Greatest Game of 1996: Diablo
Let me paint you a picture: A young, able-bodied warrior strolls into a small, cozy village with charming music simmering through the air. The warm villagers pour from their homes to introduce themselves in humorous fashion, all the while providing quality wares at delectable prices. Such is Tristram, the memorable setting of an epic Game of the Year: Diablo.
Tristram is my favorite city. Not in the category of video games, but in the category of anything that is conceivable. I’ve been to Chicago, New York City, Munich, Rome, Buenos Aires, Little Rock, Tristram has them all beat.
And I’ll never forget that one rainy night in Tristram when I stumbled upon a mysterious dying man, begging me to avenge his death at the hands of a sadistic creature named The Butcher:
Since I’m writing this article, I supported Diablo as the best game of the year in 1996. From my previous Game of the Year articles, you’ll notice that I continually harp on a few common themes: originality and replayability/length. For those of you who are into the “Hack and Slash” genre, Diablo fulfills these categories like my dog fills the lawn with turds.
Nuts and Bolts:
Diablo is a dungeon crawl hack-n-slash game with a third person isometric camera angle. I always had trouble with navigation in previous isometric third person camera angles (Marble Madness) but the difference here is that you would simply click your final destination and the character would perform the navigation for you. This resulted in less time navigating the dungeon and more time thinking about your next move. Click on an enemy and your character waltzes over and begins hacking. Pure hack-n-slash.
A monumental feature of Diablo was the randomly generated dungeon map. Each play-through of Single-player and Multi-player was literally unique. The quests and characters were still the same, but the layout of the dungeon changed with each play. This was an interesting nuance of the game since each player had the same overall game experience, but it prevented players from memorizing the dungeons. This is paramount for cup-and-ball games like Diablo where the first person to click on a corpse was entitled to its treasure.
Diablo is essentially a character leveling game in a hack-n-slash format. The main plotline is that you are questing to kill the dark lord Diablo. If you were a high enough level, you could just race down to the bottom of the dungeon and kill Diablo straight away. That’s pretty much it. Since that isn’t possible at low levels, you’re basically leveling your character and performing side quests. The Quests always seemed to be engaging and got you sweet loot, but were totally unnecessary. To that end, you could have played the game through a few times and still found a new quest you hadn’t completed before. This was a positive thing before side quests were ruined by WoW, where the quests are totally irrelevant and you don’t even bother to read what you’re doing.
The real panty dropper in Diablo was multi-player i.e. Battle.net. If you asked a video game nerd to give you a top 5 list of innovation in video gaming, Battle.net needs to be on there, possibly at the top. Battle.net was a free, user-friendly service integrated into the original Diablo game which aggregated players to quickly access multi-player games. This was mind blowing. No longer did you have to have your friend dial into your modem, Battle.net allowed you to play with complete strangers quickly and easily. The best part about playing with strangers was that you didn’t care if you cheated them. Ahh, the anonymity of the internet. Many an hour was spent stealing cup-and-ball and “trading” goods. The classic ruse: enter the chat room claiming to trade an epic item, jump into a game with a random player, throw down said epic item while the sucker throws down his epic item, block opponent at a bridge, pick up both items and leave the game. Presto! Free Loot!
Thanks to Diablo, I’ll always have fond memories of robbing innocent people.