Diablo IV, Blizzard’s latest title, released last month, and like a lot of people I bought it right after its release. As the title suggests, I am playing the game on Xbox Series X. Pre-release the game had two public tests, though, and I played both of those on PC, so I have tried the game on both PC and console. It runs great on my PC, but a lot of the game clearly was designed for a television more than a monitor and I decided I’d rather play on my big TV than one of my mid-sized computer monitors (and no, with my setup I cannot easily just output the computer to the TV), so I got the game for xbox. Plus, I like having physical media and this got me a physical copy of the game.
Diablo IV is an overhead-isometric action-RPG. As in previous Diablo games you cannot control the camera, it stays at a preset distance and angle. You run around, kill lots of enemies with your abilities, collect items by the score, do quests, follow the often-depressing story, and then kill more things. The game has an open world to explore, though you can ignore the open nature of the world if you want to just follow the primary quest path and play areas in order. Really, the only difference between this game and Diablo II, world design wise, is having connections between the areas instead of having each as a fully disconnected space. There are only a few connections between each area, so that isn’t as different as it may sound. I am quite fine with the results, they work. The primary goal is to find better items for your characters. I don’t care that much about collecting loot, though, so that isn’t much of a draw for me. I do like exploring the map and wiping out the numerous evil minions with by characters’ abilities, and that’s enough to keep me interested if the gameplay is good. This games’ gameplay is, spoilers, definitely good, so I keep coming back to this game and will continue to do so.
Right now, I am in the third act of the story. My character is a level 49 Sorceress, playing in World Tier II (that is, the second difficulty level of four). I’ve been taking my time exploring, so I am not finished with the story yet and am not in the postgame. I hear that the Sorcerer class is weak in the postgame, which is unfortunate, but where I am now I’m still strong. In fact, while the game seemed pretty hard early on, something changed around level 40 and the game got significantly easier. I went from dying a lot at lower levels to now pretty much not dying at all. Given everything I’ve heard I know this will not last, but it does make me question this games’ difficulty balance; shouldn’t a game get more difficult as you go along, instead of starting out harder then getting easy before finally getting harder again much later? That would make a lot more sense than what I’m finding in this game. Oh well. But anyway, I should talk about the game from the beginning.
Please note, most of my past experience with Diablo games comes from Diablo II, both in its original form — I got Diablo II when it was new — and in its much more recent Remastered release. I have played some of the third game and a little of the first one, but I’ll be comparing DIV to DII and DIIR in this article. I know many more recent series fans focus more on comparisons to Diablo III, but I didn’t like that game much at all so I won’t be doing that. Fortunately this game is dramatically better than the third one was.
Graphics and Performance
As I said, I haven’t bought Diablo IV for the PC. I did play both betas on PC though, so I have experience with that version. From the betas, the PC version runs great. My computer was pretty nice when built but is dated now — it’s an Intel 7700K CPU with a GeForce 960 GPU. I do have 32GB system RAM, still a pretty decent amount, but still, the graphics card particularly is dated. Despite this, Diablo IV runs great at medium graphical settings, it had no issues at all. At high settings it mostly ran fine, but struggled at times with large numbers of enemies on screen.
On Xbox Series X it looks as good as the high settings, runs at a higher resolution since I have a 4K TV but don’t have a 4K or higher resolution computer monitor, and runs with no issues, so I think getting it on console was the right choice. If you buy it on PC though, know that like usual Blizzard did a great job of making the game run well on lower-end hardware like my graphics card. Overwatch 2 similarly runs flawlessly. The only real issue with the game on PC is that some text and the item names are in a very bland, huge font which looks quite outsized when you’re sitting right in front of a monitor. They seem to have been sized for TV viewing, not monitor. Ah well.
Returning to the version I’m playing now, though, on the XSX, the game looks fantastic. Diablo IV has great graphics and art design with a dark fantasy look highly reminiscent of Diablo II but modernized. I love Diablo II’s graphical style so this is a great thing, I love that they got rid of Diablo III’s Warcraft-style art design. Sure, Warcraft’s cartoony style looks great, but the two series are different and should be different. This is a fantastic looking game and the visuals regularly impress me. Each area looks distinct and the enemies and characters all look as good as they can given the overhead camera. Environments vary, from snowy forests to deserts, cities to disturbing scenes from Hell, and it’s all done with great visual design and style.
I should note, this is a very M-rated game in terms of violent imagery. That is to be expected for a Diablo game, but even so some stuff like the hellscapes may disturb some people. On the other hand though there is no nudity and zero sexual content in this game. It may even be a bit less suggestive than the original version of Diablo II, in fact. The M rating is exclusively for violence. That’s about what you expect from an American game, heh. It’s more violent than that game was for sure though, largely due to the improved graphics. Compared to the most recent past release in the series, Diablo II Remastered, this game has slightly better graphics and more costume variety since there are more equipment slots now — you now have separate lower body and upper body armor. It also brings back a nice feature from, uh, I think World of Warcraft, called Transmog, which allows you to show any armor piece you want as the one that appears to be equipped, regardless of the one that actually is. This is pretty nice and adds to your ability to make your character look as you want.
