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Game Review: Diablo -- More addictive than crack, more fun than exams

For Windows 95

By Blizzard Entertainment

By Mark Huang

Don't get me wrong; I know that there are plenty of women out there who love video games. Even so, I was still surprised to witness the familiar symptoms of addiction when, one day, I noticed my girlfriend compulsively playing Diablo. It wasn't that I couldn't handle the fact that a woman was in my rightful place: tanning in front of a computer monitor, ignoring pangs of hunger, avoiding personal contact. Rather, it was the realization that, as a male, I had been usurped by a character in a computer game. Sure, Diablo was only two inches tall on a monitor, but could I have ever hoped to enthrall and engross her for five hours at a time? Reality was against me: he was the Lord of All Evil, and I was a short Asian guy.

Four months later, we're both recovering junkies. The moment we dropped our defenses to the Way of Punt, we were immediately hooked. I was attracted to the elegant role-playing and delicately balanced character development. My girlfriend was attracted to the bow-wielding female rouge character. Immediately we both developed a deep attachment to the game.

The plot, however, is quite thin and left at least me feeling a bit unfulfilled. The nominal goal is to kill Diablo, a brother of Hell who has awakened from his slumber through the treachery of the Archbishop Lazarus. You may choose to do this with one of three classes of characters: the warrior, the rouge, or the sorcerer. In between the town in which you start and Diablo's lair are fifteen levels of dungeons; you can return to the town periodically to restock as many times as you like. Occasionally, one of the townspeople will give you a job to do in your spare time between disemboweling the Undead. There are about twenty or thirty different quests; of these, five or six are randomly picked for you to complete in a single game.

The quests are not the only things that are randomized. The entire dungeon system, including its denizens and treasures, is regenerated with each new game as well, making Diablo almost infinitely replayable. As a result, you are always exploring each new level in addition to clearing it of monsters, a process that is more fun than tedious. Almost every person I know who plays Diablo feels an insane urge to exhaustively explore each level, even if the level presents no special challenge or quest.

The likely motivation behind this urge is character development, which is an old idea in RPGs but which becomes much more personal when playing Diablo. In RPGs of the past, your characters and their development were important to you, but the grander scheme of beating the game was always more so. In Diablo, it becomes obvious after a few levels that beating the game is, while not trivial, quite possible to do in under a week. Giving your character new equipment and new abilities becomes more of a priority so that you can replay on a more difficult setting and keep Diablo a challenge.

The multiplayer option of Diablo brings replayability and character development together. Not only do you want to make your character awesome, you want to display that fact for the benefit of the 700,000 people who have connected to battle.net, Blizzard's free online gaming service for Diablo and Warcraft players. Multiplayer mode in Diablo is also almost entirely cooperative, a surprisingly fun concept. Unlike Quake, Diablo allows you to show off your talent without reducing your friends (and friendships) to giblets of scorched meat.

November will see the release of the first Diablo add-on pack from Sierra. The add-on features thirty new weapons, twenty new monsters, five new spells, and a new character class (the monk). Late 1998 will see the release of Diablo II. Little information is available about the game, but cheating, which has plagued (and some say ruined) the popularity of multiplayer Diablo from the beginning, is a major problem that will reportedly be addressed in the sequel. For now, though, those of us in rehabilitation can rest easy knowing that we may be able to graduate before the sequel ruins our GPAs again.

Next week: Age of Empires