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Was Diablo 1 better than Diablo 2?

Diablo, back when there was only Fire and Lightning.

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?

Duriel, the Hydralisk / Lurker.

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.

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9 responses

  1. Pingback: Preview: Path of Exile « Ichorid's Nulopticon

  2. Nebula

    Diablo 1 had charisma and atmosphere. It managed to create a really eerie vibe and actually emotionally engage the player. Diablo 2 was just “there. Great skill system but it had no personality whatsoever. I used to play D1 it alot in ’99-02 and have much fonder memories of that game than the overrated sequel.

    November 18, 2010 at 10:24 AM

  3. Dave

    Nice comments. I agree with most of it.

    1) Classes
    … Diablo I allowed you to blend different classes to make your own. Diablo II restricted you to a tree of skills and items. It didn’t allow you to experiment like Diablo I did. In Diablo I, I could train healing as a warrior or train identify as a rogue. I liked that level of freedom.

    … A lot of people say that the old scheme of skill progression that was based on looting or buying books was outdated and needed to be replaced by a more predictable system where skills were trained as you gained levels. But the problem I see with this is why can’t it be a hybrid? Looting books in Diablo I really does feel rewarding. Bookcases in Diablo II are boring. Maybe I’m just an old school fart, but I don’t think there’s just one way to skill progress.

    2) Dungeons vs Open World
    … I can’t explain it in precise words, but Diablo II lost me in all of the jungle and deserts and odd seeming creatures that lived in those places. I understand that they were trying to give a more varied feel to the setting. In diablo I, for example, it’s mostly just a dungeon. It starts out like a castle, becomes a castle with dirt, becomes dirt, becomes hot and molten, becomes hell. At least, tha’ts how I remember. I much preferred the castle environment to the hell environment, but that’s just me. In diablo II, you go from forests to caves to dungeons to jungles to sewers to ….. on and on. It does feel like something is lost or confused or mixed up too much. Again, it’s hard for me to explain. But it’s undeniable that Diablo II did something wrong, for me at least. Maybe it was because I got moved around so much from one town to another? I’m not sure.

    3) Difficulty
    … Some people say Diablo I was harder than Diablo II, but I can’t remember. I never bought the expansion for Diablo I. However, I seem to remember doing nightmare mode and losing a couple stats to mummies. I think they removed that in Diablo II. The stat loss should have been kept in the hardcore mode of Diablo II, in my view. As for the overall difficulty, I am not sure.

    Thinking about all this makes me want to play them again. In fact, I think I will just to compare them. I still have both games. I have played them off and on for a long time. But I am not a frequent player at all. I’ve went for many years without touching either.

    I think the gaming industry has a short memory. It forgets things that worked in old games. Things have become real gimmicky. Maybe I’m just old enough now to notice. Trends seem to change for the craziest most baseless reasons. Things change for the sake of change. I think we would all be better off if we played older games more often to remember what worked well.

    September 7, 2011 at 3:26 AM

  4. michael

    Diablo 1 is the more immersive game. Diablo II does nothing to get me interested in the story. Finding gear is all I care about in that game, and it gets old quickly.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:56 AM

  5. Kostas

    I am happy to find this post and these replies. I wanted to see if I’m alone in thinking Diablo I was better than Diablo II… You guys have nailed it.

    The way the lore is presented in II is indeed more flat and less engaging than the original.

    Another thing I noticed is the art. It amazes me how the original looks and feels so superior in the sense of atmosphere, given it is several years older. The art direction in II took many steps in the wrong direction.

    And as has been said here: Jungles? Really guys, jungles? Jungles in a game with a gothic feel? That killed it for me.

    Diablo I is the best game I have ever ever played and II is a pretty good game I have played several times. I really look forward to III and from what I’ve seen it seems to be going in the right direction!

    March 5, 2012 at 8:29 PM

  6. Skillsa2

    I have never playd Diablo 1, i have only playd Diablo 2, its a onwe of a kind game.

    April 1, 2012 at 8:21 PM

  7. JeremiahMRA

    Agree completely. I’ve felt this way for a long time. I was an avid Diablo 1 player. Not only was the game immersive but the sense of friendship amongst the legit community, Sorcerers Tower, and players who played mods like V&K Middle Earth mod and Abysmal was awesome. I started playing D2 and the game became entirely about finding items. The folks I had played D1 with drifted apart as the sense of community disappeared. Items, items, items, Magic find, blah! Sure, D1 was about getting items too, I probably did Hell runs hundreds if not thousands of times looking for Obsidian Zodiac rings, and only found a few the whole time. But the sense of community was there, too, and mods made the game very challenging and strengthened the community feel as well as the difficulty. Diablo 1 was a great game. Once D2 came out Blizzard made a version update to D1 that caused all mods to stop working, and most people started playing D2, and so the few legit players that remained disappeared, and the community of D1 died once and for all. The only game since that had that sense of community and rewarded skill was WoW, which I played later for a few years. But WoW is too childish, attracting a bunch of kids, and there are a lot of players with very little skill, and people are rude. I want to play D1 again, but it’s depressing when you log on and nobody else is there to play with you.

    May 7, 2012 at 5:41 AM

    • bill

      D1 community has not yet died.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:54 PM

  8. bill

    Diablo 1 is by far better in my opinion, ive been playing 2 just to get the story line to play d3 but also play with one of my d1 friends on the ladder. Just a few add ons: d1 didn’t have a way to learn identify, and the clay golem in d2 is compared to a “golem” in d1 not guardian.

    May 8, 2012 at 11:06 PM

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