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Ten years is a considerable period between the release of one mainline to another. Final Fantasy XV and XVI are eight years apart. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim launched in 2011, and so far, we only got a title teaser for the next entry. GTA VI, arguably one of the most awaited releases of the decade, is also stretching past the ten-year span. Diablo III was released in 2012, and now, eleven years and twenty-nine seasons later, we’re finally getting a new installment.
This gap between mainlines increases our anxiety to the same degree as it increases our anticipation. I played every Diablo there is, and I still fancy my werebear in Diablo II the most. While I frowned upon Diablo III’s rune system, I was ever at my friend’s beck and call for an online adventure. So, when I received the key to test and review Diablo IV, my expectations were soaring almost to the High Heavens.
And were my expectations met? Right off the bat, Diablo IV sets the stage for a wretched and unforgiving atmosphere, contrasting with its predecessor’s heroic and colorful tone. The skill tree system reminiscent of Diablo II returns, with more customization and uniqueness, tailoring the gameplay to your personal taste or destructive potential.
The combat was honed to the highest level by incorporating elements from all the previous games, resulting in the franchise’s peak performance. However, while initially impactful and intriguing, the narrative stumbles towards the end, making me wonder if that outcome was planned or just a gimmick to shove expansions and DLCs.
But if you are someone who measures a game’s value by the amount of gaming time it provides, then Diablo IV is definitely worth the investment. In my thirty hours of gameplay, I barely scratched the surface of what promises to guarantee hundreds, if not thousands, of the purest, most brutal, and bloody fun. Check out the RPG Informer’s Diablo IV Review on the PlayStation 5.
The Eternal Conflict
“For untold eons, an Eternal Conflict has raged between the demonic hordes of the Burning Hells and the angelic host of the High Heavens.” That is an excerpt from the Book of Lorath, an episodic series on Diablo’s official YouTube channel that aims to flesh out the game’s lore to the players.
To those who will voyage through Lorath’s deep voice and his storytelling, a dread-filled world, sinister but seductive, awaits you. I instantly watched every episode as it came out because I’ve never searched for any other Diablo material outside the games. What a fool I was.
Diablo IV occurs after every other in the series, including Diablo Immortal. It’s fifty years after the events of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls and seventy-two after the second game. As I delved deeper into Diablo’s lore, I discovered how immense, captivating, and impactful it is. The timeline and other facts are easily found online but not disclosed in-game, or at least I haven’t found them. I
consider it unfair for a game to demand players to feed off other media to understand the overarching plot of the narrative – looking at you, Final Fantasy XIV – so I will try my best to evaluate Diablo IV’s story with the content shown within it.
All Hail Lilith, Our Dearie Mother
Diablo IV’s narrative is similar to the teachings of the Horadrim, the organization of scholars and mages who protect Sanctuary from the forces of hell. All the lore is spread throughout the game in their studies, books and scrolls, and tidbits absorbed by talking to some NPCs. Story buffs who read all these materials and revel in their content may discover theories like a bonafide Horadrim. The world of Diablo IV rewards the curious but doesn’t punish those who want to stick to the script.
The premise of Diablo IV tells the tale of Lilith’s return to the Sanctuary and what this entails to the human realm. Our character, nostalgically called the Wanderer, is ensnared with Lilith in a way that I found more credible than the previous titles. Still, this hardly changes the fact that we are unusually strong and hero material to the eye of our allies for no apparent reason.
Given our propensity for good deeds and innate talent for decimating demons, we are soon embroiled in the Sanctuary’s affairs at the heels of Lilith and the corruption she’s spreading wherever her influence touches. In this adventure, we meet a cast of endangered characters who aid us more as a survival instinct rather than from a silver lining standpoint. Among these characters, one takes the mantle of an old acquaintance and plays the part to perfection.
And as I explored the Sanctuary and all its open-worldness, I soon understood why the despair, contempt, and nihilism are palpable throughout its entirety. Although Lilith’s arrival is recent, humanity is constantly living on the edge. Among the obscene amount of sidequests available, some are downright wicked, be it saving a possessed child or a sadist husband who gave in to a demon’s pleasure.
