Now, I will be the first to admit this, I was not at all excited about the release of Diablo IV. I understood the hype surrounding the latest entry to this storied action role-playing game (ARPG) franchise especially since we had to wait 11 years for it. But while were waiting, there were plenty of noteworthy titles such as Grim Dawn, The Last Epoch, Path of Exile, Superfuse, Torchlight, Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr and more that came and filled the void.
However, deep down I knew I would want to experience Diablo IV eventually especially since I grew up with the franchise and played all the main releases including the PlayStation port of the very first Diablo. I have very fond memories of each game and the main reason is because I got to experience and enjoy them with the people near and dear to me through the different phases of my life–Diablo with my brother, Diablo II with close friends and schoolmates and Diablo III with colleagues and my wife.
So in a way, Diablo IV has very big boots to fill because while the other titles I mentioned above served as great momentary replacements, the memories and nostalgia that surround Diablo will always find a way to sink their claws into me and I will very willingly stroll back into Sanctuary. No dragging required. Was it worth the 11-year wait and is it worth spending your money and time on it? Stay awhile and listen, or in this case, stay awhile and read my review of Diablo IV.
The story of the red, diabolical demon
The story of Diablo IV is, to say the least, very Diablo. This time around the main big bad is Lilith, one-half of the creators of Sanctuary and daughter of the Lord of Hatred, Mephisto, who has returned to the world she helped to create after being banished for thousands of years. With her return, the world is once again in danger and you, an unassuming wanderer, are the only person that can stop her from achieving her nefarious plans.
Honestly, there is nothing to write home about when it comes to Diablo IV’s story. Blizzard has done their best to add some twists and turns to it, but you can probably predict how the plot unfolds as you go along. Of course, there are plenty of callbacks to characters and events from the previous games as you interact with the denizens of Sanctuary. You will not necessarily have to play the previous games to understand what is going on here but it will help give you a better understanding of the overall lore and story. Thankfully you can always get a crash course from the fan wiki.
For the first time ever, the game is set in an open world and you are free to explore Sanctuary however you see fit. The map is pretty sizable and it is impressive that there are no loading screens when you enter new regions, loading only happens when you enter a dungeon or instance that is partially procedurally generated. If you were a fan of Blizzard’s world-building chops, then you will also like what they have done here in Diablo IV. Each region has its own climate, architecture and flora and fauna. You will also come across safe havens in the form of cities, towns, villages and hideouts where you can stash, sell, upgrade or dismantle the loot you have picked up. These areas are usually packed with NPCs that either stand around and do nothing or give you side quests. It definitely would have been a lot more immersive to see some of them move around and interact with each other.
With that said though, the world of Sanctuary is brought to life by a host of interesting main and side characters. The characters that you can interact with all have intriguing backstories and stellar voice acting even if they only just have a few lines of dialogue. Unfortunately, as most of these are new characters, I did not necessarily grow attached to or fond of them and did not really care for their personal story arcs. It is a shame we no longer have characters such as Deckard Cain (RIP) or Tyrael as I would wager most of us who played the previous games would like to have seen them again.
Coming back to the open world though, the map is peppered with heaping helping of dungeons, cellars, events and side quests. Like any other open-world game you are likely to get sidetracked by all these activities during your track from point A to B. This is a double-edged sword in my opinion because, on the positive side, there is a seemingly endless amount of ways for you to gain experience and new loot. However, on the other side of things, some parts of the map are devoid of enemies and half the time you will be facing the same types of enemies and challenges ad nauseam. Because of this, it makes going through the map, especially on your own feel like a slog. At least with friends or other players around, you can chat about your day or make up a silly song for your journey.
Sanctuary is open to all
In terms of the gameplay loop, it is pretty much the same as the previous games or any other ARPG. You start off as a weakling and as you level up and gain new powerful gear, you will be death incarnate as you swath through hordes of enemies. That sense of progression is still as satisfying as ever and you will tell yourself ‘one more dungeon’ or ‘10 more minutes’ but instead end up doing five more dungeons and playing for another two hours.
Another thing Blizzard has mastered is making each of the five classes feel and play very differently. In Diablo IV though, that sense of uniqueness is even more apparent thanks to the more in-depth and diverse skill tree, which lets you truly experiment with different builds. So even if you and a friend use the same class, it is likely that you both will have very different playstyles and build. Fancy yourself as a cheerleading barbarian that empowers your friends with shouts, you can do that. Or would you rather be a sorceress that is also an elemental tank, you can do that too.
