When I first booted up Diablo II, I was a ten-year-old child. I had no idea how heavily horror and video games would influence my life. All I knew was that I was installing a game that I thought was about the devil onto my Catholic-school-teaching grandmother's computer. Something about that felt so cool. When I played, I looked over my shoulder a thousand times to make sure she didn't see the violence. I played the game alone and never got past the opening, but I was obsessed. My mind was stuck on the fact that I could raise skeletons from the dead and just how cool that was. I was destined to always play as a Necromancer, but Blizzard had other plans.
Fast forward ten years to the release of Diablo III, my friend and I set up a battle station at my parents' house as we waited for midnight to hit. We both read every article and watched every video we could about the game. We had both chosen which class to play earl,y to play to each other's strengths. The class I had played in the Diablo of my youth had been removed, so instead, I opted to play the Demon Hunter. A more rogue-like class that I ended up playing until the expansion. Despite the servers burning like the bottomless pits of hell upon release, we spent so much time fighting the demon hordes. We played the game multiple times over to do harder play-throughs where the horror was the difficulty itself.
Now in 2023, I got to play Diablo IV. This time it wasn't a secret I was holding beneath the crucifix, sitting in my parents' media room, but from the couch of my own home. I grew up, but I never lost my love for demon slaying, especially with my friends. Diablo's strength as a franchise has always been the constant gratification from the powers, loot, or the incredible boss fights and the emphasis on co-op.
Most other video game horror experiences pit you against your friends to hunt them or throw you into a hellscape alone. Diablo has never been that. As one of the pinnacles of the action RPG dungeon crawlers, Diablo has always been about grouping up to take on the masses. Sitting down with Diablo IV to play with one of my best friends and brother for a few hours over the weekend was incredible. Each of us plays as a different class to balance our party so that we can be the devil the demons hide from under the covers at night.
I got to once again take up my mantle of Necromancer from the jump, which felt like putting on my favorite pair of shoes. Within an hour, I had unlocked the skills that I consider some of my favorites in all of gaming. As a Necromancer, you can summon skeletons to fight alongside you from the corpses of your enemies in a bloody mess of a resurrection. You hit a button when you down an enemy, and your new best friend crawls out from the corpse. My group laughs every time I catch up to them because I am followed by four scythe-wielding skeletons, three ice mage skeletons, and a flesh golem. I am a one-man army against the undead with my own throng of undead. But that isn't the best power.
This entire article was a long con to talk about my favorite power in any video game, horror or not. The power is called "Corpse Explosion." Now you think that sounds like something really simple, and to that, I say simplicity is bliss. Let me lay down the scene for you: my Barbarian teammate runs headfirst to a massive battle with the Werebear Druid by his side. They drop the first enemy, whose corpse lays like a husk on the ground. But now, it is an opportunity for me to set off a chain of events. When I use corpse explosion, the corpse wells up like a water balloon before popping into a bloody explosion that typically kills another enemy. Blood splatters everywhere as I start to chain the move, and dozens of corpses explode as I spam the skill. My teammates fight as I conduct my symphony of exploding corpses, and I am the Necromancer version of John Williams. The dungeon almost clears itself from the amount of damage our trio causes in unison.
Now you'll be spending a lot of time in dungeons in Diablo IV. Often, they're crumbling lairs of evil made from stone or snowy battlegrounds that are often breathtaking enough to make you pause for a moment to take in the details. While the designs of the creatures and bosses have always been stellar, I'm finding myself spending a lot of time just ogling the environments as we traverse on our holy mission to destroy Lilith, the mother of monsters. One dungeon has stuck with me, as it is beyond the mortal plane, and the building itself is festering and filled with writhing tentacles. The tentacles in the environment block paths and become a part of the dungeon itself rather than set dressing. It's one of the most grotesque-level designs I have seen in a dungeon crawler, and it's one of those places that makes you realize how far game design has come from the 2000 release of Diablo II.
But unlike Diablo II, I wasn't playing this fourth iteration alone, and I'm not just referring to my teammates. There are "Live Events" throughout the map where all the players can meet up to run an extensive set of smaller battles together. Here you can end up having more than the usual team limit of four, all fighting together against huge hordes of monsters. One of the live events I participated in involved killing three large bosses' enemies in a limited time frame. It was so intense watching eight players rushing to fight one enemy together. Watching the different classes use their skills to light up the screen with blood and gore was a really fun community element that I wasn't expecting when I booted up the game. Players of all levels worked together towards a common goal, ending in the raining down of loot for everyone. If I got items that weren't for my class, I dropped them for my teammates or others to take, and others did the same.
Thinking back to playing Diablo II on that old box monitor at my grandmother's, I realized I was terrible at the game. I had no idea what I was doing other than killing the lowest-level monsters to see a skeleton rise from the ground. Moving to Diablo III and now Diablo IV, I realized how much fun I have just spending time in the world of monsters with my friends. Using my corpse explosion to paint the incredibly detailed town red is only one part of it. What really sticks out about the series is the memories of teamwork and the good times my party experiences together as we slaughter the countless masses of demons.