I dabbled in some, and while most did have that filler-like attitude, deep down, they contributed to flesh out the suffering of Sanctuary’s dwellers.
This hostile atmosphere permeates from one end to another. Diablo IV spared no effort in paving the ambiance with ruin and misery. Lilith hardly pushes humans in the wrong direction since they seem too willing to follow this trail on their own. A simple nudge is sufficient for her influence to spread like hellfire on a woody Tristram. As the Mother of all creation, her education is spot-on.
However, it’s important to note that there are still issues with the overall story. My gaming background is full of Japanese-made RPGs, so while I wasn’t expecting a novel-like plot filled with character development and melodrama, I still paid close attention to Diablo IV’s storyline. Some beats are presented awkwardly, as if they were there just to make a point and move the conflict along. It’s the infamous diagnosis where the game’s universe offers terrific lore, but a lackluster execution doesn’t do justice to it.
Hordes of Monsters, Dungeons, and Sidequests
However, it’s Diablo we’re talking about. If the majority only played the series for its storyline, there wouldn’t have been a decade’s worth of seasons in Diablo 3. You crave and desire that dungeon crawling and the burst of serotonin every time a legendary-or-above-grade gear drops. So let me fill you in on that.
Diablo IV features a fixed open world. No more fog of war or unexplored maps with every new playthrough. Procedurally generated levels were reserved for side dungeons, old cellars, and damp caves. Several Warp Points are distributed throughout the open world, which works like fast travel and sweeten the game’s pace.
The World Map shows you the recommended levels for each area, but as soon as you reach the threshold, monsters synch with your level, never letting a dull moment behind. I’ve managed to face demons five levels above mine in World Tier II, the veteran difficulty. Higher than that, and I was restarting from the checkpoint too often.
While I don’t consider myself an expert in isometric action RPGs, I got a Druid to max level in the old days of Diablo II and rarely struggled in Diablo III. I feel that Diablo IV even the odds. It balances the difficulty spikes of Diablo I & II by adding some features from the third game like dodge and midbattle potions drop, akin to health globes.
Diablo IV’s combat is the series’ top-notch. Each class sounds and plays uniquely with what it sets out to do. My main was a Fire Sorcerer, and my strategy relied on charring my enemies, filling the room with firewalls, and then running around until the damage-over-time of the burning took them back to the inferno.
I had a familiar experience playing a Blood Necromancer, where I let my skeletons do all the work. When I tested Rogue and Barbarian, I had to go face-to-face with the enemy and abuse the dodge mechanic, too often putting myself in harm’s way. Every class showcased its distinct and exclusive playstyle from the start, but they all had one thing in common: they were all insanely fun.
This is tempered by the countless builds that can be cultivated with each class. Each skill tree comprises categories such as Basic, Defensive, and Ultimate. The idea isn’t to master every one, but to customize them according to your liking, either for self-expression or carnage. Each active skill has modifiers, which provide extra bonuses to it. The wide range of options guarantees that the game can be played repeatedly with a fresh and exciting experience each time. However, a minor caveat held me back.
The last level of the base skill tree allows you to unlock a Key Passive, which provided a hefty bonus to my spells’ burning effect. However, this Key Passive seemed to force my hand to focus on one build type. Since all my burning spells were enhanced, why would I feel compelled to waste a skill point on a frost or lightning spell. So I didn’t. I know it’s still too early to theory craft builds, however, casual players – like me – may feel plastered when considering these passives later in the game.
Boss Battles Are Superbs
Regardless of the build you devise, you will manage to hold your own against the hellspawn. Common enemies come in droves, promoting an aggressive play style characteristic of Diablo. But if I were to highlight one particular experience, it would be the boss battles. Boss fights have elaborate but highly intuitive mechanics, providing a balanca between challenge and thrill.
Even the most run-of-the-mill dungeons or sidequests may portray a distinctive fight at its conclusion. Don’t expect to win every struggle by standing still; you’ll have to work on your dodges, pay attention to your surroundings, and unleash all your arsenal.
