Impressions — Diablo 4

BlizzCon 2019 has definitely been an amazing experience and of course, Diablo 4 is part of it. Opening ceremony started with a mind-blowing trailer:

I think it’s safe to say we all went: “What. Just. Happened. Is this a Blizzard game?”

Let’s talk about it! Prepare for a long read.

Diablo 101

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Where It All Began

Diablo 1 was actually one of my introductory games to Blizzard Entertainment.

Please run this on the background.

I remember walking the dark corridors of the Cathedral after getting the warning from the maimed man at the start. I could barely see what was on the edge of the screen. Shapes moved in an out of my vision, just as if I was seeing things with the edge of eyes. I see this big room and some blood and gore. Open the door, it’s full of bodies on stakes and before I get my bearings, I hear the unforgettable yell: AH, FRESH MEAT! and this frenzied, unstoppable demon with a butcher’s cleavers runs at me.

I remember reading a tome that stayed with me ever since, despite having a basic English back then. This comes from memory:

I can see what you see not. Vision milky, then eyes rot. Then you see what can not be. Shadows move where light should be. Out of darkness, out of mind, cast down into the Halls of the Blind.

Then we were led to these halls with invisible monsters, striking from darkness.

Even the town where you are supposed to be safe had this melancholic music that you are hopefully listening to at this moment. The towns folk were bleak, hopeless, maimed, drunk, damaged or just creepy.

I remember trying to save the child prince Albrecht, but not making it in time. The sacrifices, the rituals, the cryptic shrines, the occult… Diablo 1 was definitely an influential game. It wasn’t an ARPG in today’s sense. It was atmospheric. It was dark. It was horror.

I love Diablo 1. It is a piece of art and a unique game.

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If you haven’t, definitely play Diablo 2. Cheat through it, it doesn’t matter. See the story-telling through the cinematics. It is simply brilliant. As in, clever. Otherwise it’s just dark.

Then came Diablo 2, which was still this dark game. Same world, same bleakness. More monsters and stuff but it never clicked the same way for me as it was a loot hunt game. Monsters would respawn in the same playthrough so you can farm them. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great game and I played the hell out of it.

The very short Diablo 3 beta had given me the impression of returning to the darkness of Diablo 1. It wasn’t. It had its issues at the start, but overall I liked it. The bleakness never left us, and even if the darkness of the game is debatable to many, I thought it was pretty much close to Diablo 2 in terms of the ambient darkness.

Story-wise, Diablo series is one of those games that you never accomplish anything meaningful. Heroes are corrupted, we can’t stop the evil from doing what they do and in the end, we learned we were played by Diablo. Right when we thought we finally “won”, Malthael came and not only did he commited a genocide on humanity, but also freed the prime evils…meaning all the sacrifice was literally for nothing.

Long introduction, but I feel greatly about this series. So where does Diablo 4 stand?

...Previously on Diablo

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Behold Lilith. The Rebel To Forces That Be And The Mother Of Humankind

Story wise, we are now faced with Lilith. Humanity in the world of diablo live in Sanctuary, a realm created by an angel called Inarius and a demoness called Lilith, who wanted to escape the great conflict between heaven and hell (which is why Malthael tried to kill them all, in his deranged mind he was killing the remainders of demons). So humans are the children of both worlds and now, the “blessed” mother is back. What this means for us is something to be seen.

There is the fact that the Worldstone is broken (since the end of Diablo 2), which to our knowledge was what kept the increasing powers of Nephalem-humanity in check. So there is always the chance that humans become more and more powerful. This wasn’t mentioned so far, but it’s an important point and you’ll hear more of that in my upcoming Diablo content.

What we know is that the genocide had its toll on humanity and broke the structure of society. Meanwhile, the forces of hell are out there, while the heavens shut their proverbial gates (or maybe literal, if they rebuilt them.) Humanity is left to their own devices and they’ve been terrible to each other. We are looking almost a post-apocalyptic dark fantasy world.

The Atmosphere

As mentioned, Diablo games have been traditionally dark, but this time we might be looking at the darkest of them all. The developers seem very focused on how dark the game will be. They told that darkness was one of the pillars of the game and used other words and phrases like occult, blood&gore, victories not being clean and metal when talking about the game.

Having tried the game at BlizzCon, considering what they’ve shown us, considering that crazy trailer… I believe them.

I don’t think Diablo 4 will be another Diablo 1. I don’t think you can have a whole horror game when you are also focusing on the loot, it’s just thematically impossible. That said, I think we are looking at the closest thing humanly possible. I think they are embracing all the right things.

I fought a drowned witch in the demo and holy goatmen, the colors! The textures! The animation! It really felt like a scene out of a horror movie. She was despicable. Disgusting. I truly did not expect this. I’m not even a graphics person, but I see how it helps setting the scene here.

