Title – Diablo 4
Platforms – PS5, PS4, PC, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
Release Date – June 6th, 2023
Developer – Activision Blizzard
Publisher – Activision Blizzard
MSRP – $69.99
ESRB – M for Mature
Disclaimer – This product is being reviewed on the PlayStation 5. A review copy was provided by Activision Blizzard for the purpose of this review. Gaming Instincts is an Amazon Affiliate and does gain financial benefits if you choose to purchase this product on this page. This game was also reviewed under a Hardcore difficulty play-through from start to finish.
After 11 years, Blizzard has finally decided to unleash hell upon the Diablo fans and release the next big entry in the franchise, Diablo 4. We have conquered and slayed many demons, collected a ton of loot, and, most importantly, completed the campaign on a hardcore server with a Barbarian. For those who do not know, a hardcore server in the Diablo franchise means when your character dies, they are lost forever, and you start from scratch.
Yes, I took the ultimate risk to review this title in such dangerous conditions while having limited time to test nearly all the game systems while completing the storyline. I am happy to report that my demon-slaying journey was quite successful. With that said, welcome to our spoiler-free review of Diablo 4.
Welcome to Sanctuary
Diablo 4 takes place in a world called Sanctuary. Sanctuary consists of five regions: Fractured Peaks, Kehjistan, Dry Steppes, Scogslen, and Hawezar. The game’s main campaign quest contains 6 acts. However, since this is a spoiler-free review, we won’t be touching base on what happens in any of those acts, whom you can expect to see, or anything like that. This is purely a gameplay-focused review.
Diablo 4 is the largest and most ambitious Diablo game Blizzard has ever made. There is a stupidly large amount of side content for your characters to explore, including over 100 dungeons, plenty of ways to get loot, five different classes to play as, and 100 levels. Each region has a ton of dungeons you can conquer and Lilith shrines to find that increase a variety of stats for your characters permanently, regardless of your toon’s level. There are cellars where you can complete random events for loot and an orb currency you can gamble for even more loot.
Best of all, completing these activities will reward the player with renown points, granting an additional talent point for your character’s talent tree, awarding you extra gold, and giving you a higher capacity for healing potions. It’s a great system because there is always a reason to do something beyond simply earning loot. The best part about all of this? The future characters you create will start with those additional talent points you’ve unlocked, even if you are at level 1. That means you can get a significant power boost early and be far more powerful than your first character.
Let’s talk a bit about each of the zones of Diablo 4. You start the game in Fractured Peaks, a snow-themed region. Another zone is the mountainous region of Scogslen, which has strong ties to the druids and is one of my favorite settings. Kehjistan is the desert region, Dry Steppes is a dry mountainous area, and, finally, Hawezar is a fun zone comprised mostly of swamps and lush greens.
All of these zones are massive. You could spend days in each of them trying to complete all the dungeons or hunt and collect the Lilith shrines for those extra talent points and renown. The regions are unique in their ways and have their dedicated ambient soundtrack that plays in the background offering a different vibe for each. If you are bored of slaying demons in Fracture Peaks, then you can go elsewhere. Diablo 4 has plenty of freedom and doesn’t constrain you for the most part.
At the start of the game, you may pursue Act 1, Act 2, or Act 3 of the storyline in whichever order you like. It doesn’t matter if you are level 1 or level 30. However, the rest of the Acts are not accessible until you’ve completed Acts 1-3. If you want to side-quest in other areas, you can sense the regions are not locked behind any restrictions. Hawezar is the only zone that suggests your character to be at a higher level. You can go there as low as level 1, but you will die instantly.
Slaying, Looting, and Progressing
It’s time we talk about the elephant in the room, the progression, and the gameplay in Diablo 4. Does it feel good to get loot drops? Are the enemies fun to fight? Is there an addicting sense of progression? Those are usually the most common inquiries and probably the biggest concerns for any ARPG title. During Diablo 3’s launch, the game received criticism for its itemization system and how the endgame wasn’t rewarding enough and the loot drops weren’t making any sense.
