Thursday, June 18, 2020

Diablo: Hellfire

To Hell and Back

Developer David Brevik initially conceived the first entry of Blizzard’s Diablo series as a turn-based RPG, although the company’s success with the inaugural entry of the real-time strategy Warcraft franchise led to its transformation into an action RPG, released for Windows in North America at the beginning of 1997 to commercial and critical success. Later in the year came an unofficial expansion developed by Sierra entitled Diablo: Hellfire, which introduced new features such as a fourth playable character class, additional items, and two extra dungeons, and which would digitally release. The game is definitely important in the history of PC RPGs, but does that mean it’s any good?

Most of Diablo’s story is related in its supplemental content, which tells of a world of Men, Sanctuary, existing alongside the High Heavens and Burning Hells, with conflicts between them, and the Dark Lord Diablo consequentially sealed away underground above where a monastery was built, and by where the town of Tristram was founded. King Leoric rebuilds the ruins of the monastery as a cathedral, with its archbishop, Lazarus, manipulated into destroying Diablo’s soulstone prison, with the Dark Lord possessing the monarch himself and then his son Prince Albrecht. Thus, it’s up to the character the player creates to defeat Diablo and possibly rescue the Prince.

Players can create said sole controllable protagonist of one of four classes: the warrior, which specializes in melee combat; the rogue, which specializes in ranged battle; the wizard, which specializes in magic; or the monk, which is a good fighter and magician, and in fact can be more powerful without weapons (but still is good with staves). Afterward, they choose a difficulty level, and the game begins in the hub town of Tristram, where the player can talk to the local healer to restore all HP and/or purchase health recovery potions, “identify” weapons and armor with special properties, purchase new equipment, or speak with the local witch for MP-restoring items, staves, spell books, and magic scrolls.

The core of Hellfire’s combat occurs in the main sixteen-floor (with some occasional extra areas) dungeon, with basic point-and-click gameplay utilizing the mouse of the player’s computer. The player hovers the mouse cursor over an enemy and repeatedly clicks the device’s left button to execute basic attacks against foes once they approach them. If the player doesn’t want their character to move around during standard attacks, they can hold the Shift key to remain in place. Relentless attacks aren’t always a good idea, as there are many foes, particularly those who can fire ranged magic, that constantly flee from the player, and can consequentially lead them to their death.

Diablo’s magic system stems from the use of spell books that both partially recover the player’s mana points and grant them a new spell that consumes a certain amount of MP, with effects such as healing, fire, and lightning. Each spell has a minimum magic stat requirement in order to be usable in the first place, the player able to use books representing the same spells again to increase their potency whilst reducing their usage cost. One spell I found useful towards the end was Mana Shield, where enemy attacks damage the player’s mana instead of health until it runs out, and the fire and lightning bolt spells can snipe long-ranged foes, unless they have resistance to certain elements.

Slain enemies may drop money, consumable items such as health and mana potions, and one-time-use magic scrolls, although they may also leave behind money and equipment, with the player’s character able to equip one piece of body armor, one helmet, one two-handed weapon or a one-handed weapon and a shield, two rings, and one amulet. Inventory management plays a significant role in Hellfire, with space indicated by a grid where equipment and items consume a certain number of squares, the player unable to carry any more when reaching maximum capacity. When the player’s inventory does max out, they can use the town portal spells or its equivalent, buyable scroll to get back to Tristram to sell what they don’t want, after which they can return to the dungeon where they left off.

Leveling both fully restores the player’s character and allows them to distribute five points into the four main stats: strength, dictating attack power; dexterity, dictating accuracy; magic, dictating maximum mana; and vitality, dictating maximum health. One main positive of the battle system is that enemies in the main and side dungeons don’t respawn, although even on the easiest difficulty setting, some players may have trouble later on, compounded by the general slow pace of leveling, in which case they can restart the game with all dungeon adversaries reset, as well as equipment, items, and stats retained (although there are rare glitches in this regard).

