20 Years of Terror: A Look Back

On December 31st, Blizzard celebrated the 20th anniversary of it’s flagship series Diablo. It’s an exciting and memorable series, one that I have personally followed for the past 20 years. I remember the day I actually got Diablo (the original game on PC). It was my 10th birthday, which is probably wildly inappropriate, but I got the game from a friend who already owned it on Playstation so I mostly knew what I was getting into. I would later find out that you are allowed to show a LOT more gore and nudity on PC games than Playstation games. I played the heck out of it, remembering it as the creepiest and most gruesome game I had ever played. I didn’t even have any spiritual crisis over playing such a violent and dark game because I was beating the devil and that’s a noble goal for a child if there ever was one. I will admit that the music of Diablo 1 was incredibly haunting and I remember having to turn the music off at times to see if those bumps in the night were from the game or my house. I think pre-teen me handled the whole situation pretty bravely overall.

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And it DEFINITELY didn’t make a lasting impact on me as an adult.

Fast forward to 2000 when Diablo 2 hits the scene. Another excellent game, but I didn’t spent nearly as much time in it as my friends. I never even bought the expansion, Lord of Destruction. I did, however, love the Necromancer class and having an army of duder who would do my bidding. Mostly I would get outfits that made me look cool (scythes and skull helmets) instead of maximizing my efficiency in any meaningful way. I got a lot of playtime in that game and it was truly better than Diablo in every way. In the end, my best character ended being the sorceress, no matter how much I wanted to play the grimdark master of the undead. It was a great game. I believe my current CD’s for Diablo 2 are in California (or so I hope). I last lent them to my college roommate and he got a lot of mileage out of it. It made me happy to see someone as involved in the game as I was when I first got it. He’s moved, but I hope he can one day pass those CD’s and the Battle.net code on to his children and keep the legacy alive. Diablo bring people together. But I digress.

Because next came the dark ages (2000 – 2011). Basically, this was the dozen or so years of waiting for something to fill the hack-n-slash void since Diablo 2 became so dated. Those years were spent on trying to find anything that could hold a candle to Diablo 2. I owned Champions of Norrath (a D&D based action RPG) which was fine for a while. I beat it with friends only to discover on the next play through that the game wasn’t procedural (the maps and enemies stayed the same every time). I would still come back to it about once a year only to be disappointed and underwhelmed. It was during this time in my life I also became enamored with World of Warcraft to fill in the loot-based action I was so desperately craving. It did a good job for several years. Despite having other games that tried to scratch the ARPG itch, I would still fire up Diablo 2 from time to time, even as the ravages of time began to mar it’s once revolutionary graphics.

Then came Torchlight and Torchlight 2, the spiritual successors to the Diablo franchise. For me, Torchlight was supposed to be the end of the line. I had given up hope on Diablo 3 and Torchlight was good enough. Probably one of the better saving graces of the game was the use of Matt Uelman’s brilliant scores. He was the original composer of the music for D1/D2. Apparently a lot of the old staff transferred from Blizzard to Runic to make the Torchlight series. For me, it was good enough. The game still lacked something that I could never place my finger on. Grittiness, probably.

Finally, Diablo 3  was released in 2012. I was getting it no matter what on release day because I had signed a 12 month subscription on my WoW account and received Diablo 3 for free as well. This was another moment in my life I remember because of the immense buyer’s remorse over purchasing the subscription and the only saving grace was the free game. Just like the original Diablo and Diablo 2, I played the crap out of that game. I was slogging by as a prep cook at the time until I finally got a call back from the university I work for to this day. I’m not saying Diablo 3 got me a job, I’m just saying that the game was magical for me because playing it marked a great transition in my life. I feel like a lot of players just like me had this feeling of hope for the future when Diablo 3 came out. Unfortunately, that hope turned to ash over time.

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For example, did you know that when Diablo 3 came out, your loot was not guaranteed to have any useful stats on it? And that there was an auction house where you could spend gold or CASH DOLLARS for items? And there were only four difficulty levels? 2012 was truly a different time. The Diablo 3 of today is unrecognizable from it’s first iteration, which is definitely for the best. After a few months of trying as hard as I could, the game was simply too punishing for me. I ended up switching over to Torchlight 2, which was released later that same year. This all changed in 2014, when the Diablo expansion pack Reaper of Souls came out. It filled in a lot of gaps including the addition of the ubiquitous “Adventure Mode,” which provided unique bounty rewards and an infinite dungeon system. Blizzard deserves crredit where credit is due: every change they have made in the franchise has been a step forward in some way or another.

So as long as they keep moving forward, I think the Diablo team is doing a pretty good job with all the changes. Classes and sets are constantly being patched and balanced. New content continues to flow at a reasonable rate (especially since it’s free). Seasonal play has allowed players to restart and race each other to be the top of their class in the world every three months. For a franchise that is 20 years old, I think it has aged very well. And to tie it all back together, Diablo 3 is doing a very special event for the 20th anniversary. You can now play a recreation of Diablo 1 within Diablo 3 until the end of the month.

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In all of its pixelated glory, your character can be transported to the old cathedral  and explore the 16 levels of terror that were inspired by the original game. The designers even kept true to the floor layout, featuring classic bosses like The Butcher on level 2 and the Skeleton King on level 3. You work your way down (in only 8 movement direction, of course) until you reach the final level and face the Lord of Terror himself. The event is jam packed with easter eggs, pets, borders, and special items, making it the perfect trip down memory lane without having to find your old copy. People who make it to the end will even be treated with the end cinematic of the original game, which I won’t spoil if you never had the opportunity to see it for yourself yet.

So here’s to 20 years of Diablo! And hopefully many years to come for a game in which I have spent so many hours and so few dollars. If you haven’t tried it out, give it a spin. Even if you only want to understand all of the countless clones it has inspired as a game enthusiast, it’s entirely worth it. Happy Birthday to the king of hack-n-slash, now go out there and slay some demons!

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