Diablo – PC
Developer: Blizzard North
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: December 31, 1996
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
As a child of the nineties, I remember the day when Diablo appeared in our house. I was no more than six when it came out and right from the beginning, it reminded me of Doom with demonic themes and imagery, scary sounds, and a tendency to make me run and hide under the dining room table until the noises stopped. But unlike Doom, which took me a long time to grow up and face like a man, I somehow plucked up the courage to try Diablo while I was still a kid, swallowing my fear and taking those first skittish steps into the overrun depths of Hell itself. Given that the childlike mind is more willing to accept game plots as real life than anything else, it was a defining moment for me, introducing me to a more heart-pounding and intense style of gaming than I was yet familiar with, giving me a taste for the adrenaline that flows through the blood of every hardcore gamer. At the same time, it was also a defining moment for the history of video gaming, as it turned out to be a smash hit in the industry, spawning an entire game series and creating standards by which other games in this genre would be judged. Ready your weapons as we descend into the dungeons of Diablo once more…
Made in 1996 by Blizzard North, the original Diablo begins in the township of Tristram, a quaint little fantasy medieval village that’s recently run into a lot of bad luck, given the demonic presence that’s recently flooded their church. You play the lone hero who just happens to be in the right place and the right time to fight back the legions of Hell itself and stop the machinations of the Lord of Terror. From the very beginning, you’re at odds with everything moving inside of the labyrinthine levels of the town church, and even as you grow stronger in your defiance, Hell sends greater foes to meet you. Only by finding the magic weapons and tomes lost within the putrid depths will you be able to fight back against the demons below with any real success. The game is action-packed, but built on a firm foundation of roleplaying game mechanics, all adding up to a wonderful experience in both its gameplay and its atmosphere.
Your experience with Diablo begins with the choice of character: Warrior, Rogue, or Sorcerer. Many long-time gamers will be aware of what this means, but for those of you who aren’t into the role-playing, I’ll break it down. The Warrior wields close-range weapons, like swords and hammers, to do heavy damage to enemies, and does all of his fighting face-to-face. The Rogue uses long-range weapons, meaning bows of all kinds, to do less damage but at a fast rate and without needing to risk her neck in the thick of it. And the Sorcerer uses magical staffs and spell books to cast many kinds of offensive and utility spells from his mana pool to keep himself alive and his enemies dead. All three of these classes offer different ways to play and all of them are very rewarding. And further still, the trifecta of classes is built very tight, as at no point in playing either of them do I feel that there’s something missing. Each class does exactly what it’s supposed to and is a lot of fun to play as, making for a very equal playing field if they’re leveled-up properly.
Once you’ve gotten your equipment and stepped into the haunted floors below the church, you learn what keeps Diablo fresh and interesting even to a seasoned player like me: procedurally-generated dungeons. Every time you go down there, it’s a different layout, with a fresh array of loot to be found, enemies that weren’t in the last playthrough, new side-quests to accomplish, and overall a completely new experience. It doesn’t matter what happened the last time you played, each time you pick up and run with Diablo, it’s like you’re stepping unto that hallowed ground for the first time. This time, you may find yourself running into a horde of demons with a unique specimen leading from the back, and who’s likely to give you a very hard time once you’re done cleaving through his friends. The next time, you may shoot a decisive arrow through the eye of a low-level demon and bite into your hand to contain the yelp of joy as you recognize a unique weapon dropping to the ground, a vital weapon against the creatures before you. The replay value sticks like glue, whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth time through, and that’s impressive even by the standards of games in this day and age.
More praise must go to Diablo for its dark and moody atmosphere, built out of every aspect, from the town leading up to the dungeon to the dungeons themselves. The village looks barren and feels half-empty, most of its residents claimed by the demon threat, with the remainder carrying their fair share of horrid tales as the price of their survival. The underhalls give way to forgotten catacombs and harsher, grittier environments as your journey into the depths takes you closer and closer to the Lord of Terror’s domain. Every NPC conversation, every side-quest, every lost tome of knowledge further adds to the brooding reality of Hell about to unleash its contents on the surface world and the fatalism of fighting it. And tying it all together is a masterful six-item soundtrack filled with iconic and timeless ambient music by Matt Uelmen, tracks that made him an industry legend. The Tristram theme alone is enough to awaken nostalgic memories in the hearts of Diablo players, and that’s just what you hear in town. Try the Dungeon theme after you’ve played a few floors and tell me that it doesn’t remind you of hideous little things chasing you relentlessly down those dark corridors. These masterwork pieces of expertly-crafted music, along with every bit of fluff and shine put into the graphics and the world-building, make this game stand out even today as one of the finest examples of Gothic storytelling I’ve ever seen.
Now, if all of this praise sounds familiar to you, it should: Diablo has been critically-received by pretty much anyone who’s picked it up since its initial release almost two decades ago. It’s had time to become a part of video game history, and with the sequels Diablo II and now Diablo III out for the masses, the legacy has continued feeding its fans with the desire to descend into the depths of Hell and slaughter one of the most powerful Daemon Lords in his own heart of darkness. But Diablo hasn’t simply affected the gaming world in its own series, it continues to spawn imitators among its inspired even to this day. Any game where you can slay monsters and loot equipment of varying tiers of power owes a lot to the power of Diablo: Baldur’s Gate, Dungeon Siege, Titan Quest, even such modern greats as the Borderlands series are tapping into the vein of power exposed by this 1996 cash cow (level). There’s no denying its influence, it can be seen in all of the addictive pit-fiend titles that continue to crawl out from the glowing crack in the earth this game left behind.
In summation, Diablo is an amazing roguelike with tight character design, responsive controls, an effective equipment system, extremely varied enemies, and limitless replay value. You owe it to yourself to play it at least once in your gaming life, and even if you’ve played it once or fifty times before, it’s time to play it again. Amazon has copies available ranging from $17 to $89 in value, and I recommend going for a used copy, since you’ll want it for the replay value, not the resell value. I’ve got my old copy still sitting around here, and I’ve played it on Windows 7 before, so if it runs, you should have no problems. And if it doesn’t, find a computer that will run it and play it there. Don’t let anything, not even Hell on Earth, stand between you and this timeless classic.
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