Back when I was just 13, I went to my friend Jesse’s house for a sleepover. That was the day I was first introduced to Diablo, and there was no turning back. At the time, I had always been a Nintendo kid. I would play some PC games like the original Warcraft, but my video game diet consisted mainly of sidescrollers, JRPGs, and fighter games. Western RPGs just weren’t my thing. I had watched my friend’s older brother play the Might & Magic games, but it just didn’t appeal to my young brain.
Diablo was different, and I bugged my mom as soon as I got home. When I finally did get my hands on the game, I was transported into the gloomy town of Tristram. I distinctly remember loading up the game and noticing how dark the game was. When I say dark, I’m not just talking about the gory backgrounds or tragic subject matter, but I also mean that the game was literally dark. I couldn’t play the game with the blinds open as the glare would result in me clicking madly at my own reflection. This was a marked difference from the bright and colourful Nintendo games that I cut my gaming teeth on.
The metaphorical and literal darkness of the game turned out to be the most important aspect of the first Diablo. Videogames should always make you feel powerful, which Diablo did, but the game also made the world seem mysterious and dangerous. From the first dissonant chord strums, the game made you feel like something wasn’t quite right, even in the safe haven of Tristram.
The sense of exploration in Diablo was also quite unique to what I’d played before. Instead of travelling to distant lands, all of the exploration was done in a single dungeon. This meant that Tristram was the one and only safe zone in the entire game. What resulted was an incredibly rich sense of lore. As you dug deeper through catacombs and caves, you got the feeling of uncovering secrets and legends long-buried. With randomized dungeons, you would get this sense of exploration every time you created a new game. This is an important feature, as it removed any sense of familiarity with the dungeons, which prevented the player from ever feeling at ease in the dungeons.
The gameplay of Diablo was also quite good, but has since been perfected over the years. The Diablo franchise defined the Action RPG genre, and spawned clones for decades to come. The overhead view could have led to a lot of meta-gaming, but Diablo had a great fog of war system that only let the player see enemies within a certain range. This of course added to the mystery and exploration of the game, as you never quite knew what was lurking around the corner. Also worth noting, is that the gameplay is very slow by today’s standards, but even this was done to great effect. With a slow moving character and fast enemies, the game was paced to make you feel the weight of the game and give a sense of vulnerability. As you crept through the dungeons, you would plow through hapless goblins and skeletons while trying to not get surrounded.
As for the overall experience, Diablo was simply a satisfying game. It may seem minor, but the sounds and death throes of the monsters gave a great little rush every time you killed one. Advancement was paced perfectly, and you really felt a thrill when you boosted up your stats after leveling. Discovering a new dungeon area broke the monotony, and brought on new and harder monsters. Finding a new weapon often made you feel like you won a little lottery, and would be a focus point for the future installments of the Diablo franchise. All of these little touches are important cornerstones for the Diablo game. These feelings all tie in with progression, and are the reason why the game was so addictive.
In the end, Diablo was absolutely one of the best games of that era. It had sowed the seeds of western RPGs into my head, and has built a dark and scary world that I remember fondly. As a rogue, I spent countless hours sending arrows into waves of succubus, skeletons, and cave monsters and it had me itching for the sequel.