Diablo IV grows ever closer with each passing day, its impending arrival marked by the vocal anticipation of fans. Many a player of Blizzard Entertainment’s past works looks forward to the dark wonders of this next Diablo game, even those with less fond opinions of the previous entry.
Since its announcement in 2019, we’ve gotten so few enticing details regarding the future of Diablo, even with the development team’s promised quarterly updates. Thank goodness, then, that BlizzConline 2021 arrived as it did to shed some light on how Diablo IV is shaping up. In the aftermath of Blizzard’s big event, these are what we felt were the brightest and most intriguing details regarding Diablo IV.
10. The Aesthetic Shift
Once upon a time, the art style of Diablo brought with it a certain apocalyptic tone that fit the setting, a fantasy world besieged by demons and on the brink of collapse. Both the original game and Diablo II took great pain to emphasize the decay and the despair of their setting, which served to highlight just how brave and determined the heroes were in their endeavours. Plus, one could argue this particular approach to dark fantasy had merit in contrasting the more fanciful yet less grounded role-playing titles of the day.
So it came as something of a shock, to put it mildly, that Diablo III leaned more into the aesthetics of high fantasy and epic fiction. Many players decried what they saw as a betrayal of Diablo’s identity, trading potent atmosphere for sheer graphical fidelity. Even as Diablo III cultivated a loyal fan base over time, the yearning for a return to the darkness of days past remained.
Fortunately, that desire will be fulfilled at last. Diablo IV’s announcement came with the promise that the world of Sanctuary would once again be depicted as a grim realm, teetering between salvation and destruction. Many locales in the game appear dark in color and limited in lighting, while still retaining the detail and sense of scale that comes with a fully three-dimensional setting.
9. A Full Fledged Open World
Breaking from the tradition of each act being set in a new location, Diablo IV will instead let players travel to and from regions at their own discretion. Each of the five zones can be explored at any time, with Blizzard stating that play won’t be disrupted by loading between areas.
That kind of liberating approach to world traversal is refreshing, a pleasant change from the norm. Though the actual execution of this open-world concept remains to be seen, we’re inclined to have faith that Blizzard can stick the landing.
8. The Return of Beloved Classes
There are many design decisions that can make or break a role-playing game, among the most integral of which is how player classes are handled. The Diablo games have a history of handling class variance and use with great care, resulting in some of the most compelling character archetypes seen in digital role-playing. Of course, for the sake of balance and keeping things fresh, a beloved character class sometimes gets replaced or outright abandoned.
Diablo IV seems set to address this sore spot, given that a number of the announced classes are returning roles. The Sorceress makes her grand reappearance after last being seen in Diablo II, while the nature-attuned Druid is back for the first time since the Lord of Destruction expansion. Then there’s the recent reveal of the Rogue, a class not seen since the original Diablo in 1996. Even if the mysterious fifth class doesn’t turn out to be a nostalgic pick like the rest, the development team’s affection for the previous titles is already more than evident.
7. Focus On Sanctuary
When it comes to post-Tolkien fantasy work, many creators came away from The Lord of the Rings believing that elaborate world-building and fixation on lore are the best – or only – way to approach the form. So it was that the fantasy genre became overwhelmed with works that got lost in the details, forgetting or deliberately neglecting the engaging character work and exploration of themes that breathe life into fiction.
For all its good qualities the Diablo franchise does have a habit of falling into the same trap, though it appears this upcoming game might mark an important shift in that regard. As far back as the game’s reveal in 2019, Blizzard has been clear about Diablo IV focusing on the plight of individuals and smaller communities in Sanctuary, instead of the epic conflicts between mythological beings or the clash of kingdoms.
This may make for a more emotionally resonant experience where players can grow attached to the characters they encounter, rather than getting swept up in grander concerns about the fate of the wider universe. At any rate, this deliberate move to reign in the narrative scope feels appropriate for Diablo IV.
