A graphical NetHack for the 90's
Many years ago, there was a game called 'Rogue', where you were in a dungeon and romped about it collecting gold and fighting monsters. It was immensely addicting. From it descended the famous 'NetHack', which followed suit, allowing one to enter town and upgrade. It, too, was immensely addicting. Down through the ages (and mixed with the blood of the arcade game 'Gauntlet') comes their spiritual descendant: Diablo. And, yes, it is immensely addicting. There is something inherently appealing to most people in constantly improving something and a character in constant danger of death in the dungeon seems to be a perfect choice. Whether they're having outright fun, or are even frustrate a bit, people will find themselves returning to the game. Most people who sit down for one session of Diablo want to play it again and again, just to improve their character. It's almost scary.
Diablo's isometric graphics were beautiful for when it came out, and if people were not so used to 3-D graphics these days, it would still be considered good today. Low resolution aside, even today the graphics are pretty to look at and provide the perfect combination of atmosphere and storytelling qualities. The backgrounds are detailed and dark, the characters scary, gruesome, or heroic when needed to be, and the magic spells quite interesting to watch.
The learning curve is nearly perfect and one only gets overwhelmed early on when it is intended (such as the first mini-boss or the second mini-boss's skeletal hordes). There are enough spells, weapons, and armor to keep making people come back to see them all and as you play you learn the easier methods of performing actions (such as the wonderful quick-use tool belt).
The addition of a multiplayer cooperative mode makes for many an enjoyable dungeon romp if one can find compatriots who aren't out for your gold and your life (all too frequent when playing on Battle.net). While adventuring alone in the single player mode is fun, nothing compares to having a party of two or three playing as a team.
The actionis often intense as your character opens a door and is nearly surrounded by the angry hordes of Diablo, all bent on destroying you. The pace of the game under normal circumstances (when no going through a cleared dungeon looking for an item you left behind) is usually fast and can provide enough entertainment for fans of first person shooters.
Eerily beautiful music is the perfect accompaniment in your travels, and the sound effectively tells you what is happening.
The more-or-less random dungeons provide a new challenge each time you restart the game, making each crawl seem like new.
Sometimes the action is too intense. Rests are recommended between trips to the dungeon, as you can easily develope repetitive stress syndrome from the hundreds of times you will be clicking your mouse in any particular excursion.
There is only a bare bones story and your true interactivty with it aside from performing quests is negligible. You basically talk to someone and listen to what they say and move on. The townsfolk give hints for the quests, but there's little personality or life in them. They're basically living billboards. One can play the whole game without ever doing more than talking to those people required for any given function.
There is many arguments over the validity of the ending. Whether or not one likes it, however, everyone must admit that it's not worth the time going through the entire game again just to see the final sequence with one or two slight (and I do mean slight) variations.
Much like the lack of story, there is also a lack of true role-playing. Most Diablo players don't care about their characters and their personalities as much as they care about their character's numbers. They seek to constantly upgrade their stats and equipment and little else. Anyone expecting a true role-playing game should steer clear. There's also little logic between the stats and what they represent. If a rogue can only have 'x' amount of strength, that's understandable for one of her light build, but explain to me how heavy an object must be for its strength requirement to be three times the maximum a rogue can carry normally? You can't...in the end, the stats aren't a way to describe your character's abilities...it's merely another 'score' to keep adding to.
Some items, like rings, are depicted so small that it's hard to find them if you drop them. While realistic, it makes for frustrating searches.
The Bottom Line
An addictive action game with role-playing game undertones, Diablo is a game that anyone who doesn't mind a lot of mouse clicking can get into. Take a warrior, a rogue with a flair for archery, or a mage into the bowels of the earth in order to put an end to an evil that threatens a town. Like many a vice, it is addictive and will draw you away from your normal activities, though you may walk away with a shallow feeling when all is said and done.