Diablo almost defines its own genre. It bears the most similarity to role-playing games (RPG) insofar as one chooses along what path a particular character of a given class develops. Yet the gameplay mechanics are far more like some third-person variant on a first-person shooter game (FPS). The action is intense, and the pace can be pretty feverish. Diablo seems like something new under the sun. Admittedly, I came to the game rather late, years after it was released, but I simply had to find out what all the fuss was about. I now understand.
The graphics in Diablo are very good. The resolution is fixed (sadly) at 640 x 480, but this doesn't seem like such a big problem because the graphics are still quite good even by the standards of today. I would like to be able to bump it up to 800 x 600, but I'm sure Blizzard will address this in any sequels they release.
Despite the concern about resolution, the graphics work well. All of the creatures in the game are well animated. Clearly, the developers know how to craft the visual portion of a 2D game. I can't wait to see what they do in future 3D titles. The cinematics are very good, and downright shocking in the case of the endgame sequence, as anyone who has finished the game will likely agree.
I love how the character's look changes depending upon the items he has equipped. This is something too many RPG games get wrong, but Diablo does it as well as any game I've seen. The artwork for the environments is also quite beautifully done, credibly rendering all sorts of interesting, and progressively more evil-looking, terrain on the way into Hell.
The audio in Diablo is just too good to pass up. The music is wonderful, though some of it becomes a bit annoying after looping and looping and looping. The sound effects are simply perfect. The "tinkling" sound of gold dropping to the ground is dead-on, as are all of the other sounds in the game. Truly, the game developers have outdone themselves with the audio for this game. It sounds even better than it looks.
Diablo is simplicity itself in terms of its interface. The left-click-to-do-everything metaphor seems completely intuitive after only a few moments. I find it odd that other games haven't previously taken this now seemingly obvious route. The inventory management interface is a bit tedious insofar as it grows tiresome to shift things around—an auto-arrange button or something like that would really help—but it works well enough. I do wish it were possible to map more hotkeys to different spells, but I guess the number provided really isn't so limiting.
What could be simpler? Diablo, like the FPS games it resembles in terms of pacing, has a very simple set of mechanics: kill anything that moves, pick up anything that doesn't and stay alive. Seriously, there isn't a lot of depth here. But Diablo has it where it counts. The ability to trigger different actions based on the different mouse buttons is very handy. It's a great feature of the game, as it allows one to switch seamlessly from melee combat to casting spells in an instant.
To their credit, Blizzard has also solved a long-standing problem with RPG games in a novel way. The town portal spell is one of the neatest innovations I've seen, and I hope it gets picked up in the RPG genre. One of the flaws with standard RPG games has been the all-too-frequent need to head back to town to dump inventory, and this generally takes far to long. Kudos to Blizzard for shaving this time down considerably.
Also the use of random terrain, quest and item generation for each game is a refreshing change. Amusingly enough, the very first dungeon-crawler sort of game I ever played was Tunnels of Doom (ToD), which was a cartridge for my old TI-99/4A computer. I still have the game and the computer. And in all honesty, I even fire it up every few years to play another round of ToD. What was revolutionary about that game (and others at the time) was that it wasn't fixed; all of the dungeons were randomized. It's funny that such a thing wouldn't come to the PC in a highly popular title until years later. The random generation really sets Diablo apart in terms of replay value.
My only complaint against the game mechanics involves the lack of a running mechanism. This is especially irritating in town, which seems to be designed to ensure that you've always got to run from one end to the other to get things done. Still, the ability to run would also be of great use in getting back into the part of some level that you've overlooked.
The story is a good one. There's something about the use of serious good and evil in a story that makes it more compelling. In Diablo, the hero isn't just fighting your run-of-the-mill bad guy; he's fighting against evil itself in the form of the very minions of Hell. That's not a bad cause at all, I figure, and it makes for a compelling plot. The final twist also separates Diablo from other games insofar as I never saw that coming. I can usually tell you what the end of a game is going to look like after the first few minutes of play, but Diablo really threw me for a loop. It sure makes me look forward to the sequel!
As already mentioned, the random generation makes for a lot of content to Diablo. I played through the game completely almost four times before I think I had seen most of the quests and many of the items. With a character returning from a previous adventure, it can be kind of fun to make a quick, few hour run through an entire game. It isn't much of a challenge, of course, but it's fun. I actually find it hard to believe that some people keep at it until their characters hit level 50 and higher. That's dedication.
Better still, all of the content is very well done. All of the monsters are fun to fight, the different levels are very enjoyable to explore, the plethora of types of items and their uses is wonderful, etc. I really understand now why Diablo is such a hit. It's a simple and fast-paced game that is incredibly engrossing. For some, I would say it's almost an addiction, and I can surely understand that.
This is the one area in which Diablo genuinely stumbles. The game is a blast, and it's even more fun when you're playing with other people—and surprisingly so. The game doesn't use a client-server model for its networking, however, and as such, the peer-to-peer model allows far too much cheating. Frankly, it's hard to find a game wherein at least one player isn't cheating.
Worse, as if the cheating wasn't bad enough, high-level player killers (PKs) seem to be everywhere. I don't know why some people take delight in the misery of others, but they clearly do. There is little more frustrating than simply trying to find a good game to play with others, only to be killed again and again by super-high-level PKs.
Of course, Diablo only has such problems because it succeeds so well. Perhaps with the sequel Blizzard will fix both the cheating and PK-ing issues. If so, then even as great as Diablo is, the sequel will be positively incredible. As it is, if you can find a good game (i.e., with people you trust), multi-player Diablo is not something to be missed.
Stop reading and go buy the game! Seriously, this is a game I can recommend to everyone. Diablo delivers in spades on virtually every point. It's easily the best game in its genre, though that might be kind of a trivial statement insofar as it might be the only game in its genre. Nevertheless, Diablo is a blast and well worth whatever it costs to acquire at your local gaming store.
Reviewed by Phileosophos