Diablo IV is more Diablo, and that’s fine by me.
Blizzard are incredible iterators. Over the past three or so decades, they’ve been unbelievably good at taking something that has come before, and polishing it to a wonderful sheen, and in many cases becoming the poster child for whatever genre they were working on. Warcraft took what Dune 2 did so well and built on it to create a solid real-time strategy game that went from strength to strength until the pinnacle of the series in the form of Warcraft 3, a game that I still think has yet to be toppled as the pinnacle of RTS games. Then there’s World of Warcraft, which developed the likes of Everquest into a world straddling phenomenon of the MMORPG genre. Overwatch took what was great about MOBA and FPS games, and fused them into a wonderfully polished competitive multiplayer shooter. And whilst there have been missteps — I’m looking at you, Warcraft 3: Reforged — this is something they’ve been reliably solid at. Then there’s Diablo, a series that put action RPGs on the map, and over its 30 years as a series has rarely been far from gamers’ minds as the preeminent hack-and-slash loot grind.
So here we have the fourth numbered entry in a series that I have devoured since the original’s release. The story is that Lilith, daughter of Mephisto, has appeared in the land of Sanctuary and wants to take over. Due to events in the early game, you have developed a psychic link with her and intend to pursue Lilith to put an end to her plans. There’s lore for days here, if that’s something that takes your interest. The series has quite a convoluted plot, all told, and Diablo IV is no exception, with the various machinations of different factions, angels, demons, and people just trying to get by colliding in the tale of you trying to save the world. The plot didn’t grab me, even though Blizzard’s trademark phenomenal pre-rendered cutscenes kept me interested. Other than Lilith, I don’t think there are any characters that will stick with me after I’m done with the game though. There are no Leahs or Deckards that will be memorable long after the details of the plot fade, sadly.
Once you picked your starting class from Sorcerer, Barbarian, Rogue, Necromancer, and my chosen class of Druid, and you’ve made them look how you want, you’ll be off into the world to explore, fight, and pick up spears that wolves were strangely carrying. From here it’s the Diablo that you probably already know and love. Kill the hordes of monsters, pick up the items, level up, get stronger, and do it all again. Your class’ skill tree will give you access to different abilities, all of which are class specific, allowing all sorts of variety in build creation. The keywords feature allows you to search your skill tree for abilities with those words attached, making it somewhat easier to craft something with your abilities in sync to maximise your damage output and survivability. I thought the layout of the skill tree was a bit unnecessary though, with it being laid out in an excessively large way to separate out different categories of skills. I think this could have been streamlined a lot, but that’s really just nit-picking.
Combat is as satisfying as ever, and with the much tighter camera angle, things feel significantly more visceral. Strikes from all sides look suitably vicious, and spells and powers pop off all over the screen, wiping out swarms of lesser enemies instantly. It can get a bit visually bogged down when there are too many enemies, and the size of some of them, especially bosses, can make it difficult to see where your character is or if there are specific spell effects on the ground behind those larger beasts. There are some accessibility options that can help with this, and it’s worth noting that there are plenty of options available to make this game as accessible as possible for those with visual difficulties, which is nice.
In spite of that, there’s still that incredibly satisfying loop of killing enemies and finding new weapons and armour to play with. Gems and enchantments return, so once you find that really specific piece of equipment that suits your build perfectly, you can enhance it further to really lean into your play style. You’ll find yourself needing to acquire crafting resources to upgrade weapons and craft potions to use, but these aren’t strictly necessary unless you’re going all in on the endgame and increased difficulties.
Speaking of which, there are two difficulties, called world tiers, from the off. World tier 1 is simple enough and will have you running through foes with little trouble. World tier 2 is recommended for more experienced players and those looking for a more challenging base game. It’s significantly tougher, and I found myself dying more frequently here, simply due to my not being able to output damage quickly enough. Other than faster levelling and more gold, there’s not a specific reason to start on tier 2, unless you’re up for the challenge, so you could realistically start wherever you want. Once you’re through these though, world tier 3 and 4 will really test your build and equipment, as much as they will your skill as a player. I expect there will be further tiers released in future, much like how the previous game brought out ever-increasing Torment levels for masochistic players.
As you explore the world, you’ll come across cellars and caves that offer a quick fight to access a chest full of goodies, but there are also full-on dungeons that are mostly optional, although some are required for side quests. If you delve into these and clear them out, you’ll unlock an aspect for a specific character class that can then be attached to weapons and armour back in town, giving you more ways to customise your gear. I liked having this as a way of acquiring new powers, and the fact you are told what power is in which dungeon is a really nice quality of life inclusion. Ultimately, they’re more combat and more gear, mostly taking around thirty minutes to clear out depending on how quick you can be. Each one has a pretty huge boss too, but this brings up a bit of a problem. You’ll probably fight a lot of these throughout your journey, but it does somewhat diminish the end-of-act bosses for the main storyline, as these end up feeling less spectacular. The Belial battle from Diablo 3 was really memorable, but none of the big ones here really stuck with me, and I feel that’s because of just how many giant monsters I had slain by the time I reached each one.
Regardless, the minute-to-minute gameplay is tremendous, but far less brilliant is the microtransaction shop. This is a modern full-priced release, so yes it has to be stocked with magic bean currency, called platinum here, to allow you access to more stuff, which thankfully are all cosmetic. They’re silly expensive though, with a full costume for your character coming in at around the £20 mark. Maybe I’m old, but that seems like a lot of money for some cosmetics that you’ll probably struggle to see in the melee. There’s also a battle pass of sorts due for release, as well as two future expansion packs planned, so if you’re someone who’s in for all the content, you might want to give your wallet a solid warning.
The visuals are excellent though, as you might expect from Blizzard, with Diablo IV’s initial muted forest giving way to brightly lit frozen tundras and dusty towns. I was worried at first that things might be a little dull in the colour department, but these worries were soon set aside once I saw the inside of some of the dungeons, with their blood-smeared floors, obscuring orange glow, and creepy, questing tendrils just out of reach of you. This is a visually gorgeous game, and even at high settings remained at 120 frames per second on my 2-year-old PC. Those spell effects going off all over the screen when several players are taking on a boss monster at once look great and didn’t hit performance at all. The sound and music are equally excellent. Big, crunchy melee effects are backed up by a really well-put-together score. I will add that I really appreciated hearing that classic Tristram theme crop up during gameplay as a nice nod back to those early days.
The last thing to really address is the online aspect. Anyone who played the previous game will be familiar with the dreaded Error 37, so how does Diablo IV manage? During the early release period included with the ultimate edition, there were no issues at all, with zero server queues and a mostly spotless online experience beyond a couple of lag spikes. Since the general release, things have been a bit less impressive. So far the longest wait I’ve had to get on a server has been around ten minutes, and several times I’ve had the game give me an error code when reaching the front of the queue. I’m sure this will be addressed rather quickly, especially as the initial hubbub dies down, but as it stands it’s quite frustrating to not be able to play at a time that suits me. This is obviously an issue with always online games that isn’t exclusive to Diablo IV, but why can I not play this solo offline? It’s a question that I still want to be answered in the modern age, but that’s another matter I suppose.
Aside from that though, there’s really not a lot to dislike about the game. If you’re a fan of Diablo 3, then there’s no reason you won’t like this sequel. More fighting, more loot, and more monsters, all wrapped up in a visually impressive package is hard to complain about. The battle pass and season systems will be interesting to watch as they are rolled out over time, as the value of these is yet to be seen, but as an initial package, Diablo IV is a hell of a good time.
Diablo IV is available now on PC, Xbox and Playstation.