It doesn’t feel like a decade, but apparently I’ve been sweet on Diablo III since 2012. Now it’s finally time for Diablo IV, so I’m hugely curious to see if Blizzard has learned from all the updates they made to its predecessor. At least it lacks a Real Money Auction House, so they let that controversy pass them by. Still, the Diablo formula has been tinkered with quite a bit, let’s see if that’s an improvement as well.
You’d say the minions of Hell would know better by now than to try to take over the world of Sanctuary, but there’s always a stubborn demon in between. This time Lilith, daughter of prime evil Mephisto, is the one who decides to terrorize the poor inhabitants of Sanctuary. And she does so quite properly, from the very first moment Diablo IV knows how to get its claws into you. The tone is dark and oppressive and horror prevails, and Diablo IV doesn’t really let that go for a moment.
Back to the roots of the series
Everyone who complained that Diablo III was too cartoony is at their wits’ end. Horror once again reigns supreme and the graphics look much more realistic. The focus has clearly shifted from the high heavens to hell and demons. Blood rituals, bizarre torture and the pleasures of sin predominate in the story, and the church and various cults play an all but flattering role. Even the Horadrim, classically the heroes who protect the world from prime evils, are no longer the automatic good guys we know from friendly graybeard Deckard Cain.
Diablo IV tells a solid story that focuses on the characters and lore of the world. The characters you encounter during your journey manage to endear themselves quickly. Deckard Kain has been gone from the scene for years, but the new cast is not a bad replacement, although Neyrelle does look a lot like Leah from Diablo III at points. The story certainly won’t win any Oscars, but absolutely suffices to keep you playing through to the end. Blizzard makes more use of in-game cinematics and this works extremely well. Lilith’s facial expressions in particular are very well done. Blizzard clearly has more in store for these characters, so I am very curious to see in what form the story will continue.
A dark world to explore
Anyone who has played the open beta knows roughly what the world of Diablo IV is like. It is divided into five larger provinces, each with its own capital city. The variation between the areas is reasonable, although the oppressive atmosphere prevails and nowhere does it really get colorful. It all feels very much like the Diablo we know from previous volumes, and to my feeling there could have been something new in here. Dark forests, white snow plains, lava-covered hellscapes and arid deserts are all familiar by now. The lack of an overlay map is still an odd choice by Blizzard, I missed it tremendously while playing. Please Blizzard, bring back the overlay map.
The world is littered with larger and smaller dungeons. The dungeons and caves you get through quickly. These are usually no larger than one room with a few elite monsters in it. The dungeons provide a greater challenge. Many dungeons give you a legendary trait upon completion that you can put on items in town, making them essential to complete. However, you do notice that they very often follow a pattern where in the first level of the dungeon you have to look for two items to open a door, on level two you then have to demolish all the demons and you get to move on to the boss.
A little too generic at times
You can clearly see that many of these dungeons are made up from some sort of standard building blocks, which can quickly make them feel a bit samey. Fortunately, the variety of opponents and bosses is enough to keep things interesting, but this could have been handled better as far as I’m concerned, especially since the overworld feels much less so.
Capstone dungeons have more levels than normal dungeons and the monsters have more features to raise the level considerably.
New are the capstone and nightmare dungeons. Among other things, these serve as a kind of test to see if you are ready for the next difficulty level, but are also just the places where you can find the best loot. The capstone dungeons have more levels than the normal dungeons and the monsters have more features to raise the level considerably. Fortunately, like the rest of the game, you can do these dungeons with others.
Real world impact
Strongholds are scattered around the map and are locations taken over by demons, usually just slightly above your level and thus quite a challenge to unlock. If you succeed, you are usually rewarded with a new teleport point, some shopkeepers and a dungeon or sidequest. Most of all, it makes you feel like you’re really making an impact on the open world. This makes it feel much more alive.
The addition of Strongholds has as much impact as the new Renown. This is a reputation system where you unlock points by discovering locations, completing sidequests and much more. Each main region has a Renown meter and with this you unlock additional skill points and charges for your healing potions for all your characters. So you can use these immediately when you start a second playthrough.
By the way, you can’t go everywhere from the beginning, most areas scale to the level of your characters, but a clear boundary has been drawn at endgame areas. You can visit them (especially with a mount you still get a long way), but the monsters are all high level and quickly end your adventure. By the way, during a second playthrough you unlock the teleports of the capitals you have already visited, so it is easier to visit these endgame levels.
Bounties are now called Whispers of the Dead. There are different types of quests to complete, each worth a number of “grim favors. These are Dungeons with five smaller quests in the open world that earn you one or two points. At ten grim favors, you can pick up a set of items, from which comes pretty good loot. Do note that Whispers are active for a limited time, so sometimes it’s smarter to wait a while for a series of whispers to expire to a new area so you have enough time to complete them.
These monsters obviously drop even better loot.