On another note, much like Diablo II Remastered’s 3D mode, the screen rarely gets as dark as it does in the original Diablo II. Night in original DII is very dark, with a completely black screen outside of the fairly small visible circle. Both the Remastered 3d mode and DIV instead just dim the screen, so you can still pretty much see everything but it’s a little darker. This game is like the latter of those two options. That’s okay, but does perhaps reduce the scaryness sometimes. I kind of miss the very limited visibility at night or in the dark, but it is what it is. There is one enemy attack effect that mostly removes your vision, that’s kind of neat.
Control-wise, the gamepad controls are good. You move with the left stick and activate abilities with three of the case buttons and three of the shoulder buttons. The fourth face button uses an evade roll, and the fourth shoulder button uses a heal. You start with only one ability button open, and somewhat slowly unlock the other five as you play the early hours of the game. The controls work well once you get used to them. The keyboard and mouse controls are also fine, with the same number of abilities but mapped to mouse and keyboard buttons now, but as usual for Diablo games you have to click on the edge of the screen constantly to move, which I’ve always hated. With a gamepad you can just hold the stick to move, which is much easier. On PC, you can go back and forth between keyboard/mouse and gamepad, and the on-screen button labels will change on the fly depending on which control option you touch an input on. That’s a nice feature.
Diablo IV and Diablo II Remastered both allow you to equip six skills to buttons on the gamepad when using gamepad controls. With mouse and keyboard, two actions go on the mouse and the rest on keyboard hotkeys, unless you have a mouse with extra buttons of course. However, in some ways Diablo IV has worse controls than Diablo II Remastered, because while that game has a modifier key to give you a second set of skills to equip, doubling the number of skills you can use without having to change your bindings, Diablo IV has nothing of the sort. You can equip six skills at a time in this game and that’s it. Each class only has a few dozen skills, so you don’t NEED more than six, but it would be nice since the last game had it. Ah well. Another thing missing from Diablo IV is an alternate weapon equipment set. Diablo II lets you have two different equipment loadouts you can switch between with a button, but no such thing exists in this game, you have one equip and to change you’ll need to go into the menu and change weapons. That’s unfortunate.
Other than those relatively minor issues, though, on the whole there isn’t a lot to say about the controls because they work great. Control is responsive, and while once in a while I get hit for what seems like unfair reasons due to input lag or something, those occurrences are rare. Diablo IV feels great to play. I wish you could have more skills equipped at once, access to a second set of six mapping spots like DIIR has would be nice, but this works well enough.
I’m covering story here because I want to save the best, the gameplay, for last. Story? This game has a story, and they tried to tell an interesting tale, but so far I agree with the consensus I’ve seen online that this games’ story is disappointing. One of the worst parts of the story is right at the beginning, as the first section of the game, which serves as a tutorial and introduction, has numerous overlong cutscenes with too little gameplay in between each one. Sure, as always from Blizard the fully CGI cutscenes look fantastic and the in-game engine cutscenes look pretty good too, but there isn’t anywhere near enough gameplay in between them to keep me interested in this part of the game. They had too much setup to cover at the beginning, I guess, but should have come up with a way of telling it that actually let you play the game more, instead of starting with a lot of overlong, tedious cutscenes.
Of course, if the story was great perhaps I would mind less, but as I said… it’s not. This game’s story, particularly in the first chapter, is a very post-World of Warcraft Blizzard story. They try to tell depressingly moving tales of characters in the games’ world of Sanctuary falling for demonic lies and destroying themselves and fellow humans of theirs, but most of the time it doesn’t really land. Some characters are pretty annoying, most of the writing is cliche and predictable, most of the characters do not act like people but instead like characters in a mediocre MMO… eh, it’s not great. I did like the story in Act II a lot more than that in Act I, though. It’s a more concise chapter without the bloat of the first one, and I like the characters more too. The chapter II boss was oddly quite easy — I beat it first try — but perhaps I’m over-leveled? There are huge amounts of side activiites to do in this game, do they expect you to just follow the main path first and leave the many sidequests and dungeons for later? I really don’t know. It’s hard to know what level you are supposed to be on for things because the game scales most enemies to be similar to your level.
Anyway, beyond the often-iffy writing and the not always interesting characters, my other complaint about the story in Diablo IV is about how hopelessly dark everything is. I mean, I know that all Diablo games are like this, but they really emphasize it here. The power of evil is everywhere, in the demon Lilith who is the main face of the evil forces in the game, to the innumerable lesser demons filling the world, to the other evil powers out there. While the humans try to cling to belief in good powers, where are they? A few angels exist in this series, but they rarely make an appearance and even when they do they’re not exactly friendly to humans. They are’t enemies either, just not exactly friendly. I should note, that while the Diablo games use the words angels and demons, this game is not set in a definitely monotheistic world; the setting, Sanctuary, is an original creation. If there is a single god in charge that god is never mentioned, only the hosts of angels and demons. That is both good and bad. The bad side of this is that it’s kind of a shame because most Western fantasy RPGs are set in polytheistic worlds, so a more actually medieval monotheistic one would be interesting since monotheistic Christianity’s very important role in society is one of the most important defining elements of the Middle Ages. On the good side, the backstory of this world is interesting and morally complex. This games’ plot goes into the backstory of Sanctuary in more detail than previous games so I can’t say much without spoilers, but the setting has a great war between angles and demons in other planes. This world, Sanctuary, was created by an angel and a demon together, so it’s kind of caught in the middle… supposedly. In effect mostly it’s just invaded by massive armies of demons over and over while the angels do little. It’s extremely imbalanced between the sides. For a game mostly about fighting demons I understand why this is, I do not also want to have to fight angels. But the game isn’t exactly about good versus evil, either, because the angelic forces of good are also quite morally flawed. Uh, or the like one angel in this game is, you don’t see any others. What the other angels think I have no idea.
