The first computer we had in our house was a Packard Bell desktop my family bought from Sears.
My brother and I spent a lot of time poking around on it, trying to figure out how to make it fun.
At first, we played a lot of Kidspace: A software suite that came pre-installed.
Kidspace had some cheap, strange games in it:
An odd medical game where you entered a patient’s body and attacked infected cells.
Another game where the player was a paleontologist exploring a barren world of static dinosaurs.
Kidspace was quiet and calm.
We spent a lot of our time there, it was pure in that it didn’t try to market anything.
Kidspace is what turned my brother and I on to PC Gaming.
We later moved on to Megarace.
Megarace grabbed us: It felt fast and dark.
It took place in something resembling a cyberpunk future with biker gangs.
Akira with none of the relevance.
Megarace was obnoxious and entertaining and we stuck with it for a while.
We only stopped playing when we couldn’t ever beat the fifth or so level.
The first ‘real’ PC game my brother and I tried to play was Star Wars: Rebel Assault II.
At the time, neither of us was interested in the Star Wars franchise, but this seemed like a fun, arcade-like rail shooter.
RAII pushed our desktop to its limits.
It ran well enough to play, but it wasn’t a smooth experience and would often crash.
Having played on consoles most of our childhood, we didn’t understand that PC gaming involved constant hardware upgrades.
Around this time, Command & Conquer: Red Alert released and all the kids at school were talking about it.
I had never heard of the RTS genre.
When I started Red Alert, I was disappointed that this wasn’t a first-person game.
That feeling soon faded as I began to enjoy the fulfillment of commanding and developing armies across alternate historical campaigns.
Due to the low hardware requirements, Red Alert ran much better on our desktop than RAII.
Red Alert was a substantial game.
It evolved so much from its predecessor: Command & Conquer.
I still play the original Red Alert today.
Around 1998, we finally upgraded our computer.
We bought a stock HP desktop in which my brother installed a dedicated graphics card.
This is where our love of PC Gaming soared.
Playing these classic 3D games was formative.
Today, each one has reached mythical status in terms of pioneering design and action.
We understood that there was a lot we missed out on in those early years with our Packard Bell.
There were lineages, lines of thought we couldn’t follow on PC back then.
And when Diablo II released, I had little reference for what it was doing.
The only game I played that was aesthetically similar to Diablo II was Red Alert.
I did have an understanding of different types of RPGs (Action, Tactical, Turn-based, etc.) due to the 90’s boom of JRPGs on console, but I had never played one with the strange, static, isometric camera of Diablo.
I did appreciate not having to always worry about moving the camera around since it locked onto the character.
Red Alert was exhausting about managing the camera.
I loved Diablo II’s dark atmosphere and art style.
The music was some of the best I heard in a PC game.
What struck me about D2 the most was how it felt like an action game, but it wasn’t.
It sat in a strange space where different RPG genres met.
It felt like the sort of game that could only belong on PC, but also seemed translatable to console.
Of course at the time I saw the line between PC and console as non-porous and rigid.
The strange loyalties of children: Being attached to wherever they are.
This sentiment was stronger with regards to Diablo because Diablo II was exclusive to PC and MacOS.
It never felt as though we would ever see a Diablo II port on console and we still haven’t.
I spent years in D2’s world.
Its action was so immediate and satisfying, it took a long time for the game to grow stale.
It eventually did, but only by virtue of time.
By the time Diablo III released in 2012, the world of PC games had shifted.
The PC gaming market had gone through a difficult period where consoles were setting the tone and creating markets for games, but the PC had begun to ascend as the dominant consoles began to show their age.
Also, the PC platform had begun a shift away from relying solely on large, AAA releases to a more balanced approach between innovative, cheap, independent games and well-known franchises.
Independent titles like Torchlight tried to capture and innovate on Diablo’s established formula in 2009, three years before Diablo III released.
