You’re in one of a number of pickles. You’ve somehow already hit level 100 in Diablo IV; you’re waiting for it to drop in price; or just not convinced that enough has changed to make it worth buying after Diablo III. Whatever you reason for needing more loot, we’ve got you covered, with our suggestions for all the best games to play before/after/instead of Diablo IV.
Diablo is a game franchise so significant that its only meaningful genre is named after it. “Diablo-like” is the term by which we refer to the games made in its wake, given that “Action RPG” is far too broad of a church to usefully pin down what sort of game we’re talking about. It’s a tough genre, too, with a select few stand-out names that have survived the devilish behemoth’s long-stretching shadow.
However, those that do stand out are often just brilliant, and it’s a joy to celebrate them all. There’s a good chance you’ve played a few of them, maybe heard of most of them, but that doesn’t change how much you’ll be feeling the itch to reinstall them, or play through them one more time. Never mind that almost all these Diablo-likes them are still being updated, getting bigger, better, and more ludicrous in enemy numbers. And if you missed out on them previously, perhaps because you’re one of those new-fangled “young” people, then what a moment to dive right in!
Path Of Exile
Path of Exile received its latest big update in April this year, which is quite something considering it was originally released in 2013. Yup, ten years in and Grinding Gear Games APRG is still alive and thriving, boosted by console releases for Xbox and PlayStation in 2017 and 2019. Indeed, in 2020 it won a prestigious BAFTA award for Best Evolving Game.
Originally brought into existence via a group’s frustration with the lack of action-RPGs being released, when it came out after six years of development, it was free-to-play, with what the team called “ethical microtransactions.” And still it rages on, offering its astonishingly elaborate skill webs, vast worlds to explore, and in-game economies for the most invested. In fact, April’s update (featured in the trailer above) added weapon-specific skill trees, just in case you couldn’t min-max enough already.
There should also finally be news this year about the much-vaunted Path of Exile 2, with a closed beta due to start July 29, to coincide with the game’s ExileCon 2023.
Originally released in 2006 (oh god, I am but dust), Titan Quest has been re-released and re-mastered about as often as the Star Wars original trilogy. And for good reasons, because it’s just bloody marvellous.
Created by Iron Lore, a studio headed by Age of Empires impresario Brian Sullivan, Titan Quest was designed to be a Diablo-like set in the ancient worlds of Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the Silk Road. While it absolutely innovated and deviated from the Diablo formula in a few subtle ways, the most striking difference both then and now is that…it’s daylight! You can see!
I was fortunate enough to visit Iron Lore during Titan Quest’s development, and chatted with the game’s creature designer, former Looking Glass developer Rich Sullivan (no relation). Inspired by the work of film maker Ray Harryhausen, he designed all the game’s enemies as clay models, many of which were strewn all over his desk. It’s an inspiration that translates to the game, giving enemies that stop-motion excellence, most especially the game’s skeletons.
Of its many re-releases, 2021’s Legendary Edition is the most recent, compiling all the DLC and expansions into one game, out on Android and iOS. For console and PC, you’ll want 2016’s overhauled Titan Quest: Anniversary Edition. Or wait another couple of years, and it’s bound to be released yet again.
It would be close to a war crime not to mention FATE when celebrating all the best Action RPGs/dungeon crawlers/Diablo-likes.
Created by solo developer Travis Baldree, this 2006 game was a very deliberate nod to 1997’s Diablo, but also true roguelikes like Nethack and Rogue, which themselves were cited by Blizzard as inspirations for the original game. Baldree’s desire was to make something more accessible, more newbie-friendly, and avoiding the grimdark presentation of Diablo.
The game was very well-received, so much so that Baldree was hired by Flagship Studios, a studio formed by the Schaefer brothers and David Brevik, the original founders of what would become Blizzard North. Which is to say: the guys who created Diablo were so impressed by his Diablo-clone that they hired him to make another one. That went on to be Mythos, an MMO follow-up to the developers’ previous near-miss, Hellgate: London. However, due to a litany of issues, Mythos was never truly realised. The team was dissolved, and the Schaefers and Baldree was go on to form Runic Games, and, well, click on…
P.S. You can still buy and play FATE today.
Runic Games, the developers of Torchlight and its superior sequel, Torchlight II, perhaps had the best chances possible for managing to stand strong in the shadow of Diablo. The studio was founded by Travis Baldree, the creator of Fate, and Max Schaefer and Erich Schaefer, the co-founders of Blizzard North, and the leads on Diablo. Which is to say, the top-three ARPG creators in the world.
Where the original (and fantastic) Torchlight was set in a single, massive, ever-descending tower, Torchlight II hugely expanded upon the setup, with multiple overworld hubs, and a much more detailed campaign. And like Titan Quest before it, offered us that rarest feature of the Diablo-like: colour.