On top of that, each class can now be further tweaked using Legendary Aspects and Talents, which essentially provide powerful passive bonuses. Legendary aspects are either universal or class specific and are usually gained by completing dungeons or extracting them from legendary gear, which can then be added to your gear of choice via the Occultist in town. The good thing about Legendary Aspects is that it is unlocked for all your characters once you have completed a dungeon. Talents, on the other hand, are class-specific, for example, the barbarian has Weapon Expertise, which improves the more you use a certain type of weapon, while the necromancer has the Book of the Dead, which lets you change the types of minions it summons.
For those who love to experiment with different builds, you will be glad to know that you can respec your skills right off the bat, it will cost some in-game gold to do so but thankfully it does not cost a lot and gold is very easy to come by. Just as a piece of advice though, I recommend sticking to one character for now just to get through the story as you will need to start a new character when the first season goes live in July. You will not want to burn yourself out before that.
Other than your class build, your in-game character will now truly feel uniquely yours as Blizzard has finally added character customisation into Diablo IV. The character creator/customiser is not as robust as what you get from games like Dragon Age: Inquisition, Elden Ring or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, where you can adjust how high your rogue’s eyebrows are or how chiselled your druid’s jaw is, but you do get a decent selection of faces, hairstyles, skin tones, accessories and tattoos. This is also a nice boost to immersion as your character actually appears exactly how you have kitted them out in the cinematics.
A major deadly sin
Now onto a point that would be my biggest gripe with the game. Similar to what Blizzard tried to do with Diablo III, Diablo IV requires you to be always online. It is now very much a live-service game or even an MMO. After you progressed past a certain point of the game, you will start seeing other players in your game as well. This, of course, makes it easier for you to create a party to go adventuring but if you prefer playing solo, other players can be a nuisance especially when an overpowered player comes in and takes the challenge out of an event you were attempting to beat on your own.
On top of that, the requirement to be always online is also a problem when the servers go down for maintenance or after getting hit with a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack just like it did last weekend, players are not able to log in and play the game. After the DDoS attack, the game has been quite unstable and simple actions like opening up a menu cause the game to freeze for a few seconds. At least if we were given the option to play the game offline, we could still progress through the story and then maybe jump online to play with friends.
Because essentially, I think the best way to play the game is with at least a friend or two. It just makes the experience of tracking through the huge open world and slaying the demon hordes a lot more fun. So if you want to play Diablo IV with someone else, I would recommend getting it on your console of choice for the couch co-op experience. While I experienced most of the game on the PC, I also played the game on the PlayStation 5 with my wife and I like the quality of life features such as being able to just drop in and drop out of a game and picking up gold and loot is much easier as your partner can do it for you. Do take note though, that even on consoles, you are required to be online.
Still the ARPG to beat
At the end of the day though, even with the gripes I do have with it, I do have to commend the work and effort the team at Blizzard has put into making Diablo IV. There are a lot of new quality-of-life changes that would please new and old fans of the game and the essential meat of the game, which is the hacking and slashing and looting is still a heck load of fun.
Then you top it off with five very distinct classes that encourage experimentation and an already good amount of content, with seasonal ones coming soon, you are going to be able to play this game for months and years if Blizzard does the same thing it did with Diablo III’s seasonal content.
Overall, I would say that Diablo IV was worth the wait and definitely worth the purchase but if you have not bought the game just yet, I think that you should wait a little while longer until Season One is released and Blizzard has ironed out the various bugs and kinks in the various aspects of the game.
- Hacking, slashing and looting is still a lot of fun
- Plenty of options when it comes to character builds
- Seemingly neverending amount of content
- Lots of fun especially when playing with friends
- Shared achievements across all your characters
- Always online and no offline mode
- Other players can be a nuisance
- Character models in cutscenes look dated
- Open-world can be a slog to go through solo
- New character required for upcoming seasonal content
Review code for the PC version of Diablo IV was provided to us by Activision-Blizzard.
While Diablo IV does not redefine or break new grounds for the action role-playing genre, the refinements and clever new features make it a heck load of fun to play.