Diablo 1 Dread Darkness Masterpiece Diablo 4
Features Gaming News Opinion PC

Diablo 1 is a Masterpiece of Building Dread and Darkness

The Diablo series deals with some pretty dark themes amidst its gripping fantasy setting. While it never goes that extra mile in depicting evil in as much sinister detail as something like Berserk, it still presents a story that builds malevolent dread and terror when the occasion calls for it. With Blizzard promising a return to the franchise’s darker roots for Diablo 4, we thought it would be the perfect time to discuss why, above all, Diablo 1 is a masterpiece of building dread and darkness.

In the mid-90s, Blizzard experimented with plenty of ideas for video games, with many sticking the landing and becoming the pop culture phenomenons we know today such as Warcraft and Starcraft. However, the original Diablo also launched in this time period and it caught players completely off-guard. Tonally, Diablo was unlike anything that the gaming world had seen. Sure, some elements were derivative of Dungeons & Dungeons and classic dungeon crawler RPGs, but its unique loot-driven gameplay offered an addictive and rewarding dark fantasy experience.

READ MORE – Diablo 4 is ‘The Darkest Story We’ve Ever Told’ Says Blizzard

Diablo 1 Dread Darkness Masterpiece Diablo 4

Above all, the first Diablo crafted incredibly compelling lore with world-building that rivalled and even surpassed the biggest titles in the industry at the time. This world-building was drenched in an atmosphere of dread and terror that worked hand-in-hand with the bleak narrative. It was darkly menacing, mature and resonated with veteran RPG crowds.

Unlike the globe-trotting adventures of subsequent Diablo games, the story of the original Diablo only really took place in one location: Tristram and its small surrounding area, including the nearby town and the Tristram Cathedral which became the heart of the game’s plot. This allowed the developers to focus on fleshing out the NPCs while keeping the story tightly paced around a central landmark.

Diablo’s sequels allowed players to take a breath and explore the vast open lands of Sanctuary but in the first Diablo, it suffocated you. This did wonders in building the tense claustrophobia of the setting; an inescapable hellhole where everything and everyone felt just a little off. You knew there was a grand fantasy world outside the borders of Tristram but right now, you were simply stuck in an unfolding nightmare and ominous mystery.

Diablo 1 Dread Darkness Masterpiece Diablo 4

The story of Diablo revolves around the town of Tristram where its few inhabitants have been plagued by strange occurrences such as vivid nightmares, an inexplicable sense of terror and the newly seated King Leoric taking residence at Tristram Cathedral. As a wandering hero, you arrive in Tristram to figure out why these events are happening. As it turns out, the Lord of Terror himself, Diablo, has been methodically manipulating Tristram from the lower levels of the labyrinthian cathedral.

Diablo 2 marks the point where Blizzard expanded the lore of the series to accommodate the more epic storytelling. It turned out to be the right call because Diablo 2 is arguably the best game in the series, but it also took away a lot of that dread, intensity and horror elements that the first game excelled at. Unlike the more optimistic and heroic undertones of the sequel, its predecessor made players feel almost hopeless in the silent chaos.

This was strengthened by some fantastic writing and a more evenly paced story that only unfolded when the player wanted it to move forward. Since the game was locked to one location, the entire gameplay loop revolved around digging through Tristram Cathedral’s complex levels to find the source of evil, acquiring better gear and taking the plunge all over again. Diablo isn’t a roguelike but this was the closest the series got to the textbook definition of one.

Diablo 1 Dread Darkness Masterpiece Diablo 4

After every mission into the cathedral’s labyrinth, you could return to the town and have new conversations with NPCs depending on the situation and your progress. It’s easy to see where so many modern games might’ve lifted some inspiration from this ingenious loop. To the first Diablo‘s benefit, this only heightened the insanity factor that the player would eventually feel – that your quest was a despairing one as you tried your best to literally unearth unspeakable horrors.

There will be major story spoilers from here, so proceed with caution. Once you discover that most of the townspeople had been led to the slaughtering den of the terrifying demon known as The Butcher, the first Diablo takes on an entirely new sense of dread. Diablo fans know The Butcher pretty well today; his horrific presence has since been diluted, but in the first game, I fondly remember being scared to my core by this hellish beast and his haunting squeals. Diablo isn’t a full horror game either but you’d be forgiven for thinking that if you got to this point in the story.

Once you do manage to fight your way down to the horror-filled landscape of the Tristram Cathedral, you’re confronted by Diablo who has taken King Leoric’s missing younger son as a vessel. This was a pretty shocking revelation at the time. Tragedy would only continue to plague Leoric’s bloodline as not only was the king driven mad and resurrected as the Skeleton King, his older son, Aidan, turned out to be the unnamed wandering hero and protagonist of the story – a hero that would endure the ultimate sacrifice by containing Diablo’s presence within his own body.

Diablo‘s story is tragic and ends on a grim note, rounding off the first game’s tremendous impact. Most of all, it was arguably the peak of just how dark Diablo‘s storytelling would ever be in the series. If Blizzard has really crafted “the darkest story” it’s ever told for Diablo 4, we hope it looked back at this point in the franchise’s history as a prime example of how to do it well.

Diablo 4 launches on 6 June 2023 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC.

Editor-in-Chief of Nexus Hub, writer at GLITCHED. Former writer at The Gaming Report and All Otaku Online. RPG addict that has wonderful nightmares of Bloodborne 2.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *