Diablo IV Preview – Already devilishly good

Title Diablo IV
Platform Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Developer Blizzard
Publisher Activision
Release date 2023

 

Diablo has been around for over 25 years and the series is still as popular as ever. After the resounding success of Diablo II, it remained silent for years until Diablo III suddenly came out. While that’s a fun game, there were still some complaints. For example, the auction house was an unwelcome addition to many and the simplification of the game to appeal to the casual gamer was not welcomed with open arms by everyone. Blizzard has announced that it will return to part II with Diablo IV and add the best elements of the third part plus a number of new elements to make the game even better and more extensive. Blizzard also said that the setting and the story will be old-fashioned dark and macabre again.

It will be a while before the game actually hits the market, sometime in the spring of 2023, but we were already able to get started with a preview build. In this version, we were able to walk a small part of the world, get started with three classes and get a piece of the story. However, we are not allowed to make any statements about the story yet. We can only tell you that it is set again in Sanctuary and that this world is quite battered because of the events of the previous parts. The people are depressed and dejected; it’s up to you to provide a glimmer of hope.

Customization

If there’s one thing Blizzard has really done in this version of Diablo, it’s the ability to completely customize your character to your liking. You can choose different character models and different genders, skin colors, hair colors, tattoos, jewelry, voices, and makeup. Of course, there are also a number of presets available for people who don’t feel like going that deep into the character creation to dive. It is also possible to further customize your character during gameplay. You can do that with stuff you find in the game or by buying items in the shop. The store was not available yet, so we were not able to test the purchase. Blizzard repeatedly emphasized that the store is only for cosmetic items. I always find the ability to customize a character to your liking always a welcome addition. In old Diablo games, it used to make me happy when you picked up a weapon or shield with a certain look and the day came when your character actually held that weapon. So in this version of Diablo, it is not only your outfit that changes but also the overall appearance of your player.

You don’t have to worry that after you’ve spent hours creating your character, you’ll only see it walking around like a little puppet for the rest of the game. The cutscenes in Diablo IV are rendered with the in-game engine, so your custom character plays the starring role in the videos. In most cases, the gameplay transitions seamlessly into a video, with the camera zooming in on the player and positioned in different ways to give a cinematic effect.

Game world

Another point where Blizzard has unpacked a lot is the game world. This one is bigger and more open than ever and far from linear. Where the world of Diablo III was divided into a number of connected zones, in Diablo IV you are dealing with a large world that is divided into different regions where you are free to do what you want. You can talk directly to the main characters from the game and play through the main story like this, or you can completely immerse yourself in all kinds of side quests, or make sure you become the best alchemist in Sanctuary by traveling the city and country in search of the right herbs .

The main story, by the way, also has branches. There are several ways you can go through the story and take a different turn. The world is also littered with all kinds of dungeons that you can plow through. You can ignore most of them, although there are exceptions. You have to enter some dungeons to continue the main story, but it is clearly indicated which dungeons they are. As you are used to from Diablo, it can be quite rewarding to clear a dungeon. It is therefore tempting to go to a key figure from the main questjust walk into a random dungeon. I found myself quite sensitive to all these side quests and regularly found myself on the other side of the game world available in this test version as I hopped from one quest to the next.

Diablo IV has an extensive map with your quests clearly marked. You can select which quest you’re currently doing from the map menu, so you don’t get lost in the many waypoints that can appear on your map if you accept a lot of sidequests along the way. You can also place pins on the map to indicate where you need to go. The game also indicates which quests are sided quests, priority quests and main quests to be. This does not mean that the game will hold your hand all the time. There are several quests where you have to look for a certain person or item. Where in Diablo Immortal you are guided to the last centimeter to the person or object you need to go to by footsteps, in Diablo IV you are guided to the area where you have to look for that person or object. It is generally indicated within which area you should search. That makes the game a bit more exciting and adventurous in our opinion. At Immortal, we sometimes had the feeling that you are more likely to be going through a shopping list.

The appearance of the world may also be there. Although Blizzard said it all looked a bit grittier and darker, the first impression was good. The grittier world fits well into the Diablo universe and it reminds us more of Diablo I and II. Blizzard said in an interview that they call that darker horror style ‘return to darkness. Game producer Rod Fergusson said that in a time when horror and gore are more common, Diablo can also go back to its roots. Both the game world and the characters and monsters look detailed. The game runs on a new engine that makes you more flexible than in previous parts. In this part you have the option to climb, jump over large gaps or hang and swing from a rope. Furthermore, a day and night rhythm has been added to the game. That looks nice, but we had no idea that this cycle affects the gameplay. Maybe that needs to be added, but otherwise, it’s purely cosmetic.

More depth

A common complaint about Diablo III was that the game was over-simplified. The limited skill tree in particular drew a lot of criticism from the community. Blizzard seems to have taken the criticism to heart and has gone into depth again with part IV. The skill trees are a bit more extensive, with enough branching present. For example, it should be easy to make multiple heroes that have the same class, but are still completely different. In the end, if you are not happy with your skillset, you can also return the points and rebuild your hero. In addition, crafting and customizing weapons has also been expanded. For example, it is now possible to extract powers from certain items and apply them to other items. So you no longer have to say goodbye to your powerful sword with special stats with tears in your eyes because it has become too weak and an enemy drops a much stronger weapon without special stats. This way of working even makes it possible to create your owncraft legendaries by, for example, providing a rare item with extra powers. It is also possible to add sockets to give items even more properties.

Another feature that will help all your heroes on their way is the Renown system. Some of the actions you take in the world, whether clearing a random dungeon or discovering a new area, earn you Renown points. These can also be exchanged for skill points, gold or to carry a larger amount of potions with you. These extras do not apply to a specific hero, but to your entire account. So when you create a new character, all the extras you’ve collected with other heroes will be applied directly to your new character. You also have expertise: the longer you use a certain weapon, spell or action, the better you become at it and that in turn entails extra perks. Each ‘expertise’ has ten ranks, so there is quite a bit to expand.

The runes as you know them from Diablo II also return. These weren’t present in the build we were allowed to play, so we can’t tell you anything about that, but the fact that they’re back in their old form seems like good news. Blizzard did let us know that they probably won’t be present at the launch of the game yet. Another novelty that we could not test is the use of mounts. In Diablo IV it is possible to purchase a horse and ride it. We don’t know exactly what possibilities that will open yet, except that you can move faster, but we will probably hear or see that soon enough.

Do the depth and the many extras make it put off the casual gamer? Not if it’s up to Blizzard. You will be asked if you are an adventurer or veteran before you start playing. Veterans are presented with a Diablo that is closer to Diablo II in terms of difficulty, while the adventurer mode makes it all a bit easier. If you regret your choice, you can still change it later in the game. You can do that through the main menu, but if you don’t want to spoil your gaming experience, you can walk to a special image in the game and switch modes there.

Online

Like Diablo III and Diablo Immortal, Diablo IV will also rely heavily on online connectivity. So you are always logged in. The overworld is therefore a large hub where everyone runs around. You can easily approach each other and ask people to help you with a certain quest or dungeon. Dungeons are still randomly generated instances where you walk around on your own. If you want to plow through a dungeon with others, you will have to address them outside the dungeon. There are also various events in the game world in the form of a sidequest or a challenge. If you walk into the circle in which the event takes place, it will be triggered and you can get started. Other people in the neighborhood see that and can join in. All the loot that is handed out after completing an event is evenly distributed among the players. You can’t see what others got and they can’t see or pick up your stuff either.

In addition to these events, you also have World Bosses. These gigantic bosses roam around in specific places on the world map and are so strong that you can’t defeat them alone. If you take on such a monster and there are other players who are planning the same thing, you will automatically be grouped together so that you can fight together. This is the only time in the game where you are automatically matched with people. All other parts of the game, except for the pvp part, can also be played completely alone. Diablo IV has several options for connecting online users. You can easily form clans via the ingame menus or simply ask a random passerby via chat if they want to help you.

The online aspect is so intertwined in the game that shops are also connected in this way. For example, the range of all goods will change after a certain time, so you can come back at different times to see what new things are on offer. This is displayed with a timer so that you know in how many hours you can visit again.

Diablo IV is the first Diablo game to release simultaneously on PC and consoles. Blizzard said that the previous Diablo was very successful on console and that is why they are working hard to make the game available for all platforms at the same time. In addition, there is crossplay support that allows you to play with PC users as a console gamer. In addition, your account is also interchangeable. If you are playing the game on a console, you can play the game in pairs on one device at the same time. This does not require the second player to have their own Battle.net account.

Preliminary conclusion
Diablo IV promises to be a worthy successor to Diablo II and III. Blizzard seems to have listened carefully to the community and a lot of extras have been added. The game also looks beautiful, with Blizzard staying true to the dark horror style of Diablo II. The new engine makes everything look a lot more detailed and it also plays nicely. You can move a little more freely and the large open world you plow through already works well. We were only able to see a small part of the big game world, but there was already so much to experience that we don’t worry that you will get bored quickly. As it stands, the game will release in Spring 2023 for PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series S and X, and the Xbox One consoles.