Every decade or so, Diablo pokes its horned head around the door and offers us a new game to consume our lives for months on end. After thoroughly enjoying Diablo IV‘s initial playtest, I was eager to make a deal with the devil and return to Sanctuary once again.
As a franchise, Diablo revolutionized the action-RPG genre and set the modern standard for dungeon crawlers — but the one thing I craved in a Diablo title was depth. While throwing the player into a desolate world packed with demon weapon-in-hand is enough for many of us to have a great time, Diablo always felt somewhat restricted by the lack of exploration and narrative outside of its procedurally generated dungeons.
Diablo IV improves upon its timeless gameplay and combines it with a vast open world, captivating characters, and fresh innovations to produce the best Diablo game to date.
One Hell of a Sequel — Combat and Abilities
Diablo IV retains its addictive core gameplay, freshened up with a new coat of paint and a much more extensive Talent system. Players can select from a diverse roster of character classes, each with unique playstyles and an array of abilities to choose from.
Playing a sword-wielding Barbarian and crossbow-toting Demon Hunter in Diablo III — I landed on the Rogue class for Diablo IV. Thanks to its revamped Talent Tree system, I was able to shape my character (seen above) around both melee and ranged combat.
Throughout my first playthrough, I constantly experimented with different builds and was pleasantly surprised at how different a single class could feel depending on Talent choices. Despite being able to learn as many abilities as you want, you can still only equip six abilities at one time. This made an otherwise dynamic system feel quite limiting, especially when picking up a piece of armor that gave me a new skill that I couldn’t use without sacrificing a slot on my ability bar.
Even still, obliterating hoards of demons with a flurry of shadow-imbued arrows and stealthy stabs in the dark felt as exhilarating and satisfying as ever. Diablo IV’s combat is fluid, fun, and now considerably easier to sink your fangs into.
Stay Awhile and Listen — Narrative
Diablo IV is set thirty years after the events of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls and expands upon the 27-year history of the franchise in a completely new way. Rather than focusing on the titular Lord of Terror and the forces of Hell, players face a brand-new threat; a lover’s spat between angel and demon.
The demon Lilith and angel Inarius birthed the human world of Sanctuary to escape from Heaven and Hell’s Eternal Conflict. Banished by Inarius in ages past, Lilith is finally summoned back to Sanctuary by desperate cultists, driven by a mysterious motive that unfolds as the game progresses.
Diablo IV is a colossal step forward for the franchise when it comes to narrative —having a villain as intriguing (and terrifying) as Lilith was exactly what Diablo needed. Its story gripped me from the very beginning and kept me hooked throughout the entire campaign. The game has a varied cast of memorable characters with excellent vocal performances, which previous Diablo games sorely lacked (with a few notable exceptions).
The story is told in such a way that both brand-new players and seasoned Diablo vets alike can enjoy it. Lorath, a hermit who serves as the player’s mentor, does a fantastic job explaining the necessary details. Trust me, this guy could read a one-thousand-page textbook on algebra, and his sultry tone and delivery would keep me captivated.
Stirrup Trouble and Rein in the Rewards — Exploration, Mounts, and Questing
As a series first, Diablo IV is entirely open-world. Rather than being confined to a single zone tied to your current story chapter (known as ‘Acts’), Sanctuary’s map is seamlessly connected together and free to explore as soon as the prologue concludes.
Diablo IV’s Acts often span multiple locations, which helps Sanctuary to feel like a living, breathing world. I often found myself galloping off the beaten path to investigate one of its many Dungeons or conquering a Stronghold and watching it transform into a new retreat.
That’s right: galloping. One of the most exciting new elements in Diablo IV is the inclusion of mounts. Hopping on the back of a horse and being able to bolt past hordes of enemies to reach your location is a delight and makes exploration much more accessible. My only hope is that Blizzard will eventually introduce unique mount types into the game, as I could only find various colors and themes of the same horse model during my playthrough.
Side quests are much more involved in Diablo IV, with questlines that tell individual stories throughout the game’s five regions. Your Renown level with each region rises as you complete optional content, granting account-wide bonuses, such as additional Skill Points, XP, and gold.
Rather than repeatedly replaying the campaign to level new characters, the sheer amount of optional content Diablo IV has to offer means that players can level their alts by exploring content they’ve yet to experience on their main character. This is especially useful due to Blizzard’s content plan, which will require players to create a new character each Season to earn further rewards — more on that questionable decision later.
