I have put more hours into the Diablo franchise than any other video game out there. Since the first Diablo launched in 1997, I have been hacking and slashing my way through the various titles in one form or another. Hundreds of hours and two decades later, I figured it was time to take a look back on my experience.
Much like I detailed in StarCraft: Brood War – A Love Letter, I was never some master Diablo player. Sure, I played a lot, but that doesn’t mean that I was optimizing my character builds and trading SOJs on Battle.net. For me, Diablo was purely an entertaining and addicting way to spend a few hours of free time through my life.
This is my story.
My first experience with Diablo was similar to my first experience with many games as a child. It was a day, like any other, that I was at my friend’s house and he had a new game to show me. This was a common event, as my friend was well versed in the gaming trends of the day. Or at least as well versed as an 11 year old can be before the internet.
We sat in my friend’s room and he put a disc into his Playstation.1 The game was called Diablo and it wasn’t long until the echoing strums and atmospheric sounds of the Tristram theme sucked me in. I knew this game was going to be special.
Even as a kid, I appreciated how well Diablo nailed its music. The soundtrack is downright terrifying. As mentioned, the atmospheric nature pulled me right into the game in a way no other has. Whether you are simply walking around Tristram or delving deep into the Catacombs, the music enhances the horrifying experience. It surrounds you and fills you with a sense of dread. This isn’t fun time. This is fight your way out or die time.
My friend and I started a new game of Diablo. This meant I got to pick a class: Warrior, Rogue, or Sorcerer. While the Rogue seemed cool, I didn’t want to be a girl the first time I played. The Sorcerer sounded fun, but much too complicated for me. Thus, I settled on a Warrior. Melee combat seemed simple enough for a new player like me to pick up.
Our characters began in the dreary town of Tristram filled with eccentric NPCs like Griswold and Deckard Cain. And if you decided to explore the land, you would find people like Adria and Wirt, the obnoxious peg-legged boy. 50 gold just to look at what he was selling? Come on!
Tristram was the perfect mix of eerie and cozy. It was a town where everyone and everything had a slight edge. An evil had gripped the area, but somehow Tristram was still a sanctuary. Whenever I think about my character walking around the town or hear the Tristram theme, I am transported back to my friend’s basement 20 years ago. It’s such a fantastic and memorable setting.
Of course, we hadn’t even started the actual “game” yet. Walking to the north of town (an unnecessarily long walk), we found the Tristram Cathedral, in which all the evil emanated. As we delved deeper and deeper into the dungeon below, we fought various monsters in an ever changing landscape.2
And then, as most people remember, the first truly terrifying experience of the game occurred.
“Ah, fresh meat!”
The voice was shocking, but not as much as the massive beast that ran towards us. The Butcher. “Run!” we shouted, trying to escape the beast. While this was only level 2 of the dungeon, our young, under-geared characters didn’t stand a chance.
Diablo hooked me from that time forward. I played with my friend whenever I could, leveling up my character and reaching deeper levels of the dungeon. Eventually, I was able to convince my parents to buy me a copy on PC. No longer having to rely on my friend’s PlayStation, I began to sink some real time into the game.
It wasn’t long until I managed to vanquish Diablo himself with a Rogue (turns out this girl was pretty good). The ending cinematic rolled and I watched our hero smash the soul stone into his own forehead, a horrifyingly fitting ending. Except that just unlocked the next difficulty…
Diablo II (2000)
Less than 3 years after I was sucked into Diablo, Blizzard released Diablo II. For anyone that follows Blizzard’s publishing schedule, you know how crazy quick that turnaround time is. I couldn’t have been more excited.
Except this was a day and age where you still had to check the back of the game box to make sure you could run it on your PC. To my dismay, I couldn’t. Furthermore, I was still a kid without money, so there really wasn’t much I could do. There’s a big difference between convincing your parents to buy a game and buying a brand new computer.
Much like the original, my first chance to play Diablo II came at a friend’s house. During one of our may sleepovers, he nonchalantly opened up the game on his computer and began playing, as if this was not going to be a life changing experience for me.
“Is that Diablo II!?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah, I got it last week,” he said.
Yeah so we pretty much traded off playing the game the rest of the night.
Diablo II was everything I wanted and more. It had more characters, more monsters, more settings (4 whole acts!). Whereas Diablo was a tightly focused experienced, Diablo II opened up an entire world. I wanted to dive in on my own so much that I would go home and replay Diablo, just to get a taste.
Not too long after, my family uprooted and moved across the country. Left behind were my friends and our time to play games together. It was tough, to say the least.
My desire for Diablo II never left and it wasn’t long until our family upgraded our PC. There was hope. Then one day in the store, I saw it: The Diablo Battle Chest. It had Diablo II, the Lord of Destruction Expansion, and a strategy guide.3 It even included a copy of the original Diablo that I already owned. It was too good a deal to pass up, so I told my parents.
