Blizzard Entertainment made a name for itself with the release of the Warcraft series of real-time strategy games. In 1996, Blizzard acquired Condor Games, which had at the time been working on the action RPG Diablo, with the first installment of the series seeing its release under the Blizzard banner. Diablo proves to be a great start to the series, perhaps the gold standard of action RPGs with hack-and-slash gameplay.
When starting a new game, the player can choose from three different classes: warrior, which specializes in melee combat; rogue, which specializes in range combat with bows; and sorcerer, which specializes in using magic. Diablo takes place in a hub town with a church corrupted by demons that contains sixteen levels of increasingly-difficult enemies, making the game a kind of roguelike. In town, the player can refill their character’s life (but not magic points, with the player needing to do so with magic potions), and buy equipment and consumable items. The player’s character has a belt to which they can put up to eight items, with the number keys 1 through 8 allowing the player easy access to them while in the labyrinth.
The player moves their character around the town or labyrinth with the left mouse button and attacks enemies by clicking on them repeatedly until they die. Players can assign one magic spell to the right mouse button, with casts naturally consuming MP. Their characters learn magic by obtaining spell books from the labyrinth and using them. Individual consumable scrolls also allow the player to use magic without the use of MP, with one particular useful spell being Town Portal, allowing the player to leave the labyrinth to perform various tasks in town and return to the dungeon where they left off. Using a book of a spell the character already has increases that spell’s level by one.
Killing enemies nets the player experience, occasional money, and maybe equipment or consumable items, with some equipment sometimes being unidentified, although old man Cain in town can identify them for free (a magic spell and its respective consumable scroll can also identify such items). Certain equipment requires the player’s character’s stats to be at a certain level, with the player getting the opportunity to increase them whenever their character levels; in some instances, the game caps certain stats depending on the character, for instance, with warriors not able to exceed a magic stat of fifty. If the character’s levels are high enough, weaker enemies won’t give experience.
Since enemies in the labyrinth do not respawn, the player might reach a point where they’re low on money and healing supplies, and therefore find themselves unable to proceed. Fortunately, Blizzard designed Diablo with situations such as this in mind, with the player able to start a New Game with their current character’s levels and equipment preserved, the labyrinth randomly regenerated with monsters respawned. This anti-frustration feature fortunately makes the game beatable regardless of class, with the game’s difficulty largely depending upon which class they select for their character. Regardless of class, Diablo’s battle system helps the game far more than hurts.
The interface also helps the game more than hurts, with the player likely needing not to refer to a guide to figure out where to go next, given the game’s relative linearity, although completing the game’s optional quests might require guidance. There’s also no place for the player to stash spare items when their inventory fills up, with occasional trips back to town to sell excess equipment picked up from enemies. However, each dungeon level has a useful automap that largely prevents the player from getting lost, and as with most Western RPGs, players can save their game anywhere and anytime. Ultimately, interaction is mostly solid, regardless of these minor flaws.
Diablo’s weakest link is perhaps its story, mainly with the player’s character having no backstory of any kind, although the quests and occasionally the townspeople provide decent background on the game’s setting. The game script itself is largely polished, with nothing in the way of major errors, and while the story isn’t a reason to play the game, it’s not a repellent, either.
The soundtrack is also not much to write home about, aside from providing a decent ambience, although the voice acting is mostly top-notch.
Alongside the gameplay, however, the graphics are one of Diablo’s high points, and while specific armor doesn’t provide a unique appearance for the player’s characters, more powerful gear does eventually change their overall appearance. The monsters are also well-designed, in spite of some occasional palette-swaps, and there are some decent CG cutscenes. Ultimately, a great-looking game.
Finally, even with restarts, Diablo is a fairly short game, taking around ten hours to complete (this player played as a warrior and had to restart once). Overall, Diablo is a fantastic start to the series, with solid gameplay and graphics largely rounding out the experience. It does have its flaws such as a somewhat-forgettable soundtrack and light story, but is perhaps the gold standard of hack-and-slash RPGs, action RPGs in general, even Western RPGs.
+Solid hack-and-slash gameplay and control.
+Nice voice acting and graphics.
+Plenty replay value.
-Music is largely forgettable.
-Story is fairly light.
The Bottom Line:
The gold standard of hack-and-slash action RPGs.
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Depends on Class
Playing Time: Less than 20 Hours