Very few games carry the weight on their shoulders that Diablo 4 does. With a legacy so strong and a community so eager, Blizzard had an undertaking of epic proportions ahead. Free from the burden of microtransactions that plagued the mobile-only Diablo Immortal, Diablo 4 comes into its own by respecting the previous chapters while adding a few twists that pave the way into the future of the mythical series. It may not be a revolution in the genre, but hell hath no fury like an addictive action role-playing game that will keep fans busy for ages.
She Sells Sanctuary
Lilith is the new threat in the Diablo series, a mesmerizing and exciting antagonist that was summoned 30 years after the events witnessed in Diablo 3. Without diving into any spoilers, as the story in this game is a treat that every Diablo fan should experience by themselves, the world building and lore is top-tier, fascinating, occasionally predictable, but with more threads and details than you can shake a bone walking stick at. You can indulge in it and appreciate the finely crafted horrors and despair through six acts plus epilogue, or you can skip the dialogues at your own peril, eventually missing out on a terrific grim plot that only comes around once in a decade. Even the prologue brings an early twist, as you celebrate a victory with some townsfolk over drinks and partying, only to find out that a terrible event was just set in motion.
The adventure begins with a lengthy intro cutscene where we first lay our eyes on Lilith, the horned devil of remarkable poise and determination. Gone are the days when Blizzard was the master of cinematics, every game coming with a stunning intro that was a distinguishing factor from the competition, sometimes worth the price of admission by itself, an unmistakable calling card that surely helped build the reputation that the studio enjoys up to this day. Still, Diablo 4 does justice to that legacy, with the occasional jaw-dropping in-game cutscene featuring your fully customized avatar, going to great lengths to show character emotions that range from fear to anguish, covering the full spectrum of hell on earth temperaments, and the storytelling significantly gains from these efforts.
Diablo 4 is an always-online game, a sign of the times and a choice that comes bundled with a wealth of pros and cons. If you want to live this journey as a solo adventure for most of the time, you are still bound to the will of the servers, with potentially massive queues by the time of launch – nothing that isn’t to be expected, and the price to pay for the huge world of Sanctuary and its wide appeal. Even if you don’t want to dive into a dungeon in a party, you can still see other players roaming the land and lending their helping hand to any villager in distress. Cross-progression and cross-play help in this regard, as you join a clan and go in risky journeys with your fellow adventurers. Unfortunately, this is an aspect that I couldn’t dig deeper into due to the limited player count in this review build, but everything is pointing to exciting raids with varied class synergies at work.
The downside of servers under high stress is that the experience may not be optimal right from the start; however, take this with a grain of salt as results may vary, and what I experienced in this restricted build hopefully will not be reflected in the final version, or at least it will improve quickly. There is a bout of lag every time the game seamlessly loaded a new area of the massive world, and there were missing assets and text in inventory and vendors. Again, it’s impossible to say if that’s going to happen at release, but it’s likely to and worth noting.
A Class of Its Own
The five starting classes are a staple of the series, comprised of familiar faces that any fan will surely recognize. We have the Barbarian, Rogue, Necromancer, Druid, and Sorcerer. Going through each of these heroes would be too lengthy a task, and it’s too early to properly discuss balance issues and whatnot. You will soon discover your favorite based on the mobility and inherent skills, such as the Necromancers’ ability to summon undead minions as companions, or the Druid’s ability to turn into a werewolf. But this must be combined with some knowledge of the ultimate skills and passives, a small part of the large mesh of abilities that drastically change your build.
In the end, it was the Sorcerer class that lured me with its elemental mastery. A ranged hero with the power of frost, pyromancy, and shock all together sounded like a great choice to keep enemies at bay, while unleashing a barrage of spells. It did not disappoint, although there were some close calls where I could use a heavy axe of sorts – alas, that’s out of the question. On the other hand, unleashing shock attacks that would spread to nearby enemies was delightful, the subsequent crackles sounding like music to my ears.
Picking an ultimate from the skill tree with the certainty that the rest would be unavailable was a tough choice, but you can bask in the notion that refunding all skill points is a possibility, a.k.a. a respec. You earn one skill point per level, so you won’t exactly be drowning in these valuable assets.