Basically what I’m saying is that the story of this game is a good example of what storytelling in this time has become: the old stories of good and evil are no more. In their place are stories of grey and black morality, of deeply flawed characters on both sides. I’m not sure if ANY of the major characters here are actually good, other than maybe some of the human characters. Okay, people are flawed, so this makes sense. I am flawed, everyone is flawed. But there IS good out there, and even though most of the plot of this game works fine, of evil forces trying to control this world, I wish that there was an actual clear good force out there organizing the resistance against them. But instead it’s left to you to be that force. Given how poorly that turned out in previous Diablo games, I doubt very much that this is going to end all that well. The other humans take this as encuragement to either surrender to evil or focus on the good aspects of their nature and fight back on their own, which is what your character does, but that leads into another issue…
So, your character. Videogame characters are usually significantly stronger than everyone else, and this game is no exception. You start out weak, but eventually become an incredibly powerful figure. You can kill armies of demons with a wave of your fingertips, warp from place to place with magic in a way no other human in the game can do, and so much more… and the story doesn’t really ever acknowledge this. For example, the town portals and warps are there to save the player the tedium of walking everywhere, and for that they are great, but it is odd when you see NPCs in some small side town talking about how hard it is to get to the far away capital of their area when I’m thinking… like, just walk over to the warp circle over there and wrap to town, you’ll be there in ten seconds. But they can’t do that and the game doesn’t acknowledge it. This is normal for videogames, certainly, but the “everything is super hopeless” tone here emphasizes the issue more so than usual, I think. It’s similar with your character’s extreme power. How are the forces of evil actually so inevitably powerful when you can literally wipe them out by the dozen? I know, as soon as you go to the next area all enemies respawn in the previous zone, that’s how it works in videogames, but in a more realistic place someone this absurdly powerful would completely break that power balance, when one person can wipe out most of the demons on their own how are demons actually a serious threat? And again I know, there are plot excuses for this late in the game in every Diablo title, including your link to Lilith explained in the beginning of the game and that it is nearly impossible it is to actually kill Prime Evil demons for real and such, but I still think it’s worth mentioning. There is strong tonal dissonance here, more so than Diablo II. Regular enemies feel more threatening in that game and the story has a different, though certainly also very dark, tone. As I’d expect from pre-WoW Blizzard, DII has better writing. Also the warps don’t go between towns, just from the town to points in the wilderness and dungeons and such.
So, overall, Diablo IV has an uneven, mediocre story with subpar, post-World of Warcraft Blizzard writing and a setting too focused on showing the power of evil and the flaws of good. There are interesting elements to this story but most of them are ultimately not handled all that well. It’s too bad. Still, some parts of the story are interesting, so it’s not ALL bad. But if you want to skip all the cutscenes and just go around wiping out demons I don’t blame you, that’s the strength of this game, not the story.
Character Creation and Nomenclature
Diablo IV launched with five classes: Barbarian, Rogue, Sorcerer, Druid, and Necromancer. Unlike the first two Diablo games, this time you can fully create a character and choose a class, instead of choosing a pre-created character with a preset class as those games did. It’s nice that you have a lot more freedom in character creation this time, but beyond now being able to play as any class as either a male or female character, something not possible before, not much customization was added. You can change your characters’ skin and hair color, add tattoos to your characters’ body from a variety of patterns available, adjust facial hair — which for females only adjusts eyebrows, you cannot have a bearded woman — and … well, that’s about it. You cannot change your height, hair style, or anything like that. You can’t change your characters’ voice either, the male one has a male voice and the female one a female voice. Given the overhead perspective I understand not having a height change option since it won’t look all that different anyway, but some other options really should have been here, this is as minimal as a character creator can get. I like that there is some character creation options but Diablo IV left me wishing for more choices.
Diablo IV does make one change in its character creator that you’re seeing more and more often now, though: it removes the words “male” and “female”. You just click on the character you want, with no text saying which is which. The game’s story or NPCs will never refer to your character by their sex either. Nintendo did something similar in Splatoons 2 and 3, where instead of the “choose male or female” of the first game it says “choose your style” before picking the obviously male character or the obviously female one, with similarly limited customization to Diablo IV beyond that. I know that the politics of gender are quite fraught at right now, but is this really a change that is enough to satisfy everyone? I doubt that. I mean, I know that some on the right were somehow annoyed by Splatoon 2’s change, but still, it’s the most minimal change a company could do. After all, the games still have binary gender. That’s normal in games, where each character model needs to be hand-designed so having more than that would be significantly more work, but plenty of other games have a lot more customization than this game has. I’d think that things like that matter more than whether a game is using the words male and female or not… but whatever, removing the words is fine, I’m just interested that they did it.
