Most games don’t have an impact that’s still felt more than 10 years after their original publication. Even fewer have a reach that is nearing the 20 year mark. Whether you loved or hated Blizzard’s original aggressive fleshy loot sack simulator, you cannot deny that Diablo spawned a generation of games and influenced many more. What Diablo lacked in inherent complexity, it made up for in polish and mechanical stability. It worked, and it worked without the infinite weirdness one might expect in a game that randomly generated items and levels.
Cut to today, and the ancient, bony fingers of the Diablo franchise still have their hands around the neck of the industry, allowing the convenient suggestion of ideas and mechanics based on plays taken from a play book originally written when I was still in middle school. The formula works for a number of psychological reasons relating to risk-reward psychology and the Skinner experiments (though I’m sure this was not intentional), and adapting it for modern titles has given us some very important games in the last few years.
With Borderlands, Dying Light, Pathfinder, Torchlight and Diablo 3 all finding success, it’s clear that the impact Diablo has had on the industry has been trend setting. Blizzard has always had a track record of delivering something game-changing, but few of their titles have had the longevity of Diablo. This was, of course, incredibly disappointing when Diablo 3 felt more like an attempt by Blizzard to make a modern Diablo clone rather than innovate, but some of the changes made were actually for the better. The streamlined skill system and much-maligned auction house actually made sense. As someone who played at launch, the auction house was poor execution of a great idea, one that no other title has been able to successfully capitalize on, barring the success of cosmetic items in Steam games.
The inherent genius of Diablo is that it doesn’t try and deliver the moon. Where modern Diablo-like Path of Exile is basically the ARPG geek’s wet dream made real (complete with a giant skill tree, multi-class options and an amazing skill system), Diablo always stuck to the “keep it simple, stupid” system. Introducing complexity for complexity’s sake has never been a Blizzard hallmark, and it has contributed greatly to their success. No one wants to play a game that requires you to dabble in statistics as a hobby. If you can’t figure out what piece of equipment is better without a running series of optimized calculations in a spreadsheet, something is terribly wrong. Also, go outside. Please.
The best thing about this lineage is that it encourages a formula that works. It isn’t perfect, and deviation from the formula is encouraged, but it gives a great starting point for any studio looking to tackle the idea of an RPG focused on action with elements of randomization. That randomization is the spice Diablo gave players that games since have been trying variations of. It was one of the first games to do large scale procedural generation (along with Daggerfall around the same time) and it opened up a world players hadn’t really seen before, where your favorite game could be replayed for a different experience, every time. You’d never find the exact same room, weapon or enemy in the same place twice.
They say variety is the spice of life, and with the Diablo games, variety has always been the life. Now the key is keeping the best concepts from those games alive to influence future design decisions. It’s a world that would produce more randomized open world zombie games, rogue-likes and massive 3rd person RPGs. It’s certainly a world I would be happy to continue seeing more from.