A Seamless and Beautifully Scarred World
The world of Sanctuary is comprised of five massive regions: Fractured Peaks, Dry Steppes, Scosglen, Kehjistan, and Hawezar. With seamless transitions between areas and some truly surprisingly immersive missions such as the desert one, which I won’t spoil here, there’s enough diversity of goals to stray from the familiar hack and slash gameplay. You can take a breather from the longer main campaign quests and take upon yourself to help fellow denizens of varying types of fortune, but there’s a limit of 20 unfinished side quests in your journal.
Priority quests will guide you through some of the basics, such as gem crafting, but your first big moment of celebration is likely to happen when you unlock the mount system. It will make you sweat for it – I was level 30-ish when I finally got my first trusty stead – but the payoff is tremendous. Exploring the regions is a lot faster, assuming you ignore the mobs for a while as you unveil the map and activate some of those invaluable waypoints.
Speaking of waypoints, these very useful fast travel systems are but a small part of something called renown. What is the renown system in Diablo 4 and how does it work? This is a score that increases as you perform certain actions of diverging complexity. To earn renown you can unlock waypoints, discover new areas, activate altars of Lilith, complete side-quests and dungeons, and liberate strongholds, one of the hardest challenges of the bunch. At certain thresholds, renown rewards you with bonus XP and gold, along with account-wide bonuses such as skill points and potion charges that will make all the difference when you start messing about with alts.
The way that strongholds are organically tied into the rest of the world, in a similar way to the occasional event, is worthy of praise. These can be triggered as soon as you enter the area of action, enclosing you in their not-so-little adventure that may revolve around destroying a camp and slaying their inhabitants, or investigating the shady rituals going inside various houses. It’s remarkably engaging and often challenging, and another addition to what is a massive game to begin with.
Dungeons are what you would expect and possibly dream of in a game like this. With a mix of procedural generation and handcrafting, the result is never less than convincing and absorbing, with great attention to detail in ways that other games may not even bother with – the way that walls disappear to avoid losing track of your character is nearly perfect, and the size varies between short to quite extensive, with random enemy placement as the cherry on top. Cellars are bite-sized dungeons where all hell breaks loose for a couple of minutes as you enact justice in all kinds of abominations and Lilith worshippers.
- Related Reading: Diablo 4 First 1,000 Players to Reach Level 100 in Hardcore Wil Have Their Usernames Cast in Stone
In case the challenge is a bit tame for Diablo veterans who are winging it without breaking a sweat, the World Tier can be changed to increase enemy difficulty, with the caveat of additional experience and gold. Die-hard players will surely attempt to raise world level at least to level two – aptly titled Veteran – to make the most out of their endgame experience.
Along with your faithful horse, potions will be your best friend. With slight but substantial changes since the genesis of the series, Diablo 4 has a health system where you can consume potions in succession without cooldown times, and these can be found in the wild by breaking objects, from enemy drops, or when you reach a certain threshold in a boss fight. You don’t carry more than a handful at a time with you, requiring some intensive saving, but there are ways to raise the count, such as the renown system.
There isn’t a secret to Diablo’s core gameplay loop, and Diablo 4 only hones a formula that doesn’t need reinventing. The sheer satisfaction that comes from the somewhat repetitive but addictive nature of defeating enemy, grabbing loot, leveling up is almost beyond words, a template that Blizzard didn’t quite create, but devotes such care and attention to its intricacies that it feels unsurpassed. Close to a decade of development time has paid off in full, our hero moving as expected and feeling like an integral part of a world that is grim, bold, and decaying, the story unfolding without any visible barrier to progress besides your own hypothetical limitations.
Combat feels weighty and exciting, progressing from a slow start with a meager selection of attacks to a devastating hellbent machine, normal and ultimate skills ranked to the max, passives up and running, inferno serpent drawing enemies near and dealing burning damage over time. The choices are significant and alluring, the battlefield combos compelling, the gold you pick up from each downed enemy rewarding with its coin jingling sound.
Dungeons offer your standard gameplay with the occasional variable thrown in for good measure, mostly consisting of finding a box, an artifact or a key and taking it to the blocked passage. It’s when the boss fights start that you must resort to your full knowledge, encounters often requiring full focus and constant management of skills and respective cooldowns.
