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The first Diablo introduced us to the concept of a loot-focused action RPG. The sequel, Diablo II, expanded upon the concept and offered new ways to evolve or build characters, adding more depth to the gameplay. I consider both to be classics and their influence is often felt in many of the action RPGs that have released since. Diablo III went in a slightly different direction by literally being a loot-focused action RPG. The developers abandoned Diablo II’s style of character building in favor of focusing entirely on gear or loot. This new style means that gear essentially defines your character. In my opinion, Diablo III sucked at launch because the loot drops sucked but updates turned it into a really fun and addictive experience and I’ve been looking forward to playing the next entry, Diablo IV. Developed by Blizzard Team 3 and Blizzard Albany and published by Blizzard Entertainment, Diablo IV was released for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and the Xbox Series systems in June, 2023. For this review, I played the PC version.
Set in the world of Sanctuary, years after the events of Diablo III, Mephisto’s daughter Lilith is summoned which spawns a new wave of worshipers and evil that spreads across the land. She embarks on a campaign to take over Sanctuary and is pursued by the protagonist known as “the Wanderer” after they’re drugged by villagers and fed Lilith’s blood pedals. After the Wanderer meets up with a member of the Horadrim and tells him their tale, together they set out on a quest to stop Lilith. Ultimately, I enjoyed the plot. It’s well told and comes with solid voice acting. I also enjoy the tone and atmosphere. The presentation seems to aim for a dark and grim look and feel which I think is a good fit, especially when compared to the previous game. It’s not as vibrant, cartoon-y and campy.
Much of what is present in the previous games is present here but Diablo IV does feature quite a few changes and new ideas. Seasons come with new content and from what I understand, additional story content will be available in future expansions. One of the biggest new things introduced here is the open world. Diablo IV is an open world game and the world is not randomly generated. However, dungeons with randomly generated layouts are spread across the world. Unfortunately, in my experience, many of them seem to look and feel very similar which is one of my gripes with the game. Cellars which are like mini-dungeons are also spread across the world and these, too, look and feel similar. Another new thing here is how quests are handled. Quests are not new to the series but Diablo IV is full of them. There’s story quests and a ton of side quests and completing them is a great way to earn experience. Many of the side quests in the game are like side-stories and are layered with multiple objectives. Furthermore, many include companions that will travel with you.
In typical Diablo fashion, before jumping into the gameplay, you must select your character class and difficulty or World Tier. The classes include Barbarian, Necromancer, Sorcerer, Rogue, and Druid and you can choose to play a Hardcore character which means permadeath. At first, you only have access to two difficulty levels or World Tiers. World Tier I: Adventurer and World Tier II: Veteran. Higher World Tiers must be unlocked. You must also decide what Hero Realm to join, Seasonal or Eternal. The Seasonal realm offers new content in addition to the default gameplay experience and once the season ends, your character is moved to the Eternal realm. For my playthrough, I chose the Rogue class, not hardcore, and World Tier II: Veteran to start but eventually dropped it to World Tier I. It should be noted you can switch World Tiers at any time. Higher World Tiers or difficulties means more challenging foes but also more rewards. I also want to mention I played the game during Season 1. As of this review, Season 2 is already out and from what I understand, it comes with several improvements.
As expected, you earn experience for killing monsters and completing quests. You still can’t improve or pump points into attributes manually but Diablo IV brings back character building through skills. When you earn enough experience you level up and are awarded a skill point. Skill points can be spent to unlock skills and upgrades and unlike Diablo III, you can choose what skills and upgrades to unlock. This means you can define your character through whatever skills and upgrades you select in addition to the gear you equip. Loot is still a big part of the gameplay and what you equip can make a big difference in terms of how your character performs. In my opinion, good loot drops were frequent enough to keep me going. When you reach a certain level, you will start earning Paragon Points instead of skill points. These can be spent on the Paragon Boards to unlock tiles that provide boosts. Some are sockets for Glyphs to be inserted into for additional bonuses. Glyphs offer all kinds of benefits and can be found in the world and can even be upgraded.
When comparing the challenge of the starting difficulty levels of Diablo IV to those of Diablo III, there is a big difference. As you may or may not know, Diablo III’s starting or lower difficulties are very easy. Since I played Diablo IV fresh off Diablo III, the increase in challenge was immediately noticeable. Again, I started on World Tier II: Veteran. Now I don’t mind a challenge but after playing for a while, I didn’t feel my character was any more powerful. Any type of growth felt marginal. I was dying quite often, there were certain bosses I just couldn’t defeat, and I rarely met the mastery requirements for events. I even refunded all my skills and followed a build guide but the game still kicked my ass at certain points. I’m not sure if that says something about the balancing but I was getting frustrated and when I reached level 42, I decided to drop down to World Tier I. Some encounters still proved to be tough but I felt like my character was performing much better. As I indicated earlier, the gear you have equipped can make a big difference. But you have to be mindful of what enemies to prioritize and when, know what skills to utilize and when, and utilize the evade move when necessary. Crowd control is very important here and having plenty of health potions can prove to be quite beneficial.
