Diablo IV is out right now, and it’s rising to the top of the charts for games released in 2023. It’s been an absolute treat so far this year, and Diablo IV looks to continue the trend of excellent releases. This is an action ARPG which sticks to the tried and tested Diablo formula, but this time it’s much darker, gorier with a focus on buildcrafting and class mastery like never before.
Diablo IV is the latest in the series, following on from the rather bright and colourful Diablo 3, and the recent mobile entry Diablo Immortal. Diablo IV is going back to it’s demonic roots, focusing on a darker theme than ever before. This is a dungeon crawler at it’s core, and as you play you level up and gather loot to boost your armor and weapons, in an effort to take on harder and harder enemies, until you eventually get to the endgame. The core gameplay loop is running through dungeons, killing enemies, boosting your own stats and optimising your build, which leads to disposing of even more enemies in fun ways.
Diablo IV doesn’t revolutionise the genre, but it does do all the component parts very, very well. You can get very specific with the skill trees, which brings Diablo IV much more in line with other ARPGs today. While Diablo IV is great, one criticism could be thrown at Blizzard in that they are playing it very safe. Path of Exile and Lost Ark in recent years have shown some really good innovation, especially the visceral combat in Lost Ark, where as Diablo IV are remixing the greatest hits from the series into their latest entry. What it lacks in innovation, is made up for with polish.
The story has been vastly improved from previous Diablo games. The broad objective is to defeat Lilith, daughter of one of the Prime Evils of Hell. The story itself, the voice acting, cutscenes and in game story all blend together fantastically well to culminate in one of the best story experiences we’ve seen from Blizzard.
While the story is important for hooking players in, it’s the gameplay; combat, buildcrafting, hunting for loot, the drops and the core loop that’s even more important in a game like this. All five classes are distinct to play and fun, although some are more fun than others earlier in the game. The rogue moves quickly and fires arrows from a distance, the sorcerer creates elemental attacks with fire, ice, electricity and arc magic. The Necromancer raises the dead from the ground and the Barbarian smashes skulls with brute strength. Finally you have the Druid who can morph into animals plus use earth magic. All classes have their pros and cons, but they are tons of fun.
Class mechanics unlock at various points of the campaign. The Sorcerer gets their enchantment system in Act I, which allows you to enchant spells to augment how they work. This means you can mix and match spells to suit your playstyle, which feels like a much deeper customisation that we’ve felt before, meaning no two sorcerers will feel the same depenending on the skill tree options. Each class has their own unqiue skills unveiled to them throughout the campaign; the Druid has access to more animals, the necromancer can raise even more of the dead and so on. Each character feels unqiue, which is further customised through their unique systems.
Loot is another way to improve your build in Diablo IV. This includes weapons and armor, and in particular armor that has special abilities. For example, you might receive some armor with healing-over-time abilitites, meaning you can switch up your playstyle from ranged to close quarters. Weapons too can hold additional skills like randomly casting an addition spell when you cast an initial one, meaning the screen turns into explosions all over the place. There are moments in the game where Diablo IV starts to click, and either it’s a skill unlock or a build, but when that moment comes it all falls into place.
Buildcrafting is one of the reasons Diablo IV will keep you coming back for more each time. It’s cheap to respec, so if you don’t like your initial build, then you can simply change it. Much of my time so far has been spent on a Sorcerer, meaning I have fire, ice, electricty and arc combinations. I can spec into a single element, which works very well and you can become powerful, or you can use a combination. Ice and Lightning is particularly fun. The skill trees allow for deep customisation, and given it’s fairly simply to respec, going out there and testing new builds is one of the best elements of Diablo IV.
One noticeable feature of the final product is it feels much more streamlined compared to the betas Blizzard put out earlier this year, which is good, given that indicates they are listening to feedback and acting on it quickly. The pace of Diablo IV is noticeable, and there is much less backtracking that we previously encountered, which keeps you moving forward quickly. It does take the game a little while to click into gear with regular enemies almost melting in the first few hours, not presenting much of a challenge at all, although they are there to get you used to the mechanics. Soon you’ll encounter Shamans, who can summon other enemies and this is the point where things start to ramp up nicely. Bosses too start off fairly weak, but the diffciulty ramps up nicely as you progress, as does the complexity in battles. I would have liked to see more variation in bosses though, as they do tend to blend with the rare stand out moment.
While you can play Diablo IV solo, it’s also good to run through dungeons with friends or online LFG groups, as teaming up does make the game a whole lot more satisfying. The online service seems to work well, and the game launched with a few minor issues, nothing major, which is a breath of fresh air this day and age. You can team up with other players to take down world bosses together, run around towns, explore, plus there is PVP too. You can set up your own clan, or join another one plus getting into endgame activities as a group is the best way to experience that content.
Talking of the endgame, Blizzard has made sure there is a robust endgame in from day one. Get through the main campaign, and this is really only the start of the game. Diablo IV is now a live service game, it’s going to have seasons and a battle pass, so getting through the initial story is really the prelude to the ongoing game. This is a game that could be played for 1,000s of hours, and Blizzard have set things up well for a great day one endgame experience. As well as running around with friends, you can encounter new online players out there in the wild. For example, if you take down a world boss together there’s a chance to friend up and play again another day.
Your first main objective post campaign is to get to level 50, and this is where you’ll unlock the first Capstone Dungeon, plus you can unlock a third world tier and new activities and loot drops. One of these is called a Helltide Event with blood rain and enemies swarming from everywhere.
PVP is another decent endgame activity. There are two PVP zones in Sanctuary where you play against other players to kill NPCs, collect their materials and fend off other players, then the objective is to get out with the most resources. It’s similar to an extraction mode, but with a Diablo look and feel. It’s a whole lot of fun, very nerve jangling, but it’s bound to keep you coming back time after time.
Overall, Diablo 4 is a fantastic follow up to Diablo III, and it’s modernised the franchise in many positive ways. While this isn’t going to revolutionise the ARPG genre, it certainly breathes new life into Diablo, and is worthy successor. The story is good fun, but that’s only the beginning as you get into the endgame where the real fun begins.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series
Release date: 6th June 2023