So here I am, ctrl-f’ing my way through the 1,200-deep list of games we’ve covered in this column, beginning to feel like this is the real dungeon crawl, when I find the treasure at the bottom of the crypt: nobody’s written about Diablo. Bloody Diablo. As I realise it’s free for me to write about, the memories spring back like a set of enchanted rags, whooshing and flapping their way out of a prised-open casket.
The summer of ‘96, and a baking-hot orange tent where, in the pages of some X-Men comic with sand caught in the staples, I come across a full-page ad featuring a fiery devil man, and that oh-so-nineties font with the crosses inside the ‘o’s. I had no idea who this “Diablo” was, but he looked quite the rum customer.
My friend Luke’s house, only eight minutes from school (if you ran), where a bunch of us would abscond every lunchtime for about four months to go murdering under Tristram. Because Luke’s parents had a PC, and he’d manage to build two more (I still remember this as abject sorcery), it was the first time I’d ever done multiplayer where the other players were in different rooms. We’d only get to play for 44 minutes at a time, but it was worth sixteen minutes of sprinting, every time.
Perforating my friends’ lungs as they foolishly traversed the doorways in between me and the skeletons I was arrow-spamming. Wondering what the hell (lol) some of the synthesised grunts and wails in the deeper dungeons were meant to be. Comparing item stats, excited by how fresh and new the dopamine reward that came with better kit felt. The sheer panic induced by the Butcher. Doing impressions of the “stay a while and listen” bloke. Listening to the ambient acoustic guitar music in town, thinking it was some of the best music ever to appear in a game.
Honestly, I’ve no desire to go back and see if the game lives up to any of that now. It was something a past version of me loved – but he’s gone now. He’s just a memory of what it was like to be someone, and the game should stay as a memory of what it was like to play Diablo. But if I want either of those memories to feel so near to being real, for just a moment, all I have to do is put on that music.