The return of Lilith to the lands of Sanctuary has not been an easy or short road, but for the folks over at Blizzard Entertainment, it is one that is necessary for Diablo IV. Faced with the weight of the past and the chance to usher in a brighter future, the difficult task is one Associate Game Director Joe Piepiora and Producer Ash Sweetring are clearly keen to embrace.
“Looking back at some of the earlier entries in the Diablo series and thinking about the things we liked about Diablo, II, and III helped inform a lot of what we want to do with Diablo IV. Those are the things that really like started us down this road,” said Piepriora. “We knew we wanted to create a darker and more grounded version of Sanctuary as part of the telling of Diablo IV, but that was further informed by the work we’ve done in the past.
For Sweetring, herself a newcomer to the franchise, this approach works really well to provide entertainment for all players.
“We really wanted to ensure that the game was overall pleasurable, and that you’re finding enjoyment at any stage of your progress in the Diablo series. If you love lore-heavy stuff, you’ll be able to enjoy our campaign and story as we go along. If you’re somebody like me, who enjoys exploring and really understand your mechanics before you go fight those nasty monsters, you’ll have the opportunity to do that as well.”
“We’re now really introducing Lillith and Inarius for the first time, to bring to the forefront of a Diablo title and making them major characters. And we’re also taking your character and putting them front and centre in the story.”
Having a narrative hook definitely aids in making sure players are engaged from the start, and that is something the game has most certainly succeeded in. The arrival of Lilith and her critical role in the ensuing conflict makes for captivating storytelling, and the opportunity to flesh out further the lore of Sanctuary and the Eternal Conflict was too good to pass up.
“We start from the position that we know we have this history in the series, but we have a new vision for this dark, hauntingly beautiful world of Sanctuary that we’re looking to create together, and this is the framework that we’re trying to build it around,” Piepiora explained. “What we really want to do was tell this story that allows us to explore the motivations of characters like Lilith.”
Sweetring added that it was vital to “stick with the return to darkness and remain with our grunge tones we were holding throughout Diablo II and forward,” which made it possible “to create experiences for players to be immersed in whatever feelings in the storytelling as we’re progressing throughout Diablo IV”.
“They’re going to be times that we’re provoking you to feel sadness or happiness all throughout the storyline, and those reasons are intentional, and there’s a reason that we want you to be feeling that,” she summed up. Having a stunning visual art style definitely helps in that regard too, with Art Director John Mueller invoking the Renaissance period when it comes to imagery to immerse players further in the ongoing struggles of the people, the angels, the demons, and Sanctuary as a whole.
Gameplaywise, it was also going to be difficult to iterate on a well-established formula, but through certain additions and tweaks, Diablo IV makes it enjoyable whether you are playing it with a level 1 character, or a seasoned pro chasing the endgame rewards. The new evade mechanic brings “an emphasis on action combat” and provided players with a new tool to “dodge out of the way of enemy attacks and move into and out of conflict as needed,” said Piepiora.
Taking a chance with certain elements from the massively multiplayer online role-playing game genre meant that there were new things in Diablo IV for players to get used to. While the core idea is still “the sense of isolation,” the team liked “the online roleplaying aspects of the experience in Diablo IV” and being able to see other players, which is why World Events like the Ashava boss fight come into play. Long enough to bring people together, but everyone splits off to do their own thing after.
There is also an overwhelming number of dungeons and cellars that players are encouraged to explore and clear. The former features a gauntlet of enemies to slay, including a powerful boss at the end, with the reward of an Aspect of Power up for grabs that expands the options for a particular class build, whereas the latter are more contained experiences designed for short bursts of combat and valuable incentives.
“We really want your first experience inside a dungeon to feel rewarding,” Sweetring said. “Sanctuary is a massive place, and we wanted to have cool things for players to discover when they go off the beaten path. We are always considering if areas out in the wild are currently serving a fun purpose for players or not. Like standard dungeons, cellars also help support the story of Diablo IV in several ways that you’ll see as you progress through your campaign journey.”
And it is indeed a journey, influenced by the choice of five different classes that each boast unique skills and approaches to combat. There is plenty of depth involved when it comes to the skill trees, and that is by design as players venture towards the level cap. Piepiora added that “many of the choices we provide to players are kind of themed after certain options, and they have a lot of context baked into them,” which also aids in a greater understanding of how builds are crafted.
Once players are more than familiar with how to play their chosen class, then comes the Paragon Board system to further refine their choices, and “the focus here is to make sure the players have enough confidence and have context for why they make decisions about how they play Diablo IV.”
It is clear that Diablo IV is meant as a bold new step forward for the series as a whole, but it doesn’t mean that the past is forgotten. Things will still change, as is the live-service nature of things, but at this stage, it is all shaping up nicely for when players finally step into Sanctuary once again this June.