Gritty, Gruesome, Gorgeous — Visuals, Sound, and Music
As soon as you set foot in Sanctuary, you’ll be mesmerized by the captivating visuals, music, and atmosphere of Diablo IV. Returning to its roots and departing from Diablo III’s controversial ‘cartoony’ art style, Diablo IV is dark, gritty, melancholic, and gorgeously gruesome.
Each environment is intricately crafted, with stunning details combined with an atmospheric soundtrack that creates a tangible sense of dread and trepidation. Pulsating organic structures, spindly spider legs protruding from platforms crafted from bones — many parts of the game made my skin crawl and sent shivers down my spine.
Diablo IV also manages to be stunning without the use of hellish imagery. From sandstorms in arid deserts to imprints in the snow left by fallen weapons, the game’s environment is the best I’ve witnessed in a Blizzard title. Whether exploring ruined temples or delving into demonic territory, Diablo IV’s graphics and audio remain consistently impressive and exceptionally immersive.
The user interface is also a tremendous improvement from recent Diablo titles. It’s far cleaner and more accessible while retaining the game’s theme. Accessibility, in general, is far better, with over fifty accessibility options, including text and vision assistance, audio cues, and item highlighting.
Hell as a Service — Battle Pass, Seasonal Content, and Microtransactions
Diablo III was a live-service game before the gaming community coined a term, so it’s no surprise that Diablo IV has adopted the typical aspects of ‘games as a service,’ from Battle Passes to premium currency and XP boosts.
To be entirely transparent, we were not granted access to the in-game shop or Battle Pass during the review period. Instead, we were given an asset pack containing a list of prices, cosmetics, and footage of the in-game store in action.
The Battle Pass features 90 Battle Pass Tiers, with 27 of those Tiers being free. By completing Season Objectives, players are rewarded with Seasonal cosmetics and Smoldering Ash — which can be spent on Seasonal Blessings that grant permanent buffs, such as XP boosts and higher Elixir durations. Smoldering Ash is only earnt in the free Tiers, meaning Diablo IV has no current pay-to-win aspect. Players also need to be of a certain level to take advantage of Seasonal Blessings.
‘Platinum’ is the premium currency of Diablo IV, which is earnable through the paid track of the Battle Pass or directly purchasable for real-world money. Platinum can only be used to buy cosmetic appearances from the shop and unlock the premium Battle Pass track —neither of which provide any gameplay advantages.
While a premium Battle Pass in a $70 game is unappealing by itself, my primary gripe is how Seasonal content is planned to be handled. Players must create a new character from scratch every Season to earn future Battle Pass rewards in subsequent Seasons. As the type of player that’s stuck with the same World of Warcraft character for over a decade, it was incredibly disappointing to learn that seasonal characters make their return from previous games.
Edit: Blizzard has taken into account the feedback provided by fans and altered their seasonal plan slightly from launch. Seasonal characters will retain Renown and location progress of previous characters, along with a ‘skip campaign’ option to dive straight into seasonal story content. While I would’ve liked to play a single character throughout Diablo 4’s lifespan, this new content plan appears to be a much better solution than the initial seasonal model.
Socially Slaying Succubi Seasonally — Multiplayer and Social Features
Diablo IV can be enjoyed as a single-player experience but does require a constant internet connection. The game provides various multiplayer options and social features, actively encouraging players to play with friends and fellow adventurers.
The entirety of Diablo IV is playable with friends through online play, including cross-platform, with the added bonus of cross-progression — something totally absent from the console versions of Diablo III. What does remain from the console editions is the inclusion of local couch co-op in the Xbox and PlayStation versions of the game.
As you journey through Sanctuary, you’ll often spot other players going about their demon-slaying business. You can team up with these players to complete dynamic public events or use the emote wheel to briefly dance in each other’s presence before being on your merry way.
Colossal challenging bosses spawn at set times throughout Sanctuary, designed to unite players to defeat them and earn powerful gear. Whether you’ve managed to band together a squad of friends or are fending for your life with total strangers, facing off against these titans is incredibly entertaining. Especially watching the same low-level Barbarian get instantly obliterated the second they walk into the area.
With engaging combat, an immersive atmosphere, and a compelling story, Diablo IV rekindles the flame of one of Blizzard’s most beloved franchises. Though the current live service content plan somewhat hinders its potential, Diablo IV will satisfy the hunger of series veterans and any new player seeking a quality action RPG.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.
- This article was updated on July 6th, 2023