Blizzard raises its head and proves that it still knows how to do it with this first taste of Diablo IV, a tribute to the best chapter of the series and beyond.
Diablo IV doesn’t even have a release date, but Blizzard has already provided us with an initial and, frankly, somewhat limited build of the game to try. After spending about a week there, we were able to get a good idea of what the game will be like, what its strengths are for now and what fans can expect at the final release.
Diablo IV begins with character creation, as all good games do. Unlike previous chapters, the creation tool is surprisingly deep, with options that allow you to choose hair and colors, skin tones, tattoos and markings. We are not from the parts of something like Cyberpunk 2077 or Elden Ring, but it is a significant step forward for the series, which in this sense had never introduced great possibilities in terms of customization.
After creating a character and going through a few cutscenes that we are not allowed to talk about, you are thrown into the world of Sanctuary. The first thing you’ll notice about Sanctuary is that it’s a dark and eerie place. The previous installments were dark and foreboding too, no doubt about it, but Diablo IV seems to be raising the bar a lot on this aspect.
A world to get lost in —
Sanctuary is a terrifying world, full of tension at all times, closer to a horror game than anything that preceded it in the series. Visually it maintains the somewhat cartoonish style that made Diablo III so pleasant, but tougher, hostile and inhospitable. Sound design plays a huge part in creating this spooky atmosphere, with the wind hissing in the background and tree branches creaking in the distance. Footsteps, yours and those of the monsters, fall heavily in such a silent world, imparting a sense of danger but also a sense of urgency. There are places to go, things to see, and monsters to slay, but all parts of Diablo IV’s design tell you that you should approach things at your own pace and tread carefully.
Once you’ve made a few more story progresses and learned some of the basics of combat, the world becomes your home – it’s hard to convey how vast Sanctuary feels, with its open-world design that goes out of its way to invite players to explore. There were so many times we’d set out to do something, only to stumble upon a slightly hidden dungeon or path and end up completely adrift for hours. In that sense, Diablo IV looks a lot more like Diablo II than other iterations of the franchise do.
And it’s a feeling that we felt a lot in D4. We started our journey into the world of Diablo with the second chapter and playing Diablo IV really evoked a lot of nostalgia. The tone, the fights and the design are very Diablo II, which explains why Blizzard wanted to remaster it before diving headlong into the new chapter.
The “all-stars” combat system —
Staying on topic, Diablo IV really seems to be taking the best parts of the combat systems and blending them together in a way that makes perfect sense. It’s all very dynamic and crunchy like in Diablo III but with more weight, like in the first two. Everything feels purposeful and impactful, where in Diablo III enemies often looked like paper dolls. Now, when you hit an enemy, you know you’ve hit it, and when an enemy hits you, you know you’ve been hit.
In the build provided to us by Blizzard, we had access to three of the five launch classes: the barbarian, the sorceress and the cutthroat. We would have loved to check out the other two classes, the Necromancer and the Druid as well, as they’ve been among our favorite options in previous chapters, but sadly we couldn’t. We chose Enchantress in the end because honestly who doesn’t like shooting fireballs?
That’s the interesting thing about Diablo IV – our enchantress didn’t necessarily have to stake everything on shooting fireballs. In fact, there’s a sort of subclass system where you can spend skill points in three different branches. Instead of throwing fireballs, we could have thrown lightning or ice attacks, and there are skill trees dedicated entirely to each of these three playstyles.
A First Look at Sanctuary —
Eventually we went with lightning and had abilities like Chain Lightning, which scatters bolts of lightning between all enemies after hitting one. Sadly, we had to stop at level 25 out of the final game’s 100, so we haven’t been able to see how deep this path will go. However, it seems there will be plenty of opportunities to customize your own approach to combat.
In the build provided to us there were so many things that were inaccessible, so it’s difficult to offer a solid judgment on how the game is in the absolute sense. PvP was not included, for example, and there were no mounts, although Blizzard has already explained that these will not be available in the game until much later in the story.
The build also only allowed us access to the prologue area and an area called Fractured Peaks, a mountainous and fairly snowy region filled with wolves and other terrifying creatures. There will be other zones available in the final build, of course, and each of these should have unique monsters tied to the biome, so it will be interesting to see what they add to the gameplay.
Diablo IV, the verdict (for now) —
As of this writing, a release date for Diablo IV has not yet been announced, so it’s hard to know how much of the game will change between now and launch. Nonetheless, if Blizzard were to continue down this path, this chapter could easily be one of the best in the series.
Written by Oliver Brandt for GLHF
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