It’s a bright and cheerful game, with its World Of Warcraft-like chunky cartoon art, featuring a huge range of enemies to wallop. And honestly, it’s pretty much perfect at realising the format. What it doesn’t do, like almost every other example of the genre, is advance that format to anywhere new. But if you’re looking for the Diablo-like at its absolute peak, you really can’t do much better than play the game created by the people who invented the genre.
(And yeah, I’m definitely recommending this over the recently abandoned Torchlight III, that after a tumultuous eight years of various development, often in an attempt to create an MMO, eventually came out as something of a damp squib.)
The story of the Diablo-like ARPG is the same every time. A group of people — be it the actual creators of the original Diablo or others inspired by them — get fed up by the lack of examples of the genre, so they made one of their own.
So it was in 2009, when many disbanded members from Iron Lore licensed the Titan Quest engine, and set about developing something new. It took an extraordinary seven years, and $US500,000 of Kickstarter money, before the game was fully released. And boy, did it live up to its title! A super-grim, and fantastic game that was fully reminiscent of the genre-defining Diablo II, and a wonderful tonic for those disappointed by aspects of Diablo III.
The game went on to receive enormous updates for another three years, selling over seven million copies, and is absolutely one of the best examples of the genre. In fact, until Diablo IV’s release this week, it’s the last time anyone truly delivered us a successful grimdark incarnation of the format. I replayed it recently, and it’s still absolutely fantastic.
It feels as though 2002’s Dungeon Siege gets a little forgotten when it comes to recalling all the classics of the genre you can still play today. From Chris Taylor’s Gas Powered Games (which you’ll remember better for Supreme Commander), Dungeon Siege was the Microsoft-published response to Blizzard’s Diablo, that truly innovated on the formula in a way that, really, no other examples have since. Although perhaps everyone just tries to forget it, in response to a trilogy of Uwe Boll movies based on the licence.
Here, you created your own character, but could then switch between any other member of your party you gathered along the way — up to seven others at a time. Alongside this, you didn’t pick a character class, but rather the weapons and skills you used the most were those your characters became the best at using! WHICH MAKES SENSE!
Oh, and if you bought a weapon from a vendor in Dungeon Siege for 3,000 gold, you could also sell it to them for the same. BECAUSE THAT ALSO MAKES SENSE. Unused swords aren’t sports cars! They don’t devalue when you take them off the lot! Ahem.
The sequel from Gas Powered Games, Dungeon Siege II, was great too. The third game, cunningly titled Dungeon Siege III, was developed by Obsidian, and deviated quite broadly from the multi-character format. And let’s just pretend that GPG’s Space Siege never happened.
The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing / Victor Vran
It is woefully unfair of me to group these two games together, and yet that is exactly what my brain has done since Victor Vran released in 2015, two years after Van Helsing.
Neither is an exceptional game, but both are eminently playable examples of the genre. Van Helsing makes the impressive move to also suddenly turn into a tower defence game, while Victor Vran gives you a set of time-limited or item-limited challenges to complete in any given area, meaning each at least attempts to innovate.
However, both games are weirdly similar, and both have titles with Vs in them, and so what can I do? They’ve become the same game in my head, and always will be.
Released just a couple of weeks ago, Ghostlore is a modern example of the indie Diablo-like done so well. Created by just two people, this short but very deep take on the genre has a completely unique setting, weaving mythologies from Malaysia, Singapore, China and Indonesia, while also innovating in subtle ways that Diablo itself could learn from.
From the ability to combine skills from different classes to create unique third abilities, to its intricate glyph-based boosts, it’s bold enough to rethink some of the aspects that are often taken for granted.
For a two-person creation, this is amazing stuff, with some refreshing changes, while remaining faithful to the roots. Oh, and you wouldn’t believe how satisfying brevity can feel in a genre that usually lasts for infinity hours.
If you want more details on this relatively unknown action-RPG, do check out our recent review.
Obviously, we have to end here. It’s the best one, isn’t it? It’s the action-RPG all action-RPGs are trying to beat, including every Diablo game too. It’s the measure to which the genre is held. Except, of course, we’re talking about the Diablo II in your memory, rather than the actual 23-year-old game.
That was somewhat proven by 2021’s remastered version, Diablo II Resurrected, which was still a top game, but one that rather awkwardly reminded everyone how far games have come in the last two decades. (It also didn’t help that it launched with utterly broken servers.)
Diablo II is, without question, one of the most important video games there’s ever been. But perhaps it’s time for us to all stop harking back to this as the epitome of the format, and instead update to some of the more recent classics. Path of Exile, Torchlight II, or Grim Dawn, perhaps.
Or maybe it’ll just be Diablo IV. Time will very soon tell.
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