Wednesday, May 11

Diablo Review

I played on: PS1
I paid: £75
Available on: PS1, PC
Notes: N/A

Diablo is one of those legendary games that blew up into an entire subgenre after its release. Mixing hack and slash action with the levelling and inventory management of an RPG seems obvious now but in 1997 it was groundbreaking. 

Diablo did more than just merge two genres. The other revolutionary features that made Diablo stand out were its procedural generation and loot systems. Diablo is at its core, a dungeon crawler. You start in a hub world, the town of Tristram, and have to fight your way through 16 levels of ever more dangerous underground caverns. 

This is where the procedural generation comes into play. To keep the game feeling fresh and give players a reason to replay it again and again each level is randomly generated. Certain aspects have to remain the same to make sure the player can complete the game. For example, each level will always have 2 sets of stairs, 1 leading back up to where you came from and 1 leading down to the next level. The location of these stairs changes each playthrough though. Bosses will also always appear on certain levels to prevent the player from being ambushed by opponents far more powerful than themselves. When it all comes together this is easily one of the best examples of procedural generation.

Of course, the depths of Tristram contain more than just random layouts and bosses. Each floor is flooded with the unholy undead and the hellspawn that awoke them from their graves. It’s up to you to defeat each of these monstrosities. You do this by clicking on them to attack or if you’re playing the PS1 version you press the X button. This is the weakest part of Diablo, the combat. There is very little to it besides repeatedly clicking away. The most involved thing you’ll do is get the attention of an enemy and lead them away to a quiet area to click them to death. There is a magic system that allows you to use either offensive or defensive spells. This is limited by a mana system, your mana can only be refilled via mana potions so relying on magic is very difficult during single player. Besides this kiting and magic, who wins any conflict is down to what equipment you’ve got equipped and a few hidden dice rolls. Sure the dice rolls are influenced by your stats and the stats of your gear but anyone who’s played a game of D&D knows that it only takes a single critical fail to ruin your day. What this means is you can be doing well on a floor before running out of luck, missing all your attacks and dying. 

This is where the game can start to feel dated and unfair. Diablo has no autosaving or checkpoints. If you die it's back to your last save. On PC this can be mitigated with frequent saving but on the PS1 saving takes just under a minute each time. Loading takes only slightly less time than that as well. What this means is that you will be stuck watching either the loading screen or the saving game message for a decent percentage of your time playing on the PS1. This isn’t an easy game either so be ready to replay large parts of it when you die. Level 16 especially took me a long time to finish. Despite this, going from a weak level 1 character to a badass level 20+ character feels great. I remember when even basic demons during the early floors were able to kill my current warrior character. Now that same warrior can take on waves of them at a time. It’s that level of constant progress that keeps Diablo feeling enjoyable. Right up until the end you feel like your getting more powerful.

The last great thing that I love about Diablo is its rich and deep lore. Most long-running series tend to have the first game light on this but not Diablo. There is far more backstory here than there is an actual story. You can learn about the fascinating world of Sanctuary, the endless war between the High Heavens and the Burning Hells, the hierarchy of the prime and lesser evils of Hell and so on. But when you think about what happens during the game itself things start to feel lacking. All that happens is you arrive in Tristram, descend to its deepest depth and defeat the prime evil Diablo and trap him within your own body. There is a lot of content here but the vast majority of it is relegated to the “history” option on the main menu of the PS1 version.

Diablo is a great game but one that has started to show its age a bit since its release in 1997. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t play it today because I’d say there is plenty of fun to be had. If you enjoy the newer games in the series and are curious then this is certainly worth at least a single playthrough. Just be aware of its lack of checkpoints and autosaving and don’t expect a story as involved as Diablo 2 onwards.

Recommendation Rating: 7 out of 10

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