It took Blizzard an entirely new expansion to hit the reset button on Diablo 3 and make the itemization and endgame systems much more meaningful. Thankfully, Diablo 3 became an excellent game, but it took a long time. Better late than never, I guess? Despite all that, I am happy to report Diablo 4 seems to have a much better grip on looting and itemizing your characters based on what I have played compared to its predecessor.
I must be transparent here and disclose that we’ve only gotten ten or so days to play the game before the review servers shut off, and with how time-consuming and grindy ARPG games are, there’s no way to make a perfect judgment call about the late-end game progression. With that said, I will do my best to tell you about my journey of slaying the denizens of hell, looting, and how it all felt when I finished the campaign.
As I’ve stated before, I took the risk of playing the Barbarian class on a hardcore server. Making one dumb mistake could potentially end my entire run. Why did I decide to play on a hardcore server? To be frank, it was simply because that’s how I enjoy playing these games. It also shows how far you can push your current builds while trying to stay alive.
I will admit that I’ve lost five characters in the 15-25 level range. Four of them were Barbarians, and one of them was a Rogue. But then, my 5th character finally managed to finish the campaign and defeat the final boss, and it was a fun experience from start to finish. What I liked the most about going through the game on a hardcore character was the decision-making process. Should I blaze through the campaign as early as possible and then do side content? Or should I play it more safely, level up as high as possible, get decent items, and unlock extra talent points by completing the region objectives? Here is how what I ended up playing.
I decided to go for the optional content route before completing the campaign because it gave me extra talent points to obtain the build I wanted earlier in the game. With the desired build, I was confident enough to face a main-story boss. On top of that, it also gave me a chance to get better weapons that I am still leveling. I was never wasting my time, and it made things much easier.
The player is no longer put in a corner and forced to do a specific thing to progress their character. Instead, they can play it however they like from the get-go. Eventually, you do have to finish the campaign to unlock the super late-game stuff, but I think that is more than acceptable. When you beat the campaign on a single character, you won’t have to do the campaign ever again if you roll a new character. Instead, you get a permanent choice before the game starts. You can either make a fresh toon and go through the campaign again, or go to the post-campaign world at level 1 with all the base end-game items unlocked.
Believe it or not, I did end up losing my Barbarian at level 51, but the fact that I already beat the base campaign and I was smart enough to stock up my chest with a bunch of legendaries and solid yellow rarity gear meant that my newly created character isn’t starting from scratch. The leveling is easy. It’s getting the gear that can be challenging. Also, it’s worth noting that all of those Lilith shrines I’ve collected during my initial playthrough stay unlocked along with all the extra talent points. The Lilith shrines give you additional stats such as strength, dexterity, intelligence, and even paragon points for the late game, and they stay with you forever whether your hardcore character dies or not.
The result is phenomenal because now my newly created hardcore character is level 1 but with 4-6 talent points available for spending as soon as they spawn. Thus, this makes rolling a new character an enjoyable experience, especially if you are playing on a hardcore toon. No other Diablo title gave you this much freedom, and it felt natural and revolutionary for the genre.
Beating the campaign also unlocks Tree of Whispers, which is the evolution of the bounty system that was introduced way later in Diablo 3. It works almost the same except for a few things. The player does not need to restart the game world to get new bounties. Instead, they naturally appear throughout the five regions. Completing different bounties grants you Grim Favors. You have to earn enough Grim Favors to satisfy the Tree of Whispers, and, in exchange, they give you a cache that contains rings, pants, weapons, and other items. You can choose only one cache out of the three offered. You then enter your inventory, open it, and pray to the RNG gods that you get something good.
The real game changer is when you start playing the game on World Tier III difficulty. However, to unlock World Tier III, you must be level 50, complete the campaign, switch to World Tier II (unless you are already in it), and complete a brand new capstone dungeon in the Cathedral of Light. Once you have managed that, World Tier 3 difficulty will unlock. This is where the real grind begins. World Tier III difficulty unlocks the ability to obtain Sacred Items, Nightmare Sigils that make dungeons more challenging, higher experience, and champion monsters spawns.
