Diablo 1 Retrospective – Or How I Learned To Love The Loot

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I’ll be straight up and say I’ve never played a Diablo game. I’m one of those millennials that worships Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter as my gaming heritage. See, I only got a beefy computer when I finished high school, so for the longest time I was never ever able to delve into the world of PC gaming.

Plenty of my friends recommended I play the Diablo series, insisting that they were some of the most influential games of their time, but I never got around to them. They looked dated and monotonous, moving the same environments to get gear that was slightly better all for what? Watching numbers go up? Honestly, it just didn’t boil my kettle.

I am currently sitting at my desk, having received a review copy of the very first Diablo this morning, and I’m stuck in a conundrum. A part of my brain is yelling at me (which is typical, but usually less specific) that I couldn’t possibly do a write up of this game so soon. You’ve played it for a day, how could you have grasped all it has to offer? Yet the other part of me counters that idea with: I literally spent all day playing this game and I cannot stop. There is massive thunderstorm erupting outside and I’m loathe to defensively unplug my PC because all I want to do is play Diablo. And honestly, I find that kind of shocking. This game I’ve shunned for years, claiming that I would never have found any enjoyment in it has thoroughly enraptured me in a way I can barely fathom.

Everyone knows what Diablo is about. Traverse a series of dungeons, kill monsters, get loot, grow stronger. At this point it’s a formula that’s been done over and over again, usually being improved upon and expanded in different ways. And yet the first iteration is the one that stands out to me. There’s something so…clean about it. There’re no bells and whistles, no pages and lists of statistics to keep track of; it’s basic and simple in the most understandable and accessible way possible.

It’s the equivalent of your grandfather reading you a story you’ve heard a million times before: You know the narrative beat for beat, but the way your grampy tells it, the voices, the small asides for details, just makes for a tale unlike any other. There’s a reason “Diablo-clone” exists as a means to define a genre of games, and as that genre has grown and expanded further and further out from that core concept, returning to its roots gives me a sense of nostalgia for something I’ve never missed. Which is super weird but also incredible.

The feeling of venturing ever further below ground, just trying to push one more encounter, find that one rare piece of loot is an addictive experience drawn together by a grim-dark world that is enrapturing to its core. Isolation is a recurring theme in Diablo, with your character descending further and further into the ground to eventually encounter Diablo himself. You are on a quest by yourself, receiving minimal help from others. The town of Tristram is sparse and spread out, clearly separate from grander civilisations. Characters talk to you, but they never leave their homes or interact with each other. Everything is isolated and divided, you being the only factor that can bridge the gaps of this devastated village and bring some semblance of peace, but even this task is yours alone. It’s a world built around a theme, committing to every flavour and making for an atmosphere that is dark for a reason, rather than just existing for sake of being edgy.

Perhaps the other reason I’m so drawn to Diablo is how unequivocally 90’s it is. Everything from the isometric level design to the terrible voice acting, Diablo embraces the conventions of its time. As good as the remake of Resident Evil 2 is, I always felt kinda sad that we would never get those terrible camera angles or horrific performances again. Blizzard could have remastered this in a way that would have made for a more modern experience, yet they chose to keep it in its original form and I think there’s something special about. Some element of history being preserved. Although I will say I’m glad updates have to been made to have it run on modern set-ups, I’m even more glad I can experience this classic how it was over two decades ago.

And please, don’t mistake my gushing for turning a blind eye, the game does have issues. The movement speed feels very slow and having villages spread around the hub world makes for excessively long and tedious tracks to purchase simple items. Certain balancing issues in later game levels make for an experience that feels almost impossible for certain classes and the game’s instance on purchasing a single item at a time is tedious. Yet, as much as these features annoy me, I’m glad they’re in there. That’s the Diablo experience, right?

Look, all I’m saying is I have zero nostalgia for this series. Playing this game, I was half expecting to hate how dated the graphics were or how poorly the gameplay has aged. But as I’m grinding out levels for loot, slowly moving from shop to shop, I’m not even thinking about those concerns. I’m enjoying discovering a classic game that has had a profound and important impact on the video game industry and I’m loving every second of it.

I think this re-release of Diablo raises an interesting discussion on…historical preservation, for want of a better phrase. In an age where remakes and reboots run around boundless, sometimes it’s good to look back on where it all started and appreciate both what it did and what it is. Updated graphics and tweaks are nice, but I feel like you lose some of that core experience, the feeling of what a player might have felt back then. And that’s something Diablo achieves perfectly. You can grab it right now on GOG for $10.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: March 12, 2019

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