To complain about something extremely common in games, though, the terms used for classes and costume pieces are all either neutral or masculine. For the class names, the one with an issue is Sorcerer, since the female form Sorceress is still commonly used. It is good to remove gendered terms from professions, but this is one which is gendered. If they wanted to keep the name and not find something more neutral, which refers to Diablo II’s Soreceress class, deciding “and we’ll use just the male form for either gender” is kind of annoying. A lot of fans, me included, call their female sorcerer sorceress. Similarly all armor pieces were probably named for the male version of the outfit. Most of the time this doesn’t matter, but sometimes it does; for instance a female sorcerer’s “heavy pants” is a skirt. I get it, having different names would be much harder, but it would be nice if terms that work equally could be found. This game does not do that.
(How does my favorite online RPG, Guild Wars 1 (2005), fare at this? It uses the names of the genders (which I have no position on either way); character creation has minimal customization, though you do have a height slider so it’s got that on Diablo IV; it has class names that are mostly neutral except for one which kind of isn’t, Monk (though the term monk can be gender-neutral in certain cases, it usually isn’t in English); and for item names… it’s pretty similar to Diablo IV overall. Guild Wars has standardized item naming. The first half of an item name is its set name, and the second part is the piece. The lower body piece names vary from class to class but most classes use the somewhat generic term “leggings”, in a few cases “hose”, or, for monks, “pants”. Some end up awkwardly named, female elementalist (and other classes) skirts are leggings apparently and that one female monk skirt is dubbed pants, but at least the issue isn’t with that item name in specific since they have standardized names, it’s with the naming system. Overall I’d say that Guild Wars is probably a bit better than Diablo IV at gender-neutral naming, or at worst they’re even, despite it being a much older game.)
Gameplay – Skills and Builds
To return to one of the first things I said in this article, Diablo IV gameplay is all about running around and killing things with a variety of different combat abilities, weapons, and skills. How you kill things will vary depending on your class, but the results are the same, demons dead by the dozen. The game likes big numbers, and your damage numbers, stat point numbers, health numbers, and everything else get large quickly. Where at level 20 in Diablo II you’re probably doing like 10 damage per hit, or less, at a similar level in this game you get numbers many times larger and they just go up from there. When it comes to numbers like this bigger isn’t better, but people like large numbers so Blizz significantly increased the size of the numbers. Okay. I kind of miss D&D-inspired sane numbers in RPGs instead of everything doing hundreds of damage per hit, but that’s not how it is anymore clearly. A level 42 Diablo II character of mine’s main weapon is a spear that does … 25-116 damage. In Diablo IV numbers that would be a much lower level weapon than that.
Most of the time in Diablo IV, you will be fighting with the games’ skills. Each of the five classes has an entirely separate set of skills that you will unlock the ability to put points in and equip as you level up. In addition to that, the game has several universal abilities, such as the dodge-roll, which is on its own timer that starts refilling after you use a dodge, and the healing potion button. I will describe those other two functions later, this section focuses on the skills you choose. In short though, the healing system in this game is kind of strange as it uses non-refillable potions that drop in the world. They are not something you can buy . As for the dodge-roll, it’s a powerful and useful ability which makes combat much more dynamic. With it you can dodge powerful attacks, get out of the way, and more. The combat in the game is designed around its use, which is mostly good but has some downsides. Both of these abilities have both good and bad sides to them.
The equippable skills, however, are pretty much all good. Indeed, the skills in this game are a significant strength of Diablo IV. This game has a nicely large skill tree with a good number of skills, both active and passive, available to each of the five classes. There are many RPGs which simplify skill selection, by not having any kind of skill selection as lots of classic JRPGs do or by tying skills to equipment instead of fully letting the player put a build together freely, but Diablo IV doesn’t do that. You do not get stat points to distribute after each level as you do in Diablo II, but you still do get a skill point after every level up that you can distribute to skills on a series of hubs that form up the skill tree. Each hub is named for the kinds of skills you find on it, such as Basic, Core, Defense, and more. Each has several different active combat skills and passive abilities for each of your classes’ different ability types. The Basic skills cost no magic to use so they are your basic attacks. Everything above that does cast magic to use. Magic regenerates, but slowly enough that you need to use it judiciously. Additionally, as I said each class has three different categories of abilities you can put the points into, a classic Diablo staple. With the sorceress for example you have fire, ice, and lightning abilities, just like Diablo II, and can choose which skills you wish to get points in and use. After level 50 you unlock a second skill upgrade board that gives you stat bonuses, as well. It’s a great system that is mostly implemented well.
Re-speccing your stat points is much harder than it should be, but even so I love that this game has a full, user-customizable skill system with a lot of different abilities and upgrade points. There are plenty of balance problems in Diablo IV to be sure, as there are in most games with deep, user-customizable skill systems, and it’s unfortunate that apparently the sorcerer/ess gets the worst of it in the lategame level 70+ higher difficulty level play, but even so I’d take this every time over some game with limited customization. There is a lot more customization in this games’ skill system than Diablo III had, so I am very thankful that Blizzard backed down from that games’ console-style simplification and went back to a more complex, and dramatically more interesting, skill system here. The results are great.
