When Diablo came out and was very popular, many developers started following some of its revolutionary takes on game design and even previously established action Rpg franchises were also influenced by Diablo's success (Children of Mana, Xanadu Next for example).
Also called Diablo-esque, Slasher RPG, Loot and Grind, Grinder, Hack and Slash, or Dungeon Crawler ARPGs, this sub-genre was very popular in the 2000s and 2010s and spawned many successful franchises like Sacred, Dungeon Siege, Torchlight and The Incredible Adventures of Van Hellsing. Usually played from an isometric perspective focused on dungeon exploration, killing hordes of enemies, complex loot systems and creating different character builds. Also some titles features optional online modes, others are totally focused online play and others go for a full single-player offline experience.
Basically a sub-genre of Action RPGs that have their most strong influence on the classic Blizzard series. These elements include:
- Great variety of items
- Character builds oriented around weapon, armor and item combinations
- Real-time combat (usually mouse oriented point and click target/tab target combat, not too reliant on mechanical execution)
- Isometric/Birds-eye point of view
- Besides some Roguelikes having inspirations on ARPGs and some dungeon crawling action, not all of them are necessarily RPGs or feature the same progression as Diablo.
- Isometric co-op games that arent RPGs like Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris or The Legend of Zelda Four Swords Adventures do not count as well.
- 3D games with different styles of cameras and combat like third-person shooters or open-world games like The Elders Scroll, The Witcher games and Final Fantasy 15.
Naming and Genre misconceptions
Besides its popularity and many entries in this style of RPGs, the genre is referred to by many names throughout the years and different countries and cultures. There is not enough research about how and when some of these names emerged. Possibly in old internet forums and maybe some video game magazines, there were some people that did not consider this style of game a "true RPG" due to many of these games not focusing on strong narratives full of dialogue options or the strategy of real-time with pause RPGs like Baldurs Gate games that also were very popular at the time, thus supposedly this style of game started being called "hack and slash" associating it with Tabletop RPG slang about campaigns which the players only wanted to kill enemies and get level and items.
Slowly as games mixed influences and many more titles in this style were being released, diablo-like games started being more accepted as RPGs as it became the dominant style of action RPG in the market at the time.
The 2000s also had an emergence of a new style of action brawlers that also were very popular and were called "hack and slash games" as well. So besides being associated with the same name this style of action rpgs do not have any relation to games like God of War, Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden games. This did not use to generate too much confusion due to Diablo-like games being more PC oriented and Devil May Cry/God of War/Ninja Gaiden and its similars being console exclusives, but as the years went by and different games started appearing on each other platforms some confusing term and descriptions started happening.
The confusion between having two styles of games with the same name wasn't in all countries, as in France people still associated DMC and GOW games as "beat em all games" which left the "hack and slash" term to be mostly about Diablo-Like Games. While in Latin American countries like Brazil the term hack and slash was mostly associated with DMC and GOW while Diablo was mostly called ARPG or Dungeon Crawler.
The term "hack and slash" was also briefly used to refer to 3D sword combat-oriented Action RPGs like Enclave, Draconus Cult of the Wyrm, Demons Souls and The Witcher 2. But apparently, it did not gain too much traction.
As the years went by this style of games started to be more associated with the term "Dungeon Crawler", which also generated some confusion due to previous and older tittles that were grid-based, turn-based, 3D first-person affairs to clash with this new association in some sites.
In recent memory few e far between games in this sub-genre were self defined as hack and slash, aside of some examples of European origin like the french Wolcen Lords of Mayhem and the polish Book of Demons. Other mainstream installments in the genre like Grim Dawn, Path of Exile, Minecraft Dungeon and Children of Morta being referred by both developers and public as "dungeon crawler action role-playing games".
Multiplayer Online and Live service pioneering
Diablo grew with the popularization of the internet itself, having most of its imitators at the time being only on the PC platform. The online interaction and live economy trading with other players were vital to Diablo 2, besides the game not supporting giant lobbies or more than 4 players at the time.
So the Diablo series slowly created not only a way of doing an ARPG but also created a very specific style of online RPG, not necessarily "Massive" like games that were released at the time and later on, Diablo-like games did not need to expand to a massive number of players at the same time to evolve its design.
This format also fomented the creation of its own live service online format for games that not only had the option to play online but had online gameplay as the focus of its experience, as Diablo 3 for example was only playable offline on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions being always online on PC and future platforms due to constant updates and online social features. This business, community, and content model is something that its very important these days with shooter RPGs directly created by this idea like Destiny, The Division and Warframe. Directly in this sub-genre, it's important to mention: Path of Exile, Marvel Heroes Omega, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor Prophecy, Last Epoch and Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem.
The reliance on not being mixed with MMOs is important for the game's design and communities of this type of game, shown by Blizzard's declarations regarding Diablo 4 and their clarifications that the game would not be an experience with simultaneous dozens of players. As well as Torchlight 3 was previously announced as an MMORPG then retroactively turned back into a direct numbered sequel to Torchlight 1 and 2 with similar gameplay.
Influence and Presence on MMORPGs
The strong focus on online randomized items and cooperation gave Diablo 2 its fame and popularize a model of how to do real-time combat, fun and rearding cooperation and a live economy thus generating long-term engagement. Blizzard also used this previous experience when doing World of Warcraft and its expansions, using some design conveniences from Diablo to create what was the most sucessfull MMORPG for years. In modern days, Diablo 3 and later expansions of WOW still have similar modes and gameplay conventions.
Even tho many MMORPGs copied World of Warcraft or tried to pioneer different styles and approaches like South Korean MMOs, many still copied the structure and ideas of Diablo 2. Some Ex-Blizzard designers worked on projects that dragged many of these influences like Mythos. To this day there are still coming out MMORPGs that clearly are building upon the Diablo 2 and 3 influence like MU Legend and Lost Ark. Other examples are: Dungeon Runners, Pagan Online, KingsRoad, Drakensang Online, Devilian, Realm of the Mad God and Herowarz.