Review – Diablo IV
The Diablo franchise is one of the longest-running game franchises with a huge fan base. It’s also been over ten years since its last outing, with Diablo III coming out way back in 2012. Whilst the reception to that one initially started rather mixed, with a rough launch and a ton of issues, it overcame its rocky start. It survived eleven years with twenty-eight Seasons, and kept a rather impressive player base coming back every few months. I personally didn’t stick around for this, but the success is incredible.
It’s a monumental success story, and one that fans have been waiting a long time for a successor to show up. But in recent years there’s been a few mistakes by Blizzard. The fantastic core presented in the original Overwatch has been somewhat ruined in Overwatch 2, in the months since its release. World of Warcraft has also seen its fair share of issues. Even Diablo had its rough point with Immortal. Then comes Diablo IV after what feels like an age since its original announcement. Could it possibly live up to the hype and incredibly high expectations set by the Diablo community?
Set in the world of Sanctuary, you play as a Wanderer who arrives at a village which has been corrupted by Lilith. At long last, Lilith has returned from hell. You set out on a journey to gather allies and find a way to stop whatever Lilith has planned. You’ll do this by following her steps and gathering clues.
The story itself is pretty engaging. It has an incredibly strong opening act that sets up a mystery about just what Lilith’s end goals actually are. Along the way, you will meet a bunch of likeable and well-written characters that will join you on your journey. Getting to the bottom of Lilith’s true motivations is compelling as we uncover a villain that is sympathetic, but still undeniably evil. The only major mistake is with the fallen angel Inarius, who kinda just shows up and doesn’t do much else. Disappointing considering how heavily he was involved in the marketing material. Regardless, whilst the story does wrap up its major conflict, it does leave a number of plotlines to go forward with.
Throughout the campaign, you will encounter a wide variety of unique bosses that really do showcase the talent who worked it. Although, there are some really weak moments, such as following a slow-moving NPC through a sandstorm or waiting on NPCs, which happens way too often. However, the unique dungeons, boss fights, and some really epic moments, especially towards the end of the campaign, more than make up for it. Act VI is an absolute marvel that I won’t spoil here.
Gameplay is where Diablo really shines. In Diablo IV, it’s better than it’s ever been, with some great controls, fun enemies to fight, and a great skill tree. At launch there are five unique classes: Rogue, Druid, Barbarian, Sorcerer, and Necromancer. Initially, I started as a Sorcerer before switching to the Rogue, who I’ve been using ever since. Using the Twisted Blades and Dash creates some incredibly brutal combos as I effortlessly move around the room.
The build crafting in Diablo IV is absolutely superb, being able to tailor your particular class with specific playstyles. Skill trees are extensive and have plenty of options, but they’re not exhaustive. It doesn’t take long to understand the skill tree with its inntuitive layout, and the ability to reset your skills with ease, without using up too many resources. It encourages this sort exploration and experimentation with your chosen class as you get more and more powerful.
Then we have the gear, which further evolves the extensive build crafting and modifies your abilities’ behaviour. One of my favourites I found was an armour piece that modified my Twisted Blades ability. Once the blades returned and blasted through the horde of enemies I just dashed through, they would then circle around me for a few seconds, dealing a lot more damage. Combining this with aspects that regenerated my energy upon kills meant I had a lot of uptime with these new Twisted Blades. And that’s one of the more simple modifications that you can do.
Where Diablo IV does fail in the quality of life. Often times when running dungeons, you will run out of inventory room and frequently have to travel back. This is part in due to gems also taking up the same limited slots. Also, the user interface isn’t that great. Aspects all look identical, with only a couple of icons for the entire list. Why can’t we view the skill tree on a single full screen if we want to?
Overall, the combat in Diablo IV is incredibly well done and addictive. Where the game design starts to falter is with the dull sidequests and repetitive, reskinned dungeons. However, the combat elevates the experience and constantly keeps it engaging to play. There’s something here for everyone, and even after the forty or so hours I’ve put into this game, it still feels fresh and rewarding.
