic) and the Bard (using the Rogue graphic).


I preferred to either use the Rogue or Bard, and had an affinity for the Demon Crypts.

According to the GameSpot review:

To the surprise of many gamers, instead of releasing an expansion pack for Diablo, Blizzard North decided to focus its efforts on a full-fledged sequel (which has tentatively been given the appropriate, if unoriginal, title Diablo II). But gamers have continued to clamor for more Diablo, and eventually the expansion pack torch was passed to Blizzard’s affiliate, Synergistic Software. Synergistic’s Hellfire gives gamers new levels, monsters, items, spells, and single-player quests and refinements to the original Diablo engine, but the overall package is slightly less compelling than the original game.

As with Diablo, Hellfire’s storyline is not particularly deep – Na’Krul, a demon that once ranked highly in Diablo’s hierarchy until turning on his master, is released from exile by ye local foolhardy mage. Na’Krul and his cronies set up shop in eight new levels that fit seamlessly into the original game. These eight new levels are divided into two areas, each with its own new tileset, the gothic Demon Crypt (home sweet home for Na’Krul) and the Festering Nest, an organic hive-like domain that hosts Na-Krul’s “Starship Troopers-refugee” lieutenant, the Defiler. In addition to these new threats, you must once again deal with the big guy, Diablo, who returns more powerful than ever.

Although all the new monsters are confined to the new Hellfire levels, once you install Hellfire, you can find new items and shrines scattered throughout the original 16 levels of Diablo. You can use a new character class, the Monk, to conquer the challenges in the original game. The new Hellfire levels are roughly equivalent in difficulty to levels nine through 16 of the original game, which means you must either transfer a high-level character from the old game (through a needlessly cumbersome process), download one of the characters that has been made available at Sierra’s web site, or trudge through the old levels with a new character if you want to survive the new levels. In addition to the new character class, items, and shrines, Hellfire provides a number of refinements to Diablo’s gameplay – you can now jog instead of merely sauntering around town, cast spells to quickly find an exit to a level or to locate a tiny ring that you vaguely heard drop nearby, and can buy more useful items from the town’s ever-greedy merchants. Synergistic has also added difficulty levels into the single-player version of the game, a feature inexplicably lacking from the original game. Gamers who are still playing Diablo will definitely appreciate these enhancements more than those who put Diablo back on the shelf long ago.

The most notable absence from Hellfire is multiplayer support, an especially surprising omission considering that Diablo is one of the most popular multiplayer games of all time. Given the amount of player hacking the original game underwent, it’s not surprising that an unofficial hack has already appeared to let you use the Monk character class in a multiplayer game (but not on Battle.net, Blizzard’s free Internet server). Future hacks may succeed in making the new levels and monsters accessible in a multiplayer game, but such hacks won’t receive official sanction or support. For now, you’ll be forced to play the new levels solo, which is reason enough for a significant portion of Diablo’s fans to stay away from this expansion pack.

Hellfire includes a couple dozen new enemies, over 30 new magic items, seven new spells, and a handful of relatively simple new quests. The Monk character class is a very powerful fighter-mage. In addition to being a formidable spell-caster, the Monk is an adept martial artist who can use a staff to attack multiple opponents at once and is skilled in unarmed combat (yep, now you can kick Diablo in the head). The new spells include a healthy mix of defensive enchantments, devastating new offensive weapons (the original game’s most powerful spells, Apocalypse and Nova, are now also available as spell books), and spells that just make wandering through the labyrinths more convenient.

Unlike the original game, most new monsters are represented by original artwork and are not just differently colored and powered variations of monsters previously used in the game. But there’s a price to be paid for all the new art, as the monster animations and death sequences, in particular, appear to be less detailed than those included in the original game (although there are some great additions, such as the Liches, Crypt Demons, and Orbs). The new Demon Crypt tileset works well and is as detailed as any of the four tilesets in Diablo, but the Festering Nest tileset is a bit too disorienting and cluttered. There are, however, some nice graphical touches. For example, the barrels that appeared throughout the original game are replaced in the Festering Nest levels with organic body-snatcher-ish pods and by suitably gothic urns in the Demon Crypt. Hellfire adds some impressive new spell effects, such as huge glowing fireballs. The new levels also come with their own musical scores, which mainly consist of ambient sounds and don’t measure up to the quality of the music in the original game.

Hellfire fails to provide as compelling an experience as Diablo, but does provides a good quantity of new monsters, items, spells, and settings, and a number of gameplay enhancements that eliminate a few annoyances of the original game. These additions and enhancements may not be sufficient to breathe new life into the original game, but if you are a single-player Diablo addict, Hellfire will enhance your enjoyment of Diablo. Hellfire is definitely more of the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering that Diablo was GameSpot’s 1996 Game of the Year. Multiplayer aficionados, however, should pass on Hellfire.



2 thoughts on “On Diablo

  1. Pingback: On Diablo II | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: On StarCraft | The Progressive Democrat

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