Blizzard Entertainment released one of the most anticipated PC titles in recent memory last week with the launch of Diablo 3. The Warcraft studio's dark fantasy series single-handedly popularised the dungeon crawler sub-genre, so we're taking a trip back to 1996, where it all began.
The original Diablo touched down on PCs in December of that year, introducing players to the world of Sanctuary. Most RPGs released around that time were stat-heavy affairs, where number-crunching was the order of the day, but Blizzard's opus took a different approach.
Diablo offered a stripped down role-playing experience, where the emphasis was on relatively simple combat and looting. It was a formula that caught on quickly, striking a chord with fantasy fans looking for a more palatable alternative to complex talent trees and turn-based fighting.
The game was set in a world that combined the work of JRR Tolkien and Dante Alighieri, with the object being to hack your way through 16 dungeons before storming the bowels of hell and taking out the Lord of Terror himself, Diablo.
Gameplay was inspired by the age-old Angband, taking place from a top-down perspective and using a simple and intuitive control scheme. Character movement and attacks were carried out through mouse clicks, while spells and abilities could be mapped to keyboard shortcuts. A glance over at Diablo 3 shows how little has changed in a decade and a half.
Players could choose between three character classes - Warrior, Rogue and Sorcerer. Warriors were masters of melee combat, Rogues were skilled with ranged weapons and Sorcerers were adept in the ways of magic. The classes had all bases covered between them, laying the foundations for some enjoyable co-op multiplayer matches.
Four players could venture into Sanctuary together, and could work as a team or be a constant thorn in each other's sides. The game pioneered online play within its genre, but the experience was soured by cheaters. Diablo was not backed by the kind of stringent security Blizzard now employs, and was susceptible to third-party editing tools and cheat engines.
Lax security in online multiplayer was the only blemish on an otherwise impeccable product. Diablo topped numerous 'Game of the Year' lists in 1996, and earned rave reviews across the board. By August 2001, it has sold more than 2.5 million units worldwide.
Blizzard enlisted the help of Sierra Entertainment to expand the game in 1997 with the release of the Hellfire add-on, which introduced the new character classes of Monk and Bard (though the latter was a hidden extra). New dungeons, items and spells were also thrown into the mix.
Diablo was ported to the Sony PlayStation the following year, published by Electronic Arts. The console edition was unable to support online play, but added two-player co-op as an attempt at a compromise. EA's port also attracted a level of infamy among players for demanding 10 out of the 15 slots on a standard memory card.
Diablo's award-winning combination of addictive combat, looting and hoarding remains a winner today, and has been imitated a great deal since. The game's sequels have never strayed far from its blueprint and have garnered much the same level of acclaim. The years have been kind to this one, and we certainly recommend picking it up as a companion piece to the excellent Diablo 3.
Do you have any fond memories of Diablo? Write a comment below.