Managing your streamlined inventory is a minigame in itself, as every piece of gear of different rarity is constantly replaced by a superior one, preferably of legendary tier, often upgraded to its fullest and socketed with a precious gem whenever possible. You can discard the outranked gear, place it in your town stash, or sell it at the nearest merchant. Don’t get too attached to your loot, and make sure to regularly store your most prized possessions, especially the ones that are bound to alternate classes.
It’s the End of the World and Everything Is Fine
Weren’t it for the unmistakable touch of Lilith’s hordes and Sanctuary would be one of the most gorgeous and idyllic places to enjoy a trip to. There’s not a moment of hesitation, a moment of doubt like with the previous chapter, when I say that this is a world filled with beauty in decay, a mixed creation of man, nature, and evil that results in stunning sightseeing. The more I explored each biome, each town, the more it hit me – the absorbing details, the countless minutiae of this world deserves an attentive look beyond the ravaging battles taking place.
The environments are superb, with trails and footprints in snow and dirt, showing the paths taken by your hero but also from fauna, up to the swirling trails of the snakes on the desert sand. Even some of the enemy attacks leave their markings on the snow, unexpected touches that are all the better for it. The more you start to notice these details, the more you appreciate the work that went into it.
Value the finer things you find in Sanctuary’s nature, because most of the time you will be staring at the gruesome and the abominable – which is what we are also looking for in a Diablo game. The muted palette serves as the adequate background for the bloody and disgusting trails of carnage, bodies scattered around, limbs missing, pulpy masses of the undecipherable, chaos as far as the eye can see. Corpse rolling will be one of your main activities, as you pillage the innumerous ill-fated villagers and adventurers for their last coin, in a morally dubious action for the greater good.
A lot of praise goes to the environmental destruction, way more than the standard jars and piles of rocks that the early gameplay hints at. Later, no tombstone will be left unscathed, nor any shelves, cabinets, carriages, and a lot more that can be taken down in your constant search for gold and assorted loot. Even if just for the sake of bringing the place down and leave no stone unturned, the joys of those crumbling sounds are second to none.
The atmosphere is of undeniable quality, bolstered by the awesome soundtrack that goes from moody banjo and violin tunes during your town exploration to spine-chilling, eerie folk choir tunes in some locations.
But since perfection is commonly said to be unattainable, not even Diablo 4 manages to avoid the occasional flaw. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to do in each town besides talking to quest givers and the assorted vendors. There’s no real imagination at work here, no incentive for exploration such as hidden collectibles or secret storylines, at least as far as I have gathered.
The camera could zoom out further than it does, allowing for a better tactical view of the battles, but that’s not possible. Oddly enough, it automatically zooms in even more while we’re in town, something that I didn’t find necessary. There’s also some randomness to the skip dialogue option, something on the table for some NPCs but not for others, and it doesn’t seem to have a rule or reason for this – side quests or main story, varying importance, doesn’t matter, it ends up feeling arbitrary.
Expect to see some enemies perishing in awkward positions, sometimes even standing up, but my main concern happened during a campaign quest. I went into a cellar of my own volition midway through a level 39 quest, and when I exited it, the current mission progress was reset, forcing me to backtrack and again pick up a couple of items.
The Start of Something Grand
Still, for all its flaws, Diablo 4 remains a remarkable game and it’s only just beginning. The way that it shines through its confidence in refining a gameplay style that isn’t revolutionary, but it’s as addictive as can be, is a lesson and a warning to all the competition – it’s not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about making sure that it’s as round and smooth as it can be.
Do yourself a favor: ditch your reservations and step into Sanctuary as soon as you can. It’s likely going to be literal hell during the launch queues, but you’ll have a beautifully grim and visceral adventure ahead, one where every leveling up sound will feel like music to your ears. Enjoy it to the best of your possibilities because an action-RPG of this caliber may only arrive in another decade or so, and missing out on Diablo 4 would be something that may just reserve you a spot in hell.
- Familiar gameplay honed to near-perfection
- Storytelling gets the spotlight with great cutscenes and lore
- Beautiful in all environmental details, from nature to man-made, to visceral hell
- Massive open world with various activities
- Five very different classes
- Classic but extremely polished and addictive combat
- Some lag issues that hopefully will be quickly sorted
Diablo 4 review code was provided by the publisher. You can read MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.