To be clear though, Diablo IV is no Guild Wars; you have only dozens of skills per class, not hundreds. There is plenty of skill customization you can do here, but the games’ skill system is middle-grade in complexity. In that way it’s very much a Diablo game, since the Diablo series has always been simpler than some other RPGs, going for very well-polished but relatively simple design over the most complex systems. Diablo II had almost no side-quests, for example, unlike most action-RPGs of its day. So, in Diablo IV you will reach the bottom of the regular skill tree relatively early in the game, after which you only have the added bonuses of that second board to keep you interested. I kind of wish that there was a bit more to the skill tree, but with three different sets of abilities on the tree for each class you can always go back and try the other skills if you’ve focused on only one with your build. As you go to higher difficulties you will need to re-adjust your skill choices as well.
Overall, in Diablo IV you can equip six skills at a time, will have points in more skills than that, and will have more skills than that that you don’t have points in. Skill builds matter, both for where to put your skill points and which skills to equip, and different builds will have very different effectiveness. I could look up the best builds but have always preferred to just play a game with the skills I want to use even if it’s not the most effective unless something in-game forces me to go look up builds. So far in Diablo IV I haven’t had to do that much, it just works. Fantastic stuff. Sure, I hope they continue working on game balance — it could use some — but even so I love it.
Inventory, Death, and Healing in Diablo II
After the skill system, probably the next most important topic to cover is this games’ inventory system and its somewhat odd healing mechanic. It’s not something I have seen before. First, though, I would like to describe Diablo II’s inventory system, because inventory management is one of the core elements that makes Diablo games what they are so comparing these differences is important. In the first two Diablo games, you healed with potions. You had to spend a large amount of inventory space in your very, very limited-size inventories on healing potions. You did get increasingly large belts which can hold more and more potions, but even the final 16-item belt still doesn’t hold anywhere near as many health and mana potions as a player will need. Additionally, you needed to have two two-block books in your inventory for your town portal and identify books. Diablo I and II have very limited inventory size both because of how much space you must devote to potions and also because weapons take up large amounts of inventory space. Weapons can take up to eight tiles of inventory space, and that’s a lot. In Diablo II, your main inventory is 40 blocks. Remembering that many items are multiple blocks, after the various charms and potions are there you have very little space for item pickups. You also have a 4-tile Horadric Cube which has 12 spaces in it that I used as added inventory. Your storage chest in the original version of Diablo II is a single 8×6 space. And that’s all you got. There were no added storage panes, no easy way to transfer items from one character to another, nothing. Third party applications did exist to allow item transfer, so you could save some items to “mule” characters, but each one only added as much space as your first.
Diablo II Remastered makes the change of adding dramatically more storage space in the storage chest. Your character’s inventory space is the same, but the storage chest now has four panes of 10×10 tiles each. Three of the panes are shared between all characters you create, so transfer to other characters, either for them to use it or for storing extra stuff, is easy. One pane is exclusive to each character. It’s such a nice improvement, it makes playing the game a lot less frustrating since you don’t need to leave nearly as many interesting items behind! Even so, Diablo II is a game where you need to judge which equipment that you get while exploring is worth going back to town to store or keep. After all the potions and books and charms and such fill my inventory, in Diablo II I often only have space for a few item pickups. Grab a few things, use a town portal — and this uses up a scroll in that town portal book that you will need to buy a replacement for — go sell or store the stuff, and portal back to where you were to proceed. Often I found myself having to drop random stuff all over just in order to free up space for some valuable items I wanted to go back and sell.
Also, Diablo II, in either release, has you store money in your storage chest. The storage chest has separate money totals for money you are storing only your character and for shared money between your characters. Money in your storage chest is yours for good. Money on your character, however, is all lost upon death. Bank your money! In addition to that, when you die in Diablo II, you drop ALL equipped items where you died, lose some experience in higher difficulties, are sent back to the town of the current act, your equipment’s durability takes a hit you will need to repair later once you re-collect it, and need to get back to where you died to pick your stuff up again from the last warp portal. It’s quite a punishment.
Diablo III has a much larger inventory, and limits item size to only two tiles maximum now. It also has a larger storage chest. Diablos III and IV are pretty similar in inventory space though, that’s one of the few things Diablo III did well.
Gameplay – Death, Healing, and Inventory
Diablo IV so far has probably less storage space than III, but it has dramatically more than II original and a lot more than II Remastered. Because in Diablo IV, all inventory items take up only one space, and healing potions do not take up inventory space. Key quest items and crafting materials for the games’ simple upgrade and potion system also do not go into your inventory, they have separate storage. Gems do go in your inventory, but they can stack now, something not present in DII, up to 50 in a stack. The 33 spaces of character inventory that you get are plenty for lots of stuff… or they would be if some areas didn’t drop such ridiculous amounts of loot! Seriously, this game gives you so much stuff that items mostly lose any meaning. Why should I care about almost any of this stuff when I’m just going to get like twenty items dumped on me around the corner, anyway? The game does help players out by putting a single number on most items which tells you its overall item power, a common feature in loot games of the past decade or so, but you can’t look only at those numbers once you’ve gotten farther into the game. The many modifiers and stat boosts are very important and you’ll need to consider each item swap carefully. As much as I don’t really care about items, it is fun to consider the equipment and think about which ones I should equip and which not to depending on their different bonuses.