6. Skill Trees Are Back
Though Blizzard had intended for Diablo III to retain the Skill Tree mechanic for player progression and skill upgrades, the final game saw the studio jettison that system in favor of letting players activate or swap out skills on a whim. While not a terrible idea on paper, this new approach felt underwhelming to those who wanted their player characters to feel distinct and crafted with care.
Thus, it’s a pleasant surprise to find out that Diablo IV will indeed be returning to the Skill Tree system, albeit with some added wrinkles to keep things interesting. Diablo IV’s Skill Trees will consist of branch and root segments, representing active skills and passive abilities respectively. With all the variable powers and upgrades, it will be outright impossible to access all the nodes on the Trees, thus incentivizing careful choices and multiple playthroughs.
5. No Auction House
If there was an aspect of Diablo III more antithetical to the core gameplay loop than the Auction House, it remains a mystery. As part of its shift to an MMORPG-like design model, the game featured not one but two in-game marketplaces where players could trade equipment and general items for either virtual gold or real-world currency. Setting aside the dubious nature of tying real money to digital goods, this whole system served to undermine Diablo’s core appeal of fighting monsters in order to get loot of increasing value.
It was much to players’ relief, then, that such a maligned inclusion ended up on the chopping block. Having already patched out the Auction House from Diablo III in 2014, Blizzard has said outright that they do not plan to introduce a similar system with Diablo IV. While there will be some trading permitted via clan banks, the studio made clear that traditional in-game loot retrieval is to be the main focus.
4. We’re Getting Mounts
Sometimes folks just don’t want to have to run back and forth across a map to deal with busywork. Role-playing games being what they are, however, they often put up with a lot of frustration while crossing vast fields and carving through hordes of enemies to get to their actual objectives. Basically, any chance to mitigate this built-up anguish would be appreciated.
Once again, Blizzard has proved willing to adapt to the changing times. For the first time in the franchise’s history, rideable animals will be available to players who want to cut down on time spent running between locations. There will be a variety of mounts that can be selected and customized with items such as unique saddles and trophies taken from foes.
3. Visual Customization of Player Characters
Speaking of customizing things pertinent to the player, role-playing games benefit a great deal when they allow folks to get invested in the look and feel of their characters. This is another aspect of role-playing design that Diablo games have neglected most of the time, save for token inclusions like the Transmogrification feature introduced in Reaper of Souls.
Diablo IV will not make the same mistake; instead, it offers upfront the opportunity to go wild in making a unique player character. The footage from last weekend’s BlizzConline showed off various ways in which players could modify the base Rogue model to suit their particular tastes. A range of tattoos can be added, hair and eye color are able to be changed, and even the character’s basic clothing can be modified.
2. More Accessible Cross-Platform Design
We couldn’t have guessed back when the original two Diablo games were new that the franchise would find as comfortable a home on consoles as on their native platform of personal computers. Nevertheless, with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version of Diablo III, Blizzard set the stage for a bright future where Diablo could thrive regardless of the environment.
This next entry appears to be taking crucial steps forward, with Blizzard working hard to ensure both PC and console players are satisfied. The user interface has been tailored to balance access to vital details with a clarity of visual information, right down to making Diablo’s time-honored action bar align with the player’s line of sight. Inventory and menu layouts have also gotten an overhaul so as to be easy to traverse with keyboards or controllers, the latter of which will be compatible with the PC version.
1. Shiny New Cutscenes
Blizzard has never skimped on the polish and grandeur of their cutscenes, that’s for sure. From the earliest Warcraft games to now, Blizzard has used these narrative scenes in-between gameplay to set up compelling plot threads and deliver impressive set-pieces. That the company has always sought to innovate and improve upon their past efforts only adds to the respect many have for Blizzard.
Therefore, it should not be a surprise that Diablo IV represents yet another leap in cutscene quality for Blizzard. One of the more significant developments on this front is the prospect of in-game cinematics, which Blizzard stated will adapt to each player’s graphics settings and account for their character’s current equipment. In addition, conversations with non-player characters are planned to be more intimate and detailed, thanks to the integration of new animation technology and a tighter camera focus.