Having relatively few friends in my new home town, I spent a lot of nights after school in the world of Diablo II. I naturally gravitated back to the melee based characters like the Barbarian, Paladin, and Assassin. But classes like the Necromancer and Druid had entirely new play styles from the original game, allowing you to summon hordes of creatures to fight by your side.
Diablo II also featured an entire skill tree in which to distribute points and upgrade your class, making every character a new and unique experience. This leveling system was addicting and made me want to start more and more characters just to see what different abilities I could unlock. Of course, they weren’t all great and sometimes you would regret spending some of your ability points on skills you never used.
When I was in high school, the internet was already prevalent, but high-speed internet was still a luxury. For most people, internet still came through a modem hooked up to the phone line. This meant if you wanted to use the internet, you had to get permission from your parents because no one would be able to call the house while you were online.
This restricted internet use often led to late night gaming sessions with my friends two time zones away. Coordination of these play times had to be done over AIM.4 It was challenging, but when we were able to get a few friends together it was like magic (well, magic with some lag).
With my friends, we were able to build diverse groups of classes to take on the demons together. The Barbarian fighting side by side with re-summoned skeletons. The Paladin healing the spell-wielding Sorceress. All held together by our frantic attempts to type over the in-game chat system while battling the monsters.
I spent many more hours in the world of Diablo II than I ever did the original game. Diablo had merely been a gateway drug and Diablo II was my crack. I was a heavy user during my high school years and even came back time to time during college. The beauty of the game was how replayable it was. Breaks between sessions happened, but it wasn’t long until you felt the itch again.
In the years that followed, I grew up. I finished college, had some relationships, went to grad school. Through all that time I played the game on and off, always wondering if a sequel would ever be produced. In an unexpected turn of events, I moved back to my home town in late 2011, 11 years after I had left. Blizzard must have known.
Diablo 3 (2012)
“We’re going to play the hell out of that game.” That was the general feeling among my friends and I regarding the impending release of Diablo 3. We had waited over a decade for a new installment in the series and it was right around the corner. Soon we would be slaying demons together, just like old times.
The world Diablo 3 was released in was quite different from that of the previous games. When Diablo and Diablo II arrived on PCs, the internet and online gaming culture was just beginning to be prevalent. By the time Diablo 3 launched, online reviews and instant criticism was the norm.
In what was supposed to be the glorious, culminating moment after a decade of waiting, Diablo 3 launched facing major negative press. The game released with controversial elements, such as the real-money auction house5 and the lack of a promised player-vs-player mode. There was also criticism of the gameplay itself, including poor item drops and lack of any real end game content.
That didn’t stop me from playing the game on launch day anyways. As a huge Diablo fan, I could see the faults. It did seem incredibly challenging to find any quality items related to your class. The story was a bit childish. There really wasn’t anything to do after you reached level 60. I could go on and on.
But I still loved the game. The graphics were amazing and the new classes were exciting. One of the game’s biggest strengths is just how visceral the battling feels. I still remember the first time my Barbarian was hacking away at some early level zombies and their limp bodies flew at the camera. Simply put, it was fucking awesome.
Diablo 3 was just as addicting as its previous incarnations. Even being adults, a few of us were able to play together online from time to time, just like the old days. It was wonderful exploring an entirely new world together again. But it wasn’t just a nostalgia trip, because Diablo 3 very much pushed the franchise forward, controversies and all.
For a good amount of time, I went all in on Diablo 3. Unlike previous games, I began to optimize builds for speed farming of new items. Before it was nerfed, I was rocking a mighty fine Whirlwind Barbarian that was incredibly fun to play. I even delved a bit into the world of Hardcore play, finding the challenge of not dying even more alluring.
To the credit of Blizzard and the game designers, they listened to feedback from fans and continued to make improvements to the game. They dropped the auction house and they added more and more end game content. The item system was overhauled. Nearly every major component of the game had a facelift for the better. The Diablo 3 of today is a vast improvement to the one that was released in 2012.
Not only did I log hundreds of hours playing Diablo 3 on PC, but also the PS4 edition. I loved the game so much and it ported remarkably well to console. It played like one massive arcade game from my youth, hacking and slashing through each level of demons. And the older me appreciated the ability to kick back on the couch to play my favorite game. Beats being hunched over in a chair.
It’s fitting that my experience with Diablo 3 finished where it started, playing the game on a PlayStation console 4 generations later. And while I’ve only boot up the game a couple times in the past couple years, I’m still a diehard fan of the franchise. Rumors are already swirling of another installment in the series. I’m just as excited now as I was 20 years ago.