Expectations are often a bane of reality, allowing hopes and wants to colour our perceptions before the truth reveals itself. For a long-running series like Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo, the freshness it brought back then established it as the pinnacle of the action role-playing experience, but recent stumbles in areas including live-service support and real-money trading have rightfully caused consternation. And all of this puts Diablo IV in a rather unique position of seeking redemption in some form, to climb the mountain of greatness once again.
Eleven years have passed since Diablo III, but the nature of the live-service beast means that players have had new content to sink their teeth into all this while. Naturally, this makes much of Diablo IV a familiar affair, albeit one that is pushing harder on evolution rather than innovation in the ARPG arena.
The underlying principles of the genre hold true, with players engaging in constant combat to obtain shinier and better loot, all in the name of beating back the forces of evil to save Sanctuary once again. But before we dive deeper into the gameplay that makes everything tick, it is quite vital to talk about the narrative and storytelling approach that Blizzard has chosen.
There has been much discussion about the return of Diablo IV to its darker, more classic roots, and the return of Lilith and the ensuing bloodbath certainly do not disappoint. The stakes are high in the next chapter of the eternal conflict that Sanctuary continually finds itself wrapped in, and the player will have to get their hands dirty to make an impact.
And while snarling demons and routine murder are to be expected, it is the gravitas in which many of the game’s pivotal moments are delivered that once again demonstrates why Blizzard is so lauded for their work in storytelling cinematics. From the opening salvo all the way to the end, it is hard not to be drawn in by the enigmatic Lilith, the obnoxious grandeur of Inarius, and the rest of the supporting cast in fleshing out this latest chapter of the Diablo lore.
For fans that have followed the saga since 1997, Diablo IV takes another step in world-building and environmental storytelling, throwing interesting tidbits of information and references that can be pleasant surprises, and help bridge gaps between the past and present. Needless to say, familiar faces never failed to stoke the fires of nostalgia throughout this new adventure.
That is not to say that newcomers will have less of an experience, especially when it comes to the main narrative thread that connects the game’s main acts. There is still much exposition that paints a vivid picture of the journey that awaits, and the core role players are meant to play to see things out to the end.
Without delving into spoilers, the coming of Lilith ranks high when it comes to an overarching story in the series, and even more so for longtime players. There are occasions where there can be too much of a coincidence just to get the plot moving, but the storytelling seldom overstays its welcome.
Of course, there are many of us that can easily enjoy a game without a strong story to back it up. Diablo IV just so happens to have both barrels ready to go, with the class-based combat providing a wide range of options for all sorts of playstyles to prosper and conquer.
Visceral melee awaits with the full arsenal of the Barbarian, magical mayhem reigns with the Sorcerer, traps and agility rule the day as the Rogue, overcome death and take control with the Necromancer, or be one with nature as the Druid. No matter the choice of class, Diablo IV has skillfully made it possible for all classes to shine in their own right.
Unique skills and abilities cater to differing approaches to conflict, and as players level up and distribute their skill points as they deem fit, most, if not all, decisions can make a significant impact on a build. Add the depth of the Paragon Board system after level 50, and the road to min-maxing the hell out of a character has only just begun.
Sure, not all classes will start off on equal footing, but it is clear that Diablo IV is more about the journey than the destination when it comes to maximising the potential of a character, growing pains included, especially for the melee classes. Changes are also expected as the developers continue to fine-tune the experience, but even in its base form, there is much to appreciate about the complementary systems of each class.
It also helps that the combat is so satisfying, with Diablo IV throwing hordes and hordes of challenging mobs at the player all throughout the expansive and seamless open world, dungeons, and random events that pop up across Sanctuary. While there is more room for a more diverse selection of foes to pick a fight with, there are often enough threats to keep players on their toes, not to mention the nasty surprises of Elites and their dangerous affixes that often require a strategic pivot.
The inclusion of open-world events may start to feel repetitive with its limited pool of scenarios, but it provides a nice break from trekking across the lands and fighting everything in sight. Also, it is likely that more types will be added in due time. The dungeons, on the other hand, are often more involved affairs, testing players through connecting areas with separate objectives, before culminating in a more difficult boss fight.
Most dungeons also come with the prize of Aspect of Powers, a new addition in Diablo IV that makes it viable for players to stick with the equipment most suited to their build and capitalise with further beneficial effects by bestowing a chosen Aspect for enhancement. This works for all gear items, and can lead to really powerful combinations. For a loot-focused experience, there is still a healthy element of RNG involved, but with an added level of control.
For those seeking the main story path, that should take you about 15-18 hours, but with so much other content to wade through, expect to spend significantly more to clear all sidequests and dungeons. Furthermore, once you reach the endgame of Diablo IV, it adds several more systems in which players can engage with the world of Sanctuary, such as the Helltide effect on regions and the Whispers of the Dead objectives, and that bodes well for a start. The more incentive players have to keep coming back, the better it is for the game and the community.
Speaking of loot, drops still come hard and fast at players, contributing to the constant growth in power of the player. There is almost always something more powerful down the line, and if need be, a trip to the Blacksmith for upgrades can make a world of difference as well. The interesting ways in which loot can modify existing skills further expand their utility, making it a good problem to have when seeking a further advantage in battle.
The chase for the next great addition to your arsenal is still alive and well, and Diablo IV makes an excellent case of an addictive and entertaining cycle of violence and reward that will keep players coming back for more.
In a sense, the coherence in which everything within Diablo IV works is a pleasant surprise, considering how it is an ARPG that just happens to have plenty of MMORPG elements mixed in for good measure. While the review period didn’t really provide the best picture when it comes to seeing other players milling about, but there is much potential to harness.
Co-op play can lead to many great opportunities for synergy during combat, and it is always a fun time when there’s a friend around to share the burden of saving the day from evil. The World Bosses have already made their presence felt in the beta periods with Ashava, and seeing the others lying in wait, all menacing and dangerous, paves the way for truly epic encounters.
The worry remaining is that the balance needs to be struck well in order to maintain Diablo IV as a viable and long-lasting adventure that doesn’t lose its freshness or that the incessant rush to get more powerful gear becomes a chore rather than a thrill. At this juncture, there’s much for players, both old and new, to dive into, making combat and exploration exciting times, all while pushing the story forward in a new chapter for Sanctuary. The hope is that this will last and that Blizzard will continue to support the game in all ways. After all, Lilith is coming, and all hail the Mother.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The arrival of Lilith and Diablo IV marks a great first step to redemption for the series, with classical roots enhanced by modern comforts.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 8.5/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 8.5/10