But something always felt off about games like Torchlight and Path of Exile, something about their action felt unsatisfying.
The first time I played Diablo III I realized how much I had missed its solid responsiveness.
It took awhile for me to get used to the new art style and the real money auction house was unnecessary, but overall it still felt like Diablo.
The music was still quiet and deep, the game’s somber tone was left untouched, the enemies were varied and interesting.
However, Diablo III felt like a more universal game than D2, from the beginning Diablo III felt like a game for everyone and anyone.
It walked a very thin line between the casual and core audiences: The beginning of the game felt streamlined and, even on normal difficulty, it was too easy (especially with the introduction of followers).
At the same time, Diablo III boasted a ‘Hardcore’ mode that featured character permadeath.
Over time Blizzard pruned away at the game.
By removing unnecessary, game-breaking features like the auction house and by expanding core elements like the game’s difficulty and loot, Blizzard sincerely focused the game.
When the Reaper of Souls expansion released earlier this year, Diablo III had gone from being a great game diluted by under-developed ideas to an elegant action RPG.
Having become the game it always should have been, it was ready to fulfill its promise of universality.
When Blizzard announced that Diablo III would be coming to current-gen consoles in 2013, I remember the vitriol erupting from a portion of the embedded PC community.
They were offended that Blizzard had released this game on PC with a lot of questionable decisions (like the removal of the skill tree) that were only justifiable had Blizzard been trying to streamline the game for console release.
The assumption in the beginning was that like Diablo II, D3 was going to be a PC exclusive.
This sentiment wasn’t due to the PC community not wanting the console community to enjoy PC games, it emerged more out of the environment Diablo III released into.
Late in the console life-cycle, publishers and developers were looking to cash in with quick and cheap console game ports on PC.
Often these ports would be missing what were considered key PC features: thorough graphics options, dedicated servers, universal gamepad support, multi-monitor support.
The PC community was shown little consideration.
The mechanical simplicity of Diablo III was no longer seen as just trying to boost the audience on PC, but rather that Blizzard had developed D3 with the intention of releasing to consoles at some point.
When the last-gen console versions did release in September 2013, the anger had died down and the game was left to be judged on its own merits.
It was well-received critically, but it didn’t garner much discussion.
This seemed like the game’s lowest point: Its original fans felt betrayed and the console fans didn’t pay as much attention to it.
But Blizzard did manage to find a near-perfect balance one year later on the new-gen platforms.
In the year between D3’s last-gen and current-gen release, the game changed.
With the introduction of Reaper of Souls the game was modified down to its core.
It was more polished and more expansive.
While I didn’t play Diablo III on last-gen consoles, I did pick it up on the Playstation 4.
I hadn’t touched Diablo III in over a year and I was surprised at how different the game felt on console.
This wasn’t a matter of one version being better than the other, the two were just different.
On PC, Diablo III feels like a western Action RPG.
It feels like a game about numbers and exploration.
What struck me on console is how much more it feels like an arcade game.
It’s a faster game.
Blizzard implemented a dodge move making the character more mobile, more fluid.
It’s as if the two versions of the game each explores and emphasizes a different face:
The PC version filters the game as a number-crunching, exploratory RPG.
The console version, as a fast, smooth, arcade action game that reminds one of Gauntlet.
It was the inverse of what RAII had represented.
This is a testament to the Diablo series’ malleability.
A testament of its ability to change shape in order to emphasize one of its many successes of identity and mechanics.
A lot of games try to be Diablo, but they only ever succeed at one aspect of it.
Few games are confident enough about what they are to succeed on different platforms by altering their identity.
With its difficult and complicated trajectory over the past two years, Diablo III has hammered itself back into significance, back into coherence, by embracing its ability to diverge.
Diablo III is like a circus acrobat with a rocky past:
Always seeking to forget about where it came from while contorting itself to entertain as many people as possible.
Always reaching out through action while exposing its dense, fluid heart to the world.