The eight installment of Chris Marks’ column Diconstruction continues on the path of summarizing, analyzing, and reliving the formative features of Diablo and Diablo II. In this one Chris covers the monsters of the ill-named world of Sanctuary. Yes, they’re hairy, horned, and horrible, but what would the game world be like without them? Conveniently, the column starts off with that question, and runs with it.
Here’s the opening: click through to read the full piece.
They Came From The Blackness
Imagine, if you will, that you are an adventurer. A hero, even. You enter a town and discover it has sewers. Like all adventurers who know anything about anything, you enter them immediately, because even if the townsfolk don’t know there’s a problem down there, there undoubtedly is one. You lean down and throw off the grate that blocks your access, leap down with your proverbial guns blazing… and are met with brick walls and dirty water, and a handful of rats. Not really a problem, and nothing to do that’s worth anything, so you kill the rats out of habit and return to the center of town.
Undaunted, you talk to all the townspeople, looking for quests. They all seem confused, not understanding why you’d think there was anything to do in their quiet little border town where nothing has ever gone wrong. Being an adventurer, you do the only thing you can do: you slaughter them all and move on to the next town, where thing are just as boring and the people just as easy to dispatch.
This is what the Diablo games would be like if there weren’t any monsters. Going out in to the Bloody Foothills to find nothing to kill and that Shenk is a midget hermit whose only weapon is halitotis just wouldn’t be as exciting as cutting a giant swath through everything and everyone you come across, only stopping long enough to cut off one of their heads and turn it in to a hat (because where else would all those bone helms come from? Look at Wormskull and tell me it’s not some dude’s face).
Monsters monsters monsters, that’s what it’s all about. Gotta kill things, and those things had better be monsters. But where could they possibly come from?
Tonight We Dine In Hell!
In the first Diablo, they apparently came from some poor sucker’s coffin, which we can only assume turned in to a gateway to Hell. I hate to think what a jerk that guy must have been in his lifetime to suffer that fate. Standing before judgment and hearing “Holy crap you were rotten. You were so terrible to people that just talking to you makes me want to scrub off my skin with steel wool. I could turn your coffin in to a portal to Hell and the world would still be better off than it was with you in it. Also you’re ugly and your mother didn’t like you.”
One thing about the monsters in Diablo is that they all made sense being where they were. In the dungeon you had skeletons, and small things that could have come through the cracks in the wall if their skeletons were like those of weasels and rodents. In the catacombs you had monsters that would have likely preferred darkness, but were easy to kill in the tight corridors. The caves had glorified bats and acid spitters which made sense because the town’s drinking water was apparently acid, and Hell had girls with wings but no nipples. And somehow all those levels were the same distance underground. Weird.
There’s a certain style to the Diablo monsters that’s hard to deny, in that most of them were distinctly different than the rest. There were the classic skeletons and mummies, but also ankle biters, things that spewed acid, things that turned to stone to avoid destruction. The Carvers were cute, and the Doom Knights returned to Hell in a flashy blaze of the-opposite-of-glory. There was even a monster that removed life from your character permanently, so you can never be whole again. I think they called that one Mother In Law. Progressing through the levels gave you harder versions of these monsters, which is fine and makes perfect sense. I can’t think of any reason at all to randomize which monsters showed up where.
You Tell Them I’m Coming, And Hell’s Coming With Me
Enter Diablo 2. The monsters in this game apparently come from the uncontrolled emotions of a man who jammed a glowing red crystal in to his skull; I’m not really sure how that could have gone wrong, but weird things happen in games, so just go with it. Again, the monsters all make sense being where they are, which probably wasn’t very difficult to keep straight, given how random the terrain in the game is: first you’re in a field, then a desert, then a jungle, then Hell. Then on top of a mountain somehow. Your dude gets around is what I’m saying, and it’s probably for the best that he’s always wearing metal pants.
And across all of that the monsters should be right where they are. Act 1 has corrupted rogues and things that could conceivably live in the trees and come from graves and tombs. Act 2 has scavengers and bugs and snakes, and burning skeletons that could conceivably come from sewers. Act 3 has those little dudes that ended up in The Mummy Returns, and then after the jungle has more scavengers and Mephisto’s twisted creations, and Act 4 has what I can only assume are appropriate monstrosities for Hell (though the Mother In Law is conspicuously absent). There are even monsters that can resurrect or give birth to other monsters, but apparently since they were born after you got there they don’t count for experience, but that’s not what this column is about now is it.
Act 5 is where they really put monsters in appropriate places. When things are on fire, there are imps. When things are cold, there are Frozen Creepers. They even have monsters that interact with each other to become more interesting, like the Overlords whipping up the little annoying guys who are otherwise harmless, and the big harmless oafs the imps hop on to apparently breathe fire. In Nightmare the Burning Dead show up in the Foothills, but we can forgive that since there really should be some kind of useful ranged attacker in there to make it some sort of a challenge, what with it being Nightmare and all.
Then came v1.10 with the Guest Monsters in Act Five on Nightmare and Hell, where Blizzard somehow thought it would be a good idea to have random monsters show up in random places. Not that I mind killing Fetishes in plain view where they can’t hide, but seriously, come on. How does it make sense to have Frozen Creepers in the desert, or corrupted rogues on Mount Arreat? It seems they realized this was a senseless blunder and corrected it though, or else I just hallucinated the whole thing and need to stop licking amphibians.
I know they were trying to keep the game interesting and challenging, but a five year old with Downs Syndrome could have thought up a better plan for that. Maybe give the existing monsters new attacks, or raise their hit points and armor ratings (wait they already do that) or realize that most of the monsters in Act 5 are trivially easy and just fix the bloody things.
Revenge Is A Dish Best Served In Hell
The other type of creature that’s in Diablo 2 but not original Diablo is Champions, but I would argue that that’s what Unique monsters in Diablo 1 were. Unique monsters have abilities, powers, things that make them stand out from the others of their race other than just a mean disposition and a penchant for spitting raisins, but in the original Diablo the Uniques are just monsters that have been hitting the gym more often and take more to kill. That means the real new type of creature is the Uniques, which makes sense since nobody in the first Diablo was really cool enough to stand out anyway.
Overall the monsters in both games are nice and varied with enough correct placement to entertain the best of us, and that’s good. There needs to be variety in the game to keep players like me and you interested in it, and that’s why I keep coming back again and again like a diabetic chocoholic, but what they did to Hell difficulty is just criminal, and I’m glad they came to their senses. Moo.
Diconstruction (Diablo Deconstruction) is written by Chris Marks. It examines differences between the two (soon to be three) Diablo games, as well as comparing them to other games, in a hopefully amusing style. Diconstruction is published on the first and third Tuesday of every month. Leave your comments below, or contact the author directly.