Was Diablo 1 better than Diablo 2?
Let’s start by saying Diablo II is one of my favourite games of all time, if not the favourite. It’s taken 10 years but finally Diablo III is in the works and looks to take its cues mostly from the second outing, and regrettably with a little World of Warcraft thrown in. For the longest time I’d taken this as the right direction. I’d never seriously played the first game in the series until now – the lack of a ‘run’ command was a dealbreaker. And you know what? I find myself now wondering if Diablo 1 was the better game after all. Here are the things I think it did better, in no particular order.
Firstly, spells. In Diablo II all classes learned skills from a set pool as they levelled up that were unique to that class. Diablo did it differently. Spellbooks were either found in the dungeon, or bought and took a certain Magic stat to read. Subsequent books levelled up the given spell. Scrolls were used to cast a spell, if able, once before expiring. This was better gameplay; it created an environment where any class could learn any spell, provided they had the necessary Magic proficiency. Books were an item of such worth that entering a library or going up to a bookshelf was particularly exciting. In the sequel, this amounted only to receiving banal scrolls of ‘Identify’ or ‘Town Portal’ which in that game were the only unlearnable spells. The system also fostered better appreciation of spells themselves – D2 presented them as a right earned at a given level. Books added unpredictability and, when found, could completely change the way the player negotiated the dungeon. Only after playing this way do I find this freeform aspect severely missed in D2.
Classes in D2 were one of its high points, I had thought. Each broadly covered a specific RPG niche and I couldn’t conceive any way to improve their implementation. Until I began to appreciate Diablo 1. As I mentioned, each class could use spells. A Warrior, then, could use basic magic such as Teleport and Stone Curse to aid progression. It still worked as their small mana pool would limit them to a few casts and their magic stat prohibited reading of high-level spellbooks. However with D2’s Barbarian this gameplay mechanic is gone. This melee fighter can never use magic of any kind in any capacity. This pigeon-holes the melee fighter but does the same for the spellcaster classes as well. The Necromancer, my personal favourite class, is limited to curses, bone magic and summoning. A few of these spells, such as the Clay Golem, known in D1 as the Guardian, were available to the jack-of-all-magic-trades Sorcerer in the first game. However that class could also learn elemental magic like Firewall and Chain Lightning that would later be given exclusively to the Sorceress. While this serves to give each class a more unique identity, wouldn’t it be better to leave these specialisation choices up to the player?
Lore was also a strong aspect of the first Diablo. Truly you felt as though you were battling the devil himself. Demons were demons, the context of all conversation and quests was tight and everything had personality. The world was cohesive and unique. D2 did not have a generic fantasy setting by any means, but it certainly seems to be the midpoint in a transition to one in Diablo III. There were numerous things I question in the first sequel but none moreso than the Act 2 cat-people or the Great Evil, Duriel as above. What the hell? I felt the need in both instances to pat Blizzard on the back and whisper ‘hey, this isn’t Warcraft / StarCraft’.
I have a vested interest in seeing Diablo III turn out spectacular and there will definitely be more blog posts on this subject between now and its release. For the moment though I wonder if taking a few more cues from the series’ first title might not be a wise move.