Sanctuary is an absolutely massive open world that is split into multiple distinctive zones. This makes it the first true open world of the franchise. Each zone is filled with dungeons, sidequests, and Lilith statues for you to collect. And when I say it’s filled to the brim, I absolutely mean it. There are dozens of dungeons in each of the zones, and these can often be fairly sizable.
It gets to the point where I think there might be a little too much in here, which could be to the game’s detriment. The map is massive and can take a while to explore. In the early game, this is all done on foot. Thankfully once you reach Act IV, just as the boredom of on-foot exploration starts to set in, you will unlock a mount that makes traversal a breeze. For me, this was almost the perfect placement to get the mount.
As for the sidequests, these can often be a mixed bag. Quite a few of them are your standard, garden variety running around picking up flowers for someone. Although, there are some gems that take you to unique locations or have amazing storylines for you to follow. Not since Cyberpunk 2077 have I been impressed with some of the effort put into the side content. However, it also shares the same problem as Cyberpunk 2077, in that the good sidequests are often hidden away, meaning they are very easy to miss.
Dungeons are another massive part of the Diablo experience and for the most part, these are also reasonably solid here. They do fall a bit on the repetitive, side with similar designs throughout. But perhaps more disappointing is the lack of unique bosses at the end of them or even unique mechanics. It can feel very samey. If you look at them on the map, you may notice aspects are tied to them. By completing them, you will permanently unlock aspects that you can imbue onto your gear to give them unique buffs. These become critical to your builds. A lot of these are unique to certain classes, so if you only plan on playing one at the start, you can focus on your class-specific ones and worry about the rest later. It makes the daunting amount of dungeons much more manageable.
Perhaps the best content in Sanctuary, however, are the Strongholds. There are only a few of these in each region, but they are incredibly good fun. They offer a unique mini-story to follow as you uncover the Stronghold central boss fight. Strongholds are multi-staged, challenging encounters that provide some of the game’s best moments.
Of course, once you have completed the campaign, and more importantly, reached level 50, the full scope of what Diablo IV has to offer reveals itself. To start, you will be able to move from World Tier Two to Three and Four, which further increases the core difficulty significantly. This requires you to pay more attention to your builds, basically forcing you to look at your gear, aspects, and much more. It never gets old tweaking and making changes to your build, discovering new aspects of the world and the gear you find.
A big surprise is the game’s approach to progression. Once you hit endgame you are able to bring other classes somewhat close to it. Being able to skip the entire campaign is a good move. Certain things carry over as well, like buffs from Lilith statues. It’s a novel idea to really stop picking up new classes that feel so punishing. Diablo actively wants you to play other classes. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect, as you will notice that the world map on alternate characters isn’t completed, and as such, your renown resets.
When you reach level 50, your class building really expands as the Paragon system unlocks. What this does is keep you levelling beyond that level 50 mark. From here the grind really begins, as you need exponentially more XP as you progress all the way up to level 100. It adds another complex layer to the building crafting that this game offers. And whilst there aren’t really new skills, the buffs are felt.
Then we have the activities that unlock. Old dungeons will have new nightmare variations that are much more challenging, with increased enemy density, and with it, better loot. On top of this, the capstone dungeon unlocks, which is basically just a tougher dungeon. World bosses will start appearing, letting anyone in the area join up. The first world boss I killed was an epic feeling, with over a dozen people engaged in the battle. Then you have the main bulk of the endgame in the Tree of Whispers, that takes you to different areas around the map to complete a variety of objectives. It greatly encourages going into dungeons you would otherwise miss.
To go even further with this, PvP opens up in certain zones across the map. Personally, PvP in an ARPG hasn’t really been my thing, and here it does occupy a small corner of the map. Finally, helltides start to appear, which will take a random part of the map and buff enemies hard. It only last for one hour, so do as much damage as you can. For the early days, this is a hell of a lot of endgame to dump onto you. Whilst I have questions about the longevity of this gameplay loop, it’s hard to deny that there is a lot more here than what other games put out for their initial endgame offerings. It feels like nothing was held back. The sheer amount that is given to you is impressive.