The first few bosses act as a tryout, signaling what’s coming and allowing players to familiarize themselves with the game mechanics. Many boss’ attacks have a tell, usually displayed as a red area on the ground. As the game progresses, these battles become a step harder, and several previously introduced mechanics start to overlap, raising the stakes while keeping the execution fair.
Inconsistently abusing my dodge soon proved to be a horrible strategy. The five-second cooldown seemed incredibly long when faced with a boss onslaught. Once I learned the big ugly’s moveset, I sparingly chose when dodging or soaking the damage head-on was the best tactic.
Diablo IV also features World Bosses, timed events on the map that offer a threat beyond any other. These bosses can be faced by up to eight players simultaneously and guarantee a fat reward for those who conquer them, but to do so, coordination, zeal, and a tremendous amount of ingenuity are required.
World Bosses are unlocked after completing the campaign, so I estimate most players will have mastered their character and the overall gameplay so that their contribution will weigh in these global confrontations.
A Lesson in Exploration
The world of Diablo IV is viscerally and brutally alive. While exploring, it was common to see some NPCs minding their business, hunting a wild animal, or facing demonic hordes. If I didn’t intervene, this lonely traveler might die, and soon I would be the fiends’ target. Constant strife dominates almost all zones in Sanctuary.
Non-combatant zones function as an online hub, allowing us to see other players who share our burden. In this asylum, we can trade, party, or merely chat, but the moment we leave the hub, we face encroaching solitude once more.
That is until we encounter random events around the map. Upon completion, these events gave me a chest full of treasures, progressively better according to my performance. Other players could join them and offer aid – which, unfortunately, was not the case in the deserted world of the pre-launch version.
The lack of players made some events absurdly tough, and no matter how hard I tried, the timer would run out, and I would fail. This left me wondering how much the multiplayer will impact the game’s final version and if some trials are nearly-impossible without an alliance.
In addition to these events, Diablo IV is packed with sidequests, dungeons, and other points of interest that entice the player towards exploration. A system called Renown tracks everything present in a specific zone and rewards wanderers with more skill points or potion slots, for instance.
For a completionist aficionado like myself, this is a brutal trap. The urge to explore every nook and cranny to reach 100% of the zones was highly addictive, sometimes puzzling me if I was enjoying myself or just getting my FOMO cranked up.
The ease with which these points of interest are laid out, and the background events on the way to them, further encourage exploration. I was either collecting materials along the way to upgrade my healing potion, craft some with special effects, or exploring cellars to hunt down those special minions expecting a legendary drop.
Legendaries, however, are not as exclusive as in previous Diablo(s). Running out of luck and have yet to see an orange drop during your gameplay? Worry not. Now you can make them yourself.
Spread across the zones are side dungeons granting Aspects of the Codex of Power as rewards for completing them. These Aspects can then be imprinted on rare items, turning them into legendaries with extremely powerful effects. If you get a legendary with a nice bonus but on a low-level item, destroy the sucker and steal its legendary effect to imprint into another gear.
These mechanics allowed me to be fully geared with legendaries before level 40. To those of you who are wringing your hands thinking Blizzard has trivialized legendaries, rest assured; starting at World Tier III, Unique and Sacred items become available, while at World Tier IV, Ancestral gear starts to drop.
The True Game, the Endgame
Diablo is notorious for its endgame content and endlessly pursue of the ultimate gear. In previous entries, once you finished the main campaign, the game lacked content diversification and doubled down on grinding. However, in Diablo IV, after almost thirty hours of play, I hadn’t completed even 10% of what it offered. In addition, the game enabled new features after the campaign, adding more hours to the clock.
One of these features was very similar to Diablo III’s Adventure mode. Another came as a dungeon recommended for level 50, dubbed Capstone Dungeon. Conquerors of this reinforced bastion were compensated with World Tier III, the Nightmare difficulty. I tried to venture into it thrice with my level 46 character but failed miserably.
