Diablo review

Written by Julian Schoffel on . Posted in Action

Diablo game image

I’ve got a full Diablo III review in the pipeline and of course I’ve also recently posted my Diablo III first impressions. However all of this talk about the most recent game in the series has got me feeling a little sentimental, so I thought I’d post a retro review of the original Diablo game circa January 1997.

When I first heard about the original Diablo back in the mid 1990s I was intrigued for a number of reasons. After the success of their real-time strategy games Warcraft I and II, Blizzard had carved out a dominant position in the genre of real-time strategy. So why take a risk venturing into the unfamiliar territory of role-playing? And would that risk pay off? Of course with the benefit of hindsight I can confidently assert: “Bloody Oath it would!”

Back in 1997 I interviewed Bill Roper (the producer of Diablo) and this is what he had to say about Blizzard Entertainment’s foray into RPGs:
When we did Warcraft and followed it with Warcraft II one of our initial concerns was that we would be viewed as the real-time strategy company. We really wanted people to realise that we were a well rounded gaming company. So when the opportunity arose to produce more than one title at a time we really wanted to go some place that we weren’t known for, and certainly that we could do a good job in, so we decided to go into role-playing. The driving force behind the making of Diablo was that it was really designed to be a hybrid of role-playing and real-time action.

The Game Proper

Like its successors Diablo was viewed from an angled, top-down perspective. When I originally played the game one of the first things which struck me was how similar it was to Origin System’s Crusader series. Like the Crusader games, Diablo placed a lot of emphasis on action but it also had some role-playing elements thrown in for good measure.

At the start of the game players had the option of choosing from one of three character classes: “Sorcerer,” “Warrior” or “Rogue.” All of these classes had inherent strengths and weaknesses with the Warrior adept at close quarters combat, the Sorcerer specialising in the arcane arts and the Rogue excelling in ranged combat. As the game progressed your character gained experience and levelled up earning you new skill points which could then be allocated to stats like magic, vitality, strength or dexterity. Aside from the simplistic character development system, Diablo lacked much in the way of traditional role-playing elements like meaningful character interaction or optional side-quests. Many players also found the provision for only one savegame a little irritating.

Diablo’s greatest strength (and some would argue its greatest weakness) was its simplistic, accessible gameplay. Much of the player’s time was spent clearing out dungeons chock full of an interesting variety of beasties. Combat was in real-time and made some fairly heavy demands in the mouse-clicking department. Apart from the central plot-line (finding and killing the demonic "Diablo") the game did include a few randomly generated side-quests. These could entail something like purifying the town’s water supply or finding a certain artefact in the dungeons, caves or catacombs. Unfortunately these quests were fairly shallow and didn’t really add much in the way of depth to the plot.

Without a doubt the highlight of Diablo was its lavishly detailed graphics engine (by 1997 standards of course). Monsters were beautifully animated and came in all shapes and sizes. The lighting effects were also fantastic with spells illuminating the darkness around the player in a realistic way. The game also pioneered a fairly unique ‘transparent’ architecture effect which stopped items and artefacts being blocked from view when the player was close to a wall.

One of the most heavily hyped facets of Diablo was the random dungeon generator. This meant that whenever you began a new game the layout of the dungeons would change and the side-quests on offer could also vary. However truth be told the actual game itself didn’t change much: you would still find the "Butcher" on level 2, the "Bone King" on level 3, "Diablo" on the last level of Hell and so on. In terms of sheer replay value it didn’t really add that much to the game.

Diablo Multiplayer – “Gentleman lend me your ears…”

Diablo was an absorbing title in single-player mode, but it didn’t really come into its own until the multiplayer options were explored. With Diablo Blizzard included provisions for modem, network and Internet play. If you had a PC running Windows 95 and an Internet account, you could log onto Blizzard’s Battle.net servers to enjoy either a co-operative or deathmatch game with up to three other human players.

In my 1997 interview Bill Roper had this to say about Battle.net:
We designed Diablo pretty much from the ground up with multiplayer in mind for a couple of reasons; one the success of Warcraft II, the multiplayer component really helped drive that title and also we wanted to create a game which people could play at home by themselves and give it that added something that lets them go on and link up over here and play on Battle.net. We didn’t build Battle.net with the intention of charging for it, that was never in our gameplan. It was simply designed as an extra component for people who bought our game.

Back in 1997 there was nothing quite like stalking (or more often than not – being stalked) through a Diablo dungeon with a human controlled player at your side. I remember being extremely impressed at the lack of lag and latency when playing a game of such a high audio-visual calibre over the Internet. The only thing you had to watch out for were the unscrupulous players who would sneak up behind you and kill you in order to steal your belongings (along with looting one of your character’s severed ears as a souvenir).

Players also had to be wary of the multitude of ‘trading’ sessions which took place in town. If someone asked to see one of your precious weapons or artefacts (in order for them to do this you had to place the object on the ground) you had to be damned sure you could trust them! People had a nasty habit of picking up your valuable items on the pretence of "just taking a quick look" and then they would simply log out of the game…

Review Summary
Score: 89%
Info: All in all Diablo was a first rate action game with some RPG-lite elements. As a multiplayer game it was really unparalleled – there was nothing else quite like it back in 1997. In short, I loved it!
The Good: Sumptuous (for 1997) visuals. Accessible, fun and highly addictive. Great multiplayer.
The Bad: Shallow RPG elements. Infamous Diablo player killers ran amok in multiplayer games. Only one savegame slot.

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Julian Schoffel

From 1994 to 2007 Julian was a contributing editor for Australian PC User Magazine. He has also written for numerous publications which include Australian Personal Computer, PC PowerPlay, Hyper, Ralph, Megazone, The Disc, PlayNow, TechLife, The Sydney Morning Herald and IGN.

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