22 years on from its original PC release, Diablo still holds up, and it's quite clear that this demonic beauty was well ahead of its time. Sure, the graphics look a bit dated these days, and for some people it will be a case of 'better the Diablo III you know', but when you think about what it achieved, it's impossible not to recognise it as one gaming's defining moments.
The premise is refreshingly simple. Players were invited to choose one of three classes - Warrior, Rogue, or Sorcerer - and then battle their way through layers and layers of dungeon, all the way to hell for an epic showdown. For lack of a better word, playing this now is still devilishly enjoyable. So, what makes it so much fun, even after all these years? Well, you fight your way through a series of demon-filled levels, taking on randomly assigned quests with all but the final two fully scripted. That means you got a bunch of maps that are totally different every time you play them. Two words: replay value.
Your chosen character arrives in the village of Tristram to find a few survivors who help you along the way. The story is great: long ago, a group of Magi trapped Diablo in a soul stone and buried it deep in the ground, constructing a monastery on top to mark the spot. Later, after many years, the monastery's purpose was forgotten and the local king decided to rebuild it as a cathedral. Diablo escaped, possessed the king and filled the catacombs beneath with a menagerie of freaky creatures for you to battle. And, naturally, it's up to you to save the day.
Diablo was all about the atmosphere, as you fight your way from a damned Cathedral all the way to hell itself to take on the devil incarnate. There are classic boss fights and a fantastic range of critters to be killed, and looking back it's amazing how dark and brooding the game was for its time. Not just in terms of content, but literally with regards to the lighting. Even on a modern TV with the brightness pumped up to the max, it can be a little tricky to see some of the enemies, heightening the fear immeasurably.
Along with the oppressive atmosphere, the voice acting and stunning soundtrack really worked the enhance the experience, and it's clear that even back then Blizzard had a penchant for dramatic storytelling. If you've only played Diablo III, you'll know the deal. There was also a multiplayer feature where you could take on the devil with four friends (you could either work together or be aggressive towards your fellow players if you wanted to play the troll).
In '97 the Hellfire expansion dropped complete with a new Monk class, and the game also arrived on the PlayStation in 1998. On Sony's console there wasn't much difference in terms of graphics or gameplay, as the random dungeons and quests carried over, and the controller seemed a perfectly suitable replacement for the keyboard. We doubt we're alone in remembering the inclusion of local multiplayer with fondness, and we spent many an evening fighting with a friend on the same screen en-route to inferno.
Aside from all the obvious things we've mentioned, there was the item drop too. Unlike later entries in the series, it wasn't too tricky to stumble across some of the game's great weapons and armour. The game itself wasn't overly long with four areas to click through (the Cathedral, Catacombs, Caves and Hell itself) and we remember immediately wanting to play it through again, levelling up our character and finding even better tools of destruction.
It's a testament to the persistent and long-lasting appeal of the first game that we got a sort of remake as a special event in Diablo III last year, running the game through a filter to make it all pixelated just like it was back in the good old days. We also got restricted movement, all 16 levels, and the boss fights that originally made us cower in fear, and if that level of fanservice isn't evidence enough of people's fondness of the first game then we don't know what is.
So, summing up, it was moreish gameplay and exceptional replayability that made Diablo such an important game in the grand scheme of things. The procedurally generated maps and quests have become a staple of dungeon crawlers and its predecessors are rightly held as the benchmark for the whole genre. And now, with Diablo going mobile and other projects in the works, and Diablo III getting a new lease of life with the Eternal Collection landing on Nintendo Switch, it seems as though there remains plenty of appetite for Diablo's brand of demonic destruction.
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