Then there is World Tier IV difficulty and World Tier V, the highest at the base launch of the game. World Tier IV difficulty is a buffed version of the World Tier III difficulty with an even higher chance of Sacred items dropping. World Tier V provides the hardest difficulty and a new type of item called Uniques coupled with a whopping 250% increased experience gain.
I did not have the time to try anything above the World Tier III difficulty, as it is extremely time-consuming and requires a lot of planning and preparation, especially on a hardcore difficulty where any mistake can send you hundreds of hours back. During my review, I was more focused on the core gameplay, the classes themselves, and seeing how all the systems work off each other.
For the most part, I was alright with how the loot progression was working. However, there were a few things that I did not like. Good weapon drops can take a bit too long to get. For example, when I was level 40, I was still getting high-level 20s and early 30s weapons, which was quite annoying. My weapons were constantly behind, and even on World Tier 1, it would take a while to take the mobs down because I would level up fast, but stay behind on DPS. Granted, there were times when I did get lucky, but there were also times when the best alternative was to sell all the useless loot for gold and then go to each town’s vendor and hope they have a good weapon for sale.
Believe it or not, vendors in this game are much more reliable on good items than in previous titles. While this may turn some people off, I thought it was nice that there was another option to optimize your gear. The good thing about the Diablo 4 loot system is that it is abundant and frequent, meaning that you will always have plenty of trash items to sell and gold to convert for better weapons via a vendor. Gold is incredibly easy to get and it’s very useful.
Another great thing about the itemization system is the ability to extra the special affix off a legendary and then imprint it into a better DPS weapon you already have. For example, you may get a legendary drop with horrendous stats, but its special bonus is good for your build. You can go to the Occultist and have him extract the affix from the legendary and put it into your inventory. You can then take that affix and imprint it on a different item. It’s an incredibly flexible system that allows you to add special legendary bonuses to multiple items instead of just a weapon or a chest piece. If you already have good legendary affixes on your weapons and you don’t want to replace them, you can put another on a ring, chest piece, or something like the amulet.
Systems like these make the game feel much more rewarding and exciting. Legendaries rarely go to waste because even if the special affix doesn’t fit your build, you can still extract the affix and save it for a different item on the same realm or try a different build. Gone are the days, where you have to start a grind from nothing on multiple characters. Instead, you can choose just one character you enjoy and use them to farm for others since the stash allows you to share items across all your characters. The only caveat is that the Eternal server is separate from the Hardcore server, so you must start from scratch at least twice if you play on both.
Then there is the Jewelcrafter which works similarly to previous titles. You collect gems, craft them into better gems, and put them into sockets for extra stats. Each colored gem provides a different stat bonus. Also, putting the same colored gem into an armor piece will grant a different stat than placing it into jewelry such as rings, amulets, or weapons. The best way to look at gem crafting and socketing is to pretend that it’s a mini-game where you are trying to crunch your stat numbers for the optimal result and figure out what to put and where to put it. It can be a bit time-consuming, but optimizing gear via socketing gems is quite enjoyable. It adds another layer of depths and gear optimization that’s not too complex and easy to follow.
So how did leveling from level 1 to level 50 feel during a hardcore session? For the most part, it felt pretty good, except for weapon upgrades, as I mentioned earlier. Overall, the itemization progression did feel a tad slow for a bit, but that tends to be normal for the early game of ARPGs. Switching over to World Tier II is a waste of time unless you’ve gotten super lucky with loot drops and have a solid build going. Word Tier II does not provide any extra loot bonuses whatsoever, instead, it takes longer to kill enemies and provides a bit of an experience boost and extra gold. It’s much faster and more efficient to kill things on World Tier 1, get through the campaign, and get to level 50 so you can unlock World Tier III. World Tier III is where things start to escalate and get super interesting. This is where you start seeing all the systems come together, and this is also where the players start getting major upgrades for their characters thanks to sacred items.