Over time, I got used to a lot of the new stuff and, ultimately, I can’t say I dislike the new structure and I really came to enjoy the open world. You can focus on quests or dungeons or cellars or strongholds or just run around and slay monsters. You can fast travel to any unlocked waypoint and you have navigate around on-foot until you reach certain point in the campaign where you unlock mounts or horses which can get you around faster. The world of Sanctuary features different regions and doing things like completing quests and dungeons within a region earns you renown for that region. Renown is like your reputation and increasing your renown will grant you rewards including skill points and additional health potions among other things. Much like Diablo III, health potions can be consumed at the press of a button but there’s no cooldown anymore. Instead, you have a set amount and potions can be replenished by finding them in the environments, by health fountains, and enemies can drop potions when defeated.
In addition to the campaign are tons of quests, dungeons, cellars, and strongholds to complete and beating the campaign unlocks additional content, end-game content. As you roam around the world, you will see other players and can form parties and you are granted some boosts and benefits if playing with others. I primarily played through the game solo but did join one Legion Event which are for groups. The world is full of things to do, monsters to kill, and loot to find. As of this review, set items are not present and identifying items has been cut. Items still come in different qualities and the better the quality the better the bonus properties. Sockets, gems, crafting, and transmogrifying items all return and the durability of your gear only decreases when you die. Diablo IV does introduce the aspect feature, although Kanai’s Cube in Diablo III provided something similar. Aspects are basically bonus or Legendary properties. They can be extracted from Legendary items and are awarded to you for completing dungeons. Aspects can be imprinted onto non-Legendary items meaning your granting them Legendary properties or powers.
Sanctuary is a pretty diverse world with regions showcasing different biomes of sorts. You’ve got snowy, desert, and swamp areas among others and the regions are split up into different zones. If you look at the map screen, you’ll see each zone has a recommended level. But enemies do scale with you and the game will force enemies to be at a higher level than you for certain things. Monsters are everywhere and come in different types and Elites are more powerful than standard foes. As mentioned earlier, the game can be challenging but sometimes I found it frustrating. Mainly because I felt like surviving certain encounters and bosses depended on how many health potions I had and not necessarily skill. You’ll often encounter mobs, some foes are spongey, and many can inflict damage or status effects that drain health, slow you down, or freeze you. If you’re not prepared and careful or, in some cases, don’t have enough health potions, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and killed. Most dungeons require you to complete a series of objectives and then end with a boss. Boss health bars have markers and when their health drains past a marker, they drop health potions and I’m quite certain this mechanic is the reason I won certain battles.
Visually, Diablo IV is a pretty good looking game. The cut scenes look great, the world is detailed, and the visual and gore effects make the combat and kills feel satisfying. The character and enemy models look good and there’s a decent amount of environmental variety. I feel the presentation does a good job at conveying a dark and grim world and the soundtrack also contributes to this. While it’s not my favorite in the series, it features a lot of what I would consider ominous tunes that really add to the atmosphere and help elevate tension and convey a sense of evil. On the technical side, I did not encounter any issues.
I enjoy Diablo IV but I feel it can be improved. It’s very possible I suck at the game but I feel some additional tweaks to balancing are in order and I am a little disappointed with the similar dungeons and cellars. Other than that, I like most of the changes and new stuff here. I can’t say the game is super innovative but I did have fun with it. I like the skill system and paragon boards because they allow you to actually build a character, to define them outside of what they have equipped. Good loot drops were frequent enough for my liking and I enjoy the open world. The freedom on offer makes it easy to get sidetracked. The series has always been about slaying monsters and finding loot, new toys to play with. That is retained in Diablo IV and the world offers plenty to do, plenty of monsters to kill, and plenty of loot to find. Whether you’re just out exploring and slaying monsters or doing a quest or event or dungeon or cellar or stronghold, there’s always something to do and ways to improve your character. Again, I want to mention that I played the game during Season 1 and would say that, overall, Diablo IV does provide a fun and addictive experience but I’m hoping future updates tweak some things and add more content outside of the seasonal stuff to make the experience even better.
I do recommend Diablo IV. It may not be super innovative but I am hoping more content and improvements come in the future. There’s plenty to do, it can be addictive, and I found the gameplay to be fun, overall. If you’re a fan of the series and/or genre, I think Diablo IV is definitely worth checking out.