Now imagine a world full with dangers, with a some safe havens scattered. Oh it’s gonna be dark. I’m looking forward to that.

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They are TERRIBLE. I love it!

Gameplay

Atmosphere is nice, but a Diablo game, especially a loot-based ARPG has to be fun to play. I’ll take it from two angles, one is the “micro” aspect which is about the skills, the characters etc. and the other is the “macro” aspect which is about game systems like dungeons, adventure mode in D3 etc.

In terms of micro, the basics are there, but progression and customization has changed. First of all, skills are sort of a combo between d1 spells and d2 talents. You unlock them, and you rank them up. D2 players will be rejoiced to see the talent tree making a return separately with choices that customize and strengthen your skills. For instance, one talent might increase your fireball damage while the other one might improve critical chance for all cold spells. Talents and skills are gained via levels, by consumable items that increase ranks (similar to D1 spellbooks) and by item affixes that do so (similar to items in D2.)

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Here is how talents look.

Items have further customization! A legendary I found, for instance, made it so that I launched three fireballs instead of one and it was a game changer. Speaking of items, sets won’t be infinitely better like in D3, there will be more balance. You will also be able to find Mythic items. You’ll be able to wield only one of them, but they will have multiple legendary powers. Devs talked about hundreds of legendaries and more to come.

Another news that D2 players will love is the return of the Runes and rune slots. The runewords, at least for now, work differently though. Instead of that secret combo, runes work in trigger-and-effects. For instance, one rune might say “when health is below 25%, trigger the next rune” and the next rune might say “when active(triggered), increase damage by 200%.” Combined with talents, skills and legendaries, this plays a lot into what devs said they really care about: Player agency. Make your own build and all that.

The classes might also have some special powers, or at least the Barbarian does. They have something called the arsenal that allows them to wield two one-handed and two two-handed weapons. They literally have two more slots in the character page. They can also assign certain skills to these weapons, improving the amount of potential combinations even more!

Of course, a hero is nothing without enemies to match. The monsters have the classic affixes depending on their rarity. The devs seem to have new twists for us. For example, the multi-shot affix might make an archer cast three bolts, while it may also make a fallen shaman resurrect three fallen at the same time. For the first time, we are also going to face world bosses, which will be *a little tough* to take on solo. These might also have weaknesses. As an example, the monster they showed was vulnerable against a certain CC and it would stun the monster and get it lose some armored parts.

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The world boss. Cute, isn’t it?

Moving to the macro side, Diablo 4 of course have a campaign, but this time, you don’t have to just rush through it because there is a huge map. And I mean HUGE. When you arrive somewhere for the campaign, you’ll only see yourself and your party. Once you are done with the campaign quests, it will become an open space. Still, you aren’t supposed to see everyone. I believe it uses a system similar to WoW and dynamically populates the regions. If a world boss is up, for instance, it might increase the population. However, the dungeons will still be private.

Speaking of dungeons, they will still be randomly generated and there will be hundreds of them, both above and under the ground. They will come with specific objectives and the denizens will try to stop you by sending reinforcements, apparently even during boss fights. You will also find keys for the end game, which I believe are a combination of rifts and WoW Mythic dungeons. They will increase the difficulty and add a certain effect. This means you mayhave to prepare for that dungeon with a different item and talent build! Of course, the more powerful the monsters, the better the loot.

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Dungeons are Diablo1-level dark. Sorceress will be useful in multiple ways!

One thing that’s not clear to me is the structure of end-game. There wasn’t a mention of adventure mode, which leads me to believe at this moment you only have dungeons, keys and world bosses. This isn’t enough in my opinion. Free-roam is fine but I think adventure mode provided a nice frame. You knew how much you’d do and what you’d get. That said, the game is even coming at a “Blizzard Soon” timeframe, so it’s too early to worry.

Oh by the way, for the huge map, we will have the way points (which are apparently ancient Horadrim magic) but we will also have mounts. Dark, gothic mounts. Think deformed horses or armored ones. Or both. Or flaming demon horses. Not only they will help you traverse the distance but you will also have dismount skills. For example, you might have one that transforms the Sorceress into a big bolt of cold while Barbarian may do a big leap. The idea is to seamlessly get you into combat. Looks good!

Conclusion

Overall, I have to say I’m very excited, but cautious. Diablo 3 also made big promises that they weren’t able to deliver. That said, D4 team seems to be much more inclusive whereas D3 was more or less a black-box in terms of development. Plus they have a D3 to set an example for them, so I’m hopeful.

Written by

Gamer, gaming industry wanderer, development and design enthusiast. Current WIP: TBD

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