In a nutshell, it’s super hard to judge whether the end game of Diablo 4 is fantastic or awful, simply because everything matters in the late game and not the middle or early game. Due to limited playtime, I was unable to test high-end builds and optimization. But I can confidently say that the itemization system is way ahead of the game than Diablo 3 was at launch or even later in its life cycle.
Overall, there is a ton of content in Diablo 4 to keep you busy for a good while. There are five classes to play and experiment with, many crazy cool legendaries to test builds with, a huge world to explore, over one hundred dungeons to conquer, shrines to collect that give you permanent stats, and 100 levels to rank up to. Then there is PvP to participate in and world bosses to slay and conquer with your friends for legendary loot. You won’t be running out of content for a good while, and then with the first season, it will be even more interesting and addicting.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the aesthetics and the overall feel of Diablo 4. Blizzard has listened to their fans and has decided to fully commit to the good ol’ days of Diablo 2 art style. The game is very dark, grim, and gothic. A new engine was made to support this and make it look a certain way while modernizing the visuals. The game’s art is stellar. It’s a huge improvement over Diablo 3‘s cartoony art style and brings back the franchise to its classical atmosphere.
Without spoiling much, this is 100% the most m-rated game Blizzard has ever done. There is a lot of horror, blood, and gore, which is not something that people are used to when it comes to modern Blizzard titles. There are themes of cannibalism, torture, murder, and just downright all kinds of gross and disgusting things that you’d expect to see in a cruel and demonic world.
Despite the dark and grim nature of the game, some areas have a bit more color than others. Blizzard made it look frightening, dangerous, evil, and also believable. Overall, they struck a good balance concerning the entire artistic vision of the Diablo universe.
Of course, the art style and visuals are nothing without a good soundtrack and audio design. If Diablo 4 does not win an award for the soundtrack of the year, then I will be a sad panda bear. They somehow managed to compose a soundtrack that feels both new and nostalgic at the same time. I guess it’s what you would call an instant classic. Many tracks in certain areas feel very reminiscent of Diablo 2, and then there are completely brand-new ones that fit the universe quite well.
The audio design during combat is excellent. All the sounds feel like they carry weight to them, especially the Barbarian with their big two-handed weapons. When you use abilities, they all have a distinct sound that lets you know what you just triggered. The audio queues are excellent and very easy to hear and understand. There is never any weird sound clashing during combat that confuses the player. The monsters have unique audio, and there was great attention to detail when creating the overall sound design.
Overall, the dark gothic horror art style with the fantastic soundtrack and sound design creates a phenomenal and immersive experience for Diablo 4. I don’t believe they could have done a better job than they already did. Huge kudos to Blizzard in the art and audio department.
In a nutshell Diablo 4 is an incredible game that captivates players with its immersive world, compelling story, and addictive gameplay. With a score of 9.5 out of 10, it stands as a testament to the series’ legacy while introducing exciting new elements.
One of the game’s greatest strengths is its rich and atmospheric world. The dark and foreboding landscapes, detailed environments, and stunning visual effects create a truly immersive experience. Whether exploring the eerie dungeons or traversing sprawling open areas, players are constantly enthralled by the game’s captivating aesthetics.
The gameplay in Diablo 4 is where it truly shines. The series’ signature hack-and-slash mechanics are refined and enhanced, offering a fluid and satisfying combat system. The diverse character classes provide a range of playstyles, allowing players to customize their experience and find a playstyle that suits them best. The addition of new abilities, skill trees, and equipment options adds depth and variety to character progression, keeping players engaged and constantly striving for more powerful gear.
Multiplayer is another aspect where Diablo 4 excels. Whether teaming up with friends or joining forces with random players, the cooperative gameplay is seamless and enjoyable. The game encourages cooperation and rewards players for working together, fostering a sense of camaraderie and enhancing the overall experience.
With its immersive world, addictive gameplay, and excellent multiplayer experience, it delivers an unparalleled gaming experience that fans of the series and newcomers alike will thoroughly enjoy. In summary, Diablo 4 is an incredible game that deserves a masterpiece of a score of 10 out of 10.