Diablo IV Review – Appetite for Destruction

Diablo IV Review - Appetite for Destruction

How do you sum up the history of Diablo in one paragraph? Blizzard’s epic series has done in three mainline entries what other long-running series can only dream of. It has defined and continued to define a genre, it created a gameplay loop that is yet to be bested by many, many imitators and, as of today, there are still tens of thousands of people playing Diablo III, a game that came out 11 years ago. So when a new Diablo game is released Blizzard has a huge responsibility. It must cater to the franchise’s legacy while driving the entire genre forward. Anything less than a fantastic game will be seen as a failure by the gaming community at large. So with such high expectations, Did Blizzard deliver the fourth time around? 

You bet they did.

Diablo IV is set 30 years after the events of Diablo 3 and tells a much more personal tale than previous Diablo games. That’s not to say it is without its deep lore or fantastical elements, but it is certainly more focused on Sanctuary and its everyday inhabitants as opposed to the high fantasy concepts of Heaven and Hell that were explored in the third game. It tells the story of the resurrection of Lillith, daughter of Prime Evil Mephisto and mother of Sanctuary. Her methods, while evil in nature, seem to indicate an altruistic goal, to liberate Sanctuary from the constant battles of Heaven and Hell and ensure it is a free land for all those to dwell in it. You the player once again step into the role of a Nephalem, a race that can ultimately trace its lineage back to Lilith and their ultimate father the angel Inarius. 

This sets the stage for what, for me at least, is the best storytelling seen in the Diablo universe. In the other Diablo games, the story simply gave context to the mass demon slaughter but here it feels that actions have consequences, the tale is much more personal and there is a real impact on Sanctuary as things progress. Your path as the player is but one piece of the puzzle, with The angel Inarius and his church planning their own attempt to reign in Lilith, so it really adds to the feeling that you are simply a part of this world. An important part sure, but not the focus of it. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling, but it takes some unexpected twists and turns along the way that paid off nicely and by the end I was more than satisfied with the tale and how it bore out. 

Much was made about the change in graphical style when Diablo 3 was released. A more colourful and almost cartoony look split fans’ opinions, so much so that with Diablo 4, Blizzard has returned to something that is more akin to the style of Diablo 2. Sanctuary is a pretty bleak place, from the towns and villages to the snow-capped peaks and marshy swamps, the colours are muted and almost depressing. It is a palate that screams downtrodden and oppressed and it all plays into the sense of impending doom that the story is built upon. The demons, devils and dangerous creatures you will be battling are all dripping with malice and all the returning creatures have been given an appropriately evil upgrade to their look. 

This leads me to one of the very few problems I found in my time with Diablo IV. It is just so bleak, so depressing that it can feel like a chore at times to simply be in the world. I found myself wanting a splash of colour (besides blood red) every now and then just to give some relief. This muted and dark colour scheme also means that all the different regions and biomes tend to blend together a bit, especially as Diablo IV is set across one giant map, instead of the distinct chapter locations of previous games so everything kind of melds together. From snow to forest to swamp to coastline, everything merges and melds which is a testament to the world’s design but had me looking for some more distinct variety. I am also willing to admit that this feeling could be a result of cramming a massive game into a review period creating fatigue in the process. 

Speaking of massive, that is probably underselling the game. Diablo IV is enormous and what is even more exciting is that it is filled with genuinely enjoyable content that begs to be played. Simply walking from one point to another leads to side quests, dungeon runs and quick dives into cellars and caves. The real key here is that all of the content feels like it has been created with care. There are no cut-and-paste fetch quests, no simple “wander here and kill this” missions. The side quests range from single steps right up to full mini-side stories that explore a side of Sanctuary you would miss if you only focused on the main story. The dungeons are huge, taking a good chunk of time and a healthy dose of skill to complete and all of them culminate in a challenging boss battle that will push you to your limits. I haven’t even mentioned strongholds yet, giant areas that are always two levels above your player level so they will force you to bring out all of your tricks to complete them and unlock a new town location (with shops, waypoints and more side quests) on the map. 