If you are here for a long run, Diablo IV has a promising gameplay loop. Whilst it doesn’t quite reach its full potential, it still offers a lot for you to do, especially once the seasons kick off. Meanwhile, if you are the sort of person that doesn’t really delve deep into a game post-campaign and only plays more casually, then Diablo IV still offers one of the more meaty offerings of the year, with some more casual post-game activities that are still fun. Obviously, I can’t judge the game’s endgame for upcoming seasons, but what has been offered at launch is worthwhile.
For the second time in the series, after Diablo Immortal‘s abysmal and hilarious reception, Diablo IV boasts a problematic always online connection. Whilst the servers have been mostly okay after its grand launch, its stability slowly degraded for a time. At its worst, it had plenty of rubberbanding that made co-operative play a bit of a struggle at times, but it eventually balanced out and seems to be in a solid state right now. Despite the always online connection, the game is entirely playable solo, and you will only really see other players running around the hubs and occasionally the overworld.
However, the biggest problem with Diablo IV‘s always online requirements is that this isn’t even a social game. Even less so than Destiny, which is often barren. Nobody really interacts with each other in the hubs, and public events very rarely have other players interacting with them. There’s not even matchmaking for dungeons or an in-game party finder, which would do wonders for the longevity of this game.
This brings me to the storefront, which is pretty pricey. Looking at just the options since launch, the prices in here are absolutely staggering. It’s hard to ignore that a lot of this admittedly badass armour should be in the game loot pool already, and I can only imagine this getting worse when Season 1 launches with the premium battle pass. We even have literal house armour being sold. Then we have any potential expansions that will be released, making Diablo IV a very pricey game.
Outside of the occasional rough texture or repetitively dull look of some areas, you will see when delving into the dungeons that Diablo IV looks impeccable. Going with a more grounded look gives Diablo‘s depressing world a lot more depth and believability. It’s really a place you don’t want to be in. It has some stunning locations that truly wowed me, and epic boss fights flexing Blizzard’s creative muscles. Although, the best parts are the game’s cutscenes, which look absolutely magnificent. It’s a shame there are only a couple of those famous huge CGI sequences that Blizzard is known for. I’d watch an entire movie comprised of them, they look that impressive.
It’s also a technically great game. Loading screens are brief and the framerate rarely ever drops, even when the screen is filled to the brim with enemies and effects. It’s a surprisingly smooth experience that holds up really well, without sacrificing too much visibility. Another great improvement point is the support for full native ultrawide on PC. This was something that had some side effects in Diablo III (which was understandable for the time), but is completely resolved here and it looks amazing. Only certain cutscenes revert the game to standard 16:9 with black borders.
Similarly, the sound design is also great, with a fantastic voice cast that really propels the story forward. Lilith and Lorath are particular highlights, as they provide the bulk of the story. Elsewhere, the soundtrack is also phenomenal. Where I do find the sound lacking is in the environmental sound effects, often not doing their best in immersing me into the game world. But that’s a minor nitpick considering what’s happening on-screen.
Diablo IV has been an incredibly long time coming and it’s been more than worth the wait. It has a massive world that always offers something to do, even if it is slightly repetitive. Whilst it’s not perfect, the amazingly addictive core gameplay and character building will keep me coming back for more months, or hopefully years, down the line.
The world of Sanctuary is a grim place, full of death and hellish landscapes. It’s also a beautiful world, just one with a few rough edges.
One of the best ARPGs I’ve played. It’s core combat is addictive and the strong character building makes this a highly replayable game.
Diablo IV‘s incredibly strong voice cast and soundtrack make up for some lacklustre environmental sounds.
Diablo IV has some issues. Namely in some more repetitive activities as you approach the endgame. However, it’s core mechanics are always fun.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Diablo IV is available now on PC, Xbox Series X|S, and PS5.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 4060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM. The game is installed on NVMe drive.
A copy of Diablo IV was provided by the publisher.