Overall, the battle system definitely has its enjoyable moments, and is generally straightforward, even potentially good stress relief, although not all will appreciate the restarts that are necessary to grind in order to survive the final areas of the game. Diablo’s difficulty at times largely depends upon the class chosen, since each has its strengths and weaknesses, and as I played as the monk, I definitely had issues with even the Normal difficulty, although for significant chunks I was playing with a weapon equipped on him; when I removed it, I had no trouble with the final boss. All in all, combat isn’t perfect, but the different character playstyles give plenty reasons to come back for more.

The game’s structure is straightforward, so there’s no getting lost, as long as the player converses with the citizens of Tristram, who may initiate plot-centric quests, all characters at times having their occasional personal takes on these missions. The controls are generally easy, the player can record their progress anytime (reducing wasted playtime due to death), and the game is pausable, as is expected of an RPG with real-time elements. Granted, not all will appreciate the occasional tedium of inventory management, the unskippable voiced text, the inability to see how equipment will increase or decrease the player’s stats before buying it (with monks, for example getting a defensive decrease with heavy armor), or no in-game tracking of playtime. Regardless, interaction could have certainly been far worse.

Diablo’s story definitely has much going for it, given the intricate backstory and setting, although as one would expect of an RPG with a blank-slate protagonist, it certainly isn’t one of the game’s high points, given the absence of said mythos from within the game itself and its mostly-exclusive relegation to the manual, although what dialogue there is generally well-written. Some of the non-player characters do have backstory, such as the peg-legged Wirt, although the ending might be a bit confusing to those who don’t look up the plot details on Wikipedia or another site. Overall, the narrative largely isn’t anything to write home about.

Neither is the soundtrack, although it does have positives such as a cool town piece with good guitar riffs, and excellent ambience with regards to the various dungeon themes. The sound effects are believable, as well, and all characters have voice acting, with some half-decent performances in spite of occasional inconsistent quality. Mercifully, when the voice acting is at its weakest, it’s fortunately bad in an enjoyable fashion, with Griswold’s pseudo-Scottish accent, for instance, and lines such as the monk’s “Now that’s a big mushroom!” and the warrior’s “I gotta pawn some of this stuff!” Ultimately, a decent-sounding game.

The visual presentation could have used some work to a greater extent, although it has good aspects such as the anatomically-correct character models, good colors, fluid animation, and a few CG FMVs. There are some negatives, however, such as plenty of palette-swapped enemies, the blocky illumination within the various levels of the labyrinths (which otherwise look good), the lack of emotion for the character sprites during story dialogues, and the occasional sudden popup of enemy sprites when wandering the labyrinths. Generally, while the graphics definitely aren’t perfect, they’re hardly an eyesore, and don’t detract too much from the gameplay.

Finally, beating the game as a monk took me a few hours less than twenty-four, which includes several restarts, and the diversity of character playstyles, along with occasional variations in which quests appear and which don’t, provide plentiful lasting appeal, though doesn’t seem to offer anything in the way of achievements or accomplishments to further enhance replayability.

In the end, Diablo: Hellfire is an enjoyable expansion that hits the right notes regarding its straightforward game mechanics, linear structure, half-decent sound, and plentiful reasons to go through the game given the different character classes. However, it does have issues with its gameplay of which mainstream, casual players need to be aware before they invest their money and time in the game such as the potential difficulty and repetition, and there are other faults such as the lackluster narrative, general unmemorability of the music, and average graphics. Mercifully, the monetary and temporal commitments aren’t that great, and those interested in this piece of computer RPG history can give the main game and its expansion a look at

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy digitally downloaded from using the monk class to completion of the main dungeon, with several replays necessary to see the standard ending.

The Good:
+Straightforward combat.
+Linear structure.
+Some decent music and voices.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-May require multiple playthroughs to beat.
-Lackluster storytelling.
-Unmemorable soundtrack and inconsistent voicework.
-Average visuals.

The Bottom Line:
A half-decent piece of CRPG history.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC
Game Mechanics: 6.0/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 4.0/10
Music/Sound: 6.5/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.0/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: < 1 Day

Overall: 6.0/10

No comments:

Post a Comment