The main story missions also show great variety, I never once found myself thinking I had done this before. The trickle of lore and story is paced just right as you complete these missions and each act has a satisfying conclusion that leads into the next part of the story. Very few games can be this big without feeling repetitive, in fact, the only one I can think of is The Witcher 3, so for Blizzard to nail this, it is something special. If I wasn’t playing this for review I can tell you my game time would have been much higher because I had to force myself to stop playing side content and focus on the story in order to finish this rather lengthy piece in time. Simply put I just want to spend time in Sanctuary and honestly, I can’t pay a much higher compliment.

For my run through I chose my ever faithful Sorcerer. Magic is my jam and it is no different here. This is where the biggest differences between the previous game and Diablo 4 come to light. The skill tree here is much more malleable. It is able to be bent to the player’s will creating a truly personal skill set. You can dabble, you can specialise and should you want to try something else you can simply respec your entire skill tree for a very moderate amount of coin. I honestly felt so free compared to the rather restrictive skill tree of Diablo 3. It also never gets too complicated either so there is no confusion as to an ideal path because the ideal path is simply the one you want to play at any point in time. 

One thing that Diablo 3 did really well was imbue a sense of power in the player. It gave a wonderful feeling of being godlike, mowing down hordes of baddies with spectacular spells and abilities. Diablo 4 doesn’t quite capture that same feeling because of two things. The first is that that world levels with you, so you will never be a supreme lord of destruction, mowing down hordes with a wave of your wand. Every battle presents a challenge and every battle deserves your full attention. I can honestly say I am not sure how I feel about that. The feeling of being an untouchable master is missed, but I think the fact the game keeps things tough is probably a better call in the long run. The second reason that godlike feeling isn’t recaptured is that the spells and abilities themselves, in keeping with the rest of the Diablo 4 theme, are nowhere near as flashy as they were in Diablo 3. Don’t get me wrong, there are some big spells and flashy effects (my favourite being my giant fire snake) but when compared to the 3rd game, they lack a little bombast for my taste.

One thing that is very clear is that Diablo 4 is set up as a living breathing world that is to be inhabited by many players at any one time and I missed that during the review period. Luckily I got a good amount of time in the various betas so I know just how well it all works, with wonderful world events and random encounters the order of the day. The only issue I suspect that will come about on this side of things is the chance for launch server problems. That being said Blizzard has seemingly done everything they can to avoid this so I feel confident that if they do occur, they will be short-lived. I would be happy to put a large bet on the fact we won’t be seeing a repeat of the launch issues suffered by Diablo 3. To further back this up, at one point during my playtime, Battlenet went down for a good 30 minutes and instead of booting me from the game, Diablo 4 let me keep playing, saved my progress on my computer and then synced up with the cloud once Battlenet went live again, all without interrupting my playtime. I must admit it was nice to have confidence that should a spotty connection occur, I had a safety net. 

Endgame is just as important as the main story for the large majority of Diablo players and it looks like the foundations are solid here. After the mammoth amount of time I spent playing through the story (about 50 hours all up, which could have been shorter had I taken the critical path and much much longer had I the time to linger) there were a host of new missions that opened up immediately upon completion of the story.  It also allowed me to create a new character and drop them into the game at that point, without the need to go through the story again. This allowed me to play a few hours as both the Druid and the Necromancer, both of which seem like a blast to play as and I can’t wait until I get the chance to start all over again with one of these classes. Everything feels just so damn satisfying, so balanced I feel confident in saying that no matter which class you go with, you are in for a good time. 

So is Diablo 4 a complete success? Honestly, it is so close it barely even matters. My slight issues with less flashy skills and a depressing colour palette feel insignificant to what this game offers. The longevity of Diablo 4 is something that will become clearer as time goes on, but at this point in time I can say that I had more fun with Diablo 4 than any of the other titles in the franchise and that is seriously saying something. Blizzard has had a bit of a rough run of late, but Diablo 4 is proof positive that they are an immensely talented team capable of great things. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your enemies, Diablo IV is here and you will be out of contact because you will be living in Sanctuary for the foreseeable future, I know I will be.

Diablo IV was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by Activision Blizzard.

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