Even if you do get overwhelmed in items, though, you can freely warp back to the nearest major city with the press of a button at any time you aren’t in combat. Town portals are unlimited now. You don’t need to identify any items anymore either, unlike Diablo II, all items come automatically identified. In the cities you can sell the items, store the good ones in your storage chest, upgrade your items, add gems to items to add modifiers to them, and a lot more. The game has a lot of fairly powerful inventory systems to allow you to change and improve inventory item modifiers. It’s mostly well thought through stuff which adds a fair amount to the game. You can choose to destroy high end equipment if you want to take the special bonuses, called affects, out of that item and add that affect to a different item, for example. It’s good stuff. You can also try to get different modifiers on an items, add gem slots to items that don’t have them, and more. I’m sure people who spend a lot more time than me min-maxing their equipment will take issue with elements of the item modification systems, but to me they seem mostly good. My only criticism, other than that the game gives you way too much loot, is that some of the stuff you need for things such as adding a gem slot to an item are quite rare crafting materials. Ah well.
The healing system is also significantly changed, for better and worse. In Diablo IV, you do not need to buy healing or mana potions. In the abstract, this is great! I’ve always disliked the “do you have enough health and mana potions to survive?” school of game design, it feels like lazy limitations aimed at artificially creating difficulty that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Great games can use that design, but in the abstract I prefer a system where each encounter can be designed for the player at full strength, challenging you to play your best. This game is like that, but its implementation has its own serious issues. Now mana recharges somewhat quickly, but has a low maximum. Your basic skills use no mana, as explained earlier, so most players will use those as regular attacks and the higher level skills that do use mana more sparingly, once it recharges. This system works well, though it is odd to have magic spells that somehow don’t use any magic… DII isn’t like that, if you’re out of mana use a potion or start using your regular weapon. DIV’s system here is probably overall better. Even though free-magic spells is odd I like the quick recharge mana system, it makes combat more strategic and interesting.
However, when it comes to healing your health, I have some major issues with Diablo IV. Potions are mapped to a button, and you have a limited stock of them, at first four, though you will expand this number a bit as you play. Each time you use a potion one stock is used up. The potions cannot be bought and do not regenerate over time. You cannot pick them up if your stock is full. Instead, they are dropped by enemies, environmental objects you can break, or chests. These drops will eventually disappear, so if you trigger a potion at the wrong time it may be gone when you needed it in a fight in that area later. This is annoying design. Bosses, which as I will explain can be very overly long in this game since boss fights are a much stronger focus of this game than previous Diablo titles, have markers on their health bars which note at which points in the fight they will drop a healing potion or potions. You need to try to avoid taking more than one potions’ worth of damage until those points in the fight if you want to defeat the boss. This is an interesting challenge, but it can lead to extreme frustration when I was dying over and over and over to a boss that I just couldn’t quite defeat with the number of potions I was given. In the early parts of the game though most of the particularly challenging bosses are optional, the main-path stuff is not as hard.
As for death, in Diablo IV, almost none of the death penalties from Diablo II return. You can’t even put money in storage this time, you have to carry all of it with you. I guess you can’t share it between characters then. Having few penalties for dying is to be expected, modern games usually punish you much less for dying than older ones like DII do. When you die you respawn at some point near where you died with absolutely no penalties other than a 10% decrease to the durability of all equipped items. If items run out of durability you will need to go back to a blacksmith to repair them. This is the only part of DII’s death penalty that returns in IV. The other penalty is that if you are in a boss fight, you will need to restart it once you return. I understand why the rest of those penalties were removed, but it does make dying trivial most of the time, which hurts the game a bit when compared to its predecessor… except in boss fights, where trying to stay alive is still quite important because of how long boss fights can take.
Gameplay – The Overworld, Dungeons, and Strongholds – Exploration and Difficulty
Diablo IV has a fairly strong difficulty disparity between the different elements of the game design. This game has an overworld which is interconnected, made up of towns, regular exploration areas, and some challenging stronghold zones, as well as small and large dungeons scattered around that world. The regular overworld is usually easy. Even in the early parts of the game when I was the weakest and died the most, I still was only very rarely dying in the regular overworld areas. Overworld foes aren’t very strong and you usually should be able to win in those encounters. You also can run into other human players randomly in the overworld, though this game has no in-game chat at all so you cannot interact with them in any way. I’m sure that makes keeping the community not horribly toxic much easier, but it raises as many problems as it solves, you can’t communicate with teammates in-game and finding other people to party with is quite difficult if you don’t know people outside of the game you want to play with. Very much unlike classic Diablos I and II, the overworld in this game is entirely pre-designed, it is not randomly generated. This means that even though this games’ world does not feel much larger than Diablo II’s, it is probably somewhat similar in size, perhaps slightly larger at most, this world is more interesting to explore since everything was laid out by hand. I love Diablo II, but the randomly generated maps usually end up being just giant boxes I’m running along the walls of. Overall I prefer this, though it will lead to reduced replay value since everything is going to be in the same place every time. You won’t have that ‘I know I’ve played the game before, but where will stuff be this time? It could be pretty different…’ element that Diablos I and II have. Diablo IV adds replay value through the promise of seasonal content that will change the world while those seasons run and through the much larger number of optional dungeons and sidequests this game has, though, and that’s a lot. I like how many sidequests this game has, DII always felt like it had far too few. I like the larger number of NPCs as well, and the various towns of different sizes scattered around the world. I like the variety of smaller towns and their differences, it adds to the game. Some areas even have NPCs in combat zones, which is interesting.
