Bleary eyed, I slammed my mouse down and growled out loud. I could barely see my watch in the dark, lit only by the glare from my monitor. 2:30 AM. How could I possibly have played this long, and not known it? I sighed and stared at the screen. There, in blood red hue, lay the corpse of my warrior, piles of gold everywhere, surrounded by acid spitting demons. I crept into the other room to find the telephone, and dialed a close friend. Luckily, I had started this session as a modem game, just in case. "John? Are you awake? I need your help, man. I died to those lame acid spitters on Hell difficulty again, and there is no way I can get to my corpse. Dial in and help me? I can't just restart, man, I just got that King's Longsword of Haste, I'll never find one again..." So began another co-op rescue mission in Diablo, Blizzard's masterpiece for the PC.
If you took a look through the games in the database here at Co-Optimus, you will see an overwhelming majority of titles for consoles. In modern times, co-op games are pretty scarce to play on home computers. This wasn't always the case, though. All the way from the dawn of video games general, computer games have played a huge role. In the 90s, during the days of the Super Nintendo and the Playstation, the PC as a gaming platform was at the pinnacle of its popularity. It was on a PC that many of us played our first co-operative games with someone who wasn't sitting next to us on the couch. It may seem odd today, but at one time, playing against an opponent over the internet was a mind-blowing novelty. For me, Diablo was the first real experience I had with co-op in a computer game. It was a welcome change from Doom deathmatches and cutthroat sessions of Command & Conquer.
Diablo is easily the most important game in the establishment of the action RPG genre. Traditional RPG elements like character stats, spells, equipment, and experience points were featured alongside fast, real-time, twitch based action gameplay. The two great things worked great together, just like chocolate and peanut butter in those old commercials. The game was incredible, and became a huge hit among my circle of gaming friends. The multiplayer options were plentiful, you could play over a network, by modem (how quaint!), direct cable connection, or over Battle.net, Blizzard's own online service. There was nothing like Battle.net at the time; it was totally integrated into the game itself, and it was free! This alone would have made Diablo a landmark of gaming history.
But the game's presentation and story were just as impressive, if not more so. The dark, horrific fantasy setting allowed for gorgeous visuals. Gloomy catacombs, the dungeon beneath a cathedral, and even the pits of Hell itself were populated by all kinds of horrible minions. They weren't your standard orcs and goblins, however; these were demons, the servants of Diablo himself. I fired up my old copy of Diablo this week, and I was struck at how the graphics were still pleasing to the eye, even though they are more than a decade old. The music and sound effects blended in perfectly, crafting a truly immersive experience. The voice acting and cutscenes were head and shoulders above other games of the time, which only made Diablo more memorable. The game was dark and gloomy, seeming so much more, for lack of a better term, mature, than most RPGs. Characters died grisly deaths, were possessed by demons, and blood was everywhere. The final cutscene is hands down the greatest of any game I have ever played. I still get chills thinking about it today.
The gameplay was so simple, and has been mimicked so many times, I won't go into it too much here. How could something as basic as click to move and attack, right click to cast spells, be so fun? Seeing items drop out of fallen opponents was thrilling, especially when it was magical. Getting surrounded by enemies and watching your health orb empty out was guaranteed to get the heart racing. And if you died? The scream of your character, seeing your finest magic items and equipment bursting everywhere in a spray of loot... the horror, the horror!
Teaming up was natural for the game, especially when it came to the mini-bosses. Who could forget the Butcher and his enormous cleaver? What about working together to slay the Archbishop Lazarus and his succubus minions? While the game was fun to play alone, it was when you added in a friend or three that the game really took off. After all, what good are spells like Heal Other and Resurrection when you are flying solo? There's nothing quite like sending in the warrior to lead a group of bad guys around, and laying a maze of Fire Walls and blasts of Chain Lightning everywhere until a room is totally clear. As mentioned earlier, bringing a buddy along was often the only way to get your gear back after you died. Working together to reclaim corpses was a highlight, oddly enough; the frustration at dying led to relief when your gear was recovered, and if the experience was shared with someone else, it was so much better. (I will admit to collecting the ears of my friends, from time to time, though. It was sneaky, but could be done!)
Diablo is easily one of my top 5 games of all time. Considering all the other games that copied it, I don't think anyone could argue that it wasn't an important game. Elements of Diablo are found in more modern games like Sacred 2, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and Titan Quest. Of course, Diablo has a highly successful sequel, as well, which was equally enjoyable. They say you never forget your first time, though, and because of that, the first Diablo has a special place in my heart. That last sentence sounds like something from a chick flick, but it's true. Diablo is still supported on Battle.net even today, years after its release. I wonder how many other games from 1997 have held people's interest so long? Playing Diablo again this week brought back many, many memories as a gamer. I may just pick up a second copy and introduce my oldest son to Diablo sometime soon. I think his ear would look great in my inventory, next to that Scroll of Identify...