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DiabloNov 2, 2019 11:00 am CT

Diablo 4 promises freedom of play in shattered hellscape. Will it deliver?

BlizzCon Day 1 delivered the Diablo 4 announcement in a big, scary way. Blizzard then surprised us with a D4: Unveiled panel occupying the “Coming Soon” slot immediately after Opening Ceremonies. My first thoughts remain optimistic for all the improvements, but is it enough to offset more years of waiting?

Diablo 4 Scosglen's Corbach Vista

World, legacy, and darkness

Five regions comprise Sanctuary in D4, with distinct appearances and enemies: Kehjistan, Scosglen, the Dry Steppes, the Fractured Peaks, and Hawezar. Each area has a different associated ecology, from desert to forests and swampland. The sheer size of the maps is possible due to the implementation of mounts. Having mobility not dependent on the Diablo 3 paragon points system is so exciting, especially when those mounts will be customizable. I’m curious about what the cost will be, either in terms of gameplay efforts or in real-world money. It seems like an opportunity for surprise micro-transactions.

Movement across the landscape, even without mounts, looks so clean in the demo streams. Running across the rocky terrain, climbing loose roots to ascend a cliff, and shooting around as the embodiment of lightning is so beautifully rendered. The new graphics engine complements and enhances the somber, menacing tone. The demos highlight the visceral style Blizzard is touting for the game. The color palette is heavily comprised of grays and browns, calling out the underlying sense of despair that is forming the basis for the story background. It feels like a world ripe for the return of a powerful demoness.

The UI in the demos frames the player environment rather than obscuring it. The layout enhances the immersion in the world, so the focus is more on the experience with fewer distractions. The display will almost certainly be tweaked, as some things (like buff icons) were not present on stream, but Blizzard has continued the theme of HUD improvements across each title in the franchise.

Diablo 4 multiplayer world boss encounter

Monster reworks

Sanctuary remains a dangerous place for players in D4. The immense demons included in the gameplay trailer are part of the newly added World Boss encounters. Immense is not hyperbole either; on the demo streams, the world bosses tower over player characters and look to pack a serious punch.

The world population focus is thematically-linked “families” of creatures, which sounds like a distinct improvement on D3’s adventure mode. While D3 mobs are fitting to their locations, there’s something particularly frustrating about running into a Khazra Shaman in a keep-style map. I envision this looking like the encounter on the way to Cydaea in the Heart of Sin, where the player frees people hypnotized by succubi, a thematic match to what Cydaea represents without being a shot-for-shot match of the boss fight.

The devs did not discuss plot-based boss fights, but infinitely replayable dungeons and Keyed Dungeons sounds an awful lot like the current normal rift/greater rift scenario. I’m hoping for an improvement on this front, as I would love to see more variety. Success in current rifting feels so dependent on the maps provided. An unfortunate series of maps can easily equate a failed Greater Rift.

Campfire character selection screen

Who’s on the chopping block?

Initial discussion of D4 included the count of classes (five) that are projected to be available at release. Three classes are available for demo on the con floor: Barbarian, Druid, and Sorceress. The inclusion of the Barbarian and Sorceress is an active callback through the franchise’s class history. Diablo first included Warrior, Rogue, and Sorcerer classes, with Monk introduced in Hellfire, and Barbarian and Bard added on a test basis. Diablo 2 launched with Amazon, Barbarian, Necromancer, Paladin, and Sorceress. Assassin and Druid were added with the Lords of Destruction expansion. Our current iteration of the game started with five classes as well: Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor, and Wizard. The Crusader came as part of Reaper of Souls, and Necromancer was reintroduced in Rise of the Necromancer.

So, this release count isn’t exactly a new thing. But who is going to end up retail version? It looks like the Wizard is returning to the roots of the previous games with the Sorceress class, and continuing the Barbarian is a clear choice as it fits so well with the mythos and gameplay of the Diablo franchise. Bringing back the Druid is an exciting call; per the D4: Unveiled panel, the choice was clear once the initial concept art (link to gallery). But who will take the final two starting slots?

Initial theories project a ranged class and another melee class. Necromancer is the clear ranged choice, and not just because I’m biased. The re-designed class has been prevalent since Rise of the Necromancer and is part of most end-game meta group compositions. Incarnations of the Demon Hunter and Witch Doctor classes from D3 are also possible, although the community has disparaged both for their lack of role in meta play. I’m still rooting for Necro, personally.

The melee class is more difficult to pin down. Iteration of the Warrior has shown up in all three existing games, in the form of the classic Warrior in D1, the Paladin in D2, and the Crusader in D3: Reaper of Souls. Similarly, the close-range fighter role represented by the Monk class (Assassin in D2 Lords of Destruction) shows up across all previous games. I find myself hoping for the Monk. Not only does this class show up regularly in meta play, but it’s also fun! D3’s Crusader always feels like a slog, hampered by not having exactly the right gear.

Diablo 4 - Inarius and Lilith

Is the community ready to wait for D4?

It’s already been more than two years since the release of Rise of the Necromancer. Game Director Luis Barriga made it clear during the Unveiled panel that D4 is “not coming out soon. Not even ‘Blizzard Soon’.” D3 was released almost 11 years after D2: Lords of Destruction, so I have to wonder: how long until we enter the open nightmare that is Sanctuary? Is the hype enough to keep the Diablo community engaged through another lengthy development period?

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