In contrast to the overworld, dungeons and strongholds are instanced for each player separately. As a result you will need to conquer them on your own, or with a party if you randomly group with others ingame or know people you want to play with. Diablo IV Dungeons probably do have a random generation element, they feel like they are put together from premade chunks. They could be hand-made from premade pieces, though, I’m not certain. There are a relatively small number of dungeon graphical tilesets that you will see reused over and over. Dungeons are completely separate areas from the main world. There are three kinds of dungeons: small, large, and story. Story dungeons are large dungeons that you go through as a part of the plot. Small dungeons are little cellars or small caves. They are marked with a small opening on the ground. Each contains a single room with an enemy challenge in it, with treasure rewards once you win. Full dungeons are marked by a large open door along a wall surface. They are long, usually challenging missions with multiple phases, culminating with an often-difficult bossfight. How hard dungeons are will vary greatly though, some are easier than others. Lastly story dungeons are similar to the other ones but will have plot-relevant cutscenes and, so far in the game at least, are easier than optional dungeons. Both the dungeons and their bosses do not reach the challenge level of the stronghold or optional dungeon bosses. Maybe they want you to go through the story first, then go back for dungeons? I’m not sure. In the postgame you unlock even harder versions of the dungeons called Nightmare Dungeons, though I haven’t gotten to those yet.
In both the overworld and dungeons, you will frequently see random event battles appear. In these encounters you fight waves of foes at a single location for a while because of some scenario that plays out, from defending merchants to activating a pillar. These draw from very limited pools of event types and give you item rewards once completed. Overworld events and dungeon events are different, but the idea is the same in both cases. I like the concept here, having random events happen at various spots in the world makes the game a bit more dynamic, but there are so few different event types that after not many hours at all you will see the game repeating events, and from then on it’s the same few types over… and over… and over. Sure, the enemies get harder as you gain levels, but there are only a few event types. I think that for this concept to work better the game really needed a greater variety of event types, it’s too repetitive.
Strongholds, on the other hand, are dungeon-style areas in the main world, and they are the same every time, apart from level-based scaling of course. They do not have random events, but instead each tells a story of how that area fell to evil. Each area of the world has three strongholds, and the stronghold quests are interesting and fun. The strongholds are pretty cool, though unfortunately you can only clear each one once with a character, as once completed they change into something different. Often, following your victory, humans retake the place from the monsters and move back in. Beating some even unlocks waypoints to warp to. However, they can be quite challenging at times. I found the Kor Dragan stronghold boss particularly hard, it took me dozens of tries and many level-ups before I finally beat that guy. The other two strongholds in the first area were much, MUCH easier for me.
I have discussed bosses a lot in this article, but that is because of how much focus Blizzard put on boss fights in Diablo IV. In Diablo II, most bosses are stronger regular enemies. They aren’t anything special, they’re just some regular foe with more health and abilities. Many are randomly generated. Dungeons don’t always have a traditional boss at the end, a room full of a bunch of enemies is more common. There are a few major boss fights, but they are rare. In this game, though, every dungeon and stronghold ends with a big, hand-designed, not randomized boss fight. These bosses get a large health bar put on screen with those markers I mentioned telling you when you get healing drops. Their difficulty varies from the easier bosses of most of the story to the harder ones of some optional dungeons, but either way pre-designed boss fights are a huge part of this game. I like the challenge that these unique foes bring, it’s certainly more varied than what DII had, but must emphasize dislike how obnoxiously long their health bars are, wearing them down can be tedious.
As I said, dungeons and strongholds are also generally much more challenging than the overworld around them, though how much harder they are seems quite uneven, and nothing in-game rates dungeons or strongholds by how hard they are. Difficulty ratings on the dungeons and strongholds would be really helpful, the game should have them. I need to repeat that I think that this games’ difficulty balance is not very good. And worse, often you won’t know how hard one is until you’ve gotten quite far into it, because bosses in this game can be a major ordeal. A boss could be really hard, or it could be a moderate challenge I beat first try, I rarely know until I get there. Bosses have long, LONG health bars that take an extensive amount of time to chip down. As mentioned, if you die you will need to start the fight over from the beginning. Of course, your character class and build will have an effect on how hard any one boss is so there may not be an absolute way to rank dungeon difficulty, but even so the game could have done something. Instead, with all level markers on zones basically identical since again everything in this game is scaled to your level, you won’t know until you try.
You frequently will face large numbers of enemies at a time, too. Diablo games have always had you facing large crowds of foes, and this game is no exception, but Blizzard took advantage of the increasing power of technology to have probably even more foes than before and to make combat more dynamic and action-focused. As I mentioned in short earlier the dodge-roll really changes the game from earlier Diablo titles, as it allows you to quickly move around the battlefield. Of course Diablo II had its teleport and such for some classes, and this game has that as well, but this is different. For insance, you will want to watch for when an enemy is about to shoot at you or do a strong attack so that you can dodge-roll out of the way of the attack. This is a gameplay element entirely absent from classic Diablo, but critical here.