Finally, there are the world bosses that make the world of Diablo IV unsafe. These large monsters are meant to be tackled with larger groups of players. They are clearly marked on the map for players to gather around, and these monsters naturally drop even better loot. After completing the story you will also find Helltide areas, where the monsters are even stronger and you can earn an extra chest of loot.
The best new companion in Sanctuary
Practically every village has a teleport point, allowing you to travel easily through the open world. Still, the distances are hefty, and this is where Blizzard has made the best addition to Diablo IV: the mount. This one has so much impact on the rest of the game that my advice is to focus on the story until you unlock the mount, and only then deal with the sidequests and dungeons. With your trusty steed you speed through the open world, and don’t have to constantly worry about the groups of loitering monsters. You can buy different mounts, and there are special saddles and other cosmetic items to get to make the beastie truly yours. Exploring Sanctuary on horseback makes playing Diablo IV much better.
Return of your favorite classes
Diablo IV’s playable classes are fairly familiar values from previous volumes. The Rogue seems to be partially combined with the Monk and Demon Hunter from Diablo III, but the Barbarian, Sorcerer, Necromancer and Druid are exactly what you’d expect. Each class comes with a fully converted skill tree, in which you can easily switch should you want to completely convert the build. After completing the first fifty levels you unlock the new paragon system, in which this time you unlock squares on a sort of board (four per level up to at least level 100). There are special slots on it that allow you to unlock even more bonuses. When you fill up a paragon board, you can move on to the next one, where an interesting addition is that each side of the board has different skills, and you can choose to rotate the board, giving you even more freedom to make your class exactly how you like to play.
Another thing I noticed is that loot dropping defaults to a few levels below your character’s current level. This felt a little strange at times, especially when your character is level 45 and you are still getting level 35 items. This grows steadily with your level and in the higher Tiers this gets better quickly, but I thought it was worth noting. In addition to the familiar rarity levels of items, there are also Unique items to be found, which come with special power-ups that you can’t get from the item as with the legendaries.
PvP also makes a return and special fields in the world have been set up to take on others. These fields of hatred earn you special currency with which you can unlock unique mounts and cosmetics. Personally, I prefer to play with others, and that actually works flawlessly as well. Other players are transported to your world, and thus also gain access to your unlocked Strongholds. Other than that, the level and loot adjusts to each player’s level, so everyone can always play with each other smoothly.
Together online or in pairs on the couch
Diablo IV is more MMO than ever, and Blizzard has also come up with some ways to communicate with each other outside of the chat feature. The emotes you pull up quickly with a special button and can also be used here and there at special shrines for a temporary buff. It’s fun to run into others while playing and make a quick temporary alliance to get a special event. This makes the world of Sanctuary a bit more alive and is certainly an excellent way to really add something new to the Diablo formula.
Fans on consoles don’t have to wait this time, Diablo IV appears immediately for PC, Xbox and PlayStation. Includes couch co-op, a feature sadly missing on PC. Cross-play will hopefully ensure that there is always someone to play with. We haven’t tested the game on consoles yet, but if Diablo III is any indication, these versions are also going to be fine to play with a controller.
Consoles and in-game stores
Blizzard seems determined not to make the same mistakes as its predecessor with Diablo IV. The network infrastructure has already been heavily tested with the betas and controversial additions seem to have been largely avoided. By the way, this doesn’t mean there won’t be server issues at launch, so be sure to keep this in mind during the launch period. At least my playthroughs were relatively bug-free, I don’t expect there to be huge issues beyond the predictable server issues.
Diablo IV includes an ingame store (not yet active during the review period), but it only sells cosmetics. A Battle Pass has also been announced and, according to the developers, it only provides cosmetic additions, boosts to get through your season easier and “premium currency,” which I’m not quite sure what this means yet. I did notice that the there was one saddle for sale for my horse, whose price went up with my level, and it was quite high (at level fifty about 4 million gold).
Realistic to the point of distasteful
Graphically, Diablo IV is a welcome return to a realistic look. This really brings out the horror and makes some environments and events seem truly unsavory. The atmosphere is oppressive and you never really feel comfortable in Sanctuary. Effects of spells and attacks do exactly what you expect them to do. The in-game cinematics are much better than you would expect from the top-down view. A day/night cycle makes the environments look very different at times.
The audio is also quite good. The soundtrack may not be insane and falls into the background a bit too much during the action, but it fits within the mold of the Diablo games. The voice-acting is excellent and a number of familiar voices do their best to give credit to the events.
Diablo IV is a welcome return to the world of Sanctuary. The game is not perfect on all fronts and may not be as versatile as I would have liked, especially in the dungeons and variety of the world, but the improvements over Diablo III are more than enough to keep fans entertained for years again. With the announced Seasons and Battle Passes, Blizzard has plenty of options to add new content to the game in the near future, it is hoped that this will include more stories, areas and classes. Having played continuously for the past week and a half, I find that now that the servers are offline in preparation for release, I can’t wait to play more Diablo IV. That’s the best compliment I can give the game.