‘Diablo IV’ Review – Open World Sequel Refines the Best of the ‘Diablo’ Franchise

There are certain expectations that come with a new Diablo game. Even though the series has been running since 1997, we’re only now receiving the fourth installment in the form of Diablo IV. The last mainline installment was Diablo III in 2012 and Diablo II before that in the year 2000. Suffice to say that a new Diablo comes every once in a great while and when they do they almost always are a paradigm shift in the action-RPG genre. Countless players have explored the deepest of dungeons and the depths of Hell in search of the almighty loot to add to the addictive power creep and sense of reward and satisfaction that comes with playing this type of game.

So what’s new with Diablo IV? Does it live up to the standard that’s been set by other mainline entries? Well, yes and no.

On the surface, Diablo IV is just taking the series formula and applying it to a massive open world, which is no small feat. Bygone Diablo eras have been relegated to individual zones that bookmarked each act in the story. Diablo IV not only features a massive open world but it’s no longer randomized either. For the first time in the series, players will memorize landmarks and locales they come across on their journey; and for the first time in my long history with the series, I felt a genuine connection to the world I was saving from the forces of hell.

Amongst the world are dungeons and cellars that provide players with the procedurally generated areas that people have come to expect with a Diablo game. I found it fascinating to stumble upon a new dungeon in my travels and have it use a tile set for the area I was in. For example, a cave in a snowy area will use a tile set that creates a frozen cave based on its position in the world. I was worried all of these map/world changes would take away that feeling of discovery and not knowing what dangers lurk in the world of Diablo, but instead I found the maps and dungeons constantly engaging.

Gameplay in Diablo IV is polished to a bright sheen. Blizzard takes every lesson learned from previous entries and expansions and applies it to the base game in an effort to have the best playing entry in the franchise. They succeed for the most part. Gone are the blistering speeds of Diablo III and instead replaced with a more thought out pace of gameplay more evocative of Diablo II. There’s but a single dodge ability that’s also on a cooldown but you’re able to upgrade this later on to allow you to dodge more than once in any given situation. The issue that arises with this though is that early on, the dodge is so limited that I found myself not relying on it at all. Playing as the Rogue class helped reinforce the issue with this as I focused on a ranged build and found myself almost never hitting the dodge button because of the cooldown or need for it. A bummer, since it felt like I wasn’t utilizing everything in my arsenal.

The new health potion system, on the other hand, I’m a huge fan of. Players start with 4 health charges on a cooldown ability (though they’re able to upgrade to more later) and enemies and crates in the world drop more charges to replenish the pool and cooldown. It’s a great balance between the old days of potion abuse in Diablo II and the cooldown potion in Diablo III and never felt unfair in my time of play. What did feel unfair, at times, was the difficulty. For my Rogue run I played on “World Tier I” (Normal) and for my Barbarian I played on “World Tier II” (Hard).

Players are tasked with creating their hero using a new character creator (I went with a Rogue and Barbarian for my review) and are thrown into the world of Sanctuary as the demon lord Lillith rises to power. Over the course of battling and exploring you’ll spend skill points to add more to your toolkit. This is where Diablo IV is a huge improvement over its immediate predecessor. Where in Diablo III players were presented with only 1-2 choices per level skill-wise, in this game an entire skill tree was opened up that allowed me to choose what my starting skill would be. It allows for a greater emphasis on unique builds and, combined with the creator, I found myself far more attached to my character than in previous games.

There are hub areas in the game that will serve as the player’s homebase and here is where services like the blacksmith, shopkeeper, gem mystic and wardrobe (used to transmogify items) are located. You’re also able to upgrade your health charges here as well. Having all these services available from the start means that series veterans are quickly able to get into the action and new players are given services that were sometimes reserved for expansions. As a whole, the amount of features and services available in Diablo IV rivals that of Diablo III late in its life. It’s great that none of the features we’ve come to expect have disappeared and are available from the start right out of the box.

Diablo IV also has quite a large emphasis on story this time around. This review is spoiler free but I will say in my time with the game, there were far more cutscenes and lore this time around. This is great for players that want to immerse themselves in this world but players who are in this for the loot and the grind may find themselves hitting the “skip cutscene” button far more than they expect. I’m the type of player that found myself putting off the story in favor of exploring the open world and discovering hidden dungeons and quests in search of more loot, but it’s nice to know that players who want to experience a good, well-crafted story won’t be left out. I’m just not sure who would play Diablo for this reason.

Diablo IV’s biggest issue is the lack of innovation. Every gameplay improvement and feature is built upon lessons learned from previous entries. Though it’s polished to the brightest of sheens, in no way does it feel like a massive improvement upon the preceding games. Remember how I said the Diablo games have always felt like paradigm shifts in their genre whenever one releases? The disappointing part of Diablo IV is that it doesn’t feel like that. Setting the game in a massive open world isn’t enough and though it’s exciting to explore, at times the only element I feel it adds to core Diablo is that there is no loading in between hubs anymore and players can now travel there on foot. It’s been 11 years since the last game and I’ll be damned to determine what exactly Diablo IV does far better than Diablo III: Reaper of Souls when it reached the end of development. 

Blizzard is also requiring a constant online connection on consoles this time around. My experience with this was very good and stable but some players may want to hold off to see how the game performs. Blizzard have also been transparent about the “live-service” element of the game taking the form of cosmetic battle pass and story updates. Though neither were available in my build, it’s worth keeping an eye on upon launch and making a judgment call for yourself. Speaking of performance, I played both the PS4 and the PS5 versions of the game. The PS4 version played at 30 frames per second which is down from the 60 frames per second that Diablo III played at on the system. The PS5 version played at a rock solid 60 frames per second and felt insanely good to play. Diablo IV also features a gorgeous artstyle and visuals that feel like a death metal album cover come to life. If the Warcraft art style of Diablo III wasn’t to your liking, I’m happy to report Diablo IV brings back all the satanic gore imagery that you loved in the second game.

Overall, I had an absolute blast in my time with Diablo IV. It takes the greatest ideas and gameplay systems of the series and applies them to an open world setting with an artstyle taking inspiration from the satanic imagery from Diablo II. As someone who has 500+ hours logged in Diablo II and 1000+ hours in Diablo III, I can’t wait to get lost in Diablo IV for years to come, especially with new seasons and story updates that Blizzard has already promised. The future looks admittedly bright for Diablo IV. It’s easily one of the most refined action role playing experiences you can get, even if its lack of ambition holds it back from reaching full greatness. Highly recommended.

Diablo IV will be released on June 6, 2023.

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