With the games’ dodge-roll move the game feels like a bullet-hell game at times, particulerly in the harder bossfights. The game will mark areas on the floor which the enemy’s next attack is going to affect for some projectile attacks. Get out of those areas. The dodge roll has a timer, so you can only use it at first once before waiting for a fairly long timer until you can roll again. I often found myself needing to dodge attacks but I couldn’t, I’d used it several seconds ago, I didn’t have boots with multiple charges yet, and it has a 5 second recharge. Some boots will add additional dodges before you have to wait for their meter to refill, which is extremely useful. Your characters’ defensive skills from their skill tree are also important to your survival. You will need to dodge and weave skillfully to avoid the waves of bullet patterns enemy bosses shoot out. And yes, this game has actual bullet patterns, sometimes marked on the floor with “stay out of this area, attack commencing” warning area indicators. It can get overwhelming at times, particularly when facing these bosses when the game is hard, which, again, for me so far was in the earlier part of the game (and the later part by all accounts). Once you get more and more powerful abilities, going through the crowds of enemies and destroying them with your abilities is fun stuff, so long as you can stay alive. Manage your defensive skills, dodge rolls, and heals well.
Yes, despite being a $70 retail title, this game has some microtransactions. While everything you buy from merchants in the main game are items you buy with in-game currency, which you should have more than enough of given how many items you get that you can sell and how few of the items shopkeepers sell are actually worth buying — I don’t think I’ve bought any items yet — there is also a real money shop in the pause menu. Here you can buy other items, which I believe are cosmetic only, for real money only. It’s a modern game and a modern Blizzard game, of course it has microtransactions. I’m just glad they aren’t much, much worse,as they are in Overwatch 2…
Each quarterly season will have a lot of free content, but each does also add a paid DLC Battle Pass you can buy for added stuff. The contents of the battle pass for the first season have not been announced yet so we don’t know exactly how it will work or how mandatory it’ll be. I very much hope that you do not need to buy it, I probably don’t want to. I don’t like the way battle passes work, they require you to play obnoxious amounts of a game to unlock the things you paid for in the pass, and you’ve got a time limit for how long you have to get the stuff too. It pushes both hours played and money to the developer to the detriment of player happiness, because who likes grinding for experience and such? Not me.
In conclusion, while I’m only playing it off and on — I got the game pretty much at release and am “only” at level 49, after all — when I do play Diablo IV I often get hooked for hours, and it’s kept me coming back in a way that most games do not. That is one of the highest marks of praise you can give a game. This game is far from perfect, most obviously its game balance is highly suspect, but despite that Diablo IV is a fantastic game and one of the best of its kind. Diablo IV is a fantastic experience with great graphics, near-perfect controls, mostly good game design, a fantastic sense of atmosphere, a good amount of variety, a great, highly customizable skill system, thousands of demons to kill, and a promise of lots of content to come from future seasons and expansion packs. I’m not the biggest fan of a game world that is fully scaled to your level, it removes some of the satisfaction of a game when earlier areas stay just as hard later on as they were the first time, but it does mean that you can return to earlier areas not not find them super easy so there is that benefit to this design. The game has issues with late-game content — apparently after level 70 content thins out badly in the release game — but I’d say that’s fine, that’s where season content and the full expansions that are in development can fill in after all. For a launch game this is in extremely good shape, with huge amounts of content to play through and no major bugs I’ve seen. The story is flawed and somewhat disappointing in ways that Blizzard games all have been for almost two decades now, and that is a real downside, but apart from that, unless you don’t want to play a game that focuses this strongly on evil demonic forces (and I would understand that), I highly recommend it. It’s great.
However, is it better than Diablo II (Remastered)? I know that nostalgia is a factor here but right now I would say no. First, DII has a better story and better music. In terms of art design both are fantastic. Diablo IV is great, and is better than II in some ways — you have dramatically more inventory space, more ways to modify your equipment with removing the affects and such, more dynamic combat with the dodge mechanic, significantly more unique and dramatic hand-designed boss fights, and a hand-designed world instead of random generated generic walls everywhere. Its magic system with quick refill is probably better than “drain those potions”, too. However, the healing system is weird in some not great ways with how limited healing potion drops can be in some fights. Those boss fights drag on way too long, for sure. Battles against regular enemies of your level are not as challenging as they are in Diablo II because the challenge focus is more on bosses, but I much prefer a game with more even difficulty between bosses and regular levels instead of “the levels are easy and the bosses hard”. Also, for a hand-designed overworld, they made some odd choices. Some of the waypoints are quite close together, and others far apart. I would think that it’d be more balanced in terms of how far you have to go from the towns to get to places, but it isn’t. The dungeons feel randomly generated too, whether or not they are, and they are a huge part of the game. And perhaps most importantly, the way combat focuses heavily on dodging attacks and not just using your skills to defeat the enemies isn’t always something I enjoy; I’m not a Dark Souls fan, after all. It’s mostly good but sometimes having to dodge constantly is annoying. Still, combat is fun in both games but for somewhat different reasons. In some ways this design is better than DII and in other ways it is worse, but if I had to choose I’d probably go with the classic style by a hair.
Overall, Diablo IV is a fantastic action-RPG well worth buying. It has some strengths and some weaknesses, but it’s one of the best games in its genre I have played. It does a great job at modernizing Diablo’s design while bringing back key elements of Diablo that were missing from the third game, such as build complexity and that distinctive Diablo visual style. It’s a must-play for any action-RPG fan. If you want you could wait a while before playing this game if you haven’t played it yet, though. After all, the game will be getting more content in the future. I am glad I got it at launch though, it’s great fun. This game is a definite game of the year contender.