I had to abandon my endeavor because I could not find any players online. Also, did I mention there’s a PVP-dedicated zone? These features portray how much effort Blizzard has put into the longevity of Diablo IV, and I’m not even considering the battle pass – disabled in the release build.
Accessibility on Point
Although I am not the target audience and am more of a layman than I would like to assume regarding accessibility, I think I would do the community a disservice by not mentioning the numerous accessibility features Diablo IV offers. There’s a screen reader which describes the text and interactive elements on the screen.
Text to Speech has many filters and audio cues to help you understand your surroundings. For visuals, they have a color-blind filter and voice chat transcription. You can remap every hotkey available, even analog sticks, to allow control with one hand.
Again, I stress that, unfortunately, I am a non-specialist on this subject, so I cannot say whether these options are relevant and actually aid those they are supposed to. But you and I know that at this point, accessibility should not be a plus to a game but a must for all of them. Diablo IV had this awareness, so I felt it was important to mention these features, given their importance, in the hope that future developers do the same.
Still, craving for more of that dungeon crawling Action RPG isometric experience? Take a look at some close alternatives below that are on par with the Diablo franchise:
- Path of Exile
- Grim Dawn
- Lost Ark
- Wolcen: Lords Of Mayhem
Diablo IV honors the series’ roots and grows strong on the fundamentals that made it renowned. In an industry filled with dramatic, conceptual games that sometimes get lost in their own attempt to be more than they, ditching the fun factor along the way, Diablo IV rises and stands out. Because amid its rich lore, endless loots, and gorgeous exploration lies a game that, in its purest hellish essence, is precisely that, a game made for entertaining its players.
As a story lover, I pay close attention to a game’s narrative. As a gamer, I can relate to the fact that this isn’t Diablo IV’s main appeal and turn a blind eye to it while enjoying all the other outstanding and endearing features the game offers.
However, I would be doing a terrible job as a reviewer if I failed to comment that the storytelling could use some work. The plot had more dedication and care than the predecessors, but the conclusion fell short – at least for now. As a live service game, we know there will be more content in the near future.
- The gloomy atmosphere matches the game design perfectly
- Worldbuilding through lore is outstanding and gripping
- Combat was fine-tuned to excellency, offering an incredible balance between challenge and entertainment
- Classes can be tailored with several builds, making each gameplay unique
- A massive world filled with side-content that gratifying rewards the player
- For better or worse, a live service game, which guarantees a fresh batch of content at given intervals
- Some story beats are awkwardly shoehorned in
- A few battle tutorials could be better explained
- Not necessarily a negative point since I couldn’t experience the multiplayer in its entirety. But I got the impression that some content is highly reliant on other players, undermining the experience for those who prefer to go solo.
Murillo played for about 30 hours in the pre-launch build of Diablo IV and got to level 46. He managed to finish the entire campaign, completed a few dozen sidequests, explored several dungeons, and became fully equipped with legendaries. He was discouraged from continuing grinding since the game progress will reset with the official release.
However, Diablos IV was so addictive that he created three new characters and rode around the map doing events in suffocating solitude alongside his esteemed steed.
Question: Is Diablo IV better than Diablo III?
Answer: In my humble opinion, it is. I enjoyed Diablo III, but the rune system and the myriad degrees of difficulty just didn’t appeal to me – and I’ve to confess that Diablo III’s Act 2 is one of my favorites in the franchise. I genuinely believe Diablo IV has absorbed all the feedback from the previous games and refined the skill tree and combat system to a new zenith, making it a more enjoyable and worryingly addictive experience.
Question: Will Diablo IV be pay-to-win?
Answer: The game will feature a free and premium battle pass. According to the developers, the free one will offer some boosts to hasten your progress, while the paid one will offer only cosmetic items. However, the game features an optional PvP map, and I wonder how much these boosts can influence duels with other players.
Question: Will Diablo IV be dark?
Answer: Much darker and gloomier than its direct predecessor but similar to what was presented in the first and second games. There comes a point when you get used to so much of the world’s suffering that a joyful outcome feels a bit alien. Some cutscenes and scenarios also take the gore to